Tag Archives: creative writing

Please Clean Your Lint Filter


by Kay Springsteen

Have you ever washed a blanket and dried it in your dryer and then discovered a good portion of the blanket has ended up in the lint trap as a layer of fluff? I swear, sometimes when I clean my dryer’s lint filter, there’s so much fluff there I could use it to make a second blanket. The only thing is, no matter how much fluff is in that filter, when you peel it out of there, all you have in your hand is a wad of fluff. It may have peeled off in a sheet but the moment you try to spread it across a bed, it’s going to fall apart. Why? Because it’s fluff, insubstantial and useless.

Have you ever been writing along and gotten so caught up in the setting that you spend a great amount of time describing the sweeping lawns of the mansions, the canopy of trees lining the old street, the tall white columns of the Greek ruin? Have you found yourself so entranced by your setting that you go into painstaking detail about every bent blade of grass in each trace of footstep in the normally well-manicured lawn, when maybe all you need is to mention that someone had left a trail of imprints when they cut across the lawn? Consider two different sentences saying the same thing.

In the forest, leaves in every color and hue clung to the trees, as the vivid reds and oranges high overhead battled for attention against pale yellows and dark greens of the lower bushes.

The example above is descriptive and definitely informs the reader that this is autumn in the woods. But it’s also a little wordy, and as a reader, I would probably skip that sort of passage and go looking for the real heart of the story. In short, this sentence is dryer fluff. It takes too many words to put the picture in the minds of the readers.

Autumn had splashed her vivid palette across the forest canvas.

The second example also paints a fairly vivid picture of autumn in the woods, and since most people reading your stories will know what autumn color looks like, it’s likely they will be able to picture an autumn wood without being told of the presence of each color. The second example is the real blanket that you will use to keep warm. It doesn’t fall apart because it’s not made of flimsy fluff.

These two examples are very extreme ends of the spectrum. In reality, the best solution for fluffy writing is possibly to set a goal for somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. Description is not an exact science. But if you start noticing that you’ve written paragraphs filled with detailed description of a setting or an outfit or a meal, you should probably check your story’s lint trap and see if it needs to be emptied.

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ONE MAN’S THOUGHTS: The Story With In A Story


‘It all started when the phone rang that afternoon.’ Kyle stared into his glass of bourbon as if it were a crystal ball replaying the past. ‘Most everyone in the office, including the secretary, was at lunch so I answered. The voice on the other end, a woman’s voice, sounded desperate for help. She wanted to speak with Mr. Strauss, the firm’s best corporate lawyer, but he was downtown with the other partners enjoying an expensive meal at a haughty restaurant.’

‘Is that what you told her?’ The bartender scratched his gelatinous chin.

‘It should’ve been,’ Kyle said. ‘Though the situation was obviously over my pay grade, I couldn’t just send her voicemail. That voice was so sultry; I was compelled to talk to her. I had to know more.’ Kyle tipped the glass back and downed his drink. ‘Biggest mistake of my life.’

The bartender poured another without prompting.

‘If you don’t mind my asking, what the hell happened?’ He asked Kyle with a hushed tone.

‘That’s what I keep asking myself,’ Kyle said.

A simple but effective technique is the story within a story approach. In the example above we learn about the events of a story as Kyle speaks of them while at the same time a second story is told of the bartender and his reaction to the first story. This gives the reader more information than would be available if the scene only described the events at the office. Kyle’s melancholy attitude and the bartender’s interest show the reader the emotional impact that those events will have on Kyle thus building tension.

Another form of the story within the story concept is the confessional. This is a pause in the main plot where a scene about a character’s past is included. It can be either narrative or dialogue, but the purpose is to take a look at an important point in the character’s past and learn something of the character that explains why they are the way they are or what motivates them. It is fun to drop a familiar character in a whole new set of circumstances and take a break from the current story. It allows the reader to see more aspects of them and keeps the story fresh.

Story with in a story is a simple idea and is used a lot in a myriad of forms. It will add a dimension to your writing that will give your plots and characters depth they didn’t have before.

Until next time- happy writing.

Michael Matthews Bingamon

ONE MAN’S THOUGHTS: In the Mood for Love


Last week I received a comment on my blog from a pleasant lady, Robin, which concerned the crafting of a love scene. She mentioned that some authors have to be in mood for writing such a scene, although the act of writing can produce such a mood. It becomes one of those situations that will leave you asking; which came first; the chicken or the egg?

