Posted in Craft of writing, Travel Writing, Writing

Drafting a Scene for my Novel

STEPPING A CHARACTER 

As writers we are always looking for ways to write faster, more focused, and more detailed. I recently attended a workshop where I learned the craft of stepping a character from Nancy Masters. This prepares me to write a scene for the novel I’m writing set in India, which gives me focus and details, and in turns helps me write faster. Let me share in this post my process of stepping a character, then drafting the scene.

Next week I will share the suggestions I receive from my writing group and revisions I make as a result of their recommendations.

THE PROCESS OF STEPPING A CHARACTER 

  • Three things the reader see when approaching the scene, in this case the street: an open-air merchant, storefronts, animals
  • Three things the main character is wearing: hat, boots, and kerchief
  • Three things she is carrying: her brother Will’s compass, a pouch of rupees, and a hat
  • Three things she sees in route
  1. People = pilgrim pulling on silver hookah, pauper with leather amulet pouch, priest teaching scripture, merchants (tobacco, sweetmeats, and horse traders)
  2. Languages on store fronts = Hindustani, Hindi, Urdu
  3. Styles of smoking = hookah, snuff gourds, snuff pouches
  • Three things she says or comments on: I’m obviously a foreigner; a variety of smoking instruments; and different languages
  • Three smells experienced the streets: manure, sweat, rotten food, aroma from bong
  • A secret Fiona (main character) holds: wishes she were with her brother Will: and a secret Pastor John (secondary character) holds: hopes Fiona will consider being his wife before she leaves India

SCENE

Pastor John led the way out Ramita’s front garden, leaving the sweet smells of Ramita’s garden flowers. John opened the gate for her to the street and the offensive odors that would come. He stepped behind her and then to the street side of the path. When they spent time alone, John reminded her with his chivalry that he was courting her.

Usually awkward and uncertain about how to behave around this attentive man of God, Fiona attempted to make casual conversation. An innate curiosity helped. “I see different kinds of lettering above the shop doors. At first I thought them all the same, but with a few days of observing them, I think they are different languages.”

“You have a keen eye.” He points to a small sweetmeats shop front and said, “That is run by a Moslem. The lettering is Urdu, one of several major languages, not to mention all the distinct dialects spoken in India. Urdu is the language of Islam.”

Fiona tried the word on her tongue to see how it felt, “Ur-du. Right? That sounds silly.”

He pointed to a tobacco shop across the street and said, “Now see that smoke shop over there? That is run by a Hindu, because that lettering is Hindi. I learned in language school before getting to the city, that Hindustani is the mother language of Urdu and Hindi.

“Ironically though, Urdu is written from right to left; and Hindi, from left to right, like we write. Hindi takes many words and expressions from the Sanskrit and Urdu more from Persian.”

“It looks nothing like our alphabet. How many letters does it have?”

“Over thirty consonants and at least twenty vowels in Urdu. Then about twenty-eight consonants and thirty-five vowels in Hindi. Of course, then there are exceptions and combination of these, much like we have the “o-y” and the “o-i” sounds for joy and voice. The written script is different in the two tongues. But if you speak one, you understand the other when spoken.”

“Those things don’t make sense to me. They seem…”

“Incongruent?”

“Yes, even paradoxical. Do you speak either?”

“I studied Hindi, but can’t say I’m fluent; I stumble along if a native speaker is patient.”
Thtumblr_map8rtyFut1rqydf2ey stepped prudently around a Brahmin cow lazily chewing its cud and ignoring them at the top of the ghat, man-built stone steps from the upper street level down to the river on their left. The wide passageway with a stairway led to the Ganges or in this case the Hooghly, a diversion from the mother of all rivers in India.  Women washed clothes, locals and pilgrims bathed before prayer time, as always.

“I am so tall and so white; I feel such a foreigner, like a salad at a bake sale.”

Pardesi, Hindi for foreigner. Actually, there is no such thing as an Indian race here.”

Fiona cocked her head, puzzled. “But they are all dark skinned.”

“Yes, more than you and me, but the range of color is golden to mahogany to black. The Aryans are fair-skinned, more like us; while the Dravidians are Negroid typed.” He saw her perplexed face. “It is believed that Dravidians from the South invaded the North and then integrated, marrying lighter-skinned Aryans; all the while making a variety of skin tones.

