Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

MJ Bush collected 99 great little pieces of advice on strong characters — including a PDF download of all of them! Some of my favorites:

“Let’s face it, characters are the bedrock of your fiction. Plot is just a series of actions that happen in a sequence, and without someone to either perpetrate or suffer the consequences of those actions, you have no one for your reader to root for, or wish bad things on.” Icy Sedgwick

For someone as focused on action and plot as I am, I need to be reminded of this.

“Great fiction is fueled by bad decisions and human weakness.” Kristen Lamb

Augh! Bad decisions and weakness. I write characters who are generally strong and get thrown into situations that even they can’t handle.

Oh, who am I kidding. I have trouble writing bad decisions and weakness in characters because I have a hard time tolerating them in life, period. I’m used to looking at them as things to be fought through and overcome. I need to let being “only human” into my writing.

For every important moment, your character needs to react. First viscerally, then emotionally, then physically and finally, intellectually. Often a writer will show a character reacting with deep thought about a situation, when their first natural reactions are missing.” CS Larkin

Good point! We react with our gut first, even if we don’t realize it.

“A character is what he does, yes — but even more, a character is what he means to do.” Orson Scott Card

And the drama of the story is dealing with what happens when he or she doesn’t get their way.

“The thing I do at the beginning is a “voice journal,” a free form doc that is the character speaking to me. I just work on it until I start to hear different from my own, or the other characters.” James Scott Bell

Ooh! I need to do this for Risha, king Ro, and some other characters.


Scratch Pad: Editing “My Little Merman”

Posted: October 21, 2014 by writingsprint in Writing
Tags: , ,

Tonight I’m working on the edit for “My Little Merman,” the short story about a marine biologist who spends a night hanging out with her merman lover’s family. I forgot how much I enjoy editing. I also forgot how painful it can be to read a story that “needs work.” The good news is that the story isn’t awful. Not by a long shot. I’ve written far worse. It’s a story written by someone who cared about his characters, who was finding his way as he wrote it. It shows.

I cared about the characters in this one, and that comes through. Erica, the main character, is having a blast with her mermaid tail and wants to find out more about everything she sees. Her energy is infectious. Her lover, Aaron, is sincere and likable, the straight man in the comedy act, and her and our tour guide.

The plot needs work. So does the setting, and we need to know Erica better. It’s a fundamental rule of writing that the characters drive the story, so the more Erica gets in the driver’s seat, the more the plot will unfold. Recently I read that characters with flaws are more appealing than those without, because we care about them as they overcome them. I wonder if I should make Erica too analytical about being a biologist. Maybe she sees Aaron and his family as fascinating creatures, but not people. I’m not too thrilled about it but it’s a start. I may write a scene with it to get the creativity flowing.

She Told Him That She Loved Only Him

Posted: October 16, 2014 by writingsprint in Drama
Tags: , , , , , , ,

cleaning up the attic

Post #7 of the “She told him that she loved him” series. How many others were there? Who cares.

Felicia nearly walked right into the attic stairs, pulled down from the trap door in the third floor hall ceiling. She put the bin down. Hair fell into her eyes. She poofed it back. “Hello up there,” she called.

“Hi. Oh, sorry about the stairs.”

“Finding anything we can give to Goodwill?”

“A few things. I’m putting another bin together.”

Felicia checked the hall. She couldn’t walk through it with her bin with the stairs in the way, and the air became suffocating in the attic if you left the trap door closed too long. She sighed. Might as well see what Liam was so fascinated over.

On second thought, the attic could be stifling even with the door open. She coughed. Next to the stairs, Liam had piled four boxes and a trunk. He shuffled over to her. With their peaked roof, it was only high enough for someone to stand right in the middle of the attic.

“It’s mostly high school stuff. Records, comic books, board games, and shirts.”

“Oh my God. Look at all the fluorescents.”

“I looked damned good in it at the time.”

“I’ll bet you did, honey.” A fifth box was still in the corner. The lid was open, but he’d left it there. “What’s that one?”

