Waiting–dVerse Haibun Monday

Photo: David Slotto

Photo: David Slotto

Waiting
a Haibun

Anna waited. And waited. Her room, dark except for light seeping through half-drawn blinds, smelled musty, old. Dust motes danced where sun invaded. Aside from that, there was little activity. Even her old cat, Flossie, lay motionless on the rumpled covers of her bed.

They hadn’t called for at least two weeks. No one called or came to visit anymore. She wasn’t sure why she even had a landline, but she wasn’t about to try to figure out those smart gadgets that all the young folk held continuously in their hands, their eyes locked on the screen. No one had the time or patience to teach her all that fancy stuff.

Outside the window she heard birdsong. Even the birds had something to say to each other. Anna pulled herself slowly to her feet and went to fill their feeder. What else would fill the hours?

in spring, finches’ songs
fill the empty hours, the void
without them, nothing

Please join in for dVerse Haibun Monday where we are talking about communication! The link will be open all week! The doors open today at 3:00 PM EDT

Frozen

Photo: Kanzen Sakura All Rights Reserved Used with Permission

Photo: Kanzen Sakura
All Rights Reserved
Used with Permission

Frozen
a Haibun

Marissa stared at the blank screen of her laptop. Thoughts of Rod overtook her, squeezed her heart. Loneliness had to be better than the pain of loss. She couldn’t dump remembrance of the last time she had risked surrendering to love.

Outside, a pewter sky, heavy, oppressive, filtered through her window, reflected her mood. She slammed the shutters, hiding from view softly falling snow, just beginning, that would soon cover her yard in billowy mounds of pure white, the promise of a fertile spring.

frozen hearts stifle
loving creativity
can beauty survive

Written for Kanzen Sakura’s photo prompt at dVerse Poets Haibun Monday. Please join us. Toni offers wonderful instruction on the art o Japanese Poetry. The prompt will be posted Monday at 3:00 PM EST.

A Season for Growing–Monday Meanderings

Even though the calendar tells me it’s still spring, our weather doesn’t seem to have received the message. The temperatures are in the high 80’s and 90’s and the garden is coming alive with new growth. True, the irises are fading, the roses are behind time because I pruned them too late, most weeds have been tamed but the leaves on our trees are fully unfurled, there are green cherries taking in the sun, and the tomatoes my husband started from seed while we were in the desert are already giving us little green globes of promise. Oh, and then there’s the birds! The orioles and hummingbirds have now arrived home in full force.

Photo Credit: V. Slotto

Photo Credit: V. Slotto

Just so, I’m hoping to cultivate some new growth on my blog. When I first began blogging, it was my intention to include some inspirational essays–a desire, no doubt, related to my own introspective aging process. In addition, for a year or two, maybe longer, I enjoyed offering writing prompts–for both fiction and poetry. As I became (happily) more involved in poetry communities, especially as a monthly contributor to dVerse Poets’ Pub, I slipped into the languid waters of poetry and allowed other interests to wash away for a while.

Photo Credit: D. Slotto

Photo Credit: D. Slotto

Now I feel it’s time to reclaim those two original ideals. It is my hope to be able to add a Monday feature that will offer a reflection, a writing prompt, perhaps an occasional interview or even book review…whatever happens. When there is a prompt or an invitation to discuss, I will include a Mr. Linky and respond to comments and/or return visits.

I chose Monday with the thought that those who drop in to read my dVerse poems for Open Link Night might scroll on down for another shot of inspiration. I would love to see you there and welcome your thoughts today, in comments.

Photo Credit: thewritingpenn.com

Photo Credit: thewritingpenn.com

WELCOME TO MONDAY MEANDERINGS!

Monday Morning Writing Prompt–Flash Fiction

The "QWERTY" layout of typewriter ke...

Image via Wikipedia

Since many of you are on poetry overload because of NaPoWriMo, I thought it might be a good idea to take a break and write a bit of flash fiction in 1000 words or less.

A lot of my fellow poet bloggers have indicated that they also write novels or short fiction. I see that many of you participate in various flash fiction or even novel-writing challenges. I believe that developing a poetic sense enriches narrative fiction and that fiction helps poets organize their thoughts and create a story arc in narrative poetry.

