Scents of Another's Presence...

Today, I went to Mom's home. This past week, she and my sister took her elderly cat to the veterinarian. Bessie had lost fur along her spine, was eating more sporadically, and sleeping longer. At the vet's office, they discovered Bessie had lost four pounds and would require two shots of insulin each day. 

She invited me to come over and help her clean, get cat fur and dust out of her bedroom.

We lost Dad last year after he'd been dealing with his illness for the past three years. And now she's lost Bessie.

We took down curtains to wash. We took down blinds to wipe off. Mom had already stripped the bed and had her quilt ready for the laundromat after Bessie had spit up on it. Her wash machine was too small for it. And we carried out the boxes from under the bed and the dresser that sat next to the bed.

Their bedroom is small and the head of the bed is up on blocks but we stood the mattress and the box spring against the wall. Then we could move the bedframe. I vacuumed while Mom dusted and wiped items off out in the kitchen and living room. 

And as I detached the hose so that I could vacuum the edge of the carpet along the wall at the head of the bed, all of a sudden I could smell Dad's cologne. 

It was a strong and it made me happy to smell it again. 

When we took a break, I mentioned it to Mom. She has not smelled his cologne in their bedroom. We teased one another, saying that he was being nosy and checking out what we were doing.

Later, after we had put the bed back together, I worked on the closet, pulling everything out so I could give it a good vacuum. And then again, as I worked with the vacuum hose to clean the carpet right next to the wall, I could smell Dad's cologne. 

As I drove home today, I thought about it. The smell of dust should have been stronger than Dad's scent. 

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But last week, I had thought, wouldn't it be lovely if we could visit with Dad for a day. Just to visit. Just to let him know how much we love him, how much we miss him, and it's good to see him again. 

Bless. 

Useful Story Writing Skills

Revising our stories so that a reader will be entranced has several stages. And as I continue to revise my story to make it more enticing for a reader, I am grateful for many writing blogs that help me along the way. 

For crafting a story is like the thrill of discovering the lives of many-faceted villages.

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5 Stages of Writing

It was helpful to read Mary Carroll Moore's blog on the five stages of writing. 

  1. Gathering
  2. Structuring
  3. First Draft
  4. Revision
  5. Submission

I'm still in revision, a stage she calls a huge gateway. She writes, "Most writers aren't trained in revision. They need to hire an editor or a coach. Revision is a LOT more than just refining sentences." 

One of the consistent critiques I have received from my crit partners and beta readers is their desire to get inside the feelings of my protagonists. I'm good at getting the physical choreography and dialogue of a scene down. And many times, I can get good descriptions in of the scene setting. But...feelings?! And to show feelings rather than tell? Well, that's been a toughie. 

But I've discovered a writer tool!

Motivation Reaction Units (MRU)

 I learned about MRUs from Randy Ingermanson, the Snowflake Method writing guy.  He has a blog titled "Writing the Perfect Scene." The MRUs comes from the book by Dwight Swain. 

  • Motivation is external, objective.
  • Reaction is internal, subjective AND composed of FEELINGS, reflex, rational action and speech.  And reactions are to be written in this order.

Sounds very prescriptive, doesn't it? But it was my lightbulb moment and it helps me get more of the story out of my head and onto the pages. 

How?

Applying the MRU

I started with Chapter 1. I saved it as Chapter 1 MRU. Throughout the pages, I separated the Motivations from Reactions.

I typed M in front of the sentence(s) or paragraph(s) that were external, objective. 

I typed R in front of the sentence(s) that were subjective, internal.

Once I completed this for the chapter, I went through and highlighted the Rs in yellow. Because my problem area is getting protagonists feelings on the pages. 

After each R (Reaction), I added specifically what it was.

  • R-Feeling
  • R-Reflex
  • R-Rational Action
  • R-Speech (which included internal speech) 
  • or any of the above combined

I found many times when my protagonist did not express any feelings in many of her  interactions. This method was also helpful for finding chapters where she is quiet and other characters carry the scene. 

