Tag Archives: Inspiration

Take a deep breath…

This morning, the blog muse is strangely silent. She has nothing to say about writing, reading or anything else factual, as she usually does on Mondays, and so nor do I. (Although just typing that makes me wonder if I should muse on the concept of the muse!) Anyway, I’m hoping that it’s because she’s feeling fictional and creative, so here’s a picture of some of Rory’s Story cubes and an off-the-cuff response which I hope will be amusing, entertaining or at the very least, coherent.

It’ll be a rough draft,so please be gentle, but let me know what you think!

 

“Meet me at the fountain – You know? The one with the fish in it? – at 4 o’clock,” he said. But it’s ten past and there’s no sign of him. I should have known he wouldn’t show. My Dad has never been late for anything in his life, but the number of times he hasn’t shown up at all, well that’s legendary.

I walked around the edge a third time, trying not to look for him, trying to pretend that I was here to study the fountain’s engravings. It was an old installation – been there since Capability Brown did the gardens probably, although in those days the fish would have been something a bit less exotic than the karp which now nibbled on pond weed in the setting sun.

I got to the North-East compass point when something made me look up and out, as if a sound had caught my attention, though I’d heard nothing consciously. I read this poem once, it said “The sun sets in the West, so if you see a light in the East it will be the fire of my love, burning to return to you, borne on a magic wind to be with you wherever you are.”

There was a light in the East that night, but in the age of modern electric light, I knew it was just the gift shop, where I’d finished working a little early today to make it over here by four. But the poem came to mind and I like the idea of a lost lover, and I guess I wanted some magic in my day to make up for the disappointment. I closed my eyes and saw a rainbow, with my lover (not just his love’s fire, but himself in person) transported along it from some great distance to be by my side. He took my hand and led me into the orchard grove out past the rose garden. We sat under a tree. He said that we would be married in a secret ceremony, that nobody needed to give me away, because I belonged to noone but him. He promised he would never be parted from me again, that we would be together forever. He told me I was the one.

But when I opened my eyes, there was only a fountain, and fish, and a clock which no longer made any pretence that my father would be coming to meet me.

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Open to Interpretation

As a writer, writing, I generally have a strong impression of the surrounding truths of the story I’m working on. Even in a short piece, such as the 100 word flashes I post every Friday, I know a lot more than I put down on the page. With a first person narrator in particular, I may not give you the age, description or even gender of the main character, but I know in my head a few salient pieces of information and I definitely know whether it’s a male or a female character I’m writing.

Similarly, I know a lot more background than I can give to the reader. In Friday’s story, which I wrote based on a picture of barbed wire (you can read the story by clicking the “Previous Post” link at the top fo this page), I had a strong feeling in my head that the main character was the reincarnation of a holocaust victim who had died in a concentration camp. I gave hints of this in the piece, but I couldn’t find a way to give it all, and in particular to make the reincarnation element crystal clear (as opposed to this being a holocaust survivor some years later), without breaking the flow of the story and interrupting with pure exposition.

Maybe, to an extent, this is something I will get better at with practice, but I am also a firm believer in the reader finding his or her own way through a story.

In another recent fiction piece (http://wp.me/p1PeVl-6i), I wrote about a bench at the end of a tunnel with a plaque to the memory of a young girl. I deliberately gave no clues to the fate of the girl apart from the years of her birth and death. There were two reasons for this, one was that I simply couldn’t decide in my own head what had happened to her, but the other reason was that I wanted the readers to decide for themselves. And people no doubt did.

It’s a difficult line to tread. I don’t believe readers need happy endings, but I do believe readers want answers and resolution. I find it immensely frustrating when a writer sets up a dilemma and then fails to resolve it (Jodi Picoult is an expert at doing this – I don’t read her books anymore as a result). If there’s a twist, we want the writer to give us a fair chance to have seen it coming, even if we didn’t, so that afterwards we can look back and go “Oh, that was a clue!” and, importantly, so that we know when we get to the end that our reading is “correct”. The reveal has to be clear enough, but so do the clues before it.

In my view, the barbed wire piece just about succeeds. If you read reincarnation and holocaust, I think you would look back and find enough pointers to confirm you were on the right track (although if you didn’t, I think you could read the whole piece without seeing them). But I can’t decide if the tunnel piece is a great work of reader involvement, or a frustrating cop-out on the part of the writer. I’d love to know what you think about this balance.

If you read the tunnel piece and you want answers, here’s what I think happened. (If you don’t want to know, stop reading now.) It’s easy to assume that the girl was (raped and) murdered in the tunnel. A perfectly valid alternative would be that she took an accidental overdose of drugs there and died as a result. There are probably a few other possibilities. Given the state of the tunnel and the recent nature of the bench, not to mention the location of her ghost, it is unlikely that it was just here favourite place to walk or play and she died of something unconnected, in another place. But if I have to pin my colours to the mast on this one, I think she killed herself in the tunnel. I don’t think she suffered at the hands of anyone else there, although I’m sure she suffered both before and during the suicide. But I think she came down there to hide and take her own life.

