Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Inspired By True Events

By April Moore

While doing research for my historical nonfiction, I spent a great deal of time going through old newspaper articles. Oftentimes, I found myself veering off the path, lured by the strange and fascinating tales depicted in these bygone newspapers.

Some made me want to conduct another stream of research just to find out what happened to them, such as the woman who fainted in a department store, not from “lack of food,” as originally thought by police, but because her husband deserted her. Or what did the store clerk of Henry’s Dry Goods do after he walked away from his job and was never heard from again?

Old newspapers are filled with snippets of a person’s life and provide excellent fodder for writers. We're left wondering, What happened to this person? What led him to this point? What happened next? As writers, we can pick up where history left off. These can inspire:

  • Characters (protagonists, antagonists, secondary)
  • Dialog exchanges
  • Settings
  • Plot & story ideas
  • Flash fiction pieces


Resources:

For those writing historical fiction, old newspapers could provide those slivers of inspiration, but what about novels set in present day? We can still garner plot ideas and character sketches from modern newspapers, but we often find out what happens to them.

Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York, brings his Facebook readers a glance into the lives of random people he encounters on the streets of NYC. Accompanying the photo is usually a quote from the photo’s subject. This photographic peek is often the first and last glimpse we get of these individuals and I’m sometimes left wondering about their lives. Stanton’s bestselling book by the same title, is also great to have on your shelf for when you need some character inspiration.

If you want your characters to feel like real people, why not start with real folks?

Have you ever been inspired by true events or real people when writing ?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Neil, Himself

Post by Jenny

There is big news in the book world around here. Apparently, the good folks at local bookseller Old Firehouse Books lost their collective mind, kidnapped author extraordinaire Neil Gaiman from a Waco, Texas pet store where he was looking for a fortune-telling macaw, and will somehow compel him to perform a one-man-circus-tightrope-walking-and-free-tax-consultation-show in Old Town Square.

On second thought, most of the above paragraph must be from a dream I had last night (a/k/a The Wrath of the Tofu Enchilada). But the best part is true: Neil Gaiman is coming to Fort Collins. Old Firehouse Books won a contest by selling the most copies of Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane late last year, and he will be at the bookstore on February 6 selling and signing his new story collection, Trigger Warning

Way to go, Old Firehouse Books and Fort Collins book buyers!

If you’re scratching your head because you think you’ve never heard of Neil Gaiman, I’ll wager that you are familiar with at least some of his work, which is voluminous and genre-spanning. The Sandman graphic novel series. Anansi Boys. The Chu picture books. Coraline. The Graveyard Book. The film Stardust (based on his book of the same name). Scores and scores of short stories, essays, and poems. He has won so many awards that they probably now come pre-engraved with his name. And if all that weren’t enough, @neilhimself has 2.15 million followers on twitter.

I like some of Mr. Gaiman’s work very much. Some of it, honestly, is not at all my cup of Twinings. (I have the nervous system of a fainting goat and assume I'm the kind of reader for whom the title Trigger Warning was chosen.) But mostly, I am in awe. The scope of his imagination—from the lofty soar of angel wings to the darkest depths where nasty things creep and crawl—impresses and unsettles me. Drawing from the timeless and bottomless wells of myth, magic, and mayhem, he is truly a storyteller for the ages. Sometimes, I think I might know what it means to be a writer. But when I consider Neil Gaiman, I realize that I have no idea what it means to build a life out of words.

Find out about the Old Firehouse event here. If you can’t make that one, Mr. Gaiman will also lecture in Denver on May 19, as part of the Denver Post’s Pen and Podium series.


What have you read by Neil Gaiman?

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Power of Story to Convey Truth

by Kelly

Recently my mom was bragging on me (I love my mom. She would brag on me if I was sitting at home eating Pringles every day). She was sharing the news with a group of friends that I have a book coming out in March (Miss You Once Again by Hot Chocolate Press). Almost everyone was polite and congratulatory, but there’s always That One.

That One: Is her book non-fiction?

Mom: No, it’s fiction.

That One: Oh, fiction? You mean just like a made up story?
                 Subtext: Not important, real information you mean? 
                               Just silly, imaginary stuff?

I have noticed a bit of snobbery among certain types (like That One) to classify fiction as several ticks below non-fiction on the writing hierarchy. The underlying assumption seems to be that information, vision, truth can only be expressed in a didactic, non-fiction manner.

