Write the first 2 paragraphs where the only character is a car driving down a road (work on atmosphere, setting). Add a sense of peril or other interest.
During Thursday 1/17/2019 Marion County Writer’s Workshop session we discussed the above challenge. What we learned was vast as the topic drove to many different locations.
Here were a few key sentences by MCWW authors:
A road map marked with a red circle.
Flashes of lightning illuminating skinny trees in the distance.
Gloomy shadows stretched over the hood of the car.
It was once the envy of the fleet. Long and sleek, its smooth black surface buffed to a high sheen. It bore the emblem of its maker, Cadillac.
Gravel crunched under the tires.
The engine wailed.
Wind whistled through the window, broken and stuck open.
Light reflected off the broken windshield, making the cracks look like spider webs.
So what things can help you write to the above challenge?
First, cars can make different noises, but for this challenge we’re going to focus on bad ones.
Phew, this is a lot, and a nice list of things that can make a mechanic sweat.
Road sounds are also great to add to atmosphere, but did you know different types of roads make different sounds?
Here’s a quick guide:
Concrete surfaces are made using a concrete mix of Portland cement, coarse aggregate, sand and water. One of the major advantages of concrete pavements is they are typically stronger and more durable than asphalt roadways. They also can be grooved to provide a durable skid-resistant surface. The road noise of a car traveling 60 MPH is usually around 80 decibels, but it can range between 55 and 80 decibels along a highway. To put this in perspective a quiet living room is usually around 40 decibels, and a loud shout is around 90 decibels.
Road noise also varies according to road condition. A road with more pot holes and cracks will produce a higher decibel of noise.
Open-graded asphalt mixtures are designed to be water-permeable to help remove standing water from the road. Open-graded asphalt mixes can incorporate polymer-modified binders and/or fibers which add durability over a long time. They help to remove standing water from the road surface by allowing it to flow through the mix to the outer edges of the roadway. An added benefit of this porous design is good sound absorption. This is due to the compressed air from the tire being able to escape down through the mixture. The bottom layer contains larger aggregate while the top layer is a finer mix. This finer mix has less macrotexture, reducing contact forces which in turn reduces noise. Noise reduction with these mixes has been measured at the decibel range. Most of the time this application is used for higher traffic suburban roads with road speeds above 45 miles per hour.
Dense-graded asphalt mixtures
Reducing the aggregate size in the wearing surface will generally result in a quieter surface. These mixes sometimes include crumb rubber and/or a polymer binder. This type of mixture gets its sound dampening qualities by having a reduced contact area as well as an increase in flexibility allowing for air to escape at a lower pressure. It has been noted that these types of mixes can reduce road noise by as much as 8 decibels.
Fine-graded surface mixtures
Examples of these types of mixtures or surface treatments are microsurfacing and ultra-thin bonded asphalt surfaces. They can act as road preservation techniques and help reduce noise. These thin-surfaced, gap-graded mixes have less macrotexture which reduces contact areas between the tire and the road creating less noise. Reductions can be seen in the range of 2-5 decibels.
Applying gravel, or "metalling", has had two distinct usages in road surfacing. The term road metal refers to the broken stone or cinders used in the construction or repair of roads or railways, and is derived from the Latin metallum, which means both "mine" and "quarry". "Road metal" later became the name of stone chippings mixed with tar to form the road surfacing material tarmac. A road of such material is called a "metalled road" in Britain, a "paved road" in Canada and the US, or a "sealed road" in parts of Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
A granular surface can be used with a traffic volume where the annual average daily traffic is 1,200 vehicles per day or less. The noise level produced by a car on a gravel road is higher by 4 decibels than that on a road with asphalt pavement. In summertime, as car speed increases, the noise level rises by 5 decibels.
Level B Roads
These roads are minimally maintained roads for areas of low traffic that do not serve a residence or do not require frequent access. These roads have the biggest ranges of decibel of road noise due to their condition and varying traffic speed. No research has been done on the estimated decibels of road noise. These roads offer the most variation on road noises such as crashes through potholes, grinding on the ridges of ruts, and snaps and crashes over sticks and rocks.
