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A group of talented authors from Utah who aim to enrich the lives of children everywhere through our writing.
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I'm popping in today to let you know about a great deal I found. For the next five days, Scrivener 2 is available from AndroidPit for $22.50 for Mac, half off the usual $45 price tag. For Windows, it's $20, half off the usual $40. So if you've been wondering whether to try Scrivener, you might want to jump on this deal.
Android Pit also has Scapple, the mind mapping and white boarding tool from the makers of Scrivener for $8.99, 40% off, for both Mac and Windows. This deal only lasts four more days. I've been using the trial version of Scapple the past week for a school project and I really like it, so I'm taking advantage of this deal.
As you've no doubt noticed, posts have been scarce on our little blog recently. Our regular contributors have dropped off due to busy lives and, in some cases, the demands of the increasing success of their writing careers.
We will continue to post to this blog from time to time, but we're basically on hiatus for now. We're not going away, but the infrequent posts will likely stay that way for a while. If you're interested in becoming part of a rejuvenated blog writing team, drop us a comment. In the meantime, I recommend that you continue to find help in our archives. There's a ton of great info to be found.
For more current information and quick feedback, I encourage you to visit the Utah Children's Writers Facebook page, where several blog readers and contributors hang out. I would like to see that page become more active as a meeting place for members of our large writing community. Like any Facebook page, the UCW page is only as active as the people who post to it, so help us help you by joining in or starting new conversations.
Thanks to everybody who has participated in this blog, either as a writer or reader. We have a large, active community, and I hope to see all of you on Facebook and in other places.
Because I need to redesign my own author site, I looked at several writers' sites to find ideas. Here are some of my findings.
John le Carré
I like how the author's site
captures his genre, with recent tweets showing on his home page as "intercepted" messages.
I also enjoyed le Carré's Bio page, which was humorous and revealed enough personal information to make me feel a connection, without oversharing.
E L James
I have no interest at all in James' books. However, her site
is attractive. There is one feature I really like and might borrow for my own. Tucked under the "Gallery" section, where I wouldn't expect it, she has a "Soundtracks" page. This page lists music she associates with her stories.
This is a fun way to reveal something about the work, as well as about the author. James links to a soundtracks collection on YouTube, so fans can hear the music.
I'm not familiar with Abercrombie's work, but his site
gives me a way to change that. He provides sample chapters from his books, available on-screen or as epub, mobi, or pdf files.
My old site had some chapters, and one caught the attention of an agent's assistant who was trolling the Web. She requested more. Ultimately, the book was for a younger audience than her agent repped, so nothing came of the request. However, I did learn that providing chapters can attract attention and interest, even for an "underpublished" author.
does not create a feel for her books, but it may well reflect her own personality. The design is clean and sparse and looks like something a writer who is as organized as she reportedly is might create.
When you first click deeper into her site, you are presented with coach marks that provide hints to help navigate the site.
Although I don't think her site is complex enough to require coach marks, I think it's interesting that she provides them. Coach marks can be useful to orient visitors and show them what to expect when they click on page elements.
has striking and attractive banners (or mastheads) that instantly tells me what I can expect from one of his books.
The banner for each page is different, which can be a little confusing, but the design is the same on each page despite the image changes so I don't feel like I'm being thrown to a different site. Each banner is attractive, and I feel like I know what his books are like just from clicking to a few pages.
Besides the attractive images, which displays his brand, Cornwell provides nav links that are easy to understand and almost beg me to click them.
I really like that he has a page where he responds to reader questions. Of course, this is of limited use to an author who has yet to interest enough readers to generate questions, but even an unpublished author could use a Q&A format to provide information about his or her work and why potential readers and publishers might be interested. This is a way to enhance the brand and demonstrate a platform or other qualifications.
has a charming feature I didn't see anywhere else: drawings of his study and items that mean something to him.
The only thing that bothered me about these drawings is that there are so few of them. The same few drawings are repeated on different pages throughout the site. He doesn't have that many pages, so he could have used a different drawing for each page. This is an interesting way to reveal something about the author and to create a connection with readers.
Theroux's site is unusual in that the navigation links are in the center of the page, something I haven't seen much. I think it works with his design.
Whether you are designing your new site or tweaking an existing site, it's a good idea to examine the sites of other authors, especially those in similar genres.
In many stories, the antagonist may even be more important than your main character. Your main character cannot become sympathetic without an opposing force.
The antagonist is more than just a bad guy who tries to stop the good guy. A good antagonist actually pushes the protagonist to action. The bad guy gives the good guy a reason to behave like a good guy. Because he is so important, your antagonist has to be every bit as real, every bit as well-rounded, as the protagonist.
The Antagonist is Evil
No. The good antagonist is not evil. OK, he could be, but not for the mere sake of being evil. It's fun to write the bad guy who ties maidens to railroad tracks for fun, and throws the hero's One True Love on to the conveyor belt at the saw mill just because he can. The kind of bad guy who spends his time laughing maniacally while he twirls his 'stache. There's one secret, one thing you need to remember, if you want your antagonist to be truly interesting:
The antagonist honestly believes he is the good guy. Everything he does has a reason, and to him, those reasons are Right. They are Correct. They are Good.
Your good guy needs flaws and your antagonist needs positive characteristics
. In some stories, the reader might even start to wonder just which character is the good guy and which is the bad guy. Few characters are as dull as the arch-villain who is evil just because being evil is evil. People aren't like that. Even people with a warped sense of reality (another little secret: we all
have a warped sense of reality, shaped by our imperfect perceptions), do things for a reason. There are truly evil actions, and your bad guy might do some of them. But we humans have an almost unending supply of rationalizations for what we do.
A Rebel With a Cause
Your antagonist has his own character arc. Give your antagonist a cause. She wants to accomplish something, wants that more than anything else. And, like your protagonist, she is prepared to do what she has to do to achieve it, because that's what people do when something is of ultimate importance. Even a bad guy who wants to do something truly awful, like blow up a stadium full of innocent people, does it because he believes it has to be done to achieve the end result, which he believes to be for the ultimate good.
- Sauron thought he was doing Middle Earth a favor by taking dominion.
- Saruman thought he was doing good by trying to stop the Black Lord and taking the power himself.
- Darth Vadar probably saw the Jedi as nefarious upstarts who wanted to thwart his plan to make the universe a better place.
A Hero in His Own Mind
The antagonist believes he's the hero. Your protagonist, who stands in his way, is the villain.
We are both nice people. The last cookie is sitting on the counter. You want it. I want it. Boom: conflict! In my story, you are now a villain because you want what I want.
