Category Archives: Writing
Its always a bit of a challenge to include all 5 senses in my writing. Personally, I am always heavy on sight and slacking in taste, scent, and sound. Even with that knowledge of myself, the senses still slip my mind when I’m writing.
All the Light We Cannot See has opened my ears in a way no other fiction has. One of the main characters is deaf, forcing the author, Anthony Doerr, to rely on the other senses for description. Instead of physical features to describe a character, Doerr describes the quality of their voice or their typical scent.
Read a few quotes from the book and then challenge yourself with the writing prompts below!
“Madame Ruelle, the baker’s wife–a pretty-voiced woman who smells mostly of yeast but also sometimes of face powder or the sweet perfume of sliced apples–…”
“They smell of stale bread, of stuffy living rooms crammed with dark titanic Breton furnishings.”
“The cross a seething thoroughfare, then go up an alley that smells like a muddy ditch.”
“Always there is the muted rattling of her father’s tools inside his rucksack and the distant and incessant honking of automobile horns.”
“From outside comes a light tinkling, fragments of glass, perhaps, falling into the streets. It sounds both beautiful and strange, as though gemstones were raining from the sky.”
“Marie-Laure hears the fsst of her father lighting another match.”
2) Write a few sentences including as many senses as possible. Sight. Sound. Smell. Touch. Taste.
With an ice cold glass of bitter lemonade freezing my hand, I close my eyes, sink into the cushioned lawn chair, and smell my neighbor’s freshly-washed bedsheets that look like ghosts unafraid of the sun.
I scrape the heels of my once-white tennis shoes along the pavement, sending echoes of clattering pebbles up and down the dark, rancid alley.
The musty closet smell that lingered around her like smoke didn’t help her olive-corduroy-and-faded-t-shirt look that alone made me want to gag on my first bite of grilled cheese.
As piano music drifted into the room from somewhere far, far away, he took in the shine of her lipgloss that tasted like cheery pie, the familiar scent of a perfume he would never know the name of, and ran his finger along the thin scar on her wrist.
2) Create a character description using NO visuals.
I kept my eyes focused on the book in my lap as I heard the whisper of swishing pant legs and the quiet crunch of shoes on gravel approaching. My bench gave a gentle jerk as the stranger sat on the bench back to back with mine. Deep, soft grunts accompanied the thud of a dropped bag on the ground and the sinking into the bench. The stench that followed sent a lump into my throat that I forced back down with a swallow. I held my breath until I was able to open my mouth again, refusing to breath through my nose. When I was in high school, my dad bought brussels sprouts in attempt to add variety to our diet; they sat in the back of the fridge for weeks until my friends and I decided to fill a pizza box with the most disgusting things we could find and leave it on a friends doorstep as we rang their bell and ran. The smell of the rotten brussels sprouts and the green face of my friend as she opened the pizza box has never left my mind. I have never smelled anything as horrid as those rotten brussels sprouts but the stranger who sat on the bench behind me came in a close second. As I continued to read my book, the smell became palpable; I began to breath through my nose again because the stench began settling on my tongue with a texture like honey. As the sun beat down on our shoulders, the stranger began to snore. Quick, growling snores that came irregularly and without warning. I slipped my book into my canvas bag and rose from the bench, trying and failing not to look over my shoulder as I walked away.
At the same time the screams started, demons whipped their hands around the ouija board. Tom was so terrified he didn’t realize the screams were coming from his girlfriend as her eyes filled with black blood.
I entered the above in a two-sentence scary story contest to win concert tickets from my local radio station. I didn’t win but I still wanted to share the story with you guys! I hope you had a spooky Halloween and…
You should be writing, not reading blogs! 😛
(Can the above count as 36 of my 50,000 words?)
This will be my first year participating in NaNoWritMo. As I am in the middle of writing my first novel, I am going to use NaNo to punch through to the end of it! I am not a fast writer. I’m constantly worried about getting the facts right, the plot and characters staying consistent and that slows me down, a lot. To get out of this groove, I have set up some rules for myself for Novemeber.
As a writer with an unrelated full-time job, finding time to write can be difficult. When I do sit down to write, its typically only for 2-3 hours. These rules will help me make more time to write than I usually do. A lot of time that I usually spend reading (like my hour-long lunch breaks) I plan to switch to writing time.
