I recently took a trip from our home in Tennessee to visit my folks at their home in The Villages, Florida. I've taken these trips before, and while I love visiting and helping out while I am there, I hate the trip. This time, I tried something different; I drove the backroads.
Until the highways replaced the spider's web of smaller roads draped across the US, the roads passed through small towns and burgs. The hotels, motels, restaurants, and other businesses patronized by the travelers were owned, operated, and staffed by people from the local communities through which the roads passed. The locals also patronized these businesses, and people tended to know those who owned and staffed them.
Then the interstates took over, bypassing all those little towns and their businesses. The towns were replaced by rest-stop businesses, franchises and company stores, owned by people far from the communities which supplied the workers who staffed them. Even then, the workers came from no single community, but were drawn in from miles away, few knowing those with whom they worked. Meanwhile, the small towns died.
And now we are left with traveling through places as homogenous, and anonymous as tapioca, everything the same, with nothing left but a frantic urge to get to our destination before the indigestion sets in from yet another fast-food sandwich in one hand while the other aims the car down another stretch of highway indistinguishable from the last.
And just like you, I have spent many a trip just droning along on the madness that is "the highway." But this time was going to be different. This time I was going to take the backroads.
It took a bit of time, maybe an hour or so, to find the best way to go. There are settings on many GPS devices to "avoid highways," but don't use them. Trust me. I tried that setting on my trip back from Florida and had in interesting tour of Georgia, but didn't make a huge amount of headway on my trip! Instead, map your trip on your favorite online mapping service, then find the best waypoints to program into your car's GPS (in my case, an older, built-in Garmin).
Taking the backroads added several hours to my trip, but not necessarily as many as you might expect. By going the backroads, I completely avoided the traffic jam that is Atlanta, plus a few other traffic hotspots.
To make the trip even more enjoyable, I decided to break it into two days, stopping any place I found interesting, eating wherever it looked good, and choosing my stopping point based solely on when I felt like stopping.
Along the way I met many great people.
There was the lady at the little restaurant who interrupted my placing my order to tell me, "Oh, hon, I almost forgot to tell you. It's Thursday, that means it's rib day, and we just took them out of the smoker" (I promptly changed my order).
And Katrina, the owner and barista at High Points Coffee & Books where I had to stop to let a headache die down before returning to the road. The coffee was terrific, as was the conversation with Katrina and the other patrons. Katrina and her husband are from California, but now live in the Ashland, Alabama area with their 4 children. Both she and her husband are retired Navy.
The coffee was terrific, as was the conversation with Katrina and the other patrons.
A 4-piece band outside a little café in Micanopy, Florida was quite enjoyable, as was the deli sandwich.
I stopped and took photos whenever something caught my attention. The rest of the time I just cruised, the radio playing, the top down, the air conditioning blowing cool air to combat the heat.
The most surprising thing to me was, when I stopped for the night or arrived at my destination, I wan't fatigued like I would usually have been. I was tired, for sure, but not that collapse on the bed and sleep for 10 hours kind of fatigue long miles on the interstate seems to bring on.
If you have the time, give it a try. It takes some extra planning, but I think you'll find it's worth it. Drop a comment and tell me how your trip down the backroads went. I'll be anxious to hear.
I'm back! No, really, it's true!
It's been too long since I've been here. Over the last year or three I've moved, payed off a lot fo bills, bought and sold a few motorcycles and a couple of cars, and had prostate cancer (surgically removed).
I'm even writing again. So head on over to my new motorcycle themes blog (top-right, "Ten by Two," and check out my latest mechanical project, and stay tuned to see what's been going on in my writing world.
On Tuesday, November 1st, the world lost a woman who will be missed even by those who never met her. Hannah Eimers, you were an artist, a jokester, a writer, a young lady, a role model, a friend. Your song stopped playing far too soon. Your melody lingers, the lyrics echo, the love you put into each note and word will forever be in so many hearts. We miss you Hannah. My God do we miss you.