For today’s prompt, let’s start with a bit of dialogue. I find it fun to toss out an opening line and see what you come up with–so here it is:

“It’s not that I’m trying to keep it a secret. It’s not clandestine—not exactly.”

See where this takes you, if you will, and leave the link in comments. And if, somehow, this inspires a poem, go for it. It’s open-writing season all the time at liv2write2day!

Wordsmith Wednesday: Another Reflection on Character Development

Writing samples: Parker 75

Image by churl via Flickr

While driving from Reno to Palm Desert I listened to some CD’s presented by The Learning Company‘s Great Courses. If you have access to these, I strongly recommend them to you. The particular series I’m addressing is called The Art of Reading and is presented by Professor Timothy Spurgin of Lawrence University. The lectures are well-organized, clearly presented and as applicable to writers as to readers.

Today, I want to share an important point from the lecture on characters about developing round characters.

The concept of a round character, as opposed to a flat one, was presented by E. M. Forster in his book, Aspects of the Novel. Simply put, a round character is one who will capture the reader’s interest because of his unpredictability, his complexity and the changes he undergoes during the course of the story. And this is key: “The test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way.” (Forster)

We’ve previously discussed the fact that, while your protagonist needs to draw the sympathy of the reader, he should have some character flaws. Inversely, your antagonist should have something that makes him, if not attractive, at least capable of being understood.  Just like us–no one is all good or all bad.

As you write, reflect upon your own reaction to the key characters in your manuscript. Are you able to identify with them to some degree? Are there things that, if you were that person, you might be ashamed of or want to change? Are there events or reactions which are surprising without being totally out-of-character (unconvincing)? Is your character someone you would want to know, or avoid?

One thing I find helpful when writing fiction is to base my characters on a composite of people I know or with whom I have been acquainted. You can even take someone who is in the public eye. I try not to use one person because I would never want anyone to say to me, “That’s me, isn’t it?” My mother once thought a character was her because I set the scene in a room in her house!

I suggest referring back to a couple of posts I’ve written on character development using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or the Enneagram because these personality profile systems help you to identify how a character might react in a given situation as well as their strengths and weakness. This can suggest a source of surprise as well, since none of us is a perfect fit to any one personality type.

I plan on using the round/flat character definition to help in rewriting my second novel…a goal I’ve set for my visit here in the desert.

Happy writing–enjoy the process.

On Reading: A Poem for Poetry Potluck AND Monday Morning Writing Prompt

Woman reading

Image by National Media Museum via Flickr

 Submitted to Jingle’s Poetry Potluck: http://jinglepoetry.blogspot.com/  This week’s theme is Hobbies and Pastimes, Passions and Entertainment. Stop by  the Potluck to read some poems offered by both seasoned and upcoming poets. Also posting to One Shot Wednesday: http://oneshotpoetry.blogspot.com/

On Reading

These days I spend my evenings in Ethiopia.
Torrential rains flood the shores of the Blue Nile.

I cut for stone in Operating Theater 3,
outside I hear the blaze of failed coup d’etat.

Dear Africa, I’ve trod the single file paths of
leafy jungles, ‘neath trees of Poisonwood,

through forests that devour, that feed on lives
of those misled in service of God’s holy name.

With Little Bee I, too, would flee to distant shores,
escape atrocities (only to be hurled once again upon your mercy.)

From Haiti also I’ve sought refuge. The slave of Valmorain set free but lost
to love forever and to my land, the island far beneath the sea.

As well would I take leave from Oklahoma’s dust
only to be lost to greater desperation in the land of wrathful vines.

In silent (though not passive) observation, I stand by, witness
the demise of hope, the emptiness of Gatsby and Buchanan

or see a tree spring forth from wretched poverty in Brooklyn’s
tenements where branches spread if roots grow strong and deep.

For those who read, there is no place forbidden,
no mountain that cannot be scaled, no culture

left forgotten, no life condemned to end in an obscure whimper.
No era will I leave untouched if I but open up a book and read.

This poem is based on a few of my travels in the land of fiction. If I were to exhaust the list of my favorite books in this poem I’m afraid I’d crash the site and definitely weary the reader. For today’s MONDAY MORNING WRITING PROMPT  I invite you to write a short poem or essay based on one (or more) of your favorite novels and post a link in the comment section of this post. Thank you!

