Author: Alice Valdal (Page 1 of 30)

Christmas Short Story

Christmas seemed a long way off in November, now it is rushing forward at breakneck speed. So, I’ve been working on my annual short story. After numerous re-writes, I thought I had the text ready to publish. My friend had told me about using the reading tool on microsoft so I thought I’d do one last check using that. I found one typo and one repeat word but listening to my words read by a computer voice was . . . an experience.

For some reason, the computer voice did not recognize the name of my heroine — even though a google search showed it does exist. The word the computer used was totally mangled. For those who may have received the story, the heroine’s name is Riona, pronounced ree-owe-na. ūüôā

I live in Canada and have always referred to my mother’s mother as grandma. Pronounced grand-ma. The computer must have been programmed in the southern States because it pronounced my grandparent as grand-maw. I had a hard time picturing the woman I’d written about sipping tea from a china cup with “maw” at the end of her name.

Usually, I do a final proof by reading the work aloud, myself, but that can put a strain on the voice and I’ve got a cough, so the computer option seemed like a good idea. It certainly speeded up the process, and reminded me that readers will come from different regions and different backgrounds.¬†

I’ve had a trying day arguing with various templates on the computer, but my story is now written, edited, and published in my newsletter. If you want to read it, please join my newsletter¬† ¬†here.¬†¬†

If you are frantically working on Christmas projects, take time to savour the moment. You’ve still got seventeen days. Put some carols on your sound system, bite into a piece of shortbread, and remember the reason for Christmas.

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Remembrance Resource

Although we are now heading into the Christmas season, I want to share a resource I came across as part of our Remembrance Day activities.

Our local newspaper does an excellent job of connecting readers with the actual people who went to war. For one thing they run a “remembrance” page where families can commemorate their loved ones. One item clutches at my heart strings–a family of seven, four brothers to WWI and three more to WWII. On first glance I thought the family was lucky since only one brother was killed in action. On a closer reading I found that the surviving brothers of WWI were all invalided out. One suffered shell-shock (we call that PTSD now) for the rest of his life.

However, the newspaper cannot tell all the stories, there are too many. Into the breech has come Vancouver Island University with its “Letters Home” project. The university has collected letters written by soldiers away from home and sent to their families. In November, copies of those letters are delivered to the current occupant of the house at that address.

The recipients are surprized to to receive a letter written from the trenches a hundred or more years ago, but most are touched by the message, and reflect on the young man (only men were in combat at that time) who left home and family in the cause of justice and freedom.

What makes this project unique and wonderful is the fact the letters are not held in a museum. Rather they are digitized and then returned to the family that owns them. Thus Canadians can read the real life experiences of our soldiers without depriving the families of a precious artifact.

So far the university has digitized 30000 letters and thousands of photographs. The database is searchable and available to the public for free. It can be found at canadianletters.ca.

I took a quick look and was immediately drawn into a story. The first letter on the landing page was from a young man wondering why Marjorie hadn’t written. I wanted to jump back in time and give Marjorie a stern lecture. Then I wondered if Marjorie had become ill or maybe died herself and no one had the heart to tell her soldier-beau. Or maybe Marjorie had written but the letters were intercepted. Of perhaps . . .

Look at the story possibilities that jumped to mind after reading only a few paragraphs. For writers of fiction, this database is a treasury of ideas. For people living in a former soldier’s home, they are a window to the history of the house. For citizens who weep for the lives lost, the dreams unfulfilled, and the heartbreak of millions, the letters are a way to honour our brave men and women who sacrificed so much that we might live in peace.

On this day of American Thanksgiving celebrations let us give thanks to our veterans for their service.

 

 

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Avoid the Second Night Blahs

At one time of my life I was involved with amateur theatre. I loved it. Rehearsals were a blast. Meeting the cast, who became your family for the run of the show. Costumes, make-up, staging– it kept me coming back year after year. Opening nights were the best. The air buzzed with excitement. Players vibrated with nerves and anticipation. The energy backstage could have powered the stage lights. When the curtain went up, we reached out to that audience with both hands, determined to shake them out of their seats and send them home amazed by the talent right there in their home town.

