Writing tip: Smelly Words

Whenever I feel as if my writing lacks zip, or depth, or juiciness, I turn to smell. Here’s a great exercise. Make a list of twelve (or ten, or twenty – I’m not dogmatic) things that have strong smells. Here is one of my lists: garlic, lilacs, gasoline, tomato leaves, sweaty feet, lemons, blood, coffee, coconut, paint, baby pee, wet dog. Now pick one or two or three of these smells and write about them by answering any or all of these questions: What other things smell like this smell? How does this smell make you feel – sad, exhilarated, nostalgic, angry? Which famous comedian do you think would smell of this? What color is this smell? How big is this smell? Is this smell round, or square, or triangular, or blob-like? How old is this smell? Does this smell hurt? What song title makes you think of this smell? When was the first time you smelled this smell? Where does this smell live – the ocean, the desert, the mountains, Alpha Centauri?

Now go back to writing whatever you were writing before. Chances are that the juice, zip, and depth will be there, waiting for you.

I sometimes share writing tips that have worked for me or my clients/students. Do you have a writing tip you’d like to share? If so, leave a comment here. You might win something! At the end of each month I’ll gather up the “Writing Tip” comments from the month and pick one at random from a drawing, and send the winner of the drawing one of my e-books: your choice of How to WOW Your Readers or You Can Be An Author, Even If You’re Not a Writer.

 

Technorati Tags: writing tip, depth, smelly words, list, zip, questions, write

Compost: My Rock

A memory from my childhood: Behind the blackberry bushes in the back yard, hidden from the house and prying adult eyes, is a large gray rock. It stands higher than my head and is mostly covered by blackberry vines. I made a tunnel through the vines, a secret thorny tunnel impassable by adults, which leads to the back of the rock. The back of the rock is wide and smooth and more massive than my father. It has a shelf halfway up just long and wide enough for me to lay full length upon. Here I am completely hidden by blackberry vines, surrounded by thrumming bees, protected by thorns.

I press my stomach down on the cool surface, and fling my arms above my head. I spread my fingers and push my hands down, flat and hard, to feel the tickling of tiny grit on my palms. I push my nose down, I squash it flat, and I sniff deep of that dusty, rocky smell. The blackberry vines gently brush the backs of my bare sunburnt legs.

I am hidden, safe. I am silent. I lay my ear against the face of the rock shelf, sealing out all outside noise. I listen to the rock’s voice. It sings like the hollow boom of a large drum beat very softly. It hisses and burbles as it breathes. I am soothed to find a rhythm so like mine.

excerpt from Eating Mythos Soup, ©2000 Kim Pearson

 

Technorati Tags: compost, memory, rock, childhood, hidden, blackberry bush

Haiku Friday: Wealth

It’s Haiku Friday again. For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose. I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog. Just write it in the Comments below. The only rules are: 1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those). That’s it.

At the end of each month I’ll gather up the haikus in the “Haiku Comments” that meet the criteria and pick one at random in a drawing, and send the winner of the drawing one of my e-books: your choice of Haiku for the Seasons I, or Haiku for the Seasons II.

Today’s topic is “wealth .” Here is my haiku:

Look! you are wealthy
three ripe apples on a plate
wait to be eaten

 

Technorati Tags: haiku, writing, syllable, topic, wealth, ripe, apples, eaten, wealthy

Sharing History: The Draft

War is not fun to remember. Maybe that’s the best reason for remembering it. War is even less fun to remember when you were forced to fight one, whether or not you believed in the righteousness or necessity of the fight. In my “Making History” classes we talk about the dreaded Draft, and how it affected the Baby Boomer men bound for Vietnam. These stories are painful to hear. By the early seventies there had been huge war protests in nearly every major American city. Chanting slogans such as “Hey hey LBJ how many kids did you kill today?” and “Hell no we won’t go!” some draft-age young men burned their draft cards. Some left for Canada to avoid the draft.

One such man, “Doug,” remembered the day the first Draft Lottery numbers were announced, in December of 1969 when he was a junior at the University of Washington. He, along with many of his fraternity brothers, didn’t go to class that day, because they were so nervous. Your Lottery number was associated with your birthday. A low Lottery number was bad – it meant you were sure to be drafted. A high lottery number, the best being 366, meant that you wouldn’t have to make any difficult decisions, like between exile to Canada or dying in a Vietnamese jungle.

