A Ghost Story for #StartWritingFiction

So, the next Start Writing Fiction exercise was to turn on the radio and write a 500-word story inspired by the first thing you heard. I don’t have a radio, so I googled “random weird news” instead and grabbed an interesting-sounding headline. Appropriately enough for Halloween season, it was about a haunted house! Here it is:

A Ghost Story

“This Spooky Historic Home will Send You Free ‘Possessed Plants.’” I read aloud from the local paper. “That’s a bit sensationalized, don’t you think?”

I handed the newspaper to my husband across the breakfast table and reached for my cup of coffee. The mug was warm, and I wrapped my hands around it.

“They could have gone with ‘Ghosts, Free To a Good Home’ instead,” he said.

I shrugged and took another sip of coffee. An eery chuckle wavered in the air. It emanated from somewhere near the stove.

“Come off it, Fred,” I said. “You’re the one who complains the most about overcrowding. We’re just trying to be proactive, here.”

The girl I’d spoken to at the newspaper had been chipper and enthusiastic. She had taken down all the details, asked how many plants were available, and told me I had excellent timing putting out this offer right before Halloween. She asked if it were part of my campaign to have the old house recognized by the historical society.

“Any publicity for that petition can’t hurt,” I’d told her. “But honestly, I’m just trying to get rid of some of these ghosts.”

She’d laughed. Everyone always laughs, at first. By now, though, the hydrangea she’d taken for herself must have shown her I was telling the truth. I’d given her Edith’s plant, and I hadn’t missed the constant, pervasive smell of menthol cigarettes that always hung around Edith’s spirit. I hoped the newspaper girl lived in a smoking apartment.

The old rotary phone on the kitchen wall rang out with a blaring BRIIIIIIING before I had a chance to finish my coffee. I had learned soon after moving in that modern devices, like cell phones, tended to act screwy and brick themselves after a few days inside these walls. The old phone acted spooky, too – calls from nowhere, heavy breathing, randomly falling off the hook – but at least it still kind of worked. This morning, the calls kept coming at a steady clip straight up until lunch time. Apparently everyone in town wanted to get their hands on a free “possessed plant” to put on their front porch to scare Trick-or-Treaters. I took down names, addresses, and made a few notes about the callers’ personalities. As much as I complained about the ghosts, they had become familiar to me, and I wanted to make sure their new roommates were a good match.

As I turned on the stove to start heating up tomato soup for lunch, a creepy rustling whisper crawled up the back of my neck. Fred again. He’d been reading my notes, and wanted to know if he could go live with the twenty-two-year-old model and actress who had put in a plant request. I responded with an exasperated sigh.

“I thought you wanted to stay here? You’re, like, 200 years old. Get a grip, Fred.”

The cabinets rattled noisily. The burner on the stove flared up dramatically for a few seconds, threatening to singe my eyebrows.

“Fine!” I snapped. “Go, and good riddance! She’ll probably toss you in the dumpster before you can say ‘Boo,’ you old fart.”

The rattling stopped. I grabbed a spoon and set the pot on a folded towel right on the kitchen table – no sense dirtying a bowl. I pulled out my list from the morning phone calls and got to work. I had ghosts to re-home.

Warming Up for NaNoWriMo

I have my characters, I have my outline, and I have a stash of Halloween candy for fuel. I think I’m mostly ready to hit the ground running this November!

I spent this afternoon working on some warm-up exercises to try to decide whether I want to write in first or third person point of view this year. I’m still not sure – argh! I’ll put my practice attempts below. These are both scenes from the POV of my main character, Julia, but they take place a couple of years before the novel starts. (No cheating here! ;))

First:
I sat in the uncomfortable, moulded plastic chair closest to the gate and felt the persistent prick of choked-down tears. I had been okay on the way to the airport, other than double- and triple-checking the pockets of my scuffed-up backpack to make sure my boarding pass was still safely folded inside. Clara had claimed shotgun. By now, she and Mom were probably back on the highway headed home. Without me. Okay, deep breath. It wasn’t like I was never going to see them again. I’d be home for Christmas, and they were planning on coming out before then with the rest of the boxes and to see Dylan’s apartment – no, our apartment, now. In the car, Clara ignored me; I could hear the faint, tinny sound of pop music which escaped her headphones. Mom had turned the radio to news, and only broke the near-silence a few times to ask me if I’d remembered to pack this or that. I hadn’t forgotten anything. My packing checklist had been thorough.

