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QUESTION OF THE MONTH

How do I connect with my reader?
Recently I connected with an author through the eons back to a prehistoric time. The ancient story, written an estimated 10,000 years ago, was etched onto a group of boulders by an Indian or Indians known as Pahranagats (one of several Southern Paiute groups). These petroglyphs were in an archaeological park located about 5 miles south of the intersection of U.S. Highway 93, Nevada State Highway 375 and Hwy. 318, on the east side of Hwy. 93 at mile 45.5 in Ash Springs, Nevada.
Whether the prehistoric writer was trying to immortalize a kill, invite potential game to a future hunt or record everyday life in his village, the subject matter was unmistakable. Although I do not speak the same language as those ancient people, the alphabet/writing system is different and a lot of time has passed since the writer pecked those symbols onto rocks — that author communicated the idea of snakes, four legged animals, birds, insects and humans to me. He gave me a glimpse into and an impression of his life in that location. I was temporarily transported to his time and village. I visualized his kinsmen, friends, neighbors and family laughing, joking and going about their daily life on a warm January afternoon in what would eventually become southern Nevada. I could see hunters returning with game over their shoulders, women grinding grain on their matates and children fighting around their mother’s feet. It was a magical moment — that ancient author had connected with this reader.
How wonderful would it be to have some person read my words 10,000 years in the future? Even if my name, like his, was lost in time — some of my message, life and impressions would be remembered. I would make a long term connection. Wow! Isn’t that what we writers are after?
If you want to see more petroglyphs go to my blog.

-Dixie Thomas Reale

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2011 Here we are

It’s a new year, so it’s time for what you would expect.

Resolutions.

Of course, we all want to lose weight and exercise more in the coming months of 2011. But as writers, we need to add to that list.

One of my writing friends is fond of saying, “It’s time to put the butt in the chair.” Hopefully you’re not offended by the term used to describe our backside, but the course is clear for our No. 1 resolution of the year.

And that is to sit in the chair and write.

During the coming months, we will have many excuses why we won’t be sitting, from housework to day jobs to family issues to self-doubt about our writing. This will be the test of whether we are writers or just someone who just wants to be a writer.

Writing is damn hard. It takes discipline and sacrifice. We may work years on a book or screenplay and it may not sell to publishers or producers. We may be tempted to take our computer and dump it into the street. We may wonder if we are any good at writing, or whether we do have anything to say.

What can we do?

Put the butt in the chair.

There, we can build up the discipline we need to finish a project. We can learn what we are willing to sacrifice to tell our stories. If our book doesn’t sell, we can self-publish and get it out there. If our screenplay doesn’t wow Hollywood, we can shoot our own movies. We can improve our writing craft with instruction.

Writers do have something to say, which is why we write.

So in 2011, eat a few less calories, walk more steps, and put the butt in the chair.

Patricia Santos Marcantonio

QUESTION OF THE MONTH – WHAT MAKES A GOOD STORY?

I am often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?”  My answer is simple. “Everywhere.” Let me explain. Story ideas can come from a number of places such as newspaper and magazine articles, movies, plays, paintings, conversations, and landscapes to name only a few.

Take for instance the trip Pat and I took to Stricker Ranch that I wrote about in an earlier post. On one hand this outing was simply a review of local history. On the other hand, it provided a wealth of information we hope to turn into interesting stories. Why is a ghost hovering at the top of the stairs? How many ghosts haunt the dry cellar?

I read once that by the time a person reaches age 30, he/she has enough life experiences to have something to write about for a lifetime. The trick is to know how to turn those life experiences into good stories.

So the question then, is, what makes an idea a good story?

1) The idea must be interesting.

What if Shakespeare really was a woman?

2) The idea should appeal to a large number of people.

Shakespeare is a well-known playwright. Everyone has been subjected to him at least once before finishing high school.

3) The idea is specific.

Who really was this mysterious man? Did one person really write all of those brilliant plays?

A lot of people would like to know more about the person who wrote so many entertaining plays and sonnets. Virginia Woolf, in fact, speculates on that very thing in A Room of One’s Own. Thus, a story exploring Shakespeare’s gender is an idea that has universal appeal. It would make a good story.

Conversely, let’s say I want to write a story about my dog. I love my dog. My dog is cute. But she isn’t extraordinary. She can’t speak English. She can’t even sit up and beg for food without falling over. A story about my dog would be zzzzzzzzzzboring. It wouldn’t appeal to a large number of people, and there is nothing specific that sets my dog apart from any other dog, except, of course, that she belongs to me.

