Including Background Scenery

 

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I write a lot of first person. That means that I use “I” a lot. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but because I’m so concerned about my story’s action getting out that I tend to forget to put sufficient background into my story. You know that old writer’s maxim = Show don’t tell? Well I am forever telling.

Not good.

Background scenery is what literally grounds your scene. It allows your readers to visualize themselves right alongside you in your story.  And it is absolutely necessary.

So how is this done?

For me, I go ahead and write my “I” story. I don’t worry about details in the first draft. I just get the storyline out of my head.

Then I go back and work my way through my five senses:

  • Sight
  • Smell
  • Touch
  • Feel
  • Hear

I ask myself questions for each sense. What did I see? What unique smells were important to that scene? How was the weather? What did I feel on my skin? What sounds caught my attention? How about colors? And so on.

Scenery writing is a good example of how the parts equal more than the whole. By adding these specific details, you are in control and can craft how your reader “sees” the action.  You can make your reader feel something that wasn’t there in  the “I” statements. Adding detail is an incredibly powerful writers’ tool.

When working on my scenes, I also ask myself how I felt emotionally. For example, was I anxious? If so I write in something that *shows* I was anxious, instead of just saying it. For example, if I was anxious about a child’s safety I might use this:

“I fingered the small rock in my pocket, given to me by my daughter years ago when we were at the shore.
“Here, mommy,” she had said “Hold this rock, while I go play.””

Do you see how that’s so much better in terms of storytelling than simply writing –

“A sense of foreboding overcame me.”

Writing means constantly balancing your need to write your story with your readers need to place themselves within its pages. One way to make everyone happy is to include those specific details which make your background scenery pop to life, inviting your readers to join in.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Friday Fun – What is your piece’s purpose?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION:  

Success is having a flair for the thing that you are doing; knowing that is not enough,

you have got to have hard work and a certain sense of purpose.

Margaret Thatcher

When I teach my writing classes I always devote a few good discussions on identifying a piece’s purpose. Without knowing what the purpose or reason is behind what it is you write, I tell my students, you are simply stumbling blindly in the dark.

Having a consistent purpose is the lifeblood of all writing. When the purpose switches the piece loses its footing. Doubt me?  – take a look at many editorial letters that start off talking about one thing and then they switch purpose by adding “and another thing” or “yeah, but..” The writer may begin explaining what is wrong about a new town ordinance, but then he switches to being angry about some unrelated, unfair event. What’s going on? The purpose has switched from informing others to venting about a perceived injustice. The purpose of those types of letters changes mid-stride resulting in the piece losing all credibility.

The purpose (along with the audience, tone, and topic) are so important, that I advise students to write it (them) out on a sticky note and post in on the corner of their monitor when writing so that they don’t forget. If they get lost in their writing (writer’s block) they need to do a check to see if they are still on message. (And sometimes as a piece evolves, the purpose might change.)

Let’s talk about your writing purpose today, think of your latest work or project, – what is its purpose?

And is this purpose consistent throughout your entire piece?


Wendy E.N. Thomaswendy-shot: My latest project is an account of the border-to-border walk I took this summer with my son. My purpose is a few-fold, to teach, entertain, and to inspire. It’s a long piece, so yes, I have found myself inadvertently switching purpose a few times. Most notably I see this when I start getting angry about how my son with chronic Lyme was misdiagnosed for so long.

When I catch myself doing this, I remove the passages and save them in a file for later. The time will come for a piece on chronic Lyme where the purpose will be to show my anger. It’s just not now in this piece.

Lee Laughlin CU 7-13

Lee Laughlin: My WIP is a novel, first and foremost, it is a romance, so it’s purpose is to get the hero and heroine to happily-ever-after. The secondary purpose is to introduce readers to the concepts of food deserts and multiple chemical sensitivities.

I don’t want to be preachy, but many people don’t know anything about either, so I view the story as a brief introduction to both topics.

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: I think there are two aspects to this question. One has to do with your “why” – the thing that drives you to write, the truth you’re trying to illuminate, the change you want to see in the world. The other is about how to build a piece of writing around that why, how to keep it focused so that your words and stories can have the greatest impact.