Liam smiled a half smile. “I was going to tell you about that one. I opened it by mistake.”

She frowned. “What do you mean?”

Liam dragged it over. “It’s all your lost loves.”

Felicia put her hand over her face. That’s what she actually called it, too. A picture of a crying doll was taped to the inside of the lid, with the words “lost loves” written in red pen. She saw what happened. She’d put the box all the way in the back so that no one would see it, and wrapped it in twine. After 20 years, two moves, and who knew how many times rearranging the attic, the twine had frayed and fallen away.

“Oh. Look at this. I should just throw it all away.”

“It’s up to you. Your memories are important to you.”

“Teen Beat magazines and love letters to boys who never knew me?”

“I saw some from when you were in college.”

“Yeah, that’s true too. I stopped collecting after I graduated.” Felicia flipped through them. Tom. Kenny. David. Her heart skipped a beat on some of them. Sometimes you found the right person at the wrong time. She’d had to find herself first. “Do guys keep things like this?”

“Not a box of pictures. I made a list once.”

“How long was it?”

“Not enough for a box. But they were good memories, too.”

Felicia kissed him. “You know what they say. You’re not the first man I loved. Just my last.”

He caressed her hand, still resting on the box. “I know.”

Photo credit: “Cleaning the Attic” by Joe Shlabotnik at Flickr
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She Told Him That Only She Loved Him

Posted: October 14, 2014 by writingsprint in Drama
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rock star

Post #5 of the “She told him that she loved him” series. My first thought was that the “only” sounded menacing in this one. Stalkerish. It didn’t sound like fun to me. Maybe I should have written it as a step outside my comfort zone. As it is, I wrote a scene where everyone tells him that they love him, but her love is true.

Justin and Beverly ran from the limousine into the hotel while hotel security held back the crowd. Justin laughed. He took off his sunglasses and held out his arms, basking in the applause. The rest of the band waved. Some signed autographs. Beverly looked like an ant under a magnifying glass stared at by dozens of eyes, begging to be left alone, before security hurried her inside.

“We love you, Justin!”

“Sing ‘Another Night’!”

“I named my son ‘Justin!’ for you!”

Justin jogged to catch up. He waved one last time at the door. Cameras flashed everywhere. He hoped his new laser-whitened teeth were looking good.

The lobby was cleared. “It sounds like a church in here!” He looked around. Beverly stood out of the way with her arms held tight to her body. Justin hurried over to her. “Sorry about that.”

“Is it always like that?”

“Yeah. Is that crazy or what?”


He rubbed her arms. “Hey. You all right?”

“It’s just a lot.” She peered at him. “I’m making sure you’re still in there.”

He grinned. “It’s me. It’s just a long way from Nebraska.”

“Yeah.” Justin’s publicist and his agent came over. Beverly sighed. Before they talked, Justin turned to them and said, “What’s up, guys?”

“You have an interview with the local news at 5:30.”

“And the venue says that we can’t do the pyrotechnics.”

He checked the time. “It’s 12:30. We’ll leave at 3:30. That leaves us plenty of time to get there and do the interview. Handle the pyro. If it’s a safety thing we’ll go without. I’m—”

“Justin, we can’t—”

“I. Am. Going. Upstairs. To. Chill. Out. Handle it!” Justin stated.

His agent straightened his tie. “All right, J. Love you, man.”

“Love, J,” his publicist said.

Justin held out his hand for Beverly. “Want to go hang out?” he asked. Beverly’s face lit up. That was the line he used the first time he asked her out on a date.

He had the largest suite in the hotel to himself. Normally he took a swig from the complimentary champagne or ate a tropical fruit that he couldn’t identify. He ran a bubble bath or he turned on every TV in the suite. With Beverly here, he took her coat, hung it up, and only grabbed a bottle of water.

“Can I get you anything? Water? Juice? There’s a bar, but you don’t drink this early.”

“Give me something they don’t have back home.” Justin found a bottle of papaya juice and handed it to her. Beverly smiled at it. “Were you mad?” she asked.

