Writing Tip — Favorite Stories

IMG_0238For my favorite story this month, I chose a book to suit St. Patrick’s Day. Cindy Thomson, my friend from my writer’s group, wrote The Roots of Irish Wisdom: Learning from Ancient Voices. She recounts the lives of Ireland’s most famous saints, Brigid, Patrick, and Columcille. She also has shorter biographies of “The Apostles of Erin.” Other chapters cover “Celtic Learning and Art” and “Celtic Prayer.”

It’s interesting to read her nonfiction account of Brigid since she also wrote a novel based on the saint. Her research showed her that some of the attributes of the Celtic goddess Brigid were assigned to the Irish nun.

Ancient Irish history fascinates me, perhaps because it developed differently from the rest of Europe. Since Rome never conquered and then abandoned the island, it entered the Dark Ages with a different tradition. In her chapter “Celtic Prayer”, Cindy writes  that “Christianity developed differently in Ireland … because the faith had a monastic base.” This “took root … because  ancient Ireland consisted of a system of tribes, groups of family members ruled by a king.” The Roman style of organization with a bishop in charge of a city “was unnatural to the Irish.”

I enjoyed the chapter on prayer because of the wonderful rhythm to some of the prayers and the images from the natural world.

At only 84 pages, this well-researched book is a quick read. So if you want to curl up with a book while you sip Irish breakfast tea (I hate coffee) and snack on Irish soda bread on March 17th, The Roots of Irish Wisdom will not let you down.

Writing Tip — Writing in Time

I will be blunt–March is my least favorite month. Occurring in both winter and spring, it comes out as a poor imitation of both, ending up as month with no real identity. February is irritating, but at least it has the decency to confine itself to 28 days in most years. March has no mercy, stretching out the misery to a full 31 days.

The events and holidays during March have never greatly appealed to me as a writer, but maybe I can provide you with some literary inspiration. Or maybe writing this post will spark something in my own writing.

Lent — Part of Lent is always in March. I find the introspection during this time depressing, but I try to make it an uplifting experience by giving up worry. I could write a story about a character doing the same thing. Because of Lent’s emphasis on sin, I think it’s a perfect time for a mystery, one about laying bare old crimes the most suitable.

Daylight Saving Time Check out my post last year on this day. It has great potential for speculative fiction.

March Madness — I am not a sports fan. But for those of you who are, the basketball tournament, with all its drama, could mirror the character arc of a player, a coach, or even a parent of a player.

St. Patrick’s Day — Teachers and librarians are always on the hunt for new children’s books associated with this holiday. I like the setting of ancient Ireland, and a friend of mine, Cindy Thomson, had written two novels during this time period, Brigid of Irelanand Pages of Ireland, and is working on a third.

Holy Week — This occurs in the last week of the month. It is such an important time in the Christian calendar and contains so much meaning, that it deserves its own post, which I will write during that week.

Do you like March? How would you use it as a setting?

Writing Tip — Short Stories

womenw-1483484_1280I’ve always loved short stories. I discovered the short stories of Damon Runyon and Sherlock Holmes as a teenager. As a new mom, I could squeeze in a complete story before dropping off into an exhausted sleep.

Although most of my writing ideas take shape as novels, I’ve learned a very important technique from reading short stories: write tight.

Write Tight

New novelists have a tendency to take all the room of a book and fill it up with a lot of unnecessary words.

If I look at each chapter as a short story with a goal that must be reached within a specific word count, I trim the long passages of description, get rid of tiresome explanations, and punch up the dialogue.

Description, especially, is the area where I have benefited from reading short stories. No matter what I am describing, person, place, or thing, a succinct , vivid description in one sentence will stick with readers longer than a detailed paragraph. And within a novel, I can revisit those descriptions, dropping reminders of a person’s eye color or the night’s humidity, echoing the first description. If I rein in my word count, it give me more space for plot and characters development.

I also love how many short stories have a kicker ending, a twist that makes the whole experience wonderfully satisfying. I don’t know if you can do that kind of a twist in a novel but I’d like to figure out how.

Bonus Benefits

When I am getting restless in my reading material and want to find a new author to rave about it, I read anthologies. I can sample many different writers in a short period of time, and if their short stories intrigue me, I can check out their novels. If a short story doesn’t hold me interest or lets me down, I have only wasted one night, instead of weeks with a novel that disappoints.

Another benefit is that short story writing allows aspiring novelists to get material published and before readers while waiting for their novel to be discovered. I thoroughly enjoyed writing a crime fiction short story because of the challenge it presented.

Which do you prefer to read, short stories or novels? Which do yo like to write?

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts

chocolatew-2202080_1280How would you explain where it came from? This prompt was inspired by a real-life mystery my friend author and editor Sharyn Kopf faced. She posted on Facebook, asking friends for an explanation.

Here’s mine: “A spy hid a thumb drive in the candy bar. Realizing she was being watched, she slipped the candy bar into Sharyn’s pocket. Now agents from all the major world powers are seeking the candy bar.”

What is your idea? Please share in the comments below.

Writing Tip — Writer’s Block

laptopw-3087585_1280Recently, as part of an anthology my writing groups is putting together, I had to write a short story of at least 2,000 words. I decided to make it crime fiction. The characters came to easily, but the plot … I had a problem with the plot.

Over the past few years, the only original writing I’ve done were blog posts and a few poems. Most of my fiction writing time has been consumed with editing my YA novel. Working out a logical plot for my short story was nothing less than painful, and I mean that literally. My stomach hurt of a week as I puzzled over the plot. It was almost impossible for me to focus on anything else.

When I finally found a resolution, I learned a few things about breaking my writer’s block for the plot.

  1. Beginning + End = Middle

I started writing my short story without an ending in mind, and that is a big problem for me. I had concocted an intriguing beginning, but once I wrote that down, I had no clue where I was heading. I must have a goal to work for. Whether it is a story or just a chapter, before I sit down to write, I need to know how I will begin and end. Without an ending, I stalled.

2. Find a Deeper Meaning

Once I put down the bare bones of my story, I found it empty. Just solving the crime wasn’t enough. I needed some deeper, more universal truth, something that went beyond the conventions of crime fiction.

3. Know Your Characters Like Your Best Friends

I am a character writer. I start a story because I discover characters I can’t wait to throw into dramatic situations.

For my short story, I was working with characters I had only known a few days, instead of years. This made me uncomfortable. But the longer I worked with them, gaining an understanding of their personalities, the more plot ideas sprang up. Through exploring my characters, I unearthed the deeper meaning my story needed.

What do you do to break writer’s block?

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