Another part of adding a sense of peril is the things seen from cars. Since the focus of this challenge was peril, I chose to add a few things you’d see specifically see and smell at night.
Things seen with headlights.
Glowing eyes in darkness.
The reflectiveness of a sign.
Passing trees close to the road can make a woosh woosh.
Animals may dart by, but they will only seem to be a color and size. A raccoon, fat cat, and small dog can all look the same when you pass by them in the dark.
Rain makes things blurry.
Snow makes things brighter.
A full moon casts long shadows, but things are more defined.
The reflection of headlights on power lines making the look of little silver ropes.
Stale and dusty from the air vents
Hot and dusty from the heat vents
The last thing discussed when adding a sense of peril was sentence length. This can help put your reader in the correct mood.
Multiple Long Sentences
Multiple long sentences make the story feel drawn out and slow. Imagine a professor giving a boring lecture with one tone of voice. This can be used sparingly to create a slow feel in your story, but too much can make the reader feel they are treading through deep mud.
Multiple Short Sentences
Multiple short sentences give the story a quick feel. This builds action and gives the feeling of movement. Using multiple short sentences in a row can make the reader feel exhausted. Imagine someone who talks really fast and never comes up for air.
Short Sentences with Fragments
Short sentences with sentence fragments add the above description with the feeling of chaos if done too much. This can be a good tool when trying to make the reader feel overwhelmed or confused.
A Combination of the Above
A combination of the all of the above is the most used format. This gives variation creating a natural flow. You can break in using long sentences to slow down the action and then fast ones to speed it up again. This technique is great in manipulating your reader into getting a sense of speed or slowness where needed without having to specifically things like ‘it slowed down’ or ‘it sped up’.
It’s come again. The holidays. With it came food, sweets, food, and more sweets. If you’re like most authors during the holidays you indulged. Now it’s a new year and time again to renew all those exercise and weight loss promises. But don’t forget to take down the decorations. Get that January blog ready to go. Oh, and don’t forget about starting on all your projects to hit due dates in time. .
A little overwhelming? Being an author, I find myself in this trap a lot. As an author you are never “caught up”, or “ahead of the game”. This leads to a lot of stress. Exercise tends to get pushed to the back burner, so we can fight the inevitable feeling of always being behind.
Well that can change. Here is an easy program for any author to help get back in shape and keep hitting deadlines.
Get your computer on a bar top, high table, or anywhere that you can stand and work. Yes, stand. Get upright. Use muscles. Studies have shown activity helps boost memory and brain function.
Squats- at you high rise desk perform mini squats down far enough that you can still type, but wouldn’t be able to if you go any farther.
Wall Sits- When you hit writer's block go find a wall. Place your back to the wall and then slide down until your hips and knees are at a 90-degree angle. Hold for 30 seconds while taking deep breaths.
Single Leg Stance- While writing, stand on one leg. Try not using your hands for balance and keep typing. Hold until you get tired and then switch legs.
Knee Squeezes- Place a pillow between your knees. While standing and working squeeze knees together as hard as possible on pillow and then relax. Repeat until the insides of your thighs feel fatigued.
Heel Raises- While standing and working on computer go up on your toes and then back down. Repeat until fatigued.
Chair Dip- With your back to a chair, put your hands on the seat of the chair. Slowly lower yourself down and then back up. Repeat until your triceps feel tired.
Wall Push Ups- Get up and put your hands on any wall. Bend your elbows and try to lower your nose to the wall and then straighten your arms.
Keep at it. Every time go until you feel fatigued. After a while you’ll notice you can do these exercises for longer and longer periods of time. You should feel more energized while writing. Utilize your times of writer’s block for you and your health.
1. Take a long hot bath or shower. Add in a scent that is calming to you, like Lavender, or Clove. Stay there for at least 20 minutes, and only focus on the sensations going on around you. Now take one character you are currently writing about, preferably the one you are struggling most to write. Put them in that same bath and write how they would feel and perceive this. This activity helps promote relaxation in you while getting you a little closer to a character you are struggling with.
