Writing In Retirement Blog

In Remembrance of My Writing Companion

Barbet

Sixteen years ago I brought home a fluffy white Poodle/Bichon Frise mix puppy. I named her Barbet for the island that reportedly Bichon Frise dogs originated. She wanted to be with me all the time. That meant she was with me whenever I was typing or doing other computer work – like on the websites that I worked on at the time. She would jump up on the spare bed in my computer room and would either sleep or watch me. Later, when I started writing short stories and tried my hand at novels, she was there. I often read out loud the things I had written, especially if I wasn’t sure it sounded right. Barbet would lift her head and gaze at me with a placid look. If the cadence sounded right, she would put down her head, but if something sounded off, she would keep staring at me. Critics are tough.

Last weekend she died of kidney problems. She died at home with her sister dog and me by her side. It was tough. I miss her. I will very much miss her doggie criticism. However, I believe she is probably in doggie heaven romping with the other animals I have owned. Rest in Peace my sweet writing companion. I will miss you.

 

My Eight Writing Rules

girl with rules

I came across some lists of writing rules in the last few weeks – some from very famous writers. They all had good ideas but were written by those who were at a very different point in their writing expertise than I currently am. Nevertheless, it got me to thinking about what my current writing rules are, and so I created a list that suits my taste.

  • Read, read, and read: not only books in your favorite genre, but books written about writing, and even books that explore genres you are not so interested in (Book clubs are very helpful in expanding your tastes in books). I feel that only by reading can you get the feel of what it takes to put together a great story.
  • Write, write, and write. You have to do it, or you won’t be a writer. Sure some of it will be crap, but only by practicing will you be able to improve.
  • Use good grammar. Now, this is a rule that I can break, but only when I write dialog or when I am writing in a voice of a character with poor grammar.
  • Use Spellcheck – Two reasons, I have trouble spelling, and I am a bad typist. Hey, I know that these two things are my faults, so Spellcheck is my friend.
  • Edit what you write. Going over and over your writing before you put it out there is super important. Mistakes are easy to miss, so practice editing. If you do want to publish something have an editor go over it before you do.
  • Join a writing group. Having a group of people that read and listen to your work as well as comment on what you write is so helpful in improving your growth as a writer. I find it spurs on my thirst to get words down on the paper. Putting your words out there for others to comment on also helps you to understand that sharing your work brings you joy.
  • Try out different ways of writing: Poems, short stories, letter stories, news articles, children’s stories, mysteries, etc. By experimenting you will be able to find the voice and way of writing you enjoy the most.
  • Enjoy what you are doing.

What do you think? Do you have a list of rules that you feel are important? Share them with us in the comments below.

A Special Easter Story for You

On this Easter Sunday I would like to share a special story I wrote. I hope you enjoy it! Comments are welcome below.

george

George, The Easter Bunny

Once upon a time, there lived a large family of Easter Bunnies, the youngest was George. He was a very happy bunny and often sang and hummed while he worked. George, like the rest of the family, spent the long winter months in the burrow weaving baskets for the children at Easter.

George was known throughout his family to have a very special talent, and that was mixing the dyes they used to color the Easter eggs in the spring. George collected the colors for the dyes from berries, vegetables, grasses, the earth, the sky, and the sun. George never told anyone how he was able to extract the colors because – well – it was a magic that was bestowed on him by his creator and he really didn’t understand it himself.

Once he had the collected colors, George set about to mix them into every bright color that reminded him of spring. Pastels were his specialty. The pinks popped; the blues were brilliant; the greens were gregarious; the reds blazed, and the purples were richly royal. The colors were so delicate and brilliant that his dyes were well sought after by the other Easter Bunnies.

George loved to mix his colors and paint the eggs with fun designs. He would sit in his burrow for hours, humming songs and happily painting. Each egg he painted, he fell in love with and would think it was the prettiest he had ever painted. But then he would finish the next egg, and on seeing his handiwork; he reassured himself that this egg was the best he’d ever done. Once he had enough finished eggs to fill a basket, he would move on to the next basket. And so it was that George’s Easter Baskets would be ready for the big day.

Each year George was up before dawn on Easter morning. The night before he gathered his beautiful baskets of magical egg and loaded them in a wheelbarrow. It always seemed as though there were way too many baskets to fit into the wheelbarrow, but each year – although the baskets towered way above the rim of the wheelbarrow, and the load would totter as he pushed it along – none ever fell off.

One Easter morning George awakened late. He was frazzled by having to hurry to hide the baskets in all the yards. He pushed along the wheelbarrow and thought for sure he would be discovered by a happy child looking for an Easter Basket. As the tower of Easter Baskets on the wheelbarrow diminished, so did the time before dawn. He began to hurry faster and faster, being less careful where he hid the baskets.

