Post by Guest Blogger, Jacqui Johnson
Getting together today was so exciting! Still inspired by the timely words Megan shared on her last post, we sat down to focus on applying ‘show don’t tell’ to add emotional connectivity in our writing.
According to Melissa Donovan in her blog post, 'Emotionally Charged Creative Writing Prompts, ‘To engage a reader, we have to create scenes that are so vivid they seem real, even if they are not. Through scenes, imagery, and dialogue, writers can actively engage readers with what’s happening on the page.’
Please check out her blog post for great examples on how to apply these.
Engaging readers on an emotional level helps author’s to not only weave an interesting tale, but also to do justice to the characters, telling their story and how they feel as it unfolds. We used a couple of Melissa creative writing prompts, keeping in mind other areas we have focused on at previous writer’s group meetings such as; dialogue, character descriptions, similes and metaphors.
Below are the prompts we chose to use, and both Megan and my own application of these prompts.
A family of five is driving across the desert on the way for a holiday in Perth. They get lost, and then the car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. The mobile phone is dead and the sun is setting. The kids are hot, tired and hungry. Mum is scared and frazzled. Dad, a mid-level sales manager with no survival skills is frustrated and angry. An animal howls in the distance.
Please note: I changed the setting to be in Australia, as well as the amount of children. Eh! What can I say? It’s a prompt, not a rule.
Going Nowhere by Megan Higginson
The setting sun glared like an angry beast in through the dusty windscreen. Craig squinted his eyes, trying to find the road ahead. Sweat dripped down his forehead and he wiped it away with an already soaked towel. The smell in the car was not helped by the lowering of the windows, the air-conditioner having failed in the past hour.
Perth! Whose crazy, convoluted idea was it to drive to Perth? Then he remembered. It was his. “It will be fun,” he said. “Mark Jones from accounting, drives there every year to visit family. Surely me, a sales manager, should be able to do it.” The conversation with his wife whirled around Craig’s head.
A loud gurgling came from Justin’s stomach. “Mummy! Me hungry,” Justin whined as he squirmed in his booster seat.
“Shut up, stupid head,” Carissa said to her younger brother. “You ate the last of it an hour ago. Besides, we are all hungry.”
“You stupid head! Me not stupid head!” Justin stuck his tongue out at Carissa.
Carissa rolled her eyes at her brother and sank into a sticky smelly heap on the back seat.
Craig glanced over at Marleen. She sat staring at the map, her normally neat hair now a frizzy mess. She looked like a porcelain doll.
“Well!” he shot at her. “Where are we?”
Marleen slowly turned her head and their eyes met. He didn’t like what he saw in them.
“I. Don’t. Know.” Each word was punctuated by a full stop.
Time slowed. The three kids held their breaths. They knew what was coming. Craig’s eyes bulged. His face went red.
“We’re what? Lost! How could you get us lost?”
As the words left his mouth a strange thumping noise came deep from within the bowels of the engine. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. And then a loud bang that made them all jump. Deep grey smoke like the smoke from a chimney stack, billowed from under the bonnet as the car ground to a halt.
Craig slammed his fist into the steering wheel, popped the release lever on the bonnet, opened the door, and stomped around to the front of the car.
“Try the blasted phone again!” Craig yelled from the front. “Probably no service out here anyway,” he muttered under his breath.
“It’s dead, Dad. The battery died an hour ago.” George was sixteen and didn’t care what his father thought or did.
“Ahhh! How can this day get any worse?” Craig shouted to the sky. “Nobody listens anyway. Why do I even bother?” he said under his breath.
The rest of the family slowly climbed out of the car.
“Mum, I feel dizzy…” Katrin’s voice faded as she slumped to the ground.
Damn. That’s all we need. Three kids and two adults, stranded in the middle of nowhere.
The sun chose that moment to sink into the horizon, plunging everything into the inky blackness of night. For a moment there was silence, and then, a dingo’s howl broke through the night.
