Posted in Uncategorized, writing

Things I’ve learned from reading my favorite authors

penWriters are avid readers. If you are a writer and you aren’t a reader, you should be. Read whatever you want, in any genre you want, but read. The reason why is fairly simple. Reading is not only fun, but it is educational. That may sound hokey, but it’s true. You can learn a lot by reading other writers’ works.

I’m not the most avid reader in the world, but I’ve read my share of books and I’ve learn a lot from them. Here are just three things that I’ve learned from my favorite books and authors.

1. You want to develop characters? Torture them.

My favorite books, the ones I’ve read so many times the pages are falling out, have one thing in common: awesome characters, and awesome character development. Characters are a lot like real people. People grow and change; they don’t stay the same. People make mistakes. They go through bad times and have things challenge them, and when they come out on the other side of those changes, they are either better or worse for it.

Your story is a window into your character’s life. Your character can’t change if things don’t happen to them. They need to be challenged–whether mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually–in order to grow. Where there is challenge, then your story has conflict, and conflict is always good for the story.

This means you can’t be kind to your characters. You have to be mean to them. If the characters in your story don’t make you cry, ache, get angry or wring out some kind of reaction from you, then chances are your doing something wrong. What is the worst thing that can happen to them? Put them through it. If your character is rich, then maybe he should lose his fortune. Is he proud? Maybe he should be humbled. You’re the one who best knows your character–be mean to them.

2. Write the character’s thoughts on paper.

People’s minds are a fascinating place. What makes them tick? How do they feel about a particular thing? What were they feeling when this event happened? In real life, we can’t answer these questions because none of us can read minds. In books, however, readers can often get a glimpse not only into the life of characters, but their minds as well.

I learned about the term stream of consciousness while still in high school. It is a technique of writing, where the story is told entirely through a character’s thoughts. William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury is one famous example of this, as is James Joyce’s Ulysses. 

Telling a story entirely through stream of consciousness isn’t done much today, but the technique is used all the time. Character’s thoughts pop up in most books I read, some more than others. Part of it has to do with what point of view the story is written in. If it is written in the first person point of view, then we will see more of what goes on in a person’s head than say, a story written in third person. But even with third person omniscient we sometimes get into people’s heads.

Using this technique accomplishes several things. For one thing, there is no better way to get to know a character than by reading their thoughts. Secondly, there is no better way to build tension than to have a person’s thoughts conflict with what is going on around them. And thirdly, writing a characters thoughts down is the first step toward character development.

3. Get to know your characters.

Of course, you can’t develop your characters or write down their thoughts if you don’t know your character inside and out. You need to know more than just what they look like. Where are they from? What is their favorite foods? Do they have allergies? What do they do for a living? Where do they live? What kind of car do they drive? What happened when they grew up?

If you know what makes them tick, then you will know how your character will react in certain situations. Do you know why your character has a fear of the water? Maybe they saw someone drown when they were young. If this is the case, then maybe your character shouldn’t be a lifeguard.

If you don’t know the answer to any of these questions, then maybe you should.  Write down as many questions like these that you can think of, and interview your character. Get to know them. Who knows–something may come up that changes the entire face of your story.

4. Always improve on your craft.

I’ve seen examples of authors who improve and others who don’t–and I have favorites among both categories. With some authors, you can go through their works and see how they’ve improved in their career. It’s kind of awesome, really. Every great author started somewhere, but look at where they are now. It gives me hope to read my favorite authors’ early works, because really, those early works aren’t that different from mine. This is the level of writing they were at when they were first published, and it gives me hope that publication is possible with me.

Then there are the authors that don’t improve. They reach a plateau and then that’s it. Their writing doesn’t change, doesn’t get worse, but doesn’t improve either. They get into a rut and for whatever reason, they refuse to leave it. I find this frustrating because truthfully, reading the same book over and over gets kind of boring. The only reason I still read books written from that author is because they have long ago gotten me addicted to the stories and I want to know how the series ends.

