Facebook: Research and Motivation

My hubby posts his photos on FB. Lanscapes can open a world of ideas for setting.  Photo by Charles Huff

My hubby posts his photos on FB. Lanscapes can open a world of ideas for setting.
Photo by Charles Huff

Writers are often reminded—warned would be a better word—not to spend too much time on Facebook. I’m here to say you can get some great writing ideas from social media. I‘m not talking about the obvious posts from fellow-writers with leads for paying markets or helpful blog posts but the other stuff. No not the kitty videos or what you had for dinner (although that could be helpful if you aren’t sure what your character is going to make for the potluck.) But the posts of friends and family that have nothing to do with the writing craft and everything to do with life.

Writing exercises:

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A photo sparks a poem or short story idea. Vacation photos can help fiction writers with destinations for their characters. I found helpful photos of dogs while trying to decide what kind Brutus my service dog would be. There’s the political statements that pull your chain and bring out your strong opposing view. See an Op-Ed piece.

Great quotes. I counted a dozen new quotes today. Some made me chuckle and others made me nod. A few inspired me or brought on that ah-ha moment. Aren’t all of those responses what writers want from their words? Look through your FB feed and see if you can’t create a few hundred words from one of those quotes.

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Story ideas and character possibilities

Videos to spur story ideas from ordinary heroes who have overcome. Whether its illness or family loss there’s an idea there. Perhaps someone helped create a business to deal with poverty and homelessness. What a great passion for your protagonist.

Learning the pulse of the public

Seeing what’s important to those in your social media circle gives you the pulse beat you need to focus on as you craft stories. That’s how I decided my hero in my latest novel should be a wounded warrior. I saw lots of post reminding women they are strong and reposts of women who overcame abuse. My heroine experienced abuse and struggles to find herself. Whether its Facebook, Tweeter or Goodreads I try to get a sense of what others in my sphere of influence are reading. That’s important to note because these will be potential future buyers of my books.

wounded warrior sparked an idea.

wounded warrior sparked an idea.

Stress relief

Sometimes we need a good laugh after a grueling period of word craft. “A merry heart does good like a medicine.” We all know we can find at least one laugh out loud moment on social media every day.

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So the next time someone comments on the time you spend on social media, tell them its research.

What interesting thing on social media spurred your creative juices?   Share in the comments. I’d love to hear about it.

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Setting Description from Different POV Deepens the Storyline

Point of view (POV) is always a challenge. I shared in a previous post Manuscript in a box: Print It Out For A Fresh Perspective how I found some interesting booboos. As I read through I noticed I’d skewed POV in a few places. In a scene where we are experiencing everything from Dan’s POV, I wrote his words warmed Isabella’s heart. How would Dan know that? He wouldn’t. Unless I gave him the ability of a mind reader, he wouldn’t know. He might have noticed her smile or a blush. But he can only experience his own warm heart.

POV is like wearing camera glasses. You can only see through one characters eyes.  Photo from morguefile.com

POV is like wearing camera glasses. You can only see through one characters eyes. Photo from morguefile.com

Imagine, as you write, you are wearing camera glasses. You can only write through the eyes of one character. You can’t know the inner thoughts of the other characters in the scene. In Dan’s POV if his words offend Isabella, I need to have her verbalize it or show body language that the reader can experience with Dan.

POV setting

Point of view has more facets beyond staying in your character’s head in dialog. POV takes in setting. Have you ever read a book where the main character is male, but the description of setting through the eyes of this character seemed more feminine? As your character enters a new setting, think about how he might see it. A cowboy might enter a saloon with a different focus than a school marm.

Setting is view through a lens distorted by the characters perception and emotions. Photo from morguefile.com

Setting is view through a lens distorted by the characters perception and emotions.
Photo from morguefile.com

Camera Glasses

Let’s put on our camera glasses and look at the saloon from each POV.