These are both topics that I’ve written about before, so I’ll offer up a few past posts as possible fodder for ongoing exploration of these ideas:

  • What Your Writing Is Missing and How to Get It – in which we talk about finding the “why” behind your urge to write based on Simon Sinek’s TED Talk.
  • Why We Write – A Novel Answer – in which we look at Mario Vargas Llosa’s book Letters to a Young Novelist and explore the idea of writing as rebellion.
  • Writing About Issues – in which the team from the excellent Writing Excuses podcast is joined by guest author Desiree Burch for an insightful conversation about how to write about issues without screwing it up.
  • Get Mad. Marketing from Your Dark Side – in which we take a trip to my marketing blog to learn about the importance of villains.
  • Embrace Your Dark Side – in which I expand on the idea in the previous post with the help of some other creative folks.

The power of hashtags (#) when you are a writer

 

We’ve talked about the power of tweeting before. Twitter, when harnessed, can provide important connections and fantastic advice from professionals and other writers. Twitter is often described as being like a stream of continuous information. But how does one navigate that which at times seems more like a tidal wave?

hashtag1The answer is to use hashtags (#). A hashtag is like an invitation to a party. If you use the hashtag and others are also using it, everyone can now join in the conversation.

A few caveats – you have to already know what the hashtags that are being used are. In circular logic that means that you have to know what to use before you can use it.

This is done by using searches. Try searching  in twitter on a general hashtag that is widely used by the writing community – something like #author or #writer is probably a good start. Then begin to pay attention to the hashtags that are used by others in addition to those in their tweets.

And then begin using those hashtags consistently in your tweets. (Warning it’s considered rude to use more than 3 hashtags in one tweet – it makes you look a little needy.)

It helps to keep a running list of available hashtags, here’s a start.

What to reach readers?
#Reader

#MustRead

#BookGiveaway

#GoodRead

#FridayReads

#AmReading

#RomanceWriter

#SciFiChat

#KidLitChat

#YAlit

#Novel

#Kindle

#Poem

#Poetry

How about reaching other authors?

#writer

#author

#Books

#Poet

#Poem

#Screenwriting

#Manuscript

# Nonfiction

#RWA (Romance Writers of America)

Want information on publishing and the business of books?

#IndiePub

#SelfPub

#SelfPublishing

#BookMarketing

#Ebooks

#Publishing

#GetPublished

#Digital

#AskEditor

#Writetip

Want to get an agent’s attention?

#Literaryagent

#AskAgent

Looking for writing assistance or motivation?

#AmWriting

#Iwrite

#WritersLife

#Grammar

# Critigue

#WritingTips

#WritingTip

#Writing

#1K1H (1000 words in one hour)

#WriteTip

#WritingPrompt

#WriteChat

#NaNoWriMo

I’m sure there are many more hashtags out there (and if you can’t find what you want then go ahead and create one, chances are someone else will join in.) It takes a little bit of time and practice to figure out how to use hashtags, but when you finally do crack that egg, it puts the the world literally at your fingertips.

Just for kicks, I’ve created a new hashtag for writer jokes #WriJo – go over to twitter and see if you can find my (most excellent) joke using that hashtag.  And then if you have another joke, add it.  Just don’t forget to add the hashtag so that others can join in on the conversation.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

The Evolution of Writers

 

I’m having a difficult time writing these days.

I’ll sit at my desk ready to work on a piece and then my phone beeps. There’s another news alert – The Press Secretary has doubled down on a clear lie at the daily press conference.

Or there’s an announcement of another Executive Order (decree).

Or I hear about some State Rep in Minnesota who passed an amendment so that health insurance companies won’t have to cover many pre-existing conditions like diabetes, prenatal care, ventilator care, Lyme disease … the list goes on and on and on. (Interestingly Erectile dysfunction will still be covered – Phew!)

Or there’s a gag order on government agencies who report directly to the public, (EPA, USDA) if you cared about the environment or the food that you eat, good luck, you’re now on your own.

Or an elected official is tweeting about the “fat women” who attended the Women’s March or the “lard” those women have in their brains.