'The only thing Daniel ever wanted to be was a musician. He loved playing the piano more than anything in the world. But after his mum and brother died in a car accident, Daniel’s dad insisted he become active in sport and drop music. And being active wasn’t enough. He had to be the captain of the team or suffer through endless jibes and insults that his father uttered through a beer-induced haze. Then on his eighteenth birthday, a delivery man brings him a piano and tells the boy it is from his father.'
Unexpected by Jacqui Johnson
The door slamming shut and the sound of the delivery truck noisily pulling away from the curb snapped Daniel out of the waking coma of shock he was transfixed by. Shutting the front door, he resting his forehead against the wood for a moment. Sucking in a breath, he pushed off from the door, rubbing his head slightly and he walked down the passageway, ever closer to the main living room.
Entering the cramped space, he stared at the piano sticking out like a punk rocker at a classical recital. Amidst the football memorabilia, left over beer cans and fast food wrappers which clung together as piles of clutter forming the landscape of the floor, this polished piece of refined furniture was jarring, almost comical in it context.
Hesitantly walking over, Daniel ran his fingers along the smooth top of the lid which concealed the ivory beneath. The smell of wood and varnish brought back memories of another life, another time; a time he’d been whole and happy. His eyes prickled with tears. He wiped them away roughly with the back of his hand, not wanting to give ammunition for his father to use later.
It was so predictable yet still utterly deflating every time his dad went on the tirade about what things young men should be interested in and what things were just wrong. ‘You’re the captain of the footy team, not some Nancy-boy performer’. Daniel recalled the drunken rant from many months earlier which had been preceded by a discussion of application forms and possible college choices for the coming year.
‘Oh crap, what is Dad going to say?!’ Daniel felt his heart beat accelerate as adrenaline began to surge through is blood stream. ‘How the hell am I going to explain this?!’
The turning of a key in a lock indicating that it wasn’t going to take long to figure that one out. His father’s heavy work boots clomped down the hallway, like the sound of impending doom. The call of a casual greeting was muffled by the blood pulsing through Daniel’s ears. His eyes fixed to the living room opening. Watching his father’s eyes widen as he took in the scene, Daniel felt his stomach clench. A suffocating weight like the 200 pound defender from last week game, pushed down on his chest.
‘I didn’t do it! The delivery guy must have made a mistake!’ Daniels mind shouted, but when he opened his mouth to talk to try to explain it was dry and no sound came out. His tough stuck limply to the bottom of his jaw. He opened and closed his lips mutely.
A smile stretched across his father’s wide eyed expression, softening his features. “So, it finally arrived!”
A final thought:
On reflection, looking back over my journey having been involved in a local writer’s group, I can see such a tremendous value in getting together with other writer’s - not only as a creative outlet but also as a means of discussing our pieces. We do some research to work on areas of need from within the group, sharing, prompting and refining our craft.
Further information can be found in the following articles:
Melissa Donovan’s ‘Emotion Charged Creative Writing Prompts’
Melissa Donovan’s ‘Writing Tips: Show, Don’t Tell’
Robb Grindstaff’s ‘Bringing your fiction to life with emotion’
The day has come when I felt like giving up on my writing. When I thought, will my writing ever, ever, be good enough to be accepted by a traditional publisher? What’s the point of the hard work I'm putting in?
I felt like a hollow tree. Burnt out. Nothing left. I think that I may have a case of the S.A.D’s. (Seasonal Affective Disorder). The weather is affecting my mood. It’s grey and gloomy and freezing cold. (To top it off, my body is complaining and my legs don’t want to work properly. I feel like I'm trying to move blocks of concrete with each step. I’m sore and achy. Jolly Fibromyalgia!)
The Little Voice
Ummm. When did this mopey feeling start? Last week it just started creeping up on me. A little voice whispering softly in my ear, “You have worked and worked and you have nothing to show. Not even a nibble.”
