DSC_6334_smallWelcome to my writing pages!  The main focus of this page is to explore ways beginning writers can find inspiration.  You’ll also find information on my published works and the ones in progress. My schedule for posting is:

Monday Sparks: Writing ideas to fan your creative flame

Thursdays – Writing tips based on a monthly theme

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Featured post

The Sea as Writing Inspiration

This month’s “Writing in Time” post was going to be about the beach and the sea as writing inspiration. But I ran into a problem. The beach left me completely uninspired. It’s not as if I haven’t done enough research. My family and I have gone to the North Carolina coast to visit my in-laws for years now. But the beach is relaxing, a giant sandbox for people of any age to enjoy. I’ve discovered I need settings that add tension to my writing, and the beach doesn’t do it for me.

But the sea … since I was twelve and went sailing with my cousin and her husband on their sailboat in Chesapeake Bay, I’ve been in love with ships and the sea. The might and the mystery of the sea fires my imagination. Below is inspiration for using the sea in speculative fiction, mysteries, and adventures.

Speculative Fiction

I’ve only visited the beaches on the east coast of the U.S. where European settlers first arrived, leaving behind four hundred years of recorded history. That history infuses the area, making it perfect for a tale of time travel.

In North Carolina, my family and I stay at Emerald Isle, a barrier island near a maritime archaeology site. Experts believe they are excavating the ship Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard’s flagship. In a speculative story, an archaeologist finds a way to Blackbeard’s time—a portal or some item salvaged from the wreck. Blackbeard discovers the way and travels to our time. The archaeologist has to get Blackbeard back to the 18thcentury.

A monster story works so well in the sea because, unlike stories of lake monsters, the unexplored depths of the oceans gives a hint of reality to the idea of giant, undiscovered forms of sea life. A fantastic story based on some fact has always appealed to me. “The Foghorn”, a short story by Ray Bradbury, comes to mind.

Mysteries

The possibilities for this genre are nearly limitless. How many middle grade mysteries have centered around an old lighthouse or sunken treasure? Tons, but that doesn’t mean current authors can’t put a new spin on classic settings.

For adult stories, the episode “Shark Mountain” from the PBS show Nature inspired me. It featured Howard and Michele Hall, a couple who run Howard Hall Productions. They produce and direct underwater films. Michele is also an underwater photographer and logistics coordinator for their expeditions around the world as they travel for their films.

I would love to invent a couple like the Halls. In a foreign country, the couple record or photograph something dealing with a crime but don’t know it. Their boat is searched, a colleague is attacked. When the local police seem unconcerned or corrupt, the couple conduct their own investigation.

To give a mystery an eerie atmosphere, nothing beats a deserted boat. The crew of a fishing boat finds a deserted ship. They can bring it in to harbor and then mysterious events start occurring, like someone following the captain or the fishing boat is vandalized. Or after the crew finds that abandoned boat, another ship begins to chase them and it’s a battle of wits for the fishing crew to reach port safely. That storyline combines mystery and adventure, which leads me to my next genre …

Adventure

When a writer sets a story in nature, she can count on using that element for all kinds of plot twists and tension.

Two of my favorite nonfiction books are The Boy Who Sailed Around the World Alone and Dove, both by Robin Lee Graham. The first is a children’s books, stuffed with photos and the latter is for adults. Both recount the adventure of the author who became the youngest person to solo around the world starting when he was sixteen in 1965 and ending in 1970.

Those books alone provide a host of story elements from falling into the sea while working on the ship, to losing the main mast, to experiencing star-spangled nights on a still sea.

I could incorporate or adapt those real world experiences into a story involving a teen trying to sail around the world in the 21stcentury.

For more ideas about how to use August as writing inspiration, click on my 2019 post and my 2018 post.

How can you use the beach and the sea as writing inspiration?

WIP Progress

I thought I’d take time today to update you on my WIP progress, a YA Christian mystery with the working title A Shadow on the Snow. It’s the sequel to my short story “A Rose from the Ashes.”

Since I haven’t written a novel in years, I’m discovering what writing habits work best for me. So far, I’ve discovered that I write best when I handwrite five to ten chapters, type them into a second draft, go over them again, then press on with the first draft of the next five to ten chapters.

As of August 2020. I have 57,000 words in very good shape. I need to get another 20,000 to 30,000 down on paper and polished. I believe I’d be further along if I hadn’t spent nine weeks teaching my kids their online lessons. That put our computer time at a premium.

