Write Lightning is a blog from writer Deb Thompson.
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Wed, May 26 2010

From spiritual to spoofy

An idea for a new exercise is to try writing something sassy or even insolent for a medium in which you wouldn't usually be sassy, such as a church bulletin or a menu for an elegant restaurant. Taking a well-written ad and turning it into a rant or a parody piece is also a good way to turn your writing on its ear.

posted at: 22:32 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Tue, May 25 2010

Location, interrupted

Sometimes when I get bogged down while writing fiction I end up changing the setting of the story, or at least the location of some scenes. When a scene takes place in the wrong setting it can come across to the reader as forced or stilted. If you're trying to increase tension between characters that can actually be useful. But most of the time it ends up being a distraction. If that romantic hacienda lawn isn't working, you might try switching to a busy street corner or an empty sports arena.

posted at: 22:32 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Mon, May 24 2010

Writing light against the darkness

A few evenings ago our power was interrupted when someone ran into a nearby utility pole. It was at night, so we were all mostly stuck in the dark until we could find some flashlights. We do have several flameless candles here that happened to be lit and those provided us with enough light to keep from stubbing our toes on something as we roamed through the otherwise dark house. These pole-destroying events have happened before on that very twisty road, so we knew that the lights would eventually come on again. It was inconvenient, but not devastating. But I wondered, as writers will, what life would be like if there was little hope of the power ever returning.

The best way to show off a light is against severe darkness. When you write fiction, consider that the reader needs to know that the darkness is just as important to experience as the light. Depending on your story's genre and characters, subtle cues might work better than blatant ones. A protagonist may encounter many types and levels of darkness and light throughout a story. Find a way to show us that canvas.

posted at: 23:25 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Fri, May 21 2010

Will they be able to not finish your book?

I used one of those website shopping bags this week and I didn't see the feature that would let me save the shopping bag. I got distracted with other tasks, which is common. When I returned to the site, my shopping bag was marked as empty. Now I'm trying to decide whether to bother going back and trying to order the items all over again. It would have been great if the site had made the feature really obvious. They may lose my business by not having made the feature obvious.

Have you ever read a fictional book, gotten interrupted for some reason and you just never got back to it? What could the author have done that would have made it nearly impossible for you to keep going back and finish reading that story? Better yet, what can you and I do as writers that compels readers to come back and finish reading our stories?

posted at: 18:08 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Thu, May 20 2010

Mixed motives

Two situations crossed my path today, one involving older people and one involving younger people. It took me a good part of the day to figure out that the situations had some parallels and that each situation had something to teach me about communication and about human worth. We are each faced with choices every day that can either precipitate fellowship and kindness or that can feed frustration and resentment between people. No one's motives are one-hundred percent pure. We're human. Fiction writers can use this in our writing. It's easy to present a villain that is all bad. It takes much more skill and wisdom to present a character that has mixed motives, much like the people we encounter in real life.

posted at: 15:39 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Wed, May 19 2010

The flow of writing

We spent some time here at home cleaning out a bathroom exhaust fan. Those things get clogged over time with material such as towel lint. It was so full of the stuff that it's a wonder it was still doing its work. In fact, maybe it wasn't doing its work very well. The material could have built up so slowly that we didn't notice a decrease in function over time. We had cleaned the face of the fan several times with a vacuum, but the bulk of the lint was beneath that face and was choking off the flow of air through the fan.

Could our writing be clogged in a similar fashion? Many of us grow used to writing a certain way, particularly when we create stories. It would be easy for our habits and instincts to take over and do a passable, though not superb, job. It's important to keep challenging our intellect and pulling elements out of the air of creativity so that we don't just go through the motions and make all the usual noises without actually putting out the best writing we can deliver.

posted at: 22:53 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Mon, May 17 2010

Deleting and starting over

Some days we writers end up erasing or deleting almost everything we write. I started a blog post and decided to delete it. I began a second post, which I also deleted. Most of the time, though not always, I delete a series of words reluctantly. It's a little like putting down a row of tomato plants and then deciding to yank them all out and start over with brand new plants. Most people would see that sort of thing as irrational or unnecessary. But writers know that words, once arranged in some sort of artistic or useful sequence, are powerful in ways that can change the universe. If we find that we've placed them in wrong places we can usually yank them out with no remorse. It's those other times that become difficult, when the writing is really good, but words are in danger of leading a reader down the wrong path. The writing is good, the ego says, but the writing will lead to trouble, the conscience says. Those are the times when deleting what we've written seems ugly and cowardly, even when what we've written is fiction. And maybe especially when what we've written is fiction.

posted at: 15:46 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Wed, May 12 2010

