Write Now Prompt for September 19, 2014

Write_Now_Plane

At Today’s Author, our first goal is to get you (and us) to write. Write Now is our own collection of prompts to help you do that. With Write Now we’re not talking about writing, or trying to teach anyone how to write. Write Now is all about putting pen to paper.

Today’s Prompt:

When he went to call for help, he found that none of the phones were working.

Now_Write_Plane

How to play along with our Writing Prompts

  1. Write in any format or style you wish: short story, poem, script – whatever you like.
  2. Write for at least 5 minutes. There is no time limit – write for as long as you wish!
  3. Editing is not required, though we do recommend that you run a spell check at least.
  4. Post your work to your blog and include a link back here so your readers can find other writer’s work, too.
  5. Come back here and provide a link to your work on the Write Now! prompt for which it was written.
  6. Read other authors’ posts and leave constructive comments.

Important Note: When you post a draft of your work online, it may be difficult to find a publisher who will accept it, as many see an online document as being previously published. It may also be ineligible to be submitted for certain writing competitions. Always check publisher’s and competition guidelines before using a draft you put online.

The Fear Chronicles: Which Holds are Barred?

I am a person who races to Google the moment I’m done watching a movie that is based on real events. I want to know what was true, what was embellished, and what was unabashed fabrication. I read about the events and the people, lingering over the photographs in particular. I go back and forth between photos of the actor and the actual person. How closely does the actor’s hairstyle match the person’s? How well does the 2010’s actress wear those 70’s glasses? What character is actually an amalgam of three people?

I like to think about why things get changed in the transition from reality to fiction, especially when reality seems interesting enough. I remember one particular movie (the name of which escapes me now), in which the main character had a daughter. In real life, she had a son. I wondered what the point was in changing the sex of the child—the child, who had no bearing on the story whatsoever. Was there a dearth of boy actors that day at the casting call?

Small or big changes interest me when it comes to playing around with nonfiction, and not just in relation to film. I recently finished reading 11/22/63 by Stephen King, which borrows from history. JFK, Jackie Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, Marina Oswald, and other real-life characters, are appropriated by King and interwoven into a time-travel novel. The basic premise involves the main character traveling back in time to stop the Kennedy assassination, in the hopes that other terrible events will not happen, such as the shootings of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.

In his afterward, King talks about the amount of research that went into this story, and he also mentions that he plays around with some events to suit the needs of his novel. He tries to be as true to actual events as possible, but there are things that he made up. There are some scenes in which he imagines what Lee and Marina say to each other, like when they give their baby daughter, June, a bath. He pushes his fictional characters into collision courses with Lee, Marina, Jackie, and even George de Mohrenschildt. Fictional and nonfictional characters meet, have conversations that never took place, and influence each other’s lives.

Now, you could say, “Of course all this happened. This is Stephen King we’re talking about. He writes fiction.” And that’s true, except usually he doesn’t write fiction based in and on reality, or some part of reality, anyway. Now, because I like doing the research when something is based in fact, and because I know that King is a fiction writer, I can come to the realization that how King is using real-life people is not “real.” It’s for effect, and for impact.

But I honestly don’t know how I feel about this. My conflicted feelings might be silly, considering how many “based on real events” movies I’ve watched and enjoyed, and considering how I understand that film is an art form, and sometimes real life doesn’t suit the art, so things have to change. Why should literature be any different? Why shouldn’t I be as on board with a novel or short story that borrows from reality, or a poem that borrows from reality? (Full disclosure: I have written such poems.)

I don’t know. There is something about looking at the cover of 11/22/63 and seeing a picture of the Kennedys in the motorcade in Dallas on the day that JFK dies that is strangely disconcerting, because it feels like I’m about to read nonfiction, but I’m not.

In Anne Lamott’s beautiful book about writing, Bird by Bird, she mentions a writer friend who basically says that everything is text, meaning, I suppose, that everything and anything in life can and should be used as fodder to write. No holds barred.

But still I am conflicted. Is it okay to put fictional words into the mouths of nonfictional characters? Is it okay to dress them up and position them like action figures to suit our own stories? Is it okay to imagine their lives—the parts that aren’t known by the general public, that aren’t recorded and cataloged— through our stories? And is it alright to appropriate an important moment (say, the JFK assassination) and paint around it with our own bright and fictional colors?

What do you think?