2. Write down 10 things you are grateful for. Now post this on your website/Facebook/twitter/blog. Seeing the good things in your life will help you have a different outlook on things. This activity will also help your audience get to know you more, and feel a little more connected with you.
3. Grab a journal and take a walk outdoors, anywhere. Write down 10 things you see, 5 things you hear, 5 things you smell, 3 things you feel (like tree bark or a cold park bench), 2 things you can taste (dirt in the air), and 5 emotions this brings up. This will help you later when building a scene in a similar setting while getting you disconnected and giving you time to relax.
4. Write to someone you love: a friend, spouse, grandparent, and send that letter. You will make their day. Do nothing else but remember who is important to you.
5. De-clutter your office or desk. A cluttered space can often lead to a cluttered mind. Getting things organized in your life can help you get a fresh start in writing.
6. Get off social media, grab a camera, and go on an adventure. Visit a theme park. A mall. The pool. Take a walk in the woods. Take photos of everything interesting. The next day, schedule posts using a media scheduling app or website and set it up to post a photo every day with a caption of why you took it. This breaks up constant marketing and gives readers more chances to connect with you. This also gives you a reason to have a fun, social media free day, while not taking away from your working or marketing.
7. Make a list of short-term goals, then post it. Let your following keep you accountable. Also, post when you achieve a goal. Get the hype up. This will positively reinforce you while motivating you to complete goals.
8. Slow down and sit and watch the sunset, every day. Or, if you don’t like sunsets, pick something you do like. The point is, you are taking time for you. Stop and smell the roses. Get grounded in place and time, because all too often we are swept off our feet with work and goals as life passes us by.
9. Start a new reading plan. Pick 1 fiction book relative to your genre, 1 reference book, 1 best-seller, and one from an upcoming author that isn’t related to your genre. Read until you finish all four. Why? The fiction and reference book will help you improve your writing and get better in your genre. The best-seller allows you to see what people are interested in now and what writing style is selling. The book unrelated from an upcoming author is a break. It’s something fresh and allows your brain to branch out.
10. Get rid of five things you never use. This helps declutter your home and will in turn help declutter your life. Consider live streaming it to your fans. Encourage them to get rid of things they no longer use as well.
11. Get some sun. Vitamin D is important, but also sunlight helps stimulates the brain. Getting a nice dose of REAL sun can help refresh and stimulate your creativity.
12. Unsubscribe to unnecessary email. They create digital clutter that takes time out of your day to delete. Or worse, they stay forever, making each email you really want harder to find. Unnecessary emails are like inbox fog. Also, after you get done, look at the ones you do want to keep subscribed to, and determine why. Consider sharing these with your network and/or followers.
13. Send an encouraging email, letter, or text to other upcoming writers. Encourage them. Remember, they one day may be the next Stephen King.
14. Wake up 30 minutes earlier to write, about anything. Let the creativity flow and don’t worry about where it’s going or if it has anything to do with anything else you’ve written. Let the whispers of your brain free.
15. Plan a coffee date with a friend. We all get lost in our work and it’s easy to neglect friends and family in the process. Get reconnected.
16. Make a Complaint Jar and set a goal to not complain all day. Keep the jar up for a month and every time you go a day without complaining about anything, add a dollar. At the end of the month you’ll ideally have 30-ish dollars. Make plans to treat yourself.
17. Update/Create a writing playlist. Consider making different playlists for different scenes you tend to write. Fast paced intense music for fight scenes. Gentle and relaxing music for slow scenes. Happy and lively music for comedy.
18. Make yourself a full English Breakfast and don’t worry about the dishes. Treating yourself now and then to things you usually wouldn’t do is a great way to refresh without over indulging. Remember, with treating yourself, if you do it too often, it becomes normal and is no longer a treat. It’s like going to Disneyland every day for over a month. The way to keep refreshers refreshing is to do them sparingly. If breakfast comes out looking good, consider sharing photos on social media. Sunday is a great day for sharing recipes.