“I’m sorry about that. Those two bug me sometimes,” Justin said.

“Everyone says they love you.”

“That they do. It’s nice when the fans say it. Some of the others, it’s just a catch phrase. It doesn’t mean anything.”

“I said it first.”

He took her hand. Out of habit, Justin started to put on his stage persona. He forced it away. “I…” Just say it. He repeated the words. “‘Justie, if you’re ever not sure who your friends are, remember that I loved your first, all right?’”

“Oh my God! I sounded like a greeting card.”

“When it gets too crazy, that’s what I think about to clear things up.” Beverly drew her breath. “I really miss you. Y’know, the travel’s not so bad. People screaming your name, that’s amazing. I miss real life, though. I think about Wednesday night roller skating. Walking the dog and meeting you at the corner.”

“My dog misses you too. He barked when I said I was going to see you. He kept looking out the window, then looking at me. ‘Where is he?’”

“Oh, don’t tell me that! Now I’m sorry I didn’t see him!”

“Come down and see him, then!”

“I can’t. We haven’t got time.”

Beverly tilted her head, giving him the look she gave him back in high school when he knew he was bullshitting her.

He couldn’t even try. “All right. Tomorrow morning. Before we leave town.”

Photo credit: “Day 283 / 365” by Jason Rogers at Flickr
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She Told Only Him That She Loved Him

Posted: October 11, 2014 by writingsprint in Drama
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Post #3 of the “She told him that she loved him” series. This one reminded me of Romeo and Juliet, the secret lovers from two warring families.

Romero paced back and forth in the parking lot behind the Stop and Shop. He didn’t smoke, but he was so nervous that he’d started chewing gum so that he didn’t grind his teeth instead. The Stop and Shop’s loading dock was empty, except for the employees that came outside to smoke a cigarette now and then. Romero hadn’t seen any in about an hour. He couldn’t think of anyplace that was more private than this in the area that also had good access to the road.

Julie’s car finally came around the corner. It was driven by her twin sister Kate. Romero could tell the difference: Kate’s face was rounder in the cheekbones. They both looked worried, but Julie looked worse. Her face was a mirror of Romero’s.

Kate pulled over close enough to Romero to make him jump out of the way. Julie popped open her door as the car rolled to a stop. He heard Julie say, “Watch it, Kate. He’s driving. He can’t drive without legs.”

“Were you followed?” Romero asked. He saw her Julie’s suitcase in the back seat. He moved to get it.

“Who do I look like? James Bond?” Kate asked. “I kept from speeding so we didn’t get pulled over. Nobody waved to us on the road.”

“Never mind. Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it.”

Julie finally got out of the car. Romero put down her bag and hugged her. He wanted to keep hugging her but they didn’t have time.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Julie asked.

“I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.”

“Your parents will never forgive you.”

“Neither will yours.”

“Maybe after we’re married they’ll finally sort things out between them.”

“That’s up to them. We have to take care of ourselves.”

Kate looked around the parking lot. “Guys, come on. You can profess eternal love to each other while you’re driving. Get out of here.”

Visions of brothers, fathers, guns and baseball bats drifted through Romero’s mind. “You’re right. Thanks, Kate.”

He moved to hug her but Kate held up her hands. “Just… I’m too freaked out about all this. Just be careful. Both of you.”

Julie hugged her. “We’ll mail you a T-shirt from the chapel in Vegas.”

Romero loaded Julie’s suitcase next to his in the trunk. He gave Kate a quick wave as they peeled out of the parking lot. No one knew that he and Julie loved each other. But they were about to find out.

Photo credit: “Farewell to good times 2” by elitatt at Flickr
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She Only Told Him That She Loved Him

Posted: October 9, 2014 by writingsprint in Drama
Tags: , , , , , ,

business womanContinuing yesterday’s exercise with moving the word “only” around in the sentence “She told him that she loved him” and seeing how the meaning changes.

