Showing posts with label Jan Christensen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jan Christensen. Show all posts

09 May 2020

You Know More Than You Think You Do


Beach, Relax, Chair, Umbrella, Ocean
Pixabay
I’m taking a break from the Coronavirus news and trying to write more than I usually do every day. I live in Corpus Christi, Texas, where there are lots and lots of sandy beaches. There’s more than one bay beach between the city and Port Aransas and North Padre Island. We’re near Oso Bay. We often drive on a causeway over the Laguna Madre to North Padre Island to get to Port Aransas and drive on the thirteen-mile beach and maybe stop for a meal.
Obviously we like to go to the beach. They were all open for Spring Break. Breakers come from San Antonio, Austin, and as far away as the Dallas/Fort Worth area and even from Minnesota and other states way up north. We don’t go to the beach when the kids are here. Traffic is horrific.

Then they closed all the beaches for a few weeks, and now they’re open again with restrictions. We’ve stayed home, and so I have more time and inclination to write.

We used to own an RV lot in Port Aransas and usually parked there for a good part of the winter. We loved to walk over a boardwalk to the beach.

Then we sold the lot and our motorhome and moved into a “stick” house again. I’m writing more than I did when we traveled everywhere, but not as much as I am now.

So, I came up with this, and hope you find it helpful:

There’s an old adage about writing that is often given as a rule to new writers. The quote states, “Write what you know.”

I’m not here to argue that that’s bad or incorrect advice. I’m here to argue that you know a lot more than you think you do.

It’s implied by that statement that you should only write about what you know firsthand. For example, if you’re going to write about New York City, you should have lived there, or at least visited it. If you’re going to write about sailing a ship, you should have done so many times. And if you’re going to write about a crabby old man, you’d better be one.

Wait. That can’t be right. No, it means that you know enough about NYC by hearsay and researching to do a credible job writing about it. That you know a veteran sailor and can ask him to review what you’ve written for accuracy. And your uncle on your mother’s side (not saying which uncle) was a walking, talking human crab, and you can mimic him extraordinarily well  in your written opus.

If the advice were taken literally, no one could write a story. Writing about a woman, but you’re a man—can’t do it. Writing about a murderer—can’t do it unless you’ve murdered someone. Writing about the War of 1812—not unless you lived there and have come back from the dead or are a time traveler. This also, of course, rules out writing about zombies. Right?

Writers really do write about what they know. They start with certain knowledge, and then they let their imagination take off and carry them to different places, to meet different people, and to make up different situations to create a story. That’s what stories are, after all. They’re made up.

I personally know several men who write brilliantly in women’s points of view. I know other writers who can describe places they’ve never been better than I can, and I’ve been there. Others can spin a yarn that takes your breath away, made out of nothing, it seems. But all these writers are expert at one thing. Observation. The ones who write terrific characters have a great empathy and understanding of human nature. Those who do so well with descriptions have an artist’s eye and can translate what they see, either in real life, in a photo or canvas, or in their own imagination, onto the page. And those who can plot have observed life as a story unfolding before then, have probably read extensively, and learned the mechanics of plotting.

This means if you are determined enough, you can write anything your imagination comes up with and do an excellent job of making it come alive on the page and so believable that your readers can’t put the story down until they’re finished.

This means you can write anything at all, from children’s stories, to young adult stories, to romances, to fantasy, to science fiction, to mysteries, to horror, to suspense, to thrillers, to literary, or any of their subgenres, or make up a genre all your own.

This means you can write for audiences who are younger than six to over one hundred and six years of age. It wouldn’t hurt to read a few books in the genre you want to write in, and to read books in the age range you’re interested in.

So, don’t let the phrase, “write what you know” stop you. Write about what interests you. If you’re unsure about anything you’re written, after some good research, ask someone who knows all about it to read that part of the story, or the whole thing. Read the children’s book to a six-year old. Ask your grandmother to read the one about the “old lady bridge club murders.” Ask a police officer to take a look at the murder scene you’ve written for accuracy. But first, you have to get it written down. Then you can get it vetted by those who know more than you do.

And sure, gloss over what you’re not positive about if it won’t hurt the story. The story is everything. The “known” details give it veracity. Start with something you know. Then let your imagination fly.

Just as I’d love to fly my kite again on the beach. Instead, for a while, it will be my fingers flying over the keyboard to keep me amused and out of trouble.

Stay safe everyone.