19. Tackle one thing you’ve been putting off. Whether it’s editing, finishing a novel, or rewriting a chapter. Tackle this, even if you don’t or can’t finish it today. We often get clogged up with things we’re avoiding, and soon it becomes too overwhelming so they go onto the lists of things we never do.
20. Research something new. Don’t know much about a country you’d like to write about? Research it. Watch a documentary. A time period you want to write for a historical novel? Go to the library. Spend the day researching and taking notes. This helps expand you as an author, but also allows your brain to absorb something new. When we stop learning we stop growing.
21. Don’t overthink, and practice being in the moment. For the first time doing this, I always suggest the Oreo challenge. Every time you catch yourself thinking outside of the present, put an Oreo from the package into the cookie jar. At the end of the day you can eat all the cookies left in the package, but not the cookie jar. This uses the reward system. Remember to always leave one Oreo in the package no matter what, so that even if you failed, the day is not lost. Always remember, even if you think you failed, the day is not lost.
The 12 rules of writing
Rule 1: There are no rules. Wait? What? Yes, there are no rules in writing. There are traditions, guidelines, and best practices. Also, remember, there are still rules in grammar. Don’t break those. That’s bad.
Rule 2: Write. You’re not a writer unless you put pen to page or fingers to keys. Even if it’s just a sentence or two. The best way to get writing done is to set up routines and habits. A dedicated writing space is also helpful.
Rule 3: Back Up Your DATA! This isn’t a rule, but if you don’t and something happens I hope you're happy seeing months of work vanish like dust in the wind. External hard drives work well. I also recommend having a regular backup that you use and a monthly one, just in case the regular gets destroyed. Also, consider online backup. This will keep your files safe in case of a disaster like a hurricane or fire where your physical backups might be destroyed.
Rule 4: Read! It’s difficult sometimes making time, but if you’re not researching current works and getting exposure, how are you going to grow? Also, make it a practice to read at least one best seller and one current read. Reading only older books or books from little-known authors might lead your style to develop against the current flow of popular books.
Rule 5: Show, don’t tell. Nothing is more boring than page after page of Doug telling you how he went to the gas station and his truck broke down, so he bought a pack of cigarettes. Get right into the action. Show the shock on Doug’s face as the tire explodes. Show his defeat when he leaves his truck and grabs a pack of cigarettes. Showing brings the reader closer to the action and the character, and can be your greatest tool in writing.
Rule 6: Edit Later. Editing as you write can slow down the writing process and could cause you to take 2-3 times as long to complete your novel. You know you’re just going to have to edit it again when you’re finished, so save yourself some time and edit later.
Rule 7: Avoid Adverbs. Adverbs can be nonspecific and often show lazy writing. Try to avoid these and find better words to convey concrete detail.
Rule 8: Murder your loved ones. Or just take away something your character cherishes. The more hurt you can put on your character the more feeling you can elicit from the reader. Granted, don’t go over the top. The man only loses his wife, house, dog, truck, and 22. Rifle in a country song. Make it believable, but make them hurt.
Rule 9: Never use passive voice. If you say there is no way around this then I suggest you study a little more grammar. Passive voice can, almost, always be avoided. And in the cases that it can’t it’s for a very specific reason. Active voice draws in your reader and puts them into the action. The risk of passive voice is your reader glancing over the writing, trying to find what’s really important and ignoring other things. You NEVER want this to happen.
Rule 10: Eliminate "was" and "just". It’s one thing to use them in dialog, but in writing there is always a better way. "Was" is passive, which goes to rule 9, but also nonspecific, as I described in rule 7. "Just" does not add to your writing. It’s a fluff word that isn’t necessary. "He was just so angry" is lazy writing. "He fumed" is more dynamic and removed both the "was" and "just".
Rule 11: One head per scene. When you’re hopping into multiple heads in the same scene it makes it very hard for the reader to follow. This causes confusion and pulls the reader out. Remember, every time the reader is pulled out, it’s a chance they will put down the book and never pick it up again.