I made it to the sidewalk before breaking down. Clara refused to get out of the car, just gave me an ironic wave. She’d said she was already used to me being gone at college, so what difference did it make? But this time I was moving away for good. I had a job, a full-time, grown-up job with health insurance. I was going to have my own apartment with Dylan. We were even talking about getting married. I felt miles away from her 16 years, even though I was only 22 myself. My mom got out of the car, hauled my suitcase out of the trunk, and gave me a hug. “Be good, Julia,” she said. She was crying, although she tried to cover it up with with a swallowed, snuffling sound. If she hadn’t cried, I would have been fine. But as soon as I saw the tears in her eyes, my own eyes welled up in answer, and we were both crying and hugging next to the passenger drop-off lane.

I came through security with watery eyes and a red nose, and my voice squeaked when I gave my name at check-in. I had been up half the night worrying about what I needed to do when I got to the airport, since I’d never flown by myself before. But it was easy. Before I knew it, I found myself sitting at the right gate. I held my boarding pass in one sweaty hand and hugged my backpack to my chest like armor. I sat up straight, knees together, and stared at the flight information board. I felt like a kid waiting outside the principal’s office, nervous, controlled.

In just three hours, I would be walking out into another airport, in a new city, and Dylan would be there with open arms. Something like excitement broke open in my chest. It was finally happening; we didn’t need to wait to be together anymore. This was the future we’d talked about for years, and it was coming at me so suddenly now. When the gate attendant gave the announcement to board, I stood up, shouldered my bag, and stepped forward into the future with dry eyes and hopeful smile.

Third:

“Here we are!” Dylan said.

Julia looked out the window of Dylan’s truck at a scruffy, unassuming townhouse. The hedges had been trimmed so aggressively that only one or two patchy green portions still grew haphazardly from a vast tangle of ugly brown twigs. A chip from the corner of one of the front steps descended as crumbling concrete. She looked at Dylan again, and for a moment, her mind couldn’t interpret his features as those of a living man, instead of pixels in a video chat sent from hundreds of miles away. But no, he was really here. Close enough to touch.

“I know it’s not much, but it’s nice inside, and it’s one of the only pet friendly places in the area. I know how much you want a dog, babe.”

“It’s wonderful,” Julia said. “I can’t wait to see the inside.”

She reached across the gearshift, grabbed his hand and squeezed. He slid his fingers between hers and raised their joined hands so he could kiss the back of hers.

“How about I show you the bedroom first?”

Julia laughed, and felt an unexpected lightness in her chest. She loved him and they were going to live here together. The moldy wooden fence that they walked beside, ramshackle though it was, took on a kind of romance for her. She imagined scrubbing it and painting it with weatherproof white paint, shiny and clean, she and Dylan dressed in old clothes and flicking paint on each others’ tee shirts as they laughed in the sun. The hedges would grow. She could line the concrete steps with planters overflowing with flowers.

Dylan opened the front door for her and opened his arms wide to show off the beige carpet and white walls inside. She could already see the warm coziness of a life shared layered over the institutional flatness of each surface. Playful, now, she hopped on his back and let him carry her up the stairs to the bedroom. There would be time to see the rest of the apartment later.

#StartWritingFiction: Originality & Inspiration

Here are a handful of short, fun exercises from the last couple of lessons from Start Writing Fiction.

An ordinary object described in an unusual way:

A discarded boxing glove lays on top of the bookshelf, curled in on itself like a dying animal – and stinking like one, too.

