Where Dreams Meet the Business of Writing

Posts tagged ‘Writer’s Zen’

atoz badge 2020

Join us in April as Writer’s Zen celebrates the world of historical fiction, blogging along with the A to Z Blog Challenge. We’ll be posting our way through the alphabet, a letter at a time – every day except Sunday.

If you like historical fiction, there are links at the end where you can follow Pages of the Past on Facebook or sign up for the weekly newsletter. Each week we feature an article about writing historical fiction, spotlight a historical fiction author, and share great reads in a variety of time periods. There are also occasional short story contests and other fun highlights.

Today, introduces the letter O.

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oral history

Oral Histories

As authors of historical fiction, often the information we glean during our research phase is from oral histories of people that have first-hand information of people, places, or events of long ago. Following is an excerpt from a class I had on writing your family history that has some tips about interviewing people.

Interviews

Are you interviewing family members for their stories? Do you think about it, but don’t get around to it? Not sure where to start?

Here’s some tips for interviewing people to glean information and tales of the past.

  1. Do it now. This is I think one of the most important. Oh, how I wish I could go back in time fifteen or twenty years and listen to more stories from Grandma. I’d listen more intently, not with just half my attention. And I’d take notes. And record her! We think we’ll have time. Next month. Next summer. When I’m not so busy. And then – it’s too late. So do it now.
  2. Plan multiple visits if possible. You’re not going to get everything in one visit. You’re not going to cover 60-70-80 years of memories in an afternoon. The best time I had with my mom was when I took a week and flew to California. I picked her up and we drove to Arizona to see my kids and grandkids. We spent several days there and drove back. I took notes the whole week. One memory begets another. It seems that once someone takes a trip back in time, other memories start surfacing over the next few days and weeks.
  3. Don’t do too much at once. Plan for breaks. Several hours is a good period. If you try to go all day, it will be fatiguing – to you and to the person you’re interviewing. The visit with my mom worked well, even though it was over a period of many days because we weren’t constantly ‘interviewing.’ It was conversations in between driving, visiting, eating, relaxing, etc. Most likely the person you’ll be interviewing is older, so be considerate. Realize that this process may be tiring for them.
  4. Make notes, and record if possible. I didn’t record any conversations with my mom, but I have a legal pad full of notes. Unfortunately, when I go to look at those notes four or five years later, some of my cryptic notes that made so much sense at the time now look like nonsense and I have no idea what I meant by my scribbles. Most people now have phones that can easily – and unobtrusively – record your interviews.
  5. Ask ahead of time if there are photographs available that you can look at. If this doesn’t come up until you’re with the individual for your interview session, it may not be possible to access photographs. Often, they’re buried deep in a closet or in a storage bin. If they know ahead of time, it will be easier for them to have photographs available, which are a great source of prompts.
  6. Ask open ended questions. Open ended questions, those that don’t require yes or no answers, gather more responsive answers. Instead of asking ‘Did you like being raised on a farm? (Answer – yes or no – and you’re done), ask ‘What was it like being raised on a farm?”
  7. If possible, visit at their home. Especially if they’re elderly. They may be more comfortable at home in their own environment. Also, being home may prompt memories that wouldn’t surface if you’re sitting in a loud, busy restaurant for your interview.
  8. Be Patient. Many elderly people speak slowly and softy. Some are hard of hearing. In our excitement about getting to the gold nuggets we’ve been searching for; we don’t want to rush full speed ahead. We may need to slow down a notch or two to match their energy levels.

 

The Legacy Project has six terrific questions to ask:

  1. If a young person asked you, “What have you learned in your ____ years in this world,” what would you tell him or her?

  2. Some people say that they have had difficult or stressful experiences, but they have learned important lessons from them. Is that true for you? Can you give an example?

  3. As you look back over your life, do you see any “turning points”; that is, a key event or experience that changed the course of your life or set you on a different track?

  4. What would you say you know now about living a happy and successful life that you didn’t know when you were twenty?

  5. What can younger people do to avoid having regrets later in life?

  6. What would you say are the major values or principles that you live by?

 

Dirty Thirties

atoz badge 2020

Join us in April as Writer’s Zen celebrates the world of historical fiction, blogging along with the A to Z Blog Challenge. We’ll be posting our way through the alphabet, a letter at a time – every day except Sunday.

