Interview Yourself

In Gail Johnson’s post on nonfiction writing, she recommended turning what you already know a lot about into nonfiction articles. This approach also works for inspiring fiction. Interview yourself to discover ideas for both your fiction and nonfiction.

For example, I love horses. It’s easy for me to create characters who work with horses. It’s a subject I’m already interested in.

Schedule an interview with yourself, which shouldn’t be hard these days. Below is an interview Me did with Myself. You can borrow my questions or come up with ones of your own. Once you complete your interview, I’d love to see your answers in the comments.

Me: So glad you could work me into your schedule.

Myself: I will always make time for such a close friend. What do you want to know?

Me: What topics do you think you are an expert in?

Myself: First of all, writing, especially how to write a short story. Next, I have an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Hollywood movies from the Golden Age. Right now, my focus has been watching film noir. I’ve also read hundreds of mystery short stories, mostly from the 19th and 20th centuries. I’d feel comfortable writing about those topics.

Me: What topics would you like to learn more about?

Myself: Nature. So that when I go for a walk, I know what I’m looking at. I’ve been learning over the years because my kids are interested in it, and I’ve given them books on the subject. I’m also fascinated by police and how they works. It’s a life very different from anything I’ve known. I’ve been doing research in this area for my WIP novel.

Me: What are your hobbies?

Myself: Hiking or just walking. I try to walk every day. Biking. I like to bake but don’t do it enough. I love to sled in the winter. Photography, usually taking pictures of nature.

Me: What do you like to read?

Myself: Mysteries, any kind, adult or YA, 19th, 20th or 21st centuries, short stories or novels, contemporary or historical. As along as it’s a good mystery, I’ll read it. I like to read fantasy and science fiction short stories. In nonfiction, I’ll read anything that I’m interested in. I’ve read a lot about classic movies and theology. I also love humor, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.

Me: Thanks for taking the time to sit down with me.

Myself: No problem. Come back any time.

Turning Points in Our Lives

Turning points in our lives. We’ve all had them. Often we don’t realize what they are until a lot of time has passed. At other times, we recognize turning points in the moment we make a decision and/or take an action. Considering turning points in our own lives can prompt us to create turning points for our characters.

I had two in quick succession as a new mother and realized what they were as they were happening. During the first week with my first child, I became very anxious about his health — I can’t remember specifically what I was worried about. But I told myself if I started worrying now, I’d never stop. So I had to stamp out my worries.

The second turning point came as I tried to soothe my fussy baby, and it hit me that I was IT. The mother. The only one who could help my child. Nobody could do it but me. I had to figure how to comfort my child, or he would remain upset. That realization was as startling as getting smacked upside the head with mallet. But it made me truly a mother.

What turning points have you faced? Have you tried to work them into a story?

Turning People into Characters

Have you ever tried turning people into characters?

At a writing conference, author James Rubart talked about how he had a friend, whom he turned into a character for a novel. He didn’t adapt his friend’s personality or made any other adjustments. He just plunked him in as is.

I don’t have the courage to do that. I figure I’d describe a friend in some way he or she didn’t like and I’d offend them. But most of the characters we writers create contain some aspect we’ve seen in real people.

Such as my oldest’s kindergarten teacher. This woman personified patience and even temperament. She seemed more than able to handle any crisis her students could concoct.

Kindergarten Teacher, speaking in a completely bland voice:

“Now, Aiden, you shouldn’t set fire to the classroom. You’ll get a demerit for it. Children, Aiden has set fire to the room. Please line up at the door so we can leave quickly.”

I’ve been working with a character who has that kind of calm, unflappable personality, although she isn’t a kindergarten teacher. For this character, I’m mixing the kindergarten teacher with a woman from my church.

Who are some people who would work as prompts for characters?

Vacations as Writing Prompts

Here’s another prompt to help us look at our lives and find inspiration for our writing. I’m a huge advocate of writing about things we have directly experienced. With that in mind, how can a vacation serve as a writing prompt?

I’ve only flown three time in my life, so most of my vacations aren’t too far from the Buckeye State.

Because I write mysteries, I look at these places through that lens. My family and I visited Pensacola in winter when there aren’t many tourists. Maybe I could create a mystery about a retired couple, who notice something strange going on in the supposedly empty beach house next door.

In St. Louis, I visited the fantastic St. Louis Art Museum. A break-in to steal a valuable painting on loan would kick off the action nicely. The place is huge, so maybe the security guards would have to play hide-and-seek with the crooks, who have knocked out the surveillance cameras.

For more on writing about vacations, click here. How can you use your vacations as writing prompts?

Family Stories as Writing Prompts

The theme for my blog this month is nonfiction. Since my speciality is fiction, I’ll have several guest bloggers write about their experiences writing nonfiction and how it influences their fiction. The prompts this month will be about examining our nonfiction lives for inspiration for our stories, both fiction and nonfiction.

Turning to family stories as writing prompts can produce one-of-a-kind stories, stories only a few people know now, stories maybe only you can write.

For example, in just the last few years, I learned about the youngest brother of my great-grandmother Irene. Harry would have been born before or around 1900. He had Down’s syndrome. I know many children born with disabilities or challenges at that time were given away to be maintained at state institutions. But not Harry.