Fiction, nonfiction, creativity and corks

I love writing fiction, but I know that it's best to have a nonfiction project to work on when it isn't convenient to work on stories. Right now I'm working only on nonfiction, which is also inconvenient. I'm trying to keep notes and thoughts on some stories so that I can dive in later. I suppose it's best to think of one's self as a vehicle for the creative process to just flow from when the time is right. Some days it's easier to keep the whole process corked than it is on other days. I'm hoping that things will flow quickly when they do flow.

posted at: 16:20 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Tue, May 11 2010

Making characters uncomfortable

I didn't have a good topic to connect to writing until I began watching someone in a situation where they were out of their element. This happened to be someone on TV, but it could as well been someone in a store or at a meeting. They were being asked some questions they seemed uncomfortable addressing and that fact was evident in their speech, their gestures and their general body language. They were trying to deflect attention to someone near them. They leaned away from the questioner and then leaned in, as if physically off-balance. When someone else approached them unexpectedly from a new direction they moved like a startled horse, suddenly stomping to one side, almost as though they were trying to prevent being closed into a confined space. It was fascinating and pitiful at the same time. I thought of how other people I've known in real life have reacted during tense confrontations. Some get loud and get in the questioner's face. Some physically shrink back from the situation. Some find an excuse to bolt and run away. Some cry. Some accuse the questioner in order to gain the upper hand.

One of the things the characters in your fiction have to do is go through situations in which they're not in their element. How would your main character react if he broke his grandmother's favorite antique vase while he'd been angry and careless? How would your main character respond if she was an animal lover and she hit and killed a beautiful mountain lion with her car? The very heart of fiction involves conflict and the overcoming of, or at least the reaction to, conflict. Imagining your characters out of their element in more than one situation will give you a clue as to how they will react during major conflict points of the story. It's worth taking some time to think about.

posted at: 17:18 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Mon, May 10 2010

30 years on one work? No, thank you.

I recently got involved in watching a National Geographic special on the Codex Gigas. There seems to be consensus that it took a long time for this work to be completed, perhaps 20-30 years, and that one person did the work. I thought about that sort of time period and wondered if there was any work that I'd be willing to spend that many years writing. I've been doing Deb's Monthly Review since the summer of 1997, so I've been working on it for almost 13 years, but it's a magazine. It isn't really one, continuous work. I suppose I could write a piece of fiction that took 20-30 years, but only in the sense of it being a soap opera or a multi-generational, very lengthy novel. I would be adding to its story as I went along, instead of working on a piece of fiction that had a planned sort of end. It would be finished when I stopped working on it. To set out to spend 3 decades writing on one piece of writing, particulary one done as a complete recluse, would be a difficult decision. The monk, if it was a monk, has my admiration. But I do hope the part about him making a pact with the devil isn't true.

posted at: 20:18 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Thu, May 06 2010

The eventual hiss of pent-up creativity

When not able to work on a novel or short stories I often feel frustrated and out of touch with my creative core. If it goes on long enough I start writing long, drawn-out lists and lengthy descriptions of everything from phone conversations to menus. It's silly, but it's true. Creativity finds a way to escape like steam under pressure. If you find this true, you may be a writer. Don't be afraid. Just use it to your advantage.

posted at: 22:52 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Wed, May 05 2010

Full of words and reading, if not writing

The need to write fiction, without the time, continues. I haven't had much success with taking three minutes here and there. But I'm not giving up and neither should you if you're struggling to find time to develop your stories. It may sound counterproductive, but reading is a good way to keep your own story urgent in your mind. Read your own work or someone else's. But do take time to read fiction. The way a writer decorates a phrase or coaxes the most out of a descriptive sentence may spur you on to have your own words ready to spill over when you do get a chance to sit down and write.

posted at: 21:20 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Mon, May 03 2010

The main character and I are from the same place, but are not the same one

I was listening to someone campaign on TV today and it occurred to me that folks who campaign have a tough row to hoe when it comes to using the word "I". They end up using it again and again, when maybe what they should be talking about is the people they're hoping to lead. It's very difficult to use "I" in a campaign without sounding egotistical and self-absorbed. It's the same reason some of us who write have a hard time writing fiction using first person. Many fictional characters wouldn't mind being egotistical at all, but many characters would be uncomfortable talking on and on about themselves. Writing in first person causes a very subtle shift in thinking, unless the writer makes it obvious that the reader is reading a written account, such as a diary. I may be in the minority on this point, but third person seems to work best for me and keep things in storytelling mode instead of giving an impression that story is mixing with writer ego. One might use a narrator voice, but that removes the reader a bit from the emotion of the story. Third person seems best most often for conveying action and emotion and pulling the reader into the life of the main character.

posted at: 21:47 | 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!