If you like historical fiction, there are links at the end where you can follow Pages of the Past on Facebook or sign up for the weekly newsletter. Each week we feature an article about writing historical fiction, spotlight a historical fiction author, and share great reads in a variety of time periods. There are also occasional short story contests and other fun highlights.

Today, introduce the letter D.

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Dirty Thirties

Do you find that you’re fascinated with certain periods of time? Are there eras that become your favorites? Are there certain years that beckon to you, calling you to revel in the past?

That’s the 1930’s for me. I don’t know why. There’s something about the plight of America, struggling through the Great Depression that tugs on my heartstrings. I see the pictures that document the difficulties they dealt with. I cringe when I see the massive dust storms that devastated so much – enough so that the decade is frequently called the ‘Dirty Thirties’.

Maybe it was reading Grapes of Wrath at an early age that fueled my fascination with the lives of people living through that decade. Maybe it’s because my parents were born then; my dad in 1934 and my mom in 1936. Maybe it’s all the stories I heard growing up, about their childhood and early days.

And then, as an adult many years later, the quilt squares I found in a yard sale, from Athelstan, Iowa, were stitched in 1934. These quilt squares quickly worked their way into my heart. Through them, I discovered new friends. I became attached to women from the past that I’d never met. They’re back home now, in the Taylor County Historical Museum in Bedford, Iowa. A small piece of my heart hangs next to each of the 30 squares displayed in the museum.

QS in museum

 

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Jeepers Creepers – IWSG

IWSG

Every month, the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) announces a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. “These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.”

Remember, the question is optional! (But I usually try to go with their question.)

November 6 question – What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever googled in researching a story?

The awesome co-hosts for the November 6 posting of the IWSG are Sadira Stone, Patricia Josephine, Lisa Buie-Collard, Erika Beebe, and C. Lee McKenzie!

first flight

Jeepers-Creepers

A writer’s browser history – it’s funny, but this subject just came up in my writer’s group a few days ago. One of the members is writing a psychological thriller. She was telling us about how she’s creating a board about her serial killer, similar to the ones shown in police departments in crime shows. She was joking about hoping that the police never show up on her door with a search warrant for any reason, laughing about what they’d find when they entered her office. She’s going to be doing some blog posts about her progress with this, and wants to put a disclaimer somewhere on the board – ‘Honest, I’m just a writer!’

From there we started talking about how our browser history would look to anyone examining it.

Best poison for…

How to dismember…

How deep to bury…

How long to freeze…

Alas, lately most of my writing lately has been historical fiction, so I can’t think of any fascinating things that I’ve had to research. Most of my searches lately have been of the ‘When was this phrase first used’ category. Or, what type of clothing was worn in X? When were bicycles first used? What movies were showing in 1934? What books were published in 1848? How long does it take to churn butter?

‘Jeepers, creepers’ is one of phrases I had to look up. More of a fact check instead of research. This frequently comes up in my writing group. One of us will use a phrase and some asks – was that even used then? Out come the phones as people frantically start googling the term.

I did that myself. I was reading a children’s book, set at the time the Wilber and Orville Wright were about ready to have their first airplane flight. The phrase was used a few times in the book. I thought – that’s too early. That’s a 1920s phrase.

I was wrong. The phrase came into popular use much earlier and was used in 1903.

These little pieces are all tidbits that I need to know. And they’re interesting to me – however, I doubt any of these searches quality for the strangest thing to google prize. I am interested to read some of the other posts today, to see what odd things that other authors have had to research.

Moonshiners

Join us in the 2019 A to Z Blog Challenge as we celebrate historical fiction. These posts will also be shared in the weekly newsletter, Pages of the Past, which debuted April 5th.

moonshiners2

Moonshiners

gma_gpa2.jpgMoonshine has become a romanticized part of our Jones family history. Papa Goss, my great-father, was the moonshiner in the Arkansas Ozarks, in Myrtle, outside of Harrison. Casey Jones, my grandfather, was the ‘runner’, driving down to pick up a trunk load of moonshine and running it back to Chillicothe, Missouri. During these trips down south, Casey met the moonshiner’s daughter, Beatrice Goss.  In 1935 they married, and the rest as they say, is history.

