“People Watching”

Writers are never bored when they are left sitting in the car or in a room, waiting for a friend or an appointment. As long as we have a pen and paper we will be fine.

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Sometimes I play a “people watching” game using my notebook and this will help shape some of my characters when I have more time to write.

Whether you use a genuine “Moleskine” or an inexpensive scratch pad style notebook, this game is both fun and useful for adding colourful characters to a novel. You can play the game alone or take turns with another person. (For more about Moleskines, click here: https://annelisplace.wordpress.com/2018/02/11/moleskine-or-moleskin/)

When someone enters my line of vision, I think, “What is the thing I notice most about this person?” It might be some facial feature or other physical attribute, or it may be a piece of clothing or accessory, or the way the person moves. Whatever it is, the challenge is to jot down one or two keywords that stand out about this person, and to do it quickly, say within two or three seconds. If I take longer than that, I lose the spontaneity and it is no longer a valid first impression.

Examples of keywords for people who have passed by:

  1. huge leather purse
  2. crooked nose, missing teeth
  3. greasy hair
  4. tall, stooping
  5. wild hair, lots of jewelry
  6. looking over the shoulder, hunted look
  7. wiping nose with back of hand
  8. high heels clacking on cement
  9. business suit, pantlegs too short
  10. sloppy look, sweats

Later, when I look at my keywords, more of that person’s description will probably come back to me.

Sometimes I have agonized over  descriptions of  character in my novel, as I try hard not to have them all come out the same. It’s not enough to add details arbitrarily to a person’s outward appearance. These details have to suit the personality to make that person believable to the reader.

For example: I shouldn’t simply decide that Joan could wear a new red hat or should have red striped socks. Perhaps Joan is shy and  lacks self-confidence. In that case, she is unlikely to wear clothes or accessories that draw attention to herself. I might choose one of the examples in my notebook as a starting point and use the keywords to build a character in my mind. It may even be a combination of several examples. The more samples I have to choose from, the more interesting and accurately depicted my character will be. I can mix and match them if they suit the kind of person I need for my novel.

Once I have a collection of keywords for my people, I can juggle them around to build unique characters. For me, it is works best to put the new character’s attributes all on one page when I’m ready to create him or her. There are character profile sheets available on the Internet. I can easily fill in the keywords once my imaginary person is created. That way I can refer to the details later on and not give Joan blue eyes in Chapter 21 when she had brown eyes in Chapter 2. Believe me, I’ve done that.

Now, see how easy and fun building character can be?

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Writing Ideas From Real Life

Where do we get our ideas for writing? We’ve all heard the advice to “write what you know,” but we don’t want to end up with a memoir either – not when we set out to write a novel.

Looking back at the five novels I’ve written, I realized that I often took a germ of an idea or an event or experience from my own life and built it into my books.

The trick is not to write the whole experience, but use it as a jumping off point.

Here is an example. In my book, Reckoning Tide (the sequel to The Wind Weeps), I needed to create an incident that had tension and danger and a resolution.

The characters, Jim and Andrea, are in a remote inlet on the coast of British Columbia. They have taken the skiff from their fishing troller and have gone partway up the river to explore.

Photo by Ken Johnston

Just as my husband (the Captain) and I did many years ago, Jim and Andrea tied the skiff to an upturned tree root and walked along the tidal flats.

I was terrified of grizzlies that might be coming to the river mouth to eat salmon. I should have worried more about getting separated from the skiff by the incoming tide.

photo by Ken Johnston

The setting in Khutz Inlet is such that all sorts of danger come with its beauty. Rather than tell my own story in the novel, I used what I knew about the place (the sights, the smells, the danger) to create the final chapters of my novel.

Have you used some of your own experiences as a jumping off point for a scene in your novel? If not, why not try it?

If you would like to find out what happened in the real life version, you can visit my blog post about it here. https://wordsfromanneli.com/2015/04/01/cut-off-2/

To see how I have used that experience in my novel, you can read Reckoning Tide. But first, you should read The Wind Weeps (which is free to download). Just click on the book cover images on the left sidebar to download.

Is Your Writing Feeble or Fabulous?

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As well as my first four novels, I have now written “Marlie,” a third novel of romantic suspense that takes place in the Queen Charlotte Islands. It follows “The Wind Weeps” (a free download), and “Reckoning Tide,” but is a stand-alone novel.

Death of a Doxy

I would like to introduce my guest today, author Chris Longmuir, of Montrose, Scotland.

What a challenge my author/friend, Chris Longmuir, has undertaken. Her latest series of crime novels features Kirsty Campbell, a policewoman in Scotland during and after WWI.

Death of a Doxy is dedicated to the memory of Jean Forsyth Thomson, Dundee’s first policewoman. The fictional Kirsty Campbell goes through much of the lack of acceptance and the condescension that Ms. Thomson did in real life. In Death of a Doxy, Kirsty Campbell does her best to be taken seriously as a competent policewoman, but it is an uphill struggle against the nearly all-male staff. She is keen to prove herself and solve the crime when a local prostitute is murdered.

We sympathize with Kirsty as she faces obstacles typical of the ones that plagued women in the work force nearly 100 years ago. Many of the townspeople thought a woman had no place in the police force. She should be at home minding the children and keeping the house for her husband.

