Same old, same old…

Adventures in fiction writing.

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The longer you write, the more you will find yourself using the same or similar words and phrases over and over again. Especially if we write conversationally –the way we speak in everyday life. Our speech may be reflective of the region in which we live or were born and raised, our ethnic origins or even our age. While these peculiarities will lend color and flavor to our writing, even they may get repetitive after a while. This is only amplified when we write longer fiction pieces or novels. Beyond using a thesaurus to change up specific repetitions, how else can we add variation to the words we pen?

Some of my earliest writing was in the form of poetry. That is not a coincidence. Poetry is introduced to us in the cradle by means of nursery rhymes and bedtime lullabies. As we grow and mature into our teen years and beyond, often music becomes a huge influence. Thus the lyrics of songs speak to us the way nothing else can. Many musicians like Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Patty Smith, Joni Mitchell, and Bruce Springsteen are considered to be not just song writers but poets as well.

Anthropologically, poetry in the form of song or saga has been used to help the balladeer or the skald keep the oral history of a people alive through story telling. It is some of the earliest writing ever discovered. The Epic of Gilgamesh, for example, dates back to 2000 BCE. Another Sumerian text, The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor, may be even older than that.

What am I getting at, you ask? Poetry composition can be a delightful way to hone our skills in using creative vocabulary and illustative terminology. “But, I don’t want to be a poet,” you say. Shut up, yes you do. Here’s why…

I do enjoy writing poetry, but it is not my main avenue of expression. I am primarily a fiction writer. However, composing poetry demands that we paint a picture with our words, if you will. Putting things into verse, even if the verse doesn’t rhyme, pushes you to use descriptive and colorful terms that you wouldn’t use in day-to-day speech.

In describing my front lawn, for example, you could simply state, “the lawn was full of dead dandelions,” and that would be true! Before you write that ask, “What do those dandelions remind me of?” “What idea do they conjure?” They are dead, so how about headstones in a graveyard? They are skinny, so how about emaciated refugees fleeing a disaster or famine? They have tufts of thin, white spores… does that remind you of hair or clouds or even foam at the crest of a wave? Now write it like this, “Like a wave of fleeing refugees, the dandelions marched across the expanse of grass.”

I didn’t write a poem, but I wrote a poetic sentence. Obviously, a little of that can go a long way. Every sentence does not have to be metaphorical in nature. But in the right place, it can transform ordinary writing into extraordinary writing. I encourage you, if you have not attempted to write poetry before now, give it a try. You can find many accomplished poets here on WordPress as well as bloggers who sponsor poetry challenges. Why not give one a try? If you really can’t think of anything, try rewriting the lyrics of a favorite song. Remember, this is practice for fiction writing. Nevertheless, perhaps you will find that at heart, you are a poet after all.

Warring Muses

Adventures in novel writing. Internal chatter and trying not to sound like a crazy person.

Is it ever a bad thing to have too many ideas? To have more than one story whirling around in your mind? I guess that depends on how your brain filters and manages the internal chatter.

I was really excited to begin this year with work on my World War One story, Here Lies a Soldier. I’ve continued my research and note taking for points to include in the story but all the while other voices have been ‘whispering’ in my ear. (Not literally. I promise I’m not crazy. I think…) Small Cuts is a piece that was inspired by a dinner out with friends. A dinner in which I was left largely out of the conversation and free to observe the diners at the tables around me. (This is not a complaint about my experience at dinner, mind you. I am always a ready and willing observer of people.)

After initially writing the opening scene from one perspective, I expected to be done with it. But then another figurative finger tapped on my shoulder and indicated that she wanted to talk. Who am I to pick and choose when there is another side to the story? The same thing happened with the other members of this quartet until finally I’d ‘spoken’ to all of them, gained insight into what each of them was experiencing, feeling and remembering. Now I was done. Or was I?

I had no plans to pick up the thread of this story, but one by one, each of these characters began to continue their report of the events that evening. I had no choice but to listen and record. Yep, sounds crazy.