I first met Hannah as her teacher. I was a volunteer at a local homeschool co-op, while she was a young student. Always punching above her weight, she tackled assignments and topics kids many years her senior seemed to have trouble with. Her grades were excellent, and her ability to be both a silly kid and a mature young lady never ceased to amaze me. Hannah graduated the 12th grade at 15.
As time went on, I became Hannah's mentor. She was a budding young writer, and we eagerly swapped story ideas and techniques, and frequently critiqued each other's work. Hannah and I also spent a good amount of time in conversation concerning our faith, and she was always ready with a tough to answer question, along with her own ideas and observations.
And then, as Hannah matured into a young adult, we became friends. Being Hannah's friend was easy as she brought so much light and love into a room, you almost couldn't help it.
Hannah wanted to work in film. She interned with a production company, and worked on Burt Reynolds's upcoming movie "Dog Years." Never one to be "star struck," she interacted with Mr. Reynolds and the other stars in the film as though they were simply new found friends. She even brought her pet hedgehog to the set to meet Ariel Winter.
But now Hannah is no longer with us. On November 1st, Hannah passed away in a car accident. Her eyes have now beheld Him. Hers have seen the one aspect of Him that only she can reflect. She has her stone, her new name that only she and God will know. They say only the good die young, and such is certainly the case here. She did more to reflect God's Light in her short time on earth than I have done in 48 years. You will be missed Hannah Eimers. You already are...
To all those who left their homes and families; to all those who watched as their father, mother, son, daughter, sister, brother, husband, or wife boarded a plane, train, or ship; to all those who did what needed to be done, even when they were scared beyond all they had ever experienced; to all those who lost a buddy, a friend, or just the guy next to them in the foxhole; to all those who received a call, letter, or telegram informing them that their loved one would not return; too all of you, a sincere and heartfelt thank you. Your sacrifice, your loss, and your courage will not be forgotten.
William K. Elliott
“No legacy is so rich as honesty.” –William Shakespeare
The writing was going exceedingly well, with the words coming almost faster than I could type them (I am not the world’s greatest typist). And then came that word. It was a horrible word. It is a horrible word. I don’t exactly have the cleanest of language at times, and yet this particular word had only ever escaped my mouth in the most stressful of times. And even then, only once or twice in my lifetime.
And yet there it was.
I deleted it—retyped it—deleted again.
For a while I just sat, staring at the blinking cursor.
The more I thought about it, the more I didn’t want to use that word. I despise it. I hate it.
The problem was, it was the only word that fit—the only word that my main antagonist would use. So I did what any squeamish author would do, I looked for other opinions.
And in one-way or another, they all said, “use it.” Stephen King, in "On Writing" put it this way, “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered.”
I still wasn’t thrilled with the idea. How could I be? Remember, I hate that word. Now there is only one other person I know whom I can trust implicitly and, coincidentally, who hates that word as much as I do. She is my most reliable companion, my best friend, and my support system. She is my wife.
She didn’t even hesitate. “Absolutely use it,” she said, “that is exactly the word he would use." And so I did.
And here’s the thing, writing fiction is an act of honesty. You have to tell the truth. I know it might seem odd that I am telling you to tell the truth about a lie of sorts—after all, that’s what fiction is, a lie, a made up story. But the ruthless leader of a violent street gang isn’t going to use the word “lady” or “woman” when he’s demanding a subordinate murder the woman. He’s going to use a vile, degrading, and violent word. And if I fail to type it out simply because I don’t like it, my reader will pull back from the story. They’ll decline to continue their suspension of disbelief, and I’ll loose my credibility.
That’s why the rape scene in Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” is so frightening and violent. It had to be. If he had censored Nils Bjurman’s violence or Lisbeth Salander’s reactions, we as readers would have lost our trust in him.
That’s what fiction writers do, we tell the truth.
I know what you’re thinking, “OK Mr. Elliott, if you’re going to try and tell us that riding a motorcycle and writing a story have anything in common, you might be trying a bit too hard!”
Well … I am. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there’s much in common between the shifting of gears, counter-steering, and twisting the throttle on a bike and typing or writing out a manuscript. Motorcycles make nice props, and motorcyclists make good characters, but that’s not where I am going either.