“And those two strains of people have inter-married with Mongolians from north of India. When you take into account all these factors, you will see why Indian complexions vary widely.

“I suppose the tropical sun deepens the skin tone, as well.”

Fiona relaxed as she learned more about the infinite mixtures of people. Then she encountered an aroma that she had not smelled before. She asked, “What is that different scent from the other usual ones? I see men smoking pipes and dipping snuff from gourds or pouches, but this scent is unfamiliar.”

He pointed to an old gentleman pulling a long drag from an elaborate silver hookah. The device, elegant and expensive, sat in stark contrast to the man with tattered clothes and only an amulet pouch on his belt. The turbaned man, eyes closed, sucked on a tube from the instrument.Old_man_smoking_hookah,_near_Jaipur,_Rajasthan,_India[1]

John said, “That’s called a hookah or a smoking machine used for opium.”

Fiona still confounded said, “Hook-ah, you call it. What is opium, like tobacco?”

“Similar, but more potent. Historically it may have been used by priests and healers to produce effects that made them seem like men with special powers. Today it’s used by pilgrims and priests to attain a meditative state. He seems to be meditating. In addition to its prevailing use as anesthesia and a pain-killer, medicine uses it to treat respiratory and stomach ailments.”

“And this man here? Why do you think he is using it?”

“He might say he’s trying to get closer to God. I would say there is only one way to God. Through Jesus Christ. Prayer also helps.” He chuckled and then sobered.

Fiona fiddled with the compass in her pocket that she found after thinking she had lost it. The compass had been Will’s favorite gift ever from Uncle Louis. When he lay dying he left it with her to help her find her way in the world. He knew she might need it in India.

The compass reminded her how much she had wanted to make this trip with Will. It was not the same without him. His death left her vulnerable to the sailors aboard ship, alone to negotiate quarantine and the sale, as well as the changed arrangements in India. Not only had her circumstances change, so had Pastor John’s, due to his wife’s recent death. Instead of staying with the pastor’s family, she boarded with Ramita, which had turned a benefit. The compass provided the only certainty she had about anything right. North was always north – the compass said so.

YOUR TAKE ON THIS SCENE?

Though I did not use all the items I listed in the stepping the character process, you can see it gave me plenty of ideas to work into a scene. The scene in turn provides interesting details of time and place; as well as, cultural and historical information. It builds the rapport between the two characters through dialogue and actions they take toward each other. Practice this process to see if it is as helpful to you as it has been for me.

Let us know how it works for you. We can all learn from and with each other.

Posted in Craft of writing, Travel Writing, Writing

Writing dialogue using colorful, old sayings

Breakfast on the Porch this Morning

I recalled one of my current writing projects this morning. Our neighbor Niel (yes, that’s how he spells it) stopped by with his standard poodle Maggie on their walk while Lynn and I were having breakfast on the back porch.

As we discussed places we have lived before Lynn described to Niel that Madison, Wisconsin, the state’s capitol and home of the Badgers at the University of Wisconsin in the early 1980s was known as “ten-square miles surrounded by reality.”

Niel followed with his experience in Raleigh, North Carolina. “Raleigh was referred to as the pat of butter on top of a bowl of grits.”

Old sayings or saws are colorful and useful in dialogue of specific periods of time and with specific trades or types of people.

Why am I collecting old sayings?

I set the historical romance that I am writing in the year 1906, the year of the San Francisco earthquake. My protagonist, Fiona Weston, travels on ship from San Francisco to India to sell her uncle’s remaining nine broodmares to the British/Indian military to breed with the their Manipuri horse for selective polo ponies in cavalry training.

I am collecting sayings that might have been used during that era and particularly by horsemen, and sailors, or old salts, as they called themselves. When using familiar adages or maxims, they bring dialogue to life, make people sound natural, and offer clues to the setting or era in which the story is written without having to state them explicitly.

How can you help? 

I’m asking you to submit old saws (or sayings) that you think might be useful in delivering dynamic dialogue in the novel, true to the period and a seafaring crew.