Finish the prompt: “Emma said that…”

Emma said that she would never burn a book, and furthermore, that anyone who did so was a vile ignoramus. It was a practiced and well-rehearsed rant of hers, one her friends had heard many times. But when she finished reading Jim’s so-called novel – steaming pile of crap, more like it – and especially the part that was a thinly veiled description of their disastrous love affair, she found herself outside, heating up the barbecue grill.

How can you turn your character sketch into a story?

My character sketch of “Lauren” doesn’t immediately suggest any kind of conflict, although I can think of a few questions that might lead to a story – why is she hiding out in the garage? why does she care about “winning” an interoffice fitness challenge? what if the stranger walking by wasn’t a stranger, but someone she knew, and she gets caught cheating? what would it take for her to accept the challenge for real and step outside her comfort zone and make a lifestyle change? what if she’s the antagonist in another character’s story? what if something happens to her dog, and that shocks her out of her complacency, because she does really love him? what if her dog is the only one she feels like she can trust? why does she feel that way?

That’s it for today! Almost finished with the second set of lessons now. 🙂

 

#StartWritingFiction: Heightening Observation

Next up in my Start Writing Fiction course is expanding that character study we wrote last week. We’re supposed to include more details that we observed.

Lauren: A Character Study

The sound of pebbles being kicked and scattered along the edge of the street is the only warning she has that someone is coming. It’s a late summer day, afternoon moving into evening, and the air is warm and dry. Lauren quickly looks up from her phone, squinting as her eyes adjust to the brighter outdoor light. She hunches down a bit toward the arm of the old, scratched-up blue couch she’s sitting on, but after a moment, the noise is revealed to be just a stranger taking a walk. Still, she feels the thrill of getting away with something, a shiver on the back of her neck. The garage she sits in is bathed in oncoming shadows, and the glow from her phone lights up her face with a pale shine. Rocky, her staunch Rottweiler, barks a fierce warning from the treadmill, unconsciously speeding up as if to chase the near-trespasser off. Now, suddenly out of sync with the quick-moving belt, he stumbles briefly before regaining his steady pace.

She wonders if perhaps she should not have tied Rocky’s leash to the grip bar with so little give. What if he fell? Just as quickly as she thinks it, she dismisses it. Rocky will be fine. The sound of his panting breath fills the garage; he needs the exercise, the vet said he was putting on weight, and she has to beat this level of Candy Crush before Aunt Sally does. The stranger on the street slows, frowns, but doesn’t stop. Obviously disapproving. Lauren feels a slight tremor of self-consciousness, far below the surface of awareness. She hunches a bit more toward the edge of the bench, wishes the garage door worked so she could close it. She tugs her too-tight gray yoga pants up on her waist, pulls at the sleeves of her tee shirt. It says “Shut Up & Work Out.” It’s a little too small, too.

Rocky finally stops barking; the stranger has moved on. Lauren finishes her level and switches apps to check Rocky’s step count. A bar chart, with the yellow spike of a progress line. Not quite at the magic 10,000, yet, but Lauren’s name is inching toward the top of her coworkers’ weekly challenge. “Good boy, Rocky,” she says. He looks at her, dog-smile, tongue flopping out. Her Fitbit bounces against his chest where she’s tied it to his spiked collar.

I think this now has too many details, but whatever, exercise accomplished!

#StartWritingFiction: Writing Spaces

The next section in Start Writing Fiction deals with writing spaces and habits. I found this section to be self-indulgent. Yes, sure, I would love to take a stack of notebooks to a little mountain cabin and write a literary masterpiece with a fountain pen by a roaring fire, but, come on, I’m going to have to settle and use my laptop on my couch if I ever want to get anything written.