My favorite example of this principle comes from politics. No matter what your political position is, your side is right and the other side is wrong. Maybe even evil. The thing is, the other side looks at you the same way. Why? Because each side believes it is right. If they were allowed to have their way, the world would be a spectacularly better place. It's the same with your hero and villain.
|Which one is the bad guy?|
Molly has a new puppy. This puppy is so naughty. When she takes it for walks, it pulls at the leash and tries to go its own way. It doesn't follow Molly's perfectly reasonable rules. When the puppy runs away, Molly is devastated. How could her puppy be so wicked?
But what is the puppy doing, really? It's being true to its own puppiness. It doesn't understand Molly's unnatural rules. All she does is try to to restrain it and she scolds it for simply being what it is.
Let your reader sympathize with the villain, and understand why he wants what he wants, and maybe even see his point
. If your reader can sympathize with both the hero and the villain, the conflict becomes more real, the stakes are raised, and your reader is more engaged.
Read More About It
When I mention that I write, I often hear responses like:
- I’d like to write a book but I don’t know where to start.
- I’d like to write, but I never have any good ideas.
- I could never be a writer. I’m not creative enough.
There’s nothing wrong with not writing if you’re not going to enjoy it. But if it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, go for it.
1. It only takes one idea.
are everywhere. Keep your eyes and ears open. Most people who write have folders and notebooks full of ideas, often too many for one lifetime, but you only need one. We find ideas in:
- Our real life
- The news
- The books we read
- Overheard conversations
The smallest spark can become a story. When you see or hear something, ask yourself “what if?” What if that strange-looking person is really a ghost? What if Macbeth took place on a distant planet sometime in the future? What if those kids talking about their homework at Burger King were actually aliens sent to spy on their school?
2. Practice. Practice. Practice.
You wouldn’t expect to pick up a guitar or sit at a piano for the first time and immediately sound like a master. Writing, like all the arts, requires practice. The more you write, the better you get.
Here are some practice ideas:
- Look for writing prompts online. Several sites provide them.
- Write about anything. It doesn’t matter what.
- Work on one element of writing at a time.
- Write badly on purpose.
Give yourself permission to suck. Practice means taking baby steps. It means working through frustration. Being bored. Getting impatient. And always improving, even if you don’t notice the change, until one day something clicks.
3. Imitate your favorite writers.
Every writer begins by imitating the writers they like. It doesn’t matter if it borders on plagiarism. When you start, you’re writing for practice, not publication, so copy all you want. Write fan fiction. Copy style. It takes a lot of imitation before you start to develop your own voice.
4. Set reasonable expectations.
Don’t expect your first idea, no matter how excited you are about it, to be the Great American Novel. Start small and think small. Think in terms of a project, a story, or “that little thing I’m writing.” A book is a Big Thing, and it’s easy to intimidate yourself out of finishing, especially when the inevitable Inner Editor kicks in to remind you that you’re not good enough, and just who do you think you are anyway trying to write a book?
Few writers publish their first attempts. It’s incredibly difficult to get published, and we don’t all have what it takes to self-publish successfully. Fantasize about it all you want, but don’t expect it. Not yet.
Don’t expect greatness. Expect to entertain yourself. Expect to have fun. Expect to learn something. Expect it to take a long, long time. Expect to think you suck more than you do. Expect to think you’re even better than you are.
5. Read widely.
You don’t like romance novels? Read one anyway. It might help with a romantic scene you weren’t expecting to write. Read classics. Read current best sellers. Read history and science. Read about words. Read about writing
. Read author biographies. Read true crime fiction. Just read
It’s especially important to read in the genres and age groups you want to write, so you understand the elements of those kinds of stories. But don’t stop there.
You’ll generate ideas. You’ll understand how people work so you can make your characters more realistic. You’ll learn about the ways you never ever want to write.
If you want to write, you have to write. You’d be surprised how many “writers” try to skip this part.
Write for yourself Write every day. If your life doesn’t allow you to write for an hour, write for fifteen minutes or ten. Give yourself permission to miss a day now and then so you don’t quit when you realize you’ve been so busy that a week has gone by since you last wrote.
7. Set a goal and persist until you reach it.
Never give up. Start small. Your first goal should be to finish a paragraph, then a scene. Then the next one. Eventually you’ll have a story. Even if it’s no good, you wrote one. The vast majority of people who start writing a story never finish. Probably 95% or more. Finishing that first draft puts you in an elite company of writers. That’s something to be seriously proud of.
Pat yourself on the back. Throw a party. Take a break. Then start revising.
Today I’m going to show you how to use personality tests to flesh out the people in your stories. My favorite system for this is the Enneagram
I’m not a fan of those quizzes in magazines or on websites that claim they can fit me into some narrow category that defines who I am. In general, I don’t trust anything that takes real people and shoves them into tight little cubbies. People are too complicated for that.
When I create fictional characters, however, these things can help me determine my characters’ desires and how they will act in the various situations they’ll face.
Discover how your characters tick
The Enneagram categorizes personalities into nine types:
|1||The Reformer||Rational, idealistic||4||7|
|2||The Helper||Caring, nurturing||8||4|
|3||The Achiever||Adaptable, success-oriented||9||6|
|4||The Individualist||Intuitive, reserved||2||1|
|5||The Investigator||Perceptive, cerebral||7||8|
|6||The Loyalist||Committed, security-oriented||3||9|
|7||The Enthusiast||Enthusiastic, productive||1||5|
|8||The Challenger||Powerful, aggressive||5||2|
|9||The Peacemaker||Easygoing, accommodating||6||3|
I recommend doing an Enneagram quiz
for your main characters. For your first test, answer for yourself so you can get an idea of the questions and how the test and the Enneagram works. Then, think about your characters and take the test for each of them.
The act of taking the quiz forces you to think about your character’s personality. This quiz is made up of 37 questions, with two possible answers for each. Before you take the quiz, spend some time thinking about your character so you’re not just making stuff up as you answer the questions.
Hint: At the end of the quiz, I suggest printing the page before you click to calculate the results. Then you can go back and look at how you answered the questions. Include the printed quiz in your character profile.
Deepen your characters
For a character to seem real, he or she has to react to situations in a way that is consistent with his or her personality. And, because certain character types naturally conflict, pairing a protagonist and antagonist with clashing personality types creates the tension you need for a successful story.
What I like about this system is that it doesn’t say a person is one type and that’s it. It assigns a number value that shows how firmly a person fits into each type. In other words, it acknowledges a challenger might be a peacemaker as well as a reformer, with strong individualist tendencies. It also defines which types bring either comfort or stress to each type.
I took the test for one of my characters and got these scores:
|Type 1: Reformer||2|
|Type 2: Helper||8|
|Type 3: Achiever||3|
|Type 4: Individualist||5|
|Type 5: Investigator||2|
|Type 6: Loyalist||6|
|Type 7: Enthusiast||4|
|Type 8: Challenger||3|
|Type 9: Peacemaker||3|
This tells me Aellin is primarily a Helper, with strong Loyalist tendencies. She is not a Reformer or an Investigator.
