Poe’s secret for inspiration is used by many writers today.
Poe scanned headlines, read newspaper stories, and gleaned ideas from the oddities. His story Berenice is about a man who digs up his dead wife and takes her teeth. This is reportedly inspired by newstories of grave robbers, some of which left the body and took the teeth. Another story reportedly inspired by a news report was the Facts in the Case of Valdemar. At the time, there were reports of people who could speak to the dead; there were other stories of ways to prolong life. Poe, it seems, blended these and created a story in which Valdemar “survives” and “speaks” beyond his natural life. This short fiction was thought to be real. People believed it!
Inspiration, for me, has come from the odd news story. A human interest story in which a homeless man was selling stories on a New York street, inspired me to write $1.00 Stories.
Another story flickered to life when someone posted a handful of gold teeth and said she’d inherited them. How does someone come into the possession of teeth, not their own, and why would they will them to a family member? Hence, The Gold Tooth springs to life from my suspicious mind!
Scan the newspaper, and let your mind wander. We’re writers; we have the desire to understand, explain, and create.
I use first person narrator in many of my stories. I find the level of intimacy I can connect with in the character makes the experience feel more authentic.
I also enjoy the unreliability of the first person narrator. Although I don’t intend to make my main characters questionable, all first person accounts must be met with skepticism.
There’s one possible downside to the first person narrator and I’m certain many writers have experienced the fan who believes they understand the author based on a story which utilized the “I”.
One reader contacted me convinced Dad Shining was about me. “This is a true story, I bet!” He wrote.
This is complimentary in the fact that the story must have been realistic enough for this reader to believe and enjoy it.
However, Dad Shining (originally published in The Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal) is written from a male point of view experiencing a life event incomparable to what a woman could experience.
There’s not much a writer can do about being mistaken for their narrator except to gently correct the reader without offending them or merely thank them. I said, “thank you for reading.”
My main character in West End is a young woman, and I did use an area close to where I grew up. A number of readers have attempted to call me out on that. One reader wrote, “I know most of this is you, except for the part of leaving the boy.” Another reader, convinced it was me believed I’d been married before and left them to change my name and start a new life incognito.
This did bother me to some extent; the woman in West End is in some ways stuck in life, and while that might be my fear, it is not me.
Still others found the first person narrator unreliable enough to question her sanity and ask me if she was seeing spirits. These questions I rather enjoyed. One character I had intended to be questionable, but when asked about another – I don’t want to say as I don’t want to ruin it for anyone! – I was blown away!
And that is the benefit and, perhaps, curse of first person narrator. The connection is so authentically intimate that you might convince readers it’s you; And you might just convince them the narrator is a little off her rocker!
There’s a theory that we don’t fear failure, we fear success.
A researcher gave graduating students an impromptu essay prompt: “After finding out Joe/Jane aced their medical exams for graduation, he/she …..”
It’s reported that the vast majority of students set up a scenario in which Joe or Jane went out and partied, got in some sort of trouble, an accident, arrested, or in some cases just gave up and “decided to do something else with their lives.”
The researchers decided this was not an indication of the fear of failure, because they’d set up a scenario in which the person(Joe/Jane) had already succeeded, yet the students then wrecked the plan. Therefore, they surmised it a fear of success.
This possible fear of success comes from anxiety, which is rampant in society today. People stay where they are comfortable, where they are familiar, and their habits serve them. Moving on to the next level, success, will bring about different challenges, and the fear of the unknown wins out.
It occurs to me that this happens to writers. People write, and write, and write, but then don’t submit. Is it really the rejection they fear? or is it the success? Think of all the anxiety that comes with the next level of publishing. You’ll be expected to do well, to do it again. And, what else might change?
What do you think? What do you fear?
Many people are confused by semicolons; some people just hate them.
Kurt Vonnegut hated them. Even Malcom Gladwell seems adverse to them. He said, he doesn’t see their point. So, Mr. Gladwell, this blog is dedicated to you.
I, personally, LOVE semicolons; it’s like I don’t have to stop my thought! However, some of my editors have asked me to cut them down. One editor-friend said, “they do not appear in popular fiction.”
BUT THEY SHOULD!
Whether you like, hate, are confused, or don’t give a damn about them, every writer should know how to use them correctly.
The secret to the semicolon is simple. Two complete sentences which are closely related in thought or idea. Other writers believe a comma and conjunction (fanboys) or a period is just as good, but I think of it this way:
Did this help anyone?
Do you go into a coma when someone starts talking about commas?
Don’t get bit by the deadly comma coma bug! Figure out how to make the comma work for you, not against you!
The purpose of all punctuation is to clarify your thoughts and ideas so readers can enjoy and understand the book!
Did you have a teacher that told you, “whenever you feel the need to pause, insert a comma”?
WORST ADVICE EVER!
When we are writing, we naturally pause to think. That is not necessarily where a comma needs to be.
Commas have a number of rules. My favorite site to use – and to introduce to my students – is the Owl at Purdue. Their comma usage explanations are clear and detailed.
One of my editor-friends believes the comma used for introductory words, phrases, and clauses is “going the way of the dinosaur.” While I agree that some people and publications seem to think so, I think it’s still a valid and needed use. [I’ve used introductory commas in this blog – one was in the previous sentence, “While I agree…]
The Fanboys rules is the easiest to remember; however, because of the number of teachers giving the pause advice, I get sentences that look like this:
The Rams won but, not everyone was happy.
We sometimes punctuate our speech this way for emphasis, but you can’t hear tone in these words, and it’s just wrong. < this sentence contains correct use of the fanboys rule.
My students often ask me to explain the whole “Oxford Comma” disagreement. Well, it goes like this: There are people who use the oxford comma and then there are monsters!
Commas are confusing, but they’re not impossible to learn. Any editor is going to appreciate the correct use of commas regardless of how much they appreciate or introductory comma. 🙂
Does your character like her/his marshmallows burned and why?
I love this – but it’s not mine.
I got this from Writer to Agent advice video from The AWP and Folio Literary Management.