Tag Archives: creativity

Well, I thought Spring was here….


Bloodroot in blossom

…and I may have been right, looking at the calendar, but when the temperature drops from a very pleasant 72F to barely 50F overnight and you have to turn the furnace back on, then you start asking if winter is having trouble leaving us.

Yes it was very nice last week. I was happy to be out in the warm weather with no sweater or jacket, even happy to be able to scrape the mud off the soles of my hiking boots, and looking forward to more days like that, and then – WHAM!! Back we went to the low to mid-50s. And I see by looking at the weather map that it’s still snowing in many places.  That’s fine. I like wearing sweaters.

So that brings up attention to detail. It isn’t necessary to overwhelm anyone with details, but if you read detective novels, they are the people who notice the small things. Something out of place. A sweater not neatly folded but thrown on top of a pile of stuff. The dirt marks on a clean floor. Tiny bits of gravel where they shouldn’t be. Pens scattered instead of in a collecting cup.  Basically, show us the unexpected things.

All people have certain habits, things they do that they aren’t aware of but other people are. There are people who will complain if there is no rain and also if there is too much. Never ever happy. Too hot. Too cold. Too bitter. Too sweet.  Too many cars. Buses never on time. These are things that go into building characters, things that can be repeated until they are unconsciously recognized by your readers as habits or characteristics, such as a very sensitive sense of smell, that give your characters a small touch of reality.

There are other things. Butterflies, for instance, will flock to a place that provides salt and other minerals. In a mystery novel, this might be a clue to where the body is buried if there has been a lot of rain and the soil covering the corpse has been leaching away.

It isn’t necessary to cram the details in all at once. Distribute them through the story, and for Pete’s sake, make notes about it! It’s easy to lose track of who is who and what is what.

Have a nice Spring weekend, even if it rains!

 

 

Spring? What Spring? Oh, wait! I See It!


Showy trillium on DP river trailWell, whether we like it or not, Old Man Winter is going to be shown the door before too long, and Mother Earth will be sweeping the cobwebs out the door.  That’s fine by me.  This was an easier than usual winter, because December was a blast from Antarctica that would make anyone sit up and take notice,  But after that blast, we got plenty of rain, a week-long Chinook (snow eater) and the best, juiciest oranges I’ve ever had when I went grocery shopping.

It has been a very busy winter for me.  As I’ve said previously, I helped a sick friend with his blog until he was up to the task of handling it himself. At the same time, I chipped away at what were then current (and now finished) chapters in novels that I have under construction.  Once my friend was back in the saddle, it was easy enough to go on with all the other tasks I had lined up. And that is where I am now.

Happy to report that my progress in those two different novels is moving ahead. It is easy enough to keep them separate from each other, because they are two entirely different stories, but keeping the story lines themselves from getting tangled is a different thing altogether. I did waste a little money on getting a new printer because my old printer broke a gear in the paper pickup and that was that. I found that, with unexpected separation from my two novels, the distance from each story gave me a new perspective each time I went back and picked up the track in either of them. I also found it useful to have several other stories going on at the same time, but not necessarily novels. Short stories will do. I also did a lot more research than I had expected to do for my friend’s blog, which gave me a new perspective on how to make a sci-fi story believable, through a better understanding of planetary biology, geology and meteorology. In effect, the planet and its systems have to be user-friendly if the inhabitants are to prosper there. And because stories are more believable if there is a struggle for the good guys to overcome, it makes for a better story if the people aren’t superheroes.

All that research I engaged in is leading to another direction as well.  I’m not real big on doing non-fiction, but there is no reason that what I dug up can’t be put to use in something else.  That’s the unexpected benefit of doing someone else’s work when he can’t.

Expect more to come. Meanwhile, get out in the sunshine and check the sunset at night.

 

 

A Gift for the Coming Year


A long trail ahead of me...

A long trail ahead of me…

Well, by golly, I’ve been slipping again! My bad. No Christmas cookies for me!

But this is what happens when you get busy, working on things that do have importance to you, and finishing my current book projects is very important to me. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to take something from start to finish, and then go back and review it.

“Oh, but wait!” you say. “I have all these ideas and they get to a certain point and then nothing happens.”

I know. It happens to me all the time. I’ve spent untold hours coming up with ideas for stories, summaries, blurbs and titles, and wondering if they’d ever be finished. I have starts that stopped, and summaries that cry out for expansion into full-blown stories. Is there enough for a full-length book? Oh, who cares? It’s the thought that counts. The idea that came up on paper sits waiting in a dusty notebook, or an unsearched file on your hard drive, wondering if anyone cares about it enough to finish what you started. I knew somebody way back when who had a storage box full of notes and ideas and did nothing with them. In fact, she was so certain they weren’t worth the bother that she threw them away.