So what could I do with this character? As the first table above shows, a Helper is stressed by a Challenger, Aellin obviously needs to be pitted against a powerful authority figure. Her sidekick should be an Individualist, because a 2 is comforted by a 4. And Aellin should be forced into a situation where she needs to be an Investigator. Maybe she needs to plot revenge against the leader. As it turns out, this is a major part of the story I’ve come up with, so the test tells me I’m on the right track.
Why does the test tell me that? Well, if Aellin is clearly not an Investigator, then having to become one means that there will be conflict, not only against her powerful enemy, but also internal conflict with herself as she is forced to act in a way that is unnatural for her. She’ll revert to her natural personality, which works against what she has to do. She’ll struggle constantly to achieve her goal because she’s fighting against her own nature.
Wash, rinse, repeat
As legendary editor Sol Stein said
, each character needs to have his own script. So, if I take the same quiz for each major character in my story, I’ll get a good idea of their inner and outer conflicts, and how they’ll react to various situations. I’ll create characters with their own consistent lives, and I’ll see how to create personality conflicts.
Learn more about it
The Enneagram is a complicated system. I’ve presented a simplified explanation. You don’t have to understand everything about it to create strong characters. If you want to know more, I suggest starting with the Wikipedia article
. For an even deeper dive, I recommend9types.com
or The Enneagram Institute
, where you can learn more about the personality types and find additional tests.
Use available resources to create an imaginary place as real any you can actually find.
One of the fun elements of fiction writing is creating a setting
and bringing it to life. When creating a setting for your story, you have three choices:
- Use a real place.
- Create a fictional place.
- Create a fictional place based on a real place.
I knew I wanted Eucalyptus Cove to be a small, somewhat isolated ranch on the San Mateo County coast
in California, near Half Moon Bay
. It’s not far from where I grew up, and is the section of coast where I spent countless hours. I know it physically, sensorily, and culturally.
Because I could not find a place exactly like I needed for my story, I created a composite of several places. Between my memory, my imagination, and the magic of Google, I was able to create a setting as real to me as any actual place.
There are several farms and ranches in the area, and I knew how I wanted Eucalyptus Cove to look.
I wanted my ranch to be above a small, secluded beach. The part of the coast that I selected has countless little coves, many of them almost inaccessible at the bottom of cliffs. I combined my own memories of the coast with the pictures below to create exactly what I needed.
Once I had my location, I needed a farmhouse. For this, I drew on the Patterson house
just across the city limits from my home town. It’s not right on the coast, but it’s not that far. It’s easy enough to move a house in fiction.
I took the house, transported it to my fictional ranch above the cove, and modified it a bit based on other homes of the type and in the area, such as the Meek mansion
, whose tower became an important part of my farm house.
Like ranches everywhere, Eucalyptus Cove needed a compound of sheds, barns, and other out buildings. Something like the one on the left below, which also happens to have a beach and eucalyptus trees, combined with the typical coastal ranch on the right:
I also needed the ranch to have some history, so I placed an older house on the ranch, an adobe home from the days when it was a Mexican rancho. I based the adobe on several in the San Francisco Bay Area and surroundings.
Finally, of course, Eucalyptus Cove needed a eucalyptus grove. There are groves all along the coast. The one I drew from was the one on the edge of my home town. As kids, we referred to this grove as Hobo Jungle, a place of many legends and secrets. And a place that, sadly, is now only a fragment of what it once was. Fortunately, there are enough similar groves that I could find pictures to trigger my sensory memories.
I know from experience what a Eucalyptus grove smells like and how the peeled bark, seed pods, and other plant litter looks and feels under foot.
I’ve used Hobo Jungle and the Patterson house before, in a poem I wrote many years ago. Here’s part of it:
Us kids passed that grove on Jarvis
eucalyptus stretched to Union City
trunks striped with peeling bark
the odor of Dad’s cough drops
Deer, fox, rabbit, coyote
Pat heard there were bears
they like eucalyptus he said
A farmhouse, deserted, rotting
a haunted hotel for jungle hobos
Juan said. We laughed, stayed away
With all the pieces assembled in my mind and in my files, it was time to imagine how my characters would interact with the place I created.
(Note: None of the pictures in this post are mine. I collected them too long ago and didn’t expect to use them in a blog, so I didn’t keep track of my sources. Thanks to the original photographers for helping enhance my imagination.)
Writing is like life.
I don't mean that what you write is a reflection of life, or that writing means that you give life to ideas and make-believe people, or even that writing makes you feel alive, although all of that is true.
I mean writing is like life. You start out with goals and plans. Whether you're a planner or a pantser, in writing or in life, you have some idea of what you want to make out of your story, and you work to achieve it.
And, despite the planning and lists of goals and hard work, as with those best-laid plans of mice and men, no matter how much you work toward your goal, you end up somewhere you didn't completely expect. Stuff happened in the process of making your story. You met a character you didn't expect to meet. You got hurt or frightened and reacted by backing away, or by running blindly down the nearest alley. You took one turn to explore a road that looked interesting, expecting to get back on your path at the next corner. Your intended plot was blocked by some obstacle and so you had no choice but to look in another direction. The bumps and twists and attempts to work around obstacles and respond to conflicts led you in an unexpected direction.
You let go of the rod. You didn't stay on the Yellow Brick Road. Your story forced you to slog down the Muddymuck Swamp Gas Trail, and you probably forgot to roll up your pant legs until it was too late.
And you ended up here. You look back, wondering what would have happened if you had stuck to your plan. Would things be better? Worse? Or just different?
But your story is what it became, intentional or not. Maybe you just hoped for the wrong tale, and got what you got. And chances are, it's a pretty good story the way it ended up, even if it's not what you always wanted.
Yeah, it's kinda like life that way.
By: Bruce Luck,
It’s time to get your NaNoWriMo on. I know, I know, it’s still early and you’re busy with other projects. But it’s out there, lurking, and the best way to succeed is to hit the ground running come November one.
For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is the annual National Novel Writing Month in which you write a book, start to finish. You can sign up and report your daily totals and, if you reach 50,000 words by the end of the month, you win the right to print a certificate saying you won. For a few bucks, you can even buy the t-shirt that shows the world your writing prowess.
The format of the event is a great exercise for developing writers. The goal is to produce words, 1700 of them a day. I especially like booting that naggy internal editor guy out the door for the entirety of November. It is a freeing feeling to write, write, write without having to perfect every sentence and phrase. You just blast out a book in 30 days. There will be time later to clean up. Besides, it’s only the first draft. It’s you telling you the story. Who knows what crazy paths it’s going to take? NaNoWriMo is all about putting a rough book on paper, not about perfecting it.