 

 

What Lego has taught me about writing.

mini London

Lego is one of those ubiquitous childhood toys which tends to breed underfoot when your feet are bare and tender and vanish when you need that last particular piece to complete a project. You may be surprised to learn that playtime with Lego has many opportunities for a writer to hone their skills, so perhaps its time to pull down the dusty box those little red pieces have been hiding in and scrutinize what secrets it may be hiding from you.

The word “Lego” is derived from a Danish phrase “leg godt” which means to “play well”. Also meant to be loosely interpreted in Latin, the word Lego is  “I put together”. Keeping these meanings in mind, its not a huge jump for the writer to put their work in progress and the model they are building out of Lego into the same metaphoric box. Writing, in its most basic form, is simply putting words together. Playing and having fun is also ‘supposed’ to be part of the deal when writing.

As a rookie writer / first time builder, when you build the foundation of your story the bricks of the story may press together easily, while construction tends to be rapid fire and passionate. Suddenly, you look across the table and spy a window frame/ character, which, before you had seen it, was not featured in your Lego/story masterpiece. But now that you’ve seen it, it seems impossible to build it without its inclusion.Therein lays the dilemma of a first draft. You are left with the quandary of pulling it completely apart and rebuilding, in a different tense, from a different point of view, in a different colored brick? Do you carry on, attempting to ignore that perfect Lego piece/ character, telling yourself you’ll pick it up and put it somewhere else along the line but secretly knowing that it only has one place, somewhere in your work  hours ago?

R2D2

Planning and evaluating problems is part of both the Lego and writing process which many fail to recognize as being integral to the ultimate success of the project. There are few people who can construct a simple design without a degree of forethought, planning and goal building. Even the most casual ‘pantser’ will have a vague overall outcome in mind for their story. A successful ‘pantser’ isolates challenges as they present themselves, evaluates and integrates or discards them as they appear. A planner will generally evaluate discrepancies after the first draft is completed and implement changes afterwards.  Without upsetting the pantser vs. planner debate too much, there is value in staring at the raw materials of your build/story and just building / writing until you reach a point where some planning and evaluation will ensure that you don’t waste too much time when going forward. I’m a big believer that there is space and value for both methods. The value of being a Lego builder as a writer is to see that unusual and beautiful things can be accidentally created even when the plan wasn’t followed.

Lego teaches problem solving, organization, and planning by construction — skills which are invaluable to the writer.  The problems a writer faces are similar in some instances to that of a Lego builder. A writer spends inordinate amounts of time thinking, searching for the right word, researching a specific detail, getting distracted on the internet, discovering new pieces of information which must be included somewhere in the story and then hours staring into space, working out ways to introduce, solve or tighten new plot twists and characters. A builder spends inordinate amounts of time searching for the exact piece, getting distracted by new pieces and then spends more time attempting to fit these pieces in someplace.

Writing, like Lego, is a solitary pursuit. It can capture the time and imagination of people of all ages, where hours disappear under the scribble, tapping or rattle of the tools of their trade. Though writing and Lego can be enjoyed as a group or paired activity, it takes a special environment and range of personalities for this to ultimately work without it ending in egotistical tears, tantrums and shattered friendships.

Lego teaches builders to recognize and duplicate complex patterns, encouraging them to alter and make their own patterns. Writing is based on recognizing patterns within human behavior, replicating and altering certain events to be molded into a specific storyline. Writing also requires authors to utilize the complex patterns of language, grammar and genre specific idiosyncrasies. The more you both observe and practice duplicating increasingly complex patterns, the more mastery you will have.

If you want to improve your writing experience, spill that Lego box out in front of you and start to build something. It will quickly become evident whether you are a ‘pantser’ or a ‘planner’; whilst both have merits for both Lego construction and story writing, the important thing is to build. Just write. Have a goal. Be flexible and “Leg Godt”.

Photos are from a recent visit to Legoland in Windsor, UK; where Annie was unashamedly a big kid for the entire day.

Write Now Prompt for September 16, 2014

Write_Now_Plane

At Today’s Author, our first goal is to get you (and us) to write. Write Now is our own collection of prompts to help you do that. With Write Now we’re not talking about writing, or trying to teach anyone how to write. Write Now is all about putting pen to paper.

Today’s Prompt:

The snowstorm caught everyone off guard, especially since it was only the middle of September.

