The Harmony of Words

If you look back, you’ll notice the titles of my recent posts seem to have a common theme: music, rhythm, and now harmony. I’ve been relating those themes to our writing.

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Much of this past weekend has been spent with family. Four generations of one branch came together to celebrate Easter at our son’s home. My hubby and I were the oldest; this smiling wee miss was the youngest. In fact, at just eighteen months, she is currently the youngest member of our entire clan.

When I reflect on the weekend, after the cross and resurrection, I think of family. It’s hard not to remember the food, too — turkey and ham with all the trimmings that accompany a sumptuous meal, mugs of coffee and multiple desserts. The next day’s leftovers were unforgettable, too — a help-yourself lunch with heaped plates taken out on the deck to consume in the warm sunshine. And at random moments there were always chocolate morsels to unwrap and pop into one’s mouth.

After the church services, with their prayers, praise and singing, there was a dishwasher to be loaded, emptied, loaded and emptied again, and pots to wash. There were repeated attempts to convince the dog to stay out of the kitchen, bubble blowing sessions on the front porch, and storybooks read by conscripted aunts and uncles, and, inevitably, the usual spills to wipe up before someone walked through them.

It was typical family stuff, but it was memorable because of the harmony. Good-natured banter, frequent hugs and laughter. Our faith and a common appreciation of the Easter events that drew us together. It was a weekend warmed by love and harmony.

Harmony is hard to define. In music we think of a pleasing blend of sounds or the absence of discord. There is a comfortable sense of balance when the parts meld into the whole. In real life it’s all that, and more, but what about in our writing? How is harmony achieved by words? I believe it’s one of those illusive things, like voice, that we can’t easily describe but must experience. We know it’s been achieved when a story leaves us satisfied.

Is harmony something you strive for in your writing? Harmony can be expected in the romance and inspirational genres, but do you think it needs to be present in others? In mysteries? In science fiction?

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Come away…

Do you remember those first-day-of-school essays? The ones that asked, “What did you do last summer?” Today I’m sharing a photo essay about what I did last weekend.

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“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place
and rest a while.”

[Mark 6:31]

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On Friday I mentioned that I was gearing up for the annual March Madness writers’ challenge. All the details, and the place to sign up and record your goal for the month, is on Denise Jaden‘s blog. But if you’ve already signed up, plan to take a moment each day to check in with the ‘host of the day’ to receive a message of encouragement and to share your day’s accomplishments (or frustrations, as the case may be). Today’s Monday, so be sure to click on over to Kim Baccellia‘s blog here for #MarchMadness Day #2.

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Super, Black and Blue, Full and New

No, I’m not bruised. I’m referring to the moon. There hasn’t been one visible in recent night skies. I would have called it a New Moon, except I read that “the third new moon in an astronomical season with four, is called a ‘Black’ moon”, and Wednesday, February 18th was a ‘Black’ one.

I’ve taken photos of Super moons, Blue moons, and just plain full moons, but a Black one defies my abilities, thus my photo of a near-full one instead. (I know, that makes no sense at all. Cut me some slack! It’s all I could come up with.)

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Wednesday also marked the beginning of Lent, the period prior to Easter when “we journey through Jesus’ adult life as he reveals to us who God is and how much God loves us.”* Somehow it seems fitting that we should begin Lent in darkness. There will be full moons between now and Easter, of course, but consider this: on April 4th there will be a full moon accompanied by a total lunar eclipse — that’s on the eve of Easter Sunday, which falls on the 5th.

I expect it will bring home the reality of the Easter scriptures.

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When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?

[Psalm 8:3-4, NIV]

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 * Pastor Gerard Booy,
Haney Presbyterian Church

Finding inspiration

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One of my newest treasures is this hand stitched Double Irish Chain scrap quilt made by my aunt. She was 86 at the time. It took her two years, and I believe was the last one she made. I apologize for the cliché, but it truly is a work of art.

She had a sewing machine, but it was too heavy to lift from the cupboard shelf, so she decided she would sew the quilt entirely by hand, just as her mother and her grandmother had, and as she had done before. She said if she’d realized at the beginning, however, just how much work this one was going to be, she might not have undertaken it.

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I wonder if that isn’t true for many novelists, too. Few realize how much work will go into producing 90,000 ‘just right’ words, until ‘The End’ is staring back at us from the page. If we knew how much effort and time it was going to take, and the possibility that it would never be of publishable quality anyway, would we even begin?

While some might not, I believe the dedicated ones would, simply because they have a creative spirit and the desire to try. The drive to produce something special, something of significance, has to be followed by the determination to make a start. Then, word by word, stitch by stitch, we keep going. We know our earliest creative attempts aren’t going to be perfect, but only by learning and experience will we improve, and we have to begin somewhere.

Like playing a concerto, hand stitching an intricate pattern, or painting a masterpiece, writing an outstanding story takes more than desire. It takes ability, dedication, perseverance, and very hard work.

I’m not there yet as a writer, but the exquisite beauty created by my Aunt Norma inspires me to continue on my journey.

What inspires you in your creative pursuits?