Maybe that’s true for some folks (and listen, I’m not going to pick up a fictional story on landscaping, financial savings, or how to self-edit. Non-fiction is important, helpful, and beautiful, especially when it solves that thing that you were wondering about or teaches you about a specific interest or event).

HOWEVER ...

The deeper parts of me, my heart and soul have been more inspired, challenged, and enriched by story than most non-fiction I’ve ever read.

For example, mamas can tell their kids all day long, “don’t lie” but the fable of the The Boy Who Cried Wolf imprints itself a whole lot stronger on a child’s consciousness than an exposition on a moral behavior.

Conversely, I learned all the horrible statistics of the Holocaust in history class, but the movie Schindler’s List impacted me more than a textbook ever did.

Lastly, when I worked in Kosovo with a humanitarian aid/missions group following the Yugoslav Wars, it was rich, beautiful or funny fiction books (Anna Karenina, The Bridge on the Drina, Bridget Jones’s Diary) that fed my soul. Not manuals on humanitarian work, Eastern European Culture and Ethnic Genocide.

Story has a way of getting to the very core of our being and sticking with us throughout our entire lifetime. That’s why we force high school kids to study the classics—educators recognize that the essence of humanity is in all that fiction.

It’s probably safe to say nothing I will ever write is destined to be a classic, but if I impart even a little truth or beauty, that’s good enough for me. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Conference Countdown: LeAnn Thieman

by Kerrie Flanagan

From now until the 10th Annual Northern Colorado Writers Conference starts on March 27th, I will be here every Thursday to share fun and interesting tidbits about the event and the people involved.

Today I am highlighting our wonderful keynote speaker, LeAnn Thieman. She lives here in our own backyard in Fort Collins, but is a nationally recognized and honored speaker and a best-selling author. In April of 1975 as Saigon was falling to the communists, LeAnn, an Iowa housewife and nurse at the time, temporarily left her ordinary life behind, to do something extraordinary. She headed directly into Vietnam and played a key role in safely bringing home 100 babies during Operation Babylift,



LeAnn was featured in Newsweek's Voices of the Century for her heroic efforts in getting these orphaned babies safely to the U.S.























You can read more about this amazing story in LeAnn's memoir, This Must Be My Brother and hear her speak at the conference. Visit her website to learn more about her: http://www.leannthieman.com/presentations/

The Northern Colorado Writers Conference is March 27-28 at the Fort Collins Hilton. Learn more at http://www.northerncoloradowriters.com/annual-conference-mainmenu-128/2015-conference


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Keeping A Writing Schedule With A Full House

by JC Lynne

The Beard is on vacation. I’ve noticed when the house if full of males on break, my daily routine goes off tilt. The challenge of working at home full time is maintaining a schedule. I’ve built time for house cleaning, grocery shopping, hitting the gym, and writing. The schedule is sacrosanct.

Appointments, meetings, and other events have to fit the schedule. I can’t view it as flexible except in emergency circumstances. Laundry is unending. Having all of these brains on cruise control interferes with my productive energy.

The holidays haven’t helped. It’s strange enough when clerks ask me if I’m ready for the weekend, all of the holiday hustle and bustle is leaving its mark on my time. I don’t measure time’s passing by the arrival of the weekend any longer. My day’s activities are my own. I have doctor’s appointments and errands, but I’m not pressed to be some place. I’ve avoided the frantic holiday panic because of it.

Having the Beard and the teenagers home creates obstacles and distraction to the smooth flow of my week. I know, I’m whining. I don’t need to tell you how much effort it takes to keep to a schedule. The Beard’s constant presence also disconcerts because we share an office. I adore my husband, but our working styles rest at opposite ends of the spectrum.

We both talk out loud. This isn’t a problem when the only audience I have is the Writing Staff, but the Beard feels compelled to reply. He swears a lot when he’s working. It’s startling and disruptive to my writing flow. In addition, he says things worthy of posting. He’s entertaining even when he’s not trying to be.

I click. Not me, my keyboard. The Beard purchased a fancy, naked and nearly silent keyboard for his
The Naked Keyboard for Geniuses
computer. Yes, naked. Zero labels. No letters, no numbers, no F keys….show off.

When he broached the subject of a new keyboard for me, I balked. I need the letters and I like the click. I learned to type in high school. A business class was required for graduation and to pass the class you had to score 75 wpm on the test. Big, humming Smith Corona Electras squatted on rows of desks like toads.
Those keys required pressure and clamored when the class hit the keys. I hated the class, the teacher, and typing, but those resounding clicks burrowed into my psyche.