Now_Write_Plane

How to play along with our Writing Prompts

  1. Write in any format or style you wish: short story, poem, script – whatever you like.
  2. Write for at least 5 minutes. There is no time limit – write for as long as you wish!
  3. Editing is not required, though we do recommend that you run a spell check at least.
  4. Post your work to your blog and include a link back here so your readers can find other writer’s work, too.
  5. Come back here and provide a link to your work on the Write Now! prompt for which it was written.
  6. Read other authors’ posts and leave constructive comments.

Important Note: When you post a draft of your work online, it may be difficult to find a publisher who will accept it, as many see an online document as being previously published. It may also be ineligible to be submitted for certain writing competitions. Always check publisher’s and competition guidelines before using a draft you put online.

A Cryptic Tale

origamicraneCan a writer present history that is more exciting than a textbook but still discharges the essence of truth if he strays from absolute fact by embellishing a real moment with creative interpretation?

Jim Fergus based his novel, One Thousand White Women, the Journals of May Dodd, on one small incident in American history. In 1854 Cheyenne Chief Little Wolf traveled to Washington and proposed to President Ulysses Grant that the two cultures make a trade. The Indians, whose people were dying out, would give one thousand horses in exchange for one thousand white women. The women would procreate with Indian men, and the resulting children would be a bridge between cultures, ensuring a future for Indians within the sustaining white community. Never happened, of course, or you’d know a gazillion women claiming to be heroic descendents of this social experiment and likely demanding reparations loudly, or hiding the humiliating fact of their heritage and likely demanding reparations secretly, depending on whether they found the act courageous or shameful.

Fergus used this failed attempt at genetic meddling as the kernel for his book, but he changes the original suggestion to take place in 1874. The U.S. government accepts Little Wolf’s offer and rounds up women on the fringes of American society (no debutantes these future Indian wives): those in insane asylums, prisons, or the social bondage of being too homely to marry. From an insane asylum comes May Dodd, a young and progressive woman who has already exhibited unconventional characteristics by living out of wedlock with a man below her social standing and bears him two children. Her own family determines the obvious conclusion: she is mad, and they confine her to a mental institution where she is treated brutally. May volunteers to go West and become a Bride for Indians, as it’s the only way she can be released from the asylum.

The strange journey of her life with the Indians reflects a great deal of the actual history of the broken treaties between the US government and the Indian tribes they are trying to confine to reservations. May Dodd witnesses horrible acts on the part of American soldiers as well as Cheyenne warriors. She finds the “savage” lifestyle of the Indians more appealing than that of the White America that betrayed her. In the end, May learns that betrayal and savagery is the territory of all men, and skin color and culture have little hand in making anyone a noble being. Is Fergus’ book a twist of history? Of course, but in his hands he reveals both Indian and American societies, showing that they are closer in kind than either would admit. There is much truth in the betrayal of the Indians at the business end of government rifles and broken treaties, and in the narration of repugnant tribal savagery. May Dodd is the vehicle through which this mortifying period of history comes alive in ways that history books don’t achieve.

The historian Josephus, a first century Jewish scholar who lived in Roman controlled Judea, wrote the only known account of the siege of Masada. Masada was a fortress built on a desert mountaintop south of Jerusalem which in 70 C.E. held out against 10,000 well armed and provisioned Roman troops. More than 900 Jewish men, women, and children determined that they would not concede to Roman condemnation of their faith or control of their destiny, and chose instead a mass suicide pact, thus deflating Rome’s power. Josephus’ history discloses that two women and five children survived the massacre though no details exist. Museums in Israel and Wales maintain in their collections several artifacts from the siege: a scrap of plaid fabric, a woman’s sandals, an amulet, remnants of silver armor, incantation bowls.

From these few remains Alice Hoffman constructed The Dovekeepers, a story of four women whose resilience and extraordinary skills bear witness to the cruelty of the Romans and the ingenuity of the Jewish rebels who refuse to be conquered. Yael is the daughter of the master assassin who leads the Jewish band. Revka fiercely hides and protects her grandsons after the murder of their mother at the hands of Roman soldiers. Shirah uses her skill with magic and folk medicine to aid those in precarious health, especially women. Aziza secrets herself in the guise of a male and bests the young Jewish warriors at skills they cannot imagine a girl could learn. These women maintain the dovecote, an essential asset in keeping the Jewish community from starving. Hoffman admits that there is controversy over whether or not doves were actually kept at Masada, but in her book they represent a critical resource and the future.