Maggie threw on her coat. She had her briefcase, her lunch bag, her laptop, and her phone. Her second briefcase was in the car already. She’d checked it twice.

Bruce walked over to kiss her goodbye. Maggie turned away. “No. Don’t. My makeup’s perfect and I have a meeting in two hours.”

“So? Fix it when you get there.”

“I can’t fix it when I get there. People will see.” Maggie gave him a quick hug with an air kiss by the side of his face. “Have a good day. Love you.”

“Love you too.”

Bruce’s hug was half-hearted. He let go without lingering in their hug like he normally did. Maggie asked, “What?”

Bruce looked confused. “I said I love you too.”

“I know.” She gathered up her work supplies. “You didn’t sound happy.”

“Well, I’m not. I like kissing you goodbye, but I can’t today. It’s a bummer. I hope your meeting goes well.”

“Me too.” Maggie pulled on her gloves. “It’s our first annual review with our new parent company. I need to be presentable.”

“I understand.” Bruce helped her pick up her things. “It’s easier for me, working from home. Video teleconference is more forgiving.”

That it was. There were many days that Maggie wished she could trade in her blazer and heels for a bathrobe and fuzzy slippers. Bruce still dressed presentably, but he didn’t have to look flawless.

He asked, “How about if I get take-out for dinner from Dmitri’s, to celebrate when it’s done? I’ll get the alfredo that you like.”

They loaded the car. Bruce hit the garage door switch as Maggie got in and turned the ignition. She closed the door and rolled the window down. “Do they do take-out?”

“Maybe if I ask nicely. They like us.” Bruce backed out of the way of the car.

Maggie smiled. “I’d give you a much nicer hug if I wasn’t about to back up.”

“Go knock ’em dead.”

“All right. See you tonight. Love you!”

“Love you too.”

Maggie waved. She saw him sigh as she drove away. Kissing him goodbye was actually the second-favorite part of her day, after kissing him hello in the evening. Who was the moron who invented makeup anyway?

Photo credit: “Business” by Steve Wilson at Flickr
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Everyone Needs Some Laughter

Posted: October 7, 2014 by writingsprint in Drama
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paper finger puppetHerve Escobedo held up little finger puppets to his three-year-old son Philip. “Look here, Mr. Football, who’s this? Why, it’s little miss Goal Posts! How are you today?”

Philip laughed. Herve wondered why. It was a stupid, cheesy story, but it was all Herve could think of to keep him entertained. They sat in the middle of an abandoned soccer field, in the middle of what used to be Los Angeles. One of the Red Cross workers shone a flashlight on their play. “Can you keep it down, please? We have sick people who need rest.”

Herve touched the young woman’s arm with his fingertips. He leaned close. “Please. He hasn’t laughed in days,” Herve said.

The girl sighed. “Who has?” She looked like she hadn’t slept, either.


“I didn’t say stop. Just keep it down. Or…” She turned off the flashlight to conserve the batteries. “You can go over by the fire pits. Most people over there are still awake.”

“Thank you, young lady.”

“No problem.”

He made his squeaky puppet voice and waved them at her. “Thank you, thank you!” She laughed. Herve nodded. “See? Everyone needs some laughter.”

Herve picked up Philip and carried him over to the fire pits. The woman led the way, stepping around tents and huddled refugees using the flashlight. Herve wasn’t thankful that the Big One had struck, but he was thankful that God had chosen for it to happen in summer. The nights were cool but not unbearable.

Around the fire, a little girl sat in her mother’s arms as her mother read to her. Her mother used a magnifying glass instead of glasses. A bookish-looking elderly man was sharpening wicked-looking arrows using a stone. A man in a Red Cross uniform was teaching someone twice his age how to do first aid. They sat on an air mattress, and nudged over to invite them to sit.

The woman shook Herve’s hand and pat Philip on the head. “You two have a good night.”

“Won’t you join us?” Herve said.

“There’s a whole story,” Philip finally said. Herve covered his mouth. His heart sang. Philip would laugh, but he had barely spoken to anyone besides his father since the earthquake.

