Creative Writing: Using Inner Turmoil to Create Conflict

This morning I received an email that came across the American Christian Fiction Writers‘ loop asking for help for a particular scene. Basically, information needed to be conveyed, but the author didn’t want to comatose her readers in the process. I’ve seen this happen time and time again. A passage, sometimes even an entire chapter, will be jam-packed with one eye-blurring detail after another without even the hint of conflict. It’s a self-defeating situation, really.  The information, as important as the author thought it was, is ignored. If the reader is anything like me, they’ll graze through the monotonous, skimming ahead until they get to the good stuff–the drama.

About a week ago I critiqued a romance story. It was your typical girl meets boy, girl likes boy, boy likes girl plot. It was a lovely Hallmark scenario full of sunshine, flowers, picnics, and plans for romantic dates. And it bored me to tears!

So I put my computer down and escaped to my basement for a run before completing the rest of my to-do list. Which would bore you to tears should I record it here. Unless I shared just a smidgeon of all the inner turmoil that occurred while doing the mundane. Either I am the only emotional wreck out there, or we are all plagued by our inner demons. We live in a sinful world, after all. And life is full of conflict. In that hour alone while I stared at the cement wall, the belt spinning beneath my steadily pounding feet, my mind raged. As I watched the miles slowly increase, I thought about all the things I had to get done. This opened the door for false expectations, both of myself and others. Then of course, there was the gentle tug of the Holy Spirit calling me to surrender, to fight against my anxious, fretting, sinful nature so I could rest in His grace. As you can see, my potentially boring run was filled with emotional conflict.

Think about your typical day. The phone rings. You glance at the caller ID. It’s your best friend. You want to answer it, but you have a long list of things to get done before your husband gets home. Perhaps painful memories surface–of when your husband pushed you aside, or of a time when you’re friend let you down when you needed her most.

Or maybe it’s dinner time. You’ve cooked steak because it’s your husband’s favorite, but as you eat, your eyes drift to your steadily expanding stomach and insecurities surface. As your mind dwells on the ten pounds you’ve gained over the past year, your perception becomes twisted. Is your husband staring at you? Does he think you eat to much? So you react, only your husband wasn’t thinking of you at all. He was deep in his own world of inner demons and insecurities. And viola’! You have conflict.

Everything we do is tainted by the baggage we carry. The same is true for our characters. The next time a boring scene threatens, dig deeper. Remind yourself of your character’s inner demons and insecurities. How would those demons rear their ugly heads in the current situation. That doesn’t necessarily mean your characters will throw a fit. Perhaps they will hide behind a painted smile, but their mind will rage. Because the human mind always does.

And if you don’t know your character’s inner demons and reality-distorting insecurities, then set your computer aside until you do.

Confused? Maybe this article will help: Conflict found on “Learn the Elements of a Novel” website.

Creative Writing: Using Symbolism To Paint a Picture

Warning: For those of you looking solely for information on improving your craft, this article has dashes of Christianity sprinkled in. But this topic reminds me so much of the creativity of my Heavenly Father, I couldn’t resist.

I love using symbolism in my writing. Especially in dreams. Although I really don’t put much stock in the whole Jung archetype theory, I like the imagery that dreams can evoke in my reader. In my latest novel, Impossible Choices, Alice, my heroine, is stuck between a rock and a hard place–to totally over-cliche her life. Married to an alcoholic gambler who’s destroying her two teenage boys, sinking their family into debt, and instigating the wrath of a couple of knuckle-scraping thugs, she’s forced to make a choice. An impossible choice, really. And as she tries to navigate her way through this no win situation, initially by hiding behind a facade, we see her subconscious poke through. A dandelion here, a fox’s tail there, the faint music of a piano playing just beyond her reach. All of theses details paint a picture of Alice as she really is.

