WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW, SORT OF


WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW, SORT OF

Lynnette Jalufka

I am currently working on a short story for an upcoming collection. The idea was born out of several life experiences. It contains an old western movie I love, my background in horse shows, and a heartbreaking decision I made. However, I’ve never participated in the events my characters go through in the story. It will take some research to make this tale come alive. 

 One of writing’s famous rules is “Write what you know.” When looking for ideas, use your own experience. What do you like to do? What scenarios can you brainstorm happening from your work, your hobbies, or your family? See what combinations you can put together.

But what if you want to write about Victorian England and all you know is life on a Texas ranch? Should you abandon the idea? No. It called research. You may need a little or a lot depending on the topic, but just because you aren’t familiar with it doesn’t mean you give up. If it’s something you’re passionate about, you can write it.

The rule should read: “Write what you know. Learn what you don’t.”  

IDEA, WHERE ART THOU?


IDEA, WHERE ART THOU?

Lynnette Jalufka

I love going to writing workshops, but I do not like it when the instructor asks the class to write something for five to ten minutes. I end up staring at the page, my mind blank. With time running out, I finally jot down something that vaguely deals with the assignment. Then I sit back and listen while another participant reads a perfect piece of prose. It drives me crazy. Why can’t I come up with great ideas that quickly? They usually occur hours later.

  Over the years, I’ve learned this is just how I am wired. I have to think about a subject first before an idea arises in my mind. And then it slowly comes together. I wrote a short story earlier this year on a topic I never thought I could do. The idea came a few hours after I learned about it. 

So, I’m not the fastest idea person in the world. I am getting better; this blog has helped. But knowing ideas will happen if I just give them a chance to grow in my mind is amazingly freeing. Remember, not everyone thinks the same. You just be you.    

OUT ON THE MOORS


OUT ON THE MOORS

Lynnette Jalufka

A good setting should set a mood. There’s a feel to it. Here’s an example from Michael Jecks’ medieval mystery novel, A Moorland Hanging:

Above them, huge gray clouds, their edges tinged with white, moved across the sky with alarming speed. The land, which had looked so calm and soft, green and purple under its velvet-like covering, now showed itself in a darker mood. The moors took on a more menacing aspect, the heather now a gloomy dark carpet, the tors great black monsters crouching ready to leap.

Even Baldwin gave a shudder at the sight. Though he instinctively rejected any suggestion that there could be ghouls or ghosts seeking out souls…it was easy to understand how such fears could arise. The huge open space of the moors with its almost complete lack of trees made a man realize how small he was when compared with the vastness of nature.

THE SEA


THE SEA

Lynnette Jalufka

One of my favorite settings is from Winston Graham’s novel, Ross Poldark, which takes place in the Cornwall region of England. In it, the sea forms a beautiful backdrop to the action, and is as much of a character as the humans. It is always there, always moving. Here’s a sample:

It was a bright day with a cold wind off the land. The sea was flat and green with a heavy groundswell. The long, even ridge of a wave would move slowly in, and then as it met the stiff southeasterly breeze its long top would begin to ruffle like the short feathers of an eider duck, growing more and more ruffled until the whole long ridge toppled slowly over and the wintry sun made a dozen rainbows in the mist flying up from its breaking. 

 

WATCH YOUR DISTANCE


WATCH YOUR DISTANCE

Lynnette Jalufka

 

I noticed when revising my novel that my characters spent a lot of travel time on horseback going back and forth between castles. To remedy this, I decided to combine the location of some scenes, which I believe will make the story stronger.

If your characters travel, keep in mind how long it will take them to go from Point A to Point B. This is especially important if they ride horses. A good average for a horse is about twenty miles a day at a walk. That is dependent on several factors: the weather, the size of the entourage, and the urgency of the trip. Going faster requires alternating between different gaits. On a crucial mission in 1336, King Edward III of England traveled 381 miles in seven days with a small retinue. That is 55 miles a day. Horses that compete in endurance racing today can cover 100 miles over tough terrain in fifteen hours.

No matter what mode of transportation you choose for your story, don’t overlook the time it takes your characters to reach their destination.

SETTING THE SCENE


SETTING THE SCENE

Lynnette Jalufka

 

Characters don’t act in a vacuum. Their actions take place somewhere. More than a place, a setting can set the tone, show characterization, create obstacles, and even become a character itself.

In O. Henry’s short story, “The Gift of the Magi,” Della is upset that she doesn’t have enough money to buy her husband a Christmas present. The scene outside describes her mood: “She stood by the window and looked out dully at a grey cat walking a grey fence in a grey backyard.”

Don’t neglect your settings. They have great power.

FINAL VIEW


FINAL VIEW

Lynnette Jalufka

 

Thank you, Lady Elyse and Lady Theresa, for allowing me to use your tournament outing to help me illustrate point of view this month.