Have you found specific crafting-your-story-techniques that have helped you with a troublesome area?  What was the method and how did it help?

Fascinating Fundamentals

I probably would not have picked up this book, Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper,  on my own but it was recommended on a blog I follow by literary agent, Janet Reid.

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There are fascinating tidbits in this book for the word lover. For example, the author bemoans and befriends the addition of the word irregardless to the dictionary.

She also writes a bit about grammar. 

Do not end a sentence with a preposition

This is a rule I certainly remember being taught in grade school. Why this rule?  

Before we get into the why of this rule, some background:

First, the author reminds us that until the mid-fifteenth century, Latin and French were the languages of official documents.

Second, Latin and French had been around a long time and had grammatical standards in place. English, as a written language, was unruly. Grammar standards were needed for use in court and legal documents.

 How in the world are Latin and French related to English grammar rules? Read on ~ 

English grammar is not Latin grammar. English has a grammatical structure similar to other Germanic languages, and Latin has a grammatical structure similar to other Italic languages. Blending grammatical systems from two languages on different branches of the Indo-European language tree is a bit like mixing orange juice and milk: you can do it, but it’s going to be nasty.
— Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries

That unexpected hit of humor that peeped out there? The author has bits of those moments sprinkled throughout her book.  And I appreciate the behind-the-scenes peek at the working life of a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster. 

If you wish to learn more about the English language, this is your book! Check it out.   

 

Growth through Gratitude

I used to keep a gratitude journal, listing five things I was grateful for each day. It's a good practice. It's an easy practice for me because I have eternal hope. I'm an optimist by nature and I search for the good. Like the beauty in those 12+ inches of snow we received on Monday.

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This was actually the day after, when the sun came out. It's gorgeous, the crispness of the white snow against the deep blue of the sky. But it was also gorgeous when the snow fell--the softness of the landscape as the snowflakes feathered down and obscured sharp edges and grayed the day. 

I don't always want snow. Neither the gray snowy days or the crisp blue sky snow. But I love the differences. The changes intrigue me, make me notice new things, shake up my stagnant perceptions of the physical world around me. 

Right now, this is my favorite time of the year. 

When spring comes, that will be my favorite time of the year.

Does that make me fickle? Or does that just make me appreciative? 

How about you? 

Wonderful Cosmos

A few years back, my son saw the title of a book I was reading.

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As a pastor's child, he attended church weekly because it was an expectation I had of my children when they lived at home.

Adults now, my children are philosophical and thoughtful, each in their own ways. But they do not attend a church. When my son saw the title of this book, Prayers to an Evolutionary God, he said something to the effect of, "if that's the kind of God churches talked about more often, I'd be interested in going." 

It's a great book. I return to it often. 

 William Cleary is a former Jesuit priest, filmmaker, and composer and is married to a Unitarian Universalist minister. 

Diarmuid O'Murchu is a priest and social psychologist whose books include Quantum Theoloy: Reclaiming Spirituality and Our World in Transition. 

Blend of Faith and Science

In the table of content, the chapters are listed as:

  • Prayers of Listening
  • Prayers of Questioning
  • Prayers of Ambiguity
  • Prayers of Intimacy.  

And each heading has a quote from Diarmuid O'Murchu and from Albert Einstein. There are 80 prayers and each prayer has a page accompanying it that speaks to the wonder of nature, the mystery of God, 

An Evolutionary God

This is not a traditional look at our own personal salvation. It is much more community oriented and not just a church or faith community. The prayers focus on God, on our attempted understanding of the sacred stories of the Bible and of our place in the cosmos. We are not the center of the universe. It is huge. 

What books do you continue to go back to, which inspire you, and give you a sense of hope?  

Useful Writing Websites

What are some of the writing website you hang around at to learn the craft of creating stories or writing non-fiction?

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Favorite Sites

Here are my favorite sites which I haunt on a daily or almost daily basis:

I am still a newbie at writing fiction and so I look for websites that have practical information and places that have a sense of writing community. Because writing is a lonely business. 