Come on, now! These are your babies, your brain’s offspring, your source of joy and pride and it does not matter one tiny bit that they’ve been sitting in a bin on a shelf in your coat closet for years or months, or just until you ‘have the time’.
Let me tell you something. The ‘time’ will never arrive on its own. The ‘babies’ will never become full-fledged, completed stories of any length by themselves. The offspring of your overactive imagination will spend eternity in a coffee shop, wondering if you are ever going to show up and get this show on the road.

They can’t live without your interference. This is how it works. If you can spare 20 minutes for a shower, a half hour to an hour at the gym, can’t you spare an hour and a half with one of those crazy ideas you wrote down on a note pad ten years ago?

I spent a good deal of time during my workaday life coming up with ideas for stories. I wrote down as many as I could on a pad of paper, and later typed them up on 3-hole punched paper, and kept everything in notebooks. When I moved twelve years ago, the volume of stuff I had put together as starters was huge and no, I did not throw out any of it. I simply kept it stored and here it is now, in my house, waiting in the storage boxes and notebooks it was stored in so long ago, waiting to be brought into existence. And I have all sorts of distractions to keep my attention off my ideas and stories and keep me from completing these things, but over the past summer, with an enormous distraction that turned into nothing at the end, I persevered and am moving ahead.

Because it’s Christmas, my gift to someone who thinks s/he has no time to do this kind of work is to say the exact opposite: you do have the time. You just think you don’t. The only thing standing in your way is you.

There are all sorts of books on how to do a good job of storytelling, and likewise, all sorts of books with exercises to nudge you along the writer’s path. But reaching the goal at the end of the path, completing the story, is something you have to do yourself.

Here’s how you do this:

1 – complete the story, period. Do not make corrections.
2 – print it out on 3-hole punched paper and store it in physical form in a 3-ring binder.
3 – put it away for several months.

On a cold, rainy day in the spring, when you don’t want to be outside, fix yourself a big pot of hot tea or coffee, get some cookies or other snacks, and reread what you wrote. Ignore the mistakes, just read it. If it still seems worth the time and effort it took, it’s a keeper. This is when you proofread and edit it, polish it, make the ‘mystery’ connections work, and decide whether or not to expand it to a lengthier form, such as a full-length novel, or keep it as a short story or novella. You may see the possibilities for a series of stories in it when you reread it after some time away from it.

I found that to be true for many of the summaries that I created a long time ago: they could be full-length novels as well as short stories.

It was up to me to complete them.

There is always something that will distract you. There is always someone who will be negative about what you’ve done. There is plenty of tremulous self-doubt floating through the air, enough to sink anyone into a Well of Gloom. These are people whose lives are limited by restaurant menus and coffee shop couches.

Writing is not about gaining fame and fortune. It’s about creating something out of whole cloth, floating moonbeams, and squeaky closet monsters. It’s your imagination at work, the part of you that wondered if you’d ever get to go to the Moon or find out that the guy who sells watermelons out of his pickup truck is really a philanthropist with a hobby that lets him meet people.

Now go on: get those ideas down on paper, filed on a jump drive, backed up on a terabyte peripheral drive, and printed and stored in a physically tangible notebook.

And have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, because a year from now, you may have a LOT of stuff done!

A long walk in the woods provides… clues


A hike along the river....

A hike along the river….

I spent about an hour yesterday taking a long hike on a path along
a river not too far from my house. The hike started on a cloudy afternoon, with the very possible prospect of rain. I needed to get out and get some fresh air. There is nothing worse than being cooped up indoors. Even if the promise of rain is likely to be kept, getting out for a walk, however brief it might be, is better than no walk at all. So I went.

...continuing along the path

…continuing along the path

I am not sorry I did, that I spent the time on it, that the sun finally came out of hiding or that when I got back to my car I was quite warm, tired and happy to have done a mere 3.5 miles roundtrip in a little under an hour. For me, that’s a slow pace but I took my camera along, as always, and disregarded the distance.
Showy trillium on DP river trail

The point is that we all have a very real need to step away from the short-range, close focus on our creative endeavors and get some fresh air, on a regular basis. We need to put down the electronic stuff occasionally and look around at the real world, the tangible world that we live in if we expect the worlds we create out of whole cloth to be believable. It’s the small things which need to be noticed, not the illuminated screen in front of you.

Showy trilliums on the hiking path

Showy trilliums on the hiking path

Paying attention to those little things, to something as small as a frog on a log in the sunshine, makes your worlds more real to your readers. There are pollinating insects as small as the head of a pin that most people don’t notice, but they inhabit their own tiny world. If a detective in a mystery novel notices these things, shouldn’t you, the person who created the detective, notice those small things, too?

In regard to characters


Geese doing morning yoga

Yes, geese do yoga at the start of the day.

