Now that the calico cats have taken over my life, I thought I’d pass on a few writerly hints I’ve learned from them.
- Anything is a toy — a crunched up piece of tissue paper, a string, a dust bunny, your human’s fingers… That expensive invention from the pet store will have a short life. For writers this brings back the old adage of “write what you know.” It is tempting to think that travel to exotic places or rubbing shoulders with glamorous people would solve all our writing woes, but stories come from our imaginations. Exotic locales are only embellishments. Use the people and places around you to pepper your stories with “real life.” Even if you live in the dullest neighbourhood of the dullest city in the dullest country in the world, you know stuff. How about your busybody uncle? Take certain aspects of his character, exaggerate them and weave them into the mentor character in your story. Do you have a neighbour who obsesses over his lawn? That’s a gift to the story-teller
- Be curious. The world is an exciting place, observe, ask questions, reflect, rework, read widely. Spend an afternoon with a master quilter or a farrier or a dog walker. Recall some of your childhood dreams. Did you want to be a ballerina? Volunteer at your local dance school and learn the behind-the-scenes reality. You never know when those tidbits of information you pick up can add depth and interest to your stories.
- Pace yourself. Play hard then nap. For writers this is “Scene and Sequel.” Jack Bickham wrote a whole book on the topic but the essence of the concept is that scenes are full of action — stuff happens. Scenes are exciting, they move the plot they put the characters in dangerous places. Sequels happen after the scene. They are a time to catch your breath, think about what just happened and plan your response.
- Purr. Even a naughty cat can melt an owner’s heart with a full-throated purr. For writers this equates to playing well with other writers. Be kind. Be generous. Post a review when you can. Send your favourite author a fan letter or comment on her blog. Offer a critique. Sometimes it seems we labour in a vacuum. Offering encouragement makes you a nicer person. Readers want to know nice people.
- If you’re cute enough, It is a very cold heart indeed that can resist a cute kitten . For writers this means packing your work with sparkling prose, memorable characters and unexpected twists. Good grammar alone won’t save a poor story, but if your words are engaging readers will be more willing to suspend disbelief and accept the, perhaps, preposterous scenario you’ve presented. I know I’ve thought, “that can’t ever happen,” yet read to the end of the book because I enjoyed the conversation I was having with the author.
- Life’s an adventure — enjoy the ride.
Now, the calico cat just hid my pen. I’m off to discover the world under my desk.