History and World Building by Lani Longshore

I’m reading The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck, who decided to outfit a covered wagon and revisit what is left of the Oregon Trail. He spends a couple of chapters talking about wagons. The Conestoga Wagon may be what most people remember from history class, but that wasn’t the wagon that went west. The Conestoga Wagon, which Buck compares with an 18-wheeler on our highways today, could carry eight tons of cargo and was used in the 1700s for agricultural transport. The wagon of the Oregon Trail was the prairie schooner, which Buck compares to modern minivans. It was so common as to be unremarkable, mentioned in histories and memoirs, but rarely documented on its own.

As a science fiction writer, I immediately thought of how my world-building could benefit from looking at what is so commonplace, so unremarkable, and yet so essential to the smooth running of my life. I’ve thought about the type of energy my aliens might use to power their dwellings, but never about what they might use in place of light switches. I’ve considered what my future humans will eat, but not about how it will get to their version of a grocery store.

Starting now, I will explore road surfaces, the nature of fences, and whether or not slippers survive to the 23rd century. Knowing what is available for my protagonist under ordinary circumstances will give me an opportunity to develop her character when she is deprived of these items, or perhaps be a plot twist all on its own, or even the basis for an entire novel. Waiting for “Sharing” function to be restored may not have the ring of Waiting for Godot, but it could make a hoot of a short story.

Stairway to Story: A writing prompt by Lani Longshore

Now that the weather is better, I find myself away from the computer more often. The writing projects lined up on my desk are gathering dust, metaphorically and literally. I wasn’t quite at the point of despair because the weather is beautiful, but the nagging voice in my head was getting louder. Then, on a trip to Sausalito, I noticed this alley.

Sausalito Alley by Lani Longshore

This isn’t the landscape I usually write about, but something about the light glinting off the lamp and the steep stairs caught my imagination. Since I write science fiction, there’s a better than average chance the lamp post turns into a creature bio-engineered to stand watch over city streets, but my heroine won’t realize this until she gets bitten for loitering.

It occurred to me that any writer could use vacation time to collect images for stories. While everyone else is taking pictures of food and family, you could snap a few dark corners for your mystery novel, odd leaves or flowers for your romance story, or architectural details for your gritty urban crime series. To get you started, use the photo of the alley as a writing prompt. Post your 25-word opening lines to a story or a chapter in the comment section of this blog. Who knows where those stairs could take you?

Submit your writing for publication and get paid! by Paula Chinick

Most writers have heard these words but then shrug them off. The hard part may be finding the right niche. Once found, you can earn an income.

Before you get too excited, at the start you probably will want to hold on to that day job. With your first assignment, however, you’ll have the satisfaction of being paid for your work, no long arduous commute (working from home), flexible hours, and the addition of freelance writer on your bio.

Opportunities are abundant from feature articles to greeting cards. You decide how much time and which different niches you are willing to take on. Whatever your interest, you can find online companies looking for writers and see their requirements and pay ranges. I recommend you research carefully to find a good fit.

I currently freelance for two high-end neighborhood magazines in Claremont and Santa Cruz, California, with the possibility of a third being developed. Once a month I receive an audio file and/or filled-out questionnaire from which I create feature articles. The requirement is to complete two to four articles (400-700 words each) in one week’s time.

I usually start with a question or fact about the subject that leads into the story. Just as in novel or short story, an arc is developed, as well as a character, the setting, and the proverbial show don’t tell. The biggest benefit in freelancing is it provides me the ability to write when my manuscript is in a downward spiral.

If earning more spendable income interests you, or you simply like to write, then I encourage you to check out freelance writing opportunities. It’s easy and all online.


Creating memorable characters with a go-to excuse by Lani Longshore

Over the years, I’ve read lots of books and articles about creating memorable characters. Early on, the advice focused on visualizing your character and considering how gender, height, weight, coloring, and recognizable facial markings could have affected that character’s life. Later, it became fashionable to think of fashion. What did it mean that your character wore high heels, low heels, no heels? Later still, the trend went to what your character always carries, or the one thing your character regretted losing. Good advice, all of it, but today I want to consider delving into the soul of your character. What is his or her go-to excuse to weasel out of trouble?

Try writing a scene where your protagonist is in trouble and desperate to find that get-out-of-jail-free-card. Envisioning the lies, truths, or combinations thereof that your protagonist tells will give you a good indication of whether you’re playing with a hero or anti-hero.