First Page analyses

There are some wonderful first-page analyses happening at Writer Unboxed, Kill Zone, and Fiction University.  Writer Unboxed has started All the King's Editors recently. I really appreciated David Corbett's column just this week. It helps me to look at my own skill in sentence and paragraph formation, to help me figure out focus. 

And isn't that one of a new writer's biggest nemesis?  Bringing the story into focus?  

As I work with my story, now in its 5th draft, I am combing through my words and trying to sort out themes and subtexts through the use of particular words.

Not only do I want to use a character's point-of-view to describe setting but I also want to use words that will set the atmosphere for the reader, when the character might yet be unaware of the danger coming toward her. 

 

What are some of your favorite writing websites?

Fascinating Fundamentals

Dictionaries

As a word nerd, I love dictionaries. One of the very best gifts I received from my dad was a set of two dictionaries. They came to me well-used and I used them well.

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Words for the New Year

I wondered about two words--courage and courteous--that I think are important to this time in the life of our culture.

Were they related? Nope. But it seems like they should be, doesn't it? In an era of trolls and mean-spiritedness, it takes courage to be courteous.

 

Courage: quality of mind that enables one to encounter difficulties and danger with firmness or without fear

From the Old French, corage (Modern French courage), which means heart, innermost feelings.

From common Latin, coraticum (source of Italian coraggio, Spanish coraje), and classical Latin, cor, which means heart. 

 

Courteous: excellence of manners or social conduct, respectful or considerate act or expression, polite in behavior towards others. 

From the Old French, corteis (modern French courtois), which means having courtly bearer or manners.

 

a children's Christmas book

'Twas the Evening of Christmas, written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Elena Selivanova, written for children, aged 4-8 years old.

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This story shows (haha, see what I did there? Show don't tell) the birth of Jesus. It is written in poetry reminiscent of the rhythm of Dr. Clement C. Moore's, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. 

It's a beautiful book. I highly recommend it. 

introverted extrovert

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November is done. And so is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I did not officially enter but I had a writing accountability partner, Lawrence. He made his goal of 50,000 words!! Whoo hoo for Lawrence!  I did not have a goal but I wrote 28,000 words! Most of my words went towards a daily devotional but, when I was absolutely stuck, during my third week, I started a short story.  

And isn't that a misnomer? Starting a short story but not finishing? Especially when it only needs to be 3,000 words maximum! 

The daily devotional focuses on the month of November. May for the Southern Hemisphere. I wanted to deal with the issues of short days, cold days, and days that might feel hopeless or hard for some people. It's a difficult time of the year when the sun hides more than it shines. 

I often find November invigorating but I'm an introvert and a writer! I enjoy spending time alone. And it's especially helpful for me because I am a pastor of a local church and pastors, by the nature of their vocation, are called upon to behave as extroverts.  

When I take the Myers-Briggs assessment tool, my results place me near the middle of the Introversion-Extroversion continuum.  But I digress!

The daily devotional is 30 days long and focuses on the themes of letting go, falling, death, and unexpected as I take cues from the leaves of the trees during this time between the Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice.

 

a short blog post during NaNo

It's NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. I'm not officially signed up to NaNo but I am working on a new project, day by day.

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My novel, in its fourth draft, is still out with a couple (one-and-a-half to be exact) beta readers and I'm giving it a rest as its opening chapter is not working. I need to let it sit and think about it from afar.

My new Work in Progress is non-fiction. My first book, Disturbing Complacency: Preparing for Christmas, is a book of daily devotions for the Christian season of Advent. 

I always thought I should do Lent and Easter next. It makes sense, right? And I have one started, many years ago. But only a couple of devotions, a couple of days are done. I have no enthusiasm for the project yet. 

However, I became really excited with the thought of writing a daily devotional for the month of November (or the month of May for people who live in the Southern Hemisphere). There's just something about the darkness and the short days and the blusteriness of this month, that grabs me.

And...better yet! I have an accountability partner. We facebook message each other at the end of the day with our word counts. What a blessing. 

Are you NaNo-ing?