Think of your favorite childhood stories. How many include a pet or other animal who is integral to the plot? You might be surprised at the answer.
First of all, I use the term "pet" in broad terms. There are magical creatures, domestic pets, animals that are hunted, farmed, and tamed. There are animals that transform into people, animals that turn on people, and animals who will die for people.
Although there are numerous stories that feature animals as central characters, I want to focus on those who work alongside a main character. In some cases, I will highlight a story with "talking" animals. You will have your favorites, and I'd love to hear about them. Please share in the comments section your beloved animal adventures.
Here are a few great books to study:
Magical Creatures: Think Hedgwig in the Harry Potter stories and all the other messenger animals. Of course, there is Hagrid's slobbering dog Fang and Norbert the Dragon. Visit this wiki page for some fun exploring all of the HP creatures.
Domestic pets: I date myself with this story, but IT'S LIKE THIS CAT is a great example of how to use a simple house cat as a plot device. When teenager Dave brings home a cat to his dysfunctional family, life changes for the better.
The hunted: Herman Melville created the most famous man v. beast battle ever in his classic, MOBY DICK. Humble fisherman Ishmael finds himself in the middle of a vengeful battle between the egotistical Captain Ahab and the great whale.
Farm animals: Many of us will think of George Orwell's political satire, ANIMAL FARM. However, this story features animals as humans--an entirely different blog topic! A more useful study would be EB White's CHARLOTTE'S WEB. Each critter carries his own human foibles and conflicts. I think it's one of the best animal-human relationships in literature.
Heroic animals: One of my favorites is Buck in Jack London's CALL OF THE WILD. This is a great story to study if you want to create a pet or farm animal who exemplifies the greatest good within human and animal nature.
The Loyal: LASSIE is perhaps the most beloved classic pet who would warn his family and neighbors when danger was a foot.
The Tragic: I still feel a pang when I hear someone mention WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS, OLD YELLER, or SOUNDER. These stories feature a dog who meets a tragic end. The stories serve to connect readers to deep emotions as characters make difficult decisions.
Comic relief: There is Toto from THE WIZARD OF OZ who serves as Dorothy's companion and who warns her of danger.
Animals can move your plot forward, relieve tension, highlight character traits, and help readers connect to your story. How do you use pets or other animals in your stories? Please share!
Every writer working on a story can tell you about the time she woke at 3AM with the key to fixing a failing plot. Or maybe it was a brand new story idea that interrupted a peaceful slumber. Perhaps, it was just before sleep took over, and he was distracted with that scene in chapter whatever about the guy and that situation...
Whatever it may be, a writer's mind thrives when it's quiet, and it's no quieter than the middle of the night.
If you want to tap into the midnight creative juice pool, take the time to quiet your mind.
As we are sensory input and output machines, there are a variety of ways to discover your inner peace. Here are my two favorites.
Tune Out. Do your best to create a silent world around you. Buy some inexpensive squishy earplugs used to drown out snoring partners or spend more money on sound-reducing headphones. If they sound of your own breathing is too much. Plug yourself into the music of someone like LIQUID MIND.
Black Out. I'm not suggesting typing with a blindfold--but if you can do that, try it! At the very least, place yourself in a space with no art work, no windows to the outside world, and no Internet. Rid your outer mind of external visuals and fall deep within your own imagination. Remember when you were little, and you would hide under your bedcovers to read or draw? Recreate that child's world if you can.
Try both of these suggestions for a week or more and share your results. Is your writing any better? Any easier? Any different at all?
Sometimes, we need sensory input. If you are seeking that help, try these previous blogs:
Employing the senses
Oscar Wilde said: Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.
It's true, and that's why writers could gain much from reading the newspaper. You can't make up some of the real stories that happen every day outside our windows.
How about the tourist who took her Uber driver sightseeing because she had no one else? Fortunately, it's a heartwarming story, but imagine how it might have come to a ghastly end? Or perhaps they'd fall in love. So many possibilities.
Whether you want some writing practice or you need to infuse your story with new energy, the newspaper will not let you down.
Even ads can offer unique plot twists. Take the old one to the right. What if your MC stumbled across this vintage car at a salvage lot, bought it for a couple hundred dollars with the intention of restoring it but discovered something in the trunk: a body, a fortune, a bundle of letters, a map...
If you're looking for fresh ideas, consider these three ways the news can brighten your story.
1. Discover a new character. Flip to a random page and read the top story. Who's it about? What makes them interesting? What might they not be telling us? If there's a photo, even better. There's no better place to find real characters than in real life.
2. Create a plot twist. Take a story from the front page, add a weather forecast that would have created a real disaster. Maybe it's a presidential debate amidst a snowstorm. What happens when no one shows? Perhaps it's a fast food chain that shuts its doors for a safety training, but it's a heatwave, and people are thirsty. Will they open doors?
3. Update your setting. Turn to the Style section for inspiration on homes, landscapes, or modern neighborhoods. Then flip to the home sale pages and mash up a neighborhood with million dollar homes that can't sell.
