Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category
I recently just re-joined the CH Percolators, a yahoo free-writing group that provides weekly prompts and a place for writers to share their free-writing creations. It’s a lovely community full of supportive people, and this is my first contribution, based on the prompt “I got sidetracked.”
The man stood outside the door and hesitated. He looked down at his sandaled feet, at the sand and dirt he could see beneath his toe nails, between his toes. He could feel the dirt beneath his feet as well. He’d been walking for so long, and it was such a clean-looking house.
Perhaps this was a bad idea.
He reached his arm out before he could change his mind. Knock knock. On the other side of the door came a rustling sound, then footsteps. Too late now. In a few more seconds the door creaked open.
The woman stared at him with such a blank look on her face that he thought maybe, maybe she’d forgotten. But then she spoke. “How long has it been?” Her voice was the same, but its tone had changed. It wasn’t soft and lilting and full of affection now. It was as blank as the look on her face.
The man glanced briefly down at his feet again, to think, to remember, or maybe just to avoid that look. “Three, four years?” he answered finally. “I dunno, really.” He looked up at her. “You cut your hair.”
Somehow he’d expected to see the transformation on her face, a slow shift from indifference to quiet, seething anger. “You left. You left.”
He looked away again. “I got sidetracked.”
A bark of incredulous laughter made him jump. He’d never heard her laugh in that dark, humorless way before. “That’s an understatement, isn’t it?”
When he met her eyes there was something even worse than the indifference and the anger. When he met her eyes this time he saw pain. “I’m sorry,” he ventured, hoping it would take that pain away, replace it with anger again, something. Instead she began to cry. This was a bad idea.
“Will you stay?” she asked when the tears had somewhat subsided, and it was a question that he’d hoped he would never hear. He remained silent as he watched her, hoping it would be answer enough.
And it was. She took in a sharp, trembling breath. “Please,” she croaked as she stepped back, “don’t ever come back.” The door swung shut.
This is a piece of advice that writers get quite often, from books, teachers, other writers. It’s nothing new. But sometimes, I’ve found, we tend to forget this very fundamental tool at our disposal.
To me, one of the great things about being a writer is that you notice things others don’t. As a writer, mundane details such as the coffee stain on a desk or the beauty mark underneath someone’s eye become richer, fuller, bursting with potential. And that’s always been the beauty of writing. It opens up the world.
So I see the coffee stain and imagine the trigger than must have caused such carelessness, or I think to myself that this person with this beauty mark would make a great side character. And then, as everyday life gets in the way and pushes more and more details in my direction, each more distracting than the one before it, I forget about the coffee stain and the beauty mark, and that story, those characters, are lost forever.
If only I had written it down.
These days I carry a composition notebook with me everywhere and jot down quick impressions as I ride on the bus or sit down at a table for lunch. The world is a treasure trove of ideas. No lie.
“But what do I take notes of? When will I ever use these notes?” you may ask. There’s no way of telling, for either of those questions. But I would suggest taking notes on absolutely everything that you find interesting. The professor whose mouth froths at the corner with spit as he lectures energetically in front of a class, the rows and rows of old photos on a restaurant’s wall, the cat who hops onto your balcony every night at 8 like clockwork. You may not have any use for it now, but maybe one day, when you’re in need of ideas, you can flip through your pages of notes and find interesting characters, settings, and situations in them.
I found no less than ten snippets of notes from my 2006 notebook that I’ll be turning into story bits for NaNoWriMo.
Remember: the more detailed your notes are, the more vivid and real you’ll be able to make your writing. So don’t skimp on the details. I find that labeling your notes with a header (CHARACTER, or SETTING, or IDEA) helps when trying to find things to fill one’s story. Another thing to keep in mind is that your notes don’t have to be accurate. Many people get caught up in finding just the right word to describe something they see faithfully, instead of writing down what the situation could be about. Use your imagination in your note-taking. A woman is crying on the bus. Is that all you write? No. You should write why she’s crying. You should write what happens when she gets off the bus.
Challenge: Next time you’re in a public place, take notes on everything that interests you, gathering as much detail as possible. Then go home and try to compose a short story or snippet using your notes. (I’d also love it if you shared what you came up with!)
I find that the best of my first drafts and free writes are inspired by songs that strike a chord inside me. I once wrote a short-short story inspired by an epic Vietnamese song about a wife who sits on a cliff overlooking the sea with her baby and waits, and waits, and waits for her husband to come home from war. Eventually, she waits for so long that she turns to stone. There is a boulder in Vietnam somewhere that actually does look like a woman, cradling a baby, looking out into the sea.
I can’t say it’s the best thing ever, though it is one of the few pieces that I’m very proud of.
Here’s the piece in its entirety:
My memories of Vietnam are not of the war.Â Instead, they are of hot, narrow, gravelly neighborhood streets flanked by open-doored, just-as-narrow houses; of dust-clouded intersections where cars knit chaotically past one another like crayfish in a tank on market day; of sleepy afternoons swinging pendulum-like on a hammock; of freshly-made pho and ice cream drizzled with sweetened condensed milk in crunchy, air-filled buns that melt in your mouth.
But the novel I’m writing won’t be about my memories, though hopefully I can still put theÂ part of myself that loves Vietnam and thinks it’s beautiful into the piece. It’ll be about the Vietnam War.
The Vietnam War was a major historical event that has been written about probably a hundred, a thousand times over.Â Still, for years now, I’ve wanted to write a novel about the war and the people that it affected–people who lived and loved and created memories in Vietnam that must be even more vivid and wonderful than that of my four-year old self are. (more…)
Inspired by my DW writing buddies to explore the wealth of inspiration that writing books provide, I bought a book.Â It’s by Roy Peter Clark, and it’s called Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer.Â Â I picked it because it received good reviews on Amazon and because its four sections have great headers: Nuts and Bolts, Special Effects, Blueprints, and Useful Habits.
I’m more than 2/3 in, and I agree with the good reviews.Â I really do like the overall organization of the book, though, as with any book that attempts as grand a task as teaching people how to write better, there are bound to be some things that one already knows.Â Even for the seasoned writer (which I’m not, by the way) this book will probably offer some insight into the craft of writing, or inspire inspiration for starting new projects. (more…)