Words

Words in Writing

This is one of the simple things that everyone either takes for granted or just doesn’t think about.

Words.

Words are made up of letters, and either expresses some concept or communicates something.

I’ll leave out the grammar rules and the cliches and other expressions for now, and just talk about words. I’m using words about words – so to speak. You have to describe the scene and the action in the scene, and do so in a way that the reader can follow along.

If you have a character that you want to drink a glass of water (or whatever that character prefers,) as a writer, you could see that character in your imagination. Let’s say he’s sitting at a table and his hand reaches out for his drink.

Jack drank the water.

Short, simple, and to the point. If you are writing in a concise manner, then you have communicated what he did. It’s a little bland, however. What if he happened to be very thirsty?

Jack guzzled the water.

That gives a little more description with the change of one single word. Let’s add a little more to it.

Jack guzzled the water. Drops spilled out and ran down his chin.

He seems a bit anxious, but why we don’t know. It could be any number of reasons. Maybe he’s still thinking about that bad day at work.

Jack guzzled the water. Drops spilled out and ran down his chin. Odell had left a couple of hours earlier, and he was feeling hungover.

Choose your words carefully for the maximum effect of what you want to achieve. Here’s Jack’s just not having the best of days, and that has to be communicated to your reader. To recap a little, Jack is my character that rides a garbage truck. He found a body in a garbage can, and well, it didn’t brighten his day.

Jack guzzled the water. Drops spilled out and ran down his chin. Odell had left a couple of hours earlier, and he was feeling hungover. He was grateful for the visit, but the alcohol had made him sleepy. He decided to go to bed.

Let’s work on that last sentence a little.

He was grateful for the visit, but the alcohol had made him sleepy. He decided to get up and fumble his way to his bed.

Decision’s made, but he isn’t all that graceful. A couple of twelve packs will do that.

Jack stubbed his toe on the coffee table.

“Ow,” he grumbled, not really feeling it. A very distant corner of his brain decided that it would wait to report the pain until in the morning.

He found his bed and tumbled in.

Hmm… That’s pretty straightforward, again.

 Jack stubbed his toe on the coffee table.

“Ow,” he grumbled, not really feeling it. A very distant corner of his brain decided that it would wait to report the pain until in the morning.

He shuffled into the bedroom, holding on to the doorframe and knocking knickknacks off the wall. The bed was still in the unmade shape he’d left it, and he collapsed onto the dirty sheets.

Jack was asleep before his body came to a stop. His snores resounded throughout the small apartment.

Yep. He’s out. All that, from taking a drink of water. Let’s look at the whole thing.

Jack guzzled the water. Drops spilled out and ran down his chin. Odell had left a couple of hours earlier, and he was feeling hungover. He was grateful for the visit, but the alcohol had made him sleepy. He decided to get up and fumble his way to his bed.

 Jack stubbed his toe on the coffee table. “Ow,” he grumbled, not really feeling it. A very distant corner of his brain decided that it would wait to report the pain until in the morning.

He shuffled into the bedroom, holding on to the doorframe and knocking knickknacks off the wall. The bed was still in the unmade shape he’d left it, and he collapsed onto the dirty sheets.

Jack was asleep before his body came to a stop. His snores resounded throughout the small apartment.

At the same time, we have to be careful not to repeat a lot of words. I’m bad about this. Let’s look at this again.

Jack guzzled the water. Drops spilled out and ran down his chin. Odell had left a couple of hours earlier, and the young man was feeling hungover. He was grateful for the visit, but the alcohol had made him sleepy. He decided to get up and fumble his way to bed.

 Jack stubbed his toe on the coffee table. “Ow,” came a slow grumble, not really feeling it. A very distant corner of his brain decided that it would wait to report the pain until in the morning.

He shuffled into the bedroom, holding on to the doorframe and knocking knickknacks off the wall. The bed was still in the unmade shape he’d left it, and Jack collapsed onto the dirty sheets.

He was asleep before his body came to a stop. Snores resounded throughout the small apartment.

I’m pretty sure it could use some more tightening up. This is where editing by others comes into play, but that is a post for another time.

Words are what a writer uses. Enjoy your words!

 

Happy writing!

–JB Steele

Hearing Sights, Seeing Sounds.

Whaaat?

Ok, that is probably one of the more strange titles that you will see on the internet’s writing pages. Please note that I did not say, “on the Internet.” That honor is strictly for other subjects, all of which we will not necessary speak of here.