EXAMPLES

My dad was a colorful and humorous storyteller. (I got the story writing from him, but the humorous part–not so much.) Here are example of my favorites I remember from him, because of the image they sear into the imagination.

  • Giving that speech, Mama was as nervous as a cow on skates. 
  • Miss Blixen barely took a breath between sentences; her mouth ran like a babbling brook. 
  • When Buddy was around a girl he could be as skittish as a cat in a room full of rockin’ chairs.

Here’s how you can help!

Please add one or two favorite old sayings of yours below in the comments section, especially one for sailors or seafaring crew members. I can’t wait to see what you come up with. I’m indebted to you.

Posted in Travel, Travel Writing, Writing

THE HERO’S JOURNEY – Preparation (Step #2)

Books on my desk checked out from the public library to prepare for my travels to Peru, include the following:

  1. Pizarro and the Conquest of the Incan Empire in World History, by Richard Worth, 2000.
    • I read this one cover to cover, but it was a short history book with 120 pages. I recognized the storyline from North American history – colonization, conquest, and capture. Same story, different names.
  2. Between the Lines: The Mystery of the Giant Ground Drawaing of Ancient Nasca, Peru by Anthony F. Aveni, 2000.
    • I read parts of this one, studied the photos and captions that told the story without details. At least I will know about Nasca when I get there.
  3. The Ice Maiden: Inca Mummies, Mountain Gods, and Sacred Sites in the Andes, by Johan Reinhard (National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence), 2005.
    • I had not heard of the Ice Maiden before and found the story fascinating, especially through the eyes and hands of an archeologist and explorer. With only a limited time, I skimmed this for the gist of the discovery and recovery of the Ice Maiden. Fascinating. I’ll be pulling this from the library shelves when I get back. Again, I’ll know what folks are talking about when they reference the Ice Maiden.
  4. Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time, by Mark Adams, 2011.
    • I never got to this one, but because I will not see Machu Picchu, I decided I could read it in the future.
  5. Genesis, first volume in Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire trilogy, 1982 in Spain and the translation copyright is 1985 by Cedric Belgrage.
    • A non-traditional book, it is “both a meditation on the clashes between the Old World and the New, and in the author’s words, an attempt to ‘rescue the kidnapped memory of all America’.” (from the back cover) Each entry was less than half a page typically and observational in retrospect. I hunted to find entries on Peru, so gave up quickly, because of time.

Often my preparation for a trip is to 1) read about the place (see the list of books above I checked out to review), 2) become familiar with a map of the city or region, 3) digest some cultural literature, and 4) purchase gifts for hosts and people along the way. I took these steps in preparation for visiting friends in Lima, Peru.

A refresher on the Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell introduced the world to The Hero’s Journey. He discovered similarities of what happened in stories, fables, and fairy tales after years of study. He called these similar steps The Hero’s Journey. There are many ways to explain this layered epic journey; one way is to outline five stages:

  • the call to journey;
  • preparation for the journey;
  • the path and encounter;
  • the return;
  • and finally reflection in telling the tale to others at home.

HERO is meant, not as a male model, but an inclusive, universal archetype.

Archetype = a classic prototype

(Months ago I blogged about The Call (Step #1). My blog went down and I did not follow-up right away.)