What's happening to your MC right now? Look up tomorrow's weather forecast in Minnesota or take a quote from Peyton Manning after today's victory. How can use these news events to liven up your story?
I hope these ideas help. Please share your experiences or other creative uses of the news.
This past week, my students explored the wonderful use of personification in their writing. When not overused, this form of figurative language can enliven tired writing. The trick is knowing when to employ it.
December has been a month of writing exercises. We've written about who we are not and--with the assistance of Kobe Bryant--taken time to say goodbye to something in our lives.
This week, let's play around with personification (attribution of a personal quality or human characteristic to something nonhuman; representation of an abstract quality in human form).
As soon as my new crop of young writers turn in their permission to be published forms, I'll share their clever lines. In the meantime, it's your turn to try.
Before you tackle the usage in a current piece of writing, practice. Our parents and coaches told us "practice makes perfect," and they were right. Nearly. Practice makes the game easier. Perfection is a whole other story.
1. Have a seat in your favorite writing space with your favorite writing tools (pen and paper work well for this exercise).
2. Create a T-chart on your paper (or simply draw a dividing line down the middle).
3. Look around the room and select one object that's not alive (a book, clock, floor tile, painting, curtain, chair...).
4. Record that object at the top of one side of your T-chart.
5. Beneath it, list the item's traits and/or actions (one per line). For example, if you choose a clock, you might list: face, hands, quiet, numbers, glass, ticks, tocks, hangs.
6. On the other side of the T-chart, list human traits and actions--again, one per line. It helps to think of one person when you do this. For example, using myself, I might write: laugh, stand, cry, listen, ponder.
7. Now, consider the two lists, and find a trait from each side that complement each other. In my examples, I might pair face and ponder: The quiet clock listens to the children's conversation.
Some examples to get you started:
The tired leaves dropped to the ground.
The empty paged mocked me.
The angry sea tossed the boat.
Still stuck or want a challenge? Study the picture above and write your best personified line. Share it below.
Considering sharing your personification practice or other writing tips with us.
When I joined the NaNoWriMo crowd 23 days ago, I had little hope of achieving the 50,000-word count by the end of the month. As of today, I've written 36,099 words. No rounding; every word counts.
That's why I'm not going to spend too much time writing my blog today. I need to get back to my novel.
First, three things I've learned about goal-setting.
1. Setting a daily word-count goal gives you a visual target. Your inner writing-ego won't let you leave the project if you don't achieve that number.
2. Setting a daily word-count goal pushes your creativity into a corner that you must escape from. This requires more creativity. If you think the chapter's finished, but it's under your word-goal, how about beefing up that description of your protag's jacket or the sound of the rain or make it rain.
3. Setting a daily word-count goal exercises your writing muscles. It's like taking up running. At first, your goal is to get around the block. After a few days, you up to two blocks. Before you know it, you're jogging across town and back. Set reasonable goals then push yourself a little more each day. (Warning: don't set a goal so high that writing becomes a chore. Keep it fun.)
Want more inspiration? Try these articles from the experts at NaNoWriMo:
Tackling the saggy middle.
Putting the fun into your story.
If you're writing, good luck. Have fun. You can do this!
The turn of weather is a great time to take your writing through a poetic carwash. Fall is my absolute favorite season, and I love the poetry inspired by the leaves' changing colors, the biting cold that whips through my hair, and the dulling sun in the late afternoon sky.
Take a moment to visit these sites, read some verse, and give your writing a seasonal lift.
Here are my go-to sites and a few seasonal writings that offer dimensional imagery and language to my writing.
1. The Poetry Foundation
Grace Paley's Autumn.
2. Academy of American Poets
Noah Falck's from "You are in Nearly Every Future"
3. The Poem Hunter
John Keats' Ode to Autumn (I recommend you mute the computer-generated narration)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning's The Autumn
If you are participating in NaNoWriMo and need an infusion of color and life or if you simply wish to take in the beauty of this season, discover again the color of poetry and let it drench your prose with folly.
Share your whimsy here. Do you have a favorite verse or site you like? I'd love to know.
Every writer experiences a block on occasion, a point in your writing where you just aren't sure where to go next. I've written before about how to unblock a creative stall. Sometimes it's about the plot, but sometimes it's about the character.
Unstick your writing with a little drawing.
If you've distanced yourself from your character, you might need time to see her more clearly.
Sketching characters, making maps of settings, and practicing dialogue out loud are not new tricks for writers. You simply need to find the one that works best for you.
Try it. Grab a sketchpad or sheet of paper, pencil or pen, and sketch your character. Try to capture her root emotions, her angst, her concern, her hopes, fears, and dreams. Draw her high school graduation picture or her face in the mirror when she wakes up. Create a series of portraits.
Once you've got her, ask a friend or stranger to tell you what they see. What emotions does the image evoke? If they see things you didn't intend, consider why they're visible in what you drew. If you meant her to appear scared, but the stranger sees anger, maybe that's her root emotion. Work from there. Why might she be angry?
Drawing your character brings her to life. Set her next to you as you write and see what else she has to say about her journey through your story.
Share your drawings and thoughts with us.