However, it allows for an interesting dichotomy of observation. We as writers can tend to be a little bit introverted. There are exceptions, as with all things. Take a look at the next ten interviews on screen, and see who’s in the interview. Chances are you’ll see the people make a living in front of the camera. Writers get interviewed in print a lot more than on screen, I’d be willing to bet, because they are more comfortable expressing themselves that way.

And no thoughts or comments about hallucinations if you’re looking up at that title and wondering what I took this morning.

In a way, though, the writing process is a way to help the things that lead to the title. I’ve referred to a “mind movie” in posts past, and in many respects that could be considered indistinguishable from a hallucination. I won’t get into the psychological aspects of that – much less the psychosomatic aspects if you happen to write horror and scare the hell out of yourself.

Sensory input is important in our daily lives. For instance, right now, I’m listening to traffic, shivering a little at the cool October air (64 degrees in Florida,) and trying to type as my most affectionate kitty licks my thumbs.

The senses are what allows us to interact with our physical world, which is why sensory deprivation often has such an effect. Without the interaction, we are cut adrift and helpless.

With the stories in our heads, struggling to get on paper, we have to interpret the various things that make up the story into something that could conceivably be sensed.

Let’s take Odell for a moment. Remember him? Last time we saw him, he was at Jack’s apartment after that horrible day on the garbage truck. Right now, I can see Odell standing at the counter of the liquor store, making his purchase. His wife’s perfume is still on his collar,and I can smell the faint scent of jasmine. I can hear the rasp of a couple of twenties and a five being counted off to give to the cashier for change and some quarters. I can also hear the sounds of the register beeping as the keys are pressed and the till popping out, then being shut a little too hard.

There’s the ring of the bell at the drive-thru window, the hum of the air conditioning unit, and the smell of where the apple moonshine was spilled earlier. Putting myself in Odell’s place for a moment, I can feel the slick smoothness of the case of beer, and the chill of the other case that came out of the cooler.

Moving a little bit ahead, at Jack’s apartment building, there’s the smell of somebody out grilling. Good steaks, too. The sound of Jack’s radio, and down the hall, there’s a couple of kids fighting over something and a parent telling them to knock it off.

That’s a normal thing, and something that we could probably experience any given day, depending on your proclivities.

What if you want to write sci-fi, for instance? I don’t think any of us have directly experienced the beauty of Cherenhov radiation during faster-than-light travel (here, it’s the blue glow in the water of nuclear reactors) or the terror of a warp-core breach following a plasma coolant leak. Still if you want to taste the color orange, you have to stretch your mind a little to be able to visualize that mental movie, and then stretch it a little more to translate from movie to paper.All that stretching will give you insight on various things, when you start exercising the storytelling power inside you. Just remember to stretch again when you cool down.

I’ve read a few things in the past that left me wondering if the writers took something before they sat down to the typewriter, and relied on muscle memory to hit the right keys, and even today it’s still hard not to think the same thing. I personally don’t, just for the record.

So, stretch your mind. Listen for some beautiful blue skies, and look carefully for the sound of water trickling over the stones.

Happy writing!

-JB Steele

Editing

Editing

Editing is important when writing. Self-editing can slow you down as you write, and I’m just as guilty of that – if not guiltier. In any event, when you finish a piece, then find some trusted friends or family to look it over. Many of us write as we think or speak ourselves, and things like regional dialect sometimes bleed through.

Me, I have problems with “was” and “were,” and many times I just run with it and correct it later. That is, if I remember to do it. This is why I would rather have someone look over my work and check it.

There are guides available for sale to help the writer with these sorts of things and to give the writer the precision needed to get the word out quickly. I used this search string at Amazon.com to pull up all manner of results. Things of this nature can help a great deal, but you do have to put in the time to study it and improve your craft.

Granted, but if you paid attention in school, you wouldn’t have to do that. I can hear some out there smirking as they say this. While this is true, it is also true that there are some of us that put pen to paper that hasn’t sat in a classroom for some time. The finer points of this or that tend to diminish over time, and it is for this reason I suggested the Amazon search. Reference material never hurts. Just remember to actually refer to it.

