Tag Archives: character

Dare To Be Different: writing lessons from a tree

I have a tree in my front yard.  Its green leaves haven’t begun to turn.  I also have a cranberry bush on the north side of my house that has sported green leaves all summer long. 

Both these plants each boast one branch of red leaves.  A single branch of all red in the midst of velvety green.  It’s a crazy anomaly and one I can’t help but applaud. 

Dare to be different.  Even nature knows that sometimes a splash of unusual is preferable to uniformity.

LESSONS FROM A TREE

  • It’s okay to be a tree.  We don’t have to reinvent a new plant every time we write a book.  At the heart of it all, each book has a trunk (MC), branches (plot, story arc) and leaves (conflict and resolution told in a thousand tiny details.)  It’s the texture of the bark, the reach of the branches and the shape and color of the leaves that creates something new and exciting, not the tree itself.  Don’t go too far out on a limb with your project or you’ll have agents, editors and readers too afraid to plant your manuscript in their yards. 
  • It’s okay to be different.  We don’t need a new topic to write a good story, just a new twist.  A red branch, if you will.  Something that sets our manuscripts apart from the other trees in the forest.  After all, blending in completely won’t do us an favors on the book shelf.  Nor will a regurgitation of Twilight or Pirates of the Caribbean catch us the attention of an agent or editor.
  • It’s okay to bend a bit.  When the wind blows, my tree sways.  It may lose a leaf or two, but in the end, it still stands proudly as the center point in my front yard.  When we receive constructive feedback from our critters, we need to be open to a new perspective on our writing.  Bending without breaking can be the difference between a good manuscript and a great manuscript.  It can determine who is left standing in the literary world after the storm passes.
  • It’s okay to need nurturing.  Mother Nature generally waters my trees.  However sometimes she needs a helping hand.  When the skies clear and things heat up, I’ve been known to turn the hose on.  If you ever feel isolated as a writer, don’t.  Communities abound where people understand what aspiring writers need.  Your significant other may not always be able to provide enough nurturing.  Your writing community can.  Use it.  Plant your roots, because if the drought goes on too long, the damage can be irreparable.
  • It’s okay to be different.  Yeah, I know I already said that, but it’s worth repeating for another reason.  Every tree in my yard has a unique shape.  Some are bold, with a few strong branches.  Others gracefully reach to the sky with delicate limbs.  Some stand tall while others sprawl.  Accept who you are as a writer and a person.  Don’t prune your branches too look like everyone else.  Embrace  your uniqueness and share your shade whenever you get the chance!

Are you okay to be a tree?  What lessons from a tree are hard for you to accept?  Which ones feel natural? 

Droppings of Various Kinds

I just finished reading the newest Alex Rider book and loved every second of it.  Anthony Horowitz has done it again–even better.  And  yet as I read, one thing stuck out in my writer’s mind.  A reference to Obama. 

Authors might use major events to ground their work in a certain time period while others use trends or slang to add authenticity.  Music is another popular reference that helps readers relate to the setting and characters.

I’ll call these instances “droppings”.

Much like the mouse droppings that littered our garage for our annual spring cleaning.  In past years, I’ve seen a dropping or two in expected locations.  However, this year, our garage appears to have housed not one rodent, but an entire colony of them.

They had “dropped” more than enough clues for us to realize our geriatric lab hadn’t really been eating all $52.00 worth of dog food each month.  Instead, we had provided our furry little guests with an all-inclusive winter resort while our poor canine suffered through hunger pangs. 

And so I got to thinking.  I’m okay with one or two droppings.  Really, life does go on, even for tiny little field mice looking to snug down during our near-arctic cold fronts. 

One or two are virtually unobtrusive.  These droppings ground us in the reality that our garage is not mouse proof, that there are more creatures in this world than us and that we must share a certain amount of our resources with others less fortunate.

But more than a dropping or two and I get a whole lot of grouchy.  Namely because I can’t ignore them and have to sweep them up.  Which, by the way, I don’t recommend doing in flip flops, as the droppings tend to get stuck between your toes.  Everything has to be moved, burned disinfected and put back in a more orderly fashion.

Kind of like editing. 

One or two references per novel is enough to ground us in the reality of setting, character and time frame.  They are a nice addition to any book.  However, an entire novel littered with references becomes tedious and might make the average reader a whole lot of grouchy, as if they have mouse droppings between their toes.

Some genres demand more droppings than others, like historical fiction.  Others seem to sprinkle droppings around just for fun and the novel feels like an all-inclusive at one of the poshest, dunce camps on earth–as if the author is trying to impress the reader by name-dropping, but the reader is too stupid to pick up on it. 

What I took away from Crocodile Tears is that one reference is enough.  By including an Obama tid-bit in the book, it indicated a current or post-presidency time frame.  The use of Trafalgar Square grounded me in the setting without beating me over the head–and I’ve never been there.  An i-pod gave me insight to the characters.

Anything more and I would have started skipping pages.  And that is the last thing any writer wants to happen.  Because dropping a reader’s attention is the worst kind of dropping imaginable. 

As a reader, do you get distracted by too many real-life references or do you need them to help you visualize the book better?

As a writer, what types of droppings do you tend to leave in your manuscripts?  Do you over-use some or not use them enough? 

P.S. I will cull my comments today and name the winner of my Slumber Party Bash contest tomorrow!  Thanks for playing.