The woman noticed the look on Herve’s face. She crouched down and looked Philip in the eyes. “I’ll stay for a quick story. Then I need to go see if other people are okay, too. How’s that?”

Philip nodded. Herve’s eyes sparkled as he began the play.

Tonight’s post came from a roll of Rory’s story cubes: a mask (Herve’s trying to hold it all together), comedy and tragedy (the play), a flashlight, a tree (wood, the fire pits), a magnifying glass, an arrow, a sheep (I imagined a big, white, soft cushion, which led to the air mattress), and then two that I didn’t use: a bridge and a shooting star.

Photo credit: “Paper Finger Puppets” from Scribbled. Used without permission.

Voice Work

Posted: September 11, 2014 by writingsprint in Drama
Tags: , , , ,

speak up

My chest muscles twitched as I began speaking. I breathed first, then gently said, “John walked to the grocery store to buy eggs.” I eased one word into another, so that “John walked” felt more to me like “Johnnnwwwallllked.” I tried to listen to myself with someone else’s ears. I sounded slow to my own. Someone else would probably say I sounded fine.

My speech therapist said, “That’s good. This time, ease into the word John more, almost like zzzhhhohn.”

zzzhhhohnnnwalllkkkedtttootttthhhe….” I hissed as I drew out the g sound. “…grrooccerryyssttoorre…” I hissed again as I drew out the t sound. It sounded to me like ts. “…too…” Now the hard part. I tried not to close my eyes on the plosive b. Relax the lips. I could feel the flesh buzzing as the sound vibrated over them. To me it felt like I was making a bv humming sound. “…buuuyyysssommeeegggsss.”

“Out-standing!” Julie said. She held up her hand for a high five. I gave one to her, half-heartedly. She noticed. “How do you feel?” she asked.

“Good. Embarrassed.” I focused on breathing out and connecting good to embarrassed. “I hate having to concentrate on every word that I say.”

“Do you feel like you’re making progress?”

I knew where this was going. “Some. Slowly. I know that I’m getting better,” I stopped to take a gentle breath, “but I want to hurry with it.” This felt like separating sugar grains with a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers. Normally I would try to say it all in one breath, and run out of air.

She grinned. “‘Some’? ‘Slowly’? Are you showing off or are you really frustrated?”

I had to smile, too. “A little of both.”

“You’ve made tremendous progress, Will. You know we’re just getting started. What we do here is going to lead to what we do next.”

“I know.”

“Are you ready for the next one?”

hhhllllLet me do some breathing exercises first.” I needed to calm down.

“Go ahead.”

I focused on breathing without being tense, which isn’t easy when you’re focusing on it. My body started to realize it was time to relax. I looked at the sheet of sentences I was reading for this exercise. John and his trip to the grocery store had been number three out of a dozen. A month ago that would have tensed me up and made me fumble the next sentence. Things felt better today.

Today’s post is a spin on today’s daily prompt, “Voice Work.” In answer to the prompt’s question, of course I would love for my blog to be narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, because he’s one bad ass mother f**ker.

Photo credit: “Speak up, make your voice heard” by Howard Lake at Flickr
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Feeder Fighting

Posted: August 13, 2014 by writingsprint in Drama
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hummingbirdFrom the kitchen window, Howard swore under his breath. A yellowjacket crawled along the seam where the hummingbird feeder’s lid met the cup that held the nectar. It would take a razor blade to poke under it when it was screwed on. Or, apparently, a yellowjacket’s mouth. It found a spot that it seemed to like and didn’t move.

Howard held his breath as a hummingbird approached the feeder. It buzzed to the left. The yellowjacket stayed still. The hummingbird came closer. It was looking to land on the other side of the feeder from the yellowjacket.

As it came closer, the yellowjacket’s wings lifted up. “Look out. Look out…” Howard said.

The yellowjacket headed for the hummingbird.