The other thing about the Beard being off of work is he’s working on our stuff. Publishing research, media feeds, review requests, and anything else he can dig up. This leads to lists of things for me to do later. Can we work on your bio? This author did this, this author does that, what do I think of this? Add a progress bar to my blog so people know what my daily word count is? Yeah, right.

He’s taken to sitting on his Lazy Boy recliner and shouting things to me from the living room.

Apparently, the clicking irritates the Beard. Ha!

Feel free to date yourself....how many of you miss the rattle and hum of the typewriter?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Cliffhanging with the Borg

by Rich

One of the most memorable events I recall during my heavy television days is the third season finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Captain Picard had been kidnapped and transformed into Locutus of Borg. Back on the Enterprise, Commander Riker and the crew devised a plan which could potentially disable the Borg ship and save the captain. In the last few moments of the episode, as the tension built to an exploding point, Riker muttered "Fire" ...

And the screen went blank.

I literally screamed and pounded my fist on the table. Didn't the producers know fans across the world would count the stardates until the season premiere in September. Didn't they know we would speculate -- via pre-social media avenues like email, chat rooms and, gasp, telephone -- on what would happen to Picard and the Enterprise crew? Didn't they know they'd drive Trekkies and Trekkers insane?

Well, yes they did, for they incorporated a staple of movie serials decades before -- the cliffhanger. They weren't the first to do it, but they certainly caused a stir when they, pardon the pun, made it happen. And, perhaps, they didn't utilize the cliffhangers which kept kids returning to theaters each week. Perhaps they implemented the cliffhanger method thousands authors had used at the end of each chapter or short story.

What makes us humans special, besides our opposable thumbs and six toes, is our never-ending curiosity. We want to know what's going to happen to someone or something, even if it means waiting a few weeks, months, or years to find out. This is why J.K. Rowling was so successful with the Harry Potter series or viewers wait an infinite amount of time to find out what occurs on The Walking Dead or Mad Men.

Cliffhangers work extraordinarily well in most story genres to keep a reader's attention. They don't want the chapters to merge into one another. They want to gasp at the last sentence, contemplate what's going to happen, and be eager to read the next chapter then and there, keeping them up past their bedtime, or savor the moment for a later time.

The next time you put a book down because you're tired of all the tension and your rapid heartbeat, think of Locutus, the Borg, and the Enterprise crew. You'll come to realize palpable tension is worth it. As the Borg love to say ... resistance is futile.

Are you a fan of cliffhangers?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Biting the Dust and Chewing the Fat: A Word About Idioms

By Sarah Reichert


My daughter is learning about idioms in school. With new eyes on them, these expressions and figures of speech can range from all-out ridiculous to so overused that we rarely notice them. Keep your eyes open, I’m about to idiom all over the place.

The conversation with my daughter got the ball rolling and made me think about the idioms that pepper my own writing.  Writing coaches and how-to books tell you constantly to avoid these little chunks of language, and with good reason.  They dull your dialogues.  The reader's eye skips over them because they are too common as fixtures of language and culture.  In other words, they’re time and space wasters.

Now, I don’t want to steal someone’s thunder or throw the baby out with the bathwater because sometimes idioms can be useful.  Occasionally a specific phrase used in dialogue can denote or solidify where your character comes from.

‘That dog won’t hunt’ or someone not knowing ‘shit from Shinola’ (oh, and please excuse my French) are phrases one expects from a certain region or even generation. But unless it is something your character is at home saying, something that paints them in more vibrant colors to the reader, avoid them like the plague.  After all, do we really need to swing a cat in a room to see if it’s big enough to do so?

It’s hard to cull the herd of idioms in our language; to make our work more precise and original, but it is part of fighting the good fight.  When editing, ask yourself if the line is as concise as possible.  Ask if it’s the best possible way to say what you mean.  If it’s an obvious idiom, what could you use instead?  Does it contribute to the scene and charm of the moment, or distract from it?

So don’t beat around the bush or cry over spilt milk.  When the ball is in your court and your back to the drawing board, remember; although idioms can be a cloud with a rare silver lining, it is always better to hit the nail on the head and kick those overused phrases to the curb.

Now, if I can get the use of the Oxford comma right and stop double spacing after periods I may just level the playing field.  If its not one thing…its another.

What are some of your common (or favorite) over-used expressions?

Bonus question: How many idioms can you find in this blog?

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