Writing in a fog?

Vivid blue skies accompanied us during the entire 800 kilometre drive on Saturday… at least, they did after the fog lifted. Until then, there wasn’t much of anything to see.

Morning Fog

As the early morning mist thinned, beautiful Moyie Lake was revealled.

Moyie Lake (East Kootenays), BC

Moyie Lake (East Kootenays), BC

After that, the rest of the trip was a joy… just one cloudless vista after another.

Kootenay Pass (Selkirk Mountains), BC

Christina Lake, BC

That resembles some of my writing days. I blunder along, searching for the direction a story should take, but it’s like being in a fog. Everything feels unfamiliar, although it shouldn’t. After all, the route, the basic storyline, is my own. Still, the way ahead is obscure and I can’t see where to go until a fresh breeze of inspiration finally opens up a glimmer of an idea. Once I can expand on it, my writing picks up speed.

That’s where I am right now. There’s a non-fiction article I want to write, but the idea remains murky. Unfortunately, I’m running out of time (it’s for a contest), but I’ll persevere… I’ll keep concocting one sentence at a time, waiting for the breakthrough to happen.

If only the fog would dissipate! Do you think it would help if I set up a couple fans in my office? :)

~  ~  ~

 

 

 

Book Review — Jane Eyre: Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic, by K.M. Weiland

When I first read Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, Jane Eyre, I took it as a Victorian romance, later realizing it was also a vaguely autobiographical account of a girl’s complex and difficult life, and a critique of the social issues of the period. I never imagined I would encounter the story again decades later and reread it as a highly effective teaching tool for writing fiction.

19336035In Jane Eyre: Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic, K.M. Weiland examines Brontë’s story from the unique perspective of an author and writing instructor, and reveals the many techniques that helped make it one of the most successful novels of its era and an enduring classic. Weiland not only identifies the techniques as the story unfolds, she thoroughly explains them.

Let me offer two examples:

In discussing characterization, following a section of dialogue a sidebar notation says, “Successfully using dialogue for characterization requires several ingredients,” and Weiland goes on to identify four – “(1.) Character voice, (2.) Choice of subject, (3.) Treatment of others, and (4.) Speaker tags and action beats.” She doesn’t just label these, but also expounds on each with specific references to how Bronte has used them in the text.

After another section of dialogue, Weiland points to Brontë’s inclusion of backstory and explains how and why it works so well. “To begin with, this conversation serves to keep the backstory front and center in the readers’ minds. Even as the main part of the story progresses, Brontë will continue to make references to the mysterious backstory. She never lets readers forget about it. She is also careful to introduce at least one new fact into each reference. She doesn’t rehash the same old information over and over. … Finally, she keeps the backstory fresh by weaving it into the body of the main story. Here she uses it to cement the foundation of the relationship that will grow between Jane and Rochester.

“Info dumps or lengthy flashbacks would only serve to slow down the story and sap the tension. But carefully placed clues offer just enough new information to keep readers panting after the truth.”

km-weiland-avatarKatie Weiland’s own writing is well crafted and easy to read in a conversational style that still manages to be concise and instructive. Her intimate familiarity with Charlotte Brontë’s classic story along with her extensive knowledge of the writing craft, have combined to produce a book that other writers will find extremely useful. It is not just another companion to the story of Jane Eyre, but a comprehensive guide to good writing that I believe should be on every writer’s bookshelf.

Jane Eyre: Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic by K.M. Weiland will be available at all major outlets upon release August 1st. Check it out on Amazon or Barnes & Noble and visit Katie’s website, Helping Writers Become Authors, for lots more information.

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Writing Frustrations and Bird Poop

Bird poop is not pleasant. It’s messy, and one of the worst offenders around here right now are the robins.

Robin

Once winter is on the wane, I’m always delighted to welcome the earliest robins. They’re harbingers of spring, after all, and that makes me smile. By summertime, however, I’ve begun to tire of the white accumulations that adorn our deck railings and outdoor furniture, and I’m no longer smiling.

