Monthly Archives: January 2011

From the Basement to The Attic: Remembering the Past and Creating the Future

Today a lot of people fix up their basements, but when I was younger most of the basements I entered were dingy and filled with memorabilia, broken appliances, file cabinets, tools, damaged furniture and dirt. It was a storage room for the past.

When we are writing, we have to go to the basements of our mind to retrieve stories, images, characters and settings. We might only use shards of recollections but nonetheless those bits of information are what make our stories unique.

What do you remember about your past that would help the future of one of your stories?

*What experiences do you remember? Can you use any one of those experiences when writing a scene? E.g. I recall being an overweight ten-year old in gymnastics. It was going to be my first time on the parallel bars and I was excited. I imagined myself flipping gracefully. I envisioned the other girls clapping and the instructor beaming with pride. Instead, I got a pat on the belly and a very rude comment from the instructor “You better lay off the snickers if you want to be good at this,” she said.
If I am writing a scene about disappointment, hurt feelings or embarrassment, I might pull up this memory to see what it evokes.

*What do you remember about your first crush? My first crush was on a boy who had his face painted like a clown. I was at a town festival. I was making my way to the leather tent because my father gave me money to buy a leather bracelet that had my name on it. (This was super special to me because I could never find my name on anything cool like barrettes, pencils, etc.) Just as I approached the tent the boy walked out of the adjacent one. My world stopped. Suddenly it wasn’t the bracelet I was thinking about any more. If I am writing a scene about a first crush, I revisit that moment.

*Do you remember an argument with a friend, a parent, a teacher?

*Think back to a day when you were happy, what was it that made you happy?

*Do you remember a time when you were injured?

*Who were the people of your neighborhood?

*What did the “popular kids” wear?

*What mistakes did you make? Did you ever skip school? Sneak a cigarette? Lie about where you were going?

*Where did you hang out?

*What was your first experience with death?

Grab a pen and paper and jot down ten things you remember from your past. (Mix and Match)
• 1. A person
• 2. An event
• 3. An experienced emotion
• 4. A destination
• 5. A situation
• 6. A lie (you told or were told)
• 7. A room
• 8. A piece of clothing
• 9. A scent
• 10. A conversation

Okay now it’s time to move on to attics. Think of the attic as where you are going. Yes you store things here too but they are to be used again. Take for example Holiday decorations, you have used them in the past but you have no idea what will be going on in your life the next time you bring them down so they are also part of your future.

The attic of our stories is the part where you tap into your hopes, dreams and predictions. The beginning of the story is the basement. The journey of the story is the attic.

*Where do you see yourself in ten years? (Can your character be pondering this same question?)

*What events can happen that will change the world? (Is your character a part of these events?)

*What are your worst fears? Can you create a scene that makes you confront these fears?

*What would be your dream come true?

*Who are people you may meet?

*What surprise would you love to receive?

Look at the above questions I listed and then review your answers from the first part of the exercise (Your past memories). Combine your past recollections with your future hopes to see how you might be inspired.

Take a look at any of your stories and try and pick out exact spots where you know you drew on the past (the basement). Do you remember a part of your story where you were stumped and had no idea how to move forward? Did you need to tap into your characters mind (attic) to see what their dreams, hopes, and desires were?

One of the things I find most fun when writing is the fact that I can create a past and a future. I have the ability to ensure the future for my character is exactly what I want it to be. I don’t have this same luxury in real life. In writing, everything could be certain if we choose it to be. If I want my character to become a law student, I could make that happen. I could also make her find the perfect mate, wear the best clothes, be given many awards and die peacefully in her bed.

In writing, there are basements and attics. The basement is where we have been and the attic is where we are heading. You can’t have a future if you never experienced a past. Use your life experiences when writing and you may find you create a future best seller.

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Not Everything Can Be Made Up When Writing Fiction

Writing fiction can be extraordinary fun. You get to create worlds, explore myths and dabble with creation. You can write about a Stratabear (completely made up) living on a cloud drinking raindrops while sprinkling rays of sunshine on unsuspecting guests. You can make this rare bear have a super long tail, cat like whiskers and tye-dyed eyes.

