inspiration, Writing

The Question

pablo (1)It took me a long time to figure out who I was and why I am here. As a friend once said, “I was trying to live all the lives.” But you only get one. Just one life, just one chance to make something beautiful of this experience on earth, even if you believe in an afterlife. This is our one chance to live our best life here and make a difference.

So, who am I? Why am I here? I can’t say I’ve answered the whole of that question yet, but this I know: I’m a writer and I’m here to make you wonder, “What if…?”

What if the stories are true?

What if the world is more magical and mysterious than we can imagine?

What if you have a part to play?

What if you really could change the world by simply believing?

What if people can really have supernatural powers or experiences?

What if the heroes and villains are really battling it out all around you while you sit there wishing you were part of the story?

What if they’re only waiting for you to choose a side?

What if it’s true? All of it? What then? What does that mean?

How would your life change if right now if you discovered it was all real?

That’s why I write. I write to make you think, to make you wonder, to make you dream. I write to change us all, and in so doing, to change the world. And it all starts with one little question:

writer's life, Writing

Retreat

Untitled designLast week was a roller coaster.

Let me back up. This year I decided to pursue writing with a new intensity and a greater focus. I set goals. I made plans. I took risk. And I set things in motion. Last week it all came crashing down on my head. I had bills to pay, I had projects that weren’t working out the way I thought they would. I had a calendar full of to do lists with little time left for writing, and then on top of it all, I had writer’s block. Ugh!

So, what’s a girl to do when everything feels a little (a lot) too intense and you’re in danger of losing all your dreams? RETREAT! I set aside three days to join an online writing challenge a few friends had put together and I logged out of my life to dive into my next project. My husband, bless him, offered me his office for the weekend and worked from home so that I could have some privacy. He even brought me lunch each day! Isn’t that the sweetest?

I hid away in my little writing cave from Thursday morning to Saturday night coming home to sleep each evening. The first day was a little rough. I had a lot of unexpected interruptions that were all really nice, but ultimately kept me from adding more than my daily average word count which falls between 1500 and 2000 words. Then on Friday, something magical happened. I started the day in prayer, literally asking God to give me words to write for the day and inviting him to shape the story. Then, I went to my desk and at 9am I began typing. That day I added nearly 9,000 words to my new novel. I didn’t want to stop! The story was getting exciting and my heart was racing as I typed those last few words of the day. I could hardly believe my final word count! Then, the next day I did the same thing and it happened again. Amazing!

By the end of the third day my brain was definitely feeling the wear and tear. In the middle of Friday I was writing an average of 1200 words per hour, but by the end of Saturday I was struggling to do half that. My last entry for the weekend was just over 200 words. My brain was mush and it was time to call it quits. I had earned a day of rest.

In the end, I had added 20,000 words to my new novel. That’s nearly a third of a book! I learned a lot from this experience.

Sometimes you just need to RETREAT.

I was overworked and overwhelmed. Next time I feel that way I’m going to set aside time to focus on my creative work and escape the daily stress that keeps me from producing good work.

It is possible to write all day.

Until this writing challenge, I didn’t really know if I could write more than three or four hours at a time. It’s really hard to find time to write longer periods in my busy life and I honestly wasn’t sure if I could focus that long. The best part about this challenge was seeing how my husband reacted because now he’s dreaming of a day when I can write full-time, too. A shared vision will always be more likely to become a reality.

Know when to stop and give your body rest.

My brain clearly had a breaking point where it could no longer continue at its maximum capacity. However, just 48 hours later I was able to sit down and pick up right where I’d left off with a great writing session. Writing like a maniac might be fun, but it can’t last forever. You have to know when to rest.

Have you ever taken a personal retreat? How did it affect your stress levels and your work productivity? Let us know in the comments about your favorite retreat.

 

writer's life, Writing

Filling the Well

Since we returned home from our summer of adventure, I’ve been writing like a girl on fire. It’s been powerful and cathartic, filling me with a sudden clarity of purpose after five years of inner soul searching. I find in the midst of my writing that I suddenly know myself and it brings a sense of peace I’ve found elusive for too long.