My Plan for NaNoWriMo:
- Finish the editing of my manuscript so far so I can move forward with confidence
- Do a little research on ideas
- Create “Facts” list on my story
- Write down vague plot plan/ideas
- Do not read any books
- Unless it is a writing book for prompts/ideas/advice
- Write no blog posts (although I do have a few saved up that I will post)
- Write every single day
- Even if its just 1 paragraph!
- Write every day after supper
- If I can’t, either wake up early to write or do so before I go to bed
- Write on my lunch breaks
- Weekends: wake up early to start writing
- If my novel plot has me stumped…
- Make a list of possible next moves
- Write an unrelated scene that might happen in the far future or a past scene I previously skipped
- If I get stuck, the quote poetry would be a good prompt
- No editing. Period.
- Resist going back to check facts of the story. If its not on my facts sheet, make a note and move on
- Keep moving forward!
I’m excited and a little nervous for NaNoWriMo. Because of my full-time job and my haunting quality as a slow writer, I’m not expecting to reach the 50,000-word goal. Instead, I have set up my own goals.
My Goals for NaNoWriMo:
- Finish the very-rough first draft of my novel
- Create a habit of spending more time writing
- Improve my ability to keep writing and letting go of the need to double check and edit my work so often
If I reach the 50,000 words that’s great! But I feel the goals above are more important than a word count and will be things I can carry with me past the month of November.
What’s your plan for NaNoWriMo?
Or are you completely winging it? 🙂
I am a writer, said Picasso. I make my own letters.
I love when a writer, in the midst of a novel, slips in a short chapter or section that although it is relevant to the story, it does not progress the plot in any way but is interesting and often poetic. These stand-alone chapters will have a unique structure, tone, point of view, or something else that sets it apart. They can be used to recapture a reader’s attention during a slow section of the plot or they can reinforce a theme.
Below I have transcribed one such chapter from Ben Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet. Another example of this type of mid-novel poetics is this paragraph from The Storm at the Door by Stephen Merrill Block. Although the topics are consistent with the larger piece, aspects such as the mood or the method of delivery stagger.
The Flame Alphabet is written in first person but as you can see below, this chapter doesn’t elude to a narrator (in first person or otherwise). We have no indication of our character finding or thinking about these quotes and none of the famous names mentioned in the chapter are relevant to the rest of the story. I believe this chapter is present to grow the theme of the book, to inform the reader that our narrator is not the first person to believe language is evil.
In his early writing, Thoreau called the alphabet the saddest song. Later in life he would renounce this position and say it produced only dissonant music.
Letters, Montaigne said, are a necessary evil.
But are they? asked Blake, years later. I shall write of the world without them.
I would grow mold on the language, said Pasteur. Except nothing can grow on that cold, dead surface.
Of words Teresa of Avila said, I did not live to erase them all.
They make me sick, said Luther. Yours and yours and yours. Even sometimes my own.
If it can be said, then I am not interested, wrote Schopenhauer.
When told to explain himself, a criminal in Arthur’s court simply pointed at the large embroidered alphabet that hung above the king.
Poets need a new instrument, said Shelley.
If I could take something from the world, said Nietzsche, and take with it event he memory of that thing, so that the world might carry on ever forward with not even the possibility that thing could exist again, it would be the language that sits rotting inside my mouth.
I am a writer, said Picasso. I make my own letters.
Shall I destroy this now, or shall I wait for you to leave the room, said his patron to Kadmos, the reputed inventor of the alphabet.
Kadmos is a fraud, said Wheaton. Said Nestor. Said William James.
Do not read this, warned Plutarch.
Do not read this, warned Cicero.
Do not read this, begged Ovid.
If you value your life.
Bleed a man, and with that vile release spell out his name in the sand, prescribed Hippocrates.
No alphabet but in things, said Williams.
Correction. No alphabet at all.
Earlier this week I was walking my dog when I crossed paths with a stranger on the sidewalk. It was one of those (awkward) moments when my dog was really determined to sniff a particular parcel of grass so I was standing stiff as the man approached me head on. Here’s what happened next:
At first, I thought he was bald but as he came closer I realized his blond hair was cropped very short. His freckles creeped all the way across the top of his head. Although his clothes were clean and neat, they looked well-worn and possible picked up from the Goodwill a few blocks away.
“Shitzu?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“She is thirteen years old,” I said proudly.
“Thirteen, really?” he said. “I would have guessed five or six.”