“Move!” Howard cried. The hummingbird flew circles around the yellowjacket. The bug kept coming. The hummingbird kept away from it. Howard could almost feel the yellowjacket’s stinger hitting his own arms.

The hummingbird backed off. The yellowjacket landed on the feeder. It tried to find the seam where it fed before.

“You little bastard,” Howard said. He squirted it through the window screen from a bottle of water that he normally saved for the cat. The yellowjacket flew off the feeder. Howard kept washing dishes. Ten minutes later, the yellowjacket was back but he’d seen no sign of the hummingbird.

Howard gave the yellowjacket a good shower with the water bottle. It took a suicide run at the window screen. Howard thought about the bug spray under the sink, but he didn’t want to get any on the feeder. He was still thinking when it flew away toward the woods on the other side of the yard.

Howard took down the feeder. He poured out the nectar, then rinsed the feeder with water about as hot as he could stand through the rubber gloves that his wife liked to use when it was her turn to wash dishes.

The hummingbird landed on the steel hook where he hung the feeder. It was the same one, leafy green with shiny feathers. It looked at him. Well? Where’s the food?

“I’m doing the best I can,” Howard said.

He soaked the feeder in a concoction of water and vinegar to give it a more thorough cleaning. Maybe if he washed it off, replaced the nectar… then what? Maybe if he taped over the seams where it was feeding. The little fake flowers around the sides were supposed to be too deep for insects to feed anyway.

The hummingbird cocked its head to the side. Howard imagined it was tapping its foot.

“Maybe I should use flowers instead of a feeder,” Howard said. He rubbed his chin. Howard hadn’t found a plant other than weeds that he couldn’t kill.

Photo credit: “Hummingbird crop” by Jon Fife at Flickr
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Land of Ghosts

Posted: August 10, 2014 by writingsprint in Drama
Tags: , , , , ,

Little Round Top

Larry shivered as he walked up Little Round Top. Late October is hit or miss weather in Pennsylvania. Cool air misted the ground with patches of fog. It wasn’t the fog that made him shiver.

His son Greg held out his hand. “Can you make it, dad?”

“I’m fine. I’m fine. Just a little rocky here. Let me take my time.”

Greg rubbed his arms. “Wish we had better weather for you.”

“Don’t you worry about that. I’m just glad to be here.” He swept his arm across the hill. “Can you imagine? Can you see it? Charging up this hill, over and over again, with the 20th Maine up there behind those rocks.”

“A lot of brave people fought here.”

“So many.” Larry imagined gray uniforms around them in the gray mist. His ankles crackled with old age. He imagined the pop of musket fire.

They made a long, slow walk over boulders and slippery grass. Once Larry did take Greg’s help as stumbled on some rocks that came loose under his feet. A shy blot of lemon yellow sun tried to poke through the clouds on the far side of the hill. They made it to the top. Larry made the sign of the cross, touching his hand to his head, belly and shoulders. “My God. You can still feel them.”

“The shadows look like blue uniforms.”

“Are you messing around?”

“No. I was just thinking that.” Greg gestured toward the rocks and trees. “Especially over there, and there.”

Larry nodded. He believed him. Larry realized that he couldn’t hear anything besides their voices. The brush of their feet on the grass and the quiet clatter of rocks sounded like whispers.

Larry thought of his grandson. Timmy was resting back at the hotel. He had an earache. His mother was keeping an eye on him. Larry asked Greg, “Has Timmy learned about the Civil War in school yet?”

“He studied it last year. He drew a map of the battle area for a project.”

“I wish you told me! I’d love to see it.”

“We can ask him if he still has it when we get back.”

“That’d be great. I’d at least like to talk to him about it.”

“He’d like that, too. He had a lot of fun with it. He brought home a foot-tall stack of books from the library. I swear he read all of them.”

Larry smiled. Memories were the best part.

“Looks like the fog is lifting a little bit.”

“Let’s start making our way back. We can make an early lunch.”

Photo credit: “Little Round Top” by rlwelch at en.wikipedia
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