As a side note, last spring I took a hermeneutics class, which is basically a Bible study class. It taught me to read the Bible in context, both historical and literal, and to pay attention to the seemingly insignificant details. I must say, it was the best class I’d ever taken! And as a writer, looking for those details that I may have otherwise overlooked really had an impact on me, because I think every one held purpose. If you’re a writer, you know what I mean. We’re constantly looking over our manuscripts, editing out those “weasel” words, choosing the best verb, most fragrant flower, or perfect hairstyle that will convey an entire paragraph of language. Wouldn’t God do the same? I believe every last detail of the Bible is ripe with meaning and purpose. (Why do I always feel like I have to add a disclaimer? Probably because we all read articles, and perhaps even the Bible, through our own experience-tainted lenses. But please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying the Bible is symbolic. I believe it conveys real historical events. What I am saying is that in providing the Bible, God often wove symbolic imagery into the text to deepen our understanding. The parables are a perfect example.) Writers, if that is not a reason in and of itself to read the Bible–to see how the Creator of the universe uses symbolism, metaphors, and analogies to convey truth–than I don’t know what is.

So how can you use symbolism in your writing? In my opinion, we need to start with prayer, but then again, I’m an inspirational author which means my first priority is not to tell the story but to use the story to convey truth or in some way draw the reader to their Creator. After I’ve prayed asking God to reveal His heart to me, I brainstorm using the following, or similar, questions.

When using symbolism to reveal the inner struggles of one of my characters:

1. What are they most afraid of?

In Impossible Choices, Alice is most afraid of rejection, rejection she knows will come if anyone really knew her. So she hides behind a “socially acceptable” facade, preferring superficiality to isolation. Unfortunately, her image-keeping is exactly what keeps her in isolation.

2. What types of things could represent a false presentation of self?

A lot of objects could serve this purpose. In one of my scenes, I chose a flower bed full of tulips because tulips symbolize elegance and grace. And by using them in my story, I am hoping to convey the idea that Alice is trying to portray an image of elegance and grace. But hidden among the flowers is a deceptively cheery dandelion–a weed. So what does she do? She quickly pulls it up and tosses it aside in the mulch to be dealt with later. Anyone whose tried to uproot a dandelion understand the futility of her actions. With the root intact deep beneath the soil, her superficial weeding produces temporary results. To get real results, she needs to deal with the root.

Now to Trent, Alice’s alcoholic gambler of a husband. He’s trying so hard to hold on. To perform, to climb up that next rung on the ladder of success, only to find himself falling deeper and deeper into the pit. Fairly early on, he notices a homeless man sitting on a street corner. This man and Trent make eye-contact. Ah, a telling seen. Using that one extended glance, I can avoid an entire paragraph of telling.

Weather is also a very effective tool. Storm clouds can represent a chaotic life. Windblown leaves a love lost. An abandoned tricycle the loss of childhood or innocence. And on a happier note–a fluttering bird can represent hope or the start of a new chapter in a characters life. A gentle breeze, also hope. Later on in my story, I used the dandelion again, but in a different sense. As Alice takes a step forward, she pauses to pluck a seeded dandelion from Beth’s yard.  Closing her eyes, she  blows. I’m sure you understand the symbolism in that. If you don’t, ask to borrow a friend’s preschool-aged child for a day and take them through a dandelion-filled meadow.

Exercise:

Scene: A young lady about to go on a first date with the man she has long admired. She is just about to graduate from college, stepping from the world of dependence to that of adulthood. She fears the unknown, and her ability to stand on her own two feet. She also doesn’t want to be alone but at the same time, she doesn’t want her love for this man to be clouded by her need for companionship. In addition, she and her mother have always had a slightly unhealthy relationship. As an only child, she has become the center of her mother’s life. As a result, she feels very responsible for her mother’s feelings, but resents this relationship at the same time. She longs to break free.

What images could you add to the story to reveal her sense of loyalty? I’m going to add a few here to get your creative juices flowing: (Obviously, some would need to be developed in the story. For example, maybe there is a song book lying on the dresser. For that to have significance, we’d need to know that her mother wanted her to play the piano.)

Perhaps a golden retriever or greyhound sits at her feet. (I know, rather cliche.) Or even more telling, it could be a mutt curled in a corner. This would convey multiple messages, wouldn’t it? And if the reader knew the mutt was disabled with age, that would add even another paragraph or two worth of meaning.

