Trash It or Fix It?
By Cait Collins
I tried a new approach to writing my current novel. Instead of start at the beginning and progress to the end, I’m writing scenes. I’m trying to put them in order and then see what works and what doesn’t. The problem is that I really like some of the scenes that I’m unable to use.
Right now I’m working on two scenes. In the first scene, the heroine must come to terms with a disastrous relationship. In the other scene, Tyler, must confess a dark secret. So tell me, how does a man who has always been Uncle Tyler tell a shy eight-year old girl that he is her daddy?
I think I have my work cut out for me on this one.
Take Out the Trash
By Cait Collins
Our office is about to undergo some serious renovations. In an effort to reduce work stoppage, we are being moved to another campus in town. As our new space is limited, we have been instructed to remove our personal items and go through our files and storage and eliminate as much paper as possible. I took personal items home the first week. As I order supplies for our team, I helped sort the supply storage. It just needs to be packed. Now I’m in the process of cleaning out my files.
I appalled at the “stuff” I’ve held on to. For example, I retained copies of every performance evaluation since I was hired. Every course completion certificate was safely stored in a series of file folders. Old faxes also took up space in the two file drawers. Needless to say, I’m taking out the trash before I move this week.
Editing is probably the most difficult step in the writing process. Editing is more than checking spelling and punctuation. It’s also taking out the trash in the story. Do you have a minor character that’s just a talking head? One that really provides no substance for the story? Get rid of him. You have a beautiful scene, but it doesn’t help move the story. No problem. Paste it into your file of “do not lose” scenes and move on. Every character, every scene, all dialogue must support and build the story. We have no room for place holding in our work. Nothing should remain that doesn’t move the story to the climax and resolution.
Words are important. Scenes are important. Characters are essential. Just make sure they are an asset to the work. Non-essentials go out with the trash.
If You Dream It, You Can Build It
By Cait Collins
My sisters and I attended the Parade of Homes this past weekend. The homes are a chance for local builders to showcase their work. Some of the homes were extraordinary, and others were a little cookie cutter. The ones that stood out had the builder’s stamp. Something that made the dwelling stand out from the others. For example an entryway. The house was set on a hill with a long cement staircase leading to the front door. It was beautiful, but I was exhausted by the time I walked in the door.
The next house was built by a friend. It well built and well staged. I could be comfortable living in that house. The next one had an impressive kitchen. I loved the gray color and white accents. My favorite was a totally modern home. The front door was not a rectangle, but the edge was a series of curves that fit into the door frame. Chandeliers were not traditional crystal styles. And one room had rhinestone drawer pulls. Loved the unique styling, but I wouldn’t want to live there. I kept going back to beautifully crafted home a friend built.
Writers have something in common with a builder. We begin with a concept. Then lay the foundation. Partition off the rooms. And then fill the rooms with our unique style. We add the color to the story with vivid details, emotion, drama, and resolution. We are architects of storytelling. Our words build worlds, and people. We are craftsmen and should be proud of the work we do.
By Cait Collins
Impossible! Snow on the last day of April. Spring began in March. Temperatures had been in the 90’s and now snow covered the ground. Taylor stood at the picture window looking out over rolling grassland wondering if she would be able to keep her lunch and shopping appointment with her sister. They were meeting to plan an engagement party for her niece. Ashley would be the first of the nieces and nephews to get married, and like all other family traditions, the event would set the pattern for future engagement parties.
Taylor didn’t envy the couple. Marriage had been difficult in her day, but with all the social changes and more relaxed ideas about fidelity and till-death-do-us-part, marriage didn’t have the same commitment as her vows had. At least she and Mark had a brief but good life. He was taken too young by a fugitive from prison. Mark had been a good cop. He died seven years ago during an April snow.
She turned away from the window. She needed to leave her house by 11:15 to meet Carolyn at noon. What to wear? Her sister would be dressed to the nines, but City Girl didn’t have to drive in from the ranch. She didn’t need to clear the drive before leaving the house. Carolyn had a husband and a couple of teenage sons to do that for her. Taylor wasn’t so lucky. The ranch was hers alone. Sure she had a couple of hired hands but they cared for the stock and the land. One more good year and she could hire more help. Taylor brightened. Her life was good. She had friends and family. The ranch kept her busy. And there was the upcoming wedding. And she finally decided what to wear for her afternoon with her sister.
Returning home at twilight, Taylor wished she had left earlier. The morning snow had ended about the time she reached town. But it started again just before she and Carolyn had gone their separate ways. The roads were worse than earlier and she battled to keep the car on the road.
As she neared the turn to the ranch, her car began to lose traction. Unable to get the car under control, she found it impossible to make her turn. Instead of heading up the road, the vehicle was headed straight toward the rock wall that ended at the gate.