An editor can improve the technical aspects of your work immensely, and if you can afford it then make use of it. One of my favorite opening lines is “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” This comes from the first volume in the Dark Tower series by Stephen King. Now, I don’t know if he sat down and wrote the line like that as a first draft. I dimly recall some interview many years ago in which he did say that. My point being, let’s say he started with “The gunslinger chased the man in black across the desert.” That is serviceable and conveys the image of a pursuit, but it’s a little dry.I could see an editor saying, “Let’s try it this way.” When you read “The man in black fled across the desert,” you automatically think about ‘well, he’s being chased by something.’ On the other hand, “the gunslinger chased the man” doesn’t really give as much room for imagination to spark. Once you read the second part that says, “and the gunslinger followed,” you think ‘why is there a gunslinger after him?’ Or, at least I did.

Somehow, without editing, I doubt the Dark Tower would be seven books. Or for that matter, Harry Potter. Proverbs 27:17 said it pretty well. “One person sharpens another.” While King Solomon wasn’t specifically referring to the writing process in this instance, the wisdom of another reading your work and sharpening it is paramount.

So, enjoy your writing, work hard at it, and let it shine. If an editor can make it shine brighter still, then make use of that resource.

Happy writing!

-JB Steele

 

Vocabulary

Vocabulary

A writer’s vocabulary is the single most powerful weapon in his or her arsenal. It is words that make us what we are, that and the way that we use them. For the average adult, it ranges between 20,000 and 35,000 words. Don’t ask me how many words I personally have – I have no idea. I think I’m right about the middle of that particular bell curve.

One of the ways that kids are encouraged to extend their vocabularies is by the “five-word” method. Pick a book that on any given page (or so) might have five words they don’t know. Then get a good dictionary and look those five words up. It worked for me, but I’m a bookworm. I have a dictionary that I’ve had for twenty years. It’s followed me from move to move, along with a thesaurus. Believe me, I’ve used both of them.

Some joker heard me mention the “five words method” once, went to a used bookstore and got an old textbook from the 60’s on Irregular geometry. He knew I was not the best on mathematics (probably why I enjoyed my English and writing classes) and wanted to play a prank.

I took the book and thanked him. I still have it somewhere, although haven’t read it in a while. I just happen to hate algebra, but love geometry. Still I applied the “five words method” to this book. In the Internet age, there are a bunch of different ways to look up words now that sometimes blow my old trusty paperback dictionary out of the water, and now for that old geometry book more explanation is there. A squared plus B squared still equals C squared.

Sometimes, though, there are no reference books available to you. For that matter, no cell tower signal, WiFi, or even battery charge available. It is then that you are forced to rely on the mental library of your vocabulary and the time spent to build it up.

Let’s say you need to write something on the social aspects of kitten pictures on Facebook. I will bet that there is a good chunk of Internet bandwidth devoted to these cute furballs, in both still and moving form. So you do a little research, spend six hours at Lolcats, and determine that some people like kittens, some don’t. I do, and I get highly amused.

It’s not hard to write about a cat. Furry, warm, ignores you until they want something, sleeps all day, plays all night. Stuff like that. If you want to pick up more of a challenge, write about the differences between going EVA from the Space Shuttle and going on a Crusade quest, then you need to have different sets of vocabulary. (And some imagination, too.)

21st century low-orbit travel and 12th century time-of-war travel couldn’t be much more different, but both are dangerous. I picked those two examples out of thin air, and so I would have to research to write about it, but I’m pretty sure that my vocabulary would need to be extended a little bit to write about both of them in the same piece.

Then again, it might be fun to write about Saladin and the Space Shuttle. Inspiration strikes.

So, build up your vocabulary. Grab a dictionary and find those entries that end in “see such-and-such.” See how many times you can go see such-and-such. Keep track of what words you follow, then find the antonyms for those words. It can be a little boring, but building up a vocabulary of words to call upon when there isn’t Internet available helps.

If you really want to confuse yourself (and who doesn’t) pick a language that you don’t know, and see if you can find the translations for the words you kept track of earlier. Then we get into cognates and the French term faux amis, or ‘false friends.’ That is a subject for later, I promise.

Any kind of vocabulary building exercise will do, and I recommend looking some of them up and running through them. It can only help strengthen your writing.

Happy writing!

-JB Steele

Descriptions

Descriptions in writing

Descriptive writing is important. This is what allows you to communicate the image or the “mental movie” in your head to your reader. For me, it’s a mental movie. Others have told me that it’s a still image that starts to slowly advance frame-by-frame. They have to write out each frame. Granted that is just about the same thing, especially when you consider that moviemaking is at least 24 frames per second with the persistence of vision. For me, I can’t write the frames, I write the movie. Sometimes I have to go back and rewrite things that I’ve skipped over, trying to document the movie.