I’m being a little unfair – of course, it is useful to identify which times of day you’re most productive and which tools work best for you, as long as you don’t dig your heels in and insist on only writing under those conditions. But there’s something to be said for forcing yourself to write when you’re uncomfortable, for stealing a few minutes to type a scene out on your phone with your thumbs while waiting in line even though autocorrect makes you want to pull your hair out, for building the discipline to not let the blaring music coming from the downstairs apartment be an excuse you use to say you can’t concentrate and put off working on your draft for another day of binge-watching Netflix.

All right, with my protest lodged, I will now talk about my writing spaces and habits. Conveniently enough, I just organized my desk in order to get ready for NaNoWriMo! Look:


As you can see above, I have my laptop, headphones, two notebooks (one for scribbling and one for writing unrelated ideas for later use), a nice view (well, you can’t see that because of the sunshine but my desk overlooks a lovely patch of trees), the stuffed unicorn Zak got me for Valentine’s Day for moral support and comfort when I’m having trouble hitting my word count, miscellaneous office supplies, and my shiny new mug for copious amounts of caffeine. (I always get a new mug for NaNo, one that reminds me of my story in some way – annual tradition!)

In reality, though, I write all over my house. (Except in bed. Beds are for sleeping and only one other thing. Couches, though, are fair game.) I’m most productive in the morning but any time, other than late at night, works just as well. I do prefer silence, white noise, or instrumental music – I can tolerate music better than a TV on in the background, which is probably the most annoying thing ever. (Ugh.) I like writing at home better than out in public, but it’s fun to go out and work in a coffee shop once in a while.

The next part asked us to write two short paragraphs describing characters writing in, firstly, our ideal environment, and secondly, in the worst environment we could imagine. I’m going to mostly ignore the directions again and write about this years NaNoWriMo characters and their preferred working environments instead, because that will be more useful to me than this silly romanticizing nonsense. (Cough.)

  1. Julia’s apartment is too small to have a real office. Her laptop, iPad, and stash of inexpensive office supplies are stuffed in the drawer of an end table next to her side of the couch. Every Sunday night, she curls up against her favorite throw pillow – cream-colored, with a bold print of gold-embossed antlers the only decoration – and tucks a baby blue afghan around her legs to review her planner for the week ahead. Her schedule is color-coded, and she lines up each pen she needs within easy reach on the coffee table.If she makes a mistake, she carefully paints over it with white out. She blocks off squares of time with printed washi tape, gold hearts, blue stripes, polka dots, each carrying a meaning known only to her. Her boyfriend, Dylan, sprawled out and taking up two thirds of the couch for himself, plays video games – the repetitive music has become a soothing soundtrack for her weekly ritual. She draws eight little empty glasses of water on each day, so she can fill them in later. She reaches for her mug, green tea that has gone lukewarm while she was focused on the task at hand. The mug reads “World’s Best Big Sister” and has a pretty floral design curling up the edges. Her phone alarm beeps, and she neatly stacks her supplies back in the end table drawer before tucking her planner into her purse.
  2. Billie likes to work in bars, the seedier, the better. She finds a table in the back, puts her feet up on the chair next to her, and types furiously, long rants about feminism and politics. Her blog doesn’t get much traffic, but that doesn’t stop her. She takes a break from typing only long enough to take a sip of her whiskey and coke, a small one, nursing it as long as possible – the rent she pays for her table more than anything else. Her laptop is black, off-brand, beat up and covered in stickers, layer upon layer, so you can only see the edges of the logos of bands she loved years ago. The background noise, people talking, the mass shouting at the game on the TV – all of it helps her focus more than silence every could. She stays until closing.

Well, that’s that! Here’s hoping the next section of the course works better for me than this one.

Book Review: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Annihilation (Southern Reach, #1)Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“…and when you see beauty in desolation it changes something inside you. Desolation tries to colonize you.” – Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation

What I Liked: The Biologist. The very best kind of unreliable narrator, here – we don’t know if what she sees is real or not, we don’t know what factors are messing with her perception or how they work, we just get fascinating clues and hints. I really enjoyed the character and all her scientific observations, her persistent, dogged determination to accept things as they are, do her best to observe them even though she knows it’s ultimately futile, and not moralize. Good stuff. I was surprisingly satisfied with the conclusion as well, and that’s something for a book that keeps all its secrets like this.