The second night, meh. . .¬† The actors were exhausted from the effort they’d put into opening night. We had to work at putting energy into the performance. Second night audiences always seemed uninvolved. Even though the show might be technically more polished than opening night, it usually felt flat to the cast. We just hoped the audience wouldn’t notice how hard we were trying.

The book I just finished, felt a bit like second night at the theatre to me. It wasn’t wrong, it just wasn’t right. If this had been the author’s second book, I’d have put its shortcomings down to time pressure — an editor or agent demanding a new book in a few months whereas the first one took a year or maybe years.¬† But this was the third book. What happened? How can we avoid this let down in our own writing?

I’ve just finished reading a book I anticipated with joy. Unfortunately, the actual book disappointed. I’d read two of the author’s previous books with pleasure. The latest had the same WWII, England setting. The main characters were a group of women, just like in the earlier books, yet this one relied on too many co-incidences, too many unmotivated changes of heart, and too easy resolutions to the conflict.¬†

          Have a Big Idea   

¬†Sometimes, with the pressure to produce a new work in less than your comfortable timeline, an author may jump at the first idea that presents itself. If it’s a small idea it may work for a short story, but won’t be enough to carry a whole novel. Even if you are a pantser, try to jot down a few turning points to be sure your idea will carry a whole book.

         Do You Have a Passion for this Book?                   

¬†That first book, was likely a story that had been brewing in your imagination for some time. You just had to write it. You were in love with the characters. The setting was a place you knew well, whether real or fictional. You couldn’t wait to spend time in that place with those people.If you are now writing on command from reader or publisher expectations, you may be creating a less interesting place with one dimensional characters. Even if you are under pressure, make sure the story you tell is one you love.

          The Editor on Your Shoulder

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could “un-know” much of what we’ve learned as we wrote those first words? In blissful ignorance, we plunged right in and let the characters tell the story any way they wished. We didn’t worry about head-hopping, or point-of-view, or beats, or three-act structure. Now, all of those writing crafts are important. Learning them and using them in your own process will improve the quality of your book in second and third drafts. But all that stuff can clutter up your brain in the rough draft. Replace that nagging editor with a bluebird of happiness — one who chirps “great line”, “too funny,” “I’m crying.” That’s the voice you want to listen to when getting the story onto the page. When you’re ready to edit and revise, set the bluebird free and let the nagging editor do her job. Just don’t let her try to edit the blank page.

Remember the Rules of the Craft

After years of writing and a bunch of manuscripts, it’s possible to go on automatic pilot. That may have been what disappointed me in the book I just read. First rule, we need conflict and it has to matter.

In this book, the conflicts were real and important, yet they were easily resolved with a single conversation, or even a character just having a change of heart for no particular reason.

Character development.¬†In this example, the characters had a sameness to them although they came from very different backgrounds. There wasn’t enough difference in their speech or in their inner dialogue to make them stand out. And they were all “nice.” We all want nice people in our real lives, but in fiction they are bland and boring.¬†

Go Deep on POV.¬†¬†It seemed to me that this author had given us an outline of her story rather than the finished product. She set up intriguing situations but only scratched the surface of the characters and the¬† conflicts. Even the setting was given a mere glance. Rationing, food shortages, enemy bombers, black marketers . . . these are all riveting elements for a novel, yet I was never really afraid, or hungry. Mostly I was disappointed. An author that I know can write a gripping tale, had short-changed me on this one. I don’t know why. I just know I’ll think twice before putting down money for another of her books.

And that is the real lesson for authors in this experience. It is a truism that you are only as good as your last book. Don’t kill your career by putting out something that is less than your best.

