The Point of Inspiration–The Closing

How do you bring a short story to a satisfying conclusion.  A short story is by one definition “a slice of life.”  The audience enters at a certain point and exits at another point and we assume the story continues beyond our point of exit.  Yet the reader looks for an ending to this exposition, this portion of the larger ongoing story.

The Point of Inspiration (Part 3 of 3)
© by Christine O’Brien

Fifteen years later, she was a hazy memory.  He once thought he loved her but was now convinced that he only wanted to express himself creatively.  She afforded him this avenue.  Decorating cakes for special occasions became his secret obsession.  By August of that summer, he had invested in a cake decorator’s starter kit.  He bought cake circles and boards, a turntable, one plain and one patterned side scraper, an acrylic board (recommended) and a rolling pin.  And, of course, a set of crimpers, a cake smoother, brushes, parchment paper triangles, a flower nail.  Every hue of icing colors, piping gel, spatulas, stencils and the icing tubes and tips.  He practiced piping congratulatory words, fluting flowers and leaves, scrolls, ripples.  He bought instructional DVDs from cake decorating sororities the world over.  He sketched the spires of Bryce Canyon (where he’d first met her) on large sheet cakes when he could think of a valid reason to do so.  He did return to his job as a firefighter.  You’d never catch him with frosting on his turnout coat.

Writing Prompt:
I invite you to write about a secret revelation.  How do you build a story?  One that creates a bit of suspense and then the surprise conclusion when you reveal what was hidden?

 

The Point of Inspiration–Story Development

There are many ways to propel a story forward.  The physical action of the characters creates movement.  Dialogue creates revelation…who are these people…let them tell you through their words and actions.  And, descriptive narrative assists the forward motion of the story.  Image detail engages the senses.

The Point of Inspiration (Part 2 of 3)
© by Christine O’Brien

She trolled her blue Volvo along the main road, pulling off at the various lookout points.

“That’s Thor’s Hammer,” she said pointing to a top-heavy stone protrusion.

“The thunder god,” he offered to show her that he had a degree of mythological literacy.

They continued on to Bryce Point and the delicate Wall of Windows.  She took him down a trail or two, asking occasionally how he was doing.  Did he need water or want to rest.

When the sun was near setting, she asked him where he was staying.

“Don’t know yet,” he answered truthfully.

There and then she said “I’m going to bake you a cake.”

They returned to her suite at the lodge.

“I work here from April through October,” she told him in explanation.

“As what, a tour guide?”

“No, I’m the head pastry chef.  I actually have a staff that bakes the cakes.  I decorate them according to the occasion and my inspiration.  You might say that I take cake decorating to a new level.  People come here to get married, celebrate an anniversary, birthday, all of those special human occasions.  And a few odd ones like this older couple who ordered a cake to celebrate their newly acquired false teeth!”

He was definitely drawn to this brawny woman with a flair for cake decorating.  He was surprised to hear himself ask, “Can I watch?”

He lingered at the lodge, sharing her room through spring and into summer.  He told her he was on a medical leave from his job for a few months.

“What job,” she asked.

“Firefighter,” he said gruffly.

“A job with a lot of risk,” she said admirably.

By the end of July, she told him that their fling was sweet and that it was over.

“Time to move on,” she said.

To irk her, he added “to greener pastures.”

****
Do you know these characters a little better?  Can you see how the story is being developed?  Can you guess what the secret revelation is?  Post what you think under comments!

The Point of Inspiration…the Opening

How do you begin a short story?  It helps to have a good idea, one that has sparked your own curiosity and imagination.

Sometimes, as in this case, it can start with a class assignment.  Several years ago, a writing instructor offered this prompt…Write about a secret revelation.  Does that get your imagination going?  It did for me.

At the time, I had become fascinated by the spires of Bryce Canyon (having come across a photo of them in a magazine).  That seemed like a good opening, a starting place.  And, perhaps, a good way to capture my reader’s attention.

The Point of Inspiration (in 3 parts)
© by Christine O’Brien

     She was either to blame or to be credited for his secret passion.  It was certainly a fate of sorts, meeting her below the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon.

Pointing upwards and to the east, she handed him her binoculars, saying “That’s Inspiration Point.”

And then, in a quick breath almost inaudible, “Do I inspire you?”

“What did you say?” he asked shaking his head as if he had water in his ears.

Swiftly, she changed the subject “Have you been here before?”

“Never,” he answered.

“How about I be your tour guide for the day?  I know these spires like, like…”

“…the back of your hand,” he offered.

“I was looking for an original metaphor,” she said.  “I hate cliches.”

“Cliche or otherwise, I’m all yours,” he said, noting her muscled calves and tall sturdy frame, a spire herself he found himself momentarily thinking in metaphors.

*****
Does this opening make you curious to know more?  About the characters?  About where this story is going?  How is it going to lead to a secret revelation?  If it has caught your interest, then, it’s done what was intended.  It has hooked you as the reader.

 

 

The Story of Pandora’s Box

I’m guessing you’ve read this Greek myth.