But Grandma, even though she was the moonshiner’s daughter, was not fond of that part of her family history. She also wasn’t fond of Grandpa’s use of the ‘shine’. It was many years, several children, and many, many arguments later – but Grandma’s stubborn streak prevailed and alcohol was no longer part of our family history. By the time I arrived, alcohol never passed Grandpa’s lips and he was an active and faithful deacon of the stone church on Glendora Avenue.

But yet, many of us grandchildren find that we have a soft spot in our hearts for the moonshine part of our family’s past. After all, it is how Grandpa and Grandma met.

If you’re writing a story set during Prohibition, or even in the post-Depression years after Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the illicit part of alcohol – moonshine and speakeasies – may be part of your character’s lives. There’s a whole culture around moonshining. Here are a few fun sites that can give you a peek into what times were like for them.

https://www.thevintagenews.com/2018/11/26/moonshine-and-cow-shoes/

https://www.alcoholproblemsandsolutions.org/women-bootleggers-during-prohibition-there-were-many/

http://ozarkhistorybuff.com/ozark-moonshine-alive-well-ozarks/

http://harrisondaily.com/news/museum-musings-moonshine-was-still-big-usiness/article_ceccae28-2a55-11e9-b291-1377d2fb1d09.html

https://allthatsinteresting.com/moonshine-stills

moonshiners

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Basic Tips for Writing Historical Fiction

AtoZ2019tenthAnn

Join us in the 2019 A to Z Blog Challenge as we celebrate historical fiction. These posts will also be shared in the weekly newsletter, Pages of the Past, which debuts April 5th.

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Basic Tips for Writing Historical Fiction

Basic tips for writing historical fiction – it sounds like such an easy task to compose. However, from the pile of notes sitting beside me, I see that this information can easily comprise an entire book – or more. And this is the A to Z blog challenge, where people are scrambling, trying to visit as many blog posts as humanely possible in our given virtual allowance of time.

In the interest of keeping this short and readable, I’ll post a few of the tips that have been most useful to me. And I’ll share some blog posts and web sites that have been very helpful to me as I dive into the deep, dark rabbit hole of historical fiction.

Read in the genre you’re writing. One of the most useful tips that helps immensely. I typically read a wide variety of books and always have several going at the same time. (I blame my scattered Gemini attention span.) I usually try to read out of four categories – 1) something in the genre I’m writing, 2) something in a new genre or style that I typically wouldn’t read to expand my horizons, 3) a book I can learn from, something that teaches me or broadens my spiritual or emotional life, and 4) something I read purely for entertainment – a book that immerses me in the story and I forget to come up for air.

Chose an exact time and place for your story. Knowing an exact timeline and place – Summer 1914, Highland Park, Michigan – gives you the tether stones to keep your story in place. I’ve discovered some fascinating historical accounts that I would love to drop into a story I’m working on, but if I didn’t happen until two years after the tale is happening, I know I can’t include it. If you have a vague ‘early 1900s’ in mind, you’re setting yourself up for a mishmash that is ripe for inaccuracies.

Let the characters impart the historical details. Yes, you can include some broad strokes of historical background here and there as needed, but try to let the majority of the historical details come out through character dialogue or interactions.

Susanna Calkins, author of A Murder at Rosamund’s Café, says it better. She writes on ‘7 Tips on Accuracy and Authenticity’:

Let the characters engage with the historical details. This goes along with that “show don’t tell” truism writers are told all the time. Rather than just dumping a bunch of facts on the poor reader, let your characters interact with these details with all these senses. Let them smell the offal dumped onto the cobblestone streets. Let them squint in the fading light of the tallow candles. Let them feel the tingling sensation as the physician places a leech on their bare skin.