 

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Write of Hope

Planting seeds=faith and hope

I missed posting last week’s blog because COVID hit our house at Thanksgiving. Taking on all the household chores and tending a person in isolation takes a lot of time. On top of that, I caught a cold. It was just a cold. I tested on day one, day three and day five. All came out negative for Covid, but a rotten cold can wreck havoc with a schedule too.

By mid-week, I was well enough to go to book club. We read The Rosie Project and everyone had a good laugh. In my book club, good conversation and lots of laughter signal a successful meeting. We’re not big on literary critique.

However, at the end of the meeting talk turned to the local election, the war in the Ukraine, protests in Iran, climate change, destruction of the oceans, drought, floods, violence on the streets, crisis in health care, to name only a few of our cheerful topics.

Then we reviewed our book list and nearly everyone agreed that they only wanted to read uplifting, hopeful stories for the time being. Tales that take us into places of darkness and disaster and despair are too hard to take, given the situation in the world today. We’ve read them before and we’ll read them again, but not right now. Right now we need to hear hope, we need to see light and we need to live in a world of possibilities.

So to all you authors who write about love and family and home and faith, thank you. Even if others tell you to write “real” books, don’t be dissuaded or discouraged. The stories you (we) write that show right triumphant over wrong, love beating hate, and happily-ever-after winning over despair are the message many need to hear.¬†

By Providence, I received a devotional in my morning mail the next day, based on .¬† Hebrews 11: 1 ¬†Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.¬† The letter was written over 2000 years ago to a despairing, persecuted people, a reminder that the evidence of our eyes — the sight of evil, poverty, greed, hatred — are not the only reality. We need not be overwhelmed. We can live in hope.

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6 Sources of External Conflict

I went to an all-candidates meeting in my municipality last week. We have 13 candidates vying for 6 council positions, plus 3 candidates for mayor.¬† I always vote and I want my vote to be as informed as possible. The meeting was jam-packed and it became clear early on that housing density vs green space was a hot button issue. It made me think of a workshop I went to years ago where the presenter suggested we create the “village” and let the conflict flow from there. It seemed an odd idea to me, but by the time her presentation was finished, I saw the merit in starting with the place.

I tend to start my stories with an idea of the characters and then wrestle with the conflict. The old saw, “she’s a pyromaniac and he’s a firefighter” was my starting point.¬† Using the “village” idea, and my recent encounter with grass roots politics, it’s easy to see how real life events can create conflict.¬† So much of public life comes down to “us” vs “them.” Here are some examples.

  1. Owners vs renters. In a story this could create conflict between a landlord and a tenant. 
  2. Preservationist vs developers. This trope is so prevalent in romance fiction it is almost cliché. Still, in the hands of a skilled writer this universal concept can be made fresh. 
  3. Rural vs urban.  My community is currently rated rural/rural residential, but there is enormous pressure to urbanize.  This friction brings in the question of farming vs housing.  Generally, everyone is in favour of farmers, but most people want to save money on the grocery bill.  So, do we really support farmers? Which brings us to the next conflict . . .
  4. Environmental protection vs commercial interests. When does a neighbourhood coffee shop become the villain? Does one commercial activity inevitably lead to more and is that good or bad? In a story, the owner of a heritage home operates an Airbnb in order to save the heritage home. She opens a cafe in the original dining room.¬† Can’t you see the conflict growing out of that scenario? Which side of the equation is she on? Who opposes her? Why?
  5. Young vs old. YA authors often use the generation gap in a family as a source of conflict but it can also be an issue in the larger community. At the meeting I attended there were distinct hints of resentment from younger families wanting to buy houses against older folks who already owned them. Is the older homeowner being greedy or is he just living in the family home his parents built years ago?
  6. Taxes vs Services. This division was very evident in the meeting I attended. Everyone wants lower taxes and many want more services. You can’t have both. What is the trade off? Do you pay for expertise or rely on volunteers?