The impact threw Taylor from the car and head first into the wall. A hand reached down to her. “Hello, Sweetheart, I’ve been waiting for you.”
“Mark. I’ve missed you so much.”
The ranch hands found Taylor Compton early the next morning. The expression on her face was peaceful; not pained. A red rose was clutched in her left hand. Both men had mentioned the shadow that often kept watch at the gate. And while neither was fanciful, they both believed the lovers had been reunited in an April snow.
By Cait Collins
I’ve been blessed to have good role models in my life. I was fifteen when we moved to Amarillo and soon found friends among the youth group at our church. Along with the teens came an assortment of parents who soon became very special to my sisters and me. We lost my dad too soon. I was about to graduate college, three sisters were married, and two were minors. It was a difficult time for all of us, especially for my two youngest sisters. But one of my parents’ friends always stepped in to fill the void. When I married, Joe gave me away. Floyd walked at least one girl down the aisle. Tom supported and advised us in making critical decisions. Glen, bless him, still treats all of us like his own. They were all with us when we lost mom.
I think subconsciously I developed Chris Whitely from my memories of these men. In Three x Three, Chris is the father of Creed who suffers from amnesia. While his primary concern is helping his son, he opens his heart to the kids Creed grew up with. He’s doesn’t interfere in their lives, but will step in to listen, hold a hand, or provide the wisdom that is only gained from surviving difficult times. While he is a minor character, he plays a role in uncovering the events that culminated in a Good Friday disaster. Still, he’s a good man. The kind of man we all wish we had in our lives.
By Cait Collins
Recently my nephew and I went to see the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast. The artistry amazed me. Maybe I should back up. The artistry begins with the story. Grimm’s Fairy Tales were a little dark for me. And Into the Woods was a bit fractured. That said I enjoyed both. But I’m glad Disney Studios dressed the tales up. The vilens stayed, but stories became romantic. Sweeter. More of a dream. And thus began the Princess tales. And the wish of every young girl to believe that “Someday My Prince Will Come”.
Disney’s animated version of Beauty and the Beast was a spectacle It was a perfect marriage of love story and technology. Who can forget the dancing dishes in the “Be Our Guest “song? What about the doors opening to reveal a magnificent library? And the ballroom where Belle and the Beast danced was magnificent.
Now translate all that to a movie set.
The live action version combined the best of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Disney animation, a Broadway play and music to create a masterpiece. Every frame drew emotion. That is the artist’s magic. Walt Disney would have been proud of his teams.
From what I learned in my Traditions classes, Disney always looked for new ways to do things. Each movie had its own sparkle and foot print. He was an innovator with an eye to eliciting that gasp of surprise and delight.
Even though I worked the retail side of the Disney Company, I learned the importance of having wings, and flying. The goal of exceeding customer expectations allowed me to use my acting talents, to stand in front of groups of kids at movie premiers. I stepped outside my comfort zone and danced with Jungle Book characters. I was free to reach out to others with more experience and knowledge so that I could become a better writer.
Happy thoughts and a bit of fairy dust allow the artist or writer or editor the freedom to test new methods, to open doors to new worlds, and to find our special place in the artist’s world. I treasure my years with the Disney Company and I appreciate the lessons I learned. While not at the level I want to be, I still look for twists and characters that keep the reader wanting more. While I’m on the journey, I will “wish upon a star” and “just keep swimming”.
Thank you. Walt Disney for an education and years of entertainement.
What Did You See?
By Cait Collins
How good are your powers of observation? If you were surrounded by group of people at the mall or at a concert, would you be able to describe the person in front of you, behind you, and on either side? How would you describe a child that broke free of his mother and is now terrorizing the zoo?
Observing the people around us is essential for a writer. If we don’t hone our skills, we could miss vital elements for our work. Let’s say you are standing in line at the bank. The teller is calm and helpful. Transaction completed, the man walks away without looking the folks in the line in the eye. The police and FBI agents question you. Would you be able to tell them the color of the suspect’s hair? His race? Height and weight? What he was wearing?
It should be easy to identify the person standing in line in front of you, but you are drawing a blank. Even with the detective feeding you hints you are unable to pick the robber out of a picture array or a line up. You know you saw something important but you just can’t remember it. You’re not alone.
Trust me, you are not alone. Several years ago, I was the person in line behind a bank robber. He was so cool I didn’t suspect anything. As soon as he walked away, I stepped up and set my deposit bag on the counter. The teller excused herself and rushed to the back. A few minutes later, one of the bank officers came out and shut down her station. He directed me to the next line. Then he announced the doors were being locked and we must wait until the police spoke to us and released us. All I could tell the law enforcement officer was the robber was short, had dark hair and was wearing some type of work uniform. Not really good on my part. I was too busy making a shopping list in my head to notice there was a problem.
