Pay Attention to the Details in Nature

The first novel I ever wrote was set in West Virginia. I loved the area near the shoulder of the eastern panhandle, the mountains rising and falling like enormous whales in a deep green sea. I got a general sense of the area, but I didn’t pay attention to the details in nature.

When I wrote my novel, I didn’t dig into my setting and learn the names of the plants that grew and flowered in July in that area. I just wrote that trees hung heavy with rain or weeds brushed against a truck. I thought being specific was boring and unnecessary, that it would slow down the storytelling.

Then my freelance editor told me that readers appreciate details as long as I dribble it in and not dump it. Readers might not know exactly what a flowering rhododendron looks like, but if I write “the white blossoms drooped, with the weight of rain”, they have something to hang their imaginations on.

Because my mysteries are set in rural areas, I try to pay attention to the details in nature. My oldest, Bird Boy, has recently discovered the joy of birding. I am learning all about the birds that live and pass through Ohio.

If my character is also a birder, she wouldn’t say “a bird flew by in a blur.” She’d say “the tiny black and yellow blur of a golden-cheeked warbler zipped past my face.” I can even work in the details if my character is a city slicker. “A tiny black and yellow blur passed millimeters from my eyes. It seemed to be a bird. I hoped it wasn’t a typical of the wasps around here.”

Nothing beats walking the natural setting of a story. But if that’s impossible, or I need to conduct further research after I’ve visited an area, I have a few sources I turn to. I’m old-fashioned. I go to books first for my research.

Field guides are invaluable for checking on the appearance, habitat, and growing habits of plants and animals. Another great source are the magazines published by state departments of natural resources. We subscribed to ones from Ohio and West Virginia. I’ve learned so much from reading these publications.

For more inspiration from nature, click here to read my post on how weather lore can provide writing inspiration.

Do you pay attention to the details in nature? How can you work them into your stories?

Animals Inspiring Human Characters

Of course animals have inspired some of the most beloved characters in literature — Charlotte, Mr. Toad, the Cat in the Hat. I’ve never tried to create an animal character and have no plants to writet a mystery series where talking animals help their owners in their investigations. But I still find animals inspiring human characters and their descriptions.

Character Descriptions

If it fits the mindset of my point-of-view (POV) character, I can have her describe characters in terms of animals. She may be an animal lover or someone who grew up on a farm, or someone who wants to be a vet. Any of those interests would give her a convincing backstory for her to see animal traits in people. Such as:

  • “He opened his bullfrog mouth.”
  • “Her snake eyes darted to the door.”
  • “The only thing that distinguished Mr. Carlton from Dad’s prize boar was Mr. Carlton’s disheveled clothes and atrocious manners.”

An animal name is also a good way to give minor characters a “handle”, a summation of their appearance, so the readers get a quick image and move on with the story.

  • “The rat-faced man slunk along the bar.”
  • “Mouse Lady slipped up to me, apologized, and told me her boss was ready to see me.”

Revive Old Similies

Another way to let animals inspire your writing is to freshen worn out smilies. No one can use “as quiet as a mouse” without being considered a poor writer. But I can use something like “He wasn’t just as quiet as a mouse. He moved as silently as a mouse with ninja training.”

Character Behavior

My oldest loves nature documentaries. Watching animal behavior has inspired me to want to incorporate that behavior in my stories

For example, we watched a show in which a polar bear began to tear through a colony of birds that nest on the ground. He was ripping into nests and eating hatchlings. Polar bears can weigh over 1,000 pounds. The body of the birds wasn’t bigger than his head, if that. They couldn’t even begin to fight him.

So they annoyed him. The parents divebombed the bear’s head, flapping past his face., sometime delivering a glancing blow with their beaks. There were hundreds of birds. I don’t know how many participated in the defense of the nests, but they annoyed the bear so much that he left.

I can use that behavior in a variety of ways, like younger siblings getting on the nerves of their oldest brother, or elementary kids banding together to drive the junior high bully crazy.

Read more about animals as writing inspiration here.

How can animals inspire human characters in your writing? What animals have you known that have inspired stories?

Close Our Eyes to Nature

Sight is such a dominant sense in humans that for writers to evoke the other senses, we may need to close our eyes to nature.

A few days ago, I sat on the river bank near my home while the kids fished and closed my eyes to tune in my other sense to nature. Below are my impressions:

  • Whine of passing cars on bridge
  • Bird calls — “purty, purty, purty” and “cheer, cheer, cheer”
  • A thick, sweet smell–magnolias?
  • Water smacking against an oar
  • Air perfect temperature to be without a coat.

I opened my eyes and added “Sunlight glittering on the water”

Now I have the raw materials for using the setting in a scene.

Despite the whine of cars passing on the bridge above the river, Aiden didn’t look up. He kept his focus on the bobber as it danced in a glittering ripple. Birds tossed songs to each other, and a thick, sweet smell reached him from the other bank.

Now go find a place in nature where you can close your eyes and test your other sense with what they can pick up.

I’d love to read what you discover!

Natural Light as Inspiration for Your Writing

Since I was in high school, I’ve found inspiration in how natural light plays across landscapes, whether it’s sunlight or moonlight. When the light catches my attention, I imagine what kind of a scene I could set in it. I’ve incorporated this sensitivity to natural light in Rae Riley, the main character of my short story “A Rose from the Ashes”, and my WIP, A Shadow on the Snow. Rae is an amateur photographer, so I can work in descriptions of natural light works in a way that is believable for my character.

Below are list of ways you can use natural light as inspiration for your writing.

