Saturday, July 25, 2015

Writers Are A Different Breed

The Writer's Eye

I don't know how many times people have asked me where or how I got the ideas for my fantasy writing. "Where do you come up with those things?" is often how the question is posed.

Of course, the obvious answer is, "My imagination."

But there is much more to it than that. Certainly, writers and other artists do have more active imaginations than other people. The fact is, we see the world differently.

To the artist, everything is a question. And the answers are the food of creation.

I remember riding my horse on a hunter pace years ago. The idea was to ride a marked course through the countryside trying to match the time the pace riders had set earlier in the morning. It's kind of a fun ride. My horse was "into" it, ready and eager to go. But about halfway through the ride, we came upon a farmhouse set in one of the fields. Mind you, it was just a normal house, nothing special. But for several miles we'd been riding in the woods and suddenly, there was this HOUSE.

Home 2 Clip Art
Why the capital letters? Because my horse focused his attention onthe HOUSE and was ready to spook (leap away in panic) at a moment's notice all because there was a HOUSE over there, some hundred yards away. 

I managed to keep him settled, but as I did, a story started racing around in my head--the story I imagined was racing around in my horses head. That house was dangerous. Was it going to rise up on its foundations and attack us? Was it possessed? Did an evil wizard live there whose sole purpose in life was to capture and devour horses? It just looks like a house, an ordinary house, but it's actually a dragon in disguise, poised there on the verge of flight.  Will it get us? "Ohmigosh, ohmigosh," my horse kept saying. "I know it's gonna get us!"

Now, I could have ridden past that house, just keeping my horse under control sd many other riders might have done, but instead, stories filled my head.

I happens all the time. Writers observe the world with a unique perspective. Simple things trigger all kinds of ideas. They pass a car for sale on the side of the road, and wonder why someone is selling it, where its been, who's going to buy it, and will it sell?  They see a woman dressed in blue and wonder where she's going, why she picked out that color for the day, what's going on in her mind as she waits at the crosswalk?  There's a father in the shopping mall walking along holding his little son's hand. Where are they going? Are they off to buy a present for Mom? Maybe this is the one day Dad gets to be with his son and they're headed for the ice cream parlor.  How hard is it for the little boy's legs to keep pace and did you see how Dad noticed and shortened his own stride? That's love.  And that sale sign in the store window....who put it there?

Thinking Man Clip ArtEvery sight, everything around can inspire a story, if we just ask the questions.

One of my friends was dreading an annual holiday party because she had so little in common with the other people who attended. They all had jobs in another profession quite different from hers and she always felt left out of the conversation. I gave her my all-purpose advice for how to spend the evening. "Ask them questions," I said. "Ask them about their jobs, ask them about their lives, ask, ask, ask. And then just listen."  People generally like to talk about themselves, and their interests. I've learned hundreds of interesting things just by asking other people questions.

And many of those interesting things have ended up as parts of my stories. I haven't yet put an attack house in my novels, but you never know.

If one shows up, readers here will know where it came from.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Just the Right Word

And How Many of Them? 

The English language has its own rhythm, and most writers know how to take advantage of it.
Shakespeare, of course, is noted for his poetry, writing both stand-alone poems (mostly sonnets) and full plays made up of myriads of poetic forms. Even when characters within his plays speak in prose, there is a sense of rhythm to their phrases.

Ernest Hemmingway was noted for short, quick sentences all somehow managing to convey strong images in few words. William Faulkner, on the other hand wrote long, complex sentences to do the same job, admitting that he was glorifying the language.

Writing Using A Feather And Ink Clip ArtMost authors fall somewhere in between. To my mind, sentence length needs to vary, depending on the circumstances. When time needs to pass slowly, or a scene needs to unveil itself little by little, long sentences work fine. But when there is dramatic action going on, the sentences need to move along.

In The Saga of Magiskeep, one short sentence repeated a number of times in various places in the novel is full of significance.  It is the command Jamus speaks when Magic is at its most powerful. He says, "It is enough,"  three words as potent as any spell. It is his command to the River and to himself that he has taken control. They are words of mastery able to stop storms in their tracks, check Spellfire's devastation, and end the impact of a charm.

Clearly, in this instance, words have power.  But unlike many Magicians of fiction, Jamus and his fellow sorcerers do not need words to cast spells. The River answers a silent call--the Magician's Will. The stronger a sorcerer's Will, the stronger his power.

