Sources of Fiction: Exercise 1: Write a scene of a story from your own glimpse of a group of people.

I decided to go to istockphoto and find a photograph of a group of people to complete this exercise – if you’d like to view the image, you can find it here:


Pulling her pink wrap tighter with her good hand, Effie grimaced.  The still very tender scar tissue covering her neck and chin – nearly matching the shade of the pashmina – felt raw as the scarf slide across the skin.  Despite the oppressive heat, Effie, like all of her female companions, was covered in long sleeves and a full length skirt, neck to foot.  But only Effie looked boney and gaunt through her thick wool sweater and skirt.

The fire had ravaged her body and mind.  While her body was slowly healing, her mind seemed only to grow darker and deeper in fear.  Her demeanor grew more fearsome and dismal with each passing night, as she relived the accident in her dreams.  Worse, each night her dreams grew more complicated and intense; keeping her prisoner in the burning building longer each time.  In the real fire, she’d managed, after a short time that felt unending, to remove enough rubble to pass out of the building through a shattered window.  In her dreams the pile of rubble grew, the window shrank, and some nights, it was not broken or not there at all.  Most nights, her only escape from the fire was by waking, breathless and soaked in her own sweat, stifling a scream into her pillow.

Effie was growing anxious as they walked slowly down the road.  Being with the family made her less conspicuous, but she kept her head down and silently prayed that no one would stop them nonetheless.  As some point as they had walked, the oldest boy, Amjad, had found a scuffed, ratty looking soccer ball and dribbled it as they went along.  While he was pretty skilled at handling the ball, it was a bit misshapen, so it got away from him occasionally and he’d chase after it, slowing their progress.  Effie dared not reprimand him in front of his mother, instead looking to Aviza with pleading stares – the only times she would look up from her feet.

“Effie.  We’ll be there soon.  Stop worrying.  I know Amjad is bothering you, but I must let him play.  He has so few years before he will have to be man.”  Aviza said slowly for Effie’s benefit, smiling wistfully as they watched Amjad again chase the disfigured ball across the dirt road, his red striped linen shirt flapping as he ran.  A construction worker stopped it and gave it a good boot back towards him.  Amjad caught it on his instep, popped it up to his left knee, then his right, before dropping back down to the dirt and dribbling back to the family.  The construction worker gave a whistle before turning back to his machine.

“I look like that ball.  People are going to notice me.  We must get there soon.  Being out in day light is too risky.”  Effie replied in a halting mix of Iranian and her own tongue.  “I need –” Effie was cut-off by a white man approaching the group with a camera.  He spoke to Aviza, quietly with a European accent that Effie couldn’t place, gesturing to his camera.  Aviza glanced at Effie only briefly, but long enough for Effie to register the look of concern and uncertainty on Aviza’s face.  Looking back at the man, Aviza nodded slightly, adjusted her blue head scarf and called to her children to gather near.

Aviza’s daughter, Tahereh, held the baby, posing and smiling politely for the photographer, while Aviza stopped the boys from their impromptu game of chase around the group.  Effie was too timid to protest, fearing that she would draw further unwanted attention.  At the last moment she pretended to hear a noise behind them and turned before the photographer could snap a picture of her.  The last thing she needed was for her image to be printed in a newspaper or magazines.  Not only was she embarrassed of her newly disfigured appearance, but she was deathly afraid of being recognized.

She couldn’t fully understand his poor attempt at Iranian, since she spoke so little herself, but she gather that the photographer was a journalist of some sort.  Definitely not someone she wanted to be around for too long.  She heard him grumble when he realized the boys had begun chasing each other again and that she’d turned around before he got his shot off, but fortunately the baby began to protest and squirm, so the family politely demurred from any further photographs and continued on their way.




Developing the habit

Today the post man delivered my “like new” copy of Josip Novakovich’s Fiction Writer’s Workshop (2nd Ed. © 2008) from  It’s basically an instructive text with guided exercises for fiction writing, much like that which might be discussed and assigned in a writing class or workshop, with suggestions to self-critique the results (since I will be without peers, classmates  or an instructor to help with that aspect).

I realize that I need to do two things as I chase down (at this point, it’s probably more like I am still just sniffing out) my dream to write and publish a novel: 1) practice, practice, practice, and 2) develop a habit of writing regularly.  So, I plan to make a concerted effort to sit down a couple of nights a week for at least 30 minutes at a time, and tackle the exercises, posting the results here.

Gentle, constructive criticism is welcomed, albeit a bit hesitantly.  Be kind, cruel world – I’m tentatively foraying into the world of fiction writing and haven’t built up a thick skin yet with respect to my writing.  (I still don’t even let my husband read my writing!)  Encouragement is, of course, always appreciated – supportive words regarding my effort to discipline myself to stick with the plan are particularly valued!

If this works as I hope, then this just might be the best $2.50 (plus shipping) I have ever invested!

Blog Writer’s Block

Only three posts in and I’ve already hit writer’s block.  I thought I’d get farther, though I can’t say I am surprised.  As I mentioned previously, I was never a “Dear Diary…” kind of girl.  Sure, I had a number of diaries throughout my childhood – plain, decorative, locking, and the kind with the elastic band around it – I am fairly certain such is a rite of passage for pre-pubescent girls.  While I am pretty sure I remember starting each of them, none ever got filled.  It was a habit that I never was able to cultivate.