Golden summer evening

Everyone has experienced how wonderfully relaxing a summer evening bathed in golden light is. It seems like the perfect setting for a low-key conclusion to a story. That’s the setting for the last chapter of my first novel. Since I doubt that novel will ever see the light of print, I’m hoping to find a way to recycle this setting in another story.

Bright sunrise

This kind of sunrise seems like a good setting for an upbeat ending to a story. It also makes a powerful contrast if most of you story has taken place at night, especially if the action has been harrowing for the characters. I’m a sucker for stories that take place during the course of one night. A glorious sunrise may be the best way to end it.

Cloudy sunrise

If the day doesn’t start bright, it seems to be a harbinger for a bad day. A cloudy sunrise could kick off a story, foretelling that things won’t go well for the main characters that day.

Bright, clear day

My mood almost always lifts when the humidity is so low that sky is clear of clouds and at its most brilliant blue. It seems like a day overflowing with possibilities. A great way to start an adventure. Or I can use the day as a counterpoint. My main character wants to get out into the gorgeous day and is trapped inside with work or some other obnoxious duty. My plot could be about how she schemes to escape into the beautiful day.

Weird light

Unusual weather circumstances can affect the light strangely. One spring morning when my kids were small, I woke up after my husband had already gone to work. The blinds were drawn in my bedroom, so my first view of the day was when I stepped into my living room. I saw the morning sky was yellow. My first thought: TORNDADO! Immediately, I turned on the TV and found out that severe weather was passing. I can’t remember if the storms produced tornadoes but we didn’t experience anything more than normal thunderstorms.

Unusual weather like the yellow sky calls for dramatic action. My main character could be struggling toward a goal and a storm can be an obstacle or the symbol of obstacles he must over come. Or it could be the backdrop for the ultimate clash between two strong-willed characters.

Another unusual condition of natural light is during a sunset when most of the sky is covered with clouds but there’s a break just above the horizon. When the sun reaches this clear strip of sky, the light seems to get funneled between the clouds and land, creating searing light and deep shadows.

Such harsh light seems appropriate for a climax in which the characters learns the ultimate truth about themselves or the situation they’ve been living in.

Click hear for my post on how to use moonlight on a full moon night to inspire your settings.

How would you use natural light as inspiration for your writing?

Spring Haiku

It’s been awhile since I’ve had a poetry prompt. Since haikus describe nature, spring haiku is the perfect prompt to go with this month’s theme of nature.

The redbuds are blooming in my neck of the woods in the Buckeye State. Here’s my haiku:

Redbud trees feathered

In pink and purple glory:

A bird dressed for spring

Click to read my spring haikus from 2018 and 2019. Lori Z. Scott wrote an impressive haiku that’s also an acrostic on her Instagram page.

What haiku does spring inspire in you?

Last Day of School as Writing Inspiration

This year, in the U.S., the last day of school for kids was in March or April. Yes, we have online learning, but I think the parents are looking forward to the end of it more than the kids are. Spending two hours on assignments at home is so much easier than spending six and a half hours in a school, not including drive time. The last day of school as writing inspiration can kick off all kinds of stories, whether I write about a traditional last day or how it appears in 2020.

Humor

By the last week of school, everyone involved, parents, teachers, students, and administrators, are done. Now they all mark time until the final day. A story about all these different kinds of characters, straining to hold it together until the final bell on the final day has a lot of comic possibilities.

My kids’s school system offers a lot of fun activities during the last days, such as camp, field day, and egg drops. Any outdoor activity with kids is ripe for a story of misadventures. When I helped with my oldest’s field day in kindergarten, one boy began screaming when he received a bloody nose during a game. I walked him up to the nurse’s office. When I reminded him that his class was now probably at the bounce house, he pulled himself together and rejoined his class, bouncing with the best of them.

If you aren’t familiar with an egg drop, it’s usually a challenge issued in junior high or high school. Teams are instructed to build a contraption that will prevent an egg from breaking as the contraption is dropped from greater and greater heights. Eggs, kids, and heights. I don’t really need to say more.

Nostalgia

When I was in junior high and high school, I noticed a change during the last few days or even weeks. Everyone relaxes, at least a bit. The teachers know they can’t teach any more. The kids know the teacher have lowered their expectations concerning learning. My mom would ease up on our night time routine.

As the evenings in May grew long and golden, I could sense the finality of what was happening. I didn’t want to repeat the school year. I came to hate school from the time I was in eighth grade. But it did seem like a time for reflection, looking back and looking ahead.

This thoughtful time is suitable for a story about a student who has regrets or maybe wants to accomplish something before the year ends, a teacher facing retirement, or a parent whose youngest child is finishing high school.

Beginnings and Endings

As I write this post, I realize that the last day of school can start a story or end it, but I don’t see how it could come in the middle. It just doesn’t feel right.

As a story starter, it can set the tone for a summer of misadventures, mysteries, adventures, or self-discovery. As an ending, it can wrap up a story that began with the first day of school or highlight how characters have changed during the course of the story.

For more ideas on how to use May as writing inspiration, visit my posts on graduation and other May holidays.

How would you use the last day of school as writing inspiration?

What Natural Wonders Do You Want to See?

This month I’m focusing on how nature can inspire our writing. But nature means much more to me than simply source materials for stories. I see the goodness of God in nature. It’s demonstrates His joy in the act of creation. I can clear my mind and relax when I get out into nature and away from the grind of the daily routine.

I haven’t traveled very far in my life. I’ve only flown three times. The furthest east I’ve gone is Acadia National Park in Maine, and the furthest west has been Dallas. Natural wonders I would like to see some day are:

What natural wonders do you want to see?

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