My suggestion is to go to the mall, find a comfortable spot and indulge in some serious people watching. What you observe may make for a great character or plot twist for your current project.
Old Man Weather
By Cait Collins
“If you don’t like the weather, stick around for five minutes and it’ll change.” I used to think that statement applied only to the Texas Panhandle. Now I know the statement is pretty typical of the entire country. We all have issues with the weather. But as writer’s we can make the local weather a supporting character in our works.
Let’s start in the Texas Panhandle. After one really good year of rain, the clouds have been all show and no blow. Let’s correct that. There’s always blow. Gusts up to 70 miles per hour can do a real number on the landscape. But when there’s been little or no rain, those winds can whip up a small spark into a raging wild fire. In this case, Mr. Wind Storm traps a young mother and her small child in the midst of a fire storm. Seeing no way to escape, she finds a dugout and shelters in praying for a miracle. And then…
Our next scene is a tropical island in the western Atlantic. Honeymooners are enjoying the white sand beach, snorkeling, and wandering the streets of quaint villages. Toward the end of their week-long stay, the clouds begin to turn dark. Winds increase and the tide rises. Hurricane Odin approaches the island. Our newlyweds follow the evacuation order, but as their ship heads toward the mainland, ash begins to fall from the sky as a long dormant volcano awakens. And so…
One more scene. A fishing vessel heads to the Grand Banks in search of schools of fish to fill the empty cargo holds. Not one storm but two storms and a hurricane converge to create an unprecedented monster storm. The ship’s captain attempts to turn back but he and the crew are trapped between rains, winds, and the waves. The ship goes down with all hands. Sound familiar? You got it..The Perfect Storm. The movie was based on the fate of the Andrea Gail and her crew as they attempt to return to port. The cast was magnificent, the screenplay top notch, but the main character was a storm and not a man.
by Cait Collins
I was driving home the other evening and noticed white blossoms on the trees. I was astonished at the beauty of tree-lined street. But wasn’t it too early for blossoms? It was late February and the threat of snow or ice was still out there.
A couple of weeks have passed and the scene has switched from white blossoms to tender green leaves and purplish-pink pink lady blossoms. Soon bluebonnets, butter cups, and native wild flowers will spring up. The crops will be planted, and live stock and wild animals will birth their young. Thunderstorms will rattle the night skies. Hopefully the rain will fall. Spring is life renewing itself.
Wild fires sparked by a careless hand or a defective machine ignite parched grass lands and dry timber and devastate the Panhandle. Hundreds of acres of grassland and fields are scorched. Lives, both human and animal, are lost. Grain for the livestock is unusable. And in true American spirit, folks around the country are sending aid to those who have lost much of their livelihood. True pioneer spirit prevails as farmers and ranchers ask the volunteers to take care of neighbors first because the neighbors need the help more. When the time comes to replant volunteers will arrive and neighbor will help neighbor to rebuild.
Nature thrives in all seasons. The promise of spring, the growth in summer, the harvest in fall, and the rest in winter move in a cycle that never changes and ever changes. Heat and cold; wet and dry; storm and drought build and define human drive and ingenuity. And they fuel and feed the writer’s art.
By Cait Collins
I’m in the process of cleaning out my study. You see, by book shelves are overflowing with books from history and science to children’s picture books. My niece claims I hoard books. Of course I do. Books have their own personalities. Each one has a voice. A spirit. And a life. They hold a place in my heart.
You see, as a teenager, I was a bit awkward and shy. I was Twiggy in a Lana Turner world. Books were my friends. They accepted me, made me feel important when I absorbed the knowledge they provided. They comforted me when my sister was out with friends and I was left behind. I’m not angry or sorry for those days. I found the joy in knowledge. I became a trivia queen.
At a young age I was familiar with Shakespeare and Tennessee William and Eugene O’Neil. I attempted to read Mein Kempf, Hitler’s autobiography. I loved geology. I could recognize rocks and minerals. Spy novels fascinated me. James Bond was a favorite character. Grimm’s Fairy Tales were nothing like Disney tales.
And I started writing. I’m still writing. And I’m still reading.
And I’m still sorting books in my book shelves. Some will go to the public library for their fund raiser. The children’s books can be donated to Ronald McDonald House. And some I will keep. They are the special books. The ones that still have me reaching for them to read again and again. Of course I’ll add new books to the shelves. But I’ll always have dear friends resting in my library.
How long has it been since you reread a favorite book? That long, huh? Why not revisit that old friend? After all, true friendship lasts a lifetime.