I’ve participated in three of them and won last year for the first time. Naturally then, I’m an expert on NaNo. The key is planning. My failed attempts started with a story idea - more of a story beginning. Being a panster at the time, writing from the seat of my pants, I figured I’d work out the details as I went ahead. You know, minor things like plot, characterization, etc. - they’ll come as the story develops. There’s nothing more frustrating than moving along smoothly only to ground to a halt two weeks into it.
Last year, I spent October debating whether to do it or not. I was in the middle of several projects and didn’t want to start something else. Plus I didn’t have a clue for a story. Finally, a week before November, I sat and kicked around some ideas and managed to come up with something which was surprisingly good. But it was more than just a concept. The secret to success was knowing how it ended. By looking all the way to the end, it’s easier to plan the story to that objective. With the end goal in mind, even a pantser could wear the NaNo shirt in December.
So, now’s the time. Decide if you can commit to a month-long writing marathon. If you can, re-visit some of those story ideas you’ve put on the back burner and figure out how it is going to turn out. Then, either plan if that’s your style, or be ready with the end goal in mind and on November 1st, kick some writing butt.
To write well, you don't need much equipment. An inexpensive pen or pencil and enough paper to hold whatever you are writing, and you're good. However, the modern writer, if he hopes to publish, needs a little more. Today, I'm going to write a little about my writing space.
I love my writing space. I want to be in here. Loving that space is important, considering how much time I spend in here. I work from home most of the time in my day job, and this is my writing retreat for my creative time. I call my space my Schreibwinkl, or writing nook, and I've set it up to be a kind of refuge, which is not necessarily how we usually think of a work area. But if I'm going to spend a lot of time here, I want it to be comfortable, have what I need, and most importantly. be pleasant enough that I want to spend time in my room.
We all have a different writing space. Some write on the kitchen table, or a small desk in the corner. I'm lucky enough to have a room of my own. It's a small room, about 9x10 feet, which presents some challenges when making the room both functional and welcoming.
A shelf with books and toys can help personalize a room while being functional
No matter how big your space is, personalizing it makes it more comfortable. I need my own space, so making this little room my own is important to me. When I moved into this room, it had basic dark brown carpet and brown 1980s paneling on the walls and fluorescent tube ceiling lights. I lived with that for a while, but I got tired of somebody else's decor, especially since it was dark and dreary. I tore down the paneling (and discovered unfinished drywall with huge gaps behind it. I finished the walls, painted, and replaced the light fixture with bulbs on a dimmer switch. I gave one wall a half-timbered look, as close as I could come to the real thing because I've spent a lot of time in Germany and Austria, and enjoy medieval stuff, and I enjoy the kind of rough, rustic look I created. This summer, I finally pulled the carpet and replaced it with durable vinyl planking that looks like wood. Real wood would have been nicer, but I roll my chair all over the place, so I need something that won't easily scratch. Some people might hate this decorating style, but that's OK. It's me, and it's comfortable. You'll want to do your space your own way.
All of that's great, but this room is for working, and I need it to be a workspace, not just a place where I escape and hide out. For me, that means this is a TV-free room--but with plenty of music, thanks to a sizeable hard drive and decent-enough speakers--and it has plenty of work surfaces.
I have two desks. One is a large corner desk with my personal computer and lots of empty surface space where I can lay out notes or tablets or whatever I need at the moment.
Where the magic happens: the computer where I do much of my writing
The other is an old, small, inexpensive wooden kitchen table, just big enough for the laptop and two monitors I need for my day job.
Most of my day job duties are performed on an old table
And, being me, I also need plenty of technical gadgetry to improve efficiency and help me overcome my natural tendency toward clutter and disorganization. This is where Amazon has been useful.
For example, I have several tablets and other gadgets that I use as part of work and writing life. All of these gadgets need to be plugged in and charged, and that creates a spaghetti of tangled cords that takes up space and does little to add to the comfort of the room. So, I bought a 6-port USB charger
that only requires one power outlet but can charge six devices at once.
Organizing cables makes the desk less cluttered
To further reduce the tangle of cords, I bought a pack of ten 7.5" microUSB cables
. These cables replace many of my longer cables, and look about as attractive as you can make a cable look. For non-microUSB cables, like the one for my iPad, a simple twist tie helps keep the cable from taking over my desk.
Also, because I always manage to run out of USB ports, I found a monitor stand
that has four easy-to-access ports right on the front, and allows me to tuck my keyboard away when I need empty desk space.
My monitor stand helps me free up desk space when I need it, and provides
handy USB ports and a headphone jack
Finally, because this is meant to be a creative space, I have little inspiration things wherever I look. Like my Goats In Trees calendar
(hey, we're all inspired by different things) and objects that encourage me to be creative.
I've scattered objects around the room that remind me why I'm here
These are just a few of the things in my Schreibwinkl that help me make it my own and maximize my small space. Everything in the room is meant to facilitate work, make me feel creative, help solve my tendency toward clutter and disorganization, or help me enjoy being in the room. Writing takes a lot of time, and I need a space that is all mine, decorated my way (for better or worse), and makes me prefer to be in here doing what I need to do rather than Out There doing all the other things that compete for my time. Without this personal space that I enjoy, it would be difficult to keep my butt in my chair for the number of hours needed to live the writing life.
By: Michelle Garrett,
It took me a long time to get into a writing group. For too many years, I relied on the feedback of my friends and family who, as much as I love them, know little to nothing about writing and even less about critiquing. For a long time, part of me was scared of what an honest, qualified critique of my writing would bring. But now, I’ve seen that what it does bring is great improvement to my writing as I’m forced to face the hard facts of what I need to fix and what I need to cut, and as I’m motivated to keep going by other people who are in the same boat as me.
So here’s what I’ve learned about the benefits of a small, consistent writing group:
1. They get used to your style and start catching the mistakes you consistently make.
2. You get used to their style of critiquing and start to know exactly who to go to for the questions you have and the problems you can’t figure out how to solve in your writing.
3. They know how many versions of your story you’ve gone through and what the old versions looked like and they can appreciate and celebrate with you the improvements you’ve made as you’ve gone along.
4. They also celebrate with you when you achieve any level of success in your writing.
5. You can commiserate together over the struggles of writing and talk about how you get past resistance and writer’s block, etc.
6. After a fun meeting with them, you feel energized and excited about writing. It doesn’t feel quite a lonely as it did before.
Trello is as flexible as you need it to be. The way you set up your project really depends on the way you work. In this tutorial, I'll assume that one story or book is one project. I'll also assume that you've set up template cards as shown in a previous tutorial.If you haven't set up template cards, it's no big deal. Those templates make it so you don't have to re-create similar cards for each character, for example, or for each scene.
In the previous tutorial, we created a Trello board to hold our templates. Because we want to be able to use those templates in multiple projects, we don't want to use that same board as our project board, so we'll create a new one.