As George slid around some daffodils in my backyard, he ran right into me with his wheelbarrow. From the last basket in his wheelbarrow, a glimmering Easter Egg fell onto the ground at my feet. I was shocked to see a real Easter Bunny, and George was just as shocked to see me!

“Hello,” I said, “Are you a real Easter Bunny?”

He nodded as he rushed to pick up the gleaming Egg that had landed in front of me. He spoke to me and his voice was like a rainbow of colors. “Yes, my name is George. “This is my last basket to hide. Please don’t tell anyone that I was so late.”

I was surprised to see patches of pink appear on his pudgy bunny cheeks. His nose twitched as he held up the gloriously painted egg for me to take. “Ooooh,” was all I could muster when I looked upon the splendid Egg. I examined the egg more closely and saw it had a picture of Easter Bunnies engaged in painting Easter Eggs. Its colors were as bright as the sunshine coming over my shoulders, and I thought for a moment that I could see the paint brushes moving in the picture as the Bunnies worked. “This is beautiful!” I cried as I looked down at him. “Did you paint this?”

He nodded. I could see he was rather embarrassed by my complementing his handiwork. I leaned over and assisted him in taking out the last basket from his wheelbarrow. “I guess this basket is for my son; he won’t be up for some time. He likes to sleep past dawn.”

His cute bunny face smiled at me. “Oh, is your son, Jason?”

“Yes, yes that’s him.”

It was my turn to smile now. I sat down in the grass and began to discourse with George about his family and what he did as an Easter Bunny. For some magical reason, it didn’t seem odd that I was able to communicate with a bunny. I was mesmerized as he told me about his unique ability to gather colors from nature and turn them into the dyes the Bunnies used to color the eggs. “That’s fascinating, George,” I said as I turned the Easter Egg in my hands around and around. “But how do you collect these colors?” I pressed.

George shrugged his bunny shoulders, and his nose twitched again. “I do not know Madam; it is a gift that was bestowed on me as a newborn bunny. It’s magic that I cannot explain.”

I smiled at him. “Well, it’s a rare gift I am sure, just as your ability to paint with such beauty is.”

Again George’s bunny cheeks glowed with pink in embarrassment. “Thank you, Madam.” He said in a very soft voice.

Then a voice floated out on the wind. “Mamma, Mamma where are you! Can I come out and search for my Easter Basket now?”

George hopped up and said, “It’s been lovely talking with you, but I must go!” He hesitated, “Perhaps I will see you next year?”

I nodded. And with a POP, he, and the empty wheelbarrow disappeared.

For many years I would be up before dawn and wait for the Easter Bunny. I would make sure to have a delicious orange carrot for George, as he had told me he especially loved carrots.

As Jason grew older and less interested in looking for an Easter basket, I noticed George began to age and indeed fade from the brilliance I once saw in him. Finally, Jason told me he didn’t want an Easter Basket anymore. He would rather we go out for Easter breakfast after church. I tried to talk him out of it, but he was adamant that Easter baskets were for ‘little kids,’ and at eleven years old he was grown up.

That Easter Day dawned and I waited in the garden for George to come, but he did not. I was sad but left the carrot in the garden anyway. When I came back later, it was gone. Every year since, no matter what – I lay down a carrot in the garden, and when I turn around to go inside, it always disappears with a POP!

Descriptive Reporting of Sensations: An Exercise

 

In the last few blogs I have been discussing ways to improve your descriptions by including reports about colors and hearing.

In this post of my blog, I would like to suggest an exercise that will help you to gather more information about describing the five senses in your writing.

sittingonbench

Choose a setting

Sit outdoors in your backyard, the park, or just your favorite place. Close your eyes to start with, then as the time goes by, open them for the rest of the exercise. As you sit there, consider what sensations are bombarding you and how you could report those feelings in your writing.

  1. First think about taste: Is your mouth/lips wet or dry? What tastes linger in your mouth? Does the setting you picked remind you of foods you have eaten there or somewhere similar?
  2. Next consider what you hear: Car noise? Mowers? Sirens? Dogs barking? Describe them – Is the sound of a car like v-room, or is it a purr, or growl? Is the noise of a leaf blowing on the ground: Scraping? Rustling? Whispering? Be as specific as possible in interpreting the noise.
  3. It’s time to think about what you are smelling – describe the odor as specifically as possible: Sweet? Fresh? Smoky? Does it bring to mind good things, or not so good things? How do your nostrils feel as they are taking in the smell?
  4. Time to open your eyes and describe what you see? What are the colors? What are the objects? The people or animals? Describe them as thoroughly as possible.
  5. Lastly, consider what you are physically feeling as you are sitting and observing all the things around you. Again be as specific as possible.

