Category Archives: Writing Tips

A Vision with a View

Viewing the waters of Green Bay, Wisconsin at Door County's The Cliffhouse.

An option while staying at The Clearing Folk School is to spend a night at a rustic writer's retreat called The Cliffhouse.

An option while staying at The Clearing Folk School is to spend a night at a rustic writer’s retreat called The Cliffhouse.

The Muse Will Find You Here

A Vision and a Viewby Amy Laundrie

Where else could you be escorted into a retreat center by a pileated woodpecker who takes you past birch, maple, and cedars toward a friendly lodge with a stunning view of the shimmery waters of Green Bay? Where else but Door County’s The Clearing.
    As soon as I entered The Clearing’s 128-acres, I breathed easier. Named The Clearing for the school’s purpose, to clear away the mind in order to find renewal and enlightenment, I witnessed the miraculous.  As the week progressed, guests gladly abandoned cell phones, the internet and T.V. shows to spend time in the natural world.
    The Clearing is the vision of Danish-born naturalist and landscape architect, Jens Jensen, who established it in 1935 when he was 75 years old. Chicagoans applaud Jens Jensen because of his design work at various parks including Lincoln, Douglas and Columbus.
    Made from native stone and wood, The Clearing’s buildings include the Jens Jensen visitor center, the main lodge, Schoolhouse, Workshop and housing. Visitors revel in hidden spaces such as a star gazing mound where viewers comfortably lay back for a spectacular view, a labyrinth, and even a dance ring.    
    Classes ranging in length from two days to week-long offer instruction in arts, fine crafts, humanities, and natural sciences. Imagine quilting, making fine furniture, journal or memoir writing, bird watching, glass fusing, photography, weaving, wood carving, hiking, rug hooking, yoga, or participating in a class called “Touch the Earth; Love the Earth.”
    I was one of the eleven students lucky enough to attend Marion Moran’s environmental class this past September. Night walks, star gazing, discussions, readings and field trips comprised the week. The highlight was an evening stroll on a remote beach where, under a full moon, Marion read inspirational quotes. We then sang, lit sparklers, and pranced about on the beach like joyous children.
    Guests can stay in cottages for single or double occupancy or the large dorm which accommodates five. When the cook rings the bell, people head to the lodge to enjoy the conversation of like-minded people and the cuisine worthy of any five star restaurant. Beautifully presented, served family style, guests feast on such dishes as huge french toast slices stuffed with cream cheese and cherries, buttery white fish, or the superb butternut squash enchiladas. Favorite treats included chewy chocolate – oat – chip cookies and perfectly ripe strawberries dipped in creamy chocolate.
    As an added adventure, I signed up to stay in The Cliffhouse, a rustic shelter tucked into the limestone rocks. Without running water or a toilet, and with a tiny unseen roommate who squeaked, it took some courage on my part. The bat or mouse stopped its squeaking once it knew it wasn’t going to scare me off, and together we welcomed the night.
    Thunder and wind serenaded us. Lightning lit up the rocky shore of the waters of Green Bay far below. I lit candles, made a fire in the fireplace, and threw sprigs of cedar on the flames to enjoy their crackle and aroma.
    Inspired, I wrote until sleep overtook me, then arose before 4:00 a.m. to write until breakfast. It was during a conversation with director Michael Schneider later that day that I learned Jens Jensen had built The Cliffhouse for himself so he could have a private place to write.
    My stay over, I slowly drove away. I paused before pulling onto the paved road, Jens Jensen’s words echoing in the woods. “A mighty oak, a motherly elm, a poetic birch, a friendly maple all speak to man’s finer senses and helps awaken him to his noble heritage.”
    Thank you, Jens Jensen, for creating a place that heightened my sense of responsibility to the natural world and a connection to all living things.