History may be intricately folded like origami or cut like lace in attempts to tell only the most significant parts of an event and leave out the mundane details. Thus textbooks explain complex troop movements, the rank of leaders, and political intrigue but miss telling about the impact of war on the children and wives left behind, of the ordinary farmers, weavers, and sailors still trying to bring in their crops, sew coats, or transport goods. Common folk have little place in the annals of world history and are given short shrift, if any shrift at all, in history books. In the hands of deft wordsmiths, the truths of these ordinary lives come to light in rich and unexpected ways, exposing the full breadth of history, filling in the spaces between what historians find important and what people want to know.

 

Robert Morgan writes at the end of his novel Gap Creek:

I tell my students that you do not write living fiction by attempting to transcribe actual events onto the page. You create a sense of real characters and a real story by putting down one vivid detail, one exact phrase, at a time. The fiction is imagined, but if it is done well, it seems absolutely true, as real as the world around us.

 

I offer only scant apology to the reworking of history in my own stories. I am a storyteller who loves history and researching real incidents, real people. But if a detail would better tell my story with a bit of imaginative revision, then hand me the scissors and glue. You can always go read a history book about the same events. It is not meant for one genre to usurp the other but for each to complement the other, a kind of silk word embroidery on homespun.

Be well, friends.

Write Now Prompt for September 12, 2014

Write_Now_Plane

At Today’s Author, our first goal is to get you (and us) to write. Write Now is our own collection of prompts to help you do that. With Write Now we’re not talking about writing, or trying to teach anyone how to write. Write Now is all about putting pen to paper.

Today’s Prompt:

For some reason, everyone in the neighborhood had asked Sally to keep a spare key to their homes.

Now_Write_Plane

How to play along with our Writing Prompts

  1. Write in any format or style you wish: short story, poem, script – whatever you like.
  2. Write for at least 5 minutes. There is no time limit – write for as long as you wish!
  3. Editing is not required, though we do recommend that you run a spell check at least.
  4. Post your work to your blog and include a link back here so your readers can find other writer’s work, too.
  5. Come back here and provide a link to your work on the Write Now! prompt for which it was written.
  6. Read other authors’ posts and leave constructive comments.

Important Note: When you post a draft of your work online, it may be difficult to find a publisher who will accept it, as many see an online document as being previously published. It may also be ineligible to be submitted for certain writing competitions. Always check publisher’s and competition guidelines before using a draft you put online.

6 Tips That Solve Half Your Tech Writing Problems

tech tipsYou hate tech. All you want to do is write, but lately, that requires a Masters in Geekery. Your word processing tool of choice always seems to break when you are on a roll–the computer freezes, system crashes, document disappears, an error code pops up that wants you to do something with ten syllables or lose all your files. None of it makes sense and you long for the world when the worst problem was a broken pencil.

Before you say words your children shouldn’t hear, try these six quick solutions:

Is Power on?

When you’re talking to tech folk, their first question always centers around whether your computer system is getting power. Surprisingly, this is often why it doesn’t work–I know, who would guess? Clear this as a reason before moving on by making sure all the working pieces are getting the power they need. Here’s a checklist:

  • Are all plugs in wall sockets
  • Are all cables connected to the computer? An easy way to check both of these: Is the power light on the keyboard and the monitor?
  • Is the internet working? That has plugs too, so check those.
  • Are headphones plugged in?

 

Are you logging in under your name?

Everyone knows to confirm their password, but few people think to check the log-in name. If you set up separate profiles for family members, one of them might have forgotten to log off the last time they used the computer.

If you take your computer to work, someone might have tried to access their online or networked account through your computer and forgotten to return it to your settings. If you can’t log in, or your desktop doesn’t have files and folders it should, check to see who the log-in name is.

Try a different browser

All browsers are not created equally. I have a lot more problems with IE than Firefox and more with Firefox than Chrome. Yes, you counted right. I have three browsers on my computer because they are all somewhat quirky in their delivery of websites. If I can’t load a site in one browser, I try another. I don’t care WHY it won’t work in one if it works in another. All I care is that I got to the website. It’s become the first trouble-shooting tool I use when a website doesn’t work.

It’s not just me, either. It’s the Universe. You’ll often see suggestions on websites–Works better with the *** browser. Coding and scripts and stuff are different in different browsers, which makes them act differently on websites. That’s as technical as I can get about the reasons.

