Category Archives: Writing Path

Writing Classes are the best

I try to go to writing classes when I can because I always leave with some new tools and a better understanding of my old tools.

At the end of June I got to attend the two-day writers workshop hosted by the Locus Awards about creating character, plot, and scenes. It was taught by Daryl Gregory the first day and Connie Willis the second day. Both halves of the workshop were all kinds of awesome.

Both Connie Willis and Daryl Gregory are fabulous teachers.

I just finished typing up my hastily scribbled notes from the class. I’m not going to share everything (that would be a very long post), but I will share a couple ideas that particularly generated ah-ha moments for me.

Inciting Incident
New-ish writers like me hear this over and over again – the story must start as close to the inciting incident (point where everything changes) as possible. Thou must not start with a bunch of backstory to set the scene. But even when I start in the middle of the action it’s hard to figure out exactly where to start and how to give the reader enough information to understand what’s going on.

I feel like I understand what this means a little better. The purpose of an opening scene is to hook my reader. My reader should want to learn more. My opening should raise questions in the reader’s mind to get them to keep reading. My story beginning should make the reader care about my character, so they care about whether or not the character gets what s/he wants.

Once my reader is hooked, then they will care about the character’s backstory and anything else they need to know to understand the rest of the story.

Dialog Scenes
Dialog is way more than just two characters chatting. It can and should be used for all kinds of heavy lifting to reveal plot and character. It never hurts to remind myself that characters should always want something. In dialog, the information conveyed by a character should move them toward their goal. Every speaking character wants something from the other character.

Learning from Material
When I look at my gigantic to-read pile, it’s hard to pick up an old favorite. I knew that reading favorite books and re-watching favorite films or TV shows – paying attention to everything that works and doesn’t work, and figure out why – would be educational. But I haven’t done it much. So right now I’m re-reading “Druss” by David Gemmell, one of my all-time favorite heroic fantasy novels.

These goats have learned to this pulley to pull the little bucket toward them and eat out of it.

These goats have learned to use this pulley system to pull the little bucket toward them and eat out of it.

Have you been to a good writing workshop lately?

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Life with Dog

We’ve had our dog Teddy for over two months now. One thing I can say as someone who’s never owned a dog before – it’s not what I expected.

My twins had been begging for a dog for years. Finally, they persuaded my husband and I to get one. At 14-years of age, they convinced us that they would be responsible for most of the care-taking.

Miriah Hetherington's dog Teddy

Teddy in the backyard

I imagined life with a canine companion… a long pleasant walk with him in the morning, whilst thinking about my current work in progress. Followed by sitting at my desk writing as the dog slept peacefully at my feet. In my day-dream, after school one of the twins would take the dog for another walk. We’d all get more exercise.

Any parent reading this knows exactly where this is going…

Sleeping-in on the weekend is right out. Somebody has to let Teddy out of the crate for a potty break, and that somebody is me, the mom.

I hardly ever see our two cats anymore, and I miss them. They come out of hiding only to eat and use the litter box. There is no doubt in my mind that Teddy would kill them if given the chance. I asked the private rescue organization if the dog had been tested for compatibility with cats, and they told me “it’s all about how you introduce them.” I should have known what that really meant was: “He loves cats, he just can’t eat a whole one.”

Walking Teddy is hard work, and requires constant attention. So of course, it’s my job. He weighs eighty pounds and lunges away at the least whiff of a rabbit, or the sight of a bird or squirrel. Teddy’s current body count is two: he’s killed one rabbit and one bird, so far. We’ve been working on leash-walking in obedience class. He’s getting better, but walking him is a long way from a pleasant, relaxing experience. In fact, for now training means no long walks at all – I’m stuck in ultra-boring up-and-down our street mode.

Teddy with one of my kids

Teddy with one of my kids

Other than his enthusiasm for murdering small animals, Teddy is a very sweet guy. He’s very gentle with people and doesn’t pay attention to other dogs. He’s smart and quick to learn. He’s motivated more by attention than treats. Except for the cats, we all love him.

