Hope & Joy in a Classic Tale

By Janice McCaffrey      a christmas carol

While pondering the upcoming holidays my stream of consciousness meandered over past memories and future dreams. A few quiet moments of reflection led of course to Dickens’ ghosts.  My favorite version is The Muppet Christmas Carol with Michael Caine.

I love the little mice bookkeepers working dutifully and diligently in the cold office under the supervision of the kind-hearted Bob Cratchit performed by Kermit. Best of all though is the interplay between Rizzo the Rat acting as sidekick to Gonzo while he narrates the story as Charles Dickens himself.

My thoughts bumped over the moral of the story and what it means in today’s world. I got stuck on ‘don’t be stingy’ but wanted more. So what else is Dickens telling us?

On enotes.com’s website where they proclaim “We’re the Literature Experts” I found an article by Christian Themes (literary essentials: Christian fiction and nonfiction) titled     A Christmas Carol Themes. Let me paraphrase:

Scrooge’s initial penny-pinching reflects the values taking hold during the Industrial Revolution. Dickens illustrates what happens when individuals view relationships and other people through their financial worth. The author exposes the tremendous gap between the rich and the poor.

Then he illustrates a solution, individual redemption. The world becomes a better place almost immediately after Scrooge changes his outlook. The story implies that a renewed connection to humanity is, in fact, the very essence of redemption. His change is not introspective and personal; it is outward-looking and social.

While the results of Scrooge’s change didn’t alter the social structure itself, the compassion he showed to individual people did change the social relationships they shared. Despair turned to hope. isolation to belonging, and unhappiness to joy.

Wow! And I thought it was just fun to watch.

Yes, it’s a Christian based tale, but certainly can be applied to all of us no matter our beliefs. Let’s follow Scrooge’s example, enhance our relationships, and join Tiny Tim in his prayer.

tiny tim 2

 

“God bless us, every one!”

 

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Learning my colors

By Janice McCaffrey

One of my first blogs back in February 2016, I shared a technique that helped me enhance first, second, third, and so on story drafts. Layering. I start with a very rough draft and then work on applying layers: dialogue, body language, physical descriptions of characters and settings, etc.

Currently I’m layering color.

In my July 2018 blog I listed online resources to help improve descriptions. I’m working with site kathysteineman.com to learn my colors. It lists adjectives that help describe a certain color.

For example

cat black

Cat Black

and

smoky black

Smoky Black

Then there are words like hue, tone, tint, and shade to describe differences in colors. According to DifferenceBetween.net a hue is the brightest, purest form of a color…red, yellow, blue, etc. A general term that refers to a pure color that has been lightened or darkened is tone. A true color that has been lightened is a tint. A true color that’s been darkened is a shade.

cornsilk blonde

Corn silk

 

 

apricot blonde

Apricot Blonde

 

Hair colors are fun to play with. There are many descriptions of blonde online. Here are two:

 

color wheel

 

Reviewing the color wheel has helped me dress my characters and decorate their space

 

 

 

 

And check out dailywritingtips.com’s How to Punctuate Descriptions of Colors By Mark Nichol – It’s a short two minute read and very helpful. Easy to understand explanations for  the correct use of hyphens and commas and how their misuse can change your intended meaning.

Metaphorically, I’m a three year old. No, not in dog years . . . in writers’ years. learning my colors

And I’m having fun learning my colors!

de·scrip·tion dəˈskripSH(ə)n; noun 1. a spoken or written representation or account of a person, object, or event.

By Janice McCaffrey

My critique buddies tell me I need more detail in my descriptions.

Oh, my heck!

The word description gives me sweaty palms and heart palpitations just like the phrase dangling participles.

Whenever I hear any grammatical term I’m transported back to Mrs. Foster’s eighth-grade English class. She’s handing back our descriptive paragraph assignment. I’m sitting at my desk waiting, feeling confident in my efforts. After all one day I’ll be a famous author.

Standing next to me, Mrs. Foster clears her throat and places a piece of loose leaf paper on my desktop. Face down. Beside the next desk she repeats her ritual. The room reeks with the smell of nervous teenagers. Kids clear their throats, cough, and squirm in their seats.

I take a deep breath and gather my courage. I worked hard on this assignment. I’m proud of the result. How bad could it be? I watch as my shaking fingers squeeze the paper so tight I leave a deep wrinkle. I wonder, is my heart still beating? Clinching my jaw I turn the paper over.

