Extra Details

As a writer, it is very tempting to get as much as possible into a story so that the readers can see the same story and details that we see when writing it. Through editing, the story gets refined and sometimes details are cut because they do not add anything additional to the actual story plot.

However, I would say to keep in a few of those extra little details. They may not add to the plot, but they add to the story.

The best example I can give is not a modern book: the Bible. I hardly know of any other books that has the same plot, situation, and people, but has different writers. In the book of Luke, the extra details given do not take away from Matthew, Mark, or John, but adds to it. In (NKJV) Luke chapter 6 verse 1: “Now it happened on the second Sabbath after the first that He went through the grainfields. And His disciples plucked the heads of grain and ate them, rubbing them in their hands.” Matthew (12:1-8) and Mark (2:23-28) mention the same situation, however, they do not included the “rubbing them in their hands.”

wheat

I’m a farmer’s daughter, so I mentally picture the grain as raw wheat. If you have seen raw wheat in the fields, then you would know that there is an outer skin protecting the grain seed. It is rough and there is hair-like fibers on it (see picture). If the disciples were walking by the field, plucking the grain heads and eating them, I automatically want to cringe. However, the extra detail Luke provides, says they were “rubbing them in their hands”. That extra detail turns my cringe into understanding. Rubbing the raw wheat heads in their hands would breaks apart the outer skin to separate the grain seeds.

With this example, you see small five words changed the description. I don’t mean that you as a writer need to lay out every single step-by-step action. That gets redundant and tedious. However, a few well placed details provides a more refine mental image to the reader.

An additional note: don’t be too descriptive in your writing.  You don’t have to describe the fluffy clouds or how blue the bluejay’s feathers are. Keep the story moving. Paint the picture, but don’t lose the picture image because of the brush strokes.

L. R. Mauck

 

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When your Muse is Gone

Many artists – from musicians to actors to chefs to athletes to painters to writers – will draw inspiration from something other than themselves. It can be anything from someone close to you to an idea or goal to a physical object to a personal experience to a spiritual level. This source of inspiration is what is called a muse.

Having a muse can be great. It gives you an outside perceptive (out of the box look) to view your work. The more muses you gain, the larger pool of inspiration you can pull from.  However, a muse can be bad when it is suddenly gone. Trying to find your creativity is like being lost in the middle of a wooded wilderness. You have an idea and a direction, but you just can’t put one foot in front of the other.

This is where I am now.

For many, many years, writing is a hobby of mine. To help me focus on my writing, I use music as background noise. But, when my favorite band comes on, my mind uses their music as a source to write by. If it’s a scene that is very active or intense, I’ll listen to one of their hard rock songs. Those scenes do tend to pick up speed that matches the songs. When it needs a slower, calmer scene, I’ll listen to some of their more meaningful songs. The lyrics are absolutely amazing and can speak so many different levels that I have never been unable to relate to any of their albums. Now that I’m on Twitter, I see just how down to earth each of the members of the band are and how, even now, interact often with their fans. If you have read any of my previous posts, you would know instantly that I’m speaking of Linkin Park.

Just after joining Twitter last year, I followed the band and assumed that they would continue putting out new albums up until we are all deaf from old age and I wouldn’t care any more. Then, sadly, July 20th happened that sent an earthquake through many fans and stopped the band in their tracks. It still hard to believe that Mr. Bennington is no longer here. I had no idea just how much the band had influenced my writing over the years until those days immediately following his death. I sincerely felt that this was the last of Linkin Park. Just that thought seemed to freeze every new creative notation within me. I had many ideas already recorded prior on a single flash drive (yes, I know backups save lives). Then the flash drive disappeared in the fall. You all probably saw that my blog posts started tapering off. I no longer had an outline of topics. My writing in general has been suffering as well.

But Mike Shinoda (of Linkin Park) surprised many with releasing three new songs this year that were created solely by him. Over the last few weeks, I’ve listened to the songs. When the songs first played, I examined the content of the songs and mentally compared them to other Linkin Park songs. Then later, I thought about how I felt when Chester passed. But tonight as I’m currently listening to the songs right now, they finally clicked in my head. Linkin Park drew their own inspiration from the paths they walked themselves. Mr. Shinoda is still doing the same thing with his new material. Each song speaks of exactly how he found his way to get back to his craft. He was lost after his band mate’s death and needed to find that first step to getting his life back. Then he had to deal with grieving while on stage (literally and figuratively). I can’t imagine how they would have felt, but the songs give a window into the roller coaster of grief.