Now below, I continue the series on the Hero’s Journey, Part #2 The Preparation.

~~~~~

First step, I bought the ONLY travel book in my local Hastings on Peru. I read all the parts that would apply to my trip and some others of interest to me, so I could discuss these things while there and wouldn’t seem uninformed about their country. Next step, I studied the map of Lima to have a sense of the city before arriving. I tore out pages that referred to the city and packed them.

Third step, I bought a classic Peruvian novel by Mario Vargas Llosa, The Storyteller from our local library’s weekly used book sale. This would be more of a challenge than I thought. I completed the book while in Lima, but found reading a summary prior to tackling the book would have helped. I easily confused the two main characters. Latino literature is full of mysterious, symbolic or fantastical imagery, which further mangled my understanding. But when I learned that Latino writers often had to write in “code” or were shot of truth telling, it made more sense. That lesson alone taught me about the restrictive governments or military powers that long held sway in south American countries.

And the final step, I emailed Patricia with ideas I had thought of for Mariana’s confirmation gift. I asked Patricia, Mariana’s mom, to give me guidance so I could please her. Patricia sent me a picture of a pencil case Mariana wanted (item number and color) and could not get in Lima. It arrived the day before we left. Whew!

I travel with these items and carefully packed clothes for everyday and professional presentation attire that can be combined and worn interchangeably.  Our hosts advised us to bring warm clothes. We underestimated how warm, but would manage by borrowing jackets from Raul and Patricia.

In addition for our volunteer task, Lynn and I prepared a two-hour presentation on “Experiential Learning Beyond the Classroom.”  We selected a few PowerPoint visuals to guide the facilitation with faculty at Raul’s university where he works, Científica Universidad del Sur. We divided up parts according to our experience and knowledge base. We were ready.

We packed lightly for an easy trip from San Antonio to Mexico City to Lima. Though traveling far, we stayed within the same time zone, except the US was on daylight-savings time, making the time difference only one hour.

~~~~~

Now, I have illustrated how I use the the Call and the Preparation steps of the Hero’s Journey to get ready for a trip.

For travelers: Can you relate to either of these passages that ready us for a journey to either see the relatives across town, or a journey around the world to explore another culture? Will you share an example of either or both steps in the Hero’s Journey and how important they were to your travel?

For writers: Can you use the Hero’s Journey to write a memoir of a time in your life? Can you find ways to weave the Hero’s Journey into your fiction stories? How can you make use of the Hero’s Journey to enrich your writing?

LEAVE YOUR ANSWERS BELOW. I can’t wait to hear from you!

Next time–THE PATH OR ENCOUNTER (JOURNEY)

 

 

Posted in Spirituality, Travel, Travel Writing, Writing

Why and What I blog?

Let me introduce the blog and my intentions for writing it.

WHY?

I am blogging publicly instead of keeping a personal journal, because I believe I have ideas, past experience and current learning to share with you and others, on topics such as 1) travel, 2) practical and spiritual matters, and 3) the writing and publishing process.

WHAT AM I BLOGGING?

I hope to write about my travel experiences, general benefits of travel for all of us and how to make it easier. As a writer and professionally an educator, I expect to draft blog posts about the craft and process of writing. I plan to share some of my own writing (published and unpublished) with you over time, as well. As a Christian and spiritual seeker in the Quaker tradition, I won’t be able to NOT write about spiritual matters, even the practical side of spiritual things.

WHAT AM I WRITING?

Blogging gives me a chance to connect to people (young and old) around these topics, which leads to the introduction of my coming-of-age, travel and spiritual memoir entitled, At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away, published in 2014. The book tells the story of my life and travels from age 10 to 27, guided by a mother wise beyond her own experience; journeys provided by my church or because of my association with my church, including two mission projects (one, ten weeks; the other, an academic year of college); and the final trip abroad as an act of progressive independence as a young professional woman in graduate school. Each excursion offers growth and personal insight.

I’m currently writing an historical fiction of an early 1900s unconventional horsewoman who travels with her younger brother to India to sell horses. During her journey she loses her brother, encounters two men who help her discover more about herself, chooses one who will aid in her learning to live and love without regret.

HOW COME THE TITLE OF THE WEBSITE?

As a take-off from the title of my memoir, I felt like “Finding Ourselves at Home in the World” would be inclusive and inviting. I hope that works out to be accurate. I also view my protagonist in the historical fiction as finding her way in the world.

My taglines, Travel – Travel Writing – Writing, offer a quick description of what reader will find on my website and blog.

WHY DO I WRITE?

Both books reveal my interest and passion in young men and particularly young women growing up independent, strong, and resilient.

WHO SHOULD READ MY BLOG?

I believe many folk interested in travel will pursue this blog and it topics. I anticipate writers will be energized by travel writing and posts about the craft of writing and travel writing. I hope single women (college age through young 30s) will read my books to produce their own thought-provoking self-introspection. I believe young women (in their 30s and  40s) raising children will find food for thought about parenting to help their own offspring grow up ready to take their place in the world. And I suspect that many older women in their 50s, 60s and older will seek to reminisce about their own experiences of being who they are.