My Strange Relationship with Spiders

This past week was the ever popular “Shark Week” on the Discovery Channel. And well, don’t we all love Shark Week? Hours of the most dramatic programming possible about the most efficient predator possible; what’s not to love?

Well, it got me thinking.

I myself am vaguely arachnophobic. I’m not one of those people who have a panic attack looking at a photograph of a spider. I’m just more creeped out by spiders than the average person is, I’d say. But, because of this, I’m also extremely interesting. I know the species that live in my area, which ones are poisonous and which ones aren’t. If I know a species isn’t poisonous and can’t hurt me, I can even find watching them kind of exciting, because I’m just a little bit afraid of them.

Most of us have the compulsion to look at something that frightens us at a safe distance. It’s the same reason why people rubberneck at traffic accidents and go to horror movies.

It’s also the same reason horror is one of the most popular fiction genres, and why writers like Anne Rice and Stephen King are best sellers.
So, when I’m staring at a spider for a cheap thrill, or watching Shark Week, I think about what draws us to the horror genre. Maybe it’s the rush of engaging our “fight or flight” response while knowing that we’re not really in danger. Maybe it’s because it makes us feel like children, telling each other ghost stories by flashlight in a dark tent. It might even be Schadenfreude.

Maybe it’s a mixture of all of these. Or maybe, we all just like things that go bump in the night.

Do you like things that scare you? What are your favorite horror stories?
Did you watch shark week? Or do you just stare at things that frighten you?

Leave me a comment!

Writing the Olympics

Hello little writers!

Between my my fiverr.com gig and the August’s Camp Nanowrimo, I’ve been so busy lately! And on top of everything else, BCITW (Best Cat in the World) and I have been mesmerized by the Olympics. It’s been a very dramatic two weeks, hasn’t it?

But, the coverage got me thinking. They spend quite a lot of time talking about the athletes, telling us who they are, where they live, what their successes and failures have been in the past, and how they came to be on the world stage we see them on now. If medal counts and rankings and the events themselves were all that mattered, why would they spend so much time on biographical information?

Because, even in a sporting event, characters matter.

Victories have no thrill and defeat is robbed of its agony if we do not know and care about the people involved.
It got me thinking, even if it’s not fiction, even if it’s sports journalism, the audience has to care about the characters involved. Otherwise, they do not care about the events that happen to them. Sometimes the events motivate the plot, sometimes the characters do. That’s just the way fiction goes. But, at the end of the day, nothing is more important than getting your readers to care about your characters.

Here are some quick tips:

1. We’ve all heard “Show, don’t tell.” This goes double for your characters. Don’t tell us how your character feels. Describe their reactions, their posture, and their body language. Then we’ll feel your characters’ emotions with them. Images of the Olympic athlete’s emotional responses are what we remember. Create those images with your words!

2. Allow your characters to make mistakes. Watching your character fall and get back up again is so much more beautiful and moving than a perfect score.

3. The road to gold is never smooth. The obstacles and setbacks that your characters have to overcome are as important as the victory. They make the victory that much sweeter.

It’s been an amazing couple of weeks. Keep reaching for the writing gold!

 

The First Draft

I remember the first time I finished “Nanowrimo.” My big moment, when I knew that I was going to complete my first novel-length project was when I was able to tell myself that I was only writing a first draft.

Loudly I proclaimed: “This is not my novel! It’s just a first of my draft! It’s not my novel!” A feeling of freedom set in. It was all right if something wasn’t the way I wanted it to be in the finished product, because it wasn’t the finished product. It was all right if I didn’t like that particular line of dialogue. It was all right if I knew that I was going to have to go back and change everything, because my original plotting ideas were not panning out.

Everything was all right, because what I was writing was not my novel.

It was the first draft of a novel!

There is no such thing as a novel that is written in one draft. Everything needs editing. And, when you give yourself permission to make mistakes and carry on, knowing that you’ll come back and clean up your literary mess later, writing feels a very different task. I realized that I was free to make mistakes. Not only that, but some of those mistakes I thought I made, turned out to yield wonderful things.

So, you’re going to re-write it. You can fix it later. Just keep writing.

If you wait until chapter 1 is perfect before you start writing chapter 2, chapter 2 will never get written.

