Why I’m Not Writing Now

In a word: Distraction.

Who can concentrate when you’re moving this coming Thursday morning. It’s a house (4305 Howard, Skokie) with a small living room, small dining room, kitchen, three bedrooms, two baths, a basement and a garage and of course a back yard. I don’t think this will be the only house we buy. Mainly because of the living room that’s tiny, tiny but will fit some of our furniture.

There are expenses attached to buying a house. New towels, a table, chairs and umbrella, towel hangers, taxes we need to pay, etc. etc. We did sell our condo, but there is the inspection. On the day of the inspection, our microwave broke. Now the microwave is attached to the wall so we couldn’t un-attach it. And one of the garage door openers broke. That was a quick fix. But the microwave is another matter. We did hire someone to come out this week. Meanwhile, we are still waiting for the results of the inspection and whether the buyer will still buy our condo.

I started to write a short story, but there is packing and moving the packing to be done.

Now I need to continue packing. Thank goodness it’s cool outside. Yesterday was way too hot to move anything into the house. But today is a good day to move some things into the house.

After we moved our things into the house, we went to the Emily Oaks Nature Center. There I took pictures of the beautiful trees, the trail and the water. Then I posted them on Facebook. Who saw them? Only can only guess.
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Sue Powers is an accomplished short story writer. She has had many publications, including Saturday Evening News, New Millennium Writings, Blue Earth Review and many others. She is a recipient of a fellowship and grant from the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Prose, and two of her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

How to Make Setting a Character

For myself (and many writers I know), character or plot usually take the top spot. Setting usually doesn’t. Humans connect with other humans, after all, so it’s often easier to invest oneself in characters and their conflicts. A setting, though still important, is a bit more difficult to connect with. If you’re one of those writers who struggle with setting, I’d like to share with you an approach that might help by treating our setting like a character.

No, that doesn’t mean we’re going to write pithy one-liners for our setting (though that does sound kind of cool, now that you mention it). Instead, we’ll explore how to assign vivid characteristics to our settings, how to suggest those characteristics to readers, and how to develop our setting’s arc.


Exploring Your Setting’s Characteristics

Eddard Stark is honorable. Atticus Finch is courageous. Amy Elliott Dunne is dangerously cunning.
Memorable fictional characters always have strong characteristics. How can we translate such characteristics to setting?

Let’s start with the basics.When creating characters, you should ask yourself:
What does this character look like? What is this character’s backstory? What does this character want? What secrets does this character hold? What is this character’s conflict?

Appearance
Most writers begin with question one, usually using a few sentences to set the scene. It’s the most basic aspect of setting and likely the most obvious.

To address this question through the character lens, let’s imagine what our setting might look like as a character. Are they young or old, rugged or refined, diminutive or enormous?

Better yet, is there an existing character in your book who personifies your setting?

An excellent example comes from my own book. The book’s main setting is cold and filled with snow. It’s cold because the mystery starts out as cold (i.e. we don’t have a clue how it’s going to end.) As the main character finds clues, it gets warmer outside because the main character is getting closer to finding out how to solve the mystery.

Secrets
This one may or may not apply to your setting but it’s a potent addition when it works. Consider the secrets hidden within the country house of Bly in Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. A setting within a secret is just as compelling as any secretive character.

Conflict
Great characters have conflicts, and so do great settings. For instance, take the war-torn city of Osgiliath in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. This location provides a visual representation of the greater conflict in the series; what was once a thriving city of humans is now a smoking ruin overrun by orcs.

Suggesting a Setting’s Characteristics
I’ll bet you’ve heard of show, don’t tell. It’s a fine rule of thumb though it need not always be followed. For example, it’s often acceptable to describe a character’s appearance rather than conveniently have them peer into a mirror. The same goes for describing a setting.

Imagine if J.K. Rowling had written this: “The Forbidden Forest was super creepy.” That doesn’t scare anybody! She made it creepy by showing us the centaurs, werewolves, giant spiders, and more that roamed within.
So how can you do the same for your settings? Here are a few tricks.

For starters, allow yourself to “tell” in your first draft. Let’s say you’re writing a story set in a small town during winter. In the first draft, you might simply write, “The town was cold.” We forgive you. It’s just a first draft!

In your second draft, return to those blunt descriptions and decide how to show coldness rather than tell it. Describe the ice hanging from the eaves of the houses, the slippery snow packed upon the sidewalks, the breath hissing from your characters’ mouths. You haven’t used the word “cold” anywhere, yet the suggested meaning is clear.

Furthermore, having one character describe another is an effective way to suggest characteristics. This works just as well with settings.

Finally, show your setting’s traits through action. Cormac McCarthy didn’t just tell us the world was dangerous in The Road. He showed it by populating that world with ashes, marauders and cannibals. If your setting is trying to kill your protagonists, it’ll feel more like a character.

Developing the Arc of Your Setting
Characters have arcs. So, like characters, great settings often have arcs as well. This might sound like an odd concept at first, but it really can make a difference in your writing.