Now I’m going to expand a little more on what I said last time.

This has to do with the characters you create if you are writing fiction. I think it’s a real good idea to spend a little time interviewing them, to see how much depth you can give them. What drives them?

I’ve said before that one of my favorite writers is the late Georgette Heyer. She wrote a long, long list of period romance novels set in the timeframe of the Regency Period in England, before and after the War of Independence. She does refer to specific military actions to set the stage for some of the male characters and why they say and do some of the things they do. I don’t know if she ever did anything like an interview for any of the people whose lives she made so real for her readers, but her perception of those people was bolstered by superb research into the Regency Period itself.

For example, in ‘The Toll Gate’, Captain John Staple gets bored silly if he doesn’t have an adventure on a regular basis. The fights with Napoleon gave him that, and then he was picked up at sea by smugglers and spent a week with them. His mother wants him to find the right girl, all the girls he’s met bore him silly, and he wants to join his friend Babbacombe for hunting, because it’s early fall and the scenting days will give them a few great runs. So he bails out of his cousin’s dinner party, goes off to find his way north, and gets lost in the rain and falls into a wonderful (by his words) mystery. Along the way, he does meet his dream girl. You can almost hear the fanfare when they see other for the first time.

Piled into all of this are Heyer’s skillful inclusions of character assessment for each of the people involved in this adventure. She made tons and tons of notes for her stories. This is the best kind of example to follow.

So how do you do something like that for people who live in a world created out of whole cloth, as in sword-and-sorcery stories, fantasies, and science fiction, or just plain old fiction?

When I said last time ‘make a lot of notes’, this is something that I do. It’s necessary for me, at least, to do this, because I find that these characters which I imagined into existence not only decide what THEY want to do and how the story should be told, but they also are grumpy, happy, angry, excited, quizzical, lost and completely bewildered in the ‘why is this happening?’ sense, and definitely more and more solid.

I don’t mean that I merely ask someone what annoys or excites him or her, or that I create a physical description of someone as a frame of reference. If I have a team of five people who were thrown together and left on their own, I want to find out what their quirks are, what makes them part of this team, what makes them laugh and cry and what their goals and desires are.

All your notes, and if you also want to do the Q&A thing, interviews with your characters to find their speech patterns and how they think, are worth every second of your time and effort. I’ve found in doing this that I’ve compiled many, many pages of information that gives my characters more depth.

I want to know what it is that will cause a character like Walter White (Bryan Cranston) in ‘Breaking Bad’ to go from being just a man who left his job to being a dark, ruthless criminal. And why did he leave Gray Matter Tech in the first place? The depth of that fall into darkness was fascinating, because he could have done just the opposite and become a crusader like Jack Bauer played by Kiefer Sutherland in ’24’

It’s being willing to look at these things and put them into play that gives invented characters depth and makes them more real to people.

Clearing the cobwebs….


Showy trilliums

Showy trilliums

Okay, no excuses. There are times when life simply gets in the way. It isn’t neglect that kept me away, I was actually cranking out copy for several books. Yes – several. And while it seems vainglorious to me to say “I busted my butt to get this done”, well, frankly, I did just that. I neglected my blog here unintentionally while I focused on my stories.

So I’ll give you all a pump-up about yourselves and what you do, if I can.

In fiction, any writer’s desire and responsiblity are to create and firmly establish the characters and events in those stories which he or she is creating for you, the readers, to enjoy.

I do know people who want desperately to write something – anything – and have a good start, but come to a grinding halt because they asked someone to read the starts they’ve made and are – well, disappointed, maybe even a little hurt, maybe even a teensy bit teary-eyed that the incomplete piece which they wrote, they labored over, they gave life to isn’t viewed as Pulitzer material. So, they quit before they even get a start.

Don’t do that.

If someone says ‘you got typos!’, deal with it. Fix them. Fix the punctuation mistakes. Get a spelling dictionary or find one online. Make yourself look as smart as you are. Most of the time, when people say ‘you got booboos’, it’s merely pointing out simple errors that you didn’t catch in your draft. No one is trying to hurt your feelings.

There are people who like to engage in flamewars toward everyone, because it makes them feel good about themselves. That is not the same thing as being told ‘you got typos’. Not remotely. It is just bad manners.

These are your steps in writing a piece of fiction.
1 – Decide if it’s a short/long story or a novel.
2 – Ask yourself if there is more than one story for this idea, i.e., can this become a series of stories?
3 – Are you serious enough to finish what you wrote, or are you just dabbling with ideas? If it is just ideas, keep them for later use.
4 – Write the first draft, set it aside, write a brief draft or even a long summary of another story, set it aside and go back to your first story.
5 – Make notes. Make a LOT of notes. Keep them with your story. Review them regularly. You’ll find your original idea has wandered off in a new direction.