Wordsmith Wednesday–A Love Affair with Words

I’m in love with verbs. Properly chosen, a verb can replace adjectives and add life to your manuscript. Here’s a suggestion for editing: Do a word search for boring, passive verbs–variations of to be, to have–you get the idea. Evaluate adjectives and adverbs. Is there a verb that will better create the desired effect and inject a shot of life into your work?

I’ll give you an example from “Winter is Past.” Claire, my protagonist, is with her donor, Kathryn, who’s receiving dialysis. I could have written:

I had memories of dialysis when I sat in a chair and chemicals cleaned my blood. There were lots of unpleasant side effects. I was waiting for a cadaver transplant.

While that sums up the scene, do you really have a sense of what Claire experienced? Here’s what I wrote, instead:

A flashback swamped me and I broke out in a sweat. Memories of hours bound to a recliner poured in: claret red blood cycling in and out of my body; chemicals dispensed by a machine that beeped and groaned; nausea, weakness, restless legs and insomnia; the thought that someone would have to die in order that I might live.

Now, let me show you how verb choices can enrich a poem:

Textures

About five-thirty

the morning of Friday before

day-light-saving-time,

light spills through blinds,

pools into discrete

silver puddles

at the foot of my bed.

Through the half-moon window

near the ceiling,

swatches of gray satin

unfurl across the sky.

Tears in the fabric

allow slices of blue to

peek through,

toss hope in my face.

In that shadowy space between

asleep and awake

ideas pelt my brain

so I can’t escape back into

my dream about the circus

where I rode barefoot,

standing on the rough coat

of a white mare.

I slip into awareness.

Cold smooth wood

greets my feet as I stand

and yawn.

My dog

shakes her silky fur, glares at

me for interrupting her dreams.

We stretch, enter the day,

touch life.

Writer beware. Don’t force it. If it’s stilted your writing will become cumbersome. He said, she said works fine most of the time. You don’t want to distract the reader’s by using words like retorted, exclaimed, insisted. Take a look at a scene or a poem with an eye for variations of verbs like to be, to have, to go and ask yourself if you have other choices that will liven up your writing.

(Note: this post is adapted from a previous post 3/10/10–but back then, nobody was reading my blog!)

Wordsmith Wednesday–Character Motivation

ink and pencil sketch of fictional character

Image via Wikipedia

Have you ever met someone who doesn’t seem to want to go anywhere in life? We might call these people lazy. A risk of retirement (as I’ve encountered among some people of my generation) is the failure to develop goals or interests they will pursue when their time is no longer dominated by the demands of the workplace. People who have no sense of direction in life can come across as b-o-r-i-n-g. The same can be true of fictional characters we develop if they fail to show motivation. 

Have you ever set aside a novel or short story on account of a character who falls flat? Chances are, that’s because the author has not engaged you right off the bat by presenting a protagonist who has to face challenges in order to get something he or she wants. The driving force behind a character needs to show up early in the manuscript–I’d say within the first chapter at the latest. A novel that begins with lengthy description or back story is likely to be abandoned.

How do you, as a writer, define a character’s motivation? You should have a sense of a story arc, of the beginning and end of the novel (if not all the stuff in between). You want to see that the protagonist will have changed in some way by the end of the story. You want him to meet obstacles that he will face in order to obtain what he wants. So, ask yourself, What drives him forward?

Let’s consider some of the very basic character motivators:

  • Solving a mystery
  • Finding love
  • Avoiding death or pain
  • Saving the world
  • Overcoming a handicap or limitation
  • Achieving success
  • Growing up
  • and…you name it!

If you are unable to define your character’s motivation, perhaps you are not ready to write that novel. Be clear about the desires and needs that underlie his actions.

Don’t forget, it’s not only the protagonist who needs to have motivation. Consider this: if your hero is a detective and wants to catch the bad guy, what does that antagonist want? To avoid being caught? To get away with his crime? Maybe to kill the detective? Peoples motives conflict and that adds to the tension of the story.

Finally, when you are in the process of revising and editing your manuscript, ask yourself as you review each and every scene, How does this play into my characters’ motives? If you are unable to define the purpose of the scene with clarity, chances are you need to delete it. Or rewrite it to give it relevance in the context of the story.