Instead I would like to look at a system for safe riding (as taught by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation), and how it can help with plot. The system is called S.I.P.D.E.
S.I.P.D.E. stands for Scan, Identify, Predict, Decide, and Execute.
Scan: Think about your character. If you write out character sheets or develop portfolios for them, get them out and look them over. Get to know your characters. Look to their horizons, both the ones they want, as well as the ones that will occur.
Identify: Make notes of the key occurrences, reactions, and feelings each character will experience. Not just the ones that are central to your story. Nor should you limit yourself to only those that will occur in your book. You should be able to pinpoint those things that have had an effect on your character, whether they will be written in the manuscript or not.
Predict: Know how past experience and present disappointment will shape your characters as well as their actions. For example, when someone’s home is burglarized, they usually become angry. That’s the given. But some people loose a sense of connection to the place violated, while others suddenly feel vulnerable in all aspects of their lives.
Execute: Write it down! All of it, even the parts you don’t use. It’s OK to cut a lot of the background and ancillary “stuff” out, but writing it in the first place helps to develop the character more fully. It works the same in real life. When we describe something that happened to us, we don’t go into all the reasons we felt or reacted in a certain way, but all that “stuff” still had a bearing on the way we did.
William K Elliott
I received this photo on Facebook. As you can see, it explains the difference between a Clip and a Magazine. I don’t know who created it (which unfortunately means I cannot give them proper credit) but I do know why it was produced; no one seems to get it right!
Which, I must admit, I find very puzzling.
I just finished reading The Millennium Trilogy (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest) by the late Stieg Larsson. In “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” Mr. Larsson describes the murder of a journalist and his wife. The weapon used in the scene, and referred to many times thereafter, is a “Colt .45 Magnum.” He also describes the “hunting ammunition” used as containing a “uranium core.” The problem with the description given is that there is no such production round as a .45 Magnum, and no small arms ammunition that uses depleted uranium.
Do not misconstrue my purpose here. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the Millennium Trilogy. Moreover, I find the main character, Lisbeth Salander, to be captivating. She is such a complex and compelling person that I found myself talking to the book in effort to correct some or other misstep she takes so as to protect her! I also understand that the book was written in Swedish and translated into English, and that some of what I have written about above may be the result of the translation.
But what I wish to speak to here are not the mistakes themselves. We all make them. You, me, and the lady who delivers your mail; we all have information floating around in our heads that is categorically incorrect. And twenty or thirty years ago, correcting each of these bits of inaccurate information would have required a trip to the library and a two hour search through all the various books written on, in the case of Mr. Larsson’s .45 Magnum and uranium tipped bullets, handguns and ammunition.
But not today.
Today we have the Internet. At our fingertips, and from just about anywhere, we can access a treasure-trove of information that makes the famed Library of Alexandria look like a children’s dictionary with half its pages missing! And yet, for all that information, we seeming only use the thing to discover whose been kicked off Dancing With The Jersey Boys or whatever so-called “Reality” show happens to be popular today.
As author K.M. Weiland writes in her blog “Word Play” (www.wordplay-kmweiland.blogspot.com), “Without a foundation of solid facts, fiction folds in on itself like a house of Jell-O.” In fact, she lists “Incorrect Facts” first on her list of “5 Ways You’re Preventing Readers From Suspending Disbelief.”
And it’s true. The moment I stumbled upon that “.45 Magnum” in “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” I was instantly pulled out of the story thinking “there’s no such thing.” I even went to the computer to look it up! And the funny thing is, my search revealed the many others who were also troubled by the same error.
So, in deference to Jack Webb’s Sergeant Friday, “All we want are the facts, ma'am.” Incidentally, according to the Wikipedia page on Dragnet (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragnet_%28series%29), this is the real quote, and not the often used “Just the facts ma’am.”
William K Elliott
William K Elliott
William is a member of that ever-popular group known as “Aspiring Writers,” also known as “unemployed.” He has been dabbling in writing for some twenty or thirty years, and has finally decided to “get down to business.” With inspiration from Steven King’s “On Writing,” and a lot of support from his wife, Kristy, he has been working on his first novel.