A Lot of New
Last week I finished final revisions for The Light Within and sent it off to my editor, eager to turn my attention to a new project. But, I sat down at the computer and for the first time ever as a writer stared into the void of the dreaded blank screen. New ideas is not really a problem for me, I have notebooks and computer files full of novel ideas, some with nearly 10,000 words already attached to them. So, I knew the problem wasn’t lack of inspiration. There was something else wrong. As I began to try to force my way through it, I finally realized that the real problem was that I was working in completely new territory:
A New Genre – Steampunk
A New Style – Serial Novel
A New Format – Journal/Epistolary
New Demands – Lots of required research

And what’s more, this idea felt huge and beautiful in my mind, full of potential…and I wanted to get it just right. Which meant, of course, that I was starting out with a ton of pressure already piled on my shoulders and I hadn’t even written the first page. No wonder I was stuck! I waded through it for a while and then finally decided that I was going to have to make a choice. Either I could embrace all the new this project held, believing that the extra work it brought would be worth it, or I could give it up now and move on. In the end, I decided to tackle the project. I really feel strongly that it is going to open all new doors for me as a writer and become something truly great. Accepting this meant facing the work from new perspectives with new strategies. Instead of just sitting down and writing, I would have to do some research, a lot of planning, and more than my fair share of daydreaming.

Rules & Lessons
I have a very strict rule for myself that I made up when I wrote my very first book: No reading in the genre you’re writing in. This may seem crazy, but it started with a genuine desire to be unique in my story and voice. I didn’t want to be too heavily influenced by any other work in the midst of writing, and I was appalled at the idea of being accused of relying too heavily on someone else’s work. So, I gave up reading in the genre I was working in. This turned out to be easier than I imagined as I quickly realized that writing meant I had even less time for reading anyway. All the hours I used to spend curled up with a book were now spent hunched over the computer desk, telling myself stories late into the night. Well, this new project happens to be in a genre I don’t read. So this week, staring at that blank screen, I decided it was time I broke a few rules. I went into my library and pulled steampunk novels off the shelves that I’d always wanted to read. I went to the bookstore and bought the entire Infernal Devices series I’d always wanted to find time for because I enjoyed her writing style. I pulled up books on my kindle that I’d bought and never read. In the end I had a very ecclectic stack of books piled high on the bed beside my journal and planning album. This would be my world. Instead of writing for the next few days, I would pour myself into reading and soak up the work of talented authors with completely different styles and stories. From clockwork automatons to airships, from an India-inspired fantasy world to the streets of London, I explored it all.

I learned a few things, too. I learned that I needed to fill my first few pages with buzz words that would clue readers into the genre and the overall story elements I planned to use. I learned that I was letting my characters off the hook too easily, running away from their pain or disappointment instead of dealing with it. As a reader, I cherish those moments where I get to feel what the character is feeling, the deeper the better. As a writer, I want my readers to not only feel that, but to lay the book down and wrestle in that moment with thier own pain or fear or whatever it is they are facing with my characters. Because, in the end, this is what makes a novel worth reading, worth creating. Through books, we discover bits of our own broken souls and in seeing the characters triumph, we find hope for ourselves, too.

Filling the Well
My talented friend, Susan Kaye Quinn, calls this process Filling the Creative Well.

Reading, free writing, watching movies, TV, engaging in erudite discussions – all of this feeds the creative well. It will fill your subconscious mind with the raw stuffs you will use to create your work when the time comes. This isn’t TV-as-distraction or a brain-dead-reception of whatever is put in front of you, but an active, voracious consumption of creative works. This will renew – and inspire – you when your creative work block-time comes around again.

I remember when I first read this advice in her book, The Indie Author Survival Guide, I laughed out loud. When do I have time to do that? But, now I know she’s right. If I don’t make time to fill the well, then I end up dry and empty with nothing to give to the blank page.

Last night I was up to 4 am reading (and crying with) The Clockwork Prince. I remember lying there in a puddle of tears and thinking, “I hope this is worth it. I will probably be a complete waste of space today after a night like this, but oh how I want to be able to make readers feel this way.”