I have hope that eventually, he will get used to our cats and see them as companions rather than potential chew-toys.

Do your pets help or hinder your writing efforts?

Multitasking and Camp NaNoWriMo

I’m trying to learn how to work on more than one writing project at a time.

Right now I want to be writing the first draft of a novel, whilst at the same time editing my backlog of short stories that are not ready to submit.

One of the reasons I like NaNoWriMo is that the challenging (for me) word count goal of 50,000 words in thirty days makes me stretch myself to figure out what I have to do to achieve it. Plus I have to make creating words the highest priority activity in my life.

Camp NaNoWriMo Badge 2015

But, that isn’t sustainable. So this month I am doing CAMP NaNoWriMo. It’s like nano-light. Less stress because you get to set your own word-count goal for the thirty days of April to anything from 10,000 words on up. I also populated my “cabin” with nine friends for mutual motivation.

After a reality check, I scaled down my goal to a realistic and sustainable 12,000 words for the month of April.  My plan is to continue after Camp NaNoWriMo is over with a goal of adding 2,500 words a week, and finish my novel’s first draft within a year.

In a way that feels like I’ve set my “bar” too low. But this target will leave me time to edit and write short stories at the same time. And because I know that I am motivated by goals and accountability, I’ll be posting my progress on my blog.

Third CW Strike

I applied, and was not accepted, for a third time to the Clarion West workshop.

cookies with eyes

My kids made these Illuminati cookies.

 

Dear Reader, if you found this blog post because you are searching for clues about how to write your own CW application letter, then… Alas, I cannot enlighten you.

 

 

 

Unlike the last two years, I was able to write productively in the anxiety-fraught days between the application deadline on March 1st and March 17th when I got the rejection email. And unlike my blogged reactions of the last two years, I’m not going to dwell on how devastated I feel this time.

In my writing “career” (the four years since I started writing down stories) the biggest mistake I have made so far was in January of last year. I was about 60,000 words into a novel and quit. Why? To write a new short story for my 2014 Clarion West application.

HUGE mistake, letting my desire to attend a workshop interfere with my writing. I derailed my novel completely. What I should have done was use an old story for the application and kept writing the novel. (I’m currently working on the outline for a new novel – more about that later.)

I’m lucky to live in the Seattle area because whilst the CW workshop is going on, the instructor for each week will do a public reading. I loved Cory Doctorow’s novel “Little Brother” and Nalo Hopkinson’s “The Salt Roads,” and Connie Willis’ short stories are amazing. I look forward to seeing those authors (and the instructors whose books I haven’t read – yet) in person.

Happy Writing.

A Frosty Transaction

It’s December already. Where did the year go? In honor of December and the holiday/Christmas season, I’ve decided to share a Christmas-themed, horror-flash, fan-fiction story I wrote.

I’m linking this story in the comments on Chuck Wendig’s blog, where he posed a challenge to write a Flash Fiction Challenge: Holiday Horror Extravaganza.

A Taste of Christmas Spirit
By Miriah Hetherington

Ethan rubbed his hands together and blew into them with steamy breath. He looked from the tip jar to his watch. It was six o’clock. Time to close up the espresso stand, and his tips barely covered the bus fare home. At least the boss was paying him double for working the Fourth Avenue cart on Christmas Eve.

He made two large mochas before closing up the stand. He was half-way to saving enough money to buy his own coffee cart, and someday he hoped to own his own restaurant. Ethan decided to save his meager tips and walk home, but stopped by the bus shelter to give one of the coffees to the homeless guy who’d been sleeping there for the last three nights. He wasn’t there, and Ethan hoped he’d found a better place.

Ethan turned the corner next to Macy’s on Main Street and joined a throng of foot traffic crossing the street. On the corner sidewalk, an older woman in a heavy white coat and ear muffs was busy setting up a vintage snow cone vending cart with a snowman painted on the side. As he got closer he heard her humming the Frosty the Snowman tune.