These are only a few ideas that tickled my brain as a result of the all candidates meeting. A good story won’t rely entirely on external conflict. The author will build in internal conflict and emotional challenges as well. Still, the external, the “village” may be a good place to start the story.

Oh yeah, if there are elections happening in your area, vote! The ballot is the greatest tool in a democracy. Make it count.

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5 Reasons Your Book Should Sing

Over the summer I reread¬† Georgette Heyer’s Sylvester.¬†¬†I have all her romances on my keeper shelf, but I’d forgotten this one, so it was like reading it for the first time. What a treat! When I finished it,¬† I picked up New Girl in Little Cove by Damhnait Monaghan. This book is set in modern day Newfoundland. I felt as though I’d switched the soundtrack from Mozart to Great Big Sea.

That got me to thinking about the music I might associate with my own books. For the Prospect Series, Gord Lightfoot’s Canadian Railroad Trilogy was an obvious choice. It combines the excitement of opening up a new land with the hardships that come with the adventure. The fact the song has three parts plays well into my storylines as well.

I’m currently working on a short read with an older couple. I don’t have a particular song in mind, but I’m thinking of a community dance. I went to many of those in my younger years. The music ranged from waltzes to square dances to The Twist — the music wasn’t the most important thing–it was who chose you for a partner! And yes, in those days the boys did the choosing and the girls did the hoping. With that image of the town Odd Fellows¬†Hall and the homegrown band in my ears, I can stay in the story world more easily.

I tried out my idea on my author friend in Australia and learned that she had specific songs in mind when writing her books too. “Yes my books do have theme songs‚Ķ although not always logical. Evil in Emerald was ‚ÄėCat Like Tread‚Äô from Pirates of Penzance, The Postmistress was ‚ÄėPeter Hollens Shenandoah‚Äô and The Gold Miner‚Äôs Sister was ‚ÄėShallow‚Äô from the latest Star is Born movie. The oddest was probably ‚ÄėArms‚Äô by Christina Perri which was the theme for Gather the Bones.

So, why have a soundtrack for your story?

  1. Tone¬† The soundtrack playing in your mind will keep the tone of your writing consistent. The English language is rich and varied. Authors have many choices for the “right” word. A song can help make those choices better. Is your book a stately gavotte or a rollicking sea shanty?
  2. Mood¬† Even though stories move through light and dark times, a book can be strengthened if there is a consistent mood. War stories carry that hint of danger even when we aren’t on the battlefield. Children’s books are full of wonder, regardless of the actual scene. When the reader puts down the book, what do you want her mood to be?
  3. Setting¬† I am an author who views setting as a “character” in a story.¬† The mountains in my Prospect books, for example, played a role in the heroines’ reflective scenes. Those towering peaks gave strength and courage to Lottie and Emma and Louisa.
  4. Inspiration¬† “What happens next?” is a constant question before a writer.¬† The lyrics or the music of your soundtrack can provide some ideas. Country and western songs are legendary for telling a complete story from joy to heartbreak in only a few lines.¬† Tammy Wynette’s¬† ¬†Stand by your man, give him two arms to cling to
    And something warm to come to/When nights are cold and lonely.–might provide the nudge to take your story down a different path.
  5. Fun¬† Sitting at a keyboard or holding a pen over a lined notepad, can get lonely and dreary.¬† We all start this journey because we want to tell a story, we love words, we want to send our ideas into the world. That’s the part that makes us want to write. But the process from idea to finished work can be a slog. The soundtrack playing in our heads can remind us to have fun. Maybe we could all “Whistle While You Work.”

What about you? As a reader do you hear music in a book? As a writer do you consciously choose a soundtrack to accompany your story?

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My Summer Vacation

¬† ¬† In my part of the world, school starts this week. Even though I’m long past school age, at this time of year I still get the urge to purchase a clean note-book and a sharp pencil with a fresh eraser. Another back to school ritual is the “how I spent my summer vacation” essay. I think teachers used that topic in the first week to give themselves time to organize the classroom and memorize the students’ names. Anyway, here’s my essay.

¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†First, I took a break from writing this blog. I don’t cope well with hot weather and we had lots of hot days this summer. The weeds flourished, but the garden suffered from a cold, wet spring. Even plants that grew well failed to produce much fruit as the bees were missing at the vital time. For years we’ve been hearing about the loss of honey bees and how that effected the honey producers. This year, every gardener in my neighbourhood witnessed the effects of no bees first hand.¬† I’m preparing for next spring by hunting for bird feathers on the beach. If it is too cold for bees at blossom time, I’ll use the feather for a little human-assisted pollination.¬†

The lovely Jennie Crusie hosts a blog called Argh Ink One day a week she asks the question, “What made you happy this week?” I love reading the answers. Happiness, it seems, comes in many different forms. For me, happiness is good friends. So I’ve spent a good part of vacation time re-connecting with friends finally coming out of COVID protection. I know the virus is still out there and poised to whack the world again, but we’ve all been lonely these past few years so I’m hoping the endorphins released by laughter, along with all my vaccines and boosters, will help my immune system win the battle. Plus, I’m staying off cruise ships. I know a lot of healthy people who went on a cruise and came home with COVID.

    Over the Labour Day weekend, I had triple happiness as I was able to combine my garden, friendship, and nostalgia with a trip to our annual Fall Fair.  The photo at left shows my ribbon haul. I consider it a win if I get ribbons on at least 50% of my entries and enough prize money to cover my entry fees and my admission to the grounds. I declare success on all fronts this year.

   I reconnected with my farm roots as I walked among the horses and cows and chickens and sheep. (See photo at top.) Jeans and straw hats bring happy memories. Score one for nostalgia.

¬† ¬†Then,¬† I met my friend at the fair. We’ve been doing that for over twenty years. This¬† long friendship makes me happy. Our fair experience together is also a happy one. I give her produce from my garden, she makes jam and wins a prize. We’re in this together!

¬† ¬† Speaking of friends, my pen pal from the other side of the world is a “best seller” in Canada with the first book in her Guardians of the Crown series, By the Sword. So, I’m happy for her.

¬† ¬†So, the first day of school is over. I’ve written my essay. Tomorrow the real year begins.

  What did you do for your summer vacation? Did it make you happy? 

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A Beginning

The calendar reads July, summer, hot days, lazy days, vacation days, winding down days. January or September is the time for new things, days when the weather is sharp and clear, the garden is put to rest and a new term has begun. Yet, today I began work on two new projects. When the mood strikes . . .

First I organized a reading list for my book club. We won’t meet until September but many of us like to have the reading list in advance so we can get a head start. We’ll read nine books over the fall and winter. We take December, July and August off. The suggestion list is long and enticing. I had a hard time paring my choices to nine. Some I’ve read before, like The Dictionary of Lost Words. Much as I enjoyed that book and think it would make for a great discussion, I didn’t vote for it because there were so many other intriguing suggestions.

Ann Patchett is on the list and she’s one of my favourites so one of my votes went there. There’s a history of Victoria that I want to read even if it doesn’t make the final cut.¬† There’s a family saga that will go into my TBR pile, along with a romance, a couple of mysteries and a Canadian Classic, Fifth Business, by Robertson Davies. There is a book set in Japan, another written by a First Nations author and another set in Afghanistan.¬†

I’ve mentioned my book club before on this blog. We’ve been reading together since 2000, with the same core members. Of course, over twenty two years there have been some changes. We all started out as working women and now we’re all retired. We’ve seen each other through some major life changes, like big moves or the loss of a parent or a spouse. We’ve read nearly 200 books — everything from children’s literature to William Faulkner. Through the medium of books, we’ve gotten to know each other very well.¬†

The marquis at my local gas station reads “the best antique is an old friend.” Well, my book club is full of some genuine “antiques.”