To build your setting’s arc, consider what your setting is like at the beginning of the story, what it becomes by the end, and what happens in the middle to make it so.

Maybe you start with an idyllic pastoral country which ends up ravaged by war. Or your post-apocalyptic wasteland might be restored to beauty by the heroics of your protagonist. Or perhaps your setting stays just the way it always was despite what happened in the middle. Whatever arc you choose, it should improve your setting.

Lastly, do you consider the characteristics of your settings when you’re writing? Please leave your thoughts below.

My Addictions

It’s not alcohol, cigarettes, heroin or any other illegal drug…. it’s word games!

You would think I was addicted to Writing. But that’s my passion. Word games are my addictions. One game is Lexulous – a Facebook word game. I love this game and each morning I play it. Lexulous, which is similar to Scrabble, offers two dictionaries. One is the US dictionary; the other is the UK dictionary. The UK dictionary offers many more two-letter words such as CH, KY, NY, FY, plus longer words that aren’t in the US dictionary. Plus, when you play Lexulous you’re allowed to use the dictionary while you’re playing.

Another word game is Wordcrasher. I find it’s hard to play Wordcrasher on my phone so I play it on my computer. There’s also Soltaire to which I’ve become addicted. I’ve won (I think it’s rigged) many times and for some reason I’m addicted to it.

There are other games such as the card games Monopoly Deal, Karma and the word game Quiddler that I enjoy.

If you love word games, let’s play together. But watch out – you could become addicted!
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Sue Powers is an accomplished short story writer. Her most recent publication was in Saturday Evening Post. She has now written a mystery entitled TWIST and is currently writing another mystery.

How to Make Setting a Character

For myself (and many writers I know), character or plot usually take the top spot. Setting usually doesn’t. Humans connect with other humans, after all, so it’s often easier to invest oneself in characters and their conflicts. A setting, though still important, is a bit more difficult to connect with. If you’re one of those writers who struggle with setting, I’d like to share with you an approach that might help by treating our setting like a character.

No, that doesn’t mean we’re going to write pithy one-liners for our setting (though that does sound kind of cool, now that you mention it). Instead, we’ll explore how to assign vivid characteristics to our settings, how to suggest those characteristics to readers, and how to develop our setting’s arc.

Exploring Your Setting’s Characteristics
Eddard Stark is honorable. Atticus Finch is courageous. Amy Elliott Dunne is dangerously cunning.
Memorable fictional characters always have strong characteristics. How can we translate such characteristics to setting?

Let’s start with the basics. Here are some questions we all ask ourselves when creating characters:
What does this character look like? What is this character’s backstory? What does this character want? What secrets does this character hold? What is this character’s conflict?
Now that we know our questions, let’s answer them for our setting.

Appearance
Most writers begin with question one, usually using a few sentences to set the scene. It’s the most basic aspect of setting and likely the most obvious.

To address this question through the character lens, let’s imagine what our setting might look like as a character. Are they young or old, rugged or refined, diminutive or enormous?
Better yet, is there an existing character in your book who personifies your setting?
An excellent example comes from my own book. The book’s main setting is cold and filled with snow. It’s cold because the mystery starts out as cold (i.e. we don’t have a clue how it’s going to end.) As the main character finds clues, it gets warmer outside because the main character is getting closer to finding out how to solve the mystery.

Secrets
This one may or may not apply to your setting but it’s a potent addition when it works. Consider the secrets hidden within the country house of Bly in Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. A setting within a secret is just as compelling as any secretive character.

Conflict
Great characters have conflicts, and so do great settings. For instance, take the war-torn city of Osgiliath in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. This location provides a visual representation of the greater conflict in the series; what was once a thriving city of humans is now a smoking ruin overrun by orcs.

Suggesting a Setting’s Characteristics
I’ll bet you’ve heard of show, don’t tell. It’s a fine rule of thumb though it need not always be followed. For example, it’s often acceptable to describe a character’s appearance rather than conveniently have them peer into a mirror. The same goes for describing a setting.
Imagine if J.K. Rowling had written this: “The Forbidden Forest was super creepy.” That doesn’t scare anybody! She made it creepy by showing us the centaurs, werewolves, giant spiders, and more that roamed within.

So how can you do the same for your settings? Here are a few tricks.
For starters, allow yourself to “tell” in your first draft. Let’s say you’re writing a story set in a small town during winter. In the first draft, you might simply write, “The town was cold.” We forgive you. It’s just a first draft!

In your second draft, return to those blunt descriptions and decide how to show coldness rather than tell it. Describe the ice hanging from the eaves of the houses, the slippery snow packed upon the sidewalks, the breath hissing from your characters’ mouths. You haven’t used the word “cold” anywhere, yet the suggested meaning is clear.

Furthermore, having one character describe another is an effective way to suggest characteristics. This works just as well with settings.