Lesson: if you don’t want your readers to fall asleep in the middle of your story, keep improving on your craft. Avoid ruts.

 

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It’s Been a Busy Month

Dude, where does the time go?

Some day, I’d like someone to answer me that. Why is it that time goes so fast? Why is it we can blink and suddenly three months have passed? February is gone already. Spring is almost here. At least, as soon as the snow goes away.

A lot has been accomplished this month. I’ve done a lot of research for my story, and it’s coming along good. I’ve helped start a fantasy writers group that meets in the San Antonio area. The Starlight Symphony Orchestra has had another concert, and we’re gearing up for another next month. We temporarily housed an abandoned dog, thought we might keep it, but ended up taking him to the shelter.

Michael has been busy with his company. They pushed out three programs, and they are gearing up to do more work. They are even talking about adding another client. Business is good.

This past week, we visited my mother-in-laws, and toured the Dallas area. We have accomplished a lot this month.

And yet, there are things still yet to do.

I still haven’t lost any weight this month, and my Bible reading never got off the ground. As far as fulfilling my resolution contract with my husband, the only thing we’ve been able to keep is saving money. We’ve been able to avoid going out to eat during the week, reserving that for the weekends. But that’s it.

I could still turn it around. The year is still young. March has just started. I’m planting some green beans in my flower pots. They haven’t sprouted yet, but I hope they will. Just as I also hope that I can get back on my resolution program. It can happen. Lord willing.

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Our Clogged Up Drier, Part One

Our drier is nothing fancy. It’s a Kenmore, and it has actual buttons and knobs, not digital displays and computer components. It was cheep, it’s paid off, and it works. Or at least, it did up until last weekend. Then something happened. We aren’t sure what, but what used to take only an hour to dry took more than three. Yes, three.

Something was definitely wrong with our drier.

wasp nestNow, my dad works on washers and driers all the time at work. He works for Harding University in the general maintenance department, and keeping the washers and driers working is a part of his job. So when our drier went on the fritz, I gave him a call. After talking the problem over with him, we found what we thought was the problem: a wasps nest in the vent.

Here’s a picture I took of it. It wasn’t that big as far as wasp nests go, but it had blocked up lint and some water in the pipe. I talked the the apartment manager, and they put their maintenance people on it to get it cleaned out. They did. Problem solved, and just in time, too. I had laundry to do.

That was Wednesday. Friday, I started another load of laundry. And I discover that the problem wasn’t fixed. It still took me three hours to dry my laundry. I ended up putting the laundry out on the patio to finish drying.

This problem needed further investigation.

drier waterI gave my dad another call, and after further conversation I decided to pull the dryer out from the wall to check the flex hose. I thought perhaps it was full of lint–a fire hazard I wished to avoid. Instead, I found about two inches of water and soggy lint in it.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, I decided to stick my hand up the pipe to see if I could feel the clog and pull it out myself. Instead, I found more water. A lot more. In fact, I managed to pull more than a gallon of water and lint from the pipe.

Readers with weak stomachs, I apologize in advance. Here is a picture I took of the water I took from the pipe. As you can see, it’s a lot of water. And there was still more water left in that pipe that I couldn’t get to. And yes, the water was gross. I’m gagging just remembering it.

The pipe, by the way, was more flex hose, and best I can gather it runs underneath the bathtub. Why it’s flex hose and not something rigid, like PVC, I don’t know. Maybe PVC wouldn’t fit under the tub. Maybe it’s regulations. I don’t know. But going back to the point:

gallon of water. Something is seriously wrong with our dryer.

There are two possible explanations.

According to my dad, this kind of dryer either works or it doesn’t. It doesn’t peeter out and little by little stop drying until it stops working. It just stops. And since my drier is still putting out heat, my dryer is working just fine. Which means there’s something wrong with the pipes.

I could just have a mega clog that’s been there for forever, a clog that the maintenance people couldn’t get to when they cleaned out the wasp’s nest. A clog that’s real old could explain the gallon of water I pulled out of the pipe.