Well the whole issue got me wondering and so instead of writing I thought about this enigma. Typically if I’m feeling randy my body’s need will influence my thoughts. That heightened sensitivity inspires the imagination and the ‘mood’ will manifest itself. If I have the opportunity to write at such a time I crank out some descriptive passages— not necessarily well written, but it’s a start. However, if the reverse is true and I’m lost in carnal fantasies about a beautiful exotic woman in need of rescue, my body will respond with increased blood flow and once again the ‘mood’ will materialize. When the brain initiates the mood it produces more interesting scenarios in my stories and most of the love scenes come about in this manner. The curse is when the physical and mental drives for sex does not fall into sink.

As a healthy male teenager I suffered, as all boys do, from the physical drive popping up without provocation— often. It didn’t matter when or where; in school, riding in the car, going to the bathroom, or watching television, at any time the physical need could rise regardless of my thoughts. This form of imbalance can be embarrassing.

Now that I’m significantly older I have the opposite problem from time to time. The mental drive is there, but the body can’t always keep up for long. I consider my libido intact, after all I still have my fantasies– often, but the physical reaction to such thoughts has lessened.

That’s really interesting Mike, but what does it all mean?

I’m glad you asked. The take away on this is that fictional depiction of sex is healthy for both writer and reader. While reading or writing love scenes may or may not cause a physical response it should promote a mental one. As adults we require an outlet for those impulses even if it is only in our head. Often it can be called upon later for fuel when we do have the opportunity to be intimate. Quality romance or erotica will create characters we can identify with on some level and experience vicariously their exploits, good or bad, moral or not, and they take us on journey of wanton endeavors.

Until next time— happy writing.

Michael Matthews Bingamon

ONE MAN’S THOUGHTS: Life Lesson From Literature


I want to share an epiphany I had recently. During a conversation with an acquaintance of mine we were discussing the nature of human beings, politics and the world in general. One particular point that came up was the idea that man is inherently good. That people as a whole, in any civilization, are fundamentally decent folks no matter what rules of that society maybe. To my own surprise I found that I argued that most of us are worthy individuals when separated from exterior influences. In short, I believe that people from any society and any era all have a fundamental desire to be good— and I can prove it.

Great fiction from any culture, from any point in history, has certain elements in common. The reason they have elements in common is that some concepts have a universal appeal to us and hold our attention. Books that retain a reader’s attention do well; books that speak to us about the human experience are the ones that endure. Such as the Odyssey, Lord of the Rings, and any Shakespeare play are epic examples. Each culture and time period has it’s own hallmark writers that capture the imaginations of many readers, but follow the same rules of success. Even those stories that are never famous that touch us in someway usually do so because they reflect something we admire.

What is it these stories all have? Heroic characters faced with incredible obstacles.

Even if the book doesn’t depict the Cyclops trying to prevent the hero from completing his journey home, there are always barriers the main character must deal with. Sometimes a tale of someone falling in love, battling cancer or surviving a disaster is more moving because it we can identify with it. Whatever the situation, we enjoy reading about a noble cause.

For the sake of my argument it doesn’t matter what genre appeals to you, what matters is these stories feature someone overcoming his or her circumstances. That is how people learn and we all have a need to see others succeed by becoming more than what they were. No one cares to read about a character that doesn’t learn anything and merely acts for their self-interests.

Allow me to phrase it another way.

I once attended a writing conference and the speaker explained that heroes are always more interesting than villains. Villains never grow. They seek power or to do wrong because they believe they are entitled to whatever they want. They are villains because they will do anything to obtain their goals. They don’t learn or change and that makes them a poor choice for a lead character. Heroes on the other hand must overcome adversity by learning about themselves and those around them. Exciting drama is the unfolding struggle, both internal and external. What captivates a reader is venturing through that process with the heroic character and experiencing their adventure through them— it always has and it always will.

If that is what makes a successful story, if that is what has always made a successful story, then it is my assertion that this universal attraction to overcoming adversity through the betterment of an individual means we all have the basic moral principals. What is considered admirable qualities among the ancient Greeks is admirable to modern America and everyone in between. This goes for all cultures, for I’m certain that if you were to read ancient Chinese tales, American Indian legends, or ancient Egyptian stories they would feature characters that performed great deeds against evil forces. In the end literature reveals the soul of a culture and mankind as a whole.

Happy writing!

Michael Matthews Bingamon

ONE MAN’S THOUGHTS: Keep It Real


Writing is series of balancing acts. The decisions range from how much dialogue compared to narrative to use, how strong or timid to depict the characters, what emotions to try and evoke from the reader, should a particular chapter be fast paced or slow, and so on and so on. Well adding to that list is realism versus the fantastic. No matter the setting it is an important consideration that a writer decides how much realism to use in their story.

