Write Lightning is a blog from writer Deb Thompson.
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Wed, Nov 25 2009

Happy Thanksgiving and more

I'll be taking a blogging break until Tuesday, December 1. It's time to spend time with spouse and friends, marvel at a special lady's gravy-making technique, pull out some decorations for the upcoming Christmas holiday and take a few walks.

For those of you traveling this week, I wish for you safety. For those feeling too far away from loved ones, I wish for you comfort. For those partaking of more than one Thanksgiving meal, I wish for you temperance and a good digestion. And for those in pain or feeling alone, I wish for you peace. The world can be a tough place, but forgiveness and love are here, if we choose to open ourselves to it. Giving thanks for even little blessings we have already received is a great place to start.

posted at: 15:38 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry

Tue, Nov 24 2009

Personalizing lists and research notes

I was helping a colleague work a list earlier today and I realized how subjective lists can be. We often think we're putting simple items or tasks in a vertical format, but if you asked two or more people to make a list you'd probably get a real mix of techniques. I never learned formal shorthand technique, but I've found that many of us have our own verions of shorthand that help us make a list more efficient and meaningful. I use a boxed-in "C" to indicate that I have a coupon for a particular item at the grocery store. When I make brief notes on a very small piece of paper, I often leave the vowels out if they represent a short vowel sound. For instance, "relevant" would be written as "rlvnt". Some vowels get left out altogether if the context is a familiar one. For instance, when I'm doing research on a festival and I need to make a quick note about a horseshoe tournament, the word "tournament" becomes "trnmnt" or even "trnmt". If there's a multiple-word phrase that comes up a lot, such as "pancake breakfast", I may shorten it further to something like "pcb". This sort of shorthand is helpful only when used in the context of your own current project or in lists that you work on with some frequency. If you set aside such a list for too long you might forget what your abbreviation even meant.

posted at: 15:47 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Mon, Nov 23 2009

What would you write if you might not get caught?

I've been more outspoken about some things myself lately, but I know how important it can be to be kind when others are letting stress make them have blow-ups. People need a safe place to let off some steam. Writers build that space for ourselves. We may not write about it in public, but we scribble on napkins, index cards, journals, the sides of grocery lists or the backs of church bulletins. I wonder from time to time what would happen if I wrote something and then got hit by a bus. There are one or two people I trust to share my words with the world in the event of my sudden demise, but if I happened to write something personal on the back of a napkin and was carrying that with me when I was hit by said bus there's no telling who would read my words. The odd thing is, and I say this with a mischievous smile, that I be sure whether this makes me less inclined to scribble personal thoughts on those napkins, or more.

Don't let me frighten readers here too much. I was actually thinking of how this sort of thing could happen to a fictional character. But the fact that it rolled around in my mind for as long as it did makes me wonder if my subsconscious is toying with the idea of trying it out.

Have you ever left a random note in a library book? I don't mean that one should scribble in the book, of course. A small sticky note would suffice. You could recommend another book similar to that one. I know that librarians might remove your note, but they might actually leave it between the pages. I've actually done this in hotel rooms. I've left notes in phone books when someplace I ate had a particularly good (or bad) dish or service. It seemed like a good way to pay things forward to the next person staying at the hotel.

Writing is something writers tend to do because it's part of who we are. Once in awhile it's fun to take a chance with who you are and share that with the rest of the world, even if it's in the smallest of ways. Now I'm smiling again, thinking of all those people who might read this and start paging through their hotel room phone books in hopes that someone left them a note.

posted at: 16:26 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Fri, Nov 20 2009

Signs of a storm

We have a storm front coming through today and the winds have been picking up throughout the morning. More tropical parts of the planet have rain showers that can come and go rather quickly, but most of us see the signs of a storm coming before any raindrops fall. A breeze may change direction or the leaves on trees and shrubs may turn their lighter green undersides to the top. The humidity may rise and bouffant white clouds may gather and darken in heavier layers. The very air around us may have a dramatic rise or fall in temperature.

Even Bible writers built an architecture of doom when they wrote of the times just before the Second Coming of Christ. The signs are symbolic to some and literal to others, but even non-believers often admit being hit with a bit of a shiver when they hear of the moon turning red as blood or of plagues that torture most of the earth's inhabitants. As literature, the Bible is full of symbols and folklore. But for those who see it as a guidebook on the journey of life, the sensational descriptions of a planet in total chaos are the natural result of all that has come before it. It becomes a natural progression in the march toward an ultimate conclusion. If all we read were the first few chapters of Genesis and the last few chapters of Revelation we wouldn't understand or be nearly as moved by the whole of the story. It's the middle Books of the Bible portending the Apocalypse that make the final description of that Apocalypse emotional and satisfying.