Green Coconut Trees Near Body of Water
Pixabay



Writer of short stories (over 70 published), mystery novels (11 published) and non-fiction. Passionate about time management, personal organization, and writing of any kind. Check out my website for more info: www.JanChristensen.com and sign up for my newsletter there.

11 April 2020

First Thoughts about Writing a Story


Last Saturday, John Floyd talked about how he starts writing a new story. A very interesting post. Check it out if you missed it.

John said he usually starts with a plot.

I’m different. I usually start with a character, then fix on a setting, and finally decide on the inciting incident which often includes a crime. I never outline but simply start a story and keep writing most every day to finish it. If I do get stuck, I make a list of what could happen next, pick what I think is the best situation, and continue writing.

I think there are two reasons it’s so much easier for me than other writers to not plot. First is to read. A lot. Stephen King says we should read the same amount of time every day as we spend writing. Sounds about right to me. But I started reading early (with Nancy Drew—I’m a cliché!), and average two books a week, and have for years and years and years. I know there have to be terrific authors out there who do not read much. But if you are struggling, I suggest you read more in your genre to get a feel for how good writers do it. And maybe get some insight into why you consider some writers amateurish and not be that way yourself.

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression (Second Edition) (Writers Helping Writers Series Book 1) by [Becca Puglisi, Angela Ackerman]
For some reason I am highly focused. You can even interrupt me when I’m writing, and I will get right back to where I was and continue on when you leave me alone. How do I do that? I SEE in my mind’s eye the setting and what’s happening. I HEAR what the characters say and how they say it. And I FEEL their emotions as I write about them. I even find myself making faces, which I can use for dialogue tags. But the seeing and hearing are the most important things. Because I’m THERE, when I get back to writing, I can continue with little trouble. If you “see” everything, you will prevent mistakes such as having someone sitting and a while later, standing without showing it happening. You can imagine the gestures the characters are making and use them to make tags. You can describe the setting the same way every time you need to mention a table or a chair.

So, it’s all a snap for me, right? Of course not. I have other problems. The first and worst is character names. I wish I had all the time back spent messing with them. For a novel, I average about five or six name changes. Thank goodness for Find and Replace in Word although that can be both amusing and frustrating. For my current work, I decided to change a character’s name from Slack to Novak. I forgot how many characters wore slacks. This is about a 75,000 word novel. My fear is that I haven’t corrected all of them because you can’t totally depend on Replace to work correctly. I can only hope my beta readers find any of my characters wearing Novaks. Then I changed Mark to Aaron, and there was Maker’s Aaron instead of Mark. <sigh>

I learned early to make a list of characters in a chart that can alphabetize rows. First and last names each receive their own rows, and I also have ones for age, car, and description and other details I need to remember. So, as soon as I have several names, I alphabetize them by first name, try to have others with a different first letter, then do the same with the surnames. When writing series, these are really handy to look back at when I forget a minor character’s name or description, age, or make of car.

Because I am more interested in characters than the actual plot and setting, I have a lot of dialogue and people’s reactions to what’s going on. I find myself repeating certain reactions. Each novel seems to generate it’s own particular reaction. The last one was “shrugged.” This one has too many folks gasping. Fortunately, I own a terrific book called THE EMOTION THESAURAS—A writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. They have a whole series of books like this one, but for me, this is the most useful. Pick any emotion, go to the index, and choose things like anxiety, denial, happiness, surprise (gasp), and so forth.

That’s not all. I sometimes put in characters that in the end do not add much or anything to the plot, so I have to kill them off. And sometimes I leave stuff out that needs to be there and it can be difficult to find a place to impart the information needed during edits. I might even have to add a character or two.

Each story is different, so of course, each one has its own idiosyncrasies and needed fixes. For some reason, I don’t hate editing like a lot of authors do. Which is a good thing. My average is about five passes for novels and sometimes even more for short stories because every detail in those needs to work extra hard.

All that said, I do pay a lot of attention to plot. I try to have interesting starts and finishes to each chapter and to the story as a whole. I enjoy making up twists and unusual situations. But for me, the characters drive the plot. They act and react. I need to put some hard or uncomfortable situations in front of them and see how they handle them.

Who else usually comes up with a character? I suspect it’s probably a tie between character and plot coming first, with setting coming in last. But if you choose setting first, I’d love to hear how that works for you. 

I hope everyone is doing okay staying inside most of the time and maybe getting lots of writing and reading done. I certainly am. Take care!