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“For everything that was written in the past
was written to teach us,
so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures
and the encouragement they provide
we might have hope.”

[Romans 15:4]

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 (Photos by Norma McGuire)

 

How do you feel about construction?

 

BackhoeHorror stories are not uncommon when it comes to home renovations. My father was a masonry contractor and built a couple of our homes when I was a child. I don’t recall it being a particularly stressful process, but that may have been because I was young and oblivious.

Later years Dad helped one of our churches build a new manse for us, and I quite enjoyed that, even when construction didn’t overlap with our holidays as planned, and it meant a week of bunking on the church lounge floor in sleeping bags with four children, and cooking in the church kitchen. We got to choose the design and all the interior and exterior finishes, fixtures and appliances, while the church paid all the bills. Now that was an ideal arrangement. ;)

It’s been almost fourteen years since I was last involved in a construction project. In 2000 our church added a new wing to its building, and everyone participated in whatever capacity they could. I ended up on the interior design and décor committee, helping to select wall colours, carpets, and furniture.

My hubby would probably tell you that I must have been an interior decorator in another life because I’m always rearranging furniture in our home and thinking about new colour schemes! During the months of church construction it was messy, and noisy, and tiring, but despite all that and the occasional frustration, I loved the whole experience!

 

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In retrospect, I found similarities to my novel writing. Before driving a single nail, there was the initial planning stage, researching, establishing the game-players, and drawing up blueprints. We had a ceremonial turning of the sod, which was followed by the massive backhoe that arrived to begin the groundwork. Forms and foundation undergirded the subsequent framing and roof structure. So much work went into it before it began resembling the rooms and stairwells and gymnasium that were the eventual result. And even after it was finished, it wasn’t.

There was still a lot of fine-tuning. Extra coats of paint. Miscommunication required the change of some light fixtures. Trim was missing in a couple places. Little things, but important pieces in the overall finishing.

So it is with my storytelling. All that mulling of ideas, the research, setting up characters and POV. I dig through magazines and catalogues, putting together the bits and pieces of a collaged storyboard — my ceremonial start to every new story. Finally, with it set out for inspiration, I begin writing.

I’m not a fast writer, so it can be a long time before the essence of the story begins to take shape. It’s a lot of work. I think I’m on track, and then I’m deleting paragraphs and pages that don’t fulfill their intended purpose. It gets messy. Even when I think I’m done, I’m not. There are endless revisions, beta reading and further edits.

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Is it worth it? When I stand back and view the completed manuscript, despite its lingering flaws, there is satisfaction from seeing how all the pieces came together to create the harmony of a pleasing story. I find characters I’d like to live with, in a world I’d like to inhabit.

There are endless writing analogies in the construction process. Perhaps the most enlightening discovery is that no one part of the process is more important than another. Remove the initial idea, or the blueprints, the coordinating contractor, quality materials, or careful workmanship, even the final check of all the finishing details … miss any one of them, and the resulting structure may not be sound. It may collapse under scrutiny.

Do you understand the basic steps in creating a story? Have you read any good books on the topic lately? I still like James Scott Bell’s PLOT & STRUCTURE, and now he has a brand new book I’m anxious to read: SUPER STRUCTURE: THE KEY TO UNLEASHING THE POWER OF STORY.

So, how are you at dealing with construction?

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Hemmed In

I wonder if there are days in your life when you feel hemmed in … pressured on all sides … maybe overwhelmed by decisions, demands or expectations.

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Prior to taking the above photo, I thought of that while I stared out over the crowded marina. A bit of claustrophobia kicked in, just thinking of being on the deck of one of these boats, of needing to ease out from the wharf and maneuver carefully down a narrow corridor to get beyond the breakwater without disturbing the vessels around me. I’m not a very patient person when that edge of panic starts to close in. I need my space! Now!

A few of my writer friends have mentioned the pressure of deadlines lately, of trying to fit their writing into impossible schedules around unavoidable commitments. I don’t have that kind of problem, but I understand the anxiety and the ‘I need to escape’ feeling it creates.

I had a moment like that yesterday, when faced with a task that unsettled me. Suddenly assorted words from Sunday’s service popped into my mind [placed there, no doubt, by God, although I don’t think I gave Him credit at the time]:

“Be still and know that I am God.”
“My soul finds rest in God.”
“Come to Me.”

In the briefest moment of a fragmented prayer He led me to a quiet place. Then I was able to carry on.

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In the car I tuned the radio to a favourite Christian music station, and what was the first thing I heard? This song, new to me until Sunday when it had moved me to tears:

COME TO ME

In the quiet, Lord, I come;
Been invited by Your Son.
In the stillness I can hear
Jesus calling me near.

Come to me all you weary and worn,
Come all you heavy hearted.
My beloved child,
Come away for awhile,
And you shall find rest for your soul.

Those refreshing gentle words
Feel like water for my thirst.
With a whisper in my ear
Jesus bids me draw near.

[Rory Noland]

God’s quite remarkable about things like that. Sometimes He meets needs before I even know I have them. Have you ever had that experience?

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“My help and glory are in God
    —granite-strength and safe-harbor-God…”

Psalm 62:7 [Msg]

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