For some excellent articles with good advice, check out some of these sites:

https://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/how-to-write-historical-fiction-7-tips-on-accuracy-and-authenticity

https://www.creative-writing-now.com/how-to-write-historical-fiction.html

https://www.writermag.com/improve-your-writing/fiction/historical-short-stories/

http://www.elizabethcrookbooks.com/articles/historical_fiction.htm

 

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Articles as Our Link to the Past

AtoZ2019tenthAnn.jpg

Join us in the 2019 A to Z Blog Challenge as we celebrate historical fiction. These posts will also be shared in the weekly newsletter, Pages of the Past, which debuts April 5th.

Lawson

 

Articles as Our Link to the Past

Often I joke that I’d be happy if I could figure out how to get paid to sit and research all day. I truly enjoy writing historical fiction – both short stories and longer works. But the research, ah, that’s where my heart sings. Especially when all the planets align and I discover delicious tidbits with ease, instead of the roadblocks and rabbit holes that can so often be the results of our research time.

A few weeks ago, for example, I ran across something that had me doing a happy dance. Luckily, I don’t have a camera on my monitor, so there’s no visual proof of my antics that afternoon. (Be relieved!) Although I write stories in different eras, my passion is in the 1930s. I tease that it’s John Steinbeck’s fault. Reading Grapes of Wrath in junior high, probably coupled with hearing stories about my grandparents early adult years (married in 1935), fueled the favoritism for this decade.

While researching for one of the short stories I was working on, I saw a reference to a series of articles that John Steinbeck wrote, “The Harvest Gypsies”. The articles were commissioned by The San Francisco News and were published from October 5-12, 1936. Steinbeck interviewed migrant workers and shared about the hardships encountered in these post-Depression years. I wanted to read those articles. Can you lust after a printed page? I was.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to foray into the World Wide Web too deeply before I found a copy of The Harvest Gypsies. I read that in 1938 the articles were published, along with Steinbeck’s epilogue “Starvation Under the Orange Trees”, in a pamphlet entitled Their Blood is Strong. Wikipedia reports that ten thousand copies of this pamphlet sold at twenty-five cents each. With a little more digging, I found a copy of the epilogue to accompany the treasure I’d printed out earlier.

Reading these, and other articles in a similar vein are fascinating to me. Interviews with people that lived in times prior and other written accounts are like a time capsule, taking us back to the days of long ago. These written accounts give us a direct peek into lives that we may otherwise not know. And even better, it’s all from the comfort of our own heated and air-conditioned homes, where we live with full refrigerators and stuffed bellies. Then we close the page, go out to our luxurious automobile (compared to my Grandpa’s 1928 Chevy), and drive to the market a mile away to purchase anything we desire. I always feel so spoiled and grateful after reading some of these accounts of the life people that lived so many years ago.

For a little more reading fun, here are a few other sites I discovered in various research expeditions.

Life in a Michigan logging camp

Prohibition times and photos in Michigan

Moonshine in Arkansas

A Pennsylvania Miner’s story

Diaries, Memoirs, Letters and Reports Along The Trails West

Happy reading!

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Words are Another Medium

Today I’m writing for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group’s blog hop. The first Wednesday of each month, we write in inspiration to a question posed by the group’s administrators. We don’t need to write in response to the question posed, but I like to use their query as the springboard for the monthly post.

This month the OPTIONAL IWSG Day Question is: Besides writing, what other creative outlets do you have?

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Words are Another Medium

Creativity has been part of my life for as long as I remember. Well, at least as early as sixth grade, when my mom taught me to knit and crochet. Then came sewing – on an old treadle sewing machine that my dad bought at an auction in Indiana for just a few dollars. Home Ec classes refined my sewing techniques and were followed with embroidery and some novice attempts at quilting.

iswg1.jpgThese early creative attempts with fabrics and yarns are probably why my favorite pursuits are in the fiber arts area. Several years of weaving classes plunged me further into the field of fibers and weaving soon turned to spinning, dyeing, and felting.

But, I’m a Gemini and I can’t do just one thing. So there’s also papermaking and altered books. These are even more fun with I can combine yarns and weavings into completed projects.

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But…behind Door C is glass! One glass fusing class was all it took and I had to get my own small kiln. What to make, what to make? Pendants? Buttons? Tiles? So much glass – so little time. And if I don’t feel like firing up the kiln, cold glass projects – like mosaic work – are satisfying too.

