I’ve just been told tomorrow they will be removing the furniture from the coffee shop where I write, to keep people from hanging about the place. I will be forced to work at home, where all the distractions lurk.

I can understand the logic behind the preventive practice they’re calling “social distancing”. I can even see people quietly doing it on their own: I’ve noticed them giving each other a little extra room in line at the register. Cashiers leaning back a little, with that subtle nervous look that seems to say “how healthy does this one look?”.

The speculative fiction writer in me is quietly playing with ideas of bad people high in government, plotting to separate people using disease, sowing distrust to keep people from uniting together against some unexpected power play. It’s not my kind of story to write, but there’s a lot of interesting–and unfortunate–source material happening in front of our eyes these days.

Meanwhile, back in reality, it seems even writers are being affected by our current world situation. I wish you luck against your own distractions, if you are similarly stuck at home. I also wish you the best of health and safety out in the world. If you are out in the world anymore. Hopefully this will end soon.

We are social creatures after all. I would hate for this “distancing” to become a permanent feature in our societies.

I’ve heard that “Interesting Times” thing was originally a curse, by the way.

When asked “What does it take to force a reader to read?” …

I don’t like that word “forced”. To force them is to kidnap them, kicking and screaming, dragging them someplace they don’t want to go.

Instead, I prefer to trick the reader. Lure them in with a pretty cover, a sexy title; then hook them with the very first sentence, a sentence that would keep them up at night staring at the ceiling, if they didn’t continue reading. Now you’ve got them–and under their own power.

The challenge is: you have to deliver on the promise of that first sentence. Not only does the story itself have to pull them into your world, you have to keep throwing more “hook” sentences out there at sneakiest moments. Like at the ends of chapters, or in quiet moments when they think everything is okay again.

But it’s never okay! Bwahahahaha!

You have to put the reader in the hot seat, make them realize: These characters they’ve fallen in love with will not survive without the real hero–the reader–getting them safely to the end of the story.

My short answer to a recent writing site prompt asking, “What is the purpose of backstory.”

For me, there’s two flavors of backstory…

If the backstory is part of the story, then it is where the hero’s Problem lurks, the one they trip over in the inciting incident and must battle throughout the story, until they finally see it and stomp on it in the end. Although stories seem to be about a battle with the Antagonist, in the end it is usually winning the battle with some part of themselves that allows them to win against the bad guy.

If the backstory is not shown to the reader, then it’s often used as a bible of sorts for the writer to follow to inform who their character is as a three-dimensional, fallible–and often broken–person. It helps them know what their character will do and feel in any situation the writer throws them into.

It pays to get to know your characters from beginning to end. The more “alive” they are, the more they will bring your stories to life, too.

(A response to the prompt “What’s your favorite way to start writing?” when you don’t know what the story is yet.)

Although it doesn’t often work out this way, the most enjoyable part of my writing process happens when I’m scribbling longhand in a notebook somewhere pretty outdoors, about whatever I find interesting or silly or disconcerting at that moment, until … an idea forms. Excited by the possibilities, I continue scribbling until a story begins to evolve. Eventually, witnesses will report a crazy person running home to the computer to see where the ideas take her.

For me, paper is slow and good for thinking;
The keyboard is fast and good for writing.

You might want to try this yourself if your ideas have difficulties gestating. Perhaps it will work for you, too. Tell the police I put you up to it.

This project came out of one of the more challenging prompts from my Advanced Dramatic Writing class at Portland State:

Put no more than four characters in one of the following settings (note the theme here: small spaces): a closet, restaurant booth, bathroom, cockpit, confessional, elevator, hunting blind, cave, submarine, office cubicle, ferris wheel, tunnel, jail cell, bed, … you get the idea. The scene must additionally contain the following ingredients: A blind date, 3 days without sleep, a phobia, and a man covered in tattoos.

Stage reading of The Long Blink, performed (L-to-R) by Nick Nolan, Taryn Judah, Madison Shanley, and Drew Pierce. Filmed by Jerry Rous.

The cool thing is: the more limiting a prompt is, the easier it seems to be to come up with ideas for it. I suppose this is because when you’re asked to “write something,” the entire universe of possibilities rushes in and you end up staring at a blank page too small to fit anything that comes to mind. But with limitation comes innovation!

For some reason this prompt wasn’t enough punishment, so I added a couple of limitations of my own:

  • I would try to use most, if not all of the settings given, and
  • I would do so without any narration–it would all be in the dialogue.

The class really rocked this prompt. The best part was the collaboration: the writers were teamed up with other students who would take on the roles of director and voice actors, so we could see and hear how the piece works for an audience. During rehearsals these collaborators helped workshop the piece from their perspective, as director, actors, as well as a volunteer dramaturge (someone who makes sure the piece holds together in its own universe).

This collaboration not only helped me craft the work so that the story in my head actually made it to the audience, but to find amazing connections, ideas and perspective from the mouths of my own characters, told through the people acting them out. It’s an amazing thing to be a part of. I am humbled by how much this improved what I started with.

As a mid-term project, we had our scripts read on stage in front of an audience–and a video camera. Although it would have been awesome to see it acted out, there were too many constantly evolving scripts and too little time to block, act and memorize them all. But as voice actors, these performers made this silly story truly come to life for me.

It is still a work in progress, of course (especially the new ending), but we had a lot of fun getting it this far. I hope you enjoyed it.

Hopefully more soon!! ^_^