Rule 12: "Said" is only for dialog. Make a habit of only using "said" to tag dialog, or in dialog when needed. This helps prevent confusion when writing and for the reader when reading
We all wonder what characters we should have in our story. Is it overdone? To clique? Maybe it doesn’t convey the theme of your story well. Every genre has its guidelines, but many have crossover. Every book has wither a hero or villain of some sort. Normally there are secondary characters somewhere; either a sidekick, friend, or relative. Here are twelve options to add balance to your story and hook your reader.
1. The Hero: Must be dynamic. Seeks to improve the world. Is strong and competent even if they don’t believe it. Are courageous and may have hesitations, but will become willing to take on the challenge needed. Great character examples of this are Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins. Both didn’t think they were ready, but stepped up to change things and do what is right.
2. The Lover: Seeks relationships, both romantic and friendships. Fears being unwanted. Is usually the friend character or the sidekick. They are more awkward than the main character and their short comings make it clear they can’t achieve the overall goal without The Hero.
3. The Sage: Seeks out knowledge. Is intelligent and analytical. They use their skills to seek the truth. The Sage has skills that The Hero needs, but can easily overpower The Hero. A good example of this combination is Sherlock and Watson. In that case Sherlock, is the main character and The Sage, and Watson is the sidekick but plays rolls in both The Lover and The Hero categories.
4. The Innocent: Tries to do the right thing. Fears being punished. Is usually naïve. This is usually a very sympathetic character. They are easily led on and usually end up on the wrong side.
5. The Magician: Visionary. Capable of working out puzzles and complex situations giving them the power to manipulate the people around them. Is charismatic. Great examples of this is Dumbledore from Harry Potter and Gandalf from Lord of the Rings. These are lesser characters that use their abilities to guide The Hero in the right direction.
6. The Creator: Seeks to realize a vision. Perfectionist. Has bad solutions. This is usually a protagonist. An example would be Sentinel Prime in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. He wanted to save their world, but by killing another.
7. The Rebel: Radical. Seeks revenge. Fears being powerless. This character usually has only one focus and will jeopardize other characters lives and his/her own to achieve their goals. This character can be a good guy, a bad guy, or both.
8. The Ruler: Desires control, power, and authoritarianism. This character can be presented at many levels from parent to full fledged ruler. This character will get in the way of The Hero but usually will not be the main protagonist.
9. The Caregiver: Desires to protect. Helps others. Is caring and compassionate. This character usually takes one of two roles; Sidekick to The Hero who will help The Hero, but need protecting, or be a more minor character that The Hero cares about a will either help The Hero or be a driving force for The Hero to achieve their goals.
10. The Explorer: Follows their heart. Never is bored. Seeks to be their own person and is often a loaner. They are usually good characters thrown into The Hero’s path to teach them something or guide them someway.
11. The Jester: Lives in the moment. Practical joker. Seeks socialization. This character can be The Hero’s friend and sometimes the best friend, but makes clear they don’t have the skills to help The Hero achieve their goals. This is your Pippin to your Frodo.
12. The Orphan: Desires to belong somewhere. Can easily lose track of who they are. Very empathetic. This character isn’t necessarily an orphan, but they feel alone. They will seek friendship from The Hero. This character will help where they can and can push The Hero forward or be someone The Hero wants to help or protect. They usually have a smaller arch from being alone to finally finding friendship or family. They also can have more interaction with other lesser characters.
Good Duo Combinations
Romance- The Hero and The Lover
Mystery- The Hero and The Sage
Comedy- The Hero and The Jester
Horror- The Hero and The Rebel
Children- The Hero and The Orphan
Adventure- The Hero and The Explorer
Good Guy Bad Guy Duos
Romance- The Hero and The Ruler
Mystery- The Hero and The Rebel
Comedy- The Hero and The Jester
Horror- The Hero and The Creator
Children- The Hero and The Ruler
Adventure- The Hero and The Creator