And you know what happened when I set aside my writing and devoted myself to reading? It led to more writing. I went to bed at 4 and woke up at 8:30 with my phone ringing. It was my sister and I couldn’t wait to tell her all about the stuff in my head. Character ideas, story ideas, settings, devices, plot twists… And almost none of it had much at all to do with what was in the stories I read. I emerged from that marathon reading session with new and beautiful ideas that were NOT in the books I’d just consumed. This blew my little rule out of the water. Most important of all, I walked away with a lot of ideas about how I want my readers to feel when they put down one of my books. This is invaluable. This is a well full of creative energy and focus that I need to tackle this great big beautiful project.

Feel the Pain
I also realized something huge about my work: I don’t allow my characters feel their pain too deeply. I let them run away. Death, heartbreak, loneliness, fear…I lead them right up to those moments, give a nod to those emotions, and then off we go to chase down the next plot line. Two of my projects in particular deal with some heavy pain and I realized that I was doing a disservice not only to my characters, but to my readers as well, when I let them run away from their pain without looking too closely at the source of it. I sat and thought about that for a while and realized something else, too. In the end, I’m really the one running away. I, the writer, don’t want to face their pain. I don’t want to have to think about it, to dwell on their loss. I want them to be happy and move on to the next happily ever after. But life brings pain and to truly grasp our happily ever afters, we have to first face the pain.

This could probably have been an entirely separate blog post. I’m curious how you feel about it, readers, writers. Do you need to fill the well? Do you run from the pain in your story? Or, do you find strength in facing the pain and rising up to meet it?

Writing, YA Author Club

Advice to New Authors From the YA Author Club

YA Indie CarnivalThis week the YA Author Club is sharing insights into the editing process. All the authors in the YA Author Club are indie authors, so our experiences apply most especially to those authors looking into self-publishing. I’m a few weeks behind thanks to my little sabbatical, but I’ll do my best to catch up now. Here are my quick thoughts on formatting and editing:

 Editing

I hate editing. I really do. However, an author who wants to be taken seriously will invest both time and money in the editing process. Even the most famous authors you could name have been through rigorous editing and may have worked with multiple editors before their books became best-sellers. My first search for an editor landed me a fabulous developmental editor who worked with me on the fundamental story structure and character development of A Light in the Darkness and To Light the Path. She was very thorough and I ended up with a line-by-line edit of my final work. She is incredibly talented and I came away from that experience a better writer. THAT, above all else in my opinion, is the mark of a gifted editor. Then again, it only works if you are paying any attention to what they are doing and actually taking their advice. Many writers want to fight every step of the way which is immature and ultimately bad for your business. Stop fighting and trust the person you are paying. If you don’t trust them, then find someone you can trust and then soak up every word they shower upon you and your manuscript. Even the criticism I found most painful and hard to swallow I ended up using to strengthen my book. For example, my editor disagreed with the premise of my second book, arguing against the very point I was trying to make with my main character’s actions and beliefs. I literally sat and cried over her comments, frustrated and confused about how to move on and doubting my own conviction in the power of my story. I sat trapped in this doubt and dark depression for weeks before I was finally able to move forward. I began to see that her comments were exactly what I needed to strengthen another character, Justan, who was himself doubting the validity of the main character’s plan. Justan is the character I least identify with and so his dialogue is always the hardest for me to write. When I realized that my editor was asking the same questions he would be asking, I knew just what to do. I followed her train of thought, her emotions, her frustration, and I used it to build a stronger character, intensifying the drama. When I’m writing the rest of the series, I’ll be able to come back to those conversations and see a bit of his side peeking through. That is invaluable!

In the end my editor and I discovered that we didn’t have the same vision for my work. She couldn’t appreciate the direction I was going with it and I respected her enough to not force her to see it my way. Books, like so many other art forms, are subjective. What inspires me may not inspire you. So, we parted ways and I moved on in search of an editor who could embrace my hopes and dreams for the series. I agonized over that decision, but in the end it all comes down to “who will help me reach my goals?” That is a question you must always ask as you choose cover artists, editors, graphic designers, marketing people, and a slew of other people who will become your team on this journey.

If you are looking for an editor, I happen to know a fabulous freelance editor who is available. Jessie Sanders from Stormy Night Publishing is a very talented editor with experience in small press and self-publishing. Maybe she’ll be the right fit for you!