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Friday Fiction – The Tunnel

Thanks for your patience with my experimental non-fiction post last week. I might run a few musings on Canada in between other posts, or continue to reserve them for when I’m away and can’t join in the Fictioneers’ fun. Anyway, now I’m back and Madison has provided us with yet another great picture. http://madisonwoods.wordpress.com/flash-fiction/expectations/ will take you to her site, and the other stories based on this prompt.

Since DarkElmo went down so well two weeks ago, she’s back for another airing. Even more subtle though, this time. And I’ve finally got around to flexing my description muscles, although I had to cut half the description after writing it, to meet the word count target! I should apologise to Madison – I have slightly hammed up my impression of your tunnel, I hope you forgive me.

I’d love to hear what everyone thinks, so please do leave a comment if there’s something you like or don’t like about this piece.

The Tunnel

The path dipped into a tunnel littered with used condoms and discarded needles. Something oozed down the walls and in the slight bend halfway along, an old tramp dozed under cardboard blankets.

A chill ran through me as I passed him, as though I’d run through a ghost. Then I saw it – the light of the sunny morning – and I shook off the feeling. But the entrance was guarded by something which brought it back: a bench, looking out of place beside this forgotten culvert, marked with a plaque which read “Jane Soreton   1999-2011  Gone, but never forgotten.”

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It’s Alive!

In response to my introductory post about planning last week, Ivan commented that as a reader he couldn’t understand writers who say that characters take over – surely those characters are our own creations and will do anything we want – no more or less?

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a satisfactory explanation of this, which makes me wonder if it’s possible. But I am going to try my best here, and I welcome the comments, thoughts or disagreement of other writers and of readers too.

Of course, on a basic level, we control what the characters do in the stories we write. We can choose to write something down any way we please – even at its smoothest and most inspired, writing is not automatic writing. But that’s not what we’re talking about when we say that the characters take over.

Sometimes, writing is like transcribing the movie in your head. The story flows as naturally as a dream, and the writer merely watches it and describes it on paper (or keyboard). Of course, it’s a waking dream, so we could step in and change the events, but how often do you feel in control of your daydreams? If you picture yourself lying on a beach, watching the waves lap on the shore, you certainly could consciously decide to have a waiter appear at your arm with a pina colada, but it’s more likely that this will happen unconsciously as your mind builds its image of escape.

But a lot of writing isn’t like that. it’s more conscious. The art of writing is not precise. Even a writer with a detailed plan will be filling in details as he or she goes along. You might have planned that your main character (MC) goes to a high school reunion and meets an old flame there, but when you write the reunion scene you will be adding other characters – teachers and students from her past – and having to flesh out their history. In doing so, you might “discover” (by which I mean create, more on this in a moment) that your MC got a detention from her Science teacher for something she didn’t do. This new information feeds into your picture of your MC, so that suddenly the argument she had with her teenage son three chapters ago about doing his Science homework takes on a new significance. When you wrote it, it was just an excuse to get the son to storm out of the house so that you could have her home alone when her lover phoned. Now, out of nowhere, Science is a feature and you will want to return to it later. Her experiences will also influence how she goes on to deal with her son’s problems in school for the rest of the novel. You might even have to go back and change how she dealt with her daughter getting a detention in Chapter 1.

What I am trying to show here, is that while we do control what we write, we don’t make all the minor decisions in advance, and we don’t necessarily even make them with a great deal of awareness. In the planning stage, we knew that MC was going to meet her old flame at the reunion. We knew that she would have to go through a bit of mindless small talk with the other people at the reunion to build the tension and suspense before she caught up with him. But what that small-talk was going to be didn’t seem to matter until we started writing it. We just threw a few bodies between MC and the ex-boyfriend. Those bodies needed form and something to say and, being a reunion, they needed history. So we created one, but really, we looked into our minds (or muses or our own memories or wherever else we search for extras in the cast of our novels) and discovered something at random.

These apparently minor decisions about something that happens to our MC or about something our MC thinks or feels can have a profound effect on how we view her. And then, when we come to the part of the story where the MC makes a life-changing decision, we come to realise that she wouldn’t go the way we’d planned all along at all. She would pull the trigger, or say yes or whatever it is. And bam, you’ve got a completely different story on your hands from the one you planned.

Sometimes, the extras (whether they are people, events, places or whatever) in a novel as just that, extras. They float in, pad the scenery, and then they float out again without ever really having done anything. But other times, they sneakily become pivotal. They get ideas above their station and they flap their wings like a butterfly in an English meadow. And before you know it, there’s an earthquake out in California and you’re wondering how it got there.

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Planning By The Seat Of Your Pants

We all know the saying, “Fail to plan and you plan to fail”. But in writing, there are as many views on this as there are writers – successful or otherwise. Some claim that an outline hampers the flow of the writing and is tantamount to trying to turn a novel into a mathematical equation; while others are equally adamant that navigating the plot, character development and themes of a novel without a plan is like trying to cross a continent without a map.

