Writing Tip — Perspective

new-york-927138_1280My oldest did a photography 4-H project this summer. One of the exercises was called “Bird’s Eye, Bugs Eye.” The point was to take photos from very high and very low perspectives, something different from human height.

IMG_7926IMG_8043When I saw the results, I was amazed at how fresh and interesting mundane objects became with a change in perspective.

I was reminded how important it is for writers to freshen their perspectives when I was attending the American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Dallas last weekend. In a workshop led by authors James L. Rubart and Cara Putnam, they talked about how writers need to look at people, situations, and settings in unique ways to make their writing stand out.

I wrote about this last January in the post “Finding the Real in the Routine”. If you need to change your perspective, here are some suggestions:

  • Walk through a new neighborhood.
  • Walk as close as you can to a construction site. (I am a big fan of learning about an area by walking.)
  • Find a restaurant that serves a style of food you haven’t tried.
  • Read outside the genre you write.
  • Watch a movie or TV show that’s different from your usual favorites.
  • Sit in different places in your home and see if you spot something new. (Such as laying down on your kids’s beds.)
  • Find a plant and study it up close.
  • Go to a zoo and watch active animals.
  • Visit a library and browse the shelves.
  • Go through family albums and pick a few photos to study.
  • Pick an unfamiliar, busy location and people watch, without looking at your phone, for ten minutes.
  • Take photos of familiar objects from strange angles.

Recently I experienced the rewards of getting a fresh perspective when I changed my walking routine. After I finish the school drop-off, I usually walk around the little town where the school is located. Yesterday, I decided to wade the creek near our property. I found this:

IMG_9009It’s one of three dams we think beavers have built, and we are mounting an expedition to find the lodge.

What do you do to find a new perspective in your writing?

 

West Virginia Wednesday — From Davis to Parsons

IMG_8584When I was staying at Blackwater Falls State Park in Tucker County, West Virginia, I had to drive to the county seat of Parsons to do research. The 30-minute drive proved wild and wonderful and sometimes nerve-wracking for someone not used to driving through the mountains.

In Scenic Routes and Byways: West Virginia by Su Clauson-Wicker, the route I took is placed in the larger drive called the Canaan Valley Loop. I would love to go back and drive that entire route. All the quotes are from this book.

I drove out of the state park and onto Rt. 32. I skirted the tiny town of Davis, “the highest incorporated town east of the Mississippi”, and follow 32 until I reached another very small town, Thomas. The layout of Thomas is very interesting. The town is mostly built on one side of the North Fork of the Blackwater River. The mountainside is so steep that the town is built in layer like on wedding cake, with the buildings above set back from those below.

I turned onto US 219 South. Descending Backbone Mountain, I came around a curve and found enormous wind tubines popping into view. What made it so surprising was that I hadn’t seem a glimpse of them until they loomed up, complete and colossal.

I turned right onto Sugarlands Road and then quickly found the service road that ran below the 345-foot turbines. The gate was unlocked, so I could have followed the service road as far as my car allowed. When I came back with my family, we did drive down it a short way to take pictures. 166 turbines stand long “the top of this north-south ridge for miles.”

IMG_8567Less than a mile from Sugarlands Road is a picnic area and observation parking lot. The top photo was taken there. It was my favorite view of the whole trip. The mountains rolled to the horizon like waves. The farm, a lighter green than the mountains, stood out like an island in the sea.

The finally six miles into Parsons is a six percent grade. It’s fun to drive, but I got nervous when tractor trailers suddenly roared around the curve. Tucker County High School is about half way down the stretch, and it made me wonder: how do the kids and buses get up and down this road when it snows? Slide? Glide? Collide? Maybe the county clears this first because it is US highway, but the writer and mom in me thought the school is located in a worrying place.

When I drove into Parsons, a town of over 1,000 situated in the a flat river valley by the Cheat River, I had descended 1,600 feet in a half hour.

If you are interested in taking scenic drives in West Virginia, check out Ms. Clauson-Wicker’s book. She lists many different routes and the chapter describing the road I drove is very helpful.

Writing Tip — Editing

work-in-the-garden-2432111_1280Gardeners aren’t the only ones who weed on the job. Librarians do, too. Checking books for condition and amount of use is called weeding in the library world. When I was a librarian, I loved to weed, getting rid of books that were hardly used, making room for new books that would be more likely to meet customers’s tastes.

Although I don’t work in a library anymore, I am still weeding. I was reminded of this when I read this post on Almost and Author. Mr. Peterson lists common phrases that can be condensed into fewer words, sometimes just one. In my case, I use a word that often can be eliminated altogether.

That word is “that”. I didn’t realize I was using it too much until I hired a free-lance editor to review my novel. She couldn’t get through a paragraph without tripping over it at least one. The style now is to eliminate only those needed to make meaning clear.

When I first read a sentence without my pet “that”, it seemed odd. But the more I read, the more I got used to it and could see how, in most cases, they were unnecessary.

But when I write a first draft now, I still can’t cut out “that”. For my writing to feel natural, I am compelled to include the word.

So on a first draft, I allow myself to fling out as many “that’s” as I want. As I wrote in this post, the purpose of a first draft is to get words on paper or screen any old way you can. Then in the second or third draft, you can switch into editing mode and weed away.

Do you have particular writing quirks you need to eliminate?

 

Monday Sparks — Writing prompts

canada-1863751_1280To celebrate the beginning of fall, my favorite season, write an acrostic poem. If “autumn” is too difficult, as it is for me, this season has the thoughtfulness to use two names.

Here is my acrostic poem:

Following

After friends,

Leaves are

Like lemmings.