Formatting & Self-Publishing

I won’t say much about formatting because I am still learning. Here’s my advice if you aren’t naturally gifted in this area: Use Draft2Digital. It will cost you nothing to sign up with them and you can thank me later for introducing you. Many self-published authors use Smashwords because they were the first big guy on the scene to hold authors’ hands as they made the leap. However, Smashwords is messy and infuriarating! Skip the style guide headache and the weeks/months of waiting for your work to be approved by Createspace and iTunes. Go straight to Draft2Digital and you will be so glad I sent you. Seriously! I upload my file, fill out a short form online, review my document and click approve. Done! Within 48 hours my book is live and available across the globe. Amazing! And I didn’t have to know a thing about formatting to do it. They have complex computer coding that cleans up my messes for me. I love that! Also, their reporting is beautiful! Real-time charts show me how many books I’ve sold across all titles and they’re adding more sales charts/graphs as they go. Tax time was easy with Draft2Digital thanks to their accounting system. Do I sound like a paid advertiser? Sorry. I just really love them and can’t imagine trying to do this all without them. They make it easy and I love clicking over to my account and watching my sales numbers climb.

Curious what other authors are saying about editing? You will find other experiences, tips, and advice from the YA Author Club. Just click on the links below. Best of luck finding what works for you!

1. Laura A. H. Elliott 2. Bryna Butler, author Midnight Guardian series
3. T. R. Graves, Author of The Warrior Series 4. Suzy Turner, author of The Raven Saga
5. Rachel Coles, author of Into The Ruins, geek mom blog 6. K. C. Blake, author of Vampires Rule and Crushed
7. Gwenn Wright, author of Filter 8. Liz Long | Just another writer on the loose.
9. Ella James 10. Maureen Murrish
11. YA Sci Fi Author’s Ramblings 12. A Little Bit of R&R
13. Melissa Pearl 14. Terah Edun – YA Fantasy
15. Heather Sutherlin – YA Fantasy
Uncategorized, Writing

Poem In My Pocket

pocket_logo2

Today is national “Poem In Your Pocket Day”, a day for normal folks like you and me to celebrate poetry in the best possible way – by sharing it with others. Although I don’t normally write poetry, I just happen to have this one to share. I hope it strikes a chord with someone out there feeling stuck with their own heavy burdens.

Heavy Packages

By Heather Sutherlin

Why does it still hide there in plain sight?

It hurts to look at it, so I avert my eyes.

But inevitably someone points it out and sighs,

“How do you live with that?”

So, I box it up and hide it in a dark abandoned place

Until, unexpectedly, I stumble upon it

Tripping, falling back into the painful pit

And I cannot live with that!

You can’t hide it. You can’t fix it.

This is the torture the world calls “moving on.”

Only I’m trapped under this burden and it weighs a ton.

I guess I’ll try to live with that.

I want it to have never been!

I wish it could be the thing that never was.

Why can’t it be undone? Because,

I think I could live with that.

So, I’ll keep trying to see anything but it.

And you’ll please forgive me if I sometimes trip on it and fall.

The bruises will remind me that it’s so very real after all.

And I’ll learn to live with that.

How did you celebrate Poem In Your Pocket Day? Do you have a poem you would like to share with us? Please do! We’d love to hear from you.

Writing, writing advice, Writing Club

Writing Club: Got Plot?

Last week I promised the coolest young writers in town that I would post our writing club lesson here. Then… well, then a lot of amazing things happened to me and I got a little distracted. I can’t divulge all of the awesomeness yet, but on Saturday I was elected president of Fiction Writers of Central Arkansas. I’m honored and incredibly excited to be leading this talented group of writers here in Little Rock. It’s going to be an exciting year! In the meantime, here is the lesson I promised you:

In writing group we discussed plot by diagramming a traditional plotline. I was surprised how many of our students were familiar with this tool and all of its major parts. Here is an example for those of you who need a refresher.

Plot Parts
Introduction – This is the beginning of your story where you are introducing your characters and the setting to the reader. You can give a little background, but the general rule among writers is to go straight to the action and fill in the backstory as the plot unfolds.