But word still have power in the novels. Prophecies are expressed in poetry, as are the dark intentions of the Black Dragon. Simen, Jamus' brother often sings poetic tales of old stories that often reveal significant truths.  And then, many of the riddles Jamus must solve to complete his journey on Turan's Way are cryptic poems.

In between, the prose seeks its own rhythm, and I'm never quite happy with certain words unless both their meaning and their sound suits the sentence. I tend to keep a Thesaurus on hand when I write so I can find a suitable "sounding" synonym for words that just don't fit the flow.

Image result for grammarlyHow many words? Hundreds, I suppose. According to the Grammarly program I use for basic proofreading, I used 1350 unique words last week during my writing.  That's quite a mouthful.

Speaking of word count, I am currently reporting the number of words I write in my current novel, The Fifth Dragon, in a Facebook writing challenge of sorts. We have a small group of writers who are trying to inspire each other to complete our latests works by keeping track of how many words we write each day.

I'll be a bit slow today. We had a power failure this morning and by the time I managed to get my generator running and later fuss around with my computer internet connection--including hooking up a new modem--I think I wore out much of my creative energy.

And then, I just spent over 500 perfectly useful words here.

Guess I'd better go and see how many more I can find to use in the book.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Leave Me Alone, I Need to Write


Perhaps only other artists really understand what happens when inspiration strikes. When there's an idea running around in your head and suddenly it lights up like one of those light bulbs cartoon characters have over their heads, shedding some kind of mystical force into your brain.

Then, the art just needs to spill out. With writers, it's words. When the time comes, the demand to write becomes overwhelming to the detriment of all else.

Pen Ink Clip ArtDaily chores become a monumental annoyance. Having to wash the dishes, tidy up the house, or even go to the market for food is torment. The blank paper or computer screen in front of you demands attention. It needs words--your words--filling it, page by page.  All other activities fall by the wayside. Writing demands all your time and attention. Heaven forbid that the phone should ring or someone knock on the door. Hospitality and polite greetings would be just too much of a nuisance.

Fortunately for most writers, this doesn't happen every day. If writing were that simple, we'd all be turning out a novel a week.  Instead, bursts of obsessive creativity usually strike with random unpredictability. Here one day, gone the next.

Worse, if they go unfulfilled for too long, they might even vanish of their own accord.

It happened to me yesterday. I'd written over five thousand words the day before and was really on a role with my novel's plot.  Characters were taking over and the story was making its own demands. I finally finished a chapter and, bleary-eyed, made my way to bed, my brain still churning with words for tomorrow.

I slept well and rose with that nagging desire to write tickling my keyboard fingers.

But there were tasks to complete first. I have three horses in my backyard stable. No matter how inspired I might be, they needed breakfast and their stalls--since it had rained the day before--needed a good cleaning. My cats needed breakfast too and their litter boxes needed tending.

And then, there was the sunshine. It was a gorgeous low humidity summer day, exactly the one I'd been waiting for to do some much needed mowing in the horses' paddocks. (Fenced in areas.)  The weeds mocked me, and the mower batter was all charged and ready for an easy start. Of course, I had to pump up one of the tires first, and fill the tank with gas--all time-adding tasks.  Then, despite my initial plan to "just do a little mowing around the barn," I ended up spending nearly two hours, nearly as obsessive about cutting down the weeds as I had been about the book.

Perhaps that says something about writers? Do we obsess about everything?

By the time I was done, the sun had warmed everything, including me, so I headed for the swimming pool and there found myself doing at least five more laps than I'd planned. That left me just at the right time to head to the CSA to pick up my weekly basket of veggies. A quick stop at the supermarket on the way home to get sour cream for some squash pancakes and I alit at my doorstep close to dinnertime for the horses.

Once again, my keyboard sat silent and by the time I sat down again to write, the passion that had consumed me the day before and in the morning had faded. I had to re-read everything I had written the day before to remember exactly where my plot needed to go, and what my characters needed to do and say.

Sleeping Reader Clip ArtSo it's back to the slower slog where words come at a snail's pace in comparison. I have to think through each scene, actively deciding where and how it needs to go. The "muse of fire" is on flicker instead of full flame.

It isn't exactly the writer's block some authors claim, it's more of a muddy pool to cross in the fast flowing river of inspiration.

