Monthly Archives: October 2015

If These Walls Could Speak

There’s just something about abandoned places that speaks to me; each one has a unique history, and an ending that seems somehow premature.  Whether it be a shopping mall in Thailand now occupied by goldfish; cities within range of the radioactivity of Chernobyl; an island that was once inhabited but now forlorn; an underground station or even an entire train station in the middle of an inhabited city, or an abandoned house, they each have a story to tell.  If their walls could speak, what would they say?  What have they seen?  What would they have liked to see but were prematurely cut off from the habitation or transient experiences of humanity?

DSCN5118 - Overtoun House

Overtoun House. Image Credit: Stephanie Huesler

I once lived in a manor house in Scotland, called Overtoun House; it was often my home over the years that I lived in the UK; once we moved away it fell into disrepair, ransacked by vandals and left to rot by the town council that was charged with its maintenance.  Several years ago I went back to visit and actually cried at the state it had fallen into – it was literally like finding a good friend face down in the gutter.  Finally, a few years ago an organisation moved in to restore the building to its former glory, and it will be used to house women in distressed circumstances.  My husband and I met there in 1991, and this past summer we went back for a visit; it was comforting to see her in good hands once more.

If you google “abandoned places”, you’ll find thousands of photos and stories just begging to be told:  Salton City, former Olympic venues, World War Two installations, train stations, castles, theme parks, homes, libraries (abandoning books is just wrong), subway / underground stations, shipwrecks, asylums, private homes, and even (most tragic of all) the abandoned dead in the “death zone” of Mount Everest.  Each one with a history and a reason they were abandoned, yet also an inspiration for writers to dig below the superficial surface to create an untold tale.

If those walls could speak to your inner writer, what would you hear?  Write it!

21 Comments

Filed under History, Research, Writing Exercise

SWOT Analysis in Fiction

Writing fiction often brings the writer to a crossroads:  Should I take my character(s) down this road or that?  Will they decide this or that, and what will the consequences of either choice or decision be?  Which would fit best into my plot?  All of these questions can be answered by applying a corporate business tool called the SWOT analysis chart.  I have this baby hung on a magnet strip near my desk, along with other prompts such as the sensory image, and I apply it frequently.  Just last week I faced a crossroads:  Would A) my character run away, or would B) another character (or C) take her away?  On the latter question, I had another two options (thus, B & C); I needed the SWOT.

SWOT Analysis Chart, Watermark

This image shows you the variables of each option; internal vs. external influences or attributes of a situation or choice; helpful vs. harmful in reaching the character’s goals, or the consequences of the choices laid before you.  What are the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of each path at your character’s feet?

I’ll give you the example of my thought process as I applied it to my historical novel’s fictional situation:  If my character ran away (A) , the strength would be that she would be taking her destiny into her own hands – it’s what you want your main character to do; the threat would be that such an action might raise assumptions that would damage her reputation (was she pregnant?).  The opportunity of doing things in her own timing was overshadowed by the weakness of practicalities:  How would she, without support, get from her family’s estate to Portsmouth, at least a good half-day’s journey by carriage?  If the “B” character (her mother) took her to Portsmouth, the main character would be passive in the decision – the action would happen to her rather than her controlling or causing it.  The opportunity of solving the weakness of “A” by giving her a ride to Portsmouth was a strong incentive, but would raise a bigger threat in that it might seem like the mother was being just as manipulative as the father, forcing the main character into making a choice to suit the mother, which wasn’t the case.  If “C”, her future husband, came to sweep her away from the problems at home, again it would seem that the main female character wasn’t strong on her own two feet, or was too pliable and passive.

I took each scenario through the SWOT rigorously, and in the end I decided – well, when the book comes out next year, you can find out for yourself!

Applying such tools helps you focus your energies on finding solutions, rather than finding yourself stuck in writer’s block.

6 Comments

Filed under Articles, Images, Nuts & Bolts, Plot Thots & Profiles, Research, Writing Exercise

Two Essentials on Every Blog in WordPress Land

I love looking at other blogs – it gives me a window into another culture, another mind, another lifestyle and another perspective.  I also like to click on the Gravatars of others who’ve “liked” the same article, to see what like-minds have to offer.  In doing so, I’ve repeatedly come across Gravatars & blogs that have two essentials missing:  Blog links, and “Like” buttons.