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And then there was the ‘Polymer Clay Phase’. More earrings to make. Pens to cover. Journal covers to create. Jars and tins to embellish. So many ideas and ways to play with this versatile medium.

But lately, I haven’t been spending much time in these creative avenues. I’ve been too busy crafting with another medium – words.

Writing seems more cerebral. It doesn’t seem to qualify as a creative pursuit. But it is. Writing is creativity expressed in another vein. Instead of acrylic paints, I’m using words to paint the canvas. The techniques are much the same – learning, crafting, and perfecting the skills. The editing is like sculpting with clay. Trim a little here. Pinch off this. Smooth this out. And soon, a completed project is ready and done. Only this one doesn’t hang on a wall, or sit on a mantle. This one is a stack of printed papers or a bound book. All the work of the same muse – Artistic Imagination.

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Only Five?

iwsg

Today I’m writing for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group’s blog hop. The first Wednesday of each month, we write in inspiration to a question posed by the group’s administrators. We don’t need to write in response to the question posed, but I like to use their query as the springboard for the monthly post.

This Co-Hosts this month are: J.H. Moncrieff, Tonja Drecker , Patsy Collins, and Chrys Fey!

This month the OPTIONAL IWSG Day Question is: What are five objects we’d find in your writing space?

Only Five?

Oh goodness, Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) – you ask about five objects you’d find in my writing space? Only five? Since my writing room doubles as a crafting room also, I could list more like five hundred objects. Although I could see where most people would either quit reading or fall asleep – at least by item Number 47. So perhaps five is a nicer number to play with. Besides, after so many notebooks, paperclips, pens and staplers we’d all be snoozing, including myself. Many writers will probably have what I’ve listed first, but probably not the other four writing accessories.

IMG_0685[1].JPGStack of query and submission ideas

Many writers will have this item, a supply of possibilities to send query letters or essays to, or other publishing options to pursue. Although many may have a more organized approach, I am a pile kind of person. I have a notebook – two of them – that are supposed to hold these possible markets. Three years later the notebooks are gathering dust in a corner and the pile system is entrenched in place. And growing. I think for every one market I query or submit to, three or four other markets replace the one that’s gone.

IMG_0687[1].JPGA bunch of carrots

A few years ago, after I’d started writing in earnest, I had a dream. I was in the backyard with bushel baskets standing in front of four small garden plots. I was harvesting carrots. Two of the plots had a meager harvest, one had decent harvest, and one plot produced a bountiful carrot harvest. The bushel baskets on that one were overflowing with produce. I realized that with my writing I’m planting carrots. I’m planting the seeds of future harvest. Some seeds may not grow very well, giving me few carrots. Other crops may produce abundant supplies of the golden vegetable. I purchased some carrots from the local craft store to remind me that my words are simply planting seeds for future crops. I may not see immediate results. And the results will vary from scanty to plentiful. I just need to keep planting my carrots.

IMG_0686[1].JPGPieces of the past

Shopping malls don’t tempt me. Not in the least. I can live the rest of my life without going to another one. But antique stores…they’re my catnip. I adore pieces from the past and my home is filled with many family heirlooms and treasures gleaned from visiting antique stores in many different states. The ‘curtain’ in the window in front of my desk is a 1930’s quilt top, completely hand stitched and picked up for a pittance at a yard sale – the same one where I bought a set of 30 1934 quilt squares that I’ve since taken to a museum in Iowa. Handstitched dish clothes from the same era, vintage books, antique pottery, Depression glass, vintage bottles…they’re in here too, adoring the shelves along with books filling five book cases.

Wind chimes

Yes, wind chimes. A whole window full of them. Hey, if I put them outside I’d rarely see them. I spend much more time at my desk now than I do in the garden. So I installed a dowel in front of the window and hung a dozen wind chimes.