The cowboy

Tony batted his Stetson on his thigh to release some of the trail dust before placing it back on his head. Passing through the saloon’s swinging doors the piano music invited him to relax after days on the trail. A tiny blond with sultry blue eyes and painted lips swayed toward him. He knew he’d part with some of his wages to steal a few kisses. Tony placed a silver dollar on the bar smiling at the bartender.

“Keep the whiskey coming ‘til this is gone.”

The droopy mustache twitched as the bartender poured. “The best in the house, sir.”

Tony gulped the watered down whiskey as a rosewater scent surrounded him and a tiny hand touched his arm.

The School Marm

Now let’s see how this same setting effects the School Marm.

Millie’s heart constricted as she stepped through the swinging doors of the saloon. Curious looks from sweaty, ill-kept men focused on her. A blond woman in a colorful short dress that revealed too much of her womanly form scowled at her. The bartender’s eyes roamed Millie’s form, his droopy mustache straightened with his smile, revealing missing teeth. Millie took a breath to quiet her racing heart only to have her nose assailed by body odor and smoke. Bile rose in her throat.

“God deliver me.”

Mille had warned her little brother. “Mark my words, Henry, you enter that den of iniquity again you will find me dragging you home.”

“Sis, you don’t have the stomach for it.” Henry had laughed at her scolding threat.

Standing in the doorway her eyes adjusted to the dim light. “We’ll see whose laughing once I get you home.” Anger overtook her timid spirit.

Mille spied Henry’s red hair under the familiar straw hat. He hadn’t noticed her yet. His eyes fixed on his cards. She approached the table in the back of the saloon. The piano’s out of tune rendition of Camp Town Races drowned out her quick footfalls on the tobacco stained wooden floor.

Notice how each character experienced the room differently. Tony found it a respite from the trail. While Millie saw the worst of the place. When writing a scene think about from whose eyes the reader is viewing the setting. The setting description can be revisited with a different character POV if it gives the reader a better picture of the surroundings and builds the story.

Saloon girl

Sally adjusted her bodice before descending the stairs. She counted the steps. There were thirty. Each step pulling her down to a job she hated. A job full of shame as red as the velvet curtains hiding the stage where the floor show took place three times a night. On the last step she took a deep breath and pasted on the sultry smile Maggie had taught her. The Rosebud was full of cowboys and gamblers anxious to take their money. Sally needed to work the room tonight. She’d refused to be a part of the floor show which would have netted her an extra fifty cents a night.

She was a mother now and her baby lay in his crib with fever. The piano music drowned out his whimpers. Sally surveyed the room and fixed her gaze on a young cowboy not yet inebriated. This saloon had more class than any of the others she’d been unfortunate enough to work in. The bartender loved to look but never touched. Maggie kept a clean house.

“Flatter ‘em, dance with ‘em. Even a kiss for the right price. But if they get to handsy slap their face.”

Maggie’s muscly, tall husband, Francis, watched for offenders and manhandled them out the swinging door before they had a chance to protest.

Sally felt safe for the first time in years. Baby Jimmy was cared for by Maggie’s maid when she worked. No patrons were allowed upstairs. If she didn’t earn enough tonight she’d volunteer to help clean after closing. Baby Jimmy needed a doctor’s care. This was no kinda place to raise a child but what other choice did she have. Placing her hand on the cowboy’s shoulder she whispered near his ear.

“Buy a girl a drink, handsome.”

Sally’s POV revealed something we hadn’t expected in a saloon. A place of safety. Now we have three story lines brewing. And three different perspectives of the same setting.

Do you have anything you’d like to share about POV? Leave a comment.

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Do You Have A Writer’s Brain?

Writer mind

This cartoon I found on http://www.seekerville .com inspired this post.

It never stops, never stops, never stops…. Can you relate? When I’m not actually sitting at my PC composing pros, my mind is racing from idea to idea. When I’m taking notes in church during the sermon, my mind starts forming a devotional or a what-if scenario. In the shower characters chat with me. While my husband is sharing a significant thought, my brain can be in a new dimension formulating questions for an interview.