My dog, Ginger, deciding the new human was more interesting that particular parcel of grass, approached the man.
“May I pet her?” he squatted, revealing a shabby military surplus backpack slung over his shoulders as he held out the back of his hand to my 13-year-old dog I still consider a puppy.
“Uh, of course,” I mumbled, not immediately comprehending what he had asked.
My dog has never had much interest in strangers and even less in other dogs. When we pass neighborhood dogs on our walks, their owners reeling in their leashes as the dogs bark, growl and buck on their back legs trying to get a sniff of Ginger, she gives them a quick look of curiosity and continues walking forward. So after a quick sniff of this stranger’s hand, she continues walking down the sidewalk. The man stands as I begin to follow my leash.
“Have an excellent day,” he waves an open palm at waist height.
And that was that. But what if it wasn’t? What if my dog had instantly fallen in love with this guy and stayed to let him pet her? What would he have said next? What would I? Maybe we had a mutual friend or worked in different departments of the same large company. What if we discovered we lived on the same street and he invited me to a neighborhood BBQ he was having next week? The possibilities were endless and it made my mind spin like a child’s imagination when playing with an unlimited amount of Legos.
So, here is the writing prompt:Think of an interaction you had with a stranger (or keep this in mind for the next time you do) and continue the conversation beyond the point that it ended.
So here is what could have happened, backing up before the goodbye…
“She’s beautiful,” he said.
“Do you live around here?” Ginger leaned into his hand, digging deep below her ear.
“Yes,” I said, almost saying the specific street but deciding against it, “do you?”
“Not really,” he said. “I live a couple miles away but got off the bus early to walk. The bus was stuffy.”
“Mmm, I agree its too beautiful a day to waste.”
He looked up at me from his squatting position—I couldn’t believe my dog was staying with him so long—she rarely lets me scratch her ears this long. His smile was quiet and genuine, showing no teeth. “I’m Jamison,” he said, standing up.
“Weird,” I smiled as I shook his hand, “I’m Tequila.”
After such a quiet smile, his laugh was louder than I expected. It was one of those rare laughs that you only come across a handful of times in your life, the type of laugh that makes everyone within earshot smile and everyone in on the conversation laugh along. And I did.
“In that case, I was thinking about stopping at El Loro on my way home, care to join me for a happy hour margarita, Tequila?”
I laughed again at his casual use of my made-up name.
“I actually have someone waiting for me at home.”
“Ahh, of course. You’re too beautiful and funny to be single.” Normally a comment like that from a stranger would have me running in the other direction, but the way he said it was so cool, and casual. It was not a threat, not even a flirt, but simply a compliment, and he did not pause before he continued, “And in that case, I’m having a get-together at my house on Thursday. Just a few friends and neighbors grilling in my backyard. You and your boyfriend should come, and bring this little girl as well,” he said, reaching down and giving Ginger one last scratch behind the ear. She was ready to go now, pulling on the leash I kept short.
“Oh, well, I can ask my boyfriend if he’s free that night.”
“Perfect,” Jamison said, “I’ll give you my address.” He pulled a small notebook and pen out of the cargo pocket on his shorts and scribbled down his address.
“Thanks,” I said, taking the paper he ripped from the notebook.
“Come anytime after six. I promise it will be really casual—bring drinks if you like—and a big enough crowd not to feel like an outsider. Maybe 30 people.”
“Okay.” I pocketed the paper. “Ready to go, Ginger?” and she galloped forward as I let the leash out. “Nice to meet you.”
“And you as well.”
And we both walked our separate ways, both wondering if we’d see each other on Thursday, or ever again.
Pick a song, one with lyrics that really speak to you, and turn it into a poem. Stay true to the meaning and the story but feel free to delete and add small parts. Reorder words, lines and entire paragraphs if you want. You can choose to stay true to the rhythm/rhyme scheme/point of view, or you can change it. As long as you focus on discovering and strengthening the parts that stir emotion within yourself, you can do whatever you want.
I completed this prompt with the song “Monsters.” Written and performed by Timeflies, featuring Katie Sky. Watch the music video here!
A poem by Sarah Schneekloth
based on a song by Timeflies
I know it can’t get worse than today,
while she’s trying to rehearse what to say.
She’s in the bathroom, hoping I’m not in earshot.
A cup of coffee still steaming, staring back at me
and it’s blacker than the night.
