History as Fiction Inspiration

I took my three kids to our local museum today. They were having a family day focusing on a new exhibit that just opened: Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis Near Pompeii.  I’ve always had a fascination with Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius, so this was a must see for me.

In the entryway, they had microscopes set up so you could examine Roman coins up close. Another table had the villa in a puzzle format and a volunteer helped the kids use the pieces to design their own villa, talking about the different room and the names for them. A villa, I learned, was a very rich, wealthy house. One of the villas in the exhibit is believed to be Emperor Nero’s second wife’s vacation home.

Ninety-some rooms have been excavated, but the archaeologists believe over 200 rooms existed in the villa.

The exhibit was set up a little like the villa (a small portion of it, anyway). Statues surrounded the fountains as you walked in. Stone centaurs, missing some limbs after 2000 years stood guard in the entry way and a statue of the Venus stood in the center. We peered at various replicas of rooms and the huge jugs used for wine or fish sauce, and lanterns carved with images of various gods and goddess. Pieces of the original walls hung up, colors still vivid after all these years. Spoons, pots, coins, toys filled the cases. Replicas of columns and couches decorated rooms used for dining and resting.

I imagined the men and women, both the wealthy and the slaves, using these items daily. Some, like the lanterns, looked like nothing like our modern lights, but some silver spoons and a beautiful glass pitcher would not have looked out of place on a modern table.

There was a whole case dedicated to the jewelry they found on a number of skeletons discovered in a storeroom at one of the villas, where the slave and rich alike had hidden themselves during the eruption. My daughter and I observed a set of rings, far too small to fit on my fingers, so we concluded that the woman who’d worn those rings must have been much smaller than me.

My favorite was the strongbox, a huge metal box about the size of one of my twins’ cribs, covered all over with patterns and designs of animals and people.

I didn’t get to linger as long as I wanted amid the replicas of the Roman villa, since my 6-year-old’s attention span didn’t allow for it, but I stood a moment in a Roman dining room, looking at a big picture of the bay that the villa overlooked. Sea birds called around me and little fishing boats sailed out on the water.

“Do you think this is what their view looked like as they ate their dinner?” I asked my daughter, my imagination pulling up more details, feeling the wind and smelling the salt air.

She shrugged, and moved onto the kids’ activity of building a Roman column and a fresco. From their stroller, my twins shrieked, “Dinosaur! Dinosaur!” They were ready to move on to the fossils in the other room.

I want to go back without children and linger with a notebook. I want to read all the information. I want to study the model of the Roman villa, examining the design of the rooms that are different from the house I live in. Every artifact in the exhibit makes me want to picture the people who would have been around them daily and try to wrap my brain around what their lives must have been like.

I once heard an author talk about how important it was for authors to read nonfiction. For a writer, the best inspiration can come from real life. Reading is easy, but there’s something extra special about looking at the real things. A simple ceramic cup and dish. A set of dice made from bone. A bracelet engraved with images of a goddess. Thick glass bottles used for perfume. A massive metal strongbox. A drawing of the skeleton of the 20-something-year-old woman, the one who’d worn the gold rings, and who had been in the last stages of pregnancy.

Need more plot fodder? Visit a museum. Listen to the tour guides, read the plaques, examine the artifacts, and let your imagination wander.


Rock The Vault: Celebrating The Urban And Rural Setting Thesaurus Duo

There’s nothing better than becoming lost within the story world within minutes of starting a book. And as writers, this is what we’re striving to do: pull the reader in, pull them down deep into the words, make them feel like they are experiencing the story right alongside the hero or heroine.