He lived with his parents. When they died, he moved in with one of his brothers. As a child, my dad remembers his Great-Uncle Harry stopping by his house and asking my grandma for “smokes”.

This story kicks off so many questions. My grandmother and all her siblings have passed away, so I can’t ask them. Was it a hard decision for my great-great-grandparents to keep Harry at home? Was their pressure from their extended family or community to give him up? Did the neighbors treat them differently because of Harry? How was Harry treated? At that time, I’m sure a man with Down’s syndrome was an unusual person to see in small-town America.

This leads me to another piece of advice about using family stories as writing prompts. If you are interested in those stories, interview the elderly members of your family. When I was in college, I conducted interviews that I tape-recorded of my mom’s parents. I learned all kinds of fascinating details of what it was like to grow up in rural West Virginia in the 1910’s and 20’s. I loved getting to know my grandparents better.

What family stories can you use as writing prompts to build a story?

Who Will You Create for This Setting?

For this month’s last prompt about setting, I chose a picture with no characters in it. I’d like you to let it spark your creativity and people it with characters you like.

So who will you create for this setting? Maybe you need to select a genre first. The setting could work with just about any of them. Newly engaged woman in 1880’s New York City is waiting for her fiancé. A father who runs a bed-and-breakfast in an old Victorian house receives devastating news. The domed flower arrangement is actually a powerful weapon, and a curious child enters the room.

I usually start with characters. My first thought was an old woman. The home has been in her family for over one hundred years, and she decorates it in antiques. She is the wealthiest person in her small town.

Since I love mysteries, I’ve decided that the old woman is sitting in this room when the chief of police and another officer stop by. They’ve been investigating a series of murders, and the chief believes the old woman knows more than she’s telling. Fully aware that this interview may cost him his job, the chief walks into the room.

Who will you create for this setting? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Dive into this Fantasy Setting

I am having trouble with this post, so I’m reposting it.

This is a prompt for a fantasy setting. Our descriptions are only limited by our imaginations. But we still have to use our five senses to perceive the setting and then relay those perceptions to the reader.

What are the lines swirling around the woman. Is it mist? Does it feel wet? Is it electrical? Can she feel the charge? Do the lines carry an aroma? Or a stench? Like I said in last week’s post, I should jot down everything that would apply to the five senses as well as how the setting makes the POV character feel. Then I would see how many of those notes I would need for my story.

I’d love to hear how you would dive into this fantasy setting.

Monday Sparks: Dive into this Setting

Last Friday, I had the chance to put into practice the writing lesson I mentioned in last week’s prompt and dive into the setting in which my family and I found ourselves in when we visited a local park for an owl hunt with a naturalist.

As we walked through the woods, and the naturalist called to the owls, I tried to immerse myself in the setting, using all of my senses. I couldn’t take notes at the time, but here are my impressions.

  • Stars glitter in the black sky
  • Almost full moon throws moon shadows
  • Boots squeak on the thin layer of snow.
  • No smells
  • Moon ignites ice-encased tree branches, making them sparkle
  • Trees not directly in moonlight twinkle, like stars caught here and there on their branches, or the branches sparsely decorated with Christmas lights.
  • Moonlight can look sinister, like a bad imitation of sunlight

Another sense to add to the customary five is the feeling a setting gives me. Walking through those glittering trees, I didn’t want to miss one beautiful aspect. I kept looking and looking. I was overcome with a sense of wonder, reveling in the beauty of God’s nature, in awe of how He didn’t have to make nature so breath-taking.

Because of the feelings this setting evoked, I will probably use it in a scene where my main character feels the same. I did have one observation that didn’t fit with my sense of awe, how the moonlight can look sinister. If I want to exploit that aspect of it for a different scene, I’ll need to either revisit the experience in my head or head out on another night hike. I like that latter idea better.

Have you hiked in snowy woods at night? How would you dive into this setting?

Monday Sparks — What’s the Setting?

For February, the theme is setting. I am in the middle of reading an extremely helpful book on the subject, Description & Setting by Ron Rozelle. One piece of advice found in the book is to always carry a journal with you so that if you find an interesting setting or person, you can jot down all your impressions, then refer back to these impressions if you want to use that setting or person in a story.

For today’s prompt, I’m going to imagine that I’m sitting in this crowded room. What impression does it make on me? Here are my notes.

  • Crowded, knees cramped under table
  • Smell a very strong perfume, choking me
  • Lots of rustling papers, creaking seats
  • Smell something spicy. Lunch? Cologne?
  • Speaker’s voice — very flat, uninteresting
  • Heat from so many crammed in one room
  • Take off jacket
  • Warmth makes me want to find freedom
  • Doodling. Several other people are too.

If I need a scene with a crowded meeting or classroom, and my main character is bored, I can draw on my notes from this setting. Here’s a possibility.

If the exalted bosses of CJ&M actually want us to get something out of this meeting, couldn’t they find a presenter who speaks in more than one tone?

Scooting back my seat to stretch my cramped legs, I bumped the table behind me. Murmuring an apology over my shoulder, I caught again the choking odor of lilacs. Who had decided that twenty dabs of perfume wasn’t enough? I coughed and peeled off my jacket, the back of my shirt damp.

What notes would you make about the setting?

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