There is no one right answer and a multitude of variables go into the decision, but the author should consider a few key elements. Obviously a paranormal writer will use more fantastic elements than in a historic romance. Or a devoted science fiction author will use legitimate science as opposed to a fantasy writer portraying magic. However, all fiction is merely a story and therefore has some degree of the fantastic, so how much is too much?

The number one rule of thumb in writing is; less is more.

A writer should carefully choose what fantastic elements they require to tell their story and establish their world. Any other whimsical displays of the unbelievable would be best dropped no matter how unusual setting or what the genre is.

Here are three reasons why.

First, the more fantastic elements in a novel the more time the writer spends explaining them. This diminishes the focus on the characters and will grind the plot to a halt. It would be easy to fall into the trap of using page after page to describe a menagerie of creatures or detail a catalog of cyber enhancements that don’t have anything to with the story.

Secondly, bountiful fantastic elements will alienate the reader. Even the most hardcore paranormal fan will become bored with a world that is inhabited by a prolific number of demons and vampires that each have a unique inhuman appearance, abilities, and mannerisms. All that fabricated detail will be lost and the characters become a jumble of weird names and confusing descriptions.

Lastly, the more fantastic elements in a story the less of an impact they have individually. If a writer picks his battles with reality and is conservative with his use of the surreal, supernatural, paranormal, magical, cybernetic, or alien elements then he or she can deliver a powerful, but believable effect.

This is the appeal of paranormal stories as well as hard science fiction and subtle fantasy. The reader is presented with a world that is very much like the one they live in only with an imaginative twist. The fun is discovering how the fantastic interacts with the mundane and learning the way the characters fit into that dichotomy.

Even in high fantasy, Lord of the Rings for example, the characters use swords, ride horses, smoke, and do everyday things that make them real to the reader. While every genre may use a varying amount of the fantastic it is imperative that the writers not abandon all references to the world we know.

Remember to keep it real and happy writing.

Michael Matthews Bingamon

ONE MAN’S THOUGHTS: Setting and Romance


A young couple kisses under a full moon nestled on the stone bench before the three hundred year old Italian statue. The summer breeze brings with it the crisp air from the Mediterranean and the lovers can taste a hint of salt on each other’s sweet lips.

 

In the above we know absolutely nothing about the young couple and yet the image brings a sense of love and romance. This is the power of setting.

The writer should treat the setting of a story like a character. They must describe the environment in context to the story, decide how it will interact with the other characters and give it a purpose. Overlooking the environment is one of those errors that can cause a story to feel flat without ever knowing why. There are many ways to use environment depending on the genre and the scene.

Once in an erotic story I used an office setting to contrast the sexual nature of the plot. The idea was the workplace made the feelings and behaviors of the characters more taboo. Another contrast example; in a science fiction setting I wrote about two survivors stranded on a harsh world and their love for each other was counter to the racial differences, social imbalances, and life threatening circumstances. Their lovemaking wasn’t a result of a grand romantic locale, but rather an act of overcoming a terrible environment.

Currently I’m trying my hand at a more traditional romantic approach and I want the setting to serve as an enabling factor. The characters and the readers should both come to the same conclusion; that for the characters involved there couldn’t be a more appropriate place for them to consummate their relationship.

To this end I’m calling upon my personal experience in the Mojave Desert. The vast sky and rocky beauty of the American West is breath taking. Two people under the blanket of night out there can loose themselves and forget that anyone else even exists! The spiritual affirmation a person receives looking up at that mass of stars, while with the one they love, has been an unmatched experience for me. The flipside of that coin is that the desert is dangerous. This will serve for the adventurous portions of my story and the isolation will enhance the peril.

Meanwhile, I invite everyone to look over your favorite books and see how the author used setting to tell their story. How did the where affect the mood or influence the behavior? Think about that and introduce more of it into your writing and you won’t regret it.

Until next time— happy writing.

Michael Matthews Bingamon

ONE MAN’S THOUGHTS: Results of the First Page


I am proud to announce that I’m underway with my new story and it is going well. While I don’t have near enough time to write as I want, it is going better than I could have hoped. Now you are likely thinking, ‘Good for you Mike, but who cares?’

Fair enough.

The reason I mention this is because while determining what I to write this week I glanced over my previous blog entry. As some of you know, last week I discussed the first page of a romance novel. I read a dozen first pages from a variety of romance books for some insight as to what makes a strong start. My goal was to discern how to construct a first page that would entice the reader to want to read the second. I know when I read, if I make it to page two, I’ll at least check out the first ten pages to determine if the book is going anywhere.

Now for the disclaimer: This is the first draft and I’m not expecting to blow anyone’s socks off. I’m just shooting to hold the readers attention to page two. The title of the story is High Heels & Hexes; it is about a witch from New Zealand.