Since she’s caught between the world of dependance and adulthood, what items could symbolize childhood or a lingering of childlike emotions? This one seems pretty easy, but again, I’ll give an example to start things off.

A Raggedy Ann doll, tattered and torn, sewn by her mother (ouch!), sitting slumped over on a shelf. Did you catch all I threw in here? The most telling, I think, being the fact that the doll is slumped. Even though most dolls slacken when not supported, purposefully mentioning this fact conveys a lot of meaning. And why did I choose a Raggedy Ann doll instead of an American Girl doll or a Barbie? Brainstorm that one, and the different images that the various dolls might convey, and you’ll likely get a page full of appropriate symbolism that could be used in future writings.

Our character also has hope–hope in her future, not only with this man she has fallen for, but also in her journey to adulthood. What imagery could you use to show hope? My mind automatically jumps to her window, and no, not to a rainbow. That is probably way too overdone and obvious to be effective. How about a baby bird emerging from it’s nest? Or a butterfly resting on a leaf? Or maybe a neighbor girl soaring high on a swing.

I’d love to read your ideas. And as always, you can email them to me, add them as a comment or post them to my facebook page.

Creative Writing: Descriptions, A Little Dab’ll Do Ya’

I must have a very short, easily distractible attention span. Hand me a newspaper and I’ll have it read in ten minutes. Jennifer-read, that is. Which means I’ll skim the headlines, maybe glance at a few paragraph headings, check out the photos and captions, and call it good.  And then I let my imagination take care of the rest. Probably not the best idea, I know, especially when it comes to politics or world events, but it certainly is anything but boring. I’ve always been like that–quick to retreat into a world of my own making. Perhaps it is the childish side of me, or maybe I suffer from some kind of personality disorder. Regardless of the cause, I have found the images and scenarios created in my mind are much more entertaining than the real life version. And when I read a book, even more so. I don’t want to be given every detail of the forest as the heroine hikes through it. I want to be given just enough to allow me to relive the forest I hiked through as  a child, or the forest I’ve always dreamed of visiting. Basically, I want my imagination to be sparked, not dumped on.

I started reading a new book the other day and the first two pages were filled with details. Lots of details. Every character was described, even the ones I met in passing, and most of them were given very unusual traits. Seriously? Does every character have an eagle like nose or elf ears and some sort of unusual gait? Honestly, I started envisioning a side show and not the small town environment the author was trying to portray. And I did a lot of skimming. It’s pretty sad when you can skip large portions of a novel and still follow the story. Luckily the book got better as I continued, but honestly, if I hadn’t been reading it for a review site, I probably would have tossed the book aside after page two.

It is the same with characters. I’m not sure how other writers do it, but characters fill my imagination long before they make it to the page. Which can make it hard when I’m trying to find an image to portray them. (I like to have printed images of my characters, their houses, the areas they visit, on hand when I’m writing.) Nothing on istock photo or google images quite fits the visual painted in my mind, so usually I’ll have to print out multiple photos for one character with little notes to myself explaining which feature is being portrayed. I imagine my readers are similar. After reading a few details, and seeing my characters in action, their minds have already formed a visual. (And then three chapters in we pile on more details, shattering the image they’ve come to know for the past three chapters! Ouch!) So what’s the solution? Give just enough to trigger images, then leave the rest to the reader’s imagination.

Knowing our details should be used purposefully ought to motivate us to choose those that evoke strong, or telling, images. For example, if my heroine is hiking through the forest and I want to convey a sense of peace or solitude, I might focus on a gently flowing stream or a Blue Jay resting on a nearby branch. If, however, my heroine is frightened, or lost, I’ll focus on the shadows caused by thickly clustered trees and the thorny, intertwining blackberry bushes blocking the partially hidden trail.

