What’s the Story?

How about a science fiction prompt to kick off your week? What’s the story for this photo? I chose this one because it is clearly a science fiction setting with the spaceship, but there’s also a castle in the background. I like the contrast, and that ignited my imagination. Here’s my story:

The rust bucket hit the planet with all the grace an ancient space shuttle.

“If our mission is so important,” I flipped switches to cut the steam billowing from a burst tube, “why didn’t the Government give us a decent ship?”

Haney stared at me. “You’re trying to make sense of the Government?”

“Sorry,” I said through clenched teeth. “Don’t know what came over me.” I stared out the window, past the iron formations to a castle straight out of a fairy tale. “This is a wasted trip. Senator Allus quit and came to the backend of the galaxy to build that thing and live by himself. He’s not going to help the Government, no matter what the crisis is.”

Haney lowered his eyebrows. “Do you know there’s a crisis?”

“No. But why else would the Government send us to get somebody who’s made it pretty clear he wants nothing to do with anybody?”

“Good question.” His voice was quiet as he gazed at the spires rising against the purple clouds of methane.

Fishing as Writing Inspiration

With the warmer months here in the Buckeye State, my youngest, the Fishing Fanatic, begins watching the weather for chances to enjoy his favorite sport, pastime, and hobby. Funny how a parent can become interested in a subject just because her kids are. Not that I’ve taken up fishing. But I’ve gone out enough with the Fanatic to tell you about how to use fishing as writing inspiration.

Humor

Wouldn’t a book about a mom who has no interest in fishing and has one misadventure after another as she tries to support her kid and his love of the sport be hysterical?

I could write about the mom diving into murky waters to rescue a runaway rod, wading a river to unhook a snag, wrestling catfish, and crossing to a far shore through freezing water in October.

Now that you know what my life has been like for the past two years, take what inspiration you can from it. When I mix nature, animals, and weather into a story, I have the freedom to create all sorts of funny disasters.

Suspense

The last paragraph above can also apply to adding suspense and tension to a story. The unpredictable quality of nature provides many different kinds of problems for my characters to face.

Fishing as writing inspiration for suspense has another great advantage. It gives my characters an excuse to break out of their normal routines as they head out on a fishing trip. Then I can dump them into unfamiliar settings peopled with hostile characters.

I love film noir, a style of movie making that flourished in Hollywood from 1940-1960. Several movies land their characters in trouble because they are going on a fishing trip. In The Hitch-Hiker, two men are taken hostage by a homicidal maniac. In 5 Steps to Danger, the main character’s car breaks down, and he accepts a ride from a woman with a complicated past and bad guys on her trail. In Act of Violence, a WWII veteran suspects his less-than-heroic act in a prisoner of war camp is catching up with him when he goes on a fishing trip and spots a man in a boat who isn’t dressed for fishing.

Another great thing about using the fishing trip is that I don’t have to know much about fishing. All the trouble can occur on the way to the fishing destination before my characters ever make one cast. Although it would be fun to include the fishing aspect somehow. Such as a criminal, who is on the FBI’s most wanted list, purses two fishing buddies, who stumbled across his hideout in the mountains. With the criminal after them, the buddies have only the contents of their tackle boxes to use as some kind of defense.

Family or Friendship

The bond that can occur during fishing is a wonderful way to explore family relationships or friendships of characters.

A grandfather, who loves fishing, can’t interest any of his grandchildren until the most unlikely one falls in love with it. Two very disparate characters chance upon each other at a secluded fishing spot and begin a friendship.

For more ideas on how to use June as writing inspiration, read my post from two years ago.

Could you use fishing as writing inspiration? What other summer sport might inspire your writing?

What’s the Story?

June’s theme is speculative fiction. I’ve read that the Christian fiction industry uses the phrase speculative fiction while the general market uses science fiction and fantasy.

Whatever you call this genre, all the Monday Sparks will feature speculative fiction prompts that will allow your imagination to run wild.

What’s the story? Here’s mine:

I shifted my guitar to my back, and the sparks of magic I’d strummed into flying settled to the ground and winked away.

Molith City, lit beneath my feet, shone almost as bright under a blanket of heat that had rolled in the first week of August.

Molith City. I’d heard a lot of things about the mega city back home. None of them good. But if that’s where Zare was, I had to go down the hillside and go in.

Taking a deep breath, I started down the steep slope. I swung my guitar in front of me and strummed up some sparks for the light and company.

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?

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