“WHAT?”

Stunned, I don’t move. I stare at too many red check marks to count. And right at the top of the page is a big, fat D–.

I hold my breath and bite my lip to stop the tears from streaming down my red face. I swallow hard to get the acidy taste off my tongue.

The bell rings and I watch my classmates sprint to the classroom door. I don’t know if my knees will hold me up. But I do know if I don’t move, I’ll be late to my next class. I stand and walk trance-like into the crowded hall.

That’s it, I think. I’ll never be an author.          edhs empty classroom 

I hate composition and especially grammar.

Afterwords:

I never learned how to repair my errors. That assignment didn’t teach me how to write descriptive paragraphs, it just screamed, “You’re Dumb!”

Today I ask myself, can my inner-teenager overcome her self-doubts and embrace grammatical terms? Will I ever forget those few minutes of shame so many years ago?

Well, the good news is: I’m workin’ on it.

How? How else? Google, of course.

I love Google!

Don’t ask why, but I began my Google exploration of descriptions with noses. I found Zwivel.com Sniffing Out Nose Shapes which lists the twelve most common nose types: fleshy, turned-up, Roman, bumpy, snub, hawk or aquiline, Greek, nubian, East Asian, Nixon, bulbous and combo.

I examined a multitude of images (photos of people and famous statues) testing my power of observation by identifying which nose would be categorized under which type.

Another search led me to word lists for writers on KathySteinemann.com Resources for Writers & Poets, 300+ ways to describe noses. She also has word lists to describe necks, ears, smiles, eyes, etc. etc.. At Wattpad.com there’s Vocabulary – Word Lists for Writers by The Otakunerd and at tumblr.com Reference for Writers.

At WritingWorld.com I found a blog called The Art of Description: Eight Tips to Help You Bring Your Settings to Life by Anne Marble. Her topics in this discussion are: Avoid Huge Lumps of Description; Make Description an Active Part of the Story; Describe What Your Characters Would Notice; Words, Words, Words; Use All the Senses; Fit the Description to the Type of Story; Avoid Excessive Name-dropping; and Don’t Let Description Hang You Up during a First Draft.

And last, but not least, at Wiki How.com how to do anything . . . I found How to Write a Descriptive Paragraph:

 Descriptive paragraphs include details that appeal to the five senses: sight, taste, touch, smell, and hearing. In a descriptive paragraph, the writer must convey information that appeals to all the senses in order to give the best possible description to the reader. Descriptive paragraphs are commonly used in fiction and non-fiction writing to help immerse readers into the world of the author.

I’m impressed with the amount of free information online to help writers. Not only words, but how to: outline, plot a story arc, bring characters to life, edit, rewrite, and find editors or publishers. This is a great time to be a wanna-be-author.

As I pursue my quest, I repeat to myself, I think I can, I think I can.

And every so often I declare,

“I can . . . I will . . . and . . . I did!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time Travel

By Janice McCaffrey

I’ve been captivated with the idea of time travel as far back as I can remember. According to Wikipedia, stories of time travel date back as early as 3rd century Greece. In our day the idea was popularized by H. G. Wells’ novel Time Machine. Since then there have been many versions using a multitude of techniques to transport characters between places and times.

Following Wells’ lead Bill and Ted used a phone booth to travel through their                excellent adventure. Marty used a De Lorean sports car with its flux capacitor driven engine to get Back to the Future. The TV show Quantum Leap used a quantum accelerator that emitted blue lights and smoke. It shuffled a scientist to and from places and times where he could prevent incidents that would have catastrophic repercussions on the future.

Some authors use objects or talismans to transport their characters. Somewhere in Time tells the story of a young reporter who is to interview an eighty-plus year old actress in an historic hotel. While awaiting her arrival, he sees her photograph from sixty-years earlier and falls in love with her. He longs to go back in time. Then with an old coin in his hand and in the room she stayed in on her first visit, he falls asleep. When he wakes it’s the day, sixty-years earlier, the young actress arrived at the hotel. And the romance begins!

Other fictional characters have used portals found in a wardrobe, mirrors, bridges, water, walls, children’s bedroom closets, and video games. Think Chronicles of Narnia, Monsters, Inc., and The Matrix.