Whatever works for you, once you get the rough draft down, then don’t forget that it is your wordsmithing that tells a story. Many times, it is the difference between boredom and ‘page-gripping intensity.’ It doesn’t often come with the first or second draft either. A lot of times, it takes a few drafts.

Let’s look at our good buddy Jack. He’s had that rough day at work, and the boss told him, “you know what, Jack? You had a rough day today, what would finding that stuff. Why don’t you take the next couple days off, with pay. Try to recuperate a little.”

So here’s Jack relaxing, or trying to, at home.

Jack sat down in the chair with his drink.

Straight and to the point, right? However, all your mind’s eye sees is Jack sitting with a drink. Up until now, we haven’t seen where Jack lives. All we’ve seen in the earlier posts was where he works. Let’s rewind the tape and start again.

The clock on the wall ticked out the seconds. The only other sounds in the sparse apartment came from the hiss of the beer can popping open and the wheeze of the cheap armchair cushion as Jack flopped down. He stared out the window, through the blinds, to see the occasional car zip by the concrete jungle of his housing unit. It was a little stuffy in the apartment, so he set the sweating beer can down on the side table with a metallic ‘clink’ and got up. Jack fiddled with the old window unit until he convinced it to turn on. A hollow ‘thump’ announced the condenser’s reluctant activation, and cool air blew out.

Jack flopped down again, the cushion wheezing out another indignant breath. He picked up the beer, giving the wet ring on his side table a passing glance, and took a long sip. The television was silent, and he absently listened to the ‘tick tick tick tick’ of the clock, and found his mind inerrantly revisiting the memory of the ripping plastic bag and the red splashes in the back of the garbage truck.

He shuddered, trying to block out the memory. It was bad enough without having to relive it. Jack tipped the can back, and was rewarded with nothing. The can was empty. He grunted with displeasure and crushed the can. It didn’t take long to decide to get up and get another beer from the fridge.

The cushion wheezed out in relief as the refrigerator hummed.

Hmm…. I think Jack is having a bad time right now, and to tell the truth I can’t blame him. As for the description, you could come away with the impression that Jack is scraping by. Either that or he’s really cheap. Either way, this allows you to set up for something else to happen.

I could see either Jack falling asleep after getting drunk and having a nightmare happen, or if he just gets buzzed, maybe somebody knocking on his door.

The beer was halfway drained when a knock came on the door. Jack looked in the general direction, but ignored it. It came again, and Jack grumbled, “I’m coming!” He managed to set the beer down approximately in the wet ring, next to the other two empties. The cushion wheezed as he got up.

Jack stumbled to the door, and fumbled with the lock. The heavy door swung open to reveal Odell standing there with a case of beer in his hands.Jack squinted at the other man.

“Odell? Why ain’t you at work?”

White teeth shone again dark skin as Odell grinned.

“Same reason you ain’t at work, except I’ve seen stuff like that before and you haven’t. I can handle it easier. Can I come in? This beer isn’t going to keep itself cold.”

Jack grunted and stood aside. Odell looked over Jack’s shoulder as he walked in and saw the crumpled cans on the side table, and the one on the floor.

“Jack, looks like you got started a bit early.”

“Yeah.”

“You got that cheap crap, too. Here.” Odell ripped open the case and fished a bottle out. It was a thick German beer. “You need something better than that to chase away that stuff you saw.”

Jack took the brew and stumbled into the small kitchenette, looking for a bottle opener. Odell took a lighter out of his pocket and popped the top off, then gave it to Jack.

“Go sit down. I’ll look for a bottle opener.”

“OK.” A few moments later, the cushion wheezed again. Odell looked around. There was an ancient refrigerator, a small stove and a hotplate, a fairly new microwave that looked like it could handle a mug of water and a baby’s bowl, and a card table with two metal folding chairs to sit in. Odell shook his head. He found a bottle opener, and took a kitchen chair with him. He sat down, opened a bottle for himself, and looked at Jack.

“Hell of a day, huh, Jack?”

“Yeah.”

They clinked bottles and drank deep.

I think I’ll leave them to it. I don’t think either one’s going to work tomorrow, either.