A big part of achieving this is showing the character’s surroundings in a way that is textured and rich, delivering this description through a filter of emotion and mood. It means we have to be careful with each word we choose, and describe the setting in such a way that each sight, sound, taste, texture, and smell comes alive for readers. This is no easy task, especially since it is so easy to overdo it—killing the pace, slowing the action, and worst of all, boring the reader. So how can we create a true unique experience for readers and make them feel part of the action while avoiding descriptive missteps that will hurt the story?

writershelpingwriters_logo_300x300px_finalWell, there’s some good news on this front. Two new books have released this week that may change the description game for writers. The Urban Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to City Spaces and The Rural Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Personal and Natural Spaces look at the sights, smells, tastes, textures, and sounds that a character might experience within 225 different contemporary settings. And this is only the start of what these books offer writers.

In fact, swing by and check out this hidden entry from the Urban Setting Thesaurus: Antiques Shop.

And there’s one more thing you might want to know more about….

Rock_The_Vault_WHW1Becca and Angela, authors of The Emotion Thesaurus, are celebrating their double release with a fun event going on from June 13-20th called ROCK THE VAULT. At the heart of Writers Helping Writers is a tremendous vault, and these two ladies have been hoarding prizes of epic writerly proportions.

A safe full of prizes, ripe for the taking…if the writing community can work together to unlock it, of course.

Ready to do your part? Stop by Writers Helping Writers to find out more!

Music (or Not) — Writing Tools

Now, I realize that there tend to be two major camps when it comes to music as a writing tool. You either like listening to music, or you can’t do it.

Personally, I’m a big fan of listening to music when I write.

However, it has to be the right type of music and the right type can change depending on the project I’m working on.

When writing for Redwall Survivor last year, I listened to some Pirates of the Caribbean, “Shiver My Timbers” from Muppet Treasure Island, and some various other nautical themed things. But every time I sat down for a writing session, I always started my playlist with Peter Hollens version of “Baba Yetu. Not sure why, but it got me in the perfect writing mood. If curious, you can view a YouTube variation of my playlist.

I have a playlist titled “Writing Inspiration” on my iPod and it has soundtracks from Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Mummy (and The Mummy Returns), Star Wars Episode 1, and How To Train Your Dragon (1 & 2). It also has the full soundtrack from the video game, Skyrim.

This playlist is not limited to soundtracks. I’ve got lots of Lindsey Stirling, Piano Guys, Blackmore’s Night and Celtic Thunder on this list, along with a smattering of my favorite Disney songs. Also an absolutely amazing album by Michael W. Smith called Freedom that has inspired multiple scenes in my books.

There are random songs in there from different movies and artists and each of those songs has something about it that inspires a scene or emotion in my writing.
However, I have not been listening to my writing playlist much during my revision lately. I’ve been toying around with something different.

I saw a link via one of my writing groups on Facebook for something called ‘Brain.fm‘. Usually, when I see a random link and no more information, I just skim right along over it. However, this time, curiosity won and I clicked to see just what Brain.fm was.

In a nutshell, it’s ‘music’ that’s been shown in various studies to influence brain activity to achieve specific results, such as needing to focus on some creative work (like the current lesson of a 22-week revision course), or sleeping.

I’ve been toying around with it via the free sessions. I’ve had a few times where I noticed absolutely no difference in my performance, yet other times I’ve plugged in the headphones, gotten to work on the revision stuff, then suddenly realized that it had been over half an hour (the default session time for Focus – Intense), the music had shut off some time before, and I’d gotten a huge amount of the work done.

I’ve tinkered with the Sleep settings too and gotten mixed results there, though I have always liked falling asleep to gentle music in the background.

Whether or not you find working to music beneficial, toying with Brain.fm is kinda fun and it’s interesting to see the various results. I’m using the free system for now, but if finances work in my favor in the future, I’d actually like to purchase a this for a while to see what sort of results I get when the system is programmed with my personality and it logs the results of how beneficial my sessions are.

Be aware, because they say people with seizures and who are pregnant should not use Brain.fm, so do use some caution as needed.

How about you? Are you a fan of music when you write, and what music? Or do you like the sound of silence? Ever tried Brain.fm? Let me know in the comments!