- Open Trello.
- From your Boards menu or on the Boards screen, click Create New Board.
- Name the board. For this example, I'm calling the board for my project "Jack and Jill."
A story consists of several elements. For my Jack and Jill story planning, I want to create lists called Characters, Settings, and Scenes. Eventually I'll create another list to track submissions, but let's not get ahead of our selves.
On your new project Trello board, create a list called Characters. Conveniently, there's already a box to help you create your first list. Just type "Characters" and click Save. A new box automatically pops up for the next list, so call it "Settings," then do this one more time for Scenes."Copy Templates to Project
The next thing we need to do is copy cards from our Templates board to our project board.
From the Boards menu, pick your Templates board. Next, click your Character template card, then click Copy.
Change the Title field to your character's name. Then, in the Board field, select your story project, and select the Characters list. Then click Create Card. This creates the card based on the template and puts in the right place. If you switch back to your project board, you'ss see the character card you just created in your Characters list.
Repeat this for each template you want to copy. Remember to set the name, board and list for each card. But if you forget, it's no problem. You can easily change all of that stuff later.Edit Cards
Once the cards are where you want them,you can edit them.
For example, my Character card includes a comment with some basic info about thecaracter. In the template, I just have headings for the info, but I can go into the card and add the details now that it is is in my project.
That's most of the basics for creating your project and starting to plan your story. Next we'll go into some deeper information, like using Trello to manage actual writing.
By: Michelle Garrett,
At LDStorymakers this last May, my favorite workshop I attended was by the woman who actually put on the conference this year—Melanie Jacobsen. She talked all about how she makes herself be productive in her writing no matter how busy she is. It was really great and practical, and I came away ready to apply everything she said.
I didn’t. Part of my problem is I’m not actually in the writing stage I’m in the editing stage. I found myself wanting a follow-up class about how I can make sure I am productive in editing/rewriting, which in some ways is a whole different beast than writing your first draft.
Here are the ways I’ve applied some of her advice and also figured out my own:
1. Have and update your outline.
I’m a total pantser. All the way, 100%. But, even the most hard-core pantser needs to create an outline as they are writing the rough draft, and then update that as you edit. Otherwise you get soooo lost. And have no idea what’s going on. And your story will make no sense. Basically, organization has to kick in at some point. It’s still flexible. You can still change things whenever you want. You just need some way to keep track of what you’re doing and what needs to be fixed as you edit.
2. Schedule time to write.
This is basic, but I keep forgetting it all the time. I think I’ll just want to write, it will just happen magically because I’ll feel so inspired. But most of the time, I have to schedule it and I have to make an annoying reminder to beep at me in my phone over and over before I’ll actually get myself to write/edit consistently.
Because it is a thousand times easier to write today when you’ve already written yesterday. Momentum is a big deal. Plus, I’m so Type A that I’m obsessed with checking things off my list—so if I put writing on my list every single day, I’m more likely to do it so I can check it off. And then I feel so good and productive that I want to do it again tomorrow. It works.
3. Write a blurb of what you’re going to write tomorrow.
This is the one thing from Melanie’s presentation that I’ve actually been applying. It’s so helpful. Everyday once I’m done writing, I write a paragraph or so about what I’m going to write about tomorrow. Sometimes dialogue starts coming to me and I write it down. Sometimes I end up writing a whole page. Whatever, that’s great. That means I’ve already got the inspiration going for the next day without putting the pressure on myself for it to be “perfect” like I do when I sit down and write for real. If I’m not totally rewriting a scene but just editing it a little, I write down exactly what I need to go through and edit for. Then the next day I know exactly what I’m doing and how I’m doing it, and that makes it easier to start—especially since sometimes rewriting something can seem more overwhelming that writing it in the first place.
4. Stop worrying about it being perfect.
This relates to a point I just brought up in the last one. When you’re on your third or fourth or tenth draft, but you’re writing a whole new scene that you’re adding in or basically completely redoing a scene that was there before, you’re basically back in rough draft land for that scene and that can be frustrating. Because you’ve already gone over this thing how many times now? But it’s OK. It still doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s never going to be perfect. It just needs to be written and then you can look at it later and then show it to your critique group and clean it up. For the millionth time. I used to think that just writing a novel took patience. I’ve realized that’s nothing compared to the patience it takes to edit a novel. And I’m not even close to done. Sigh. Patience.
And all those things have helped me to be much more productive lately, which is great.
If you use Trello to manage your writing projects, you might find it useful to create cards that you can use for multiple cards.
STEP 1: Create a "Templates" Board
Let's start by creating a Trello board where you can keep the cards you want to reuse. Open up Trello and click Create new board
. Give the new board a title, such as "Templates," and click Create
That's it. That was easy enough, right? You now have an empty board, waiting for your cards.
STEP 2: Create a List
Now that your board is ready, it's just sitting there empty. An empty bulletin board isn't particularly useful unless you pin something to it, and the same is true of your Trello board. Unlike the blank slate of a bulletin board, though, Trello expects you organize your cards in lists. The kinds of lists you create on your template board depend on the types of templates you want to keep there. For this demo, let's keep it simple. You can always take what you learn and get fancy later. Let's create a single list.
That's easy enough. Turns out, your board is not exactly empty. Turns out there's a box waiting for you, where you can type a name for your first list. Let's call it "Novel Cards."
(or just hit Enter
) and you'll have a list, ready for your cards.
Step 3: Create Cards
Your cards can be anything you want, but because we're keeping it simple for this demo, let's go with something high level, like the following:
In your new list, click Add a card, then type the name of the card, "Character," Hit Enter, and type "Scene. Continue this process until you've created all four cards.
Step 4: Add Details
The point of these cards is to contain information that you want to reuse, so we'll need to add some details. Think about the details carefully, so you add what you want and don't have to go back and make changes.
Click one of the cards, and create a comment with the outline of the details you want. Remember, that hitting enter will save the current comment and create a new one. This is good if you want each characteristic to be its own comment, where you can add more details. If you prefer a lighter card, press Ctrl+Enter to move down a line in the current comment.
For example, for the Character card, you might want details like name, age, birthday, best friend, address, appearance characteristics, personally traits, and so on. What you include and the amount of detail depends on your preferences. Click outside the card to close it, then click on the next card.
For scene, you might want a name, summary, goal, characters present, conflict, resolution, and maybe a sequel if you write using the scene and sequel method.
Do this for each or your cards, adding the types of information you are likely to want in each project. Once you copy the card to a project (we'll do that in another lesson) you can always edit the card to add any project-specific info that you don't necessarily need in a template, such as whether your character is on Team Zombie or Team Pirate.
As you can see, Trello is flexible enough to adapt to your style and preferences.