The same goes for characterization. If my character is snootty and superficial, I may focus on her nail polish, jewelry, or hair style. You would be surprised how many other details your reader will fill in, especially if descriptive dialogue and emotion-invoking action is added. Show them a lady with long, painted nails and four-inch heels–ah, you’re already picturing her, aren’t you? Okay, what if I add that she has bleached blonde hair with black roots? A slightly different picture, perhaps? How about a woman with long, painted nails and her hair swept back in a french roll? Given those details, do you really need to hear about her pants, blouse, and purse or has your mind already filled in the rest?

And yet, at the same time, lack of details can sap the imagination just as quickly as an overabundance of them can. One afternoon I was reading someone’s work in progress about a man who had fallen on some ledge that led him to a secret passage. Very little detail was provided, and when it was, it was in such general terms, images weren’t evoked. I heard there were jewels and stairs–in much that way. “There were jewels and a long stair case cut from stone. A passage way led outside. He followed the passageway.” What did the jewels look like? And what kind of stone? Was the passageway dark? Were the walls also made from stone, or was this tunnel cut from crumbling dirt that felt gritty to the touch and left a film on your fingers? Was it even a tunnel or more like an arching exit/entry way? What if they had said, “To the left of the large, arching cavern, rubies and grape-sized topaz glistened in the pale light of his torch. A narrow stairwell, made from thick slabs of limestone, disappeared into the darkness, beckoning him to follow.”

Here’s two opposing examples.

TMI: (Although I’m tempted to tell you to consult the urban dictionary on this, I’ll explain it. Too much information) The sun trickled through the Western Hemlocks which stood like towering giants, their thick, heavily barked branches extending on either side like giant arms. The few rays that managed to penetrate through the trees warmed the otherwise shadowed forest floor, adding splashes of light much like a two year old would add splashes of color to a canvas. Thick clumps of brown pine needles hid most of the path from view. They crunched beneath Kaitlyn’s feet as she walked. Every once in a while patches of dirt, covered by brown, green or black moss, poked through, revealing what once had been a well-trodden trail. The branches, heavy with pine cones, bright green needles, and the occasional nest, were still in the mid-afternoon air. More pine cones littered the ground and lay in clumps around smooth, gray stones and partially rotting logs. Mushrooms and dried sap covered many of the logs, signaling decomposition. Kaitlyn paused to study one log in particular and watched as a colony of ants scurried across it. In the distance she could hear the soft bubbling of a stream, the kind that flowed gently over smooth stones and tugged at the moist, rich soil. Blackberry bushes wove their way around emerging seedlings and old-growth trees, their thick, thorny vines choking the very life out of the tender shoots, devouring them in a tangled mess of green. Plump berries glistened in the sun, filling the air with the scent of fresh baked pies. More lay clustered on the ground like giant blobs of spilled paint.

Now,

Using a little dab, interspersed with dialogue and action: The sun trickled through the Western Hemlocks, warming the otherwise shadowed forest floor. Kaitlyn paused to orient herself. Thick clumps of pine needles hid most of the path from view. In the distance she could hear the soft bubbling of a stream, the kind that flowed gently over smooth stones and tugged at the moist, rich soil. She licked her lips, already tasting the cool liquid on her parched tongue. Pausing to pluck a ripe blackberry from a nearby vine, she popped it in her mouth and closed her eyes as the sun-baked juices exploded across her tongue. Yes, taking a morning to herself had been a great idea. Perhaps if she had done so earlier, she and Devon would not have quarreled.

Notice also, the trees were named, hopefully evoking clearer images. (Example, instead of flower, say roses or lilacs. Instead of trees, say adlers, elms, or hemlocks.) And in the second paragraph, some details are provided through action, hopefully action that helps characterize as well.

Why don’t you try it? Use details to help the reader paint a picture, instead of painting the picture for them. I know you all like photographs, but I’m not going to provide one. I’d rather you provide one for me! Using your words. And remember, our visual image will be sparked by action, description, and dialogue. Use all three to spark (not overpower) the reader’s imagination.

First: An old man at the barber shop. That’s all I’m going to say.

Second: A teen girl at a county fair.

And as always, you can add your story as a comment, send it to me in the body of an email or send it to me on fb. I can’t wait to take an imagination vacation with you!