Inciting Incident – This is where the story really begins. What happens that starts the journey for your characters? The dog goes missing, the contest is announced, the dead body is discovered, boy meets girl, etc. are all moments that reveal the true goal of a story. If you do not yet know your character’s goal, then you should begin here. Define the goal and then give it a consequence. What happens if they don’t reach their goal? This is the crux of finding your plot. If you can answer those two questions, then you have a plot.

Rising Action – Here the characters move steadily toward the climax of the story, growing ever closer to reaching their goal. However, don’t make it too easy for them. Be sure to add obstacles along the way or else your story will be boring and predictable.

Obstacles – What will happen to keep your main character(s) from reaching their goal? If all they have to do is walk in and take what they want with nothing to stop them, then that isn’t much of a story at all! Show us what gets in the way. These obstacles increase the dramatic suspense, but they also offer opportunities for character development. When your characters are threatened, denied satisfaction, or in danger, we get to see a lot of how they think and feel in those situations. This will draw characters together or push them apart. Make the most of your obstacles by planning ahead and you will have less trouble with writer’s block.

Climax – This is the moment when your character(s) reach their goal. It’s the big scene, so make it count! Readers want to see the struggle, so bring on the action and the drama.

Denouement – This fancy French word is simply the period of a story where we wrap it all up nicely with a satisfying ending. That doesn’t mean it has to be a happy ending, but it should provide some closure. Love a good cliff-hanger? Go right ahead, but be sure you have thought it through and the ending leaves the reader wanting more instead of scratching their heads in confusion.

Our group had a lot of questions this week about character development and point of view. We’ll cover that in detail next week, but for now I leave you with this question:

 “What is more important, the journey or the people on the journey?” 

Happy writing!

                                             ~ Heather

Writing, writing advice, Writing Club, writing exercise

Writing Club: Describing a Setting

Yesterday I met with young writers at the Main Library in Little Rock, Arkansas for our first ever NaNoWriMo group. I was blown away by the diverse group that showed up to write with us. After a long day of school, kids between the ages of 8 and 18 trickled in to share their ideas and a little of their passion for books. I heard a fifth grader swapping book ideas with a twelfth grader and saw all kinds of genres represented from poetry to crime drama. Amazing! I know some people have a hard time working with kids, but I am constantly amazed by the creativity and talent demonstrated in some of the youngest writers. I heard a few lamenting that they are forced to write what their teacher’s assign instead of what they love, but I encouraged them to write anyway because every single opportunity to write is an opportunity to improve. Then, someday you’ll be able to write what you love all day long and that is an amazing treat!

Settings
Anyway, in our short time together I shared a few tips for description and reviewed some of the brainstorming concepts I shared with all of you here a few weeks ago. I asked them to come up with three different settings. They suggested a planet, a cave, and a battleship. We listed a few adjectives to describe each setting. Here’s what we came up with:

When I see the word “planet”, I instantly picture something else entirely. Mars with its red dirt and and expansive deserts, perhaps. A green swirling fog is so unique and utterly different from what I pictured, but isn’t that incredible? With just four words we have an entirely different picture in our minds. Now the trick is to show our readers the same image we have in mind.

Show vs. Tell
 We want our readers to be able to visualize our settings, our characters, and their actions as fully as possible so that they feel as though they were in the middle of the story with them. One way to do that is to describe the setting using your five senses. So, to our list we might add a few distinctive words describing the smell of the air, the feel of the dampness on our skin, or the shouts of soldiers on the battleship. Instead of saying the deck of the battleship was wet, we will describe how the main character nearly slips as he races across the deck or we’ll describe the spray of sea water or the raging wind and rain of an enormous storm. We give our readers clues that let them decide for themselves that the deck is wet instead of just telling them it is. This involves them in the scene as a participant and gives our writing a richer quality.

It’s difficult, I won’t lie, but something we should continue to practice if we want to be better writers. So, why don’t you give it a try? Brainstorm a few settings for the story you are working on and list as many descriptive words as you can using your five senses. Then, use those words to help you create sentences to show the reader how it feels to stand in your setting. What will they see, hear, smell, feel as they enter your world? When you’re finished, come back and leave us your favorite sentence. I would love to see what you came up with as you try your hand at the Show vs. Tell technique.

                                                                       Happy Writing!

