Writing Tip


I have seen a lot of documentaries about animals over the last few years because a little boy in my life loves them.  I find them interesting, even fascinating.  What I didn’t expect to find was inspiration for my writing.

If my characters were animals, I think it would be necessary to observe the species of animals I  had chosen for my characters.  One of my favorite books is Watership Down by Richard Adams.   It is a fantasy about a society of wild rabbits in England.  Even though the animals talk, Mr. Adams did research on wild rabbits and has his characters act as much like wild rabbits as is possible within the rules of the fantasy he creates.  Grounding his story with these facts makes the fantasy much more appealing.

I write about real people in a contemporary setting.  The main character is a teenager living in the West Virginia mountains.  Living close to nature, he often describes people in terms of the animals they remind him of.  A very fat man is described like a toad, a family of small-time crooks like a pack of stray dogs.  I use animal imagery because almost everybody can understand my comparisons and it fits with my narrator’s life experience.

Watching animals documentaries has shown my new ways that animals behave that I can use in my comparisons.  When an animal is stalking, it moves quickly and precisely.  In between movements, the animal seems unnaturally still.  I can use those observations when describing a character sneaking around or following someone.

Crows are one of the most intelligent of animals.  They watch people and learn from us.  Knowing this, crows catch my attention when I see them.  I have a character who has a reputation for being crazy, and I decided to describe him like the crows he befriends — dark, alert, intelligent but still wild.

I pick comparisons people will understand.  I can’t use something too obscure.  I watched a program on sloths, native to Central and South America.  Because they are built to live their whole lives in trees, they move very strangely if they are forced to crawl across the ground.  It’s very weird and creepy to watch.  But if I wrote “The man crawled across the ground like a desperate sloth” no one would know what I was talking about.

Even better than watching filmed animal behavior is watching it in person.  I’ll write about that on Tuesday.


Writing Tip

Placeholder ImageMore Myths

I have found inspiration for my own writing in myths.  I am an old movie fan and was watching Jason and the Argonauts (1963).  The portrayal of Hercules in that movie intrigued me.  When I read the myths about Hercules, I realized the screenwriter had done a good job of sticking to the myths when developing the screen character.

Hercules in the myths is not very bright, intensely loyal to his friends, has a mean streak, and a tragic past.  For a minor character I created, I deleted the mean streak and made him a huge man, not smart, very kind, and with  a tragic past.

I have also created two other minor characters who are identical twins.  In my work, they are middle-aged men and go by the nicknames Sunny and Set.  Even though they are identical, they have opposite personalities, Sunny living up to his optimistic nickname, and Set living as a criminal.  It was after I had developed these characters that I noticed how much they resemble ancient Egyptian mythology.

Osiris, who is sometimes claimed to be the son of the sun god, is good and his evil brother Set kills him.  So I could write the story with my character Set acting like the mythologoical one.  Or I could turn the myth on its head and have my Set save or protect his brother. One thing I like about myths is that I don’t have to follow them precisely.  Once inspired, I can use them any way I want.

Myths aren’t like copyrighted books.  Even in ancient times, there might be several versions of one particular story.  There are not a lot of sources for the Norse myths.  But even the few that exist don’t always tell the same story the same way.

I can change the ending of a myth to a happy one.  I can put a female character into a situation that originated with a male one.  That would change the storytelling completely.  In fact, once I get through with my story, it might be hard to find the myth.  But it was still responsible for kicking off my creative spark.  So I keep revisiting myths because I enjoy reading them and because I never know what inspiration might spring to life.

Writing Tips

Placeholder ImageMyths

Myths are a great place to look for inspiration for plots and/or characters.  Of course, myths have been the source of inspiration for centuries and still are.  The Percy Jackson books are a prime example.  Another is Ed King, a modern retelling of Oedipus Rex.  But just because myths have been mined for years doesn’t mean they still can’t spark ideas in the next generation of authors.  There are so many myths, from so many different cultures, containing so many different stories and characters that I don’t think you can exhaust the possibilities for inspiration.

If you don’t know much about myths, Myths and Legends: an Illustrated Guide to Their Origins and Meanings by Philip Wilkinson is a great place to start.  Click here to see it on GoodReads.   Not only does it cover familiar stories from Greek and Norse cultures, but it introduced me to new stories from India, China, and Slavic cultures.

I find the Greek and Norse myths appeal to me most.  I have also read a lot about Celtic myths.  For Greek myths, I really like Edith Hamilton’s Mythology because she explains what sources she uses for her stories.  If you think you can stand the myths retold in antiquated language, try Bulfinch’s Mythology by Thomas Bulfinch.  Aside from the usual Greek and Norse myths, it has stories from other cultures that I hadn’t read before, like French and Welsh.

In my next post, I’ll write about how myths have directly aspects of my writing..

Change of Days

Because I am working on editing my manuscript, I am only going to be posting writing tips on Tuesdays and Thursdays for a few weeks.  If I find time to post more, I will.

Writing Tip

Placeholder ImageWriting Garbage

I read somewhere that a writer shouldn’t be afraid to put absolute garbage on a page.  I have tried to find the quote, but on Google, all I have found are other people who say the same thing, more or less, but without stating where they got the idea.  If anybody knows the original source for this idea, I’d love to know who said it first.

Facing a blank screen or a page can be so intimidating that you don’t write anything.  I greatly prefer editing my work.  I can edit from morning to night.  My thoughts already have structure, so editing is just sculpting them into their best shape.  I understand how “wordsmith” really fits this process.

But getting my thoughts into a structure on the page is so much work, especially when I think I may have to throw out most of it and start over.  But I’m not a writer unless I’m putting words on a page.  I can talk about my ideas and work them over in my mind, but until ink meets paper, I am not a writer.

So when I am faced with a blank page, I have to gather my courage, and feeling like I’m jumping into a lake where I don’t know the depth, I start writing.  My first draft is more dumping than writing.  I put down everything I need for this particular chapter, any way I can.  It’s not pretty or elegant or even coherent sometimes.  But it’s ink on paper.  So I’m a writer.  And since I’m also dumping, I guess that makes me a garbage worker, too.

But. . . sometimes, when I take the plunge on something totally new, my imagination takes me to places I never planned on going but I’m thrilled to discover.  The words just flow out of me and sing on paper, and I get a high that’s unique.  And sometimes, I look at what I’ve written and slog into it with a shovel and get rid of most of it.

I won’t know which way the writing will go until I actually do the writing.  I have to put ink on paper.

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