I’m awake but still sleeping.
She’s getting used to the sound of her teardrops.
it hits the towel.
I know it’s been awhile
since you’ve seen me smile and laugh.
I’ve been in denial since it happened.
I can’t explain this
so I keep it all inside,
wear my pain
but it’s masked by my pride.
She finally came to hold me and she cried.
She stared into my eyes and said…
“I see your monsters.
I see your pain.
Tell me your problems,
I’ll chase them away.
I’ll be your lighthouse. I’ll make it okay.
When I see your monsters I’ll stand there so brave,
and chase them all away.”
you won’t like what you see,
if you were in my head and had to hear my plea.
And could someone please shut off this fucking answering machine,
so I can stop leaving these messages that you will never get.
And all these cries for help you’ll never see,
you’ll never check.
But I guess it’s easy for you to leave.
But believe me, this isn’t something I’ll just forget.
I’m still sitting here wondering
who did it
while I’m staring out our front door, knowing
you’ll never walk through.
Said you’d come right back.
A blank stare as I stand so alone,
I know you’re never coming home.
I’ve got a heart made of fools gold,
All the promises I told, they keep chipping away.
It’s hard to get to know me
when I don’t know myself.
And it helps cause I felt I was down,
I was out.
Then you looked at me and said…
“I see your monsters.
I see your pain.
Tell me your problems,
I’ll chase them away.
I’ll be your lighthouse. I’ll make it okay.
When I see your monsters I’ll stand there so brave,
and chase them all away.”
Now I have to be so brave.
I’ll chase this away.
Shitty first drafts; its a common phrase in the writing world and one that I personally cling on to as one of the main reasons I keep plugging away on my first novel. Editing is where the story really ties itself together. Therefore, the edits an author makes from the first draft of their novel until publication fascinates me!
Unfortunately, with the use of computers and word documents, these changes often disappear into cyber space, never to be seen or studied by anyone. BUT in 1939 when Graham Green wrote the first version of The Power and the Glory, he used good ‘ol pen and paper. That original, hand-written copy of the novel is still in tack (see pictures below!), allowing individuals to compare the original copy with the published manuscript.
See my book review of The Power and the Glory here. It may surprise you!!
While doing a bit of snooping on the Internet, I came across this intriguing article by François Gallix, a professor of contemporary literature in English at the Sorbonne in Paris. Gallix had the privilege of looking at the original version of The Power and the Glory and in doing so, he found some meaningful cuts made to the text which he describes in his article. Click here for full article.
**Spoilers ahead** The most interesting cut Gallix pointed out is near the end of the novel when the main character, a priest in Mexico during a time when all religion is outlawed, was executed in the center of town. Gallix explains the passage as follows:
The published text runs as follows:
“Then there was a single shot, and opening [his eyes] again he [Mr. Tench] saw the officer stuffing his gun back into his holster and the little man was a routine heap beside the wall—something unimportant that had to be cleared away. [added on the manuscript and published: Two knock-kneed men approached quickly].”
After “cleared away,” Greene crossed out the following lines that were not included in the published version:
“But looking down Mr. Tench caught a look on the officer’s face—an uneasy look, the look of a disappointed man and it suddenly sunk to him, as the buzzards flipped down again after the explosion’s shot, as though the blood had been cleared away from a whole region of the world.”
Gallix explains this cut as part of Greene’s “purified minimalist style,” purposely leaving things open ended so the reader can interpret the work anyway he/she sees fit. Many authors incorporate this minimalist style into their writing, Raymond Carver as one of my favorites, but seeing the actual edits first hand is a unique experience. I’m very glad that I came across this article and have the opportunity to share it with you all! Please check out the entire article here. It’s not long and well worth the time!
She was a quaint woman, solid-colored skirts hovering just above the ground. I saw a child approach her once, asking to play a card game. She pulled a deck out of her apron pocket and asked if he’d ever heard of rummy? Well, she said, gather all your coins. A woman as old as I doesn’t waste her time on penniless hands.
Writing Prompt: Write an extremely short, yet vivid, character description. Include at least one specific scene. I was aiming for 50 words in this one and went a little over. No matter your word count, edit your first draft to cut out as much as you possible.