Fiction writers can learn from all this to warn the reader of soon-to-come conflict in stories by weaving hints about changes in setting, characters' body stance or other details that tunnel the reader in to a place where menace or tension makes them want to run on one level, but then makes them unable to run away without seeing the journey through to the end. The writer can certainly hit the reader with a sudden thunderclap and a downpour for pure shock value. But the ride is a lot longer and lot more satisfying if we can draw a reader into the storm by introducing details that build a sense of discomfort based on an almost universal understanding of things that often show up and make us alert long before the big thunderclap makes us jump.

posted at: 12:33 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Thu, Nov 19 2009

A family tree does not a novel make

The idea of story was off to the side today as I found a few new clues from the family tree. It's a challenge. I've often thought that it might be a problem if I ever wanted to put these folks into a fictional piece. What I've been told of them is so fragmented and confused that it takes a lot of dedicated research to untangle the real history from the folkfore when looking for documentation. Fictional characters have to make a bit of sense, unlike our quirky relatives, both past and present. Still, it's a good lesson in plotting and motivation. And it teaches me to give readers enough information so that characters come across as plausible, no matter what else is going on in a story.

posted at: 23:20 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Wed, Nov 18 2009

Story accessories

After we had the carpet cleaned last week we had several items to bring back into rooms and put into place. When you empty (or at least, almost empty) a room you have a chance to think about the placement of accessories and small furniture. You also get a chance to refrain from putting the clutter back into the room. I think fiction can be like that. Once in awhile we need to take out all the fluff, the adjectives and the superlatives to take a good look at the basic bone structure of our story and be sure it stands on its own. Baubles and details won't make up for a weak story structure, but they could enhance a good one.

posted at: 20:14 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Tue, Nov 17 2009

What you are and what you write: Bigger than the sum of both parts

Part of what I've done with this blog lately is try to keep my head in the fiction writing game while I've been busy doing other writing. It's a little like writing letters to keep an friendship going during an absence, except I don't get a letter in reply. You might laugh and say that means I'm talking to myself, which would be partly true. But I'm also talking to anyone who loves writing, who breathes, eats and sleeps writing and oozes writing from every pore whether actually writing down words or not. What we are as writers is more than veneer. It's as much a part of us as heart or blood or skin. We might not be thinking actively of it every living moment, but it's part of us at every living moment. And our writing will live on long after we cease to move and breathe in this life. If you're in a situation right now where your hands aren't on the keys or wrapped around a pen as much as you'd like, remember your upcoming legacy to other humans and find any way you can to keep it alive.

posted at: 17:15 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Mon, Nov 16 2009

Dusting the weave and seams of a story

We had carpets cleaned last week and are still putting things back into place. Most people would never see the dust, but we know it's in places like the find weave of baskets and along seams of electronic cases. A little time outdoors with a soft paintbrush takes care of most of it.

A fine piece of fiction sometimes has to be made finer by clearing out its dust. The basic piece may be robust and well put together, but there may be tiny bits of fine grit or dust that could be removed for refining and for giving an even better reading experience.

posted at: 15:58 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Fri, Nov 13 2009

Luck and life and Friday the 13th

I rarely post on Friday evening, but wanted to end the work week by having a good laugh at the whole idea of Friday the 13th being a day full of bad luck. Today was a day full of activity at our place and all went well. We have rather light-colored carpet and it had been in need of a good cleaning for some time. Two nice young men came and did that today, plus we had other workers here for some repairs. I didn't get any writing done until just this moment, but I had made plans for that, knowing it would be a busy day. The house has a fresh scent and I can wiggle my toes into clean carpet.

I'm sorry if anyone reading this had what you consider to be an unlucky day. I know that some days so many things can go wrong that it seems as though the world is conspiring to wreck your life. Never give up. If you can gather enough patience, in a variety of ways, for as long as possible, something will change and you will see the good in at least one situation. Your luck, if you happen to choose to see it as luck, will change. Focus on the miracles you hear, the positive bits of energy in the universe. After awhile, it's nearly impossible to not see the good in life and what might be considered the good luck in life.

posted at: 21:12 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Wed, Nov 11 2009

Essay or story?