I spend most of my time these days seething (when I’m not curled up in a fetal position.)

I am a writer. It means I have a vivid imagination. But one doesn’t need to have a bigly imagination to see what is happening. If I wrote fiction, I’d have enough material for many, many dystopian sagas.

America seems to be under attack from within. And it’s frightening, it’s challenging every belief I have ever held.

Our rights are being threatened, our information controlled, our children with chronic illness and people with disabilities are at risk, our very livelihood as writers is going to be challenged (will I be punished for even daring to write this?)

When suppression and repression is the new reality, it’s difficult to write about charming chickens or a walk I took through a bucolic town. It’s difficult to write anything positive when the cloud overhead is so heavy and ominous.

It’s difficult to write about anything except sharing outrage at what is happening. Again and again. That kind of writing seems to come easy, it comes from a bottomless well.

I know I’m not alone.

And I also know I can’t continue at this full throttle speed. As I have cautioned so many other people – “Take care of yourself, this is a marathon not a sprint.” I need to remind myself of that very advice every day.

Somehow I am going to have to section out time to block myself from what is happening in the world so that I can conjure up the writer I was before –  if that writer even still exists.

There is an app out there that automatically changes all pictures of Trump to kittens, maybe I need to install that.

Or maybe I need to lock myself in a room away from the internet, social media, and my phone.

Or better still, perhaps I need to try and capture these feelings of fear, loathing, and disgust and channel them into my writing. Chickens can be angry, walks can draw attention, mothers can speak out.

Words matter.

Maybe, just maybe, these times will usher in the evolution of a new kind of writer.  I am positive that once we have found our balance, we writers will find a way to cope and we will use our skills to make sure our fears and our voices are heard.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Reading out loud for a final edit

The kids are all back at school, Marc is out of town, and I have reserved this week to do a final edit of my manuscript.

“But how do you do that?” my son asked me last night at dinner.

Behold the new "Red Pen"

Behold the new “Red Pen”

“Well,” I told him, “I start on page one and I begin to read the entire thing out loud.”

And then, I explained, I look for areas where there are continuity breaks. For example when I was working on a chapter yesterday I noticed that I had written about “taking Motrin *again*” and yet I hadn’t mentioned any previous times that we had taken it. Oops – I went back and added that first instance.

Gone are the days of using a red pen, now I read out loud from the screen to find words that have been dropped and spellings that made it through spell check but were the wrong word. (Form instead of from.) All edits are done using my computer.

If I come across a passage that is particularly clunky and I can’t think of how to fix it, I highlight it to remind me to come back to it and I move on.

Quotation marks that weren’t added because they are a pain in the neck when you are brain dumping your story need to be added to dialogue.

When you read out loud, you “hear” the areas where your voice might have changed. Where you (I) might have added a snarky bit that doesn’t add anything to the story – out it comes.

When I read out loud, I also hear where I might have gone a little too light on descriptions. I stop to recall what it was I saw and felt and I add in those details.

I also hear some of the repetition that I didn’t seem to catch when I wrote the piece. When spoken, those words jump out front and center.

Reading out loud isn’t for everyone, it’s a slow process and I have to have absolute silence which is why this week is so good to do it – Please don’t interrupt me when I’m deep in my story.

But for me, it’s the best method for a review.

How about you? How do you do a final edit?

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Fake News is the STD of Free Press

A few weeks back I put up a post about fake news. It included a list of “news” sites that typically dealt in conspiracy and fake news.

Last night Buzzfeed (an entertainment, but fairly respectable organization) published a 35 page U.S. Intelligence report that outlined several areas in which Trump has direct conflicts with Russia. The article indicated that some of the instances in the report could not be verified.

Again, this report originated from our United States Intelligence, it has two U.S. Senators (McCain and Graham) names attached to it.

It’s that little caveat “unverified” that kept responsible journalists from reporting on this *even* though many of them had held copies of the report in their hands for weeks. Verification is the standard of all trustworthy reporting.

The Intelligence report is bad. It lists many instances of collaboration between Trump and Russia. In its more salacious section it also details an account where Trump paid for prostitutes to urinate on a Moscow hotel bed where the Obamas had once slept.