This was what I needed tonight. To see what I myself must do. Yes, Linkin Park will still be my muse for much of what I do. But I need to look to myself and make those necessary steps to get back on track.

Ways to get passed your dead muse &/or writers block

  • Set aside a time to think about your story. Take notes.
  • Read – the more you read, the more your imagination is in use
  • Interview your characters
    • One suggestion I received was to write a background story of how the characters met
  • Research – the more you work with your material, the more twists or ideas will aid you
  • Set aside a time to WRITE
    • There are times that you just have to get your hands dirty
    • Set a daily goal to write just a paragraph, then increase it as you start writing
    • Setting a timer beside you will help push you and keep you focus to write the word count goal and not give into checking Twitter or playing cards
  • If you can’t find the inspiration you need where you typically write, change locations
    • Just don’t try writing in front of the tv. Trust me, it doesn’t work.
  • Talk to someone or out loud to a wall about your story. Hearing it verbally described will make you think more about your characters and the overall story plot. They may even be able to offer additional ideas to use.
  • If you aren’t on twitter, you need to be. There are so many other writers on there offering support and tips.

I hope these help you in your writing. I am still struggling, but I’m setting a daily goal of writing. Every little bit will build to a story.

L. R. Mauck

Adding Hobbies

This post is another layer to add to your character(s) in your writing. I will say that I have read a book or two that was solely a plot-based book. However, if you want to add more to your characters on a relatable level or add more words to your book, you’ll want to add a tangent or even a minor subplot.

One of those tangents can be characters with hobbies. Something that fills their “free time” when they are not involved directly with the plot. Adding hobbies to character(s) is an easy way to slow down the plot if need be or even angle the story that their hobby will later give way to the climax of the plot.

Example:

Harry Potter was an athlete by playing Quidditch. Throughout the series, his flying and even practice times were aided in the series.

Herimone Granger (Harry Potter series) was a scholar. She was constantly reading, quoting, and seeing the important clues that Harry missed.

Fred and George Weasley (Harry Potter series) were jokesters who later opened a joke shop. They were a comedy relief as well as played important roles in the series as well as their products.

Katniss Evergreen (Hunger Games) was a hunter who fed her family.

Bella Swan (Twilight) didn’t really have a hobby until the second book when she started rebuilding and riding the motorcycle with Jacob Black.

Personal examples I’ve used in my own books – one character was training for the school’s track team. It gave her an excuse to be out on the roads or in town to witness different clues. Another had a successful career in music – with him being used to his fan base, he could relate on a better level with people from all different walks of life.

One VERY common thread I see in many books is that one of the main characters is a reader. Yes, we writers also love to read. I’m guilty. However, try to push pass this pattern. Get a bit more creative with the hobbies. Yes, I understand that in some cases you want your character to be smarter than the average human – especially if it’s needed for the plot, but get out of the box. Have the character have first hand knowledge of the subject because their parents or best friend worked in that field. Make them a Wikipedia junky – as in they are always looking something up online. It doesn’t make them a reader exactly, but it can be used as the result of a t.v. show curiosity or topic of conversation and they look it up on their phone.

I also understand that in period based novels there was limitations in the activities people could do as a hobby. Jane Austen did have her characters do more than reading. She had them attending parties, playing games, putting on plays, playing piano, taking walks, visiting neighbors, traveling, etc. It is doable.

If you want to push your creativity, do a hobby in the book that you have never done before. Go out and explore that hobby. In a previous post, I wrote about that I personally took up archery to better understand my characters. It will give you firsthand knowledge and may even teach others who read your books about the hobby or craft.

L. R. Mauck

When to Write Your Emotions

This is a topic that is a little hard to pinpoint. However, I have personally been told for years that I need to record my emotions when I’m feeling something intense so that I can tap into that emotion later when I’m writing a character that may experience the same thing. A life reflection as if were for an author through their character.

For a huge majority of situations, I agree.

For me personally, I have a journal like book for where I store all my story ideas, plot twists, and poems. Some ideas have been written elsewhere and later taped inside this journal book. However, among the pages I have recorded my thoughts and feelings after breakups, I’ve wrote recaps of first dates. I have written of situations of where I’ve been terrified due to someone attempting to break into my home while I was home. I taken time to sit outside and do a writing exercise of what it is like to be there: what my thoughts, feelings, and what I physically see and hear. I do honestly believe this helps create a more realistic experience to come through your writing.

But the hardest writings I have ever recorded has been of my grandparents passing.