As a reader, specific song titles in the midst of a story can strike one of 4 reactions:
- Indifference because I don’t know the song and want to get on with the story
- Pride because I’m actually familiar with the song
- Curiosity because the song seems important enough to the scene that I should look it up
- Annoyance because I don’t know any of the songs this author is talking about
While 2 and 3 can be a very positive addition to the story, 4 can be just as destructive and every writer should be wary of when they mention song titles, how often they do so, and consider the popularity of each song. In my opinion, the more popular of a song you mention the better, because you’re readers are more likely to be familiar with it. Also subtly mentioning the type of music or character’s reaction to the music can reveal more than the song alone.
Beyond the Song Title
Thankfully, mentioning a song title is only a very small part of incorporating music into your writing. This line recently jumped out at me when I was reading Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates:
“If there was music in this scene it would be a quick staccato music.” p. 27
It’s so simple, yet so telling. It gave the scene life at a time when I was resisting the urge to permanently put down the book. And it has stuck with me for weeks now, even after I did quit reading the book.
Other ways to incorporate music into fiction:
- Write in a musical rhythm
- Use music to define your character’s personality
- Incorporate musical concerts/events into your plot
- Quote song lyrics
- Incorporate music into metaphors and similes
When I typed “music in fiction” into Google, a Wikipedia entry came up that defined “Musical Fiction” as “a genre of fiction in which music is paramount: both as subject matter, and through the rhythm and flow of the prose; that is, music is manifested through the language itself.”
It listed examples such as Great Jones Street by Don DeLillo, The Wishbones by Tom Perotta and High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. I recently read The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni (read my book review here!) which I would argue also falls into that category.
Music and Characterization
Music is powerful. It’s a tool of expression, a reflection of our mood and taste, and, possibly the most important of all, it can triggers memories. Ask these music-related questions when creating a fully-round character:
- What kind of music does your character like?
- Does he/she play an instrument? What? How often?
- Does your character sing in the shower?
- What radio station dominates their car stereo?
- Do they attend concerts?
- Were they forced into music lessons growing up?
- Do they wish they were musically enhanced?
- What songs trigger memories for your character? What are those memories?
How to Catch a Falling Leaf
by Sarah Schneekloth
The number one rule is it has to be spontaneous. Planning such a sporadic event is bound to end in disappointment. Isn’t the whole beauty of life those unplanned moments when something so breathtaking happens you wonder if there actually is a little magic in this world? Let me put you in a possible scene right now, but don’t you dare try to copy this moment.
You’re on your lunch break from whatever it is you do on a weekday. A cool brisk breeze circles the courtyard. It brings you the fresh scent of fall as people around you trample over brown leaves curled into the fetal position. You know there is not going to be another warm day this year. You’re not wearing a jacket today because you refuse to get it out of storage before October. The breeze halts; red leaves, orange leaves, yellow leaves, brown leaves and a few pristine green leaves float to the ground in a silent symphony. Setting your briefcase or backpack or shopping bag on the sidewalk, you walk onto the grass beneath the lone oak tree.
Before the spur-of-the-moment impulse hits, there are a set of techniques every leaf catcher should know. One: Quite obviously, you need a tree whose leaves are about to fall. You’ll know it when you see it, trust me. Two: Set yourself on the outer perimeter of the tree so all falling leaves will be within sight. Judging the direction of the wind is a difficult science but if you can master it, leaves will fall into your hands every time. Three: Ready position. This depends highly on your visibility to passerbys and your tolerance to embarrassment but I recommend the low football stance; hands in front, fingers wiggling. Whatever style you choose, be ready to jet. Four: Whatever you got to do to catch that leaf, do it. Practice is the only true teacher here but quickness and commitment are key factors. Always be prepared to dive if necessary. Repeat until successful and never get frustrated. Five: Hold that leaf in the air and high five all surrounding strangers. Six: Invite others.
And when you’re out there, breathe that fresh fall air. Feel the chill capture your lungs and hold it there, freeze time. Sit on the soil and lean your back against a thick trunk and stop thinking about time because that seed was planted long before you were born. This tree will celebrate countless more fall birthdays with natural confetti than you will blow out candles. At night the tree dreams of living in endless forests with streams so clear you can see the sun sparkle off the fish’s scales as it flows along with the current. At dawn, the tree wakes with the sun and stretches toward the sky, growing imperceptible amounts each day and by the time your grandchildren lean their backs against this tree, it will be twice as tall and stronger than ever. At the rate our schedules become increasingly full, I just hope their generation can pencil in time to catch a leaf or two.