Now take out your notebook and write down all your observations. Take all the notes you have written and write a story or poem about the experience. Great practice for showing not telling.

I’d love to have you share  your experience with this exercise! Feel free to comment below.

A Saint Patrick’s Day Story: Lucky Charm

Here’s a special story for St. Patrick’s Day. Please enjoy!

Shamrocks

Lucky Charm

By Marie Staight

The path, lined with shamrocks standing like soldiers dressed in green uniforms, wandered around the land showing off a variety of greens. I followed its wanderings taking in the ancient stone fences separating patches of fields and fairy-like cottages from one another. At one gate I saw a wash of yellow daffodils waving in the gentle breeze. Beyond the daffodils was a small field of shamrocks. At once I sat down and took off my shoes so that I could romp in the field with bare feet as I had as a youth. As I stepped onto the cloud of green leaves, I heard a squeal. “Oh my, what have I done?” I exclaimed aloud.

I picked up my foot and leaned down to exam what I had stepped on. It was a wizen miniature man dressed in dark green pants and coat. His green bowler hat lay askew on his head as he lay on his side and holding his foot. He had red hair including the most glorious red beard.

“What the heck are you doing walking about on my land – disturbing my nap? Away with ye!” He shouted in a most inglorious way. “Look at my foot!” He said pointing to his red, swollen appendage.  “How am I to get to my pot …” He stopped and looked at me with the most suspicious glare I have ever seen. I stared right back at him wondering if I could have actually stumbled upon a real live leprechaun.

He frowned deeply and growled, “Have you come to try and steal my riches?”

Shocked at what I was seeing and hearing, I shook my head. “N…n …n… no” I stammered.

He harrumphed, staring at me as if to X-ray my thoughts. “Well, I guess I have to believe you.” He reluctantly grunted as he tried to stand. Then he shouted at me. “Don’t just stand there! Help me up! Get me a walking stick! Hurry up there, boy!” His orders came flying at me like arrows at a target. I scrambled to assist him to an upright position, using just the lightest of touch in fear of crushing him otherwise. He leaned against my barefoot and was only tall enough to reach my ankle. “A walking stick, quickly, boy! Hop to it!

I wasn’t quite sure how I could ‘Hop to it’ with him clinging to my foot. But I surveyed the field and saw a twig not far off. “Hold tight on to my ankle, sir, and I will get you that walking stick.” I could feel him clinging to my ankle as if he were a butterfly sitting on my skin. I gingerly took a step; he remained on my ankle. I took another and was able to secure the twig. I saw at once it was much too long for him to use as a walking stick, so I knelt down and measured with my thumb how long a stick he would need. The twig ended in a ‘Y-shape’ thus I fashioned the twig so that he could use it as a crutch. Immediately, the little man grabbed the crutch and scrambled away through the shamrocks.

However, because he was dragging his leg, he left a trail of fallen green soldiers. “Where are you going?” I called out to him. “Perhaps I can help you?”

The leprechaun stopped, stood on his good foot, and lifted the crutch threateningly at me. “Go away!” He waved the crutch warning me off, but as he did so gold stars emitted from the top of the twig. They magically floated in the air, lifting up in the breeze towards a rainbow that had wondrously appeared in the distance.

“Oh, my!” I exclaimed. “Is that your rainbow? Is there a pot of gold at the end of it?”

“No, no, no! You must go away! That’s my riches!” The little man was hopping up and down and brandishing his crutch at me as it continued to emit golden stars into the sky. The golden stars floated upward and melted into the rainbow. The rainbow appeared to grow brighter.

Being rather greedy, I ran towards the rainbow. But the tricky leprechaun pushed off with the newly made crutch into a series of somersaults, arriving at the end of the rainbow in a flash. I, with my long strides, arrived just ahead of him and planted my foot in front of his pot of gold. “Ah Ha! I claim this pot of gold!” I said triumphantly raising an arm skyward.

The tricky little leprechaun plunged the tip of the crutch into my barefoot, making it sting with pain.“Yeow!” I howled as I hopped on one foot. “Why did you do that?”

“People cannot use leprechaun gold, you fool!” Shouted the little man. “It disappears as soon as you touch it.” He glared at me as he watched me hop about on my unhurt foot. I saw his mouth twitch; he bit his lip and stroked his beard as if in thought. “You did help me …” his voice wandered off. He continued to watch me as I sat down in the shamrocks and rubbed my stinging foot. Shiny, small gold stars floated upward from my foot as I massaged it. His eyes followed them as they too melted into the rainbow.