I am writing this entry on the same evening of my best friend’s grandfather’s passing, so you are reading a near emotional entry for me. I liked the man. Each time I met him, he wanted to know personally how I was and would ask questions about my family. He didn’t write me off as just a friend of his granddaughter, but genuinely wanted to visit with me. I know my friend is in for a hard night and the next several days ahead. My heart aches for her and her family. I’m thankful that she has her husband, her family and friends to be there for her.

Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park has said many times that grief is personal. I agree with him. It’s a journey that comes in waves. One day you can be laughing and joking about what that person has said or done, and another day, you remember the way they smile and suddenly the tears won’t stop. It has been twelve years since my grandmother passed and not yet two years since my grandfather. With both of their deaths, I wrote basically a play by play of when I was informed and immediately of what followed or in my grandpa’s case, I was there with him when he went. To this day, it is very hard to read those entries, but I’m grateful I did. Those moments were some of the worst moments of my life, but it was a part of me. It shows my hurt, my anger, and my love. I even noted all those around me and what they said for comfort.

These two entries were written because writing is an outlet for me. However, these entries will never be made public because it is personal. I may reread them with the idea that I want to tap into that moment to help express for a character to relate, but it won’t be the same. Our characters may begin as part of us, but their story takes them on a different path with situations that we may personally never be in or would react the same. The sorrow may be felt on near the same level, but our reactions will be different from our characters.

It is helpful to write of our experiences to use for our books, but I do suggest for you to pause when you write of grief. No two people will be affected the same way.

To my friend if you read this entry, I know my grief is nothing compare to what you are experiencing right now, but I’ll be beside you, mourning as well. I liked your grandfather. I know he was stubborn at times, but remember his smiles. Remember his laugh. Think of the good times you got to share with him. It won’t make the pain go away, but it’ll make it feel less. Every thought you remember of him, he’ll be with you. You have a long road ahead of you, but you are not alone. Remember that.

L. R. Mauck

In Place of Your Character

I know everyone has their own methods of how they write their characters. I have written in previous posts of how to make your character’s more real by adding personalities, flaws, and importance to write of the characters age level in regards to the readability of your own writing.

I want to take it a bit further with a suggestion that actually has helped me in the past. Physically surround yourself with the character’s situation. I don’t mean the situation as in trying to mirror the drama in your own life or actually go sword fight on a ship somewhere. However, I do mean to physically get out of your writing area and to explore the world.

Examples:

  • If your novel is a period dated story, then some evening, turn off your lights and write by hand in candlelight. Describe what your thoughts and feelings are with what you are experiencing. Does it make the area seem more relaxed, does it enhance other senses, etc. Consider making a small list to try and focus on what you want your character to think or feel before you do the exercise.
  • Also, go explore antique shops and ask the owners if they have any pieces for the specific era your novel occurs. Go to a library and talk to the librarians or county records buildings with the genealogy. The majority of the time, those places will be able to give you contact information of local historians. Those historians not only know the local history, but since they love history so much, they are almost a walking encyclopedia who has studied other eras.
  • If your character is in school, again go to a library. Try to remember what it was like in your own school library while you’re there. You may even run into teachers or retire teachers. Go to a few of the local high school sports games and write what it feels like to be there.
  • If it is a murder mystery, serious contact your local police. See if you can do a tour or talk to a retired or active police officer. Depending on the community and restrictions, they even may let you do a ride along.
  • If your story is a western, go to the farmer’s market. There will be a farmer there who always knows someone they can direct you to that can answer your questions. Or the local feed mills are always the hot place to get information.

There was a story I wrote years ago that I wanted a more real life take from, so I took up archery. Trust me, I can tell you in detail how horrible a bruise someone will get if the string snaps back wrong. I can now proudly say that I have hit bull’s-eye several times.

Any of these examples and more should be considered. HOWEVER, you MUST take notes. You may remember the experience for several weeks down the road, but you will start forgetting the smaller things such as answers you may have received or even the meaning of certain lingo of the industry.

My motto: keep writing, keep learning.

L.R. Mauck

The Colorful Story

This past season, many of us got to enjoy movies such as It’s A Wonderful Life and Miracle On 34th Street.  These movies are great. There’s no doubt in that fact. There is a charm to them that modern Hollywood can not replicate.

However, writing a story in black and white may sound appealing to a few authors and readers. It’s a challenge that a few writers wish to tackle to try setting their story apart from all the others trying to get published. From being too descriptive, this can be the exact opposite. The story comes off empty or lacking. Yes, we know that leaves in the summer are green and the sky is blue. I’m not saying that you have to detail every little detail. But throw in a few colors here and there for added appeal.