So, here it is.

            Shelly followed the voice that called to her, but the dense trees made it impossible to locate the elusive sound. Blinded by the foliage-covered branches she pushed ever deeper into the woods with no regard for what may lurk within. With each menacing whisper of her name Shelly altered direction, though she drew no closer to the taunts that beckoned her.

            Out of the brush stepped the petite figure of her younger sister, Caroline. With an abrupt tone she drowned out the mysterious voice.

            ‘Shelly, wake up!’

            Shelly gasped and sprung into an upright position. Caroline stood with her arms’ crossed and peered at her from the door.

            ‘About time you listened to me,’ she said. ‘You gave me a fright.’

            There was a dull thud as Shelly slammed her hand onto the comforter. ‘What have I told you about infiltrating my dreams, Caroline. It’s an invasion of my privacy.’

            ‘Ha! Running through the woods after a disembodied voice is not something most people would want to dream about. It’s more like a nightmare. Why were you so desperate to track down that awful man?’

A page-turner? We’ll see.

It was helpful having so many defined goals for my first page. It gave such a strong start to my story that I had no trouble writing the next two thousand words!

Until next time—happy writing.

Michael Matthews Bingamon

ONE MAN’S THOUGHTS: Intros and Outlines


The one thing I’ve learned over the past eight weeks is that writing a blog is not the same as writing creatively. The reason I make this painfully obvious statement is because knowledge is not the same as experience. This is my first experience with a deadline and I have to say it’s been educational. After only two months with A History of Romance the time from conception to finished product to post has been reduced three fold. This efficiency has carried over to my creative writing as well and I find that I’m able to write more on demand than before.

The other half of this equation is my ability to produce a blog entry. Last week I suffered from the flu and had no inspiration. I thought some writing tips would be a safe way to go, after all there isn’t a writer on the planet that can’t hear this stuff enough times. I struggled with it, however in the end managed to put my two cents in on what I’ve learned.

A good blog however is about more than a few good tips. To write anything an author must share what is on their mind. Last week I didn’t want to write a blog entry because I had nothing to say and it suffered accordingly. This week I’ve decided to stick to what is on my mind. I am planning a romance story and this is some of what I’ve been thinking about.

There are as many ways to write a book as there are authors. Each has their own method and system for designing an intriguing tale. One thing I do is outline because I have a habit of twisting scenes into events that don’t fit the overall plot. The stories will bend themselves into strange fantasies that have nothing to with the story. Outlining has proven valuable so far. After formulating what makes a good romance I wrote two outlines. Unfortunately the outlines don’t accomplish a romantic vibe and I am grateful that I didn’t start writing either story.

The problem is that the failed outlines had too many scenes that had to be included and not enough that I wanted to include. The outlines also focused strictly on the two primary characters and any portion of the story that required other characters was shaping up to be dull. This tells me I need more colorful characters and subplots to use them in. Once onto this line of thinking my imagination was sparked and I had the first inspired scene of this story manifest itself before my eyes and I discovered that I wanted to write.

The scene I dreamt up included an introduction to a wonderful character that will be fun to write. The entire scene is based around his introduction and leads to another important line of thought for a writer, memorable introductions for characters. Dramatic introductions are an important element that should be done with thought and diligence. First impressions are vital and that is no less true in the realm of fiction. An author must define his characters when they are first introduced to the reader. This is the image that the reader will start with. Even if future events alter or add to that image the first impression will represent a majority of what the reader thinks about the character.

In my story Who’s the Boss? I introduce a character this way:

The three men froze mid tussle and stared at their statuesque boss. With heels she was easily six foot in height, she had curly auburn hair that extended to the center of her back, with eyes that sparkled behind wire-framed glasses as they did prior to chewing someone out.

“Diane,” Justin said. “We were just—”

She held up a hand to dissuade any further comment.

“You were just using your office computer for viewing pornography,” she said. “Which is expressly prohibited by department policy.”

She stepped into the room and leaned on his desk. Justin couldn’t help but to glance at Diane’s exposed cleavage as the top of her blouse opened.

With a few lines the reader knows what Diane looks like, her demeanor, the affect she has on men, and her willingness to use her sexuality to her advantage— after all, no woman leans over in a low cut blouse unless it is for effect.

Now, back to romance story. Armed with the start of a new outline and a clever scene in which to introduce a vibrant character I am ready to proceed. I have to work out plenty of ideas yet before I begin, but I think I’ll start by reading some good romance books first. I don’t normally read too much of it any more, but when in Rome…

I would welcome suggestions for romance books from anyone commenting on this blog. Something that had an impact for you or otherwise found unique.

Until next time— happy writing!

Michael Matthews Bingamon