Everyone who’s got a WordPress site has a Gravatar; on the Gravatar you’ve got the opportunity to put a link to your blog(s), your Twitter account, Facebook, Pinterest, or any other link you’d like to connect to one face, one place.  Think of it as a virtual pin board, or bulletin board.  If you’ve got a blog, that’s the place to have a link!

To the right of this blog page, you see the example of my own Gravatar:  A photo of moi, my Gravatar’s name and a brief description, followed by a list of my personal links – some are to my other three blogs, and my Amazon Author’s Page, as well as my Pinterest board.  I’ve never twittered, and maintaining a public Facebook page on top of four blogs plus a writer’s forum on another website was too much of a time-eating monster… I’d rather be working on my next novel’s manuscript!

I’ll explain how to get what you need, as sometimes it’s helpful – I’m sure a lot of you know more about finding your way around cyberspace than I do, but sharing knowledge is what makes connecting with others enjoyable!

gravatar-logo-512To add a link to your Gravatar:

On your blog, click on your Gravatar’s name (just under the Gravatar photo on your blog, if you’ve got that set up; if not, click on your chosen image at the top right of your screen’s bar – that will take you to the reader, where you should see the name in blue).  Once you’re signed in through WordPress, below the Gravatar’s name you should see the options “Edit My Profile” and “Hide My Profile”.  Click on Edit; on the new screen to the right you will see a list; chose “Websites”.  On the new screen, you can add a new website by copying and pasting the URL after clicking either of the “Add Website” options.  Be sure to title it too.

One more thought:  Don’t leave a generic image as your Gravatar’s face; put something that represents you, whether a photo of you or your cat or a flower – it’s a lot more attractive, individualized, and says something about the person behind the words.

Web

To add a Like button:

Go to your blog’s main page, and hover over “My Sites” in the top left corner; one from the bottom you should see “Settings”; click on that.  From this new screen, in the last section on the left you should see “sharing”.  Here you should be able to add a like option.

I’m not certain this is correct, as I’ve already got the option on all four of my blogs; but it may also depend on which theme you choose for your blog.  If anyone knows how to get the like button up front, please let me know!  If you can’t add like in the way described, you may want to consider changing your blog’s visual theme (different themes offer different options).  Your content matters, and people want to let you know!

Also, when adding a new post, make certain that you’ve ticked on the “Likes and Shares” (in the left-hand side bar).

Just one more thought:  Be aware of how colour schemes affect the reader:  If you’ve got a bright background and clashing font colours, it’s just plain irritating, and will likely drive more people from than to your blog.  Choose colour combinations that are easy on the eye, which makes them much more attractive to read.

Please tell me in the comments below how you’ve experienced these points, and if you have any tips on improving the layouts and function of blogs!

16 Comments

Filed under Articles, Nuts & Bolts

The Pitfalls of Analogies

These are priceless examples of creativity gone awry.  I don’t know who originally wrote these gems or compiled them; if you know, please tell me so that I can give credit where credit is due!

21 Analogies Used by High School Students in English Essays

  1. “When she tried to sing, it sounded like a walrus giving birth to farm equipment.”
  2. “Her eyes twinkled, like the moustache of a man with a cold.”
  3. “She was like a magnet: Attractive from the back, repulsive from the front.”
  4. “The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one long slender leg behind her, like at dog at a fire hydrant.”
  5. “She grew on him like she was a colony of E. Coli and he was a room temperature Canadian beef.”
  6. “She had him like a toenail stuck in a shag carpet.”
  7. “The lamp just sat there, like an inanimate object.”
  8. “Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.”
  9. “Her eyes were like the stars, not because they twinkle, but because they were so far apart.”
  10. “His career was blowing up like a man with a broken metal detector walking through an active minefield.”
  11. “The sun was below the watery horizon, like a diabetic grandma easing into a warm salt bath.”
  12. “From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.”
  13. “It was as easy as taking candy from a diabetic man who no longer wishes to eat candy.”
  14. “She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes before it throws up.”
  15. “Their love burned with the fiery intensity of a urinary tract infection.”
  16. “It’s basically an illusion and no different than if I were to imagine something else, like Batman riding a flying toaster.”
  17. “If it was any colder, it would be like being in a place that’s a little colder than it is here.”
  18. “Joy fills her heart like a silent but deadly fart fills a room with no windows.”
  19. “The bird flew gracefully into the air like a man stepping on a landmine in zero gravity.”
  20. “He felt confused. As confused as a homeless man on house arrest.”
  21. “The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM.”

dilbert-bad-analogies

4 Comments

Filed under Humor, Lists, Nuts & Bolts