“Hello,” he said.

She turned, and Ethan could see that she was older than he’d first thought, but her eyes were lively and bright. “Sorry, my boy. I’m not open yet.”

“Uh, I wasn’t-” Ethan looked around. Other passers-by seemed to ignore her, and the old woman appeared to be alone. She opened a box full of snow cone syrup bottles and put one on the counter. “Ma’am, nobody’s going to buy snow cones tonight, it’s too cold.”

“I’ve been doing this for over fifty years — every Christmas Eve.” She winked. “Is one of those hot drinks for me?”

Ethan looked down at the two mochas he still held in his hands. “Sure.” He handed over the cup he’d intended for the homeless man.

“My name is Karen.”

“Ethan.” He shook her hand, a little surprised by how firm her grip was. “Would you like some help?”

Karen’s smile widened. “I would be delighted.” She took a sip of the mocha and gestured to the box. Ethan began unpacking the syrup bottles while Karen lined them up on the counter.

An overhead street light flickered in the early evening gloom. The light made the syrup bottles glimmer. He unpacked five shades of red, from blood-red charitable cherry, to wispy pink wise watermelon. Kindness kiwi glowed a tempting green, next to generous berry blue and orange tropical contentment.
Karen placed an empty gallon-size jug on the counter, and Ethan read the sign taped to it. “Pay what you wish?” He snorted, remembering his mostly empty tip jar from earlier. “Really?”

Karen shrugged and began filling a paper cone from the snow bin. “I’m serving Christmas Spirit. Who can put a price on that?”

“Uh-huh.” Ethan regarded the oblivious shoppers waiting at the corner for the street light to change. The old woman was clearly reality-challenged. But he couldn’t leave her here in the cold alone, waiting for customers all night.
Just then, a middle aged woman wearing a stylish overcoat and designer shoes stepped up to the stand. “I’ll take jolly raspberry.” She dropped a twenty dollar bill in the jar.

More customers began to stop at the snow cone cart. Karen poured grateful grape for a sullen teenager texting on her cell phone. A grey-haired man who announced he was a retired traffic cop chose playful peppermint.

A crowd surrounded the cart and Ethan filled paper cups with snow as fast as he could while Karen poured the syrup. Finally, the snow bin was empty except for a corncob pipe, button, and two lumps of coal. Ethan’s announcement that they were out of snow was met with a flurry of disappointed sighs as Karen sent people away.

Ethan stretched and looked at the gallon jug. It was full of bills, none less than twenty as far as he could tell. “I don’t believe it.”

“I always save one cone,” said Karen. She opened a side compartment and took out the last snow cone and an old silk top-hat. “I’m getting too old for this, Ethan. How would you like to take over?”

“Are you kidding?” It was Ethan’s dream come true. “But, I don’t think I can afford it.”

Karen pressed her lips together in a thin smile. “Consider it a Christmas gift. The cart, everything — the jar of money too. But you have to accept the responsibility. The snow bin can only be filled once a year, on Christmas Eve.”

With the money in that tip jar and his savings, Ethan could buy his own coffee cart. The unflavored snow cone glittered red and green, probably reflecting the changing traffic lights. Ethan’s mouth watered in anticipation as he reached out.

Karen pulled it back. “You must accept responsibility for the cart and agree to sell Christmas Spirit yourself, every Christmas Eve. Do you accept?” She held out the hat and the snow cone.

“Absolutely, I accept.” Ethan grasped the hat and brought the snow cone to his mouth. It cooled his tongue with a burst of sweetness like nothing he had ever tasted before. All at once he felt everything each syrup bottle had promised. He slurped charity, wisdom, kindness, generosity, contentment, gratefulness, playfulness, and joy. Everything the holiday season was supposed to be about. Far too soon, the cone was empty.