 

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Colorful, Colloquial Characters (Rated PG for Earthiness)

As a child, and okay, as an adult, too, I happily read Robert Newton Peck’s Soup books. His ability to describe his characters such as Soup’s nemesis, Janice Riker, is peachy. “She was the biggest and strongest and meanest kid that the world ever knew. She had the body of a hunched-back, bowlegged ape and the brain power of a fully ripened bean.” I could visualize her so easily. Along with physical descriptions, speech patterns or a character’s colloquialisms can add to our understanding of characters.  My use of “peachy” above made you form judgements about me.

Bridget Birdsall, http://www.bridgetbirdsall.com, author of ORDINARY ANGELS, is a master at using colloquial dialogue, sensory language, and description to create memorable characters. The story is told through second-person, making it easy for the reader to picture herself as a character. You pull on your favorite frog-print pajamas as Helen barges through the door. ‘I”m not changing in front of him,” she says. She spots your church dress all bunched up in a ball on the radiator. “Better hang that up before you have to sleep in the pee-bed.” Words such as radiator and church dress ground us in the setting. Pee-bed not only characterizes but conjures up the sensory experiences of smell and sight, leaving lasting impressions. How can a writer achieve this?

Inspiration can be found through watching people  and eavesdropping. This overheard conversation between an older nurse trainee with a thick accent speaking to a patient whose daughter held her hand could become a memorable character in one of my stories.

“I know you can’t make caca,” Lily said. She had flaming red hair, as if she needed anything more to set her apart.  “I know you can’t make caca,” she told the patient.  “I have same problem.  I help you.”  She rubbed the woman’s abdomen.  “Oh,” the patient squealed after a few minutes.  “I think I should go to the bathroom.  I think something’s coming out.”

Lily winked at the woman. “You poop in bed. I clean up.  Don’t worry.  Poop, poop, poop. Mmmm, is that a fart I smell? Good, good.  You fart.  Later we take a walk.  That will make you caca.”

The elderly woman lifted herself up. “I think I could use the bathroom. Close the door please”.

“This is your daughter,” Lily said.  “Why close the door?  You’ve smelled her poop.   She poops. You poop.  That’s what we do.  We poop.”

Someday the spirit of Lily will end up in a story of mine. As storysharers, we read and write, striving to find just the right heartbeat of our characters. That’s what we do. Storysharer would love to hear about the ways you bring your characters to life.

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Writing is Like Hatching an Egg

Greetings fellow story lovers,
Two ducklings hatched out of my incubator this spring. I love this project. Although it demands hard work and patience, it can produce joyous results.  The same is true of the writing process.
Stories begin with ideas. The fertile mind incubates a nucleus of an inspirational thought, rotating it in the mind so it’s warmed thoroughly. The shell is fragile and the wise writer doesn’t open herself up to criticism by speaking of her project until it’s fully formed. The project needs to be turned several times a day (28 days for ducks) until the last three days of incubation, when the writer sits at her computer and hunkers down. The pipping of the shell can take hours, but then, oh glory, she greets the warm sun, waving her rough copy to the heavens.

Amy with newly hatched mallards, Maynard and Mallory

She looks around. This needs tightening, that subplot isn’t working. Once fully dry and feeling fluffy, she’s ready to introduce herself to the world. She may waddle about, quack via blogs or face to face, and meet fellow story lovers.
To view my excitement when my first mallard hatched, check out Maynard’s entry to the world at http://bit.ly/JnvKYo.
Storysharer would love to hear tips about your writing process.
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Inspiration

Inspiration

Greetings fellow story lovers,
What gets your creative juices flowing? Where are you when inspiration strikes? Among my favorite times in life are those moments when I’m driving along on a long quiet stretch of highway and my mind starts whirling with ideas. It also happens in the bathtub, upon wakening, at my computer early in the morning, and while walking my dog in the woods or horseback riding. I keep paper and pen or my mini-recorder handy because even though I think it’s such a brilliant thought I couldn’t possibly forget it, I will.