Doug and his frat brothers sat on the veranda of the fraternity house, drinking beer and telling dirty jokes, trying to pretend that they weren’t scared while waiting for the Lottery numbers to be read over the radio. Doug even remembered the jokes, and the guys who told them. But what he doesn’t remember is hearing his number. His memory stops dead at the point the announcer began to read the list. He doesn’t remember anything else about that day, or days after. The next day he remembers is the day, weeks later, that he joined the Navy, to avoid being drafted. Doug’s number was 10. “It was such a shock,” he said. “Everything in my life just went blank.”

Do you have a story about Vietnam, or the effect of the draft on your life, or the life of someone you knew? If you’d care to share a story about this topic, please leave a comment here. At the end of each month I’ll gather up the Sharing History comments and pick one at random from a drawing, and send the winner of the drawing my e-book: your choice of a Making History Workbook.

Technorati Tags: history, stories, draft, lottery, LBJ, 1969, Vietnam, Vietnamese jungle, war, baby boomer

Compost: Twitter Teasers

Currently I am putting together a collection of fifteen of my short stories. The collection will total about 50,000 to 60,000 words. Twitter is training me to write short short, and I mean short, synopses of my thoughts, and I thought, could I synopsize each short story in under 140 characters (characters, not words)? I tried it, and did – although these are not really synopses, they are more like teasers. And that is a good thing – they will come in handy for marketing the book. If you follow me on Twitter (www.twitter.com/storykim) don’t be surprised if you see these tweets again.

1. Pouting boy watches incipient tragedy brought about by a toad and a sandwich, yet does nothing. 2. Boy dressed like The Lone Ranger does good because good is supposed to be done. 3. Little girl discovers that hunting deer is nothing like hunting socks. 4. No one, not even dolphins, can learn to dive until they are ready. 5. Don’t let pirates trim your Christmas tree. 6. If there’s a magic trampoline in the basement, you should jump on it. 7. Photographs lie, just like parents. 8. You never have plenty of time for sex. 9. Little old lady substitutes flour for ashes in San Francisco. 10. Fed-up woman finds out what happens when your clichés come to life. 11. Busy businesswoman trades one habit for another, and kills a cat. 12. Old lady refuses to give up her haunted bed. 13. Old woman talks to one bear, listens to another, and sleeps with a third. 14. Widower stalks modest widow because her nose wrinkles. 15. Implacable cats instigate an elaborate revenge on whisker-stealing musician.

So tell me, would you buy this book of short stories?

 

Technorati Tags: Twitter, teasers, short stories, synopses, words, characters

Haiku Friday: Party

It’s Haiku Friday again. For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose. I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog. Just write it in the Comments below. The only rules are: 1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those). That’s it.

At the end of each month I’ll gather up the haikus in the “Haiku Comments” that meet the criteria and pick one at random in a drawing, and send the winner of the drawing one of my e-books: your choice of Haiku for the Seasons I, or Haiku for the Seasons II.

Today’s topic is “ party .” Here is my haiku:

after the party
dirty dishes and garbage
tell their own stories

 

Technorati Tags: haiku, writing, syllable, topic, party, dirty dishes, garbage, stories

Writing Tip: Einstein’s Details

Einstein said that God lives in the details, which is something all writers should remember. We tend to want to write about big, abstract, grand subjects – justice, brotherhood, power, love.

But if you don’t anchor your grand subjects to concretes – specific words from the senses that are anchored to everyday reality, the world of the earth, then your fine words are just so much hot air and wasted paper. We might be spiritual beings, but we’re spiritual beings going through a material world.

To make your words alive, they must be alive. And life is in the details – what things smell like, what they look like, sound like, feel like, taste like. Because our lives are important, the details matter.

Abstracts are not only boring and dead, they do not reflect reality. Instead they reflect your judgment of reality. They are second hand. When you write from what you see, taste, feel, hear, smell, you are writing first hand.

Don’t give the reader your opinion or tell her what you are writing about. Let the reader have their own opinion, see their own pictures. For instance, let’s say you are describing a man named Stanley. It is important for your reader to get that Stanley is a man who has trouble making up his mind. You could be efficient and write, “Stanley is an indecisive man.” Or you could place Stanley in a specific setting where he can act indecisive – let’s say you put Stanley in a writing class, and you describe the scene as: “There are five different colored pens in front of Stanley. His hand hovers over them, first stopping at red, then blue, then green, then back to red again. His fingers wiggle and shake.”

Which gives you a better picture of Stanley? Where does he come alive? Wouldn’t it be better for your readers to think “Wow, Stanley sure is an indecisive man,” without you having to tell them?