Robins are pretty, and they sing a sweet song, I’ll give them that. But they don’t eat birdseed. The lawn and garden are their kitchen source for earthworms and berries. The only appeal our deck apparently has for them is as a bathroom… a place to perch and deposit their doo-doo, which I don’t-don’t like! Someone had a warped sense of humour when they named the species ‘Turdus migratorius’.

We had 45 people coming here last night for a church barbecue. In preparation, we had pulled weeds and tidied the gardens. Hubby power-washed the deck, and I wiped down the lawn furniture. You get the picture. We wanted things to be neat and clean for our guests, and it was… until late-afternoon, just before the first guests arrived, when Mr. Robin Redbreast dropped in and dropped. Ackkk!!! It was too late to get out the hose, but there was no point in stressing over little blobby things, as maddening as they were. I found a rag, cleaned them away as best I could and carried on, soon forgetting all about the annoyance and enjoying a wonderful evening with friends.

The writing application that occurred to me later had to do with not overstressing about little things. No point in grinding to a halt  when the wrong words deposit themselves on the page during a first draft. Better to look at the overall picture, get on with the job and worry about cleaning up the messy bits during revision. There are bound to be more messy bits before it’s done and we’re ready to put the manuscript out on display anyway.

In future, when I’m getting really frustrated, maybe I’ll try and remember to mutter, “Oh, poop!!!” then have a laugh and get back to work.

What’s your method of banishing first draft frustrations?

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The Appeal of a Writer’s Garden

Did you ever read The Secret Garden — the 1911 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett? I read it at a time when I was too young to care about its themes and symbols. The author’s interest in Christian Science and New Thought were beyond me, and by the time I later acquired the movie on DVD (the 1993 version), the childish appeal of the story and its magic was well embedded and I didn’t care what obscure meaning it might have. 


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I sometimes wonder if it contributed to my interest in gardening. I’m not a great gardener, but my homes from childhood until the present have always included patches of soil in which plants put forth blossoms and seeds year after year. Every spring I await the bursting of swollen buds, and often plant something new “just to see if it will grow”. Unfortunately I don’t nurture things very well, and sometimes they don’t grow!

It’s not the growing that fascinates me as much as the potential. Bare branches and seed pods that lie dormant and suddenly decide to produce green sprouts, leaves and flowers. Perhaps it’s reminiscent of the mystery invisible behind a locked garden gate, and secrets within.

Secret Garden

If you didn’t know my back yard, the cedar arch in the back corner covered by climbing hydrangea might seem like the gateway to a secret garden. It’s not. It simply marks the transition between our rather mossy back lawn and an unkempt bit of forest that leads to our marsh. Any mystery or magic exists only in one’s mind.

DSC03311

DSC03302

I used to like sitting down there on the little bench my hubby made for me. It was a private sanctuary, perfect for thinking, plotting or just listening to the birds. Now that I know there’s a bear and her cub wandering nearby this spring, I’m less inclined to venture down there by myself, but I miss sitting quietly in those shadows.

Sunday afternoon I enjoyed wandering through a friend’s garden, seeing her lush plantings of flowers and shrubs. I came home thinking about what gardens mean to us as writers. The fact that my friend is also a writer reinforces my belief that whether we’re growing vegetables and fruits to nourish our bodies, or designing colourful flowerbeds to nourish our spirits, in some way the process parallels our desire to create via storytelling.

Planning the beds, preparing the ground, nestling each plant or seed in its appropriate spot, watering and fertilizing, watching it develop, and digging it out when it ends up not fitting that location — it strikes me there’s a writing analogy coming. It might take a stretch of imagination, but I’m sure there’s a semblance of one. Don’t dash my hope. I told you I’m not a great gardener! :)

If you’re a writer, do you like to garden… design special places or plant practical beds? Oh, and don’t forget my initial question: have you read (or watched) “The Secret Garden”? What did you think of it?

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Story lessons from an iceberg

Taking a break from blogging has pros and cons. I’ve returned feeling rested and refreshed, but my mind is still focused on the many sights and sounds that filled my week away. So I’ll apologize in advance. We’re probably doomed to an abundance of cruising analogies here for the next little while.

Cruise 1

This past week provided opportunities for me to experience water in several of its forms. We didn’t get rain in any measurable amount, but there were a few sprinkles, and a morning of fog.

