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Thursday, August 6, 2015








Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Describing Fictional Characters

He was tall, at least six foot four, with a mop of sun-bleached hair and a Malibu tan. His dimpled cheeks flanked a perfect nose, and a six-pack of abs peeked  from his unbuttoned shirt. Wow, I thought, he must work out every day! 

This is too much character description. Does the reader need so many details that nothing is left for her mind’s eye to play with? When I read a book, I create my own pictures of the characters. Just give me the basics—gender, approximate age, and maybe one interesting detail. I will learn all I need to know about him later on through his words and actions; sometimes his inactions.

Here’s an example from the novel I’m writing. It describes one of my characters the first time the protagonist sees him.

One man entered the dining hall several minutes after the others left. His neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper beard marked him as older than the other tenants, and he wore a decent-looking jacket rather than overalls. He ate his breakfast quickly, and then carried his tableware into the kitchen with a polite nod to the two women as he passed their table.

Now I just need to finish writing the story. Then I will review what I’ve written, paying close attention to how I describe my characters, making them  lean as possible (unless they’re fat, of course).

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Name Game

Naming characters isn't easy, and yet the names we choose can make or break our stories. An oft-used example is Pansy, the saccharine name Margaret Mitchell almost gave her cunning, provocative heroine.

While I was writing Brute Heart, a novel set in Oregon, I found names for every one of my characters, major or minor, first name and last name, on a map of Oregon. I was amazed at the rich storehouse of names on that map--cities, towns, wide spots in the road, parks, counties, and countless topographical features. Some of the names I used were Riley (a small town), Dusty (Dusty Canyon), Cooper (Cooper Mountain), Jordan (Jordan Valley), Annie (Annie Springs), and Jude (Jude Lake).

Take a look at a map of your own state. If you don't find names for your characters there, get a detailed map of Oregon, a state that has a penchant for unusual names such as Boring, Shedd, Bakeoven, and Drain (all small towns).

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


My husband and I returned from Arizona with the worst colds we've ever had. I'm finding it difficult to whip up enthusiasm for the simplest chores, let alone get back to writing; therefore today's message is aimed at me and any writer with good intentions who's dragging his or her feet.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Stephen King's Top Ten Tips for Writers

In an earlier post I mentioned Stephen King's book On Writing as a favorite of mine. This month I'm listing (from that book) his top ten tips for writers. I think the only tip I follow with any regularity is # 9. I need to look at this list once in a while and pay more attention to the others.

1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience. “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”
2. Don’t use passive voice. “Timid writers like passive verbs for the same reason that timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe.”
3. Avoid adverbs. “The adverb is not your friend.”
4. Avoid adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said.”
5. But don’t obsess over perfect grammar. “The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story.”
6. The magic is in you. “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”
7. Read, read, read. ”If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”
8. Don’t worry about making other people happy. “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”
9. Turn off the TV. “TV—while working out or anywhere else—really is about the last thing an aspiring writer needs.”
10. You have three months. “The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”
                                              From On Writing by Stephen King

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Grandma's Apron

I took much of what follows from an e-mail I received. I would give credit to the person who wrote it if I knew who he/she was; although I did edit the piece and add to it. The subject was especially interesting to me, because the novel I'm in the process of writing is set in a time when aprons were an integral part of a woman's wardrobe.

The principle use of Grandma’s apron was to protect the dress worn underneath. She probably didn’t have many clothes in her closet, if she was even lucky enough to have a closet. Aprons also lightened her load when doing laundry since it was easier to wash an apron than a long-sleeved, full-skirted dress. In a pinch Grandma's apron served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven, or as a dust rag for the parlor table when she saw unexpected company coming up the road.

Aprons were wonderful for drying children's tears or cleaning dirty ears, and they made great hiding places for a shy child being introduced to a stranger.

When Grandma returned from the chicken coop, she carried eggs in her apron, fussy chicks, or half-hatched eggs to be finished in a box behind the stove. Walking from her garden to the house, she cradled  all sorts of vegetables in that apron, apples and peaches in the fall. After shelling the peas she picked, she used her apron to take the hulls to the compost pile. She also hauled wood chips and kindling in that apron.

Most young people have never seen an apron except in pictures. Grandma used hers to set the pies she baked on the window sill to cool. Today's housewives set the pies they buy at the supermarket on the counter to thaw. Obsessed with organic, today’s cooks would go crazy trying to figure out how many germs were on that apron.

I don't think I ever caught anything from Grandma’s apron, nor from the one my mother always wore; nothing, that is, except love.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Ira Glass on Storytelling

Below is a link to a series of four U-Tube videos on the subject of storytelling as explained by Ira Glass. He's referring to making videos or writing radio scripts, but his advice is good for anyone writing prose.