In  Death of a Doxy, a prostitute is killed in the city of Dundee. Ms. Longmuir must keep her characters, the setting, and the events true to post WWI times. Attitudes were different in 1919. Clothing was of a different style. Some postwar food shortages still existed. Many inventions we take for granted today, were not even thought of yet. The author had a huge challenge not to slip up and mention something in her novel that was yet to be invented.

Ms. Longmuir’s writing is convincing as she transports us back to those post WWI days, showing us the frustration Kirsty (and working women of her time) endured.

The closer Kirsty comes to tracking down the killer, the more she puts her own life in danger.

The author keeps the tension rising as she guides us through the investigation.

I felt as if I were watching a movie that kept me well entertained.

About Chris Longmuir

Chris Longmuir is an award winning novelist who has published three novels in her Dundee Crime Series. Night Watcher, the first book in the series, won the Scottish Association of Writers’ Pitlochry Award, and the sequel, Dead Wood, won the Dundee International Book Prize, as well as the Pitlochry Award. Missing Believed Dead is the third book in the series.

Chris also publishes a historical crime series, The Kirsty Campbell Mysteries, set during and just after the Great War. This series features Kirsty Campbell, one of Britain’s first policewomen. There are currently three books in this series; The Death Game, Devil’s Porridge, and Death of a Doxy.

Her crime novels are set in Dundee, Scotland, and have been described as scary, atmospheric, page turners. Chris also writes historical sagas, short stories and historical articles which have been published in America and Britain. Writing is like an addiction to me, Chris says, I go into withdrawals without it.

To find out more about Chris Longmuir and her books, visit her blogsite and her website:

http://chrislongmuir.blogspot.ca

https://www.chrislongmuir.co.uk/

 

Moleskine or Moleskin?

Today I’ve just discovered what most people probably have known for years; that the Moleskine notebook is not named after the hide of a little mouse-like creature. I used to think that the Moleskine notebook was perhaps originally made with a soft, fuzzy cover that resembled the fur of a tiny mole and that the name had stuck and future notebooks were named in honour of these little creatures with soft hides.

Every serious writer should have a little notebook (a Moleskine) with him at all times, as you never know when a fantastic idea will pop into your head and you know you’ll forget it if you don’t write it down immediately.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that Moleskine is the company co-founded by Maria Sebregondi in Milan, Italy, in 1997. Ms. Sebregondi approached the Modo & Modo Company to produce the notebooks styled after those produced in Paris in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Writers love them because the acid-free pages are stitched rather than glued so they lie flat, and the elastic holds the book closed when not in use.

Below is the mole (whose species was not used to make the famous notebooks). Perhaps I was the only one who thought the notebooks were named for the soft feel of this little animal’s fur. I feel a bit foolish for even thinking that now.

Get your notebook from the “Moleskine” Company and don’t even think of skinning me for a “moleskin” notebook.

I did find out that moleskin is the name of a heavy cotton fabric used to make clothing, especially trousers. The German army used it for making their uniforms from the 1960s to the 1990s.

And have you ever had a blister on your foot? You may have put a strip of “moleskin” on it. The fuzzy material can have an adhesive backing to stick on your foot like a Band-Aid, but there is a hole cut out so it doesn’t rub on the blister, and the thick soft moleskin around it prevents further chafing of the blister.

I will no longer think of little mice and shrews and moles when I scribble my all-important author’s notes in my Moleskin notebook.

Lay or Lie

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Do you have trouble knowing the correct form of lay or lie to use in your writing?

Why not copy and paste this chart? Print it out either with your printer or by hand, onto a piece of paper that you can keep handy by your desk for a quick reference.

A quick version of how “lie” and “lay” are used with the pronoun “I.”

To Lie (down)

I lie (present)

I lay (preterite)

I have lain (present perfect)

I am lying (present continuous)

 

To Lay (to set an object down)

I lay (present)

I laid (preterite)

I have laid (present perfect)

I am laying (present continuous)

 

To Lie (tell an untruth)

I lie (present)

I lied (preterite)

I have lied (present perfect)

I am lying (present continuous)

For more about lay and lie, you can check out my post from a year ago:

https://annelisplace.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/lie-lady-lie/

Good work! Now have a cookie.

cinnamon stars

 

The Longest Nine Months

I first shied away from reading this book because I thought it was going to be all about having babies, not my favourite topic. Luckily for me, I did pick up the book, read it, and enjoyed it. It was not all about babies and pregnancies, although this was a significant factor in the novel. It was more about the relationship between Chand and Campbell.

Chand is of East Indian heritage and Campbell is Caucasian. They are devoted to each other; so much so, that Campbell wears the traditional sari to please her husband, even when other modern East Indian women at their office party are wearing western dress.

No children are planned in their as yet young marriage, so when Campbell finds herself pregnant, major changes loom. Chand is not as thrilled as Campbell had hoped he would be, and the final straw, a possibly flawed baby, threatens to destroy this happy marriage.

I was drawn into the story by Ms Balawyder’s skillful development of her characters. I cared about them. I felt their joys and frustrations,  and empathized with their problems.

Don’t miss reading this heartwarming novel by Carol Balawyder. You can find it here: Just click amazon.

You will also find that Ms. Balawyder has written several other very entertaining books. Although they are inter-connected, they can easily be read as stand-alones. I know you’ll enjoy them all.

Carol Balawyder