Cruise 6

Most days the ocean was remarkably calm, but there were occasional times of choppy waves and rolling swells.

Cruise 3

 

Cruise 2

The Pacific Ocean can be mighty chilly at times, but in the Gulf of Alaska there are places where it’s downright frigid.

Cruise 4

Alaska’s Hubbard Glacier is located in the northeastern section of Yakutak Bay, extending five miles across the end of Disenchantment Bay. Unlike most other glaciers that are receding, for the past century the face of the Hubbard Glacier has continued to advance. Chunks of ice regularly ‘calve’ from it, filling the water with mid-sized icebergs, along with smaller ‘bergy bits’ and ‘growlers’.

Cruise 7

Apparently the density of ice is less than that of sea water, so only about one-tenth of the volume of an iceberg is visible above the water.

Cruise 8

The seen and the unseen… how could they not bring a writing application to mind??? ;)

So much of the research, background and subtext that go into novel writing will never actually be seen by readers — or shouldn’t be — but will provide the foundation for a good story and give it stability. Whenever we’re tempted to reveal too much ‘fascinating’ information, we need to remember what happens when an iceberg drifts away from its source and warmer waters begin undermining the ice below the surface. When too much of the iceberg’s volume is above the water line, it eventually gets top heavy and flips over!

All those mottled and melted bits from the underside don’t have a lot of interest or substance. Imagine similar ramifications for a story. If you need more of a visual, drop an ice cube into a glass of water and then consider the importance of a good solid base.

I know, I know… I sometimes give my imagination too much free rein, but it bugs me when a writer top-dresses a story with too many details that were obviously gleaned during the research stage. How would you suggest utilizing interesting tidbits you’ve discovered, if they’re not going to add significantly to your plot?

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Thoughts, Words and Written Chaos

There’s nothing a writer likes better than to play with words. Sometimes — okay, maybe most times — we like the words to make some kind of sense… to resonate either with us as their creator or with potential readers. The choice of words and the order in which they are strung together determine how they affect us.

Blossom thoughts2

We don’t require poetry to follow stringent rules of grammar, but we still expect the words to be meaningful. Whether they are contained in prose or poetry, however, our understanding of them, and whether or not they are meaningful, will depend upon our personal perspective… our previous exposure and response to them.

In the initial stages of writing,
thoughts emerge
like gurgling waters from a geyser,
bubbling up and
bursting forth
to splatter on a page.

We don’t have a lot of control over them,
certainly not at first.
It’s during revisions
that we stare at the mess we’ve made.
We dab at it
in an attempt
to contain the chaos…
to reorder the words
into  a semblance of organized storytelling.

An entire novel
originates with a single thought,
but it’s one that must expand
and be reworked
many times
before it becomes recognizable.
Writing it is a combination of
creativity and craft,
both
exhilarating and exhausting.

I’m at that stage where the story is no longer a suspended idea, but it’s still  chaotic, with the wrong words cluttering up page after new page. Where are you at with your current project?
~

More from James Douglas…

“It is a good idea to be alone in a garden
at dawn or dark
so that all its shy presences
may haunt you and possess you
in a reverie of suspended thought.”

~  ~  ~
 

 

Will it be survival of the fittest or of the most diligent seeker?

Nobody’s very happy about it. When a bear and her cub found their way into our back yard last week, I knew it was past time to put away the bird feeders for the summer. But you should see the looks I’ve been getting…

1-Junco

 

Jay

 

Flicker

 

Grosbeak

 

Thrush

Sorry guys, but this lunch counter is closed for the season. There’s lots of nibblies out there, but you’re going to have to find them for yourselves.

 

Squirrel
Ah, c’mon now, it’s not that bad. After all, the one who’s responsible for the sudden closure managed to find an acceptable alternative.

9-BearGrass

If there’s to be any kind of writing application in this, I’d say it has something to do with accepting that there’s no free lunch along the road to publication. We simply have to knuckle down and put in the work ourselves.

 ~

Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so.

Genesis 1:29-30

 

He has given food and provision to those who reverently and worshipfully fear Him; He will remember His covenant forever and imprint it [on His mind].

Psalm 111: 5

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