“Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. … It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.”
POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE
15 Minute Challenge
By Nandy Ekle
A writer’s job is to look for a story in ordinary, every day events. So, I like to play a game with myself when I’m driving. Whether I’m driving the 20 minute piece of road to my day job, walking around the grocery story throwing together meal plans for the week, or toodling down the highway for 13 hours to see my children, I look for anything that might spark my imagination.
Sometimes it takes some time to get a piece of a story. Like, there’s an empty field I drive by every day. But one day a tractor shows up and begins pounding a mound of dirt. A month later planks of wood seem to have grown from the flattened dirt mound. Walls begin to go up, and a roof grows seemingly over night. Pretty soon I find myself marveling because I can’t remember what it was like as an empty field. And I know I can make a story out the experience.
But there are also subtle things that I can’t tell if anyone else has noticed or not. Such as, I also pass an old empty, closed up store front building on a corner crossroads every weekday morning. It suddenly dawns on me as I pass by one morning that there’s always a white pick-up truck in the empty old parking lot, just sitting there, facing the street. Inside the truck is a person wearing a big white cowboy hat. That’s all I can tell about this person. I think this is a man, but have never seen his face. He’s not there when I pass it in the afternoon on my way home. And he’s not there when I pass the corner on the weekend going out to run my errands. He doesn’t wave, he doesn’t get out of the car, and no other cars or people are around him. I have no idea who he is or why he’s there. And that, my friends, is a burning log of story ready to pop.
So here’s my challenge to you, dear blog readers. The next time you’re going to be driving, turn on the video camera in your phone and record 15 minutes of driving down the road. You might be surprised at the everyday weirdness you never even knew you were seeing.
Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.
Snowflake Method (cont.)
by Adam Huddleston
Last week, we went through Step 4 of the snowflake method for writing created by Randy Ingermanson. This week, I will continue with Step 5 for my story. In Step 5, you’re supposed to write up a one-page description of each major character (a synopsis told from their point of view) and a half-page for each minor character. To keep this blog from getting too large, I will focus on one character a week.
Dwight John Lara-
I was born in Nassau, Bahamas on December 26, 1994. Both of my parents worked in local government, as aids in the House of Assembly. I grew up playing many sports, but baseball and soccer are where I excelled.
When I was a young boy, there was an old man living in one of the poorer areas of Adelaide Village. He would do magic shows for the kids and treat us to ice cream if we were lucky. I remember he had a big hound dog with one eye missing that always slept under his chair as he enchanted us with disappearing coins and card tricks.
One day, he pulled me aside as the rest of my friends were leaving for home. He asked if I wanted to learn some of his magic. I said of course. He brought me inside his little hut and sat me down in front of a blazing fireplace. Why it was lit in July was beyond me, but, he was a little off.
“How good of a baseball player do you want to be,” he asked.
“The best, Mr. Rogue,” I responded.
“Then let me teach you something…special.”
He then proceeded to impart upon me a knowledge I eventually wished I had never learned.
Years later, I graduated from high school and received a scholarship to play at a small college in Mississippi. Although my team finished each season well back of first place, I never used the secrets Mr. Rogue had taught me. I was too afraid of being caught.
Eventually, I wound up playing for an adult baseball league in Dallas, Texas. After an embarrassingly long losing drought, I decided to put my dark teachings to use. I only employed it a handful of times, but I noticed that we always won those games.
In the summer of 2018, I received a call from the Amarillo Yellow Jackets, asking if I was interested in playing center-field for them. I figured this was the closest I would ever be to the majors, so I quickly agreed. Besides, how could I turn down a contract worth six digits?
Their season was at the halfway point and they were not even close to sniffing the top of their division. I played my heart out for them but found myself batting a little south of .200. Our manager, Stephen Craight, started looking at me in a way that made me feel my days with them were numbered if something didn’t change.
After a road trip were the team won one-of-six, I decided to dust off my “little bag of tricks”. I found a small room (not much more than a broom closet) in the back of our locker room, and performed the dark ritual before our first home game. We won, and I heard later that a man had suffered a fatal heart attack midway through the sixth inning.
I continued the same spell for the next two nights, and we were victorious in both of them as well; at the expense of an elderly lady who had a stroke and a drunk fan who choked on an enormous hot dog know as “The Big Donger.” Deep down, I began to truly feel remorseful. I always hoped that whomever was dying, it was just their time to go.