Finally, show your setting’s traits through action. Cormac McCarthy didn’t just tell us the world was dangerous in The Road. He showed it by populating that world with ashes, marauders and cannibals. If your setting is trying to kill your protagonists, it’ll feel more like a character.

Developing the Arc of Your Setting
Characters have arcs. So, like characters, great settings often have arcs as well. This might sound like an odd concept at first, but it really can make a difference in your writing.
To build your setting’s arc, consider what your setting is like at the beginning of the story, what it becomes by the end, and what happens in the middle to make it so.

Maybe you start with an idyllic pastoral country which ends up ravaged by war. Or your post-apocalyptic wasteland might be restored to beauty by the heroics of your protagonist. Or perhaps your setting stays just the way it always was despite what happened in the middle. Whatever arc you choose, it should improve your setting.

Lastly, do you consider the characteristics of your settings when you’re writing? Please leave your thoughts below.

_______________________________________________________________
Sue Powers is an accomplished short story writer. Her many stories have been published in magazines such as Saturday Evening Post, New Millennium Writings, Blue Earth Review, Funny in Five Hundred, Another Chicago Magazine, Happy, Facets, The Writer’s Place and Samizdada. She has written a mystery and is writing another one. She also has a book of stories, entitled, A Surprising Measure of Subliminal Sadness.

Why Do You Read?

Why do you read? For pleasure or for instruction?

I read for pleasure and instruction. Because I’m still writing, I read for instruction, books like John MacDonald’s The Deep Blue Good-By. I’m reading this because I’m writing another mystery and I haven’t read that many mysteries. I’m also reading for pleasure and it takes me to a place I’ve never been before.

Reading is important to me. It’s instructional to me as a writer. Without reading, how do I know how to write? Perhaps through watching TV? Never. Or reading books other than those I want to write? That is counter productive, at least for me.

Say a writer reads children’s stories, but the writer writes mysteries. A writer should read the type of story he/she wants to write. Although some writers don’t do this and yet they are successful writers. The reason they are successful writers is that whatever they read, the pattern of writing gets inside of them. And because reading is instructional, whether they know it or not. It may be instructional in an unconscious way, but it’s there, waiting for reader to write. Or not. Obviously, not all readers become writers or we would be inundated with writers and their books.

If I read a mystery, I learn how to write drama, suspense and sometimes humor. Or say the writer reads autobiographies and yet writes humor. Still the writer learns through reading autobiographies how to write successfully.

It’s like learning to read. Did you read cereal boxes? I bet you did. You want to learn things, you want to learn how to read and write. Eventually, reading becomes unconscious. You just sit down and read, forgetting that once you didn’t know how to.

When I teach creative writing I always bring a story to dissect. How does the writer achieve the effect he/she wants? By dissecting the story my students learn how the writer does this. Not that my students go home and write a good story. It takes practice to learn to how to write well.

For the reader, the story may keep the reader in suspense or the reader may laugh (or smile) at the humor in the story or the reader may sit back and think about the story. If the reader finishes the story and wants another: this is evidence of good writing.

Now that we’ve discussed reading, I’d like to know why YOU read? For pleasure? To be carried to a world you never thought about? To see the future? To entertain your child? Or for instruction for yourself?

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Sue Powers’ fictions have appeared in numerous publications. Some were published by Saturday Evening Post, New Millenniums Writings and Blue Earth Review and many others. She was a recipient of a fellowship and grant from the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Prose, and two of her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her mystery, She’s Not There, will be published soon. She’s now writing another mystery.

What It’s Like to be a Writer

There are many kind of writers. Novelists, mystery writers, autobiography writers, just to name a few. I’m a short story writer who has written a mystery and is writing another one. In case you didn’t know, it’s highly unusual for a short story writer to write a mystery.

I once had a friend who said I was lucky to be a writer. Well let me tell you if you enjoy solitude then you will be happy as a writer. It’s just you and your imagination sitting in front of the computer, trying to write. Words don’t always flow. When that happens, I pick up a book and read. Reading for me is inspiration. And of course I read a book that’s similar to what I’m writing.

When I’m writing I’m in the zone. The zone is like none other. You forget to drink, you forget to eat, you forget everything but the document in front of you.

I once wrote a screenplay. Difficult when you are not accustomed to writing a screenplay. It requires a certain format. I spent hours trying to format the screenplay, not hours writing it. Seems to me that I was spending more time formatting than writing. So I gave it up.

Now that I’m writing another mystery, I’m reading mysteries. I’ve read Lee Child and now I’m reading Sue Grafton. Sue Grafton is kind of funny, making her books enjoyable.

As I said, no matter what you write, you need to read that kind of book. I’ve taught creative writing and the people in my class never read the kinds of book that they liked to read. It was frustrating, but it turned out a few of the people in my classes actually had writing talent.

I don’t intend to teach anymore. It infers with my writing. And I plan to someday be a full-time writer.
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Sue Powers is an accomplished writer. She has written a mystery, She’s Not There, that will published soon and is writing another mystery.