The Passion Planner – Writing Tools

Last year when I made my goals for 2015, one of the things I mentioned that I was using to help me was the Passion Planner. I had stumbled across the Passion Planner at the tail end of 2014 thanks to a link on Facebook. The Passion Planner website had free PDFs to print out so you could try the planner and my initial testing of the Planner proved positive (isn’t alliteration fun!). I picked up my free full PDF of the Passion Planner and gave it a whirl.

While I didn’t meet all of 2015’s goals, I saw a lot more positive momentum towards them. I was definitely more productive with my writing, plus it helped me stay on track with all my housekeeping, wife/mother duties, and everything else. Ever since the twins were born I’ve become increasingly aware that my memory is not what it used to be. My Passion Planner has become a way for me to remember all the things I need to do and keep on task.

Here’s a breakdown of the Planner.

First, there’s an exercise to help you find what thing would make the most positive change in your life. Something you want. Your “passion”. You break down what you want into smaller goals and assign dates to them.

Next the Passion Planner has a big, month-at-a-glance calendar with slots for your Personal and Work goals, among other things.

Then there’s the weekly and daily breakdown. You choose your focus for the week, and even for each day. You prioritize your tasks, write down your errands, and have a little extra writing space for anything else that needs written. One thing I love about the Passion Planner is that it is part journal, giving you space to doodle (if you’re a doodler, unlike me) and write good memories. I got some multi-colored pens to use in my planning, assigning different colors for different tasks. If you follow Passion Planner on Twitter, Facebook, etc., they regularly post pictures of how others are using their planners, so you can get inspired beyond simple black and white if it tickles your fancy.

At the end of every month, the Passion Planner dedicates a couple pages to looking over the past month and evaluating how the month went and how much progress you made towards your goals. It provides a great way to reflect and prepare to launch into the new month, always improving.

There’s also a spot between June and July where you go back over your big goals from the beginning of the year and tweak them as necessary.

The Passion Planner website offers a free PDF of the full planner on their site, so it’s pretty easy to print it off and start using it right away. I visited my dad at the print shop and got this year’s planner printed and bound. Last year I used the full 8 1/2 by 11 version, which worked great except it was too big for me to carry around. This year, we shrunk the pages down somewhat so I have a smaller planner that can fit in my purse, so it makes it even easier for me to jot down those little ideas as I’m out and about.

Of course, the Passion Planner team has very nice planners in several different colors and 2 different sizes if you’re not interested in printing out a PDF.

Any of you ever tried the Passion Planner? Do you have another planner you use or do you survive without? Let me know in the comments below.

End of NaNoWriMo Report

Wow! What a whirlwind the last month has been! I’ve successfully completed nine years of NaNoWriMo and have another rough draft now resting in my computer.

Nano winner 2015 screenshot2

Noontide Green is my longest NaNo to date, capping off at 70,435 words. Since I’ve never had a NaNo break 60,000 before, I’m pretty pleased with it. Of course, there will be a lot of work that needs done in the manuscript before it’s ready for anyone’s eyes but mine.

Which, of course, brings me to the next phase of writing. My favorite writing coach is in the process of revamping her writing classes and she’s going to be opening up her “How to Revise Your Novel” course for new students here in the next week or so. I’ve taken many of the smaller courses and clinics offered by Holly Lisle in the past and I’m excited to tackle my revisions on Battle of the Bargaws using HTRYN.

I highly recommend Holly’s Writing Classes to anyone who wants to improve their writing. Right now she’s offering a free revision mini-workshop on her site. If you’re not sure if Ms. Lisle’s methods will work for you, try the free workshop out!

Plot Cards — Writing Tools

I have always been a planner when it comes to writing. I like my plots in orderly little rows before I start writing. Now, that’s not to say that I don’t fly by the seat of my pants on occasion, but I like order. I like to know what the beginning is and what the end is and have a good idea of what happens in the middle.

For a long time, I did standard outlines like I was taught in school, with the letters and the numbers and at least 2 points in each subcategory, yadda yadda. I used the Hero’s Journey as my blueprint for my plots and everything worked fine.