 

Share if inspired!

Writing Tip — King Solomon as a Fictional Character

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Writing about Solomon and Ecclesiastes a week ago reminded me of what great inspiration Solomon can provide in developing a fictional character based on his life.

I don’t mean as a character in historical novels where an author fleshes out a Biblical story. Solomon works well as a characters in any time period, even ours.

We know more about Solomon than most people we read about in the Bible:

  1. The history of his parents David and Bathsheba.
  2. The stories of the tragic lives of his half-siblings Amnon, Tamar, and Absalom
  3. Solomon’s own clash over the throne with another half-brother Adonijah.
  4. Solomon’s personality and character become evident. How his humble desire to serve God as king gives way to his own desires for pleasing his wives which comes to mean more than pleasing God.

If I used Solomon for a contemporary character, I might cast him as the CEO of an innovative tech company, founded by his far-seeing father. This modern Solomon takes the company to new heights of greatness. Instead of being wise, I could say he is brilliant in business, but the pursuit of some personal indulgence, not necessarily women, make him appear stupid even to his friends.

In the end, the company is broken up, and his son, or daughter, only inherits a fraction of it.

This story arc will work with just about any occupation:

  • a dazzling politician
  • a successful actor
  • a stunningly skilled surgeon

It will work in any genre too:

  • a king in a fantasy world
  • politician in a crime novel
  • a powerful British duke in a historical romance

Because I am using Solomon as just inspiration, I can change his story to suit my narrative needs. Instead of the fictional Solomon ending his days with most of his power gone, at odds with God, I could have him repent, learn from his mistakes, and die a happy man.

What possibilities do you see for using the story of Solomon as inspiration for a character?

Writing Tip — How to Write an Action Scene

the-vikings-2637102_1280Although I have some action in my book, those scenes tend to be short, so I am no expert on writing a sustained action sequence. This article has seven great points on how to write an action scene.

One thing I am going to check in my action scenes is to to make sure I don’t have my character thinking “lofty thoughts” in the middle of the action, as Ms. Griep points out in her fourth piece of advice “Instinct Over Intellect”.

I have always thought writers should use short sentences when writing an action scene, but I also think the paragraphs should be short. One to two lines per paragraph convey speed to me, the literary equivalent of rapid-cut editing in movies.

When I am reading and realize the action is ratcheting up but the next few pages consist of chunky paragraphs, I think the form works against the action.

So what do you think? Should a writer use short paragraphs as well as short sentences when writing an action scene?

Writing Tip — Locations Must Be Put to Work

isolation-2420514_1280For  an interesting opinion on world-building, check out this post “Why World Building Comes First” on Gabrielle Massman’s site “Write for the King”.

Her post emphasizes how world-building in speculative fiction affects character development. As I stated in my comment, I believe all authors engage in some kind of world-building to draw readers into a setting they are not familiar with.

This reminded me of a rule, attributed to Alfred Hitchcock, which I found in Halliwell’s Harvest“the location must be put to work”.

Hitchcock is remembered for his wonderful use of locations to enhance his plots. A man is dropped off by a lonely cornfield and is attacked by someone flying a crop-dusting plane in North By Northwest. Not a truck or car or motorcycle. Since the hero is in a cornfield, Hitchcock uses a plane. Because Foreign Correspondent has a scene in Holland, Hitchcock has to work in a windmill in which the hero gets his sleeve, almost his arm, crushed in the grinding gears of the mill.

I am reading A Fool and His Monet by Sandra Orchard. The main character is an FBI agent who specializes in art theft and works out of St. Louis. The author uses a lot of place names to ground her story in St. Louis. I don’t know the city, but I have a cousin who lives there, and I’m sure if I check, those names will be true.

Whatever you location, make it work for your story. If you pick a city that’s been used a lot, like New York or London, try to find some quality that other writers might not have taken advantage of. Jeff Rice wrote the book for the TV movie The Night Stalker about a vampire prowling through Las Vegas. Mr. Rice had lived in Las Vegas and said a significant part of the population lived and worked at night. A vampire would go unnoticed.

If your story is not coming together as you like, maybe it’s the location. Try several different ones and see if  a change gets the story back on track.

How do you make your location work for you?

 

West Virginia Wednesdays — Cathedral State Park

IMG_8718An hour north and west of Blackwater Falls State Park is Cathedral State Park. It is small by state park standards, only 133 acres, but it offers unique sights in West Virginia. It contains, as the official website reports, “the only stand of virgin hemlock” in the state. Some of those trees are around 500 years old.

IMG_8740My family spent about an hour walking the trails. I say “walking” because the park is relatively flat for West Virginia, so we didn’t feel we were hiking at all. The park has six miles of walking trails, and I think we could have covered them all in two to three hours, including stops for taking photos. There are picnic tables, so you could bring a meal and stay the afternoon.

The park was muddy, so keep that in mind when selecting footwear. My kids were very excited to find trees so wide that, even holding hands, they couldn’t reach around the entire trunk.

Because of the name, we expected to find soaring trees. We were surprised to find a wide variety of mushrooms. I have never seen so many different kinds in one area. I don’t know if it was the wet conditions or the time of year, August, which produced them, but my kids had fun looking for them. My favorite is this lavender one. I had never seen a lavender mushroom before.

IMG_8694Cathedral State Park is a great park for anyone who loves the nature of the Appalachia mountains, but it is especially suitable for anyone who can’t do strenuous hiking. The paths are dirt and can be uneven, but there are no difficult slopes.

If you are in the area of Aurora, West Virginia, on Rt. 50, stop at Cathedral State Park and explore. Maybe you will find a hot pink mushroom.

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