Write Lightning is a blog from writer Deb Thompson.
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Wed, May 22 2019

Hunger strike or food fight? Famine? Fasting? Festing?

A worker on a girder high in the sky carrying a handled lunch box filled with deli sandwiches and a thermos of steamy coffee fills the mind with a scene. Now picture a worker carrying a colorful insulated bag full of yogurt and fresh fruit. How does the scene change in your mind? Is the second worker a petite female or a burly man trying to fend off a heart attack? Or did the second worker just happen to trade lunches with someone on this day? We think we know, but food choices can be incredibly personal and can be influenced by medical issues, cultural background, peer pressure, childhood memories and financial changes, among other things.

What and when and how your fictional characters gather, prepare and consume food can tell readers a lot about their situation on any given day. Description that includes one or more food scenes lets the reader experience another whole side of a main character. If a bomb attack occurs during a trip to an outdoor market, one is likely to never forget such a day when one visits other outdoor markets. A minor, but significant, character will be imprinted on the reader's mind if that character is always seen cutting chunks of green apple with a pocket knife as he or she stares at the main character.

posted at: 11:36 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Fri, May 10 2019

But this is my job, even when I'm not doing it.

I've been increasing the nonfiction work, using small notations best described as the sort of snippets one might pop into a journal. I don't know whether this is a writer form of procrastination to avoid confronting my fictional pieces or represents an actual shift in work focus.

What I have learned over time is that hitting a wall with a piece of writing is a signal that I've been forcing something that either isn't ready or isn't there. We tend to have relationships with our works in progress, cathecting with the work as we go or as we don't go. (Scott Peck spoke of cathecting and how humans sometimes confuse it with mutual affection.) Friendships wax and wane, last a short time or many years, grow with time or fade with separation. And so, to be certain I haven't given up on this or that piece, I need to revisit its essence now and then to be certain it's still relevant and alive for me.

In the end, it's much of the same old tune that plays when people ask writers when we're going to get a real job. If you have to ask, you probably won't understand our answers.

posted at: 11:40 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Fri, Apr 05 2019

Story legacy

Last night we attended a dinner and meeting where part of the table decor included items made by one of our members who recently passed away. Many of us remarked that it felt as though he had left part of him with us, a legacy of his care and his craftsmanship that we could always point to as we held him in our hearts.

People talk about the universal theme of a piece of fiction and how important that theme is. I'm beginning to think that a univeral theme may be important, but the real thing I want to leave with the reader is a legacy that he or she can carry around for a very long time. The legacy takes the story beyong universal. It becomes personal as it bumps up against their life and values and mirrors what they hold dear in their path in life.

posted at: 10:33 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Tue, Feb 26 2019

What do locals call that mountain, or is that a swamp?

Yesterday I was rearranging some items in the house and I got stuck because of approximately two inches of space. I went ahead and did the cleaning I could behind furniture and small items that had already been moved, but those two inches really put a damper on progress. I felt stuck.

This was all resolved later in the day when I had help (and a couple of extra tools) moving one large item in order to gain that other two inches of space. But it reminded me of times when I get stuck on a piece of writing because I can't come up with a character name or I can't readily fill in all the details of a story setting. It's easier to give up than to keep working around the issue. If I had taken that attitude while rearranging the items at home, we would have fallen over a dozen things on the way to bed last night. I didn't abandon the project, but I did what I could and I also made sure there was not some good reason why the detail was not working for me.

When I can't name a character in a story, I try to take a good look at the attributes and basic ego of the character to make sure I have the right charactor for the job. When I can't get a mountain backdrop to easily fit into the setting, it may be that the mountain really isn't there. The setting may need to be a flat plain with no mountain around.

Before I abandon a story next time, I plan to pause first and take a good look at why this or that detail just isn't showing up. I may not have the right focus or truth in front of me to get that job done.

posted at: 10:53 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Fri, Feb 08 2019

A real-life lesson in timing and foreshadowing

I had a mammogram about a week ago. I wouldn't usually share this personal information, but I wanted to talk about timing and foreshadowing. They had the results of my scan within a few hours, which startled me. In the past, it would take a matter of days to be able to read the results. I experienced a bit of alarm, having gotten a boring old printed letter in the past (in an envelope they'd had me address to myself in the imaging center). When the results appeared by that evening, I thought it might be a sign that I needed to pay immediate attention. It turned out that my results were just about as boring as in previous scans. It's just that the tests are so precise now that, in most cases, they can interpret them quickly.

Have you ever been watching a film or TV show and seen a shot of a paper being put into a coat pocket? We've all learned that there is some reason why we're being shown that movement. What happens if they keep showing us the pocket in several scenes and we never see any reason for that pocket being forced into our view? We feel cheated later. Conversely, what heppens if we see a paper and we see a coat pocket, but we never see them together? Don't we keep trying to figure out the reason? Or, if the film doesn't show the paper going into the pocket at all and a big plot twist later reveals the importance of that paper going into the pocket at a specific time, we end up confused. If the tale-teller waits to long to show the paper going into the pocket we feel as though the whole show is oddly paced, as though the story lacks a pacing that we can feel and lean into for a big finish.

Foresahowing is an effective tool when writing a story, but we shouldn't cheat the reader out of the fun of guessing why the clues matter. Nor should we jar the reader out of the world we've given them to move through and enjoy.

posted at: 13:19 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Wed, Jan 30 2019

Production: Before, during and after process

January has begun like, and unlike, all other calendar years. In the rush to put away holiday decorations we left a few items on display. The momentum has slowed to a near crawl, but progress is being made.

The writing projects are in a similar state. A week of jury duty complicated the ability to schedule time at the computer keyboard, so I doubled-down on the joys of writing by hand. Focus is different when you write with a pen. Time becomes less crisp in its march toward the future and your mind wanders more easily to flights of fancy. It's a different kind of progress, not to be measured so much by page numbers as by breakthrough moments that soften the edges of one word into another. Both are valuable in the great scheme of things. Society seems to value production more than process, yet process often changes people more than actual production does. One is not necessarily superior to the other, except to people expecting to "see your work" in order to pronounce you successful. It's worth pondering.

posted at: 12:03 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Mon, Jan 14 2019

Word counts as a daily goal?

When you write, do you write for youself or for your readers?

When you count words, do you count for youself or for your readers?

When you read, do you read according to how fast the writer wrote the words?

When I see writers focused on word counts in a day, I don't mind a great deal as long as we're speaking of the first draft of a very long novel. Otherwise, I have concern that the number of words per day is assumed to be the ultimate goal. Is that your goal as a writer? And really, should that be the goal for a long novel any more than it should be for a well-researched article, a short story or a poem?
Why? More words are not equal to more success. Do what makes sense for you as a writer, with the reader in you in mind.

posted at: 12:03 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

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Stealin' copy is as bad as horse-thievin'
and cattle rustlin'! Lightning may strike
such varmints when they least expect it!