By the time the playoffs rolled around, I was ready to stop the hexes all together. Craight came to me one night and told me he’d seen what I was up to, and that I better continue. When I informed him that I wouldn’t, he threatened me and my family.
An hour before the championship game, he was nowhere to be found. We were managed by Johnny Langston, our assistant skipper. We won the game, even without my black magic, and moments after the last out I received a phone call that my son had been murdered in his seat in the stadium.
I walked through the locker room in a daze, and there, coming out of that little broom closet was Craight. Without even thinking, I attacked him and we struggled for several minutes before I was able to kill him. I found a large blade in the “magic room” and separated his head from his body.
Holding his head in my left hand, I walked calmly out to centerfield, completely ignoring the cheering of the fans and the confetti that blew around in the Amarillo wind. A dozen stadium security guards surrounded me with their guns drawn. With my boy gone, I had nothing else to live for. I sucked in a deep breath, and whispered my final spell. The entire stadium collapsed inward, killing everyone.
Snowflake Method (cont.)
by Adam Huddleston
The past couple of weeks, I have been trying out the snowflake method of writing created by Randy Ingermanson. This week is Step 4: Expand each sentence of the one-paragraph summary into its own paragraph. Here was my summary:
When the Amarillo Yellowjackets find themselves at the bottom of their division, they recruit a mysterious center-fielder in the hopes of turning their season around. As their luck begins to change, a startling fact becomes apparent; fans are dying at their games. The club manager discovers that his new player is a master of black magic, and is responsible for the tragedies. When the team makes the championship series, conflict arises between player and coach concerning the fielder’s role on the team. The aftermath of their feud results in the greatest horror yet.
Midway through the 2018 season, the Amarillo Yellowjackets are dead-last in the Southwest division of the American Baseball League. The teams’ recruiting scout hears rumors of an excellent center fielder playing club ball in east Texas. General manager Stephen Craight quickly recruits him, hoping to at least pull his ball club up to a .500 record.
Before each game, Dwight Lara, the Yellowjackets’ possible savior, performs a ritual of dark magic. In order for the spell to work, a human life must be sacrificed, resulting in the death of a fan sometime during the game. The deaths occur in a variety of ways, and while the public begins to view the Yellowjackets as an “unlucky” team to watch in person, no one suspects their new player.
Craight walks in on Lara before one of their games and witnesses his ritual. His suddenly puts two and two together and realizes what is causing the fatalities. Internally, Craight is torn between the horror of the present situation and the possibility of winning the championship.
The team breezes through the remainder of the season and is to play in the championship game. Just before the game, Lara explains to Craight that he will no longer be performing the ritual. After losing the argument, Craight secretly tries to complete the spell on his own, even going as far as to have Lara’s son murdered at the ballpark in hopes that the Yellowjackets will win.
Lara discovers what has happened, and once the game is over, kills Craight in the dugout. The cheering crowd watches in horror as Lara slowly walks to his position in center field holding the severed head of his general manager. After casting one final spell, the entire stadium collapses inward, killing everyone in attendance.
By Cait Collins
Two more weeks and I’m off for ten days. And I am taking off, getting away from it all, and shutting down both the business side and the creative sides of my brain. I need these few days to recharge and regroup. Don’t get me wrong. I love my job, my friends and family. But sometimes I just need some thought-free days.
When you write for business at the office and creative writing in your off hours, sometimes the two worlds collide and both types of writing suffer. Stepping back and ridding yourself of the computer, internet, and the cell phone can clear the cobwebs and allow the business side and the creative side to stop competing and allow you to do both of your jobs better.
So for a few days, I will not open my computer. I will not access my email from my phone. I will not attempt to work on any writing project. I will sightsee and gather memories with my camera. I might make a few notes in my journal, but I will not try to edit my memoir or my next story. It’s free the mind time and I’m going to take full advantage of
Characters have Secrets
Grey’s Anatomy has me captivated again. Since first premiering on ABC in 2005, I’ve got thirteen yeas of writing experience and I’m watching the show in a whole new frame of mind. A writer’s mind. And thanks to Netflix or Hulu, I don’t have to be patient for another season to begin. Binge watching is extremely inspiring for a creative soul.