Ethan regarded the empty snow bin. “Just tell me what I have to do.”
The End

frosty-the-snowman-12
Frosty the Snowman is not in the public domain and doesn’t belong to me, so this story is fan fiction.

Thanks for reading. I hope you liked it.

Shiny first draft

(Why, yes. It HAS been a long time since I posted a blog update. Shut up.)

I entered the Writers of the Future contest for the first time, third quarter (deadline June 30). I heard on September 15th that my story got an “Honorable Mention” status. I feel pretty good about that.

The next entry deadline is almost here, September 30th. I just finished a new short story that I think might be a contender – after some serious revision.

The beach at Fort Worden

The beach at Fort Worden

I thought I’d share my internal dialog:

Right Brain: I finished it! This is the best story I have ever written! It’s so shiny! I love it so much! I have to submit it RIGHT NOW!

Left Brain: No way. We just finished it. This is a rough draft. Do you remember what happened last time we did that?

Right Brain: Okay, yeah. But we revised that story later and, well, THIS story is SO MUCH BETTER! It’s so fluffy! We sent it to Mom and she LOVED it.

Left Brain: Mom loves everything we write.

Right Brain: She said it made her cry.

Left Brain: It was supposed to. But we already know the characterization of the protagonist is inconsistent. And we still have some fact checking to do…

Right Brain: So, let’s do it! Let’s start right now!

Left Brain: We need to catch up on everything we let slide while we were finishing the story. Plus, we already sent it off to our crit group. We need to wait for their feedback. Those women are smart. They always catch stuff we miss.

Right Brain: Okay, okay. But after the crit group meeting we still have two days. Plenty of time. We can revise that sparkly story and get it in before the deadline.

Left Brain: Whoa there. We have to wait for the sparkles to fade, so we can see the flaws.

Right Brain: This story doesn’t have any flaws. I’m sure of it.

Left Brain: Oh, the flaws are there alright, we just can’t see them. Yet. We have to put that story aside for at least two weeks, a month would be better, so we can see the flaws and fix them.

Right Brain: But, but…. okay, you’re right. I guess we have to wait until next quarter to send it in.

Left Brain: Sadly, yes.

Anybody else ever had this conversation with themselves?

Be Entertaining

Mary Rosenblum has this wonderful website, New Writer’s Interface, and recently she blogged her advice for new writers who have trouble figuring out what to blog about. That is totally me!

I subscribe to Mary Rosenblum’s newsletter. I recommend it. She describes herself as the Literary Midwife for new writers. I love the idea of that.

Anyway, her main advice was: be entertaining.

Goats at Farrel-McWhirter park

Goats at Farrel-McWhirter park

Somehow I am reminded of a conversation I had with a friend about twenty years ago. She was pregnant with her second child, due anytime, and worried about needing to have labor induced like with her first delivery. Her midwife told her something like, “Have I got a fun assignment for you! You and your husband go home and have sex. A lot of sex. And have orgasms. A lot of orgasms. That will get your labor started.”

My friend’s pregnancy was near term and she was huge and uncomfortable. It was a hot Southern California summer. She was perpetually exhausted. Her (unsurprising) response was, “Ugh! Not only do I have to have sex, but I have to have orgasms too?!?” (I don’t remember what her husband’s opinion was – I think he wisely kept it to himself.)

Where am I going with this? (Nope, not there. At least, not without a pseudonym.)

But I AM thinking, “Not only do I have to write a blog post, but I have to be entertaining too?”

The most entertaining and thoughtfully funny blog I know of is Chuck Wendig’s – he makes you feel like you’re sitting with him drinking a beer. The most engaging blog I know of is Louise Penny’s – she makes you feel like a personal friend.

Clearly, some (awesome) people just have a knack for making this blogging thing seem easy. Blogging is writing, and writing is what I do for fun. So thinking of ideas/stuff to blog about should be easy, right?

Like everything else I guess it just takes practice.

Where do you get ideas for blog posts?

Happy Writing,
Miriah