Well, there’s a lot more to writing a novel than just planning out a few chapters, and Lewis & Clark (or since I’m in Canada, Sir Alexander Mackenzie) will tell you it’s perfectly possible to cross a continent without a map, so I fall somewhere in between the two extremes.

I’ve planned both my nano novels, but in both cases I found myself wandering off the plan at various points. And that’s when it gets interesting. Following the characters and events that arise in the story can provide some of the best material, but it can also take you down dead-ends and tiresome tangents. Personally, I believe in going with the flow – cutting out the chaff is for editing – and if it’s the way the characters want to behave, it’s probably a more reasonable storyline than the one you had planned anyway. If it turns out to be a dead-end, you have two choices: 1) Stop, go back to the turning and take a different path (then cut out the bit that went wrong later) or 2) follow the dead-end, then work your way back to the plot through a new and interesting connector.

For example, let’s say you’ve planned a simple love story. Girl meets Boy. Girl falls in love with Boy. Boy falls in Love with Girl. The End. That’s your plan. Then, somewhere in chapter 4, Girl meets Boy2. Boy2 wasn’t even in the plan, but here he is and now that you’ve started writing,he seems like exactly the sort of guy Girl would like. So, follow the path the characters choose. Girl and Boy2 fall in love. Then, if things work out, it’s fine, stick with it. If it turns out to be a dead-end, you can either cut everything since Chapter 4 and cut Boy2 out completely, or have Girl have a massive row with Boy2 and fall into Boy’s arms, bringing you neatly back onto your plan.

All of which is a tangent of my own, to say that having a plan doesn’t mean being a slave to it, but it does help to make sure the story is balanced (Spending 15 chapters on Girl and just having Boy wander in for the epilogue might upset your readers), has a plot at all (What if you just rambled about Girl and never mentioned Boy at all? Not much of a romance!), and helps to alleviate the dreaded writer’s block (Because you always know what’s coming next).

So having declared myself to be a fan of planning and then going with the flow, I’m going to run a series of posts on just that subject. They’ll be interspersed with other posts, but keep an eye out if you’re interested. Even if you’ve never planned before and prefer to be a pioneer, you might find something that works for you. Even Mackenzie followed a river!

 

 

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Play Time in Writerville

While recent posts might suggest ideas are easy to come by, it’s always fun to hear about new ways to exercise the writer-brain and this one really peaked my interest. I was sent this picture by my writer friend, Dana (his website is here: http://pixelenvy.ca/cgi/fff.cgi if you’re interested.)

He received the dice as a Christmas present – the challenge is to come up with a story featuring all these components. Now the first thing I thought when I saw this was “Famous Five”. Must be something to do with the flashlight and the moon and the castle, but I think mostly the footprint. You have my permission to psychologically assess me based on that impression – I wonder why I went for all the corner pieces first!

But I digress…

I feel 100 words won’t do either this challenge or the components of this story justice, so I’m planning to write something a little longer in resposne to this picture. I’ll post it when it’s done. If you would like to join me, feel free to post your own stories either in the comments below, or in your own blog with a link in the comments. I won’t be reading them until I’m done mine, but then I would love to see what other people saw in Dana’s Dice.

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More on Inspiration and Murderers

Less than a week after writing my previous post, “Where do you get your ideas?”, I was sitting in a juice bar waiting for my husband.So I picked up the book he’d been reading and started leafing through it. To my surprise, I came upon the author’s views on just this question – the writer’s top FAQ. It made me realise there was something else to say.

In the Preface to “What the Dog Saw” (Little, Brown and Company, 2009), Malcolm Gladwell attempts to answer the question first of all by giving some specific examples of where his ideas came from, but then he summarises, “The trick to finding ideas is to convince yourself that everyone and everything has a story to tell.” He goes on to correct himself, calling this trick a challenge.

Gladwell is a reporter; he writes factual books and articles about interesting psychological and societal phenomena, but his remarks gave me pause. Because he is right in a way, but I wouldn’t call it a trick or a challenge, more a worldview. A way of looking at things. And maybe that is what makes me a writer of fiction.

Last week the Friday Fiction picture was an airport (you can see the picture, and my response at https://elmowrites.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/flash-fiction-9/). And yet only maybe 20% of the responses featured an airport. The rest spanned heaven and hell, ancient sailing ships and moderns cruise-liners, shopping malls, alien space craft… we couldn’t help it. We couldn’t just see the picture and think “There’s an airport concourse [full stop. no story there.]” any more than we could look at an acorn on the ground the week before and see nothing but an acorn. We all saw something else. Characters. Drama. A story.

So perhaps, as a fiction writer, when faced with the question “Where do you get your ideas?”, there is only one answer, “I’m a writer. It’s not a question of where I get them, it’s a matter of how I get rid of them.” And that, of course, is by turning them into stories.

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