Be strong in what you write, and your reader will see everything. If you do it right, and leave just enough blank, then the imagination of the reader might fill in something that you can see too.

I haven’t described Odell much, but I have an image of him in my mind. It would be interesting to see if the reader’s mental image and my mental image jibe. I like Odell, personally, and I think I’ll be writing him in more stuff. Somebody’s got to look after Jack, you know.

There is a balancing act when you use descriptions, though. On one hand you have too little description, which leaves a faint imprint upon your reader. On the other, you have too much, which can bury your reader and be tiresome. This is sometimes called an ‘infodump,’ and is necessary at times, but try to avoid it. On the gripping hand, a good descriptive and vivid story will leave your reader wanting more, when you weave it into all the other parts of a tale.

Happy writing!

-JB Steele

Something a little different from my usual (JBS)

This one is a rough/first/trial draft of something I had started many years ago, forgot about in the trials of life, and recently found it resurfaced when I moved. I think I would like to finish it. At the time I didn’t have the life experiences to really write it. Now that I do, this one might coming down the line. Apologies for any grammatical errors – it is literally a snapshot in time.

Prologue

People had been glancing at the two of us most of the morning. She found several reasons to come to my desk, little reasons of no real importance. I did the same thing. She’d look up and I’d be standing there, quietly. Without a word, I’d go somewhere else. Anywhere else. When I got there, I’d work on something and feel a hand on my shoulder. I’d squeeze the hand, knowing instantly whose it was. A sad smile and she’d be gone. We tried not to be seen together, unless one of us found some little reason to come back to the other.

Everyone else knew something had happened. How could they have known otherwise? She and I were partners in every sense of the word. We were colleagues, friends, and now lovers. Our relationship had progressed from the first shy moment we met three years ago at work, from little jokes and teases, to genuine trust and affection, to love. Every step had progressed naturally, and neither of us had thought it strange. Our coworkers at the office watched this with approval, and so did the bosses. Most of those people, anyway. A couple of the higher-ups didn’t like it.

I got up and walked toward the coffeepot. Maybe the taste of the truly awful sludge would distract me. I got there and saw her standing with her back to me. Shocked, I just stood there, knowing she never drank those terrible dregs. She was moving slower than usual, with her head bowed, and I knew she hurt as bad as I did.

My arms automatically went around her, before I thought. She stiffened in surprise, and then relaxed into my embrace. Many times had we stood like this watching the surf, or lying together while we watched the stars. I held her as the trembling started, little mild fits of heartbreak, knowing my own heartbreak mirrored hers. I murmured little comforts in her ear and hoped that she wouldn’t break down. I knew that if she did, I would too. It hadn’t been easy recently. I had received word that I was being transferred to a new office at the behest of one of the bosses. I didn’t have to figure out which one. It was the same one who’d made a pass at her, months ago. His proposal, if you could call it that, had been quickly turned down. Maria and I looked long and hard for ways to keep me from having to go, but there wasn’t a way. I had to go.

We knew why he’d done it. He didn’t like the idea of fraternization at the workplace, but since he wasn’t the big boss, he couldn’t do much. . . until now. It had been set up and executed with all the skill and finesse of a jungle ambush. He wanted me out of the picture, so he could make another play. The other boss who didn’t approve, well, she’d helped him right along. They deserved each other.

Both of us had talked it over. We knew that with me on the other side of the world, our relationship wouldn’t survive. Oh, maybe it would, but it wouldn’t be the same. We had to have each other, hold each other, love each other. That wouldn’t have been possible from so far away. It had been with breaking hearts that we decided to call it quits. So many tears were shed, from anger and hurt, but we couldn’t think of a better way.

I stayed with her last night, saying goodbye. I knew I might never share her bed and her love again, and I didn’t want it to end. She knew that, and welcomed me. Maria didn’t want it to end either. We knew then that today would be so hard, but neither of us could call in sick. I couldn’t do that, because I’d be leaving in the evening and didn’t want to just sit around all day. I was already packed. She couldn’t, because of a recent flu bug had used up all the sick time she had. The only consolation, if you could call it that, was that I’d leave before she got off. She wouldn’t have to see me go, then.

Her trembling eased off, but mine was still there. I was so angry, at that boss, at the world, at my loss. She turned, snuggling into my shoulder, saying she loved me. That made me feel better and worse at the same time, but my trembling receded a little. I softly kissed her lips, not caring who was there to see it, and broke the hug. As much as I loved her, I couldn’t take it. I still kept her hand, though, and she understood.