For the writer, writing has a quality of opening Pandora’s Box. When I write, I’m opening up more than my journal or notebook, I’m opening the unknown.  In the unknown, everything, all possibilities, exist.  What is going to be roused in me or you remains to be seen.  That which has remained hidden to yourself is given an opportunity to emerge. This can feel scary. Feelings can be tweaked, excavated trauma (I’ve referred to this in an earlier blog).  You decide if it’s worth bringing up again in this unearthing.

With writing (especially fiction and poetry) and art-making, there is nothing straightforward.  You don’t just sit down and write and remain unruffled.  You are taken places.  You volunteer for this journey a bit unwittingly.  “Yes, I’m a writer therefore, I write!” What you soon come to realize is that you have gone down a rabbit hole and you are being compelled as much as you have chosen the journey.

Who or what are you going to meet along the way?  White rabbits, card soldiers, tin men,  fairy queens, purple people eaters.  You don’t know.  It’s yet to be discovered.  Which Pandora’s lid is going to be opened in you?  What is going to leap out from your own inner underworlds and scare the heck out of you?  How did that get in there?  You can turn tail and run; slap your journal shut and find another interest.

Or you can continue the venture of discovery and inner sorting through the writing process.

Writing Prompt:
Consider how you manage your own writing journey.  If you are writing Non-fiction, are you less likely to encounter the unknown?  Or, in your research, do you uncover something that sends you there–into the unknown–regardless?  If you are writing fiction, do you get thrown off course when you are diverted down the rabbit hole?  What does getting back on track look like for you?  Or is the diversion where your writing really wants to go?  Is there a best way to sort the chaff from the gold and carry on?  Scan_0004

 

 

 

 

 

Opening my journal…
opening to the unknown.

Writing About Yourself in Third Person

Over the years, she had a variety of interests. bakeoffcookbook1965
Baking and cooking “from scratch” lead her to
gourmet cooking for her family and friends.
She enjoyed preparing a few ethnic dishes
–enchiladas with red chile sauce,
chicken tamales; Asian soups and stir-fry;
her mother’s Spaghetti and Meatballs.  One year,
facing into another cold and snowy winter
in the mountains, she tried her hand at
Eastern Indian fare.

 

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Writing about yourself in third person, as if you were your own fictional character, is an exercise we’ve looked at in an earlier blog.  You know your history, quirks, qualities, likes and dislikes.  With all of that background information, you can readily fictionalize yourself…put yourself in a circumstance and consider your reactions based on what you know of yourself.

You can apply this same type of exploration when it comes to your fictional characters, the ones that your imagination has conjured.

Giving your character a DOSSIER enables you to write a character with believability. Before you put your character in a situation, don’t you think that you, as the writer, should have that omniscient author’s privilege of knowing them fully? In order to effectively write this character(s) it is necessary to understand where they’ve come from, what their motivations are, what they are distressed by, how they dress, who and what they love, etc.  There are fictional character dossier templates online.  Enjoy the process.

Let’s Do An Edit Challenge!

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Have you ever sent a Letter to the Editor?  One of the requirements for the local newspaper is 300 words or less.  You have to say what you want to say, make your point,  in 300 words or less?  Typically, I write a letter to the editor when I feel strongly about something.  Whether it’s something in local politics, of personal concern or global impact, I feel passionate enough to grab my pen and paper and scribble something down on the page.

When I do this, I can write up to 1000 words easily.  I bet you can too if you are riled enough.  And then, I have the challenge to whittle this down to only THREE HUNDRED WORDS.  I’ve learned to love this type of editing.  And as a writer, I believe it’s good to learn to love this process.  Because now you get to craft, refine and chisel to create a lovely sculpture of what you truly want to say having chosen the best words in which to convey your message.

Writing Prompt:
Give it a go!  Is there something in your community that you have a “gripe” or otherwise passionate energy around?  Write a letter to the local newspaper.  First, say everything you could possibly want to say about the topic.  That free-writing that we’ve discussed before.  Walk away and then come back and begin the whittling, refining, crafting process.  It’s a great practice for other types of writing.  Enjoy it!

I want to write, but…

Recently, a friend sincerely expressed how she wanted to write.  However, she didn’t want to write about what isn’t working in her life.  She was fearful of creating “more of the same” by putting it on the page.  I suggested that she give herself permission to have the rant in order to get to the good stuff.

Anyone, including me, can give themselves “reasons not to write today.”  A good way to address this is to take a reason not to write and write about it.  For example, I don’t want to write todaybecause I don’t want to put on the page how upset I am about my daughter’s choice of boyfriend.  I feel fierce and want to steal her out of this relationship and magically make her life better… 

Giving yourself permission to feel and say what you feel in the moment is important to your writing process.  You could write your rant on a piece of scrap paper which you later toss rather than including it in your journal.    Give your rant a time limit, five or ten minutes. Then, shake it off.

Once you’ve done your rant, what does your passion want you to write?  Can you return to the book, the poem, the prose or the painting and immerse yourself in what you’re here to do?

Yes, you can!