To that voice I said, “Well the publisher that assessed two of my stories at the Meet the Publishers Conference likes my writing. She says it’s lovely. My stories were not suitable for their imprint. (She didn’t say that to me. I just assumed so.) And she asked for two of my other manuscripts to look at. And all the kids at the school liked all my stories. They are the ones that count.”
Then the little voice says, “So what! They are not the ones publishing it. So they don’t matter.”
To The Voice I agreed…briefly. Until I reminded myself of the reason why I write. It is for the kids. Check out why I write here.
Last week I celebrated my 42nd birthday. My daughter gave me three picture books (pictured above). One funny, one scary, and one where the stories and illustrations made me all teary, they were so beautiful.
Then the doubt started to set in. The little voice was back. “See. Look at these stories. You’ll never write like that.” I agreed. It’s not my style, though I would love to evoke some emotion with my stories.
So I didn’t bother working on my novel, nor my blog. I felt like I just wanted to fade out of existence. In six months time, no one would remember me. Out loud, I used my birthday week as an excuse to take the week off. Ahhh! I felt like I was getting sucked into the “Vortex of Doom.”
I had decided this year to enter some of my stories into big competitions that offered feedback , even if you didn’t place. I did this so that I can improve my storytelling and make my stories as good as they can be. On Monday morning I got my results back for one of my stories from one of the competitions that I had entered. 68/100! I saw mostly 3’s. Average. The Voice was back. “See! You’ll never stand up out of the slush pile. You’ll never be good enough.”
But, as I write this, I have decided to fight back. I need to focus on every tiny scrap of positive feedback and cultivate an attitude of gratitude. I went back to the feedback sheet and counted up my scores. The scoring was as follows: 1. Needs work; 2; 3. Average; 4; 5. Above average. I got: nine 3’s, nine 4’s and one 5. Looking at it like that, I felt a lot better. And, they told me what I needed to work on.
I realised I should not focus so much on the negative. Don’t get me wrong. Even the negative feedback can be helpful. It can help show where I need to improve. So this is what I am now reminding myself of.
My writing is getting better and better all the time. I have written a number of stories. Some good. Some not so good. But each one helps me get to the next stage in my writing. No writing is wasted, not even writing this blog post.
Here is some feedback that I received from competitions and publishers that I need to keep in mind:
Giving myself space and focusing on the good stuff
I’ve given myself some space just to be. I read some great books and enjoyed my birthday week. I hung out with family and friends. I am choosing to focus on the good stuff. And getting stuck back into what I love doing - writing fun, quirky kids tales, and blogging. I also re-started my exercise program which I cut out about three weeks ago. I used all sorts of excuses. It's too cold. My muscles and tendons will probably tear again. (Don't laugh. It happens semi-regularly, especially in the cold.) Isn't it curious how I started feeling lousy shortly after I stopped exercising?
Tips for moving forward:
An interesting fact
An interesting fact that happens with some burnt out trees – some continue to grow and shoot out new leaves. And that’s what I’m going to do. Shoot out something new. A new story. A new idea. A new blog post. Hmmm. I may even contemplate moving to a warmer, sunnier climate. In the meantime, I will look forward to sunnier, warmer weather that will be coming in the next few weeks. Yay! Bring it on!
Have a good day.
Kirsten over at She’s Novel, has written a great blog post, 'Writing when depressed.' She describes her battle with depression, and what she does to move through to the other side of her lows.
I found out that, in the competition that I mentioned, I was among the highest scoring. It just goes to show, it is all about perception. Often, the hardest time is just before a break through.
This has reminded me of an analogy that I once heard. Life goals can be bit like pumping the old water pumps. You would pump and pump and pump. And just as you think that it getting too hard, and you couldn't possibly pump any more - the water would come gushing out.
Never give up!
On my blog you will find:
You can find more about me, and read my children's stories at Creative Kids Tales
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