By becoming aware of the play of motivation in your story and character development, you will have more success in creating a manuscript that moves the plot forward with characters who capture the attention of the reader. You will not be boring.

Wordsmith Wednesday–Setting and Description Revisited

As a writer of fiction and poetry, I believe part of my responsibility to the reader is to allow her to travel places she has never been or to revisit places that are familiar, thus evoking memories or heightening awareness.

Long descriptive paragraphs of setting may disenchant the reader of today who’s used to momentary flashes of multiple images across a screen within a few second. (Does this relate to the high incidence of attention deficit disorder in our culture?)

Above all, setting and the use of sensory description enriches the reader’s experience. One way to use this technique is to break up dialogue. Here’s a brief example from my novel, “Winter is Past”:

“I wonder how Michael’s handling it. Do you think I should I call him?” Josh asked me.

“Will it help?” Based on Kathryn’s assessment, I had my doubts.

Josh shook his head and fixed his eyes on a quail eating seeds he’d planted in the flower garden. “Maybe not, but I can try; I’ll call after we eat. Honey, why did Kathryn ask you to take her to her appointments instead of Michael?” Josh grabbed the meat with tongs, slid it onto a plate and headed back into the house.

Even more valuable, in my opinion, is the writer’s ability to convey emotion through setting. Consider this brief passage from “Winter is Past” as a means of eliciting fear, sadness and powerlessness:

I trotted after Kathryn who jogged along the brick path beside our house. My eye caught sight of a tiny wren, cowering in the dense foliage of a rambling juniper shrub. Overhead, a majestic red-tailed hawk circled, squawking a message of certain doom at the tiny bird. I felt tears well up in my eyes then turned my attention back to Kathryn who now disappeared through the redwood gate.

In a previous post, I described a practice I use off and on. In your writing journal, at the end of each day, describe 5-10 things you have noticed throughout the day. Return to these lists for ideas to supplement your own writing then return to a scene you have written in which you have “told” rather than “shown” an emotion. Try rewriting it using a bit of scenery or a background activity to elicit that same feeling. This is helpful to keep in mind when you are rewriting/revising your work as well.

Happy writing. Enjoy the process

Genre-Hopping

Sometimes I feel so unfocused. I write short stories, flash fiction, novels, essays, non-fiction articles and poetry. I blog. I read books and articles on all of these genres. I’ve published short fiction, poetry and articles in local publications. I feel like I want to do it all, but have to question myself: Is it better to concentrate on one area of expertise or is it okay to be like the hummingbirds in my garden that flit from one source of nectar to another?

Then there’s the whole question of genre within the field of fiction. It’s not always easy to neatly fold our work into a neat little package and give it a label. For example, Winter is Past. I’m inclined to call it literary fiction, or maybe commercial/mainstream. It contains elements of tragedy along with a love story that doesn’t follow the recipe for romance. My agent calls it inspirational fiction, but it seems too weighty for publishers who are looking for a work that is light-hearted, uplifting…although the underlying message is one of hope. The same applies to The Sin of His Father.  Again, I lean toward branding it literary fiction. Both novels seem to me to be character-driven but both also have a well-defined plots.

I think when it comes to choosing where to invest our writing time and energy it’s important to ask ourselves a few questions:

  • What is my purpose in life, in writing?
  • Am I looking to entertain, enlighten, teach, or a combination of these?
  • How important/necessary to me is it to make money? Do I rely on  my writing as a base of income?
  • Who is my targeted audience?
  • Do I want to go the traditional route for publishing, or will I self-publish?
  • Where do I want to be in five years? In ten?
  • How much time do I have to devote to my craft?
  • Where does my passion for writing lead me?

I’m asking these questions now, because soon I will be sending novel #2 out into the world. Where do I go from here? The economy being what it is, I could use a boost in cash flow. I’ve written some articles I could try to pedal. I’d love to publish some poetry and I feel the call to plunge into the world of  book-length non-fiction. This is the first time since I retired from nursing and dove into writing that I feel somewhat adrift, with no sense of what to pursue next. So I guess I would do well to sit with those questions and see where the creative Spirit leads me.

Can you help me by sharing your thoughts about this topic? Do any of you face the same issue? Do you have benchmarks that help you decide where to go next? Is it okay to be like my hummingbirds?