Do you ever get writing ideas from the newspaper? The seed that sprouted EYE OF TRUTH, my first of five books in the Kayla Montgomery series, was seeing this article in the newspaper. In it, a daughter and son are searching for a will after the death of their mother. Instead, they open the steamer trunk they’d been warned to stay away from as children, and find a baby skeleton.

In my story, Kayla’s Aunt Maggie owns the horse ranch where Kayla spends a lot of her time. Aunt Maggie delivers a daughter but baby Ashley is kidnapped from the hospital.

Kayla suspects Cora Hatcher, whose description was inspired by this newspaper picture. I’ve written “eyes that pop out” as a note to myself. That later became so important it’s used in the title.
Kayla sneaks over to Cora’s trailer to search. She sees a trunk with a heavy rope knotted around it. She unties the knot and opens the trunk. Inside is a baby skeleton and a fresh pink rose.
Developing the real kidnapper, and that person is even crazier than Cora, was inspired by a real life event. Details would spoil the story but they’re available, along with paperback copies and free teacher guides and/or book discussion questions by contacting laundrie@live.com.

Storysharer would love to hear what inspires you!
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Painting Word Pictures

wall

Greetings fellow story lovers,
Even though there are times when I wish my imagination wasn’t so active, it is a great tool for storytelling.
Ever since I began trail riding in isolated woods, I’ve been terrified that my horse and I will be attacked by dogs. My imagination paints a vivid picture of the horse rearing up, unseating me and sending me crashing to the ground in the midst of viscous Rottweilers. While I’d rather not dwell on that scenario, I drew upon it while writing the fifth Kayla Montgomery mystery series, WOLVES IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING.


Kayla becomes lost while trail riding. She passes a house and is terrified when two Rottweilers charge toward her. The scene is rich with details because I’ve “seen” it many times. Readers tell me that they, too, can visualize it.
Just before Kayla flees, she sees an old woman’s face in the window. The women mouths the words “Help me.” Will Kayla return to investigate? Your powerful imagination can complete the story.
Free WOLVES IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING teacher guides and/or book discussion questions are available by contacting laundrie@live.com.
Storysharer would love to hear how your imaginings have led you to stories.

inspirational woman
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What If . . .

Greetings fellow story lovers,

What if . . . are magic words to writers and story tellers. What if an animal attraction with over 100 live reptiles including crocodiles, unusual albino iguanos, and the world’s largest snake caught on fire?

snake

This question led to my interviewing the owner and began the fourth Kayla Montgomery book, LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION.

From that question others emerged including a compelling one about love and attraction. What if my main character had to choose between a relationship based on intrique and seduction or one built on mutual interests and companionship?
Free LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION teacher guides and/or book discussion questions are available by contacting laundrie@live.com.
Storysharer would love to hear how compelling “What if…” questions have inspired you.
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Passion

Greetings fellow story lovers,

What makes you grind your teeth, giggle like a hyper kid, or hiss like a panther? What makes the hair on the back of your neck tingle, your fingers dig at your scalp, or your throat ache with sadness? These intense feelings can be the origin of impassioned stories.

Egg

A friend once described to me how concerned she was about a neighbor’s neglected horses. They didn’t have grain, hay, or water. The owner hadn’t trimmed their hooves and they’d grown so long the hooves actually curled around themselves. She reported the neighbor to the humane society. He retaliated by sneaking over and cutting her horses’s hooves so short that all that remained were painful nubbins.
This horrendous story led to the premise for the fourth Kayla Montgomery mystery series book, DELIVER US FROM EVIL.

Kayla must drive past Vern Schafner’s horse farm on her way to college. The horses are starving and can’t walk because of their overgrown hooves.Kayla reports him. The scene describing Vern’s retaliation is one of the most terrifying and emotion-laden scenes I’ve ever written.
The best stories bleed with passion and emotion. As writers and story tellers, dare to go to your dark spaces, even if it’s painful. Draw out your feelings, and you’ll connect with your readers.

Free DELIVER US FROM EVIL teacher guides and/or book discussion questions are available by contacting laundrie@live.com.
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