The other new thing I’ve started is a contemporary story with a “seasoned” heroine. Since I usually write historical with twenty-something heroines, this is a whole new endeavour, but I’ve started it in July, so there must be something drawing me on.¬†

One of the advantages of growing older is that we become more secure in who we are. I’m hoping that attribute will be one of the main characteristics of my heroine. Instead of a girl/woman feeling her way into adulthood, I’ll write about a woman who knows her own mind. Who knows what she values in a partner, and knows the cost of love is often heartbreak.

I hope you are all enjoying the lazy, hazy days of summer. Unless you live in Australia, in which case I hope you enjoy the nip of frost in the air and a warm apple cider by the fire.

 

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How Old is Too Old?

Since my last post here, I have been the soloist at a wedding. What a treat! So many happy smiles. So many good wishes. So much love in the room. So many grandchildren in the wedding party.

Yes, I said grandchildren. The bride and groom at this wedding were both over 75.

In the romance world the shorthand for couples over thirty is “seasoned,” although I’m not sure a 30 year old has enough life experience to be considered “seasoned.”¬† I think the couples in these stories should be at least 50+ to qualify for the term. Then again, the older I get, the cut-off age for elderly gets younger!

I did a little research with authors who write older couples and found that editors used to get squirmy when the characters, especially the romantic heroine, was over 30. So all those, “second chance” books would be hard sells. Come to think of it, a major publisher used to put out a romance line called “second chance.” It folded. Perhaps the protagonists were considered too old by readers?

In my “Prospect” series, all of the heroines have had major life events before the story begins. Lottie, in The Man for Her, has loved and lost, and borne a child out of wedlock. Emma, in Her One and Only, has suffered a broken engagement, a scandal and her father’s death, before coming to Prospect, looking for a second chance. Louisa, in Her One True Love, has spent years caring for a tyrannical father before escaping to Prospect and a chance for a new life.¬†¬†

So all of my heroines are mature women even though I did not consider that I was writing “seasoned” romance. Still,¬† I consider the events before the books begin essential to the love stories that follow. Having been “seasoned” by life, these women have a deep appreciation of the gift of true love — perhaps a better appreciation than their more naive counterparts.

Many romance readers yearn for that first passionate love of a girl on the precipice of womanhood. That is a magical moment, and one worth celebrating. No wonder readers devour those stories. But, could love be “sweeter, the second time around?”

Years ago I sang at another wedding and couldn’t hold back the tears as I looked at the¬† youthful faces of the bride and groom. I knew the years ahead would have some hard days, and I feared their love would be tested.

But as I looked at the love beaming from the grandmother’s face at last month’s wedding, I couldn’t keep the smile off my own face.

Love, at any age, priceless.

What do you think, dear reader? Do you want romances about first love or are you willing to read about the second time around? What is the ideal age for your romantic heroine?

Voice your preference in the comment section below.

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7 Wonders


doing homeworkA schoolgirl, when asked to name the seven wonders of the world, skipped the pyramids and the Taj Mahal and came up with this list.  The seven wonders of the world are:
1. to see
2. to hear
3. to touch
4. to taste
5. to feel
                                                                  6. to laugh
                                                                   7. and to love.

The child may have failed her social studies exam but she nailed it for fiction writers. 

These days much of the author world is is focused on marketing,¬† Do ads work? Do we know an influencer? Can we find a niche? What’s the ROI on a publicity campaign? Should I buy space on a highway billboard?

With all these business questions hovering about our writing, we sometimes forget about craft. But craft is paramount. Without it, marketing is selling an empty promise.  

So, let’s take a little time today to think about the art of writing as opposed to the science of selling.¬†

One of the first “rules” a newbie author encounters is “use the five senses” — the first five wonders in our schoolgirl’s list. I notice she left off smell and that’s a really important one. Scent conjures up emotions and memories faster than any of the other senses.