I decided against the coffee, so I walked to the drink machines and got a bottle of apple juice. She came with me, since I was still holding her hand, and we shared a companionable silence. Distantly, my mind registered that the conversation level had dropped every time we were together, but then again, I understood. They cared for us, and I had been told more than once that they had been so happy when we got together. Apparently, the women in the office had been pushing her toward me, and the men had done the same for me.

A slight stir alerted me to the fact that the woman who’d help break us up had entered. She saw us standing together and started to come our way. I kissed my lover on her forehead, and stood erect as the boss approached. The now-empty bottle of apple juice seemingly fell of its own accord into a trashcan. I didn’t trust myself to say anything to the woman, so I simply stared at her.

She tried to act as though she didn’t know of any “special” circumstances, or as though the air of gloom wasn’t there. I could tell that she fed on it. She started to go on about not working like I should, no “sense of urgency,” and other things. I didn’t say anything, but modified my stare into a cold, clear, and penetrating gaze. I looked her in-the eye and very soon she figured out that I knew what she’d done.

She broke off and walked off in the opposite direction, hastily. I didn’t know where to, and didn’t care. Someone else broke off, too, and followed her. I turned back to my lover, but she wasn’t there. I sighed and turned to go back to my desk, to start cleaning it out.

As I started to do that, people figured it out. The office mom came over and hugged me, having seen everything and quite capable of figuring it out. She whispered in my ear that she was so sorry for both of us, and that she’d go find her and keep her occupied when I left. I nodded, unable to speak. I had a steady stream of visitors then, who tried as hard as they could to support me the best they knew. I was touched, so appreciative.

Soon, my time was almost up. I put my stuff into a bag, and closed the desk’s drawer. It didn’t look like mine anymore, just a piece of office furniture. I arose and walked to the head manager’s office. He was a good friend of mine, and I didn’t want to leave witl1out saying goodbye. I found him there with a miserable expression on his face. He stood, took my hand, and told me to sit down. He said he was sorry to see me go, and wished he could do something to keep me here.

Then he dropped a bomb.

He told me he found out about the transfer the two others had cooked up, and like us, had tried to find a way to nullify it but couldn’t. He did find a way to have fired, with prejudice, the man who’d drafted it but it would take time and he couldn’t do it himself or immediately. The woman I’d stared down would take time to get rid of. I gaped at him. He had in effect declared a vendetta on that woman and a jihad on the man. I didn’t know what to say, but I did feel satisfaction.

A knock on the door interrupted us, and he got up to open the door. The office mom came in with her arms around my lover, and prompted her to speak. She paused, unsure, but said she wanted to say goodbye. My friend raised his eyebrow.

A little exasperated, she snapped, “I want to kiss him goodbye, and I don’t want everyone watching!”

He nodded, as if he expected that, and he hustled out the door with the other woman. The door closed, and I looked at her. Suddenly, we were in each other’s arms, and so desperately we kissed, so passionately, I thought would drown in her; I could feel her tears falling and my own streaking down my face. Time passed, without any thought from us. ‘ The kiss ended, leaving me light—headed. She gazed at me, teary-eyed, and turned and ran out the door. I didn’t follow her. It was hard enough on me to see her in the same pain as me. I sat in the swivel chair, staring out at the bay. My friend’s hand on my shoulder brought me back. It was a few minutes before I could look up at him.

“I don’t want to go.” He nodded.

“I don’t blame you.”

“Tell her to wait for me.” Again, he nodded.

“I will. Cherie and I will look after her for you.”

I sat there, still. He stood there, not being my boss, until I was ready to get up. Soon, I did. I walked out of his office, and picked up my bag. He was right behind me. As I walked out onto the main floor, silence reigned. 1 stopped, and my friend stopped to my Ieft. I looked around, and saw her at my desk, surrounded by others. We held our gaze for a long time, until she turned away. I didn’t want her to watch me go, and I went. I heard her crying softly as she turned away, but I couldn’t stop. I made it out, barely, but the tears on my face wouldn’t stop.

I’ve got plenty of conflicts to resolve in this one, don’t I?

-JB Steele

© 1994-2015

Inspirations for Writing

Inspirations for writing

 

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found

Was blind, but now I see!