You will be pleasantly surprised to find that, not only has your story taken on a life and will of its own, but your original idea may show distinct signs of growing larger than you had thought it would, and may even start splitting into various parts on its own.

For example, that hot chick who cast her eye on the hero might just be a spy looking for easy prey. Not finding it, she just may ditch that resource and start looking again. In other words, the guy she thought was the ship’s engineer turns out to the the guy who serves baked beans in the mess line, and the only thing he’s good for is relieving the tension in her… uh, her shoulders. Yeah, that’s it! Her shoulders. Got it. So is she a spy? Or is she up to something else?

I posted the picture of the trilliums partly because it’s spring at long last, and partly because that wildflower has a brief period of above-ground existence, putting out a floral head to attract pollinators until the rhizomes at its roots have started to grow and it can split off into new plants. When it’s done for the season, it dies back and disappears to gestate underground until next spring.

Consider the trillium as an analogy to writing. You have great ideas. They need to grow into mature and complete stories. That dieback to prepare for next spring is the same thing that you do when you come up with an idea for a story. You make notes about it, you do some research on the subject, and you start the first draft.

The ideas are what you record and expand on with notes, research to support your storyline, and possibly discovering that maybe your subject really has not had much attention because everyone else is following a different trend. And this is why I say don’t ask someone to review a partially-written draft. The wrong words, a misunderstood comment, a snort of derisive laughter and ‘no one writes about this’ may stop you before you even get started.

Now, how will you know whether or not you can do this thing called writing unless you stop asking for permission to do it?

There is nothing wrong with establishing your own subject line of stories. People do it all the time. Have enough confidence in yourself to choose to follow your own path. You do not need permission to do that, any more than the trilliums need permission to poke their way above ground and blossom.

Well, what are you waiting for? You don’t need anyone’s permission to write!

The Leidenfrost effect and the ship of the imagination


Wood anemones

Wood anemones

A while back, I read an article on the Leidenfrost effect, which was discovered in the 18th century. It occurs when cold water is dropped onto a heated surface and the drops move around because there is a vapor separating them from the heated surface. The difference in temperature is what creates this effect. There is a video online showing phyics students working on a way to turn this effect into something useful. They are able to control the direction in which water droplets move and can make them move uphill on a serrated surface, as if the droplets are climbing stairs.

These people are not limited by someone else’s idea of what can and cannot be done. I’m going to take a little time to show that imagination plus ignoring ‘can’t happen’ and ‘can’t be done’ can come up with something useful.

When Albert Einstein was pondering things and coming up with the theory of relativity, he said that space can be warped. A few decades later, the Hubble telescope gave us a photograph of the light from distant galaxies being warped, and the photograph clearly showed that space was also being warped.

Prior to Hubble, in 1956, Robert Heinlein wrote in ‘Have Spacesuit – Will Travel’ that Mother Thing’s beehive-like spaceship didn’t move through space. It simply slid past it.

Gene Rodenberry, in an effort to keep production costs low, came up with the term ‘warp drive’ for the Enterprise. If you haven’t heard of ‘Star Trek’, you’ve been living in a small closet. ‘Star Trek’ ran for a couple of seasons and then was canceled, but its succeeding progeny in the form of several series used the same terms as the original series.

Miguel Alcubierre, a Spanish physicist, was a big fan of ‘Star Trek’. In 1994, he developed the math for the warp drive, which shows that a starship which creates a warp ‘bubble’ will warp space in front of it and behind it, and surf through space. It does not actually move, and therefore, Einstein’s prediction that an object approaching the speed of light will acquire excessive mass, does not happen.

So we go from Einstein to Heinlein to a TV series to a physicist with a love of the TV series and a vivid imagination, and the news a few weeks ago was that some NASA physicists are running experiments to see if they can create a warp bubble.

Other people, with no imagination, complained that the energy from the ship coming out of warp travel would make nearby planets explode. Well, people used to say that cars would scare horses to death, too, and that people couldn’t fly in a heavier than air machine. Now we have cars with silent engines (electric/gas hybrids) and airplanes, and before too long, Richard Branson will be sending tourists into space. There is always a nay-sayer somewhere in the crowd. These are the people who squash imagination instead of applauding it.

If someone offers you a trip on the ship of the imagination, take him up on it. My wish for all of you who read this, for this year 2014, is that no one will squash your imagination and your sense of wonder.

The wood anemones at the foot of the tree in the photo at the start of this post are something that have fascinated me since I found that clump of blossoms. I keep wondering when I will run into an elf sitting there, counting his arrows and rolling a new bowstring into shape with beeswax. Or will I find one of the Little People there sometime in April, having himself a pipe and a mug and waiting to tell me ridiculously funny stories?

I don’t know, but I do look forward to it, and all the months and years to come.