But if that pipe re-fills back up with water . . . that means I have a plumbing problem. Something is leaking into the pipe. And that could be a very big deal to fix.

Unfortunately, I can’t talk to the apartment manager until Monday morning. Until then, I’ve got to figure out some other way to do our laundry, because I’m running out of underwear. And also, I’ve got to stick my hand back into the hole in the wall to see if the pipe has filled back up. I’m really, really, really, not looking forward to that, but it’s not something I can hand off to my husband to do. I wish I could, but his hands are so big he can’t even get them into the pipe. No way he could get his arm half-way up the pipe to clean it out like I can.

Oh, gag. Shudder. Not looking forward to it.

 

 

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Goodbye Gas

America, I have bad news. Gas prices are going back up.

gas-pumpOk, so ‘bad’ in this case is relative. At the moment here in San Antonio, gas prices are still under $2 a gallon for the cheep stuff. That’s nothing compared to the $3.50 a gallon that we had back in the summer. But that’s still almost thirty cents more expensive than gas at its lowest price. I personally saw some gas at $1.72 a gallon–which, by the way, I hadn’t seen gas that low since I was in high school (class of 2004, if you must know).

If you were like me, then you spent all winter feeling like a little kid. Every time I went to the gas station I felt . . . eager, excited. What was the price now? How low would it go? I felt like I was playing limbo with the oil companies, and winning. Thursday, however, I received a disappointment. After almost a month of prices staying about even, I saw they had gone back up. Walmart gas was $1.94. Sad face.

I may have eagerly watched the prices during the winter, but I also spent the time wondering how bad the rebound would be. We all know that gas prices go down in the winter and back up in the summer. Usually the difference is about fifty cents to a dollar. But now? This is the biggest plunge in prices that I can personally remember. How bad will it be this time?

The precedent has been set at $3.50. Will gas prices jump back up in the $3 range, just because gas companies know we will pay for it? Or will they keep prices in the more reasonable low $2 range?

Readers, what do you think? How bad do you think gas prices will get this summer?

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One Month Exercise Update

So, a month ago my husband and I wrote up a contract and signed it. This contract held us responsible for doing three things: saving up money, exercising, and reading the Bible. I thought I’d give everyone a one month update.

money don't grow on treesSaving Money

No, money does not grow on trees, and don’t we wish it did? It would certainly help us pay off our student loans if it did.

At the moment, we are doing ok. We’ve built our savings account back up, but it still has a little ways to go before we meet our goal there. One more pay check and it’ll be good. Yeah! Also, our savings account is healthy. Paying off our student loans is next on our to-do-with-our-money list. Let me tell you, I am ready to see it go away! With God’s help, this will be the year it does.

In order to spend less money, we are eating out less. The contract stipulated we eat out only on the weekends, which we are doing. This not only helps us save money, but calories.

Weight Loss

exercisingOne month ago, my husband and I started exercising. This wasn’t the first time we’d started exercise. This would make my eighth year to make that resolution. I’m hoping that regularly exercising soon becomes a lifestyle, not a three-months-out-of-the-year-resolution lifestyle.

When we started out this year, I was 188lbs, and he was 288. It took us two weeks to figure out what worked. For my husband, bike riding for thirty minutes four times a week on high difficulties work for him. For me, I have to work out for an hour on lower difficulties five or six days a week. He can burn between 500 and 600 calories at a go nowadays–easy. I’ve worked myself to burn over 400 calories at a time. We both hope to see those numbers climb in the future.

To help us lose weight, we are eating less, snacking less, and going out to eat less. This isn’t easy to do. Both of us like eating out, especially on stressful days or when we are running short of time and don’t want to cook.  But we can’t eliminate eating out, snacking, or our favorite foods. Instead, we are controlling how much of our favorite snacks we eat and how much we eat at our favorite restaurants. This helps us prevent binge eating and cravings. Though we have had to completely cut out some things. I’ve had to give up ice-cream, and my husband has had to give up soda.

On the whole, this has been working for us. Yesterday I weighed 186lbs, and my husband weighed 278lbs.

