Tag Archives: Question of the Month

Writers’ Retreat

Dixie, Pat and I try to schedule an annual writing retreat dedicated to stimulating new writing. This year our retreat took us to Featherville where we tackled writing exercises from The Glimmer Train Guide to Writing Fiction. When our hands tired from writing, we took in the beautiful fall colors, and later, tried our hand at carving pumpkins.

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Question of the Month. How can I find neat names for characters?

The Other Bunch — Bonnie, Pat and Dixie — went to Bonnie’s cabin in Featherville for a weekend retreat recently. While there we did some writing workshops to prime our creative pumps.

A naming exercise, that proved to be reasonably productive, involved mining telephone books, obituaries or cemeteries for names. Interesting first names are to be listed on one page, interesting last names on another. When the writer needs a name for a character the lists are matched up until the right combination presents itself. Once the right first and last names are together the chosen character’s name might give an idea of the his or her personality.

For instance — Dixie matched up Adelphia and Albedyll. The character immediately took on an attitude, probably because of the wild name. The writing exercise said to stand the character in the middle of the room, walk around her and follow her down the street.

This is what resulted: Everyone called her Adel, at her request, because her name was quite a mouthful. She went forth into the morning with purpose, marching rather than ambling so no one would think she was idle or aimless. She kicked a rock in her path, as if it had placed itself there on purpose just to irritate her. In fact some days she felt the whole world was conspiring against her to make her mad.

Bonnie named her character Doyle Lesner. She didn’t get a sense of his personality from the name but he did see quite a lot of scenery when she walked him down the street.
Doyle walked down the dusty street, passing the red hydrant on the corner. It was a bright, sunshiny day, and a kid was riding his bicycle on the sidewalk instead of the street. Rusty’s old pickup truck stopped and Rusty waved from the window, “Hay ya, Lesner.” Doyle waved back and crossed the street. He passed the coffee shop on his way to the hardware store. He glanced briefly at the stand holding real estate brochures. The stand beside it usually holding the daily newspaper was empty. As he passed the cafe, Mildred stopped filling a customer’s cup with coffee long enough to wave. The red wagon outside the cafe was filled with white geraniums. Someone was getting a permanent in the beauty salon next door. A dog barked as it chased the kid on the bicycle. The caution light was blinking yellow at the corner of Main and Second.

Pat named her character Wes Manley and here is what he did. Wes Manley sloughed off his cigarette as he walked to work. He tried to remember where he had parked his car the night before. It would come to him later in the day after his fifth cup of coffee.
Running a hand over his face, he felt patches of whiskers. His boss Sam wouldn’t mind because Sam only showered three times each week.

You might like to try this activity next time you need a name for a character or even an idea to get you started writing.

Dixie Thomas Reale

Question of the Month

Is your story autobiographical? Is it about you?
It doesn’t matter whether a story is memoir or fiction, every author has heard the question. Is it autobiographical? Whenever people ask me, I always answer, not necessarily. But everything an author writes is filtered through his/her individuality, senses, and experiences. Each decides what is important to say and what needs to be left unsaid. Every author lives in a particular time and place and his/her stories are seen through that lens.
There are critics who snidely remark that such-and-such author has only one story to tell, as if that is bad. I think every author has ultimately one story to tell, the story of him/her self. Each writer returns again and again to their own personal territory — their childhood, spirituality, and values. A writer is recognized by his/her voice but also by a personal landscape where he/she lives, and identifies him/her self.
Stories can be dreamed up entirely or composed of bits and pieces of memories of personal incidents or borrowed from friends, family members or acquaintances. Either way the choice of what events to include, personalities of the characters in the story, and what order the action takes is the author’s choice. So all of your novels and even a collection of short stories is ultimately about you! But probably not in the sense that the questioner intended. Not necessarily is a good answer.

Dixie Thomas Reale

Question of the Month: Why do you write?

In a recent interview with Amanda Turner, host and producer of The Writers’ Block on Boise Community Public Radio based in Boise, Idaho, I was asked what advice I would give aspiring writers. “Know why you want to write,” I said. Running out of time, I added a few words about best-selling suspense writer Ridley Pearson, and the interview was over.

If I had had more time, I would have elaborated on that answer. I believe every writer should know why he or she wants to write, and here’s why. There are many reasons to be a writer. Not all of them have to do with becoming a published bestselling author. The way you measure success has a lot to do with your goals. For instance, maybe you write because:

  • you are a wordsmith, and like to play with words
  • you like to express yourself in writing
  • you like to tell stories
  • you have something to say
  • you want to make money
  • you want to see your name in print
  • you want to be famous
  • you want to be published

At base level, writing is writing. You sit down and put your thoughts on paper. You rearrange the nouns and verbs until the sentences make sense. For some writers this is enough; their success is seeing their words in written form. For others, success might be writing a story that has been passed down through generations. Others may not consider themselves successful unless they have published one book, two books, or earned a hefty advance.