Do I believe the report? There are some sections that detail very specific encounters and situations that are difficult to ignore. I also, unlike Trump, trust our Intelligence agencies. Do I think that Trump paid for prostitutes to pee on a bed in front of him?

Probably not. But here’s the thing, if it turned out to be true, based on previous reports and actions, I wouldn’t be that surprised.

Once Buzzfeed hit the Send button respected news agencies like The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post started reporting on the fact that Buzzfeed released the report. Although these agencies use “alleged” in their articles, the fact that they reported on it gave the subject some of that very important verification.

What was Trump’s reaction? A very mature and dignified tweet:

FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!

Someone, somewhere is lying big time and at this point, things are so muddied that we don’t know who is doing all the lying.

It leaves us in a very precarious state. Do we go ahead and trust our free press which has been a cornerstone of our democratic freedom or do we instead trust a man/team who has no problems with lying outright again and again.

Because of the constant lies and the cyber bullying (as an aside Melania’s “platform” when she becomes First Lady is going to be cyberbullying – good luck with that) we no longer know what is the truth and what is fabrication. Even when the big news agencies report.

Fake news is the STD of free press. Once there, it’s very difficult, if not impossible to get rid of.

If you want to hobble a nation, hobble the credibility of its free press and its freedom of speech.

The #GoldenShowerGate story is not just a story about FAKE NEWS. It’s a warning of clear and present danger to our press and how we will be getting and perceiving news in the future.

 

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Breaking Writing Dreams Down

 

When my husband and I first moved into our house we had so many dreams. First we were going to change this, add that and then we were going to find out about creating something else. At the time we had a 15 month old and I was pregnant with what would be the second of our six children. Our dream list got longer and longer and we soon realized that it was truly out of hand. We had big dreams but we didn’t have any plans on how to reach those dreams.

20170103_125922“Yeah, we’ll have to do all of this after we find the cure for cancer,” we finally said to each other.

It seemed at the time that finding that elusive cure would have been far easier than tackling all that was on our list. To this day, if one of us is attempting something too big without a plan, we’ll mention that we should probably try to cure that cancer before we start the project.

It’s January, we all have brand spanking new writing dreams for the upcoming year.

You’ve carefully written them down. You may have even posted them on your bulletin board to ensure you see them every day.

Now – why is it that even with all this new resolve, (which was the same resolve you had last year in fact) you haven’t made much progress?

Perhaps it’s because you’re trying to cure cancer.

A dream without steps is just that – a dream. Dreams are big. So big that they are difficult to contain. They contain happiness, sunshine, rainbows, and our future.

Dreams are pretty incredible. Finding the cure for cancer is a dream (for now anyway.)

But here’s the thing, you can’t measure a dream. What you can measure however are goals.

And you achieve goals by identifying steps or mini -goals.

So here’s an example.

Dream – I want to be a published author this year.

Okay, that’s a big dream, if you just left it like that then is it any wonder, you may still not be published?

But let’s take that dream and set some goals:

Goal – I will get an article published in a magazine by April.

That there is a measurable goal. You either do or do not achieve it.

But even that goal is a bit large, so now you break it down in to steps (mini-goals)

  • I will come up with 10 good topics for magazine articles by the end of each week.
  • I will flesh out an outline for each of those topics.
  • I will gather information and create an article pitch.
  • I will submit two magazine pitches a week until April
  • And I will volunteer to write a newsletter article, blog post, etc each week that I can use as a credential in my pitches.

Maybe your goal is larger – You want to write a book.

Same thing goes. You have to break it down.

  • Perhaps your mini-goal is to write 1500 words a day.
  • Maybe it’s to not get up from your desk until you’ve finished a chapter.
  • Or maybe it’s to go to the airport to get some character ideas.

The possibilities are endless because this is your goal and your dream. It’s up to you to figure out how to get there.

So take a good look at what you hope will happen in the New Year and begin to work backward. Keep asking this statement -“to get to this step, what do I first need to do?…” and keep answering until you find yourself sitting in your seat in front of your computer or notebook.

And then go ahead and get to work on your cure.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.