Bible Reading

dsc00253Finally, our progress on reading the Bible. My husband has had much more success finding time to read the bible. He actually listens to it while he exercise. Considering he works out for thirty minutes, he can listen to a lot of Bible. He’s past Numbers now and into Deuteronomy.

Me? I’ve had much more . . . choppy progress. To state it optimistically. I haven’t found time to read my Bible and I haven’t been putting a lot of effort to developing a healthy Bible reading habit. Unfortunately.

I know God is a forgiving God, but I look at this and I shake my head. If I had been trying my best, that would have been one thing. But I know myself, and I know I haven’t been trying. Thankfully, there’s still plenty of year left. I’ve just got to start trying again. For real this time.

 

 

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Meet Our Cat

Say hello to Peaches.

BLUELAGOON - WIN_20150201_144209I want to introduce you to the third member of our family. Her name is Peaches. She’s fluffy, she’s cute, she’s sweet. She likes ice in her water, and she likes her water to come from the kitchen, NOT the bathroom. Whenever we’re at work, she has to be with us–in our laps, on our keyboards, in our chairs, behind our chairs, on the desk.

She has a particular toy she likes to play with–two mice, tied on either end of a really long piece of string. One mouse lights up and squeaks, the other is just full of catnip.

We aren’t sure how old she is, though. And there’s a very good reason for that.

We didn’t find her. She found us.

Way back when, last year in August, one Friday night Michael and I decided to go watch a movie. When we got back, it was dark, and we heard a “meow. Meow,” at the door. So I went and opened the door, and there she was. How could we say no to that? To those eyes?photo

It turns out she’d been abandoned. A month before, her owners had been evicted from their apartment not far from ours, and they’d left her behind. The apartment managers had been trying to catch the poor kitty every since, and she just walked up to our front door.

When we caught her, she weighed just 7lbs. We thought she was a kitten, she was so small. She was also pregnant, but we didn’t know that until two weeks later, when she getting spayed.

For the longest time she had abandonment issues. She didn’t like either one of us being out of sight. Us taking a shower? She practically climbed into the tub with us rather than be separated by the curtain. One of us up stairs and the other down? She couldn’t find a place where she could keep an eye on us at the same time. Try to sleep? She’ll be right there, sleeping on your head. Literally. Going somewhere? You’d think the world had ended, the way she would greeted us at the door.

She’s relaxed a lot since those days. She still sometimes tries to climb into the bathtub with us while we’re in the showers, but at least she doesn’t sleep on our head anymore. Also, she has all the food she wants. She’s 10lbs, healthy, and probably the sweetest cat alive.

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Stay at Home Wife: What is That?

So you’ve heard of the term stay-at-home mom, right? Well, I don’t have any kids yet, and I don’t have a job, so I guess that makes me a stay-at-home wife. Except that I’m at home less than my husband is.

My husband works from home. He spends his days glued to his computer, typing out code and chasing down cyber bugs. (He also spends a portion of his nights and weekends zapping space aliens.) Michael doesn’t have to leave home for anything other than church and fast food.

driving carMe? I’m the stay at home wife who doesn’t stay home. I’m the one running to the grocery store, going to ladies bible class, going to writers critiques. I’m the one who takes the car to get it’s oil changed or its tires fixed. I’m the one running to the gym or playing violin with the orchestra. I get to go to the bank or gas station. I get to do all kinds of chores, and indulge in all kinds of hobbies, while my husband is stuck at home with the cat who likes to sit on keyboards.

Now, don’t think I’m complaining. I love having Michael home. And I love being in a position where I don’t have to work, where I get to have the time to indulge in my hobbies and pursue my dreams. But sometimes I get tired on running around.

Which is why I’m spending my first free Saturday in a month . . . working my butt off to write a dozen blog posts, clean out the litter box, take out the trash, clean the bathroom, doing dishes, and making homemade pizza. Oh, and exercise for an hour so I don’t gain all the weight back that I just lost this week.

Then again, it is Saturday. Maybe I can get Michael to handle the poo and the trash . . . .