Inspiration is what I’m thinking of today. It takes many forms, many expressions, and many ways of wriggling its way into your muse, and none of us know all the ways. The above came to us from a slave trader (among things) named John Newton. There have been things written about Mr. Newton which would give you a broad overview about him, some of which was unhappy and some happy. Also, several films and stage works continue his story. His was a divine inspiration, through a path that many of us today couldn’t fathom. Amazing Grace was first published in 1779 and it was one of many acknowledgements of the inspiration that John Newton came to express.

For us as writers (or singers, or movie makers, or artists, or ….) inspiration is that quality that can either be effortless or agonizing. Sometimes, there is a paradox in that the nominal inspiration can be both at the same time.  Usually, it’s simply a desire to say something. After all, the only difference between the written word and the spoken word is that you can see the written word. Or, in the case of Braille, touch the word.

Inspiration can hit when you look at your significant other and think, “Her birthday is next week. I want to do something for her.” So, you arrange for flowers to be delivered and get a cake made with her favorite colors. You write some lines that, while it might not be as eloquent as you’d want, it still expresses your feelings as clearly as seeing the smile it brings.

Or, it can hit when you lose someone you love. Many times, this is private catharsis, and for those of us that are wordslingers, sometimes it’s a surprisingly effective way to generate a word count over what you might ever think you’re capable of. The words tumble out along with the tears. It seems that this is often the most powerful form of writing, especially if your reader forms an empathic bond with you.

For me, inspiration can come from many things. I could be walking along in a store somewhere and see something that makes me go, “hmmm… what if?” Sometimes, I’ll be washing dishes and an errant thought will traverse my mind, and I’ll follow that thought with, “hmmm… what if?” I’ve had happy times that I wanted to put down in verse, and I’ve poured out my pain in my writing.

A good way to look for inspiration is in the things you like to do other than writing. It’s a lot easier to write about something that your mind is engaged in, instead of fumbling around trying to come up with something that makes sense. Fumbling around is going to happen, too, don’t get me wrong. It’s just a lot easier to rip out the words when you have focus and intent, or so it seems to me, anyway.

I like to watch or read the news a lot. It’s a habit that I picked up in childhood, trying to learn about whatever might be going on in the world. I’ve written a few things before after having heard about this breakthrough or that occurrence. It’s the same principle as an editorial cartoon. It just takes a different format. I’ve written fanfic before, after having watched an episode of my favorite TV shows and thought to myself, “hmmm…what if?”

I stubbed my toe one night when I ran into the dresser. Never mind what I said about the subject, but what I wrote the next day in my Creative Writing class was well received. I got up the next morning, looked at my aching toe and thought to myself, “hmmm… what if?” I limped to class, sat down gratefully in that uncomfortable desk and let it rip.

Do you see what I’m driving at?

“Hmmm… what if?” That “what if” drives a lot of speculative fiction. For that matter, a lot of historical fiction. Yes, in historical fiction, you as the reader already know (maybe) what happened. But do you know what the characters thought about this or that? Ever wonder what went through Winston Churchill’s mind during World War II? Or Benedict Arnold’s mind before he was caught? Or maybe Alexander’s mind, before he lay on his bed and died?

I watched a Dr. Who episode recently with Winston Churchill. Quite entertaining, but what if old Winston had really met a Dalek?

See what I mean?

So, you find inspiration where you can. Writing about what you like to eat can do it (sausage, hot peppers, steak, potatoes, practically anything but sour cream and guacamole,) Maybe being turned down for things you needed for this or that. Perhaps something going on in your community that you just have to write a letter to the editor to. All of these things.

What about writing a short story, or perhaps something longer?

I’ve been inspired by people I know to put characters like them into what I write. I don’t get petty or mean about it (usually,) and sometimes I take things about two or three or even four people and make a new character. Then I think about a scene, and after I plop a character into the scene I think about a plot. Inspiration in this vein can sometimes come depending on how much I like that particular character.

And then I’m off and rolling.

I like to try to keep track of what I’m inspiring on, though. I’ll use my pad to write down the ideas, then go back to my keyboard and keep writing. This way, I can incorporated what I’m thinking about and not have to juggle a bunch of thoughts.

Mind mapping is a good idea, here. It can often lead to other inspirations, too. Try that and see where you end up. Don’t be surprised if you find ideas for separate writing.

Happy writing! Next up, rewriting and revising.

-JB Steele