Favorite scene: The pile of journals she finds in the tower, and the fact that all that hard work and earnest human endeavor is just a useless mound of decaying paper. But then, I always did enjoy some creeping existential dread with my morning coffee.

What I Didn’t Like: Over too soon! So many questions! But I really enjoyed this book and am about to immediately start the sequel as soon as I finish writing this review, so I’m hoping some of my questions will be answered in the rest of the trilogy.

Recommended for: Anyone looking for a spooky page turner perfect for October reading. People who don’t mind an ending that doesn’t wrap everything up neatly. People who like detailed descriptions and philosophical ramblings and character development better than a coherent plot.

View all my reviews

How to Choose an Idea for NaNoWriMo

It’s almost here – National Novel Writing Month is only a couple of short weeks away!

I did my first NaNoWriMo twelve years ago, and I’ve certainly learned a few lessons along the way. So now I’m going to share those lessons with you, Internet! You’re welcome.

Staring down the barrel of dwindling October days, you may have no idea what on earth you’re going to write about this November. I was in the same position myself just last week. Let me take you through my process for tackling this problem.

There’s two camps you might be in:

  1. OMG I HAVE NO IDEAS!!
  2. OMG I HAVE TOO MANY IDEAS!!!

You might, lucky you, find yourself bouncing between both. No worries. Here’s what to do:

What To Do if You Have No Novel Ideas Whatsoever

  1. Make a list of stuff you like. Stuff that you enjoy talking about, stuff that your friends wish you would shut up about, stuff that makes you super happy when you remember it exists in the world. Your list might look like this:
    • dragons
    • Christmas
    • bars with outdoor decks
    • espresso
    • Shark Week
  2. Make a list of stuff that you know a lot about. For example:
    • what it’s like to work in a restaurant
    • dog training
    • living in a city
    • sewing
    • how to make fancy cocktails
  3. Making these lists might immediately spark some ideas – a character who works at a restaurant-bar with an outdoor deck organizing their annual Christmas party and trying to figure out how to arrange things so she can kiss her crush under the mistletoe, perhaps? Or a dog trainer with a heart of gold who decides to see if her dog-training skills translate to shark-training for Some Mysterious Reason? Roll with it and skip ahead to #5. If not, full steam ahead…
  4. Dream up some interesting characters. People-watching is a great way to do this, and so is scrolling through Pinterest looking at pictures of people and wondering what their stories are. Once you have the beginnings of a character, think about how you could get that person involved in some of the stuff you listed above.
  5. Once you have the tiniest kernel of an idea, you are in business! Simply take it and run with it. Jump in to your favorite brainstorming method and start expanding it until it’s novel-sized. I like The Snowflake Method the best, but there’s plenty out there, including the old-fashioned method of simply asking yourself “why?” questions over and over again like a pesky three-year-old. Good luck!