I use Ridley Pearson to demonstrate what a successful writer looks like not because he’s a bestselling author, but because he knew what he wanted to accomplish as a writer, and did it. Some years ago, I attended one of his workshops at a writer’s conference before he was multipublished, and this is what he told us. He wanted to be a bestselling author before he turned forty. So he studied the industry and took steps to make that happen. He learned the craft of writing, did extensive crime research, targeted a specific market, networked, and queried. If you ask him, he will tell you he didn’t become famous over night. But he had a goal, and took the needed steps to make it happen.

Which leads me back to my advice for writers. Know why you want to write. It could be as simple as writing in your journal every day. It could be as complicated as writing a thousand page epic and getting it published. It could be to simply play with words. We all write for different reasons. Knowing why will help you get to where you are going.

-Bonnie Dodge

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

Question of the Month: How Do You Want to be Remembered?

One of the first exercises I tackled when I started writing was to create my own obituary. The point of the exercise was to get me to think about what I wanted to accomplish with my writing. Why was I writing? How did I want to be remembered? What kind of stories did I want to leave behind? That was many years ago and I wish I had kept the exercise because I can’t remember what I wrote. I’m sure I wrote something like “her books are entertaining and character driven” because I always wanted to see my books on the same shelf as Charles Dickens.

This may be a depressing topic for the month of December when things are festive and people are thinking about Christmas, but because it is the end of the year, it is a good time to reassess goals accomplished, and maybe set some new ones.

I’d like to share a story about my friend Mary Inman. Mary joined the Twin Falls Chapter of the Idaho Writers League back in the early 1990s, about the time I left my job at the bank to pursue writing full time. Mary was one of those interesting characters who had more ideas and experiences to recount than she had hours in the day. She was health conscious and walked everywhere she could. She was usually bubbling with energy and ideas. Always interested in life and history, Mary created Gramma Maudie, and from her rocking chair gave many presentations about life on the Oregon Trail. Mary organized walking tours of the original Twin Falls Village, and wrote a book about Twin Falls, Idaho, called Twin Falls Centurybook, 1904-2004.

Not only was Mary interested in history; she was also interested in conserving the planet. She started a xeriscaping club that met once a week at the Twin Falls city council chambers. She did all the legwork, sent out notices, arranged for knowledgeable speakers, organized fieldtrips to the South Hills to view native plants, and xeriscaped her yard to set an example.

Mary was the kind of person who wasn’t afraid to take a canoe down the river alone, or sleep in her car. Instead of shying away from strangers and “No,” she’d extend her hand and ask, “Do you have my book yet?” She was positive, full of energy, and probably had no idea how many lives she touched.

Mary Jane Inman died October 27, 2010, at her home. She was 82. At her request, her body was cremated and her ashes were scattered. Also at her request, no service was held, nor did an obituary run in the local paper. She was a pleasure to know, and I will miss her.

As 2010 draws to an end, take time to reflect on what you stand for. You don’t have to write an obituary, but it would be a good time to determine what you have to say, and what you want to leave behind.

Like my friend Mary, I want to be remembered for making a difference. I want to create characters that live long after my demise. I want readers to ponder my poetry after the books are closed and put away.

What would you like people to say about you when you are gone? Decide how you want to be remembered, and then get busy and do the things that will make it happen.
-Bonnie Dodge

Question of the month

Everyone has a story to tell. What’s yours?

You may think you have nothing to say but, did you ever consider the sheer miracle of your birth, your existence, your identity? Contemplate for a moment — when a specific sperm penetrated a specific egg you were conceived and began to grow. If for some reason your parents had not had intimate relations at that fateful moment you would not exist.
Now take it back a generation — if one of your grandmothers had had a headache and said “not tonight dear”, either your father or your mother would not have been conceived and would not exist. If one or the other of your parents had not been conceived you would not exist either. This thread of conception goes all the way back to the beginning of time and if it had been broken at any point along the way you would not be. Talk about unique.
I have two dogs who are about as different as possible. One is a beautiful specimen, a Russian blue bull terrier, 50 pounds, with nicely defined muscles. She is a princess and knows that she is aesthetically pleasing to the eye. She poses a lot and allows her admirers to enjoy the view when she is around. My other dog is full sized, 45 pounds, with practically no legs at all, they are so short. She is a clown, a cross between a lab and corgi, with floppy ears and a tail. She looks like she should have a round red rubber nose and oversized shoes on her feet. If my dogs could write, their stories would be interesting each in its own way.
Whether you are a beautiful princess, a clown, or a mere human being you are the result of a million years of selective or chance breading, have a unique story to tell, and an obligation to tell it. It is one of a kind never to be duplicated.

Dixie Thomas Reale