Such is the life of a writer. In your world, characters talk to you and to each other. It often keeps you awake at night. It makes your mind wander in the middle of a family gathering, a business meeting or during a class. Your family, friends, coworkers and teachers are not amused. Sometimes those internal conversations are so real to you that you continue them out loud, to the confusion of those around you.

The thing is, that internal chatter is essential to good writing.  “Hearing” the voices talking, listening to an invisible narrator spin a tale, visualizing the scene, debating the sides of an issue during conflict;  that is writing, writing without committing the words to paper.

But what if there’s a bunch of different ‘voices’ talking and shouting over the others? My dilemma is whether I should write both stories simultaneously or focus on one over the other. I have already delayed the writing of the war story to finish a novel in my series and I’m not inclined to push it off again. Can I successfully write both stories together? Perhaps. They are different enough from each other not to overlap in plot or dialogue. Each story would only be a first draft, but… how does the saying go? The only bad first draft is the one you haven’t written. So are two first drafts better than one? Do you see how I keep asking questions in this post instead of providing answers? This is me thinking out loud. I really haven’t figured out how to negotiate peace between the warring muses and let all the sides have their say.

Thanks for listening to the ramblings of a crazy writer!

Genre Bending

One of the things that catches me up at the end of a project is selecting the best genre for the book. Seems like it should be a no-brainer but it isn’t really. Of the five complete novels I’ve written in The Bucks County Series, all of them have a romantic component, so I’ve listed them under the romantic suspense genre. Nevertheless, all but one are crime stories: mysteries with clues to be followed and criminals to be apprehended. The one exception —Run For It— is even more hard to define; there are elements of suspense and romance, but no crimes get committed nor are there secrets to uncover. What is that? Realistic fiction, maybe? The thing is, I feel like I might be misleading the reader by including the ‘romance’ part in describing the genre.

Do romance readers expect steamy sex scenes? Or is that now classified as erotica? While the stories I write include the development of romance/relationships between my main characters, I abstain from depicting any sort of physical relationship beyond kissing. I think a romance reader might be a little disappointed. In any case, writing romance was never my objective, it was to write a good story in which a relationship might develop. In fact, I have nearly removed the romantic components from two of the five books because I felt the stories could stand on their own without it. I just liked the books better with the relationship left in.

I’m not a good, traditional romance writer and I know it. And perhaps that’s because I’m not particularly traditionally romantic myself. Candlelight dinners? I like to see what I’m eating. Chocolate? Ok, I’ll take the chocolate but not one of those samplers – half the stuff is inedible in those things. Flowers are nice but eventually they will dry up and all the petals will fall off and make a mess. I can never remember where I keep the vases anyway. New jewelry is lost on me – I always wear the same favorite pieces every day. You see what I mean… I feel like a hypocrite writing those sorts of things into my books. My characters feel as silly as I do in traditionally romantic situations.

So how does a romance go in a book by Meg Sorick? Most of my female leads are self-rescuers – they don’t actually need their men to bail them out of their crises. That is not to say my male leads are not capable of rescuing; I like strong male characters, just not Neanderthals. No offense Neanderthals (I hear that’s actually a thing … Neanderthal DNA showing up in all the ancestry testing everyone is having done to find out your real lineage, not the one your grandma lied about. But I digress…) Anyway, except for the non-mystery in my collection, the women find themselves as the target of some sort of criminal activity: burglary, stalking, attempted murder, and finally vandalism/arson. The men are there to help follow the clues, discuss possibilities and ultimately assist in solving the mystery. This is how I like the relationship to develop — the couple works together to overcome an obstacle or withstand a series of terrible events. They will genuinely like and respect each other, they will definitely be attracted to one another and they will learn to trust each other with their very lives. Not a bad formula, I would say. But then I arrive back at the original issue: how to classify the stories I write. I have some thinking to do. And I may give romance a rest altogether after I finish my next stand alone book —a historical novel set partly during World War One. I have plans for a sweet romance in that story, but after that? I think I should part ways with love…