I'm sure I'll ride the rapids again soon, but for now, writing really is work.  Still fun, but definitely work.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Story Takes Charge

Sometimes It Just "Happens" 

I am working on what should be the final novel in The Saga of Magiskeep, The Fifth Dragon. 

I started, as I always do, with a general plot plan which included the basic premise and the grand finale.  I'm still heading in that direction--no plot spoilers here. But, once again, the story seems to be taking charge.

Just how does that happen? I suspect that somewhere in every author's brain there lurks a little gremlin that's always thinking and making connections between ideas and images in a storyline.

I remember speculating on this in my college literature classes. We'd discuss a certain imagery in a piece of literature and part of the consideration was whether it really was something the author consciously intended or something created by his/her natural writing skills.

I'm beginning to think it's really a combination of both. My current novel has four simultaneous plots going on at the moment. They are connected and relevant to the main plot, sort of "branches of the same tree."  To say I go out on a limb with them might be appropriate at times, but somehow, the common thread, the tree trunk, if you will, holds them together. Images and symbols in each one reflect what's going on in the others. In fact, as it's turning out, what's happening in one subplot actually helps to develop what's happening in another.

Is it deliberate? Sometime it is and sometimes it's pure serendipity. It's my little writing gremlin at work and I must admit, at times he surprises me.  I remember when I was working on Kingdom 
Beyond the Rim,
the first novel in the Saga how I'd be writing a scene only to find my brain light up with, "Hey, that's really cool how what that character just said reveals the answer to that secret I just posed in the last chapter." I hadn't planned it all out, but the situation of plot and the character's personality just seemed to lead to the right end.

It's happening again, perhaps even moreso with this current effort. That may be because now the world of Magiskeep has been fully realized and defined, as have the main characters. Both the world and the people already in it demand they have their own way no matter how I might try to push them to some contrary position. Their actions, responses, beliefs are inevitable and, the nice thing is, they fit perfectly into the story I'm weaving.

I'm sure we'll all run into a few conflicts now and then. And there is a new cast of characters and a new "world" in this novel to contend with, so nothing gets stale in my mind. But the Magic still rules, and Jamus remains the man he has become in the six previous books. He and his companions dictate the story's direction, no matter where I may have expected it to go.

I'm not so sure I'm actually doing the writing any more. Instead, my characters and that little gremlin seem to be taking charge. At this point, it's all becoming as much of an adventure for me as I hope it will be for my readers.

Friday, July 3, 2015


Romance for the Modern World

I took a detour from my fantasy novels to publish a romance novel I'd written a number of years ago. As I reread and edited, I noted a number of striking character similarities with the Saga of Magiskeep and it set me to wondering.  Do all writers tend to stick with certain themes, character types, or even plots when they write?

It always leads me back to Shakespeare somehow. As an English teacher, I read and studied a lot of Shakespeare and found many themes, ideas, images and figures of speech he used over and over. One example is his exploration of appearance vs reality.  "Look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under it," says Lady Macbeth in one of the later, greater plays. While in Hamlet, written earlier, Hamlet remarks on his uncle's deception, "Oh, smiling damned villain. That one may smile and smile and be a villain." Or the villainous Iago, "I am not what I am," as he lies to Othello about Desdemona's fidelity.

Now, I would never dare to compare myself to the Bard, but reading my writings, I do have to see the same pattern. I have another romance novel written which I haven't reread yet, so it will be interesting to see if the trend continues.

Similarities aside, The Loving Cup is a romance mystery with horses. What struck me was how many of those horses are actually based upon real ones I have known. Most striking was my Russell R. a talented jumper with a wicked sense of humor. Russell loved to jump and gave me the most confidence riding over fences I could ever have. Astride him, I felt we could jump almost anything, and until we got in a bit over our heads at one jump on a cross country course--no one got hurt--we got over most every jump we ever tackled.

In The Loving Cup, Russell shows up in several of the horses I portray.  Some of the horse show scenes in the novel are also taken from real experiences I had in competition. In one scene, after a rider completed her jumping round, a famous professional trainer approached her to compliment the ride. For me, that was the day I finished up a hunter round and George Morris, one of the most renowned equitation trainers in the US went out of his way to tell me I had ridden a really nice round. It is a memory I cherish and sure enough, it showed up in my book.

My fantasy world is peopled with characters based on people I've known, but the world in which they live is totally invented out of my imagination. The Loving Cup was my real world.

It's a change of pace--walk, trot, canter.