For example:

Amanda pulled out a clean sheet of paper. It had been a while since she wrote any of her stories. The blank page stared back at her, taunting her with every thought she was unable to put into words. Her hazel eyes centered on the wall, unseeing. Then slowly, the words flowed across the paper in small rivers of blue ink. Too soon was the paper full of her thoughts. Amanda sat back with a warm smile on her lips, proud of her accomplishment.

Yes, this could be classified as more of a tell rather than a show paragraph since I didn’t get into detail regarding what were her thoughts or the actual words she wrote, but I hope that you could clearly see the plain white paper in your mind with blue words filling it. I chose hazel eyes because I’m sure the majority of you pictured her with brown hair. There’s a subconscious connection that I’m not sure if most realize when they think of the relation between eye and hair color. Typically, I think of green eyes with someone with red hair. Blue eyes with blond hair. Hazel with brown hair. Dark brown or “chocolate” with black hair. I don’t know if there is a study for the relations between them, but they are the most common pairings.

I’m sure you noticed that I did not tell you the coloring of her clothes or the wall or even what room she was in. If there was more to the scene, then they would’ve been included. The main focus was for the character to start her writing. Nothing more was needed.

Be mindful of the balance between being too descriptive and not being descriptive enough. You can do the same with other areas such as setting up a scene, body language, dialogue, and the detail of the people.

I hope everyone had a good holiday and a happy New Year.

L. R. Mauck

Breaking Gender Norms in Writing

I have written previously for you as a writer to break outside your comfort zone to push your borders. Now, I want you to consider social norms for genders. Before any of you put up your red flags and think this is something political social issue – please continue reading.

Society is generally divided into male vs. female. There is the political movements of equal pay and gender equality, etc. But we still have gender reveal parties for expecting parents – blue for boys and pink for girls, etc. I want you as a writer to break one of the social norms within your book. It can be something major with a woman as a C.E.O. or something minor as in a husband who can’t open a jar, but his wife can.

I am a female, but I do not consider of myself as feminist. I am just me. I am single, living and paying for my own home by a full time job. I do have a college education by holding a bachelors and three associate degrees. This all looks great to an outsider as a successful young woman – but I still call my dad when something breaks. Just this week, my bathroom sink trap pipe rusted through and nasty water from a clog went everywhere. I cleaned it up, but my dad came to the rescue to changed out the pipe. However, their was still a clog. My dad is a farmer. He’s a hard worker but he never accepted the idea that woman can’t do maintenance. Yes, he fixed the pipe, but wanted me to take care of the clog. I did. I got it cleaned out and then felt empowered enough to tackled the slow draining valve in the toilet – I fixed it to!!

Growing up, my parents normally had my brother out working the fields and helping fix the tractors. My sister and I helped around the house and worked in the garden. Yes, these are your typical gender norms. But, I know how to drive a tractor, cut lumber, hang drywall, install ceiling fans, has shot arrows bulls eye a few times, and stack hay bales. As a child, I had both Barbie dolls and toy tractors. My brother had a baby doll as a child, but hunts deer when he was a teen. Now he works on semi’s trucks and is a great father to two small boys. My biggest shock was I once had a flat tire and called dad. He arrived and looked me dead in the eye to say “Well, what are you waiting for – get out the jack”. He then proceeded to talk me through changing a tire. These small life lessons do not minimize the fact that I am a female, but that I can fend for myself.

So should your characters. Don’t limit their story by placing them in strict social norms. Give them their own accomplishments and let them grow as individuals. Yes, there are scientific proven facts that do define certain gender roles, but that does not mean everything.

Another Twilight reference – the main character, Bella Swan, was a truck driving, motorcycle riding, cliff diving, shop hating, lovesick teenage girl. Hunger Games had Katniss Everdeen who is a hunting, fighting, compassionate female who finds herself as the leading face of a war. Harry Potter defeated Voldemore because of love.

Go back even into the classic literature: Jane Austen broke multiple norms – Pride and Prejudice had Elizabeth Bennet who was out spoken and fierce in her beliefs and understandings. Emma Woodhouse in Emma proclaimed that she would never marry even though women were expected to marry. Sense and Sensibility had Eleanor and Marianne as polar opposites. Eleanor was quiet and refine, but loved just as deeply as Marianne believed she did, even though Marianne was outspoken and drama.

Read Romeo and Juliet. It is not just a tragic play, but had Romeo murdering Juliet’s extended family members, a marriage betrayal, suicide, and more. This was written back when it had to be extremely shocking for the audience to witness it.

Don’t limit your characters and more importantly, don’t limit yourself. Keep writing and keep learning.

L.R. Mauck