Creative Writing: Setting the Tone

Have you ever read a chase scene that made you feel like you were taking a Sunday stroll? Or maybe the intended Sunday stroll felt like a choppy river ride. Although this can often be due to word choices and faulty imagery, sometimes a few slices to a long, run on sentence can do the trick. When we’re frightened, our mind moves quickly. We think in fragments, with one thought jumping to the next with little, if any, time for retrospect or analytical thinking. Our writing should reflect the natural tone of thought.

If you are writing an intense scene intended to elicit fear or suspense, choose short, even choppy sentences. And strong verbs.

Ex: The light turned green. He gunned it. A flash of movement to his right turned his head. Gripping the steering wheel tighter, he gave a jerk, narrowly missing a side-on collision. The high-pitched blare of a horn pierced his eardrum. He accelerated until buildings and warehouses blurred into indiscriminate bands of color. Faster, faster! Red and blue lights flashed in his peripheral vision. Sirens squealed. A bead of sweat trickled down his forehead and into his eye. He blinked it away.

Not: The light ahead of him turned green. He knew the speed limit was thirty five, but his fear urged him to break it. He thought about all the tickets he’d received over the past year. Tanya would kill him. (Really? He’s gonna think about this now? Or is he caught up in escape?) There was a flash of light to his right as he sped across the intersection. It was an oncoming car. (Won’t we make this connection ourselves?) He turned the steering wheel (which verb paints a better picture of action? turned or jerked? Which sounds more panicked?) to miss the oncoming car. The driver honked his horn. He pushed his foot on the grass to go faster. A police man turned on his lights and siren, adding to his anxiety.

Okay, so now let’s try the same scene but with a different tone.

The light turned green. Pressing on the gas until his car accelerated just below the thirty-five mile per hour limit, he draped his hand over the steering wheel and replayed Jenna’s words in his mind. Was she really busy, or was she looking for a convenient way to avoid him? Things had been so much easier with Tessa. Maybe she was a little loud and rough around the edges, but you always knew where you stood. No more guessing and light footing it, studying every eye-twitch for hidden messages.

A flash of light to his right followed by the familiar “whirl-eeee-weee!” of a siren drew his eyes to his speedometer. The dial hovered just above eighty. Great. Here came his third speeding ticket for the month. One more and he’d set a new record.

Wanna try it? See if you can create two conflicting scenes (one intended to elicit fear, and one with a more relaxed or analytical feel. Or perhaps anger and then sadness.) using the following:

A (lit or unlit) stair well, a (dead or alive) flower, peeling wall paper, an extension cord, a workbench with tools of your choice and an old rusted chest. Ah, what’s inside?

As usual, email, facebook or comment your answers. Who knows, maybe one of these prompts will turn into a 90,000 word story!

Creative Writing: Characterization

We like the age-old cliche’, “You can’t judge a book by its cover”, but in many ways, you can. Our body language, how we dress, and the words we use speak volumes. The other day I was listening to my daughter and one of her friends talk about their favorite colors. Her friend, an ambitious, adventurous athlete, likes bold colors. Red and black were her favorites. As I listened, I started to think about how I would feel if I wore red. I’ve done it before. I have a red dress that I used to wear whenever my husband and I would go out on a hot date. Why? Because it made me feel playful and daring. But for the most part, I wear tans and blues. In the summer, I like pastels and peaches. Already you’ve got me pegged, right? A conservative, predictable Missouri housewife who prefers long walks in the park to loud social events and afternoons in the mountains rather than a day at the mall. And for the most part, everything I do reiterates the same basic story. This story is retold every time I meet a friend in a restaurant, talk on the telephone, or attend a social function.

Have you ever watched people eat? How we present ourselves in a restaurant–even our food choices–can speak volumes! And effective characterization, the kind that melds the reader’s heart with your hero or heroine’s, allows the reader to discover, for themselves, what makes the hero tick. The other day I was reading a book that felt very much like a biography. The entire first two pages were spent telling me about the character–what he did, what his personality was like, what motivated him. I barely made it past the first page. My commitment to the author pushed me to page two, but as more information was dumped on me, I finally contacted the author and, politely, told them I was done.