Admit it. It really happens. I know I’m not the only one. Those with a writing passion have brains that never turn off. We don’t just see the world around us and say how beautiful or how tragic. We dig a little deeper. We are analyzing why the world is beautiful one moment and hideous the next. We don’t just admire her fashionable shoes; we wonder what compelled her to buy them. And why her friend is frumpy and how the two ever became friends.

photo template from morguefile.com

photo template from morguefile.com

Our minds never stop thinking when we go to bed. Instead of counting sleep to bring slumber, we put ourselves into an imaginary story that either pulls us into dreamland or takes us out of bed to jot down the story idea before it disappears with the sandman.

It can’t be helped. We are seekers of truth, realm builders and problem solvers. We wear many hats that influence our creativity. If I took a poll of all my writer Facebook friends, most spend their daytime hours as doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants, receptionists, retail clerks and a myriad of other vocations while their minds spin tales and organize research facts. By the time these busy people sit down to write, so much pours out through their fingers onto the keyboard with lightning speed because its been filling the recesses of thought for hours and days waiting to be released.

I wish I could tell you a magic formula to turn it off. Because Lord knows, there are times an empty brain sounds heavenly. But it is my curse and blessing that must be managed and at the same time allowed to run free.

Even as I compose this blog, my mind is racing toward the next idea and my check list of writerly projects my fingers are eager to create on my keyboard. Alas, my day is full of family activities and this may be the only item completed on my list. The rest will wrestle for their place in my mind as I ruminate over changes to my novel, new blog posts and what new ideas need to be explored for articles or short stories.

How about you? Here’s your chance to admit your brain never stops thinking. I’d like to hear how you manage your overactive brain and what creative things are ruminating in your mind. Leave a comment.

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Writing Tip and TV Repair

TVWeirdness was happening on our TV. My husband noticed it first. When I finally heard it, I wasn’t sure I’d heard it. It’s only on certain channels. And less noticeable in cartoons. But during regular programming it is well—weird.

While the action is happening a voiceover explains the action. As the characters sat down at a table and during their conversation, a voice interrupts the action to explain they are sitting around a table and opening beers. Then the voice tells us the character Paul has a frown. Then the voice explains Tammy is touching his shoulder after handing him a beer. Then she walks out of the room. Talk about slowing down the action, pulling me out of the story making me want to run away screaming.

It took a call to the cable company to solve the mystery. Everyone is probably aware TVs come with the capability of closed caption for the hearing impaired. But did you know there is a language button on your cable box for the sight-impaired? They can listened to the dialog and an explanation of the action. How the language button got activated is still a mystery. Having the same problem on more than one TV became a mystery for the cable company to solve from their end.

Nose

On-The-Nose Writing is Annoying to the Reader. Photos from Morguefile.com

Broken sound =broken scenes

But this misadventure is not a total loss. This annoying mishap reminded me of on-the-nose dialog. The kind of dialog …well, let me illustrate.

“You look upset, Clara.” Brad remarked.

“Do I?” Clara questioned.

“By your furrowed brow and tapping foot. Not to mention your crossed arms I’d say so.” Brad observed as he neatly arranged her favorite lunch of chicken salad sandwich and tomato soup on her desk.

“You are so observant. How well you know me.” Clara added with a glare.

Brad placed his hands on her arms and pulled her to him to stop her from tapping her foot and erase the furrowed brow with one of surprise. Clara wrenched his arms away continuing to glare. He thought he was so smart. Well, she’d not have it.

“Oh no you don’t. I’ll tap my foot if I want to.” Clara declared.

Pretty awful isn’t it. Can you see the on- the-nose writing?

Let’s rework this piece to avoid on-the-nose and give us hints into their relationship. I apologize in advance for its lack of polish. I want to show the obvious diffence. So, he it is.

Brad noticed Clara’s warpath stance, crossed arms, tapping foot and furrow brow. It screamed get out of my way.