I tend to speed through first drafts these days. If you read one of my first drafts, you’d find it hilarious, I think. They’re always full of lines like “And then I noticed the man I was talking to was actually a woman!” when I decided I had too many male characters and wanted to change a character’s gender. That’s just the way I write first drafts. It isn’t until the second draft that I start editing… anything really.

If you’re more meticulous than I am, and I’m sure most of you are, and think you might have difficulty letting yourself do this, here’s a tip: color code first drafts. If I know for a fact I’ve written something I need to go back and look at, I change the font color to red. If I’ve written something that I need to go back and research to make sure is right, I color it blue.

The color coding system is personal and best tailored to your own needs. Believe me, I know. But, if you find yourself having difficulty giving yourself permission to leave something you don’t like for the second draft, I find this very useful.

So many of my writer friends struggle with finishing long projects. They run out of steam or enthusiasm, become disenchanted, or run out of time.

But, I think once you get the first draft out, no matter how bad it is, it’s always easier to go back and edit. So remember:

You’re always allowed to be terrible on your first draft.

Happy Writing! Now, I’m back to my Camp Nanowrimo project!

I’ll write more about that when I’ve reached 50,000 words!

Fiction: A Different Dance

Originally Published on “Necrology Shorts.”

Her feet knew the steps and fell into the light and graceful pattern easily. Her little satin shoes carried her across the polished floor, their pink roses peering from under her pink and lavender skirts. They swam through the waves of music that broke across the spinning couples.

Still, her heart was even lighter than her steps. Everyone noticed her bright eyes and brilliant smile. Effervescent, her delight was contagious. The other couples smiled as she danced past, in the arms of a young man she didn’t seem to see.

The young girl’s partner believed that he understood the reason for her delight, but he was wrong.

*

The blow struck across his face. He tasted the metallic, copper flavor of blood as he hit the ground. He spat into the dirt floor and drug himself up onto his elbows. Fighting for breath, he worked to pull the dark room before him into focus.

He did not want to hurt the man in front of him. Leaping to his feet, he made a bolt for the door and the man lunged after him. He caught Michael around the legs, and together they fell against a rack of tools.

A heavy piece of equipment fell off the wall and landed against his assailant’s shoulders. The cry still in his ears, he made another break for freedom.

*

Freedom was the only thing Lucy could think about. Her partner had requested the next waltz for her. It was a melody by Strauss, one of her favorites. He had done it especially for her, to please her. The realization of this merely irritated her, interrupting her bliss.

He tried to kiss her, but she spun into the next step. She knew what he expected from her, but that didn’t matter anymore.

Soon she would be gone from here forever, and none of this would matter.

*

Michael spun to avoid the next blow. On his back now, he dug the heel of his boot into his attacker’s abdomen and flipped over, scrambling for the way out on all fours. He screamed as the attacker grabbed his ankle, pulling his leg from under him and he was sprawled out onto the dirt floor.

He felt the blow as the handle of a shovel was brought down across the back of his ribs. There was a crack, and the cold breath he sucked in through his teeth sent white hot sparks of pain down his side.

*

Lucy’s breath was beginning to come harder and faster as she kept dancing to the music. Noticing she needed a rest, her partner guided her to a seat and went to get her some punch. While she waited, her thoughts wandered.

She began to wonder if she would even feel married, what with only eloping and not having a proper wedding. Ever since she was a little girl she always thought she’d have a big wedding in a church. The white dress, the organ playing, her brothers in attendance; would she even feel married without these things?

Still, she told herself, her new life with Michael was worth more than a day in the limelight.

*

Michael swung the pitchfork handle and felt it connect with the man’s shoulder. He didn’t want to hurt him. He didn’t. Yet, all reasoning was gone. Growling in pain, the man lunged low, under the weapon and his shoulder connected with Michael’s gut. He dropped the fork and choked as his shoulders and the back of his head connected with the wall behind him.

*

Lucy heard an old maid whisper about how in love she was with her partner and how she’d never seen a young lady’s eyes glow while dancing like that. It made her laugh. She was in love, but not with him.

Her thoughts drifted to what Michael must be doing now. It would be time for her to leave the dance soon, time for them to be together. Her thoughts turned to freedom and her feet flew.