I sometimes share writing tips that have worked for me or my clients/students. Do you have a writing tip you’d like to share? If so, leave a comment here. You might win something! At the end of each month I’ll gather up the “Writing Tip” comments from the month and pick one at random from a drawing, and send the winner of the drawing one of my e-books: your choice of How to WOW Your Readers or You Can Be An Author, Even If You’re Not a Writer.

 

Technorati Tags: writing tip, Einstein, details, subjects, anchor, specifics, opinion, pictures

Compost: Itchy White Lies

Last Friday I shared my haiku about lies, in which I suggested that even white lies are to be avoided, because if you trust in the healing quality of truth, all will be all right.

Searching for truth through the thickets of lies told in our societies and families is one of my life passions. It’s long been my belief that not even the whitest of white lies is ever necessary or justified. I think lies of any color are like submerged icebergs, certain to rise one day and sink your ship – and hurt a lot of innocent people in the process.

Today I googled “white lie.” To my delight I found a passage from The Gentleman’s Magazine of 1741, which suggested that maybe, just maybe, there might be a good reason to tell a little white lie:

A white Lie is That which is not intended to injure any Body in his Fortune, Interest, or Reputation but only to gratify a garrulous Disposition and the Itch of amusing People by telling Them wonderful Stories.

I must confess I often suffer from that Itch to Amuse People by telling Them wonderful Stories. After all, that’s what this blog is all about.

So now I will think of white lies as wonderful Stories, and all will be well.

Technorati Tags: white lies, truth, google, societies, families, stories

Haiku Friday: Lies

It’s Haiku Friday again. For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose. I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog. Just write it in the Comments below. The only rules are: 1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those). That’s it.

At the end of each month I’ll gather up the haikus in the “Haiku Comments” that meet the criteria and pick one at random in a drawing, and send the winner of the drawing one of my e-books: your choice of Haiku for the Seasons I, or Haiku for the Seasons II.

Today’s topic is “lies .” Here is my haiku:

it’ll be all right
don’t believe your own white lies
truth is far kinder

Technorati Tags: haiku, writing, syllable, topic, lies, believe, white lies, truth

Sharing History: Some Guilt Never Dies

The other day I was listening to my 91-year-old father reminisce, which is one of my favorite things to do. Sometimes he talks about his service in World War II, and the stories are disturbing. He fought, and was wounded, in the South Pacific. Many of his buddies died. Many Japanese soldiers died, some by his own hand. He remembers each one of them, and because he is a gifted storyteller, he brings them to life – and death – as complete vivid individuals.

He’s sitting on a hillside with a guy he doesn’t know well, as the guy had just joined their company. They’re taking a cigarette break, and while the smoke drifts lazily through the humid air, the new guy describes his redheaded girlfriend’s hot kisses on their last night together before he was shipped overseas. Just as he was progressing past the kisses into more intimate territory, a zing! parts the air in front of Dad’s face, and the new guy stops in mid sentence and crumples sideways. There is a Japanese sniper in the trees overlooking the hillside. He surely didn’t care which American he killed; it was mere chance it was the redhead’s boyfriend and not my dad.

Another time: he and six other soldiers are in the jungle, trying to get from one place to another. They are pinned down and cannot progress because there is a Japanese sniper in the trees. They are not sure which tree he’s in, or if there is one sniper or two. They decide there is only one. Dad crawls on his belly through the underbrush to a place in back of where they think the sniper is. He looks up, and sure enough sees the sniper in a tree, rifle aimed and ready, his back to Dad. Dad raises his rifle and fires one shot. He is good shot, which is one reason why he was the one to try to take the sniper out. The sniper falls out of the tree, his rifle clattering to the ground beside him. Dad goes up to him to see if he is dead or only wounded. The sniper is dead. He’s young, maybe only 19 or 20, but now he’s dead. Dad has never killed before. This is the first one.

That was in 1943. Sixty-six years later, Dad tells me he still dreams about that sniper, and has for many years. He sees the sniper’s unlined face, so innocent in death. He sees the awkward position of his legs, probably broken by his fall. He wonders what he would have become if he had lived. A businessman, a scientist, a farmer? Would he have married and had children? Grandchildren?

He wishes he would stop dreaming about this long-dead man, but he knows that guilt is another one of the numerous penalties of war.

Are there World War II stories I your family? If you’d care to share a story about this topic, please leave a comment here. At the end of each month I’ll gather up the Sharing History comments and pick one at random from a drawing, and send the winner of the drawing my e-book: your choice of a Making History Workbook .

Technorati Tags: history, guilt, reminisce, World War II, fought, wounded, South Pacific, Japanese, soldiers, life, death