Information dumps are for formal interviews, not relationships, and reading is very much an intimate relationship between the reader and the hero/heroine. For those of you who are married, think back to your first few dates with your spouse. Do you remember the way you used to latch on to every word, your mind working over time as you processed and categorized all the personality cues thrown your way? Do you remember the excitement of discovering for yourself, through intimate involvement, your spouse’s favorite song, restaurant, quirky fears, and deepest longings? Part of love is the continual unveiling of one heart to another, peppered with the anticipation of discovery. But what if there had been no need to discover? What if, upon the first date, your spouse had handed you a list of all their likes and dislikes, followed by a three page essay explaining all of the momentous events in their life? Wow, how romantic that would be–not! Information dumps are total passion-killers. In fiction and in life. So why kill your reader with monotonous prattle?

Assignment: Use decorations and items in a house to create a basic personality style. You can post this as a comment or you can send it to me via facebook (Jennifer Slattery using the following email to help narrow your search) or email (slattery07@yahoo.com). Make sure to include “creative writing” in the subject line so your email doesn’t join my daily spam. Then we can all try to guess, using the comments section of this blog, what messages and personality traits you are trying to convey. Make sure to pop back with responses periodically so we can see how close our guesses were.

If you need a prompt:

Option one: A middle-aged risk taker. For this one, you could place him at an event that would display this aspect of his/her personality. How would a risk taker drive? What type of events would they participate in? How would they mentally process things? Would they prefer crowds or privacy? Nature scenes or bars? What type of clothing might they wear?

Option two: A rebellious teen who feels unloved. You could go far with this one. Perhaps she/he watches a friend’s family longingly, or is spurred to anger. Why does he/she feel unloved. Remember, don’t tell us, “Her parents never have time for her.” Show us by having her/him pop his head into his/her dad’s office only to be brushed aside. Or maybe they wake up to a post it note and an empty house.

Option three: A love-sick newly wed. What would a newly wed do on their first day of “married life”. I can remember how excited I was to dust our new apartment. I also loved the sound of my new name. Mrs. Slattery. I’d repeat it to myself again and again. Mrs. Slattery. Perhaps fresh cut flowers would be placed on the dinner table or furniture would be dusted twice.

Option four: Surprise us. <grin>

Mine:

Despite the heavy cloud cover outside, the temperature in the quaint cottage was 78 degrees and climbing, the heat from the previous day still radiating from the walls. She’d turn the air on at noon, for an hour or so, just long enough to circulate the air before her son got here. Although she knew even a cool house wouldn’t keep his lips from flapping. For twenty years she’d made his bed, washed his laundry, scheduled his doctor’s appointments, and suddenly she was incapable?

Frustration seeped into her neck as she shuffled around her cluttered kitchen. Her knees crackled and popped in rebellion and a sharp prick shot through her hip. She gritted her teeth against the pain and deliberately picked up her pace. Her carefully arranged pills sat in the cupboard, untouched. Fish oil, Glucosamine, Plus-Sixty  Vitamins, and about five others she couldn’t remember, all placed in their daily compartments. She would have tossed them, pill holder and all, if it wasn’t for Jason. No, that would be the first thing he’d check. He’d probably count out each pill, too. To make sure she’d been following his instructions. Leila snorted. Instructions? More like daily demands, neatly typed and taped to her cupboard, fridge, and bathroom mirror. The important details were highlighted in bright orange ink. And they were reiterated, verbally, with every visit. Good thing he only came by twice a week.

*                                  *                                   *                                      *                                       *

Obviously, you are just getting to know Leila, but hopefully you can see she’s aging, that she lives alone, and that she longs for independence. I think you can also visualize some key character traits of her son. If I wanted to go further, I could describe her house in more detail, perhaps have her glance at a picture of her deceased husband or of a sun-bleached, slightly tattered photo of her feeding a toddler sitting in a high chair. Bills scattered across an old desk would alert the reader to financial problems. I could have used body shape, hair style and clothing to describe her further. I’d love to know how you visualize her at this point. I’m thinking your imagination started filling in details almost immediately.