As time passed, I heard different authors talk about writing their outlines out on index cards. Seemed crazy to me. What a messy way to outline! What happens if you drop your cards? Outline all over the place. Way too disorganized for my orderly brain, thank you very much!

Then I picked up Holly Lisle’s Create a Plot Clinic. She talked about using the note cards for plotting out a story (and for using a similar technique for revision). Though skeptical, I gave it a try for one NaNoWriMo. I believe it was 2011, when I wrote The Insane Sorceress, since that’s the first stack of plot cards I could find. After Nano, I decided to take the plot card thing one step further and I wrote out every scene for the Sentinels of Mysera. Then… horror of horrors… I shuffled the cards… I laid them out on the table and started playing around with the order of my story. I let my imagination play with the “what-ifs” that came up with the random order of the cards.

Two cards randomly ended up next to each other. Two scenes that were originally in reverse order and very far apart in terms of the story. But when I looked at them… something clicked. I rearranged the story furiously and then stared at the completely new (but better) direction this took SoM.

I became a firm convert of plot cards for outlining. Every NaNo since then has been plot carded out. I’ve used the exercises from Create a Plot Clinic to give myself ideas and work out the kinks in the plot ahead of time. If you want to know more details about plot cards, I highly recommend Holly Lisle’s clinic, but I’ll give you a very basic rundown.

The plot cards have been very helpful in this year’s NaNo planning so far (which I have managed to squeak in between Redwall Survivor stuff). I had a lot of ideas for this year, but I wasn’t sure how to make them all mesh into something that made sense.

My cards all follow a similar format. I start with a title that sort of describes the scene (sometimes I get quite snarky). Beneath that goes the POV character for the scene (except for when I did Maiden of the Wood, which was all one POV, so there was no need for that). Then I do a sentence or two that describes the scene I have in mind. As you can see above, I changed a little bit after initially writing the card. At the very bottom, I occasionally write a snippet of dialogue that comes to mind, or notes that I want to make sure to remember for that particular scene.

I keep writing cards like this. Sometimes I’ll follow a plot thread for several cards, and sometimes I just write random scenes that don’t seem to have any place. Once I have a decent number of cards, I start playing with the order. Stuff gets shuffled around and rearranged. I play with the different orders that present themselves. Eventually, I get something that works. There are almost always holes in the plot at this point. Sometimes I fill them in before writing starts, and sometimes it happens in the middle of writing.

Once I have a good number of cards (which for NaNoWriMo tends to be between 30 and 50 to reach the 50,000 word mark) in an order I’m happy with, I ring them together.

As I go through writing, I flip through the cards and write the scene on that card. When the scene is done, I flip to the next one. On occasion, I come up with a new idea in the middle of writing. This happened last year with The Traitor of Mysera. I decided on a whole new direction partway through the month and pulled out several cards and slipped in new, hastily-written ones.

How about you? Are you a planner or a pantser? Do you use a traditional outline, plot cards, or something else?

One Stop For Writers: An Online Library Unlike Any Other

Every once in a while, something comes along that changes things for the better.

And in the world of writers, this is especially welcoming, because we all know just how much sweat, courage and persistence it takes to write a book and then release it into the world.

Today I’m pointing you toward a new website which I hope will help writers brainstorm stronger characters, craft deeper, more compelling plots, and teach us how to be more effective with our description so we draw readers in.

One Stop For Writers is a collaboration between Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman, authors of The Emotion Thesaurus, and Lee Powell, creator of Scrivener for Windows. This powerhouse online library is filled with one-of-a-kind descriptive thesaurus collections, tools, tutorials and much more, all geared to provide the resources you need to strengthen your prose and write more efficiently.

Want to check One Stop For Writers out?

Hop on over to Writers Helping Writers for their Launch Week festivities (October 7-14th)! If you know Angela, Lee and Becca already, you probably can guess there will be some great prizes, and probably a bit of paying-it-forward too.