That’s a simplistic example, but you get my point. As a writer, everyday I am surrounded by possible story ideas. Some of them are interesting. Some of them are not.  My job as a writer is to find a way to turn those ideas into great stories that have universal appeal.

What if I told you my dog could catch mice with a butterfly net? Then you might be interested in reading about my dog. Most likely not, but you get the picture.

The best stories come from taking an ordinary situation/idea and applying the “What if” factor. What if Shakespeare really was a woman? What if my dog could catch mice with a butterfly net?

Using the “what if” factor, look around you, and at the things that have happened to you, your life experiences. Then give the ordinary idea a little twist, and you’ll be on your way to writing some great stories.

-Bonnie Dodge

Grabbing story ideas at Stricker Ranch

As a writer, I look for story ideas everywhere I go. Recently, Patricia Santos Marcantonio and I took in Fright Nights in Old Towne Twin as a way to increase our cache of stories. For two hours we heard about the history of Twin Falls County and some of the colorful people who lived there. Not only did we come away with a better understanding of the area, we also came home with several new story ideas.

What if a ghost really haunts the public library?
What if Lyda Trueblood isn’t really buried in the Twin Falls Cemetery?
What if Stricker Ranch really is haunted?

As The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz declared, “I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks, I do, I do, I doooo.”, I do believe there are good story ideas all around us. All you have to do is reach out and grab one.
-Bonnie Dodge

Question of the Month

The phrase “show me don’t tell me” has confounded beginning writers for years. What does it mean?

Remember in English Composition 101 the professor admonished the class to avoid loaded words at all costs. Then in Creative Writing 101 the instruction was “show don’t tell”.
I think it is impossible to do both so I ignore those warnings. Avoiding loaded words is a good idea when writing “how to” instructions but otherwise the writer needs to be aware of and use loaded words to his/her advantage. As you recall loaded words like “mother” and “love” carry emotional connotations.

When writing fiction, poetry or creative non fiction, emotionally loaded words are desired, even necessary. As an author you need to be free to pick among the variations and nuances of meaning that words carry.

Imagine — you are writing a story. The main character is alone in the house when the doorbell rings. You need to get her to the door. If you say Mary went to the door it gets her there. However, if Mary stormed to the door, we understand more. If Mary wandered aimlessly to the door, we understand something else. And if Mary strutted to the door it presents another vision of Mary. We don’t have to tell the reader that Mary is mad, preoccupied, stoned or proud — we show it.

I always keep my thesaurus close by when I write so I can sort through the infinite variation of connotations and nuances of meaning of words that basically do the same thing in widely different manners.

Dixie Thomas Reale

Philosophizing on writing

During dinner one evening, my friend and I talked about family, what’s happening in the world and our backyard, but ultimately the discussion turned to writing. Our usual chat over sushi.

We each had stories that we were working on, so we brainstormed ideas, ironed out character bumps, filled in plot holes.

But that night, the talk turned deeper, to the basics of why we sit in front of the computer and produce thoughts, characters, words, stories, essays and poems. The question was what do we want to get out of writing.

It was a damn good question.

My friend said that while having her work published would be great, she strived for perfection. To make each word and sentence count, to make each meaningful and to make the story go forward. That was what was keeping her writing.

“And you’re writing for the money,” she said.

“No,” I answered. I wrote so that I could get to a place where I would have the freedom to write full-time.

I think we both said aloud something we had probably been thinking for a long time — What we wanted to get out of the writing.

That is a good question for all to ask.

Do we want recognition? Or to see our name in print? Do we want the joy of expressing those thoughts and feelings that seem out of place if we speak them?

I have friends who are freelance writers who must write to pay bills, while others want to tell the stories within them as only they can and want satisfaction from that process.

Others may want an outlet for creativity, as music and painting is for others.

My friend reminded me of what Joanne Pence, a best-selling author, said at the workshop sponsored by The Other Bunch in April. Joanne said that writing and publishing are two separate things.

That makes total sense because the discussion was not what we wanted out of publishing, but what we wanted out of writing. That indeed makes them two different things with two different directions and sometimes, the twain will never meet.

What do we want out of writing?

Our answers may change over time, or not. But there is no wrong answer.

There is just the writing.

– Patricia Marcantonio

“Voices from the Snake River Plain” at Indy bookstores

Dixie, Pat and I had a productive weekend. Before our reading at The Cabin, we stopped by Rediscovered Bookshop and A Novel Adventure, independent book stores in Boise, Idaho. We hope you will support these bookstores whenever you are in Boise.


You can find Voices from the Snake River Plain in the Idaho/Northwest section at Rediscovered Bookshop.