Another One Just For Fun: Turning a Picture into a Story

I love reading Sol Stein’s “How to Grow a Novel”. I’ve been reading it for quite some time. It’s one of those books you pick up, read a few pages (sometimes even just a few paragraphs) then make a mad dash for your keyboard. It’s like diving into a literary Sudoku! Last time I read this book, I determined to spend a minimum of one day per month “observing”. I even had all sorts of idea-stimulating places I wanted to go–the mall, a coffee shop, the city market, a park. Anywhere where my mind, and thus my pen, could be stimulated with original sights, sounds, eccentricities (like that odd man with rubber-band lips eating that overly-ripe banana while driving down the freeway. Seriously, have you ever watched people eat? Giggle, giggle.) And yet, for the most part I’ve remained inside my nice little air-conditioned (for the most part) house, hidden behind a computer screen relying on istock photo and Google Earth to navigate the world.

But now that my novel is done (minus a little fine-tuning here and there), I’ve decided to spend a little time playing with words before jumping on to my next one. I thought it would be even more fun if you all would like to join me. Obviously, we can’t take a sensory field trip via cyberspace (okay, so maybe we can, but I’m really not in the mood to argue. Just go with me on this one.) But I thought that perhaps by posting a unique or intriguing photo once in a while it might stimulate some great brainstorming sessions. Wanna join me? I’d love to hear your ideas, thoughts or creative tellings of this photo. I’ll add a few prompts, and maybe some ideas of my own and you can either post yours in the comments or email them to me and I’ll publish them as a separate post. My email address is slattery07@yahoo.com. Please make sure to put “creative writing” in the subject heading, otherwise you’ll be sent to my trash pile. 🙂

Here’s the photo:

Here are some questions and thoughts to get you started:

1. Notice details. What type of clothes are these people wearing and why?

2. There is a dark spot on the child’s arm. Is that a bruise or a splotch of dirt? Why?

3. How old is this woman?

4. The children are clinging to her, and yet her face is angled forward, one hand is under her chin and the other appears to be in her lap. What might this say about her?

4. Where are they? What has led to this moment?

5. Is it morning, evening or night?

6. Based on the clothing and the tarp over the woman’s legs, it appears to be cold out, and yet, their hair is still so there doesn’t appear to be any wind. Are they inside or out?

7. What is the woman looking at?

It was bitterly cold, despite the steady stream of sunshine poking through the holes in the tarped roof. Mary Lou’s jaws ached as she fought to keep her teeth from chattering. For the children’s sake. Raylon’s breath was warm and moist against her neck, and for that she was glad. And yet, the very thought of taking comfort in the huddled breath of her child brought enormous guilt.

Angry voices seeped through the canvas walls of their make-shift home–men fighting, women yelling, hungry children crying out to their mothers–reminding her of how precarious her situation really was. True, they didn’t have food inside their thread-bare shelter, and the warmth of the many fires lit through out the camp failed to penetrate the icy air within, but at least here, they were safe. For now. And yet, one glance at young Ida’s cracked and flaky lips told her she’d have to venture out soon enough, and make her way past the hateful men with hungry eyes and grabbing women ready to claw a child’s eyes out for the tiniest crumb of bread. Waiting for nightfall wouldn’t help, for that was when the men gathered around the fires with home-made liquor flooding their foul-breathed mouths. She’d heard they had a still somewhere full of fermenting potatoes. One of these nights, or early mornings, she would find where it was,  and grab a few spuds for her girls. They said only the rotten ones were used, but what did she care. Rotten or no, it would fill her girls’ bellies. Maybe even give them the strength to make it through the winter. Yes, that was all that was needed–something to help them survive this bitter season. Once spring came and her husband returned everything would be made right again. Wouldn’t it?

Okay, now your turn. 🙂 Wanna give a little background on the people in this photo or maybe write a sample paragraph or two? Just for fun?