We writers can’t be recluses. Oh, but weren’t we supposed to sit in our office, away from the hubbub of civilization, and compose articles, stories, poems, and books? Well, I don’t know about being away from the hubbub of civilization part, because some writers write best in a noisy environment, but yes, we must write every day. I work best in the quiet of my own office, away from “noisy civilization.”
However, if all we do is withdraw from society and write, our oasis of inspiration will eventually evaporate, leaving us with a dry spell and nothing to write about. It’s vital that we get away from our laptops from time to time and experience new things.
For example, I once rode Amtrak from New Orleans to Chicago to attend a writers’ conference. Am I afraid of flying? No, I’m not. I’ve flown numerous times. My father was a private pilot, and I’ve flown overseas and in the continental United States on commercial jets. Flying? No problem. But I’d never traveled anywhere by train, so I decided I’d go Amtrak just for the experience.
During this trip, I met many interesting people with whom I engaged in conversation. I also made notes about the train on a spiral notebook for future use in case I ever decided to use a train in a story. I noted the train’s sounds, what its dining car looked like, the food that was served, etc.
So, why not find something different to do every now and then? Experience life. Even make notes if you have to. Who knows? Inspiration for a story may hit all of a sudden. New experiences help make all of us better writers.
Sunday, March 3, 2019 will forever remain in my memory much like August 25, 2005 does.
On August 25, when I lived in the New Orleans area, Hurricane Katrina smashed the city. It was a Category 4 storm, the second-strongest category in the hurricane rankings.
On March 3, 2019, an EF4 tornado struck the small town of Beauregard, Alabama, just three counties from where I now live. Its winds roared in at 170 mph, the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane(the strongest), and the second-strongest storm on the tornadic scale. A monster of a storm, it was!
Exhausted after a sleepless night, not from worry but because writing ideas and plot problems kept swirling through my head till morning, I dragged myself to church that Sunday, March 3, about a thirty-minute drive to Montgomery. Rain pelted my car, wind howled. Ordinarily, I’d have returned home after church, but my pastor called a special meeting with us lay leaders. So, I stayed with a friend during that stormy day and got a little rest till meeting time.
Upon my return home early that evening, I found an urgent message in my email’s inbox. My sister’s note was brief: my brother-in-law’s farm received a direct hit from a tornado. My nephew, his two sons, and their dog, Emma, were there when it smashed the farmhouse. Thankfully, because they hid in its closet (except for Emma who refused to join them), they survived. Emma lived through it, too. According to my brother-in-law, the eye of the storm came within one-hundred yards of the house. I’m grateful to the Lord everyone in my family survived this tragedy. Had the storm come any closer, my three nephews might have been numbered among those who perished.
What does this tragedy have to do with writing? Well, it explains why I didn’t post anything last week. The week the storm hit, I did very little writing. Family was my priority then.
If we want to succeed as writers, writing must be our priority—near the top of our list. However, as Christian writers we can’t make it an idol. Church attendance, worship, prayer and Bible study should always be our first priority. Also, we must always be willing to serve others.
My priority last week was helping my family clean up from the tragedy. This meant putting my writing schedule on the backburner for a while. We Christian writers must learn how to balance our priorities. We can’t always be available for every service project. We must know when to say “yes” to service opportunities and when to say “no,” and we can get burned out by saying “yes” to everything that comes our way. This causes our writing to suffer.
When to say “yes” and when to say “no,” though, is an individual matter. For me, I didn’t have to think twice. My family needed me, so I made myself available. I’m also grateful for all the friends and other family members who came to help. Now, I’m back to writing again.
Occasionally, I’ve read book reviews where the critic says the author had too many characters. Though in some cases this criticism has validity, in my opinion “too many characters” isn’t always a valid point. A book that has a host of characters is neither good nor bad. The same goes for a book peopled by a mere handful. Everything depends on how well it’s written and its genre.
If a book describes itself as an epic or a saga, then expect lots of characters. One of my favorite writers whose books contain a large cast is James Michener. Numerous bestselling authors other than Michener can be cited as well: Margaret Mitchell, Colleen McCullough, and even Louis L’Amour’s last novel set during the Middle Ages, TheWalking Drum, falls into this large cast category.
Whether readers enjoy a lot of characters or a few, it’s all a matter of style and taste. In short, it’s a reader’s preference.
However, if we write books using lots of characters, we do well to consider the following:
1. Don’t give characters similar sounding names. Similar sounding names may confuse readers, thus making it difficult for them to follow your story.
2. Try to reduce the number of characters in your story. One way to do this is to ask yourself this question: Is the character really important to the story? If not, either get rid of that character or make him/her a nameless walk-on character, or merge him/her into another, more important character.
3. Use a Cast of Characters chart. Write a list of all the novel’s key players and then publish them on the book’s opening pages. That way, if a reader gets lost or confused, he/she can refer to it.
See everyone again next week. Keep those laptop keys hopping!