What To Do if You Have Too Many Novel Ideas

  1. Ask yourself: which idea am I most excited about? If you have an immediate answer to this question, go with it. You’re going to be spending a lot of time this November trying to sustain momentum. What idea has you motivated to tackle the challenge? Which makes your heartbeat quicken with anticipation? Why are you even hesitating – go with that one! You’ll thank me when your motivation starts flagging in Week Two; it’s much easier to forge ahead when you love your story than to try to force yourself to add another 1,667 words to the manuscript you think you “should” be writing but couldn’t care less about.
  2. Ask yourself: which characters do I like the best? You are going to be spending a lot of time with these imaginary people. Choose the cast you want to hang out with the most, the ones that seem fun and cool and interesting. If you go with a project that has an interesting idea but lackluster characters, you’re going to get bored. And a good character can keep a NaNoWriMo project going even when you get stuck. I made the mistake of writing an ill-planned plot-driven novel for NaNoWriMo once – disaster! NaNo goes so, so fast, and it’s easy to completely lose track of what’s going on and what needs to happen next in a complicated plot. If you have a good grasp of character, it’s much easier to get yourself out of the weeds while driving full speed ahead.
  3. Ask yourself: which idea requires the least research? Again, NaNoWriMo is a fast-paced challenge. If you find yourself choosing between writing a novel about a subject you’re already familiar with and know a lot about, and writing a novel about characters employed in an industry you’ve barely heard of set in a historical period you know little about, go with the first one! Research-heavy novels are better suited to other months of the year, when you can take your time. (And, if you’re asking, yes, it is too late to do all the research next week right before NaNo starts. Don’t do it. I’m telling you.)
  4. Ask yourself: which has enough story? Yes, it’s true, 50,000 words is a very, very short novel. But it’s a pretty long high-speed rough draft. There’s nothing worse than writing a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end – and for that “end” to be at 30,000 words with a whole 20k left to go back and fill in. Given the choice, go with the novel that has more meat. More conflict, more characters, more scenes, a larger scale. Better to hit 50k with two thirds of a novel than to not hit it at all, I say!
  5. And finally, once you pick one, STICK WITH IT. If you’re outlining, and you get distracted by one of your shiny other ideas, tell it “no” firmly and save it for December. This is especially crucial once November actually starts. You will want to switch ideas in Week Two. Don’t. It is the kiss of death and you will crash and burn – trust me, I speak from experience.

Good luck and happy #NaNoPrep everybody!

#StartWritingFiction: Character Study

Today’s assignment for Start Writing Fiction was to develop one of our observations from the last exercise into a character. I picked the woman who had her dog leashed to the treadmill in her garage while she was lounging around on her phone, and came up with the following:

Lauren: A Character Study

The sound of pebbles being kicked and scattered along the edge of the street is the only warning she has that someone is coming. Lauren quickly looks up from her phone, unconsciously hunching down a bit toward the edge of the bench she’s sitting on. It’s just a stranger taking a walk. Still, she feels the thrill of getting away with something. Rocky, her staunch Rottweiler, barks a fierce warning from the treadmill, unconsciously speeding up as if to chase the near-trespasser off. Now, suddenly out of sync with the quick-moving belt, he stumbles briefly before regaining his steady pace.

She wonders if perhaps she should not have tied Rocky’s leash to the grip bar with so little give. What if he fell? Just as quickly as she thinks it, she dismisses it. Rocky will be fine. She has to beat this level of Candy Crush before Aunt Sally does. The stranger on the street slows, frowns, but doesn’t stop. Obviously disapproving. Lauren feels a slight tremor of self-consciousness, far below the surface of awareness. She hunches a bit more toward the edge of the bench, wishes the garage door worked so she could close it. She tugs her too-tight gray yoga pants up on her waist, pulls at the sleeves of her tee shirt. It says “Shut Up & Work Out.” It’s a little too small, too.

Rocky finally stops barking; the stranger has moved on. Lauren finishes her level and switches apps to check Rocky’s step count. Not quite at the magic 10,000, yet, but Lauren’s name is inching toward the top of her coworkers’ weekly challenge. “Good boy, Rocky,” she says. He looks at her, dog-smile, tongue flopping out. Her Fitbit bounces against his chest where she’s tied it to his collar.

 

#StartWritingFiction: Observations

Today’s exercise in the Start Writing Fiction course I’m working on had to do with keeping a notebook full of observations. They provided a video of random British people doing random British things and using public transportation, set to elevator music. We were supposed to practice making observations about the “characters” in the video and write them down in our notebooks.

I didn’t find this video to be too terribly inspiring, so I (gasp!) did not follow directions. Instead of using the video, I went with random neighbors I have observed on my walks near the apartment. (The only form of exercise I am allowed to do since having surgery, boooo.) The following is what I came up with.