His eyes narrowed. “Alright,” he said. “Even though it was you who stepped on my foot, you were kind enough to help me. And if I were to be fair – you did reach the pot of gold before me…”  He stood next to his pot of gold grudgingly fingering the coins of gold. “I suppose I could at least give you a Lucky Charm.” To my wonderment, he plucked a shamrock that had four leaves on its stem, and with the crutch, touched the leaves. The shamrock turned to into a gold four leaf clover. It then floated up to my neck, and a chain of gold made from the golden stars wound around the lucky charm and went about my neck. “This will provide you with good luck all your life for the good deed you did today.” He said. With that, the little leprechaun disappeared as did his pot of gold. I was left sitting in a field of shamrocks under a beautiful rainbow with the golden lucky charm around my neck. And that is why good luck has followed me ever since.

[I’d love to hear your thoughts about the story. Feel free to comment.]

Hear That? – Sound Descriptions Add Impact to Your Writing

dog listeningn 2

We talked last week about using colors to enhance your writing descriptions. This week I would like to discuss how you can use sounds to add impact to your descriptions. Any time you use physical sensations to describe things in your writing, you are hitting upon strong reactions from the readers and using sounds is no exception to that.

 

In describing sounds in your writing, try to fit in what your character hears, not that they heard it. Use strong descriptive words to get that across – a chair doesn’t just fall over – it clatters. Using words that sound like that which they are describing – also known as onomatopoeia – can add even more: “The chair clattered to the floor with a bang … bang …BANG!”

 

Think about movie scores. They are a powerful source of emotion to the action on the screen. In movies, you also have the Foley Artist that adds sounds to the action on the screen – perhaps a tinkling of glasses or the sound of shoes scraping along a dusty road – all things that enhance the action. You can do this in your writing too.

  1. Natural sounds are perhaps the easiest to include in your writing, such as the sounds of birds calling or leaves rustling. Natural sounds bring the reader into the scene and show the reader where the character is rather than telling them about it.

 

  1. Another way of including sounds in your writing is an “expressive sound.” That is altering a normal sound to show how the character perceives the sound. An example might be the ringing of a doorbell that becomes louder and louder in the character’s perception until they are obliged to answer the door. This type of sound increases the tension and shows the character’s anxiety and panic at what is happening in the scene.

 

  1. Lastly, sounds can be imagined, also known as “surreal sounds.” Sounds that occur in the character’s imagination – perhaps envisioning the roar of a crowd or classmates that are laughing at them. Writers can show this in their stories to emphasize what is going on in the head of their character.

Use sounds carefully in your writing. Be judicious in using sounds so as not to have the repeated effect be one of triteness. You don’t want to have your writing have a “comic book” effect.

Nevertheless, describing sounds can be a powerful way to connect with your readers about feelings, places, and experiences they have had.

This week as you write, think about including sounds your character might hear – sounds that might have an emotional, symbolic, or significant impact on the character.

I’d love to have you share what you think! Feel free to comment below.

Adding Color to Your Lines: Color Descriptions Add Depth to Your Writing

Feather colors

Color, as defined by the Oxford Dictionaries, is: “the property possessed by an object of producing different sensations on the eye as a result of the way the object reflects or emits light.”

color eyes

Using color references in your writing enhances the impact of your words like no other writing technique. Colors affect the innate sensations that the reader experience – “rosy red lips” has a very different set of visceral reactions to it than “lips bleached white with death.” Our visual imagination becomes very strong when color, especially enhanced with adjectives, metaphors, similes, or a combination of sensations are used to describe parts of our stories such as setting, characters, and actions. Here are four tips for using color references in your writing:

  1. Use colors combined with a metaphor or simile to add visual clarity and depth to the setting. Examples of this – “the sky was glowing with reds and oranges like dragonfire in the sunset,” or “Blazing red poppies lined the road like a legion of redcoats waiting to be reviewed by the Queen.”
  2. Use colors to set moods such as “The gray-metal clouds reflected the darkness in the house below” or “As I came into the room, I saw the purple rope-like veins pop out on Poppa’s red” These examples help to set the stage for what is to come next – a terror-filled story, or an angry exchange.
  3. Use colors to describe characters – “fiery red hair tumbled down her back”; “her eyes were as green as the envy she had of the girl with the yellow hair”; “the rug was as yellowed as her skin.” These examples are all descriptions that subtly influence the reader as to how they perceive what this character is like and how they might act in the story.
  4. Using Color combined with other sensations adds a big bang to your descriptions. “ The lily-white snow crunched like firecrackers as I plodded along. A whiff of smoke from the cabin reached out to me and my mouth watered at the thought of the bacon and eggs awaiting me.” The combination of vision, hearing, smelling and taste, bring alive the scene and set the imagination free.

 

Colors are powerful. They are one of the secrets that add pizazz to your writing. They add depth, set a mood, give clues, and subtly shape the readers understanding of what you are writing. Think about adding dashes of color to your descriptions to get deeper visceral responses to your writing.

How do you use the sensations colors represent in your writing? Feel  free to comment below.