writer’s tips

Jumping into an Open Mind

Reynolds Creek Experimental Watershed in the O...

Reynolds Creek southwest of Boise, Idaho.  (Wikipedia)

My reward for finishing the first draft of my novel is a trip to Idaho; however, I wasn’t that excited about going to Idaho. Correction: I’m really scared to go to Idaho. In my story, the main character visits a fictitious big cat (cougars, lynx and bobcats) sanctuary in northern Idaho in late January by herself. My idea was to recreate the trip. It was very easy to come up with excuses not to go:

  • I don’t know anyone in Idaho
  • Plane tickets are expensive
  • It’s still the first year of marriage, I can’t go on a trip by myself!
  • There’s no guarantee my book will get published so this is a lot of time and money to spend on a potential hobby

Last week I decided, what the heck, I’m going to buy those tickets. Here’s how I responded to those excuses:

  • People are friendly; I’ll just stop in different dinners along the way and introduce myself as a curious writer.
  • Yes, plane tickets are expensive (about $600 to Boise), but a ticket to Spokane, Washington, which is closer to my ideal location anyway, is only $250.
  • Ok, the marriage excuse is just ridiculous. I’m scraping the barrel of excuses here.
  • My writing will certainly remain a hobby if I don’t take it seriously. My book takes place in Idaho so how can I possibly not go to Idaho?!?

A funny thing happened as soon as I stopped making excuses, and bought the ticket: opportunities began to appear. My brother’s sister’s college friend said she’d host me in Missoula, Montana (only a 4 hour drive from Spokane). She also said I could visit her parents in Idaho. I found another person who works with wolves who said she’d meet with me.

By opening up my search to Washington and Montana I made this trip possible. My advice to anyone who’s making excuses: keep an open mind and leap whenever possible.

What Makes You Love Someone?

I’ve been obsessing over my characters lately, fleshing them out and making them more likable. I’ve read all the typical writer’s advice. Give them:

  • a fatal flaw
  • a deep desire
  • an out-of-character quirk

But I don’t want to make my characters just likable – I want them lovable, so I have two questions for my readers:

  1. Who is one of your favorite characters in literature or movies? What makes you love him or her?
  2. Tell me some of the less obvious reasons why you love your best friend/ partner?
English: Cropped screenshot of Vivien Leigh fr...

Vivien Leigh  as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are my answers:

  1. Scarlett O’Hara. I love that she’s proud and stubborn, and how those traits ultimately keep her from what she wants.
  2. I love the way Mike takes care of the cats.


I’ve Become a Stalker

Paper doll with clothes

Paper doll with clothes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a little kid, I loved playing with paper dolls. I’d cut their outfits out as quickly as possible, all the while thinking about what accent they’d have, what their life was like, what they would say to their friends. I guess that was the beginning of my life as a writer.

I’ve moved on to the adult version of paper dolls. After completing the first draft of my novel, I picked out which actors would play my characters if I had my dream cast. Then I made a note card for each character with their basic information, as well as some notes about their wants, motives, background and how they create tension with the protagonist.

I carry these note cards in my wallet, and whenever I come up with an insight about a particular character or a figure of speech they might use, I write it on the back of the card. Yes, I am stalking my characters.

My entire cast of characters.

My entire cast of characters.

Here’s a great tip for writers: When working on a scene, I take out the note cards for each of the characters who appear in that scene and place them next to the screen. This really helps me visualize the action, and remember the distinct voices for dialog. And it’s fun!

Marla, my cat, has been by my side, or at least my computer, for the entire writing process.

The characters in the scene I’m working on. Marla, my cat, has been by my side, or at least my computer, for the entire writing process.