                                                                                                                ~ Heather

Friday, Indie Authors, Roger Eschbacher, Writing, writing advice

Ask an Author: Roger Eschbacher

Ask an Author by Roger Eschbacher

Hey you guys! My name is Roger Eschbacher and I write cartoons for a living. These days I’m working on two shows – The Littlest Pet Shop and Scooby Doo, Mystery Incorporated. I have a lot of fun writing animation, but I have even more fun writing books for kids. I’m a published picture book author and just this past fall I published my first middle-grade fantasy novel, Dragonfriend.

Over the years I’ve been asked to do signings and readings at book fairs, book stores, and in classrooms. When I’m finished reading from my books, I’ll take questions from kids in the audience. Here are three of the more popular ones –

Q: I want to be an author. How do I get started?

A: Before you become a writer, you need to be a reader; a hardcore reader. Reading needs to become one of the things you like to do as much as playing video games, riding your bike, or baking cookies. I call this kind of reading “pleasure reading” as opposed to the kind of reading you have to do in school. When I was a kid, I was seldom seen without a book. I loved reading then and I love reading now. Without exception, every author that I’ve ever met or read about is an avid reader who both loves books and reads for fun. They’ve been this way ever since they were kids, too.

Why is it important to be a hardcore reader before you’re a writer? Because you learn how to write your stories by reading how skilled authors write their stories. You learn what good dialogue looks like because you read books where you like what the characters are saying and how they are saying it. You learn how to describe a location or an action sequence because you read books that do this so well it’s almost like having a movie playing in your head. You learn what you like to read and why you like to read it and after a while you develop the confidence necessary to give writing a try yourself. It’s as simple as that. Not all readers become authors, but all authors are readers.

Q: Do you make a lot of money writing books?

A: Some authors make a lot of money, most do not. While I would certainly like to have the kind of success that J.K. Rowling has experienced, that’s not the reason why I write books. I do it because I have no choice. My head is full of all kinds of stories and the only way I can get them out of there is to write them down. I love to write and I love the idea that people out there, total strangers, will read my stories and, hopefully, enjoy them. That’s what keeps me writing despite the fact that I can’t afford a castle in Scotland. Not yet, anyway.

Q: Books (novels) are long! I don’t think I could ever write anything that big. How do you do it?

A: You’re right. Books, especially novels, can be very long. The way I handle the writing of a novel is to be organized and disciplined. Once I come up with an idea that sounds fun, I write a one or two page outline. I don’t go crazy into detail, just some descriptive paragraphs that help me figure out the beginning, middle, and end of the story. I list characters that come to mind and interesting settings in these paragraphs, too. These are notes to myself about what I want to write.

Then, I divide the outline up into chapters (usually 20-25). I’ll have a paragraph or so of description in each of these chapters. If this is sounding complicated to you, it really isn’t. By breaking a big thing like a novel into smaller, manageable bits, it makes it easier to give yourself permission to start writing. Writing little bits at a time isn’t as scary as the idea of writing a full novel. Everyone can write little bits.

When you’re first starting out, you don’t need to know everything about being an author or how to write a book. You just need to be brave and start writing. You’ll learn by doing, by figuring out what works and what doesn’t work as you go along. It’s okay to make mistakes. If you learn from them, mistakes help you to get better.

Then, I start writing. The way I motivate myself is by setting word count goals. My every day, non-deadline goal is 1000 words a day. This sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. A thousand words usually works out to around four double-spaced pages (I use MS Word). You could choose a smaller goal of fifty or one hundred words a day and still make some very good progress.

In a recent interview with famous author Stephen King, famous author Neil Gaiman summed it up nicely:
“I think the most important thing I learned from Stephen King I learned as a teenager, reading King’s book of essays on horror and on writing, Danse Macabre. In there he points out that if you just write a page a day, just 300 words, at the end of a year you’d have a novel. It was immensely reassuring – suddenly something huge and impossible became strangely easy. As an adult, it’s how I’ve written books I haven’t had the time to write, like my children’s novel Coraline.”

In short, if you write enough little bits, you can eventually string them all together and end up with a big old honkin’ book. That’s how I tricked myself into writing my first novel.