In the geek world, which browser is best is a hot topic. The only point Chrome and Firefox users agree on is they’re better than IE. Here are a few articles with more on this debate:

Switch computers

One other filter you can use in identifying the cause of your tech problem is to try a different computer. If it works there, it means the problem is in your system.

Repeat

If something doesn’t work the first time, do it again. Why is this so often effective? It’s called ‘user error’. You typed a password in wrong, or left a blank space without even knowing it. This is why forms always ask you to type an email address twice. It’s not likely you’d have the same typo twice. Even websites are starting to recommend this. Learn from the experts and adopt ‘repeat’ as a viable solution for tech problems.

Reboot

This works more often than you’d think. Here’s why: When you turn your computer on, it goes through lots of organizing and prioritizing to get your desktop looking just the way you want it. Sometimes, that arranging gets undone by your activities. Pieces get lopped off, forgotten, like DNA mutations. Not your fault, just the way it is. The computer still works, but not quite the same.

When you shut down and restart, it closes everything, stores them away, and then brings them back out in the proper order. Be sure you ‘shut down’ from the Start button (for Windows folk), not by pushing the power button.

That’s it from my end, but check out Lifehacker and FoxNews for their list of common problems and solutions.

More on tech problem solving:

12 Spring Cleaning Steps for Your Computer

Tech Tip for Writers #60: How to Add Shortcuts to the Desktop

Tech Tip for Writers #59: Shortkey for the Copyright Symbol


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. In her free time, she is  editor of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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Write Now Prompt for September 9, 2014

Write_Now_Plane

At Today’s Author, our first goal is to get you (and us) to write. Write Now is our own collection of prompts to help you do that. With Write Now we’re not talking about writing, or trying to teach anyone how to write. Write Now is all about putting pen to paper.

Today’s Prompt:

He stared at the letter on the top of the pile of mail and knew that he didn’t want to open it.

Now_Write_Plane

How to play along with our Writing Prompts

  1. Write in any format or style you wish: short story, poem, script – whatever you like.
  2. Write for at least 5 minutes. There is no time limit – write for as long as you wish!
  3. Editing is not required, though we do recommend that you run a spell check at least.
  4. Post your work to your blog and include a link back here so your readers can find other writer’s work, too.
  5. Come back here and provide a link to your work on the Write Now! prompt for which it was written.
  6. Read other authors’ posts and leave constructive comments.

Important Note: When you post a draft of your work online, it may be difficult to find a publisher who will accept it, as many see an online document as being previously published. It may also be ineligible to be submitted for certain writing competitions. Always check publisher’s and competition guidelines before using a draft you put online.

The Writers Circle: Incorprating Nonfiction into Works of Fiction

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

Works of fiction often use elements of nonfiction. For example, Stephen King’s recent novel 11/22/63 borrows Lee Harvey Oswald, Marina Oswald, and JFK, and interweaves elements of their lives (both real and imagined) into a fictional narrative. How do you feel about this kind of appropriation? Do you think anything is fair game, even if the people you use or the events you reference are being changed for your own story-telling purposes? Do we owe anything to history to leave nonfiction out of our fiction?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

 

Do you have an idea you think would be a great topic for a future The Writer’s Circle post?  Do you have a question you’d like to ask our authors?  Fill out the form on our Contact Us page to share your ideas and questions.

 

Write Now Prompt for September 5, 2014

Write_Now_Plane

At Today’s Author, our first goal is to get you (and us) to write. Write Now is our own collection of prompts to help you do that. With Write Now we’re not talking about writing, or trying to teach anyone how to write. Write Now is all about putting pen to paper.

Today’s Prompt:

Two days after installing the most advanced home security system available, he came home to find his security codes no longer worked.

Now_Write_Plane

How to play along with our Writing Prompts

  1. Write in any format or style you wish: short story, poem, script – whatever you like.
  2. Write for at least 5 minutes. There is no time limit – write for as long as you wish!
  3. Editing is not required, though we do recommend that you run a spell check at least.
  4. Post your work to your blog and include a link back here so your readers can find other writer’s work, too.
  5. Come back here and provide a link to your work on the Write Now! prompt for which it was written.
  6. Read other authors’ posts and leave constructive comments.

Important Note: When you post a draft of your work online, it may be difficult to find a publisher who will accept it, as many see an online document as being previously published. It may also be ineligible to be submitted for certain writing competitions. Always check publisher’s and competition guidelines before using a draft you put online.