I once listened to a very frustrated woman who had been told by her writing instructor that what she'd just written was not a story. It was an essay. She insisted that her short piece of writing had to be a story because it had characters and things happened in it. It's often very difficult to explain the difference between story and essay. A story stands more on its own with plot and characterization that carries it forward. An essay can contain story, but an essay tends to include more personal opinion, commentary or even persuasion. This is probably one reason why many instructors find themselves having to tell story writers again and again to show instead of tell. We speak of storytelling, but showing instead of telling means leaving out critical remarks (except through the point of view of whatever character is thinking at a given moment). This lets the reader focus on the characters' journey and take that journey along with them. Otherwise, writers interrupt their own stories to tell the reader how they should be feeling. This may be tempting, but if we do that, we're writing an essay. A story can stand on its own.

posted at: 16:44 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Tue, Nov 10 2009


Some days all you can do is spend time tidying things. This includes kitchens, paper files, closets, sock drawers, computer files, checkbooks, lists, html and thoughts. That last one is more important than the others for writers, though sometimes it seems to get shoved so far back that it gets treated like the last child in a mean game of Crack the Whip. It's frustrating when your day turns into activities broken up by brief periods of writing, rather than the other way around. This has been one of those days. But the day isn't done. The writer in me may still fight her way to the front of this game.

posted at: 15:09 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Mon, Nov 09 2009

I know you so well. Would you be a good protagonist?

Should fiction writers put people they know into their stories? It's a question that's going to come up at some point. Aside from the obvious ramifications of someone recognizing themselves in your work, there may be other good reasons to keep real people and fictional people as far apart as possible. Will basing a character on a real person limit the writer's ability to give the fictional character choices? Rather than helping to flesh out a fictional character, basing that character on a real person may actually increase the chances of their being one-dimensional and being less engaging to the reader. This isn't to say that we can't use traits or aspects of real people to liven up a charcter. When we read, we get to know fictional characters the way we get to know real people--a little at a time. We learn their physical descriptions fairly soon after meeting them, but things such as arrogance, fear of dogs, a sense of loyalty or a passion for peach pie may take longer to learn. Being well acquainted with someone may actually keep a writer from presenting them as an interesting fictional character.

What does often work well is watching strangers in airports, in lines, at the park, noticing things such as speech patterns and gestures. Those observations may come in handy when it's time to describe a fictional character's long stride or angry expression. And if you know someone in real life who has interesting traits, jot those traits down and incorporate them into a fictional character's traits, if you like. But basing a whole fictional character on someone you know might be a move that could turn what could have been a compelling read into something flat and stilted.

posted at: 06:13 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Thu, Nov 05 2009

Fort Hood

I'm working on some organization material today and have not had much time to type. As I write this we have all just heard about the violence at Fort Hood in Texas. There are too many early rumors to comment further, but my heart goes out to anyone's family and friends who are suffering because of this. This incident is also a big reminder that our military families need support and prayer every day.

posted at: 14:59 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Wed, Nov 04 2009

Yes, it's already time to talk about Christmas Lights

When one toils into the night it had best be for a good reason. In this particular case, it was to get the Christmas Lights web page ready to go. I'll be adding new listings now and then for the next couple of months, but this is a nice beginning to aid those seeking out the lights of the holiday season.

posted at: 20:57 | category: /Arts and Entertainment | link to this entry

Tue, Nov 03 2009

Look over here. No, no. Over there

I was chatting with a cousin this week and we found that some of our genealogical information had gotten an odd bit of detail thrown into it that may end up doing away with one of our basic assumptions about some ancestors' voyage to the U.S. I was thinking about how that sort of thing could liven up a novel. I have a partially finished manuscript that I need to drag out and work on at some point. Having my main character's background diverted to another whole geographical location might be just the thing I need to inject some fun and energy into into a stalled work in progress. There really is inspriration for stories in every corner of life.

posted at: 21:23 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Mon, Nov 02 2009

Alligator roll writing

There are two unread books waiting for me on a shelf. I bought them earlier this year, but when not busy with other things I have a tendency to think I should be writing instead of reading books. I read 2-4 story books a day as a child/teen and kept librarians busy looking for more words. I never imagined that one day I would think of reading as some guilty pleasure. I've thought about this a lot lately and I realize that this sort of thing makes it even more important that I write as though every word was a moment of heaven for those reading it. Each word has to lead to the next word as though it was inevitable and suspenseful at the same time. If I waste readers' time when they have so little time to read, I deserve it if they dump my story on the ground in favor of some other story that gives them what they want. I'm picturing, on an emotional level, an alligator roll, in which every moment of a story grabs the reader and takes them for a spin that they recover from only later when they realize they've escaped after a whole wild ride of a story flashed through their mind and heart.

posted at: 10:15 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

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Stealin' copy is as bad as horse-thievin'
and cattle rustlin'! Lightning may strike
such varmints when they least expect it!