Month: August 2014

Spicing Up Our Fiction With A Little Truth

officeThe phone rang.  I answered.

Caller:  (voice of an older man) Somebody from your office called me earlier.  Who called me and why?

Me:  I don’t know, sir.  If you give-  (I’m interrupted at this point)

Caller:  What do you mean you don’t know?  Does your office randomly call people for no reason?

Me:  No sir.  If you’ll give me your name-

Caller:  Hey You

Me:  Sir?

Caller:  That’s my name.  Hey You.  So why did your office call me?

Me:  (Rolling eyes) If you give me a last name besides You, I should be able to look your name up in our system.

Caller:  (Laughs)  You didn’t call me.  I’m just calling around trying to aggravate people.

 

It happened today.  True stuff.   And yes, I thought it was a tad bit creepy.  But that’s what made it interesting.  Things like this happen all the time.  We just have to remember to jot down these crazy occurances.    As much as we’d like to believe we won’t forget certain incidents, the fact is we very well may.  Trivial things can get buried beneath an avalanche of our daily doings.   By taking the time to record the event, we can reference it later.  After all, we never know when a story or character we’re working on could benefit from a little “truth.”

 

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The Coffee House

tableI love those pictures of Paris—you know, the ones with the little tables outside of the bistro.   It just looks so…European and that probably explains my fascination with the Coffee House.  It’s become my Saturday morning ritual.  I sit at a little bistro table, nibble on a croissant, sip my coffee and watch the town-folk.

It’s amazing really—the things a person can see.   Just this morning, Bill (he looks like a Bill to me) ordered a latte and flirted shamelessly with the barista.  He leaned across the counter, lowered his voice, and slid a five dollar tip underneath her fingers.  The barista giggled, he laughed and I stifled the urge to clear my throat.

I walked to my favorite table and I noticed Bill was seated close by.  As was my custom, I decided to invent a life for Bill.  I imagined he was a successful surgeon, who at any moment would receive an urgent call, prompting him to abandon his morning coffee and hurry to the hospital.  Of course, being a world-renowned surgeon left little time for a social life, which in turn, explained his attraction to the young barista.  Surrounded by such intense pressure, pulling patients back from the brink of death—the barista’s youth must have been intoxicating…

Except that wasn’t the truth.

I watched as she approached Bill’s table, pushing a stroller.  I couldn’t hear what she said as she bent down, placing a quick kiss on his check but Bill looked resigned.  Hmmm.  Obviously, she is Bill’s wife.  I think I’ll call her Natalie.  Natalie could use a fashion pointer or two—like the importance of brushing her hair.

I glance back at Bill.  Gone is the flirt.  He’s now deflated, slumping in his chair, a hand on the stroller.  It’s sad really, the things you can learn by just watching the people around you.  Very sad indeed.  I look at Bill and wonder if he wishes he was a surgeon.

Teens, Social Media & Bullying

bullyIt’s that time of year again.  School is back in session.   And while some kids are excited, others are dreading that walk down the hallway, knowing that friendly faces will be few and far between…

Living in a small town, I always thought bullying was a big city problem.  I mean, small town America is  apple pie and baseball and cookouts.  It’s safe.   But I was wrong.  Bullying is everywhere – even if we  don’t want to acknowledge it.  I’ve  spent hours wondering how, when and why bullying became so  prevalent.  I don’t have the answers.

Back in the day:

When I was in school, kids worked out their differences on the playground.  A punch here, pulled hair there, a bit of rolling on the ground…  A trip to the principal’s office and in most cases – problem solved.  We didn’t have to worry about school shootings.  Heck, we were shooting skeet in my eighth grade physical education class.   Hard to believe, I know, but it’s true.

In high school, many of my classmates enjoyed hunting.  It wasn’t uncommon for them to bring their shotguns to school.  They left them in their trucks, secured in a gun rack.   After their last class, they’d head out for an evening hunt.  As crazy as it sounds, it never crossed our minds that someone might use a gun with the intention of hurting others.  Guns were for hunting – they helped put food on the table.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I know there was bullying.  I saw it.  But – it wasn’t to the extent it is today.

Today, everything has changed.

Social media is as dangerous as it is wonderful.  It has opened up the world.  We are aware of things going on in other places that we might never have known.   Yet on the flip side, social media can be as deadly as any drug addiction – particularly with teens.  Times may have changed but teens are pretty consistent.  Peer pressure is as much of a problem now as it ever was.  The need to be part of the group is still strong.

It’s not uncommon for a teen to be suicidal because of the unrelenting assaults – verbal or otherwise.  It’s not like bullying stays at school.  There was a time when home was a refuge.   Now bullying invades our homes, our cars, etc.  It’s everywhere we are.   And who brings it in? It’d would be nice if we could blame some masked bandit.  But no – the truth is never that easy.  The truth is this:  We invite the bullies into our homes.  We offer them rides in our cars.   We literally give  them access to our most private and safe places  –  and we do it via social media sites.

I’ve often wondered why teens feel the need to constantly check posts and comments.  I mean, it really doesn’t make sense to me.   If a person doesn’t  like me – that’s okay.  There are plenty of others who do.  And that’s my point – why do teens keep subjecting themselves to this?  It’s kind of like watching mice in the drug experiments – they just don’t seem to be able to help themselves.

And what about the bullies?  What could make someone become a complete boil on the buttocks of humanity?  Did my generation do such a lousy job parenting that in essence, we created the problem? Or does sitting in front of a computer screen, with no one watching, bring out the worst in some people?   And how is it that the bullies completely missed that all important life lesson:   We should treat others the way we want to be treated.

There have always been and always will be bullies.   It’s just one of those nasty facts of  life.   While we may not be able to stop the bullies, we can lessen the damage by refusing to allow the them into our safe places.  Disconnecting from social media is a good place to start.

 

 

 

 

The Importance of Descriptions

Descriptions are important – they help set the stage for pivotal events by connecting the reader to specific places and times.  It is easy to fall back on generic representations. Example:  The night was dark.  The night was quiet.  But living in a rural area, nothing is further from the truth.  A summer night in the south is teaming with activity.

Sitting on my deck, I was amazed at how noisy silence can be.  I was surrounding by a veritable symphony of sound:  crickets chirping,  frogs croaking, mosquitoes buzzing and dogs barking.  Lightening bugs were darting near the wood line, flashing their bottoms, hoping to attract a mate.  Bats were swooping overhead, their bodies looking like dark shadows against the waning light as they searched for dinner among a buffet of flying insects. Kit-Kat had sidled up beside me, stretched her body then rubbed against my leg before disappearing into the darkness.  See what I mean?  There’s a lot going on out there in the dark…

Let’s think about the air.  Is it heavy with humidity?  Or does it offer cooling relief from a hectic day?  Is the wind a gentle breeze? Or do you hear it howling in the treetops? Maybe the wind isn’t blowing at all…

How about the smell?  Is the scent of honeysuckle hanging in the air?  No? Maybe it’s the smell of the steaks the neighbor is cooking, making your character dread the leftover pizza in the refrigerator or reminding him/her of how alone they feel…

By taking the time to immerse ourselves into our characters’ experiences, our scenes will feel more authentic which will allow our readers to connect with our stories.