Writing Prompt:
If something is “up” for you, write a rant giving yourself about ten minutes to express it.  How did that work for you?
Or, do you have another ingenious way to creatively handle what is distressing you and then to get on with the writing you deeply desire to do?mermaid8

Pablo Neruda’s Book of Questions

In an earlier blog, I quoted an excerpt from the Chilean poet and writer, Pablo Neruda’s essay on “The Word.”

One of Neruda’s books, The Book of Questions, was translated by William O’Daly, in 1991.

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Following is one of his poetic questions:

When I see the sea once more
will the sea have seen or not seen me?

Why do the waves ask me
the same questions I ask them?

And why do they strike the rock
with so much wasted passion?

Don’t they get tired of repeating
their declaration to the sand?

I’ve read this little nugget of a poem several times.  It’s comparable to a Koan–“a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment.” Wikipedia

I read that Neruda began writing poetry when he was ten years old.  I’m imagining that everything became a poem to him.  As children, we are full of our questions wanting answers.  Frequently, we befuddled the adults around us as there are so many unanswerable questions.  Yet, we must ask them.  It feels to me like Neruda gave himself permission to ask his questions, our questions, universal questions and then to answer them by furthering his own interrogative reasoning within the bounds of a poem.

His offered questions provoke our own questions and contemplation.

WRITING PROMPT:
Have you considered your own questions?  What questions would you like answers to?  Might you find some answers as you write your own poetry?  Or at least a place to safely log the questions?

Smell

Caged Freedom

Smells
Animal dung smells
hang heavy in thick air of suspense.
The stink of carnivore dung
is quite different than the
oddly sweet scent of herbivore dung.
I’ve become expert on such things
as I feverishly stride
through long afternoons of dejection.
They feed me plenty and often~~
raw, red horsemeat, scent of blood.
My cage is hosed down three times-a-day
watering away wild odors.
My trainer—we are faithful to each other
~~he sweats profusely—mustily
as he trains away fierceness
and retrains fierce pretense.
I cooperate
growling and scowling as we rehearse.

Performance night a collage of smells
–clowns acrid greasepaint
–tightrope walkers
reeking of cheap perfumes
–concession foods
popcorn and hotdogs vie for supremacy.
All the people blend into one
odoriferous stench
of fear, excitement and their daily dramas.

Sometimes,
between cage and circus tent,
I catch it…
a whisper of deep forest fragrance
wrought with imagination
of strange stalking beasts
of birds with multi-syllabic calls
olfactory descent into wild ways.
And I stop
–right there–

in that wild breeze pause.
I tug at the rope that collars me
and rear up slightly
on cramped hind legs.
I groan a roar that crawls deeper
than any loneliness.
Then, it’s gone
–the smells of today snap me back
camouflaging uncivilized dreams.

♦♦♦♦

Everyone has a nose.  They come in all shapes and sizes;  their purpose is universal. Though we don’t rely on them in the same ways that animals do, we do count on them to warn us of smoke or beckon when our favorite pie has come out of the oven.  Besides being great for breathing and filtering the air, noses are olfactory memory generators!

Several years ago, I attended a Writer’s Conference in Ashland, Oregon.  I chose to work with poet and author, Kim Addonizio, over the five days of the conference.  I am so grateful to have had this experience.  One of the final assignments was to write a poem based in the sense of smell.

I returned to my room and sat there for awhile, tallying the possible directions I could  go with this theme.  Suddenly, it fell into place.  Being an empath, I never really liked circuses.  One brother is an animal right’s activist.  I’ve taken my kids to a few circuses, but we felt unease.

In the poem above, I became the circus tiger in the cage and wrote from that perspective.

Writing Prompt:
The invitation is yours to write a poem or prose with the sense of smell as your prompt.  Follow your nose and see where it takes you.

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Putting it Together

We’ve practiced working with descriptive image detail and the figurative language of simile and metaphor. We’ve played with writing in third person. Let’s put it together.

For your prop, find a photo of yourself at a younger age.

One way to approach this exercise is to begin by making a list of nouns naming the facial features. i.e., hair, face, nose, eyes, ears, chin, cheeks, jaw, forehead, neck, lips, skin, etc.

Beside each noun, write an adjective or two that describe the noun. i.e., for jaw, a few adjectives could be strong, weak, tense or what?; for lips–full, pouting, stern, etc.

Then, look for something that really is a “dissonant detail”–something that jumps out and makes you take notice.  Is your smile crooked, your front tooth chipped, are you frowning, squinting into the sun, anything? What is your demeanor or countenance? How old are you?  What is your hairstyle, style of dress?

Next, using the third person perspective, write a paragraph incorporating the nouns, adjectives and the dissonant detail(s) as you fully describe yourself in the photo. Dare to further expand on a few of the nouns using the imagery of  original simile or metaphor in your word illustration of the photo. i.e., his jaw was as determined as a base runner; her eyes were misty like that indeterminate rainy April day.

Finally, what is something you might have said or wanted to say…give yourself one spoken line.

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Writing Tip:
If  you are writing a memoir, looking at old photos and re-collecting in this way can help you to connect with yourself or someone else in another time and place.