Now write a scene for the villain, but in this case try layering some honesty into the go-to excuse. What happens if another character, perhaps the protagonist’s best friend, recognizes some truth in the excuse being told? How will that affect the protagonist’s and side-kick’s approach to the next crisis?

Since problem-solving is at the heart of every story, it makes sense to discover how your characters will react in difficult situations sooner rather than later. Who knows, in the process you might even discover a few excuses you can trot out on that day you discover someone forgot to pay the electricity bill.

Writing Beyond the Ending by Lani Longshore

I just finished Lisa Cron’s Story Genius. It’s a fabulous book with some outstanding exercises, especially for finding the real starting point for your novel. I’ve started planning my next novel, exploring my characters, and collecting scenes that will help me find the right place to begin the story. My revelation for this blog, however, is about ending the story.

My critique groups all told me the ending to my next novel, The Chenille Ultimatum, was too abrupt. As much as I loathe the “and suddenly the crisis ended and they all lived happily ever after” style of denouements, I had to admit that I had done just that. Luckily, my co-author and I sat down to discuss the next book in the series, The Captain and Chenille, and it became clear that I could solve the problem with the ending to one book and give the plot to the next a big boost. What I needed to do was write beyond the end of Ultimatum and into the beginning (or at least the outline) of Captain.

The validity of this approach was confirmed when I showed my critique groups a new short story. As I wrote it, I thought of how it could be expanded into a novel. I wrote the short story as if I really intended to turn it into a novel. Suddenly my protagonist had more depth, her world had more breadth, and the solution to the problem posed in the first paragraph of the story became the seed of the problem that would be addressed in the novel.

Whether I get to that novel or not, I recognize the value of writing my endings as if the characters had another tomorrow.

Well-timed Writing by Lani Longshore

I am a writer, therefore I collect technique books. And articles. And notes on random scraps of paper. I’ll save anything that will help me get through a muddy plot or tame a misbehaving character. The problem I have isn’t a lack of information but the wrong timing. The most brilliant advice in the world won’t help a fig if I’m not in the right place to accept it.

I’m not talking about being receptive to criticism, although that can be an issue. When I’m in my “I am genius” mood, there’s just no talking to me. In this instance, I’m talking about being in the right place with the right project to incorporate good advice.

Case in point: writing prompts. I have pages of abandoned story ideas from writing prompts. The ideas weren’t abandoned because they didn’t have promise, but because they didn’t fit into my project at the time. Then TVW President Patricia Boyle gave us a writing prompt at the February 2017 meeting that fit my needs perfectly. I had been considering writing more short stories to have available for contests and the next TVW anthology. Boyle’s prompt of “Beyond that door” set me on a journey that resulted in one short story and two pages of notes for a novel based on the short story (which I will write in my copious free time).

I will continue to collect writing advice and notes from writing prompts. I am also going to add to my writing regime a review of those notes and tips on a regular basis. Sooner or later, it’s bound to be the right time to use them.

The Idleness of March by Lani Longshore

March began quietly. I finished a story for critique group. I did the laundry. I listened to the weather report so I could prepare for the next rain storm. February is short, and there are deadlines. Between getting the tax information collected, registering for the April 22 Tri-Valley Writers conference (have you registered yet?) and entering the writing contest, and all the other things that must be done, I was fairly knackered by the end of the month. March arrived, lovely and green (and not just for Saint Patrick’s Day), and I relaxed.

That’s never a good thing.

There is always more work to do, more contests to enter, more stories to write, more revising required. Taking a breather sounds like taking positive action, but too much deep breathing can lead to sleep. Then you wake up and it’s the end of the month and what do you have to show for it?

That’s why I’m going to change my calendar. March 15 will no longer be called The Ides of March. I will rename it The Idleness of March, and make sure that when March 15 dawns, sunny or cloudy as the case may be, I will put my breather behind me and my fingers to the keyboard. Time to get to work!

Building Our Own Monuments by Lani Longshore

The ancient Egyptians revered their scribes. The pharaoh was a scribe. One of the craters on the moon is named after Thoth, god of the scribes. According to a poem that I believe is ancient (but can’t remember where I found it or all of the words), the scribes may be dead, their families gone, but what they wrote will keep the memory of them alive as long as there are readers.

That doesn’t necessarily mean their names are remembered. Like wonderful character actors, you may forget the names but you remember the faces and the way you felt watching their work. Today, that hope of someone remembering my words if not my name is enough to get me back to the keyboard. I encourage you all—keep on writing, keep on publishing, keep on blogging. Even if our words offer only a fragile immortality, they are our best monuments.

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