When she saw her partner speaking to her father and two of her brothers, she knew what it was about. Their expressions were so serious. Her dance partner even looked anxious. Her father smiled a dry smile, and pressed his hand against his shoulder.

The men looked pleased and shook each other’s hands. She knew that an agreement had been made and accepted. Under different circumstances, she would be horrified at the prospect. But now, it just didn’t matter anymore. Tomorrow, she would be miles away and none of them would be able to touch her.

She wondered briefly where her oldest brother was.

*

The man’s hands closed around Michael’s throat. He could feel the man’s skin tear under his fingernails as he clawed, but his grip remained. The breath stuck at his closing windpipe.

Michael was seeing red. Spots danced before his eyes as he choked. The back of his neck was warm and wet, and the world was dancing before him. The other man’s face was in front of him. He could smell sweat and blood and the gin on his breath. His hands finally sank to his sides.

In his last moment of consciousness, he felt his fingers grip around something. As he realized what it was, he smiled.

*

Glancing over her shoulder, she saw them talking. They wouldn’t notice her leaving now. As she opened the door and the rush of winter air touched her bare shoulders, she felt like a kite whose string had escaped the sticky hands of a child. Goosebumps rose on Lucy’s arms as she ran down the carriage path, but she didn’t mind them. She rubbed her little white hands against the exposed skin. Snowflakes hit her like little pin pricks, but she just laughed at them.

It was a long walk. She and Michael didn’t dare risk hiring a carriage for their flight, so they’d have to reach the train station by foot. She desperately hoped he’d be there when she arrived at the churchyard.

Cold began to tear at her, but her heart stayed light. It was as though she could see him, waiting for her. She imagined him taking off his coat and wrapping it around her. She imagined walking with him, his arm keeping her warm.

Time wore on and she shuddered in the cold. The church bell tolled, and she knew the wait was too long. She told herself that any number of things could have detained him, and that there was no reason to worry. She tried to smile and remind herself of the new life she was headed for. Humming a wedding march, she leaned against an oak tree, trying to shelter from the wind.

“He’ll be here.” Exhaustion began to take her, and she closed her eyes, resting her head against the tree trunk. She imagined his touch, his embrace, his kiss, and began to feel warm.

“Please forgive me, dear lady, for keeping you waiting.” She couldn’t see for a moment. The fog was thick, and it diffused the light into a dull gray pallor that washed out the surroundings.

“Oh, you did give me a fright. Why, what’s the matter? You seem so strange.” Michael’s face was before her.

“It’s nothing, nothing at all.” He extended his hand and helped her to her feet.

“Are you very cold?” He put his arm around her.

“Not now. Not one bit.”

A New Project and Camp Nanowrimo

Badge courtesy of CampNanowrimo.org

Fifty thousand words in thirty days.

That feels like a lot to write in a short time.

Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month, is something that I throw myself into every November. It’s always such an insane and wonderful month. It’s always full of creativity, joy, stress, character love, character hate, friends, competition, alcohol, and randomly deciding to write sex scenes until I figure out where I want my story to go next, because I used up all my plotting notes in the first twenty thousand words.

Yeah, it happens.

But, I really do love it. So, this month I have decided to embark on “Camp Nanowrimo.” For those of you who don’t know, it’s when they do the regular November insanity in the summer months.
This decision was made rather suddenly. My current project is one I’ve had in mind for some time, but it was the concept behind the novel that I’ve been thinking about. The plot and characters are much less solidified in my mind than they usually are when I start writing. So, this project has taken me from being a “Plotter” (someone who plots everything out before they write) to a “Pantser” (someone who flies by the seat of their pants.)

When it comes to the “Plotter” vs. “Pantser” debate, I don’t believe that there is a right or wrong way to write. It’s merely a matter of personal preference. The only advantage I think “Plotters” have is that “Pantsers” have to do more re-writes to make the finished project more cohesive. Although I’ve never had a “plotted” project where I didn’t deviate from the planned plot. So, maybe that’s not even true.

As I said, we’re all different.

But, be that as it may, “Pantsing” is a very different experience for me. And, maybe writing in a way that I’m not used to is good for me. I think I’m writing a lot of things that will get scrapped in the very next draft. But, that doesn’t matter. I feel like I’m stretching myself, and going outside of my comfort zone.

