West Virginia Wednesdays

IMG_7620Over Memorial Day weekend, I went with my parents and kids to place flowers on the graves of my grandparents and other relatives.

My mother’s family had lived in Marion and Harrison counties in West Virginia for generations.  We placed flowers on the grave of my grandmother’s brother in a small family cemetery that’s now at the edge of a housing development.  The land of the development once was a farm that my grandmother’s family worked.  Her brother wanted to be buried in that cemetery because he and my grandmother enjoyed playing there when they were children.

IMG_7612It seemed odd to find a cemetery among all these new houses, but I could tell it was taken care of, so at least the graves aren’t neglected.

Next, we stopped at the large cemetery in Shinnston. My grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great grandparents on both sides of my mom’s family are buried there.

As my kids place flowers around the graves, I wondered if my distant grandparents ever thought their great-great-great grandchildren would come to pay respects almost a hundred years after their deaths. It’s a stunning thought.

IMG_7623The next day, we drove into the hills above Moundsville to place flowers on the graves of my dad’s parents.  Both sides of his family had lived in the northern panhandle of West Virginia for several generations. My grandfather served in the Navy during World War II.IMG_7641

I am so glad I got to take my kids to see our family history.  I hope they can feel a connection to the relatives who came before them and the land where our family once lived.

Writing Tip

Here is a very helpful article about The Elements of Style by Sandra Merville Hart, whom I’ve met through my writers’ group.

 

Writing Tip — Reading Out Loud

teachers-23820_1280Since I’ve been posting about sound, I thought I would add one more article on the topic: reading your work out loud.

C. S. Lewis advised writing for the ear, not the eye, “make every sentence sound good.” To read more about the writing advice Lewis offered, click here.  It’s a post I’ve linked to before.

Establishing a rhythm to your writing takes a lot of experience and practice.  But reading out loud can benefit even beginning writers in a few different ways.

Catching typos.  I speak slower than I read, so when I read aloud, I find more mistakes. It keeps me from skimming a familiar work.

Weeding out bad structure. This comes under making “every sentence sound good.” When I am writing a first draft, I get the words down any old way.  Reading aloud can help me find sentences that are clunky or just plain ugly.  The meaning is clear, but I need to find a more elegant or concise way to phrase it.

Smashing writer’s block. If you are stuck in a particular part of your writing, read it out loud and see if hearing your work provokes any ideas.

Working on dialogue. I don’t know if many writers do this, but I sometimes speak my dialogue while I am writing it or even if I am just thinking about it. (But I make sure I’m alone first.) It helps me make the conversation sound more natural and sometimes, as my characters talk among themselves, I find a new avenue to take in my writing.

As you write more, you will want to explore rhythm in your writing. The passage in my novel where my main character is sneaking through the night is one I am going to read out loud because I think if I can establish a rhythm in this section, it will make it more suspenseful.

 

Writing Tip –Evoking Sound, Part II

singer-2119874_1280If you have any writing set in nature, describing the sounds of that setting is critical. Nature is never silent, so don’t pass up a chance to add sound imagery (that seems like an oxymoron) to your writing.

The setting for my novel is in the eastern mountains of West Virginia.  My main character lives miles from the nearest neighbors. Someone living that close to nature would notice its sounds.

If my plans don’t fall apart, I will revisit that location, so I can get first-hand observations.  Until then, I can do research with field guides and look up the songs and call of local birds and other animals.

Whether your setting is forest, fields, desert, mountains, or beach, here are some questions to ask yourself so you can describe the correct sounds.

What time of year is it?  If you are writing about a temperate climate, the season will affect the sounds. My novel takes place in July, so the animals actively making noises then may not be the same ones as in the spring.

What time of day is it? I have a scene where my main character is sneaking around his family’s property at night, checking for intruders.  I’m looking forward to hiking in the mountains at that time so I can make this scene accurate.

What are the weather conditions? My novel starts in a rain shower — lot of opportunity for sound descriptions. It’s also been very wet, so the wind blowing through a soaked forest would sound different from one that is suffering from drought.