But the story is taking shape nicely. I really enjoy the polishing process, taking out tangents, enlarging minor characters necessary to the story, and making all the elements sync up. For a mystery, syncing up clues and red herrings are critical. Such as if it’s important for my main character to use her self-defense skills in the last chapters, I’d better mention that she has those skills somewhere earlier in the story. Or if the fact that Mr. Delaney is left-handed is a clue, I have to introduce it to readers in a way that they notice it but not too much.

One obstacle I’ve encountered is writing a story set in January, February, and March at the height of summer. If I’m having trouble describing the setting, I can’t go outside and get first-hand inspiration.

I’d love to hear about your WIP progress and your creative process!

What’s the matter with the middle?

My theme this month is the middle of the story, an area that can cause a lot of writers trouble. My first prompt is to ask you about the middle.

Writers, if you have had trouble in the middle of a story, what was the matter? Character development, plot points? I’d love to hear what your problem was and how you solved it.

Readers, have you read a story and bocame bogged down in the middle? Why? Did the story lose focus, throw in too many characters, or contain pointless plot twists?

Tell me your experiences and we can work together on what’s the matter with the middle.

Six Sources for Finding Names

To wrap up the month on naming characters and places, here are six sources for finding names.

Family History

If you have an amateur genealogist in your family, take a look at her work. My sister fills that role in our family and has uncovered relatives named Moses, Minerva, and Oral. Among the last names, she’s found Bonar, Righter, and Talkington. 

If you are planning to write about a family that covers several generations, studying your family’s naming patterns can help you build realistic-sounding names. In my family, we use middle names to honor someone while first names are usually ones the parents just happen to like. Five of my parents’ grandsons are named after grandfathers or great-grandfathers. My sister gave her daughter the middle name “Brooke” in memory of a college roommate

Social Security Baby Names

You can search baby naming trends back to 1880 on Social Security, perfect for historical fiction, or anytime you need to research the popularity of names in America.. This site does have one drawback. It doesn’t combine spelling variations. “Aiden” is much more popular than you would think from this site because parents spell it so many different ways, and each of those ways is listed separately.

Cemeteries

I know that sounds grim, but I’ve found many interesting names while reading headstones in a cemetery. It also gives you a sense of history about a community if you read who lived and died there.

My oldest and I visited a cemetery this summer to find inspiration for names in our stories. That’s me looking at an obelisk headstone for a family named Van Deman. Sounds Dutch to me. Many of America’s earliest settlers were Dutch, so I could use that name for a family with old money. “Deman” looks a lot like “demon”. The family could be sinister, harboring a dark secret. But I’d change it to Van Daman so I don’t telegraph to readers that these characters are probably bad guys.

The next three categories are aimed at writers of fantasy and science fiction. But contemporary writers might still find inspiration. Maybe you have a character who is a professor of Celtic mythology and named all her children after the gods in those myths.

Scientific names for animals

Get a field guide. Flipping through my husband’s book on birds, I find Calidris, Striatus, Thula. Asio, Strix, and Zenaida. Tyto Albo is the name for barn owls. It also sounds like a great name for the hero of an epic. If I change it to Tyta Albo or Alba Tyto, I have a heroine.

Mythology

A search through less well-known Greek, Roman, and Norse myths can provide names. I recommend dipping into mythologies that aren’t as well-known in America, like Celtic and Slavic. Just a few names I’ve found from Celtic and Slavic stories are Bres, Korrigan, Sadko, Morevna, and Caradoc.

Reverse and tinker with well-known names

I take a name like William and write it backwards, Mailliw. That’s unpronounceable. But I remove the “iw”, leaving Maill. Then I switch the vowels and change the “i” to “y”. I now have Myall, a name any English reader can sound out.

If you didn’t read my recommendation for the Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon, click here.

What other sources for finding names do you recommend?

Unusual Inspiration for Names

What’s the most unusual inspiration for names you’ve used? It can be for your writing, a character or place, or in your real life, a name for a child or pet.

My sister gave her daughter the middle name Gennai. One of her favorite movies is The Inn of the Sixth Happiness with Ingrid Bergman. It tells the true story of missionary Gladys Aylward, who lived in China during the 1930’s. Gennai was the name she was given in China.

I was inspired to name a minor character after a road sign. In the country, many roads have two names, like Smith Brown Road. I think it’s because the roads were named after families who lived on them. I found one called Bean Oller Road. I imagined that Bean is the nickname for a man whose last name is Oller. Nobody knows how he got the nickname because he changes his story every time someone asks him about it.

Let me know about your most unusual inspiration for names.

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