“So who ticked you off this time?”

Brad sat the lunch sacks on her desk before facing her.

“You know me so well.” Clara’s sarcasm had no effect on her assistant.

“Are you going to tell me or wear the floor out pacing?” Brad leaned against the desk watching her.

Clara made a few more laps before she stopped in front of Brad. Their eyes locked for several seconds before Clara sank into his arms. Muffled sobs wet his shirt.

The second grouping tells us so much more about their relationship than the first. And his inner observation is that little voice for the visually impaired telling us what we need to see. On TV where all the actions and facial expressions are seen, the additional information is aggravating. On the nose writing can be just as annoying. The action in a story needs just enough of that little voice to create the scene and place the reader in the moment. Your word picture needs to compliment the dialog and give it a real feel.

Did you see the difference?

How often have you caught yourself pausing while reading and saying… “Thanks, Captain Obvious.” You know, when you read  “I’m so angry.” She said angrily.

On- the -nose writing is so easy to do, and it takes a few read-throughs, usually by others, to catch the more subtle ones. Like my TV, you may need help from the professionals to fix the problem. But once you’ve eliminated it, your words will sound much better. Your readers will embrace your characters as friends and enjoy learning their story.

Have you caught any on-the-nose writing in a published novel? Do you find it in your own writing? Please tell me about it in the comments.

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Manuscript in a box: Print It Out For A Fresh Perspective

Papers in a box 2

My book is in a box. At least the draft of the manuscript is. I printed off the scenes from my draft of New Duet so I can manually organize and edit them. Yes, as much as I love editing on the computer and all the organizational wonders available with various software programs, nothing beats printing out a few hundred pages and eyeballing every word. I keep the pages in a box when I am not working on it because all scrap paper is used by my granddaughters for art work. These pages needed protecting from the crayons and scissor brigade for the moment.

Reorganizing scenes

I stapled each scene and numbered them. Because I wrote in scenes rather than chapters, I can move scenes around as I read through and edit. The ideas didn’t always flow chronologically in draft form. And even though I organized them in my Scrivener program, I found a few in the wrong place. Now I can go back and correct that. When I am done editing and organizing, I’ll create a new file in chapter format.

Duplicate names

How has this helped? Fresh eyes for sure. I apparently like the names Marcia and Claire. I gave one flat character and a reference to a deceased child as Marcia. And an elderly woman, a store clerk and a pianist were all named Claire. I also gave a few characters too similar names. Names that sound the same can confuse readers. So, I had to think fast to rename them. Flat characters for those who don’t know the term are the background characters. The waiter, the guy walking in the park. A reference to someone in the past who no one ever sees. Flat characters fill in the scene but have no emotional connection with the story.

Marcia art-2

Grammar booboos and other mistakes

I’ve also found awkward sentences, weird punctuation. You know those backward quotation marks and extra spaces. I’ve discovered Dan’s scene had a POV from Isabella. I was surprised to find repetitive information throughout a few scenes. Repetitive information is something the characters have revealed previously that doesn’t need to be rehashed in every scene. I either deleted the information or shortened it to a word or two to keep the information in the readers mind.

A few places needed serious rewording, and some spots needed more emotional tension or a deeper POV. The new perspective of words on paper forced my brain to take a closer look. When these corrections are placed in my PC document, I will probably find other places to tweak.

The next step

I am almost through the manual edits. Then once I’ve copy pasted and reformatted my story into the new chapter file I’ll place all my manual edits in the document. I’ll run my spelling and grammar check and try to make the copy as clean as possible. Once I am happy with those changes I’ll need to find uninterrupted time to read it out loud. Preferably with my hubby. Because together we will probably find even more discrepancies. Once that is done, I’ll be ready to contact an editor and submit my proposal to publishers. (That part always makes me nervous.)

What things do you do in the editing process to give you a fresh perspective on your WIP? Please share them with me in the comment section. I’d love to hear about it.