And don’t forget the flip side of all that sound. If a natural scence suddenly gets quiet or even silent, it means something significant is happening or about to happen.

fog-2330095_1280Two weather conditions that can aid you in describing quiet are snow and fog.  Snow seems to soften everything, both visually and audibly, if fierce winds don’t accompany it.  Fog has a contradictory effect.  It muffles, but since fog can’t exist with wind, it also allows you to pinpoint the directions of sounds more easily.

Whatever your natural setting, be sure to explore it with your ears as well as your eyes.

 

Writing Tip — Evoking Sound, Part 1

headphones-1301527_1280Every writer knows that to draw a reader into her literary world she needs to describe it in terms of the fives senses. But knowing and doing are two different things.  I know I rely too heavily on sight and need to work on using the other four.  Almost an Author is running a series of posts on writing with senses.  This one on sound provides an interesting exercise to get you to notice sound more.

Reviewing my novel, I found a few areas where I do use sound.  One is in how characters sound when they talk. Below are a few examples.

Describing a three-year-old boy: “Because he … talked so well, True gave you the weird impression he was a miniature adult.”

A sixteen-year-old boy is chronically nervous.  So he talks fast.  Throughout my story, I mention “Gabe answered at full speed”, and “The longer he talked, the faster he got”. He also has a habit of drumming his hands on any handy surface when he’s really nervous.

A petty crook has “a voice as deep and rocky as an abandoned mine”.  Later he speaks in his “basement voice.”

group-1825509_1280One thing I can’t do is use dialogue tags to describe the voice, like “roared”, “squeaked”, or “hissed.”  And it’s definitely out to use adverbs, such as “she said sternly” or “he said weakly.”  I can use “whisper” or “shout” or “yell”, sparingly, to indicated volume, but since minimizing dialogue tags is the style now, it’s better to convey the sound of the voice through either the dialogue itself or actions that accompany it.

I have a character who runs a notoriously wild bar and may be engaged in illegal activities there.  So he doesn’t like the police. When the sheriff shows up at his bar to investigate a possible crime, he says, “‘Get lost, Acker.’ Mr. Ferrick flung an arm at the patrol car.”

Since I have already established Ferrick doesn’t like the police, his action conveys how he sounds when he speaks to them.

For more on dialogue tags, read my previous post on them.

Another area I can use to evoke sound is nature.  My book is set in the mountains of eastern West Virginia, so I have a great opportunity to make a scene come alive with sound.

I’ll discuss that next time.

Monday Sparks — writing prompts to fan your creative flame

meteorite-1060886_1280Since I usually find landscapes inspiring, whether I look at one in person or in a painting or photograph, this Monday’s prompt is a sci-fi landscape. This scene intrigued me because the people in it don’t seem scared of the fiery meteor.  They are focusing on it but their postures don’t reveal any fear.  Why?  Were they expecting it? Maybe meteors fly by all the time.  I could start a story like this:

My little brother looked up from the praying mantis he was holding. We both watched the meteor soar out of sight.

“Do you think it’ll land where the others have?”

I said, “Sure.  Why not?”

“Can we go see?  Please?”

I rolled my eyes, but since I had to watch Jake any way, we might as well.

“Okay. But remember we have to be quiet.”

Jake bobbed his head up and down in agreement and hopped on his trike.

How does the picture inspire you?

 

Writing Tip — Fantastic Names

robot-2256814_1280If you have been following my blog long, you know I love creating names for characters.  I did a series of posts earlier in the year about what I’ve learned about this kind of writing. If you haven’t read them, here are the links for Post #1, Post #2, and Post #3 on naming characters.

I don’t write science fiction or fantasy, and those genres have their own unique rules for creating names.  This post at Almost An Author covers this topic.  Ms. Zimmerman’s first idea of looking at the root of words reminded me of how unfamiliar Latin words can make original names.

My husband likes birds, and we have bird identifiction books.  As I was perusing one of them, I began reading the Latin names.  The name for a barn owl is “Tyto alba”.  I think that’s a great name for a fantasy hero.  It sounds strong and noble. If it’s a heroine, you could flip it,”Alba Tyto.”  It’s unusual but easy to pronounce, which is critical for your readers.

Other Latin words with name potential are “Strix”, “Asio”, “Surnia Ulula” — a northern hawk-owl — “Athene,” “Nyctea”, “Saya”, and “Sasin”.

If you write in either science fiction or fantasy and need to create names, where do you get your inspiration?

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