But the senses alone aren’t enough for fiction.¬†

I’m reading a travel book just now . Here’s a description of town of St. Ives. “From the station we walk a jagged route along beach and cobble streets into town. A maypole dance is taking place just off the foreshore,¬† . . . Children skip and weave ribbons in a twisting rainbow.”

This passage uses the sense of sight but it misses out on feeling, laughing and loving. While colourful exposition is fine for a travel book, it is too shallow for good fiction.

By contrast, consider “The peaceful sea sighed as it lapped gently onto the white sand. . .” A.M. Stuart, Evil in Emerald.¬†

In the St. Ives example, we are observers only. We see the children skip, we see the jagged route, but we are indifferent. The second example adds feeling to the senses. Sighed and lapped are evocative words that draw the reader into the mood of the story. We expect romance — or mayhem, but we are no longer mere observers. We are participants.

**

“The Marsh stretched before them, smiling and lush in the September sunshine, yet with a suggestion of eery loneliness, about it. . .¬† ” Georgette Heyer, The Unknown Ajax.¬†Even though Heyer is known for her light touch and sense of the ridiculous, this example shows her skill at conjuring a dark mood, in the midst of sunshine.¬†

**

“Intense wind picks up – fifty miles-per-hour gusting to sixty. Tide’s out, fishing boats and dories askew in the bay.” Here the travel book tells me the author is experiencing rough weather. But, although he may feel the wind, the reader doesn’t. We merely observe.

“My house stands at the edge of the earth. Together, the house and I have held strong against the churning tides of Fundy. Two sisters, stubborn in our bones.”¬† Ami McKay, the birthhouse. Ms McKay gives only a minimal description, “churning tides,” but the reader is drawn into the battle to survive on the edge of a heaving ocean.¬†

**

“A man sitting in a chair in the sun, reading a paper, and three children kicking a ball about. A dog jumping around the children and barking. The scene before her was so ordinary after what she had just¬† been though that she almost laughed in disbelief. ” Tracy Chevalier, A Single Thread

Can you identify with the terror of the heroine in this example? We see and hear a pleasant scene, yet the last line draws us into the emotion of the moment. This is more than a travelogue.

**

“She watched as [they] strolled across the village green. At first she thought they were going to the bistro for a nightcap, but then they veered to the right. To the light of Clara’s cottage.

And Reine -Marie heard them knock on her door. A soft, soft, insistent knocking. . .” Louise Penny, The Long Way Home.

Note how the word choice entices the reader into the drama. “veered” instead of “turned”, knocking that is “soft” yet “insistent.” There should be a great distance between the reader and the story at this point. We are watchers observing a watcher, and yet we sense the danger/intrigue/menace/heartache of the unfolding events.

**

“A glaring sun bore down on the small mining town . . . bleaching the colour from the landscape and sapping the strength of its citizens.” Alice Valdal, The Man for Her.¬†¬†In this opening sentence I’ve set an ominous mood with oppressive heat and listless citizens. The reader not only observes the street, she feels sweat under her collar.

**

“[The dog’s] head would rise like a periscope and he would slide over the edge of his basket and work his way into the bedroom, keeping low to the ground, as if he were hunting. He would stop a foot short of the bed and cock an ear and listen . . . his nose only six inches away.” Stuart McLean, “Arthur”

Laughter, the sixth wonder. No reader can be disengaged from a story that makes her laugh. Shakespeare knew this. Even in his most heart-rending tragedies, he included scenes of comic relief. An audience, or a reader, needs release from tension. Put a little laughter in your story. Your readers will thank you for it.

**

“In her dreams Evelyn would always return to a pristine white beach where the sand felt soft between her toes and Henry’s hand was warm in her.” Joanna Nell, The Last Voyage of Mrs. Henry Parker.¬† Here we have the seventh and greatest wonder of them all, love.

**

In science class we are taught that the five senses are sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste. As writer’s we should include the school girl’s wonders, feeling, laughter and love.

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