Vortices (plural for Vortex) are areas known to either draw energy out or pull energy into the earth. Sedona Arizona is famous for the strong vortices in the surrounding area. Resorts advertise the health benefits of the energy exchanges that take place there. And I’ll bet folks with strong imaginations attempt journeys to the past or future. I know I would.

How does one find a vortex? You could visit one of the many roadside Houses of Mystery. Or, websites explain that a person can use their inner-sensitivities to feel the energy pulsing through their bodies. However, there is scientific equipment that can help. It seems that a strong radio-active field is at the center of a vortex. The military has electromagnetic field meters to locate vortex energy. Then a Geiger counter’s response gives a weak or strong reading. So using an EMF with a Geiger counter a person can locate the precise center of a vortex; and just maybe a portal to another place and time.

Characters travel willingly or accidently finding themselves in an unfamiliar place and/or time. Depending on the plot, some characters could experience both. And that leads to the question of how to return a person or animal to their original location and date. Again it’s up to the writer; talismans, machines, portals, vortices, anything a person can think up.

Are there any rules for time travel? Can or should a traveler change events in the past to affect the future? Can a person travel at will or do they need an exact place or time to aim for? Can the passenger of a time machine control where and when they arrive at a destination – in either direction? Can a person land in parallel universes of the same time period? Can a time traveler choose to stay in the past or future or is their return mandatory? Can a person feel physical and/or emotional reactions as they pass through centuries? The protagonist in Elan Mastai’s All Our Wrong Todays (2015) has these decisions to consider.

Based on scientific facts and past experiments, traveling through time is not possible. But based on creative authors it can be done with or without rules and through whichever method they choose. The unknown adventure of time travel is a wonderful gift to writers. We can create situations, methods, choices, and consequences for our characters without parameters.

I still haven’t figured out how Marty got back to the future, but I am having a fun adventure creating time travel experiences for my characters.

 

Writing Historical Novels

historical fiction

By Janice McCaffrey

February’s Montana Women Writer’s meeting featured a discussion on Writing Historical Novels led by Karen Wills and me. Karen read the following quote  by Fiona Veitch Smith author of Pilate’s Daughter from M.K. Tod’s blog Inside Historical Fiction:

I build my worlds in concentric circles. The outer circle is the social, political, religious, economic and historical backdrop within which my story takes place … The next circle in will include the ‘props’ that the characters interact with … the innermost circle is the emotional core of the characters living in a particular period. 

An excellent segue into my favorite topic, research. Below is a handout listing some, I’m sure not all and in no apparent order, details historical novelists use to fill in Ms. Smith’s circles.

Facts of people’s lives – names, birth, marriage, death dates and places
Food – what, how produced, hunted, gathered, prepared, served, preserved
Water – supply, how does it get to people/animals
Other drinks – coffee, tea, alcohol, juices
Living quarters – structure, furniture, room set up

Lighting – inside and out
Social structure – social classes, details in each level, reactions, impact on society and individuals
Education – schools, apprenticeships, home learning
Manufacturing – for local use, exports
Imported/exported goods – what, from/to where, how transported

Purchasing goods – where, how often, from who, display or set up of goods, barter or currency
Money – coins, paper, denominations, country’s currency
Occupations and their how-to
Heating and cooling – homes, people, animals
Clothing – fabrics, colors, patterns, how are they made, by whom
Public Health – clean water, sewage, diseases, medical practices

Personal Hygiene – cleanliness, teeth, hair, clothing
Socials – what, where, with who
Games & Sports, pleasurable past times
Story telling – oral, books, legend, lore
Neighborhoods – city, town, rural

Patriarchal or Matriarchal – societies, families, governments, values
Rules spoken and unspoken – within family, community, groups, government
History of place – country, state, county, town
Civil laws – who writes them, how they’re upheld, justice system, consequences
Geography – terrain of land

Maps
Governments – leaders, issues, controversies – past & present
Politics – local, national, global
Military – preparedness, uniforms/armor, weapons, strongholds (fort, bunker, cave, etc)
Weather/Climate – seasons, temperatures, precipitation

Communication – (usually before phones at least before cell phones)
Travel – local and distant/international, land, sea, air, walk, ride, vehicles,
Ethnic & religious customs – national, local, family, personal
Religion – beliefs, ceremonies, conversion, spreading the Word
Stereotypes – common of the time and place

Language – written, oral, dialects
Death, burial, cremation – traditions, rites

            If you think of any that aren’t on the list, please let me know and I’ll add them.