“It was our pleasure,” says Elyse.

Theresa smiles. “Aye, ’twas fun, though we didn’t have a choice.”

No, you didn’t. But you did show how different a scene can be depending on which point of view is used. But this question remains, what point of view is the best for this scene if I wrote it in a novel.

“Mine,” the ladies say together.

I laugh. Actually, I like third person omniscient. Since the two of you are very different, I want to see both your thoughts. But point of view depends on the purpose of the scene and what view I used previously in the novel. I don’t want to be switching from first to third person.

“That could get confusing,” Theresa says.

Elyse raises a hand to her mouth at the sound of trumpets in the distance. “Alas, the tournament is starting, and we have not found a place to sit.”

Don’t worry, Elyse. I’m the author. I always get the best seats.

THIRD VIEW


THIRD VIEW

Lynnette Jalufka

 

Lady Theresa clenched her fists at her cousin Elyse’s call. All she wanted to do was enjoy the tournament, to see the horses charge towards each other, to hear the crack of lance upon shield. Instead, Elyse has decided to turn their outing into a husband-seeking mission.

If that wasn’t enough, Lynnette has put her into third person limited point of view. That’s not as intimate as the first person point of view Elyse illustrated, though the same rules apply: the reader can only know what she is thinking.

Theresa thanked the squire that showed her Sir Edwin’s horse as Elyse came down the path with another suitor.

“There you are, Theresa,” her cousin smiled brightly. “I want you to meet Sir Reynald.”

He bowed with a flourish of his hand. “At your service, my lady.”

“Good day, Sir Reynald,” Theresa said. He looked more like a peacock than a knight ready to joust. Feathers cascaded from his helmet, and his armor and surcoat were too clean to have seen regular use. Where was his horse? A knight is nothing without one.

“If it pleases my lady to bestow me a favor, I will wear it proudly during the tournament,” Reynald grinned.

He’d be lucky to survive the first round. “I’m sorry, Sir Knight, but it might get tangled in your feathers. I wouldn’t want anything to hinder your prowess. You’ll need every bit of it.”

“Theresa,” Elyse hissed.

Reynald turned red. “Then I bid you good day, my lady.” With a quick, stiff bow, he strode back down the pathway.

“Theresa, how could you insult him like that?” Elyse asked.

“Dearest Elyse, if I had a lance, I could knock him off his horse myself.”

 

 

FIRST VIEW


FIRST VIEW

Lynnette Jalufka

Good day, fair readers. I am the Lady Elyse, who you met last week. Lynnette has graciously allowed me to illustrate first person point of view while I am at this tournament in search of a husband for my cousin, Theresa. First person is point of view’s most intimate form. You learn everything I am thinking and feeling. All my motivations are exposed.

The disadvantage is that you only know my viewpoint and no one else’s. I can guess what someone is thinking by their expressions and actions, but alas, it is just a guess.

“Sir Reynald,” I hail the knight standing by a tent.

He flashes a warm smile and strides over to me. Here is his opportunity to marry a noblewoman and increase his land.

Wait, I was not thinking that. That is not my point of view. I thought he would be a good match for Theresa. Besides, he is too noble to marry for wealth. But if he is thinking that…

“At your service, Lady Elyse.” He bows in front of me.

I clear my throat. “I had wanted you to meet my cousin, but it seems she has disappeared.”

“Don’t worry, my lady. I shall help you find her.”

He offers me his arm and I take it. “We should look by the horses,” I say as we journey into the crowd.

Dear readers, be careful when writing in first person. Remember, you can only write what I know and feel.

THE BEST VIEW


THE BEST VIEW

Lynnette Jalufka

Here are two characters at a medieval tournament. What point of view am I in?

 

Lady Elyse looked around at the brightly colored tents that housed the knights of the tournament. Surely one would be a good match for her cousin. She stopped at the tent of Sir Reynald who was talking to his squire. He would do nicely: handsome, charming, and from a good family. “Theresa.” She turned to thin air. Her cousin was gone! “Theresa!”

Two tents away, Lady Theresa gave a heavy sigh. She wasn’t deaf. The beautiful gray horse being saddled for the joust was far more interesting then Elyse’s latest attempt to find her a husband.

 

So, what’s the point of view? I am in both character’s heads, so this would be third-person omniscient. Now, here’s the important part: is this the best way to tell what happens in this scene? It depends on what I want to accomplish. If I want to show Elyse’s frustration with her cousin, I would need to put the second paragraph in Elyse’s point of view. If I wanted to show Theresa’s irritation, I would need to change the first. Could I leave it as it is? Possibly, but that’s usually frowned upon today unless it’s romance.

Ultimately, it’s my job as the author to figure out the best point of view to tell not only this scene, but the entire novel. That may take rewriting the scene in different points of view to find the right one.