IMG_E0602[1].JPGTator Tot

Tator Tot is the newest addition to my writing space. My writing/craft room used to be (notice the used to part?) the only cat-free room in the house. We’d been watching one of the feral kittens outside for several weeks. One was extremely lethargic and listless. It got worse. We picked it up one day and its gums were so pale they were white. A month ago we made an appointment at the vets and brought it inside. Not knowing if it was sick or not, we couldn’t have it in the main part of the house with the others. So in my room it came. Tator Tot turned out to be a little boy and was extremely anemic, had roundworms, and was severely underweight. (1 pound when he should have been 2-2 ½ pounds) The vet said he probably wouldn’t have lasted another few days, and was doubtful if he’d even make it now. He made it and a month later is a little demon, never still until he wears himself out and plops down, now exhausted from hours of play instead of simply no energy.

So if my writing’s slowed down a bit over the past month, I’ll blame it all on Tator Tot. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ll still keep him for Item Number Five in my writing space. Now…if I can only figure out how to have him help me harvest a few carrots.

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There’s Writing and There’s Writing

iwsg

Today I’m writing for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group’s blog hop. The first Wednesday of each month, we write in inspiration to a question posed by the group’s administrators. We don’t need to write in response to the question posed, but I like to use their query as the springboard for the monthly post.

This month we were asked, ‘How do major life events affect your writing? Has writing ever helped you through something?’

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There’s Writing and There’s Writing

First off, we’ll answer the easy one. How do major life events affect my writing? Pretty much, if they don’t merely slow my writing, they usually bring it to a screeching halt. It seems that I have a limited reservoir of energy. I can use it writing – or I can use it dealing with major issues. I don’t always have the resources to do both.

Has writing ever helped me through something? Yes. And, no. There’s two types of writing in my world. Journaling, which is private and therapeutic. And writing for the public eye, such as books, short stories, articles, and blogs.

Journaling helps me through things. But that isn’t writing that I share with anyone else. Now, later on, after that difficult part of life has passed, then I may use some of that for fodder for the public writing. For instance, in 2010 I had a Sudden Cardiac Arrest. My heart stopped beating on an airplane. That incident took me about two weeks to even come to grips with what had happened, let alone dealing with all the associated emotions that arose. Did my journal get a work out that year! Now, once the intensity of the moment subsided and life stabilized back to a routine (and I’m talking a few years here), then I began publicly writing about it. Several times I’ve even excerpted short snippets from my actual journal, but only in short selected sections.

But for me, I need a lot of processing time between the actual event and publicly writing about it. Sometimes I even need this transition period to even be able to talk about it with someone else. But, that’s me. I’m usually a private person and don’t easily show others the open shards of my heart. So I’ll show you some of my writing – the other – that’s tucked away on a shelf to rarely see the light of day. I guess it just goes to show that not all writers are open books.

 

Check out more Insecure Writer’s Support Group posts here.

How Many Sarah’s Can You Have?

iwsg

Today I’m writing for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group’s blog hop. The first Wednesday of each month, we write in inspiration to a question posed by the group’s administrators. We don’t need to write in response to the question posed, but I like to use their query as the springboard for the monthly post.

This month we were asked, ‘What’s harder for you to come up with, book titles or character names?’

names from a hat

How Many Sarah’s Can You Have?

A Sarah here, a Sarah there…how many Sarah’s can an author have? This month’s question for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group was an easy one. Definitely choosing names are more difficult for me. The titles always seem to come with the germination of the book idea itself. And while they many change as I work on and complete the book – that is rare. I almost always go with my first instinct for a title.

But names, that’s where my own personal difficulty lies. I don’t have problems with naming characters, it’s just that I seem to always go to the same names. Sarah and William seem to be particular favorites to me, but I have no idea why. It’s like I have this internal list of ten to twelve favorites that my brain always accesses first. On my short stories spreadsheet, I had to add a column for main character names, so I don’t repeat names.

Another small glitch I find is that I can easily end up with two or three character names that all begin with the same initial. If I don’t consciously watch it, I’ll have Sarah and Sam with a dog named Spot. It must be that alliteration fascination coming back to haunt me.

Alas, if these were the only troubles I had to contend with, I’d be one happy author. Names I can change all day long. Now if fixing plot holes and characterization problems were just as easy.

Check out more Insecure Writer’s Support Group posts here.

 

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