The characterization in this medical drama television series is brilliant and addictive. This show is the perfect example of developing depth in fictional characters. One of the ways you can make your characters leap off the page is to give them secrets. Real people have secrets. We have things buried deep within us that we’ll never tell. What we say out loud is not always reflective of what we may be hiding inside.
You’ve probably heard the story craft tool of throwing everything at your character. Conflict keeps the plot moving and holds the readers’ interest. As authors, we are all border line sadistic when it comes to the things we put our characters through.
Let’s look at the characters and their secrets in the show Grey’s Anatomy:
Meredith Grey: central protagonist, is hiding her mother’s illness, who was a brilliant surgeon herself, and is sleeping with her boss while trying to succeed under her mother’s shadow.
Izzie: feels unworthy of her smarts and success because she grew up very poor in a trailer park.
Christina: sleeping with her boss and she has an almost unhealthy obsession with cutting people open.
Dr. Burke: begins a romantic relationship with an intern.
George: is secretly in love with Meredith and is extremely smart, and not the goof-ball that the world sometimes sees.
Alex: cares deeply about his career and relates to patients on a deeper level, as opposed to the A-hole, shallow attitude he sometimes displays.
Dr. Webber: Surgery chief hides a medical issue with his eyes and had an affair with Meredith’s mom when they were in medical school.
Dr. Shepherd is married and does not tell his girlfriend Meredith, who is an intern.
That barely scratches the surface as the show develops, but you get the idea. The fun part is that we know their secrets as an audience, and we can’t help but watch to see if, and when, they will reveal all to each other. It’s very entertaining and can be applied to the characters in your books.
In season 2, Izzie prepares a Thanksgiving meal for everybody. She explains to Dr. Burk that she wants just one day where they can be normal and act like everybody else. Dr. Burke mumbles, “A day without surgery.” That one line says so much about him as a character and about the entire theme of the show. You have to watch carefully and pay attention to those one-liners. When I first watched the show every week thirteen years ago, I was caught up in the medical issues of the patients. Now I’m focusing my attention entirely on the characters.
As an added bonus, Shonda Rhimes explains her writing process and development of the series at MasterClass.com.
Happy writing, and thanks for following WordSmith Six!
Snowflake Method (cont.)
by Adam Huddleston
Last week, I began my attempt at using the snowflake method created by author Randy Ingermanson. This week, I’ll continue with Step 3.
Step 3: Write a one-sentence summary of each major character and a paragraph summarizing their goals, conflicts, and overall changes.
Dwight Lara (major character)- A new baseball recruit uses black magic to lead his team to the championship.
Dwight Lara, a twenty-three year old center fielder from Nassau, Bahamas is drafted by the Amarillo Yellowjackets midway through their season when they find themselves at the bottom of their division. Seeking to help his team, he secretly begins using black magic spells he had learned growing up in the Caribbean. The payment for each hex is the loss of a human life. As the season draws towards its conclusion, Dwight begins feeling more remorseful for each death he causes. When his deeds are discovered by the manager, he resolves to stop immediately. The manager however presses him to continue, and prior to the championship game, has the player’s son murdered in an attempt to win it all. Although the team is victorious, Dwight kills his coach and performs his final spell, a deed which causes the entire stadium to collapse, taking the lives of everyone.
Stephen Craight (major character)- A losing baseball team’s general manager forces his new player to continue his deadly methods of helping the team win.
Stephen Craight, a fifty-six year old general manager of the Amarillo Yellowjackets drafts Dwight Lara in an attempt to resurrect their season. He discovers Dwight performing black magic in a little-used area of the locker room but says nothing when he realizes that the team is now winning every game. His new player has a change of heart near the end of the season, so in an attempt to win the championship, he has Dwight’s son murdered. Lara discovers what has happened and kills Craight once the championship game is over.
ELEMENTS OF A MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL
The following list of elements for middle grade novels was a handout from a writing conference. The name or origin of the information is not on the handout, so apologies that I cannot give credit. It’s a helpful list as you are crafting your story for middle grades, defined as a core audience of 8 to 12 year olds or 3rd through 6th grades.
- Use humor.
- Write to the age level.
- Make place a character.
- Make each word resonate.
- Bring history alive.
- Mix genres.
- Craft prose carefully.
- Let joy spill out!