I enjoy writing, and love talking about myself, so it seems like keeping a diary is a natural fit.  But, I have found through the years, that adding a habit to my daily routine is something I find difficult – particular when it’s a habit that has no perceptible, immediate benefit.   (Sorry Mr. Dentist, daily flossing just keeps eluding me.)  So, the fact that my blogging has already waned comes as no great shock.  It doesn’t help that no one is reading (thanks, stat tracking), so I’ve got no one to account to but myself – and frankly, I let myself slide on a great many things when no one else has expectations.

So why the lapse in blogging (or writing in my diary as a kid)?  Well the aforementioned lack of immediate response or tangible benefit are true.  But still, so much of the process and the end result (a written piece that I wrote and can read and re-read) should be appealing enough.  Laziness?  Apathy?  Is it really writer’s block?  Do I actually have nothing to say?  Banish the thought, since that will put quite a damper on my secret dream of becoming a published author.

I can confess, that while I’ve been anemic in my blogging, I have put some effort into my story writing.  Since my story is one taking place in a completely fictitious land, I took the time to draw a map, two actually, of the land where the story unfolds – in color, no less.  It helped refine the story a bit, visually working out where things needed to be, what things just didn’t fit, what things were missing.  The maps also pointed out the black gaping holes in the story – stretches of nothing on paper that begged for some topographical reflection of the fictional happenings.  I imagine that the maps will be living documents until the meat of the story is down, but for the most part they seem to reflect what my mind’s eye sees.  I am no artist, nor a cartographer, but I think they came out decent enough for my purposes.

So, while I am not actually, physically writing, I am mentally working out bits and parts of the story.  Is that a cop out?  Does that qualify as writing, or is it a form of denial of writer’s block?  Really, I think its laziness – an inability to cultivate the good habit of sitting down at regular intervals for set periods of time to write.  And that is something I’ve never been able to do since the days of my blank little locked diaries.  But it is something I am just going to have to do.  A habit I had hoped to establish by blogging.

Apparently starting good habits is just as hard as stopping bad ones!

The Mind-Keyboard Disconnect

As I mentioned in my previous entry, I “write” all the time in my mind.  Any time I find myself in a mentally passive state, I start composing in my head – phrases, sentences, paragraphs, essays.  These “written” pieces are anything from re-imagining how a previous conversation could, or should, have gone – very George Costanza-esque thinking of a great comeback hours too late – to character sketches, to pieces of the stories I wish to write, to rambling musings on any given topic.  Most frequently these mental writing sessions occur in a place and time not conducive to stopping whatever I am doing and jotting it all down, like when I am driving or before I fall asleep in bed.  By the time I find myself in a position to actually record my thoughts (such as now), the meat of the though is there, but much of the detail is gone.  In fact, this very (admittedly mundane) topic wrote itself in my head last night.  Please believe when I say that this is not translating exactly as I heard it in my mind.  Often, I wish I could just jack into my brain (a la The Matrix) and directly download my mental data to the computer.

So, it has occurred to me that I need to adopt some technique or habit to help me capture these thoughts and ideas before they are lost to me.

The most obvious answer is to get to a computer to get it all out as soon as I can.  However, this is probably the least practical, given the time when I have the most brainstorms.  Assuming  I could get before a computer every time I needed, I find that I think so much faster than I can possibly type.  Even if I were to type fast and furiously, ignoring typos as I go (which I find nearly impossible to do), thoughts fly by at such a pace that I’m on to the next one before I can get three words onto the page.  In fact, I often feel like the typing is so intrusive that it actually changes the way I am thinking as I write.

The next option would be to carry around a pen and notebook, or to leave numerous ones scattered about the house, and in the car, and so on.  Neither scenario is particularly practical since 1) I have a very curious toddler, who is quite fond of paper and pencils and 2) I rarely carry any kind of purse or bag (with the exception of a diaper bag when needed) so I’d have to carry said notebook in my hands or pocket all the time or start carrying a purse – which seems silly if the only thing in it is a notebook.  I doubt my husband would appreciate me flipping on the lights and frantically scribbling down my thoughts while he tried to sleep.

Thus, I am toying with the idea of keeping a voice recorder on hand (I know, the no-purse issue is not really resolved by this, nor is the inquisitive two-year old; however, it seems like it would be easier to keep one recorder accessible and still out of harm’s way than a slew of notebooks) and then transcribing my audio-notes later.  So here are the draw-backs to this option, as I see them.

First, I am not even sure that I can speak as fast as I can think – and, a natural-born talker, I can speak pretty quickly.  Certainly it will be faster than typing, but I wonder if it will be fast enough to keep me from losing the thoughts.  Probably not.  I also wonder if it will be equally, or even more, intrusive to the thought process than typing.

Second, dictating my thoughts while driving seems easy enough; however, I am going to have to find a place to do so quietly when the pre-sleep and middle-of-the-night thoughts start seeping in.  So this is going to require some behavioral modification on my part.  I’m going to have to get out of bed – in which case, I could just plop in front of the computer and skip the two-part process.   (That brings me back to the first problem, of not typing as fast as I need.)

Third, and candidly, I think this might be the biggest issue in my mind, I hate the sound of my recorded voice.  (Though, I won’t deny that I do, on occasion, enjoy listening to myself talk.)  Whenever I hear a recording of myself I shudder and think, “Do I really sound like that?”  I know I am not alone in this situation, but I really do hate it.  Will I be able to sit and listen to my recorded voice daily or weekly?  I’m sure I will get over it, and I know this is a silly thought with which to concern myself, but there it is nonetheless.

Ultimately, I think I have no choice but to deal with it, since as I write and re-read this, I know that there were some gems last night that have gone off into the ether, never to grace my page.