After you've created your templates, we'll copy the template cards into a project and look at how to use them to plan your story.
Lately, I've been using Trello a lot at work to track tasks and projects. As often happens when I'm using cool software, I automatically consider how it can be used to improve my writing process. Turns out that with a little creativity, Trello can easily be adapted to be anything you want.
I guess I should start at the beginning. What is Trello? Trello is a task management system, which is a fancy way of saying it's a way to manage your To Do list.
Trello is set up like a bulletin board where you pin cards with each task into a list. Typically, you might have three lists: To Do, Doing, and Done. When you start working on one of your To Dos, you move it to Doing, and when it's completed, you move it to Done.
Of course, the cool thing about cards on a bulletin board is you can make the cards whatever you want them to be, and you can arrange them however you want. That means the ways you can use it are limited only by your imagination.
Trello is very easy to use, but there are some tricks and tips that add extra power, which you can use to improve your writing processes. If it were just about making cards and moving them around on a board, this would be a short post.
In this series of posts, we'll look at ways to use Trello to manage a writing project. We'll use it as a kind of sketching tool to map out our plot, start developing characters, and build our fictional world. I'll also show you how you can use Trello as a way to organize your actual written documents, and to collaborate with others, whether it's a co-writer or your crit partners. And once you have everything written, you can, of course, use Trello to track submissions.
The first thing, of course, is getting it for yourself. That's the easy part. Go to trello.com
and sign up. Trello is a web app, so you can use it anywhere you have an Internet connection. In addition to the web app, you can get free apps for iOS and Android. The mobile apps let you do almost everything you can do on the web, except for a number of customization options and some advanced management. You'll probably want to use both the web and the mobile apps.
Trello is completely free. You can create an unlimited number of boards and cards without paying a cent. There are a couple of paid versions, but you probably don't need them. The paid versions give you a few extra features, like emojis you can use as stickers on your cards and the ability to create more personalized backgrounds for your boards. The one bit of functionality that is nice in the paid version is that you can attach bigger files to your cards--the free version limits you to attachments that are 10MB or less--but unless you work with very large files, this really won't make much difference to you. Everything I will show in this series will take advantage of the standard functionality in the free version.
I recommend that you download Trello and get familiar with the basic functionality. Create a test board and some cards and lists. We'll start digging into the details in the next post.
But for now, I've finished this post, so I can move my Intro card to the Done list. Moving a card to Done always feels like a reward!
By: Bruce Luck,
In a previous post, character arc was discussed. According to KM Weiland, gaining an understanding of how to write character arcs is a game-changing moment in any author’s pursuit of the craft. Weiland is the creator of the Helping Writers Become Authors blog, a deep well of information on the multiple aspects of the writing craft.
Weiland devotes over a dozen articles to character arcs, linked here. A story should begin with The Lie Your Character Believes. This lie is the foundation for the MC’s character arc. It’s his “normal” and is what is wrong in his life. Everything may be grand for the MC (or not), but festering just under the surface is The Lie.
People hate change. We hang out safe in our comfort zones and our characters are no different. They resist change just as we do. Weiland says that is okay because out of resistance comes conflict, and out of conflict comes plot. Plot is more than just a protagonist working toward an external goal. It’s about the MC’s inner goal, the thing he can’t get all because of The Lie.
A protagonist should start the story with something lacking, some way he is incomplete internally. He probably doesn’t realize it, or at best, has a vague understanding of it. He may not be affected by it or in denial of it until the inciting incident. Weiland compares it to a tooth cavity, shiny on the outside but decayed just below the surface. A writer should introduce The Lie early and show how the MC is deeply established in it through his “normal” world. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens sets Ebenezer Scrooge’s normal as one of work, work, work. There is no time for Christmas and other such folly. The poor and destitute have only themselves to blame and will get no help from him. This establishes his Lie: that a man’s worth is only measured by money.
Every plot line features a protagonist striving for a goal, something external. When creating character arcs there needs to be two, the surface goal and something that matters to the character on a deeper level. The Lie is at the heart of the secondary goal. The Thing Scrooge Wants - money and lots of it - bolsters his Lie of personal worth is measured by wealth.
At the story’s beginning, the MC doesn’t realize he has a problem. He believes chasing the Thing he Wants will bring fulfillment. Yet, pursuing it only entangles him deeper in his Lie. He can only find contentment in seeking the Thing he Needs. What he needs is the truth.
Your main character will spend the story unknowingly seeking the Thing he Needs, while in pursuit of the Thing he Wants. What he Needs is usually not physical. Often What he Needs is merely a realization, a new perspective that will change the way he views himself. He Needs the truth. Without it, he will not grow. He’ll either stagnate in the negative beliefs that’s holding him back, or he’ll digress even further. Ebenezer Scrooge Needs to see that true wealth comes not from money, but from a connection with his fellow human beings.
Characters are complex little creatures. They’ll lie to themselves, wish for things they think they need, and ignore the things they need.
(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)
By: Bruce Luck,
A question came up in my writer’s group. One of my critique partners asked, would not my main character behave differently in that particular situation? That led me to wonder where the MC is along their character arc, which in turn caused me to ponder character arcs in general.
What the heck is a character arc?
For the simple answer, I turned to a favorite expert, KM Weiland. Her Helping Writers Become Authors site is excellent chalk full of great advice on many aspects of the craft. But Weiland’s stuff on character arcs was not simple at all, rather a fifteen part series on the topic.
Weiland says character evolution is at the heart of any good story. Whether the protagonist is changing herself or the world around her, character arcs are the whole point of fiction. The journey from one spiritual/emotional/intellectual place to another is the story of humanity. The author’s primary job is to learn how those fundamental changes work in real life, then present them in fiction with enough realism to connect with readers.
There sometimes is a debate among writers as to the importance of plot vs character. Weiland says they are connected. “The character drives the plot, and the plot molds the character’s arc. They cannot work independently.”
But that is not all. Plot and character are related to theme. The three of them are symbiotic and can’t work alone. Weiland says that the character arc is the theme.
There are three type of character arcs. In the positive change arc, the protagonist starts with varying levels personal dissatisfaction and even denial of the lack of fulfillment. As the story proceeds, she will question her beliefs about herself and the world until she finally defeats her inner demons. In flat character arcs, the MC tries to change the world around her. She is already a hero operating from high moral ground and are often a catalyst for change in others. The negative arc is similar to the positive arc except the MC changes toward a more darker side.
Writing a great character is more than just a character changing over time. Writers need to learn how to structure a character arc. Gaining an understanding of how to write character arcs is a game-changing moment in any author’s pursuit of the craft.
In the next few weeks, Weiland’s fifteen part series will be boiled down and presented here. Clicking on the above link above will get you to her site where she can explain the whole thing in full detail.