You can find out more about Roger Eschbacher and his books at his website, TheNovelProject.com

 

Writing, writing advice, writing exercise

Writing Exercise: Describing a Setting

I had a friend ask me today, “How do [writers] come up with all the details? When I’m reading something and the author is describing every last little detail about something, I’m just in awe because I never would have thought of it.”

What a wonderful question!  I think there are probably several good answers to this one because writers don’t all write the same way.  Still, I am happy to offer two ideas here for you who are interested and I’ll challenge you to try a little exercise with me at the end.

1. The Movie Reel

So far, in my own writing, I find that scenes appear as a sort of vivid movie in my mind.  I work as frantically as I can to describe what I’m seeing as the movie plays on, trying to capture it all while it’s fresh in my mind.  This is both good and bad.  It means that my scenes are vivid and often filled with natural movement or dialogue.  The hardest things, then, are trying to translate the emotions I can feel coming from my characters and also trying not to rush through it.  I often have to go back and do several revisions trying to fill in the blanks because I was hurrying the first draft as I attempted to capture it before the movie moved on without me.

There is a calmer way to do it, and if you aren’t lucky enough to see movies in your head, then it is how you will want to describe your scenes.

2. Twenty Questions

As a writing teacher, this is what I tell my students.  When you are describing a scene, ask yourself a few questions.

  • How does it feel there?

Weather can affect this, but so can other forces like housekeeping or strong emotions.  Ask yourself, Is it windy, warm, mild, sweltering, stuffy, scary etc.  Make a list of the words that come to mind as you imagine how it feels.  Textures can be good in a description, too.  For instance, the wall paper was smooth, the car’s paint was shiny, the cat’s fur against my cheek was soft, the carpet was thick and fluffy, etc.

  • What does it smell like?

Most every where we go has a distinct smell or two, especially when you first arrive somewhere or when something special is happening.  Does your character smell flowers, fresh bread baking, the sweat of a dog or a person, a cloud of perfume, fresh laundry, cookies in the oven, dead fish?  Just this short list of phrases draws to mind a set of images!  Imagine how describing the smell of your scene could help your reader to see your story better.

  • What do you see?

If you were standing in your character’s shoes, what would you see?  Take a look around.  Describe what would stand out to that character.  If they walk into a new house and are thinking about buying it, they will look at the details differently than if they are walking in just to deliver a package or watch some t.v.  So, try to think from your character’s perspective and ask yourself What do I see?

  • Do you hear that?

The tiny buzz of a gnat, the drip of a faucet, the whir of a fan trying to cool a room.  These are sounds that could help the reader to understand your setting better.  What does your character hear?

Try to focus on giving the reader just a few very strong visuals like these as you describe your setting.  It shouldn’t be pages and pages of you describing in painful detail every single thing you would hear, see or smell in a setting.  Just choose the ones that you think would best give the reader a real feel for the place.

Now, Try This:

Choose a setting and place a character there.  If you have a story you have already worked on, then choose one scene and try this with your character.  Close your eyes and enter the scene in your mind.  Take a good look around.  What does it feel like?  What do you smell?  What can you see?  Did you hear that?  What was it?  Then, make a list of your observations.  Choose three or four that you like best and put them together into a short paragraph, describing the scene from your character’s point of view.

Gotta Write,

Heather

Writing, writing exercise

Writing Exercise: Inanimate Perspective

>***Congratulations to Amy B! She won the Barnes and Noble gift card prize from Sarah Treu! Watch on Wednesday for a new book giveaway!***

Did you ever imagine your toys were secretly alive? Dozens of well-loved books (The Velveteen Rabbit) and movies (Toy Story) make me think I wasn’t alone in this childhood fantasy. Well, now that you are a little bigger, let’s use that imagination to help you become a better writer.

Writing Exercise: Look around the room. Choose one object and imagine that it could tell you it’s thoughts.

Ask yourself the following questions: What did it see today? How does it feel? Does it like it here? Does it enjoy it’s “job”? What does it dream of doing? If it could escape, where would it go and why?

I’m sure you can think of more questions to ask your chosen item. Now, write a short story from its perspective. Tomorrow, come back to try our Tuesday Story Starter and you’ll be glad for the practice.