It’s stressing me out terribly, but I’m enjoying it. I’ll write more about my new project in the next blog entry.

Now, I wonder if I can count this entry towards my Camp Nanowrimo word count…

Date your Character

Tell me the truth. You’re in love with at least one of your fictional characters, aren’t you?

As writers, I think we all have intense emotional relationships with our characters. Whether you would describe it as love, or hate, fascination, or even feeling that your characters are running the story and you’re just taking dictation, we’re all emotionally invested in our characters.

We know what our characters like and want. We know their tastes, and their whims. So, here’s a challenge for the writers out there:

Date your character!

We’re all busy trying to work our writing into our daily lives. But, putting some time aside to get in touch with your character can be a fun way to recharge your creative batteries, find inspiration, and end writer’s block.

Let’s look at a “What If…” scenario.  What if your character traveled across time, space, death, and reality to spend the day with you. You, my friend, are taking them out on the town. Character not of your preferred gender? That’s fine! They’re now your best buddy!

  1. Determine your character’s choice of music.
  2. Pick your character’s favorite color. Wear it! If you have an outfit you know your character would want to wear or want to see a date in, that’s even better.
  3. Figure which restaurant would be your character’s favorite, and what dish they would order.

Play the music, get dressed, go out and order the meal, and ENJOY!

I realize this may seem silly to some of you. Try it anyway! Remember, you’ll only get out of it what you put in. If you put thought, planning, and emotion into this, it can be a fun way to kindle a new sense of excitement and enthusiasm for your character and your story.

So, go ahead! I won’t wait up!

Using Your Senses to Start Writing

No one knows when the practice of burning incense began. It dates back to before the time of the Pharaohs, and exists as an enhancement to spiritual and religious ceremonies in both eastern and western cultures. For many modern users, it’s simply a way to mask undesirable odors or to fill a room with its fragrance. Many others use it while practicing meditation, yoga, or as a light mood enhancer when trying to relax.

The use of incense in spiritual and religious practices is well known. However, how many of you have burned incense as part of your creative practice?

There are people who claim that certain incense fragrances can bring about greater mental clarity and creativity. I will not speak to that, but rather leave that up to the individual to decide. I do, however, have a strange little trick involving incense and writing that I thought I would like to share.

What I do is fairly simple. I have special “writing” incense. I always burn it when I’m writing, and not at any other time. Lighting it is always the last thing I do before I sit down to work on a project. Filling up my coffee mug, going to the toilet, finding that page in my notebook that has that one special idea I had on my way to my day job… all of that comes first. So, I light the incense and begin. I don’t want to waste it, so I have to stay on task while it’s burning. The
slow progression of the stick to ash works as a reminder not to submit to distractions.

Now, here’s the fun part. Since I only burn it when I’m writing, I’ve developed a very strong association. When I smell my writing incense, I write. Even if I’m not in the mood to write, even if I’m blocked, I know it’s time to put hands to keyboard and get it done. There’s nothing metaphysical about it; it’s just a simple sense association. Yet, I’m frequently surprised at how strong it is.

Using our senses to trigger mental states is nothing new. Doctors will tell insomniacs to set an evening routine before they go to bed, in order to tell their minds and bodies that it is time to sleep. Ivan Pavlov did a powerful study where he got dogs to associate food with the sound of a bell, so much so that they salivated. Creating these triggers can be powerful in overcoming procrastination, writer’s block, and simply taking the chore out of writing.

If you choose to try this for yourself, whatever scent you pick is up to you. I don’t endorse any brand or fragrance. If you have any kind of breathing or lung problems, incense can be an irritant and this technique is not for you. A scented candle can easily be substituted. For music lovers, you may also use a piece of music. I recommend something extended and without lyrics, like a complete symphony. You don’t want to play the same song on a loop and drive yourself batty, and lyrics tend to be distracting, at least for me anyway. Remember, incense and candles should never be left unattended, and always use proper holders. Kids should always ask their parents for help.

Seriously, be safe. Only you can prevent house fires and all that stuff. If you use a similar sense-association to trigger the mood to write, let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear about it.