Yes, fiction can be fun but it is important to remember not everything should be made up if you want to be taken seriously as a writer. If you are writing about how the Stratabear only comes off of the cloud to feed his honeysuckle sucking habit, you cannot say that his favorite month to suck the sweet flower is December. Why not? Because, Honeysuckle does not grow in December. (If you want it to be December, you must come up with an explanation of why it is growing in December so if the reader questions this you have an answer ready)

You can have the most imaginative piece of work but if the facts are wrong, your highly fantastical tale may get dismissed.

When I began writing fiction, I thought every thing could be made up and nothing had to be checked. Thanks to several writing courses I learned that lack of research is a quick way to get your work dismissed.

Below is a list of things to think about when creating fiction.

• If you are writing a period piece, familiarize yourself with the era. Eg. What names were popular? What style of clothing was worn? What was going on in the world?
• If you mention a plant or flower make sure you are in the right month. (See above, Honeysuckle does not grow in December)
• If you mention a real town, make sure you know facts about that town such as the weather patterns, schools, landmarks etc.
• If you mention a famous piece of literature make sure you have read it and know who wrote it. (Imagine saying something like Stephanie loved Romeo and Juliet, it was one of her favorite stories by Hemingway) Something like this might get your manuscript tossed into a paper shredder
• If you are writing about a character with a specific occupation, be sure you know what that occupation entails.
• If you are writing about natural disasters, make sure you are in the right State. E.g. Pennsylvania is not known for large Earthquakes. It doesn’t mean that PA can never have an earthquake, but it does mean that the characters won’t be complaining that they are sick of living in PA because of the Earthquakes (Unless of course you make up a futuristic story that explains why all of the sudden PA suffers from frequent quakes).

I can go on and on but I think the point has been made. Writing fiction does not mean that you never have to research. Get your facts straight. Don’t jeopardize your career because you didn’t feel like doing the legwork.

Are you a fiction writer? What do you love about writing fiction?

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Thinking about Writing is Not Writing, but…

Too often, I find myself thinking about writing while driving, thinking about writing while working, thinking about writing while sitting on the couch which leads to me telling myself Hey Mar, thinking about writing is not writing.
Thinking about writing is not writing but it may be just as important. I have found that a lot of my best ideas came at my laziest of moments. There have been times where I sat down to write only to come up with nothing. I’d feel sorry for myself and decide that instead of wrestling with the emptiness of my mind, I’d go take a nap. Sure, the first few seconds I’d curse myself and call myself some unflattering names but then something almost magical would happen. As I lay there in a stupor a blink of an idea would flicker. A character I’d never met would introduce itself. A scenario I hadn’t imagined would dance across my thoughts and before I knew it, I was jumping off of the couch.
Why didn’t the ideas come to me while sitting in my writing chair? Why didn’t these characters say hello when my fingers were tapping the keyboard? Why didn’t the scenario shout to me when I was sitting there staring at a blank page?
I have come to the realization that our brains need rest and much like a baby sometimes they don’t act on command. It is easy to think about what you will write when you are not writing because nothing is expected of you in that moment. Your mind is free to roam. It’s not in the spotlight so to speak therefore it is filtering out junk without you even realizing.
I think I figured it out. We have to trick our minds into thinking we are not going to write. We have to play reverse psychology with our own psyches.
If you make mental notes when you are thinking about writing, you might find a plethora of material waiting for you when you sit down to actually write.

Do you think about writing more than you write?
Where are some places you find yourself thinking about writing?
Do you agree that once you walk away from writing that your mind fills with great writing material?

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Filed under audience, character, character building, constructing, creating, dreaming, editing, emotions, Fiction, Inspirational, life, meme, middle grade fiction, random, routine, stories, story writing, Style, writer's life, writers, writing, Writing, Young Adult