On my walks, I have seen:

1. A woman down the street who sits on the sofa in the open garage, texting, wearing workout clothes, while her Rottweiler runs on her treadmill for her. He barks fiercely at me as I walk by, but he’s leashed to the treadmill, and can’t chase me. Why doesn’t she take him for a real walk? Who is she texting? I wonder if she has tied a Fitbit to his collar, and is passing off his steps as her own.

2. An old man with a golden retriever who stands in the driveway and glares at me, ignores my hello, and turns his head to follow me with his hate-filled gaze as I walk by. Every time I see him, he is angry. Now, I cross the street before I reach his house. He comes and goes frequently in an old beat-up sedan. Where is he going? And why does he always bring the dog with him? I wonder if he’s going to buy cheap beer and cigarettes, leaving the dog waiting in the passenger seat, and then coming home to drink and ruminate about past wrongs.

3. A little house that I like, mostly hidden from the street by tall pine trees, with a garden dotted with outdoor, solar-powered lights, flowerbeds spilling over, and a patch of incongruent succulents, half of which are dead and gray. The owners hung out orange, twinkling lights on the first of October. In the one picture window that faces the street, I see a frame of curtains, the rounded back of an overstuffed sofa, and, once in a while, a cat. I’ve never seen the people who live there. Maybe it’s just the cat who lives there, and he tends the garden all by himself.

4. A mother pushes her son on a swing, slowly, over and over. He looks to be about six. He is wearing a bicycle helmet and kicking his feet listlessly out in front of him in time with the swing. Neither of them say anything. I wonder if he’s angry at her for making him wear a helmet on a swing. I wonder, is she overly-cautious in all areas of her life? Why?

The next section asked us to reflect on the notes we made and notice what kind of things we had a tendency to observe. It asked if we concentrated mostly on what we saw, while ignoring the other senses, and if we noticed emotions, facial expressions, clothing, or anything else.

Reflection: I think I mostly noticed what people/places looked like and their actions or facial expressions, but I also noticed sounds. I found myself wondering a lot about the narrative – why were they doing what they were doing, what had they done earlier that day, and where were they going next? I also paid attention to their environment and how they felt about it, or interacted with it – and wondered about their relationships.

All in all, a useful exercise. Now if only I could get out of the house and find some more interesting people to observe!

#StartWritingFiction: Fact & Fiction

I signed up for The Open University’s Start Writing Fiction course. So far, I’m enjoying it! The professor has a British accent, so that’s a definite plus. I’m hoping it will get me back in the swing of things so I’ll be ready for National Novel Writing Month next month!

I’m going to throw my practice exercises up here on the blog to keep me honest. The first exercise is to write two paragraphs. First, a paragraph that includes one fact and three fictions, and second, a paragraph that includes three facts and one fiction.

Naturally, I wrote about spiders:

1&3: The venom of the black widow spider is fatal if swallowed. She is brazen, large, and her fangs glisten with venom as she stalks her prey through the grass. Because of her nearsightedness, she has no idea what hapless prey she has come upon until she is already nearly on top of it. The venom of a black widow, if you survive the danger of collecting it, can be used to poison your enemies and leave no trace: the perfect crime.

3&1: I rescued a wolf spider this morning, a male, who had set out on an epic journey in the name of love and instead found himself trapped in another spider’s web. He broke off one of his own legs trying to escape, but he couldn’t get free on his own. I thought he was dead when I saw him, but after a moment, he resumed struggling. Once I cut him free, he headed off in the wrong direction – the mate he was looking for lives only a few feet away, under the fridge, surrounded by the cast-off exoskeletons of her prey. If only he had gone left instead of right, perhaps he could have found true love – but, could she ever love a seven-legged spider? Perhaps it’s better that he went on, heart unbroken, back out into the world alone.

If you’re interested, the only fact in the first paragraph is that Black Widow spiders are nearsighted (and it’s adorable). The only fiction in the second paragraph is that I do not, as far as I know, have a female wolf spider living under my fridge. First practice exercise complete! 🙂