(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)
I'm in a group that has had a sudden explosion of success. With one writer (out of five) having published a few books now, and two others recently finding agents, the need of the group is changing. We still do the standard critiques, but it has changed. There's sometimes more time pressure, or at least one writer is too busy making a deadline to dedicate much time to a traditional group in a certain week.
With these kinds of changes and under these kinds of pressures, some groups might collapse. Not us. We're changing though. We're more about support, providing feedback when needed and not necessarily in scheduled get-togethers, cheering each other on, pushing each other to write in scheduled or impromptu writing sprints, and encouraging the two members who are still trying to join the success party.
This creates some growing pains, but we've been together long enough that, so far, we've weathered the changes. It's almost a new group with the same people, and we continue to make adjustments so we can keep helping each other. It's been interesting to watch, and it will continue to be interesting as the group matures and evolves in the face of success.
For those of you who have been through similar changes in your groups, what advice do you have? How have maturing and success affected your groups?
By: Bruce Luck,
It’s happening again. April is just around the corner and thus, it’s time for 30 Days, 30 Stories.
The annual event, hosted by this blog, is a chance to let the local talent shine. Utah is blessed with some brilliant writers and for 30 days, April is the month to show it.
A call to any and all writers to contribute a story next month. Any and all genres accepted (although erotica would be frowned upon), any audience level, poetry or prose. It can be a cartoon or a memoir. Illustrators are welcome to post samples of their work.
Sarah Southerland has turned the reins over to me this year. If you would like to contribute, either email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below to schedule a day to publish your material. (Please put “30 Days, 30 Stories” in the subject field.)
We’ve had some great writing show-cased in the past. We hope to see more next month.
By: Bruce Luck,
The annual April ritual, 30 Days, 30 Stories is in on the verge of disaster. Very few writers have taken up the call to contribute a story.
The annual event, hosted by this blog, is a chance to let the local talent shine. Talent can not shine in the dark, however, and must be brought to the light.
If you were considering sharing, please email me at email@example.com to set up a day. Again, writers are encouraged to share their talent. It does not have to be a children’s story nor must it be fiction. Most any genre is encouraged: poetry, prose, memoir, or cartoon. Illustrators can share their work, too.
Utah is blessed with some brilliant writers and April is the month to show it.
Many of us have trouble setting priorities for our writing sessions. Maybe we're working on different projects in various stages. We might be querying one story, revising another, and writing and researching a third. Or maybe we're focused on a single project but have a number of things to do.
Those of you who are organized at all likely keep to-do lists, which you prioritize from 1 to n. If you do, chances are you've run into problems because prioritizing this way doesn't necessarily work. You feel guilty if your list is long and you only manage to skim the top. You feel like a failure. Even the act of prioritizing that list can be daunting. Your top priority might be clear, but how you choose to order the rest of your list might as well be rock-paper-scissors. By the time you've made your list, you're ready for a break.
This is where the 1-3-5 method might be useful. It's a pretty simple concept. Before you start your day, list your priorities, only instead of trying to list them 1 to n, list them in three levels. Put your most important task on top. This is the one thing you have to do, if you don't do anything else. On the next level, put three things that are less important. You can order them if you want, but you don't need to. If you have time after your number 1, you can choose any of these, as many as you're able to do. finally, list five tasks you'd like to get to if you have time.
Now, the idea isn't that you have to do all nine things. You have to tackle number one, and that might take more than one day. Lower priorities can wait. If you don't get toy our threes but you finished your one, you've had a good day.
The next day, you start again. Maybe one of your threes becomes a one, but you might have a new one.
Your one every day might be to write a new scene on the project you are writing. Your threes might involve the work you're revising, and maybe a couple queries for the finished project. Your fives, well, you get the idea.
For those of you who like to use technology to help stay organized, there are apps to help with this method. For example, 1-3-5 To-Do is available for both iOS and Android. But this method works just as well on a white board or a good old piece of notebook paper. If you keep a writing journal, you can put your list in your daily entry, if you want.
To me, the 1-3-5 method feels more natural than the 1-to-n method. I'm not a highly organized person, but I do this almost automatically. There's always that One Thing I really need to get done. After that, priority groups just kind of happen. Sometimes I can work down a list, but for most tasks, levels fit the way I work and think.
Maybe it will work for you too.
By: Bruce Luck,
The first of our annual 30 Days, 30 Stories comes from Marion Steiger. It is a humorous account of a different kind of writer’s block.
Get your head in the right place before you have surgery on your hand. Prepare for your dermatologist to tell you not to use your computer after he removes a Squamous cell carcinoma planted on top of your right hand. Yes. Right hand. Of course I’m right handed. Four to seven days minimum without writing is killing me. It hurts worse than the incision site. Another warning. Don’t wear jeans with a zipper and metal button. I unbuttoned and unzipped after a short struggle and made it to the toilet in time. (You get to figure out the bathroom stuff on your own.) What I couldn’t do was re-zip and button up. Sloppy pull-on sweat pants worked after I balanced on the edge of the tub and inched them up one leg at a time. Warm socks came after the pants, big toe first, then more pulling and pushing, all wrong handed. Don’t wear a tight pull-over T-shirt for surgery. You’ll be begging for help when your head gets stuck in the neck hole and you’re tired and a touch weak in the knees. My only suggestion for bras—wear one and have someone waiting to unhook it. Same for putting it back on. Either forget it or plan to be hooked and unhooked. TV, even previously recorded shows, and reading and free time are huge disappointments when they’re all you’re allowed to do. Left-handed writing is unreadable. Texting worked a touch better after I remembered my stylus, but still slower than a snail. I gave up. Ever opened a can of Diet Coke or bottle of water with one hand? Even with the right hand? Forget it. About eating—forget that, too, after the numbing goes away. It hurts to lift a fork or spoon. Knife? Ha. No glass of wine before and after surgery. It makes for more blood. If I have a third surgery, I may show up totally sleep deprived. Oh, arrange your pillows before bedtime to keep your hand elevated. And avoid rolling over if you want to keep the covers from capturing your arms and legs. Untangling wakes you and anyone sleeping beside you. Maybe sleep alone and keep the peace. Expect to wear out your left index finger when you sneak out the laptop, which writers must do, and type with your wrong hand. Also, don’t expect your computer to read your needs. It’s smart, but refuses to text. Plan to put in your own apostrophes and capital letters and clicking the space-bar twice won’t automatically add a period. Here are my serious suggestions. Well, mostly serious. Don’t grow up in Florida. Don’t move to Utah to ski in the snow and on the water. Don’t hike the mountains; the altitude puts you closer to the sun. Never forget the sunblock, which we never had when I sunbathed on Jacksonville Beach. And if you ignore these warnings, never forget to visit your favorite dermatologist regularly. Thank you Dr. Hinckley for taking great care freezing, cutting, and stitching my skin problems without scolding me once for ruining my skin.
