Tag Archives: storytelling

Using Obscure Facts in Fiction


Did you know that “If you travel with a lot of cash [governments] just seize it and assume it is illegal. This is commonly called Policing for Profit. They have transformed the drug laws of money laundering into tax evasion claiming anyone with a foreign account not reporting that money is engaged in money laundering and they get to confiscate everything you have and you go to jail for up to 25 years,” says Martin Armstrong, economist.

In my upcoming novel Dead with Envy, similar obscure money laws play an important part in the story.

As an author, I found it fun to do the research because what I discovered was new to me. As a reader, I am equally fascinated when the writer teaches me something I didn’t know.

 

7 Elements of Telling a Story


In this week’s meeting of the Writers of the Desert Rose Cafe, a member told a quick child’s story aloud. Afterwards she discussed the seven story elements for successful story-telling.

Have you been asked to tell a story to a group? Do you think you may receive such an invitation in the future? If so, note the following elements to make your story-telling better:

1. (This one seems obvious) The story must have identifiable characters.

2. The characters show emotions: fear, indecision, love, joy, whatever. (You, the storyteller, use your voice, expression, body language to convey the emotions.)

3. The main character has a problem to solve.

4.  An antagonist creates trouble.

5. The characters find a solution to the problem.

6. The main character learns something from the situation.

7. The main character changes and grows.

When Writing About Suicide or Mental Illness or Addiction


I stumbled on an excellent article from aportiaadamsadventure.wordpress.com in which the author discusses college training for journalists on handling a suicide story. The author is applying that learning to her fiction.

Below are a few excerpts from the article. You may read the complete entry here: http://aportiaadamsadventure.wordpress.com/2013/01/12/writing-about-suicide/#comment-520

An article from the Poynter Institute written a decade ago remains one of the best on the subject if you are interested in reading more, but this is the quote that I always keep in mind when this subject comes up (which thankfully, is not that often, but still happens more than it should):

Mental illness is almost always present in a case of suicide. To report on suicide without discussing the role of mental illness is like reporting on a tornado without mentioning the underlying weather conditions. Tornados don’t whip up out of nowhere, and neither does suicide.

***

Just because context helps when writing, Statistics Canada and Health Canada obviously follow this subject very closely, and their latest numbers are:

Suicide is a major cause of premature and preventable death. It is estimated, that in 2009 alone, there were about 100,000 years of potential life lost to Canadians under the age of 75 as a result of suicides.

Research shows that mental illness is the most important risk factor for suicide; and that more than 90% of people who commit suicide have a mental or addictive disorder.1,2 Depression is the most common illness among those who die from suicide, with approximately 60% suffering from this condition.

***

The article writer is working on a fictional story set in the 1930’s. She asks readers for input about mental health support and treatment from the time. I reply to her request as follows:

Excellent article! You ask for insight from the 30’s. I’ll share a personal anecdote. I learned in my fifties about my maternal grandfather’s commitment to an insane asylum. I learned it by finding personal papers of my mother’s that referenced the event. My mother had them stashed away. Never in my entire lifetime had my mother told that story to me. Instead she had painted a picture for me of a talented man who was ahead of his time. From the same stash of papers, I learned my grandfather physically abused my grandmother. The societal code of the time was silence about anything untoward, especially if the family had any social prominence. So much so that long after my grandfather was dead, long after I was a married adult and a mother, my mother never mentioned the dark side or mental illness of my grandfather. I learned about it after my mother left her home, and I was cleaning out the place.

After sending that message, I recalled more about the story of my grandfather. It was set in the Great Depression. He was in the throes of losing the family dairy and farm. His wife died, leaving him to care for seven children from age 14 to a newborn infant, all while running a home milk delivery business (done from a horse drawn cart) and running a crop and dairy farm. It was in a time when a family grew their own food and preserved it, so a huge garden had to be tended and defended from pests, then harvested and put up. Kids had to get to school, be dressed and fed. The wee ones required care 24/7.

As my grandmother lay dying of cancer, my grandfather or my mother, the oldest child, injected grandmother with morphine to control her pain. I am uncertain about why he did it exactly, but my grandfather began using his wife’s morphine himself and became addicted. In the 1930’s, my grandfather’s addiction was treated as mental illness in the insane asylum. (I’m sure there’s more to the narrative that I will never know.)

All of this tragic story was hidden from me by my mother. She did tell me that after my grandmother’s death, grandfather fell apart and abandoned the farm and the children. She said my grandmother had been the glue that held the family together. After her death, the children tried to operate the farm, but, as children, they failed. Ultimately, in the midst of depression, the children were split up and sent to various homes, where they were grudgingly taken in and resented as another mouth to feed in what were difficult times.

The point is there is always a backstory to suicide. Often it is mental illness or addiction. And there is often a backstory to addiction and mental illness, too. When writing about the subject of suicide, mental illness or addiction, be sure to make the reader aware of the backstory, since it provides context for the current event you are writing about.

Ghost Stories


Ghost stories have been popular as long as stories have been told. In today’s pop culture, ghost stories sell. Readers of haunted tales are DEVOTED!

Want to try your hand at a spooky mystery?

I’ll give you a hand by providing a list of ghost names–yes, there is a list and it contains male, female and unisex (???) names and meanings.

http://www.20000-names.com/ghost_names_spirit_names.htm

A Writer’s Cash Cow


Are you looking for that writing topic that has the potential to turn you from pauper to prince?

Consider the doomsday story.

According to CUNY physics professor Michio Kaku, the doomsday story is a cash cow that cycles around with intensity about every ten years. Remember Y2K? Today it is the end of the Mayan calendar.

(Make a note to self to check pop culture in 2020 to see what doomsday buzz has turned into a roar.)

There are real problems that get eclipsed by doomsday stories. Some of those problems are:

  • Heating up of planet earth
  • Melting polar ice caps
  • Increasingly rapid migration of the magnetic poles
  • Real help for adults with mental illness
  • Curing cancer and other life-threatening illnesses
  • Financial solvency for governments
  • Clean water
  • Weather changes

That said, if you are strictly a commercial writer, you have three or four years to check your societal crystal ball and decipher the clues telling what the next big doomsday story will be. Then write your heart out and ride the wave. The last five years have been lucrative for the Mayan storytellers. Maybe you will be my new rich friend the next time doomsday cycles around.

What We Write About When We Write


What we write about when we write.

Please, please take the time to read this wonderful article (click the link above). It explores the agony of creation, the search for the perfect telling of the story, the revisiting of person, place and thing for the sake of getting it right.

Once I concluded my reading of it, I was revived to write. I realized that the wall I am hitting in my work is simply a part of the greater process. Now I embrace the wall, wrapping my arms around it, pressing my chest against its coolness, smelling the stale scents trapped in the paint. By entangling my essence with what stops my writing, I change both the obstacle and my response to it.

Drug Running in Submarines


Technology is moving faster than my imagination. Who knew that Latin American cartels have run drugs for years via semi-submersible and fully submersible vessels? Submarines are used to run drugs in the Pacific and Caribbean Oceans.

Crime writers have to keep up, at least, and stay ahead, at best, of technology that can be used in the field by criminals.

Sometimes I feel as if  I am using the equivalent of a rotary phone in terms of technology in stories I create. Today’s criminals are sophisticated, savvy and well-heeled enough to buy cool tools.

For insight into marine equipment used in drug running, read the following:

http://news.yahoo.com/feds-cant-catch-cartels-cocaine-filled-submarines-010821526.html