Also, thank you to my understanding husband for never fussing about my whining and complaints and helping me with all but one problem. You figure that out.
Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin is a common form of skin cancer that develops in the thin, flat squamous cells that make up the outer layer of the skin.
We still have plenty of days open. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to contribute a story.
By: Bruce Luck,
The April 30 Days, 30 Stories needs your story.
We’re a children’s writers blog, but it does not have to be a children’s story; any audience level is fine. Most genres are encouraged: poetry, prose, memoir, or cartoon. Illustrators can share their work, too.
Utah is blessed with some brilliant writers and April is the month to show it.
By: Bruce Luck,
Today's contributor is Miranda Snow. It is a wonderfully told harrowing tale.
Like the candle sitting before me, my fire is slowly fading and thus, my friend, I write to you now. The first signs of the sickness are upon me, my head burns with fever and the painful lumps are beginning to form. Given the examples of my peers, I would guess I have but a week. The night before last I had a dream. I believe it was to warn me of this oncoming affliction. It started out as a beautiful dream; I was in the wood among many animals. We were happy there, enjoying the sweetness of the morning air that brought with it the smell of flowers. I laid down to rest among my animal friends but when I awoke everything was different. It was the same beautiful place, but it seemed as if darkness had fallen upon it. I looked up and realized my grandmother was standing in a clearing before me. At first I was elated to see her but as she walked towards me I realized something was very wrong. The ground beneath her feet rotted and died with each passing step, her skin was a pale gray and the air around her sizzled as if she were the sun itself. Dark blood-filled lumps covered her body and as she came closer I saw that puss and blood leaked from them. Her face is what brought me to tears; it was laden with pain as if all of the hardships of her life were expressed in this one, fatal, moment. As she stepped into the wood the trees around her wilted and formed hideous flesh like lumps, much like her own, and died. I wanted to run, but the strength had been sucked out of me. Instead, I was possessed with a need, a desire, to help her and found myself standing but how I came to be I do not recall. I reached out my hand toward hers but as our fingers met I let out a scream as I too became covered in painful boils and lumps over the extent of my body. It was then that I awoke to my grandmother's screams, it was that very morning my grandmother died. Despite my knowledge and experience in healing, I have never seen anything like this heartless disease before. I have tried numerous methods to rid us of this plague, from bloodletting to forced vomiting, but none has seemed to work. It is as if the earth itself were hungry for the dust of our bodies. There are many theories surrounding this affliction and where it came from. Whether it is the waters, the meat or from the angry wrath of God himself; I do not think we will ever truly know why this has happened. I write to you now my fried to record the events of this plague for those after my time, for those who seek comfort that they are not alone, and for my loved ones already fled to the countryside. Perhaps they will find you and know that I did everything in my power to rid us of this beast. It started almost a year ago, in the year of our Lord 1348. All it took was a single man to kill off over half the city. He was sick upon arrival and though the local physician and I did our best he died a few days after. It was then that everyone began feeling ill, the first victim a mere babe. I can still remember its mother's screams, I think if I could go back and save even one it would have been that babe. The first of the symptoms was a headache, then chills and a fever, which left them exhausted and prostrate. They then experienced nausea, vomiting, back pain, and soreness in their arms and legs. Within a day or two, the swellings appeared. They were hard, painful, burning lumps, on their neck, under their arms, and on their inner thighs. Soon they turned black, split open and began to ooze puss and blood. After the lumps they began to bleed internally. There would be blood in their urine, blood in their stool, and blood gathering under their skin, resulting in black boils and spots all over their bodies. It was these very boils that had earned this fearsome disease its name - the Black Death. When the Pope left in May many followed him. Some of my fellow plague doctors took it as a sign and ran also; whether or not they are still alive today I do not know. But perhaps they were the wise ones. If only we had known that this disease was beyond any of man's tools, we would have all fled to the countryside then. Perhaps if we had, my grandmother would still be alive today. When everyone left they left their dead and their dying where they lay. They were afraid and they had a right to be, but to leave their dying behind, to die alone like that…there are times I can still hear their haunting screams echoing down the now empty streets of this cursed city. Now that I myself am in their position I understand just how much more painful it is. Most would not go near the afflicted, priests stopped giving the dying their last rights, the dead were left where they lay in their beds, and even most physicians would not dare to help. That is except for us, the plague doctors, how could we just let them die? To let those children die? I suppose I am paying for that decision now. As you read this, know that this plague has brought out the worst in humanity but in a select few it has brought out the best in us. We stayed; we fought the dying battle, and while we may have lost perhaps my story, our story, will inspire others. If those traveling through are speaking the truth then more have perished than I could possibly fathom. If history has its way it will be cruel and erase the memory of our lives. So, my friend, I write within your tear sodden pages now to try and defeat history's cruel wrath. To those that read this I have died, perhaps long ago, but I plead with you now to remember our story. Remember us.
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Where are you from? they ask. Your mom’s from here. Your dad’s from there, they say. I’m from here, from today, same as everyone else, I say. No, where are you really from? they insist. I ask Abuelo because he knows everything, and like me, he looks like he doesn’t belong. Abuelo thinks. His eyes squint, like he’s looking inside his heart for an answer. You come from the Pampas, the open free land, he says. You’re from the gaucho, brave and strong. From the brown river that cleanses and feeds the land that gives us the grain for our bread, the milk from the cows. You’re from mountains so high they tickle Señor Cielo’s belly, where the condor roosts his family and the jaguar prowls the night. But you’re also from the warm, blue oceans, and the elegant palm trees that stretch their fingers to caress the waves. You’re from a tiny singing frog that calls the island people home when the sun goes to sleep. You’re from hurricanes and dark storms. From the copper warriors that rode the ocean and worshipped the silver moon. You’re from sea explorers, from their courage and their maps. From two cousins that escaped war in the land that Jesus walked, From these new shores where they built a home for all of us. You’re from the grandmothers who look for their grandchildren, waiting, always waiting in a plaza, their white handkerchiefs wrapping the sorrow of their thoughts. You’re from Pacific and Atlantic, Mediterranean and Caribbean. You come from the sunshine that lights our path in this world and the rain that washes away our mistakes. But Abuelo, I ask, Where am I really from? Abuelo laughs. You want a place? Then know that you’re from here, he points to his temple, from my dreams of freedom and books. You’re from here, from my love and the love of all those before us, those who dreamed of you, free to ask questions and have a future. I’m not from here, and I’m not from there. I’m from dreams and hopes,
Yamile Saied Méndez was born and raised in Argentina, but has lived in Utah half of her life. She's a mother of five, lover of futbol, Irish dancing, and books. She's a free lance writer and a MFA candidate at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her musings can be read at www.yamilesmendez.com