Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Visiting Family History Series Locale Was a Blast

By Elaine L. Orr

Earlier in May, I visited Garrett County, Maryland, which houses the (fictional) town of Maple Grove, home to Digger, Uncle Benjamin, et. al. in my Family History Mystery Series. I drove or took the train through the Western Maryland mountains many times, but didn't visit as I wrote the series because of Covid restrictions and a crushed vertebra. (Note to self: human parts are delicate. Do not crush.)

 Fortunately, the Garrett County Historical Society mailed me materials and many scholars have written readily available articles on the region. The stories are fiction, but I like the history to be true when I refer to things such as building Deep Creek Lake or Civil War actions in the region.

It was fun to tour the many hundreds of artifacts in the society building on Second Street in Oakland. It also reinforced my choice to name the sleuth Digger Browning. When I did initial research, I wanted a name that would relate to the area, but would not point to a specific person alive today. I chose Browning because this was the name of an early pioneer (Meshach Browning) and he had eleven children -- and thus many descendants. 

If you look at the photo of items in a display case, you'll see a receipt pad for Brownings, Inc., which was a grocery store and purveyor of meat. In the books thus far, I haven't tied Digger to the name, but there will be plenty of books in which to do so.

More important than historical information was getting a better feel for the locale. I had never driven down to Oakland from Interstate 68. It's the county seat, and I mention it in the books so readers have a frame of reference. Because Garrett County is home to Deep Creek Lake, it's a resort area. I hadn't expected the town to 'bustle' as much as it does. 

The best surprise was Book Mak'et and Antiques Mezzanine. I had inferred it was primarily a children's bookstore -- and it has a large collection and special area for kids. However, it also has a great selection of adult titles and a very friendly owner, Judy Devlin. She graciously agreed to carry the family history series.

And then there are the libraries. For a small county, in terms of population, the Ruth Enlow Public Library has an impressive five branches. In mountainous terrain with lots of snow, most people can live near one of the branches. Such a gift. The photo is of the Oakland Branch. Note the words on the back wall -- The More You Read the More You Know.

I don't write a travel blog, but I would have to recommend the area as a terrific place to hike, camp, or simply get to know. I'll talk more about the history -- as it relates to the books -- as I begin book five. 
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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Monday, May 29, 2023

What to Watch Out for When You Write in Chunks

By Elaine L. Orr 

A previous article on Irish Roots Author suggested that authors consider writing pieces of a novel out of order (or perhaps before the order is clear) so that ideas keep flowing to paper or computer. Sometimes it's possible to envision and write an entire scene. Other times, a 'chunk' is more appropriate.

A chunk is one of several things: a discussion between two or more characters, a dramatic segment (which does not need to include physical activity), or a short explanation of anything related to a story. Whatever's in your head, get it out.

Though writing short segments can keep the author moving, the products may not end up in the story or book. What are some of the things to watch out for when writing in short bursts?

1) Including excessive background or description. You may have a very clear understanding of a character's motives or life history. The reader may not need to know all of that. Put in too much extraneous information and readers will skim over paragraphs or pages.

2) Having a hard time organizing the pieces. This is sort of a chicken-or-egg scenario. Some action or information has to precede other actions For example, before a character discovers a lost family treasure, it has to be clear that it's missing, why it matters, and what the implications of finding (or not finding) it are.

3) Avoiding the planning that goes into well-thought-out scenes or story structure. Writing can be hard and/or frustrating. To do it well takes a lot of preparation. Since you have to plan eventually, why not do it instead of writing chunks?

4) Wasting time by writing material that will never be part of a completed first draft.

The more you write the easier it is to stitch pieces together. Thus, you might be able to write in chunks without producing too much or ending up with disjointed pieces that don't relate to the plot or a character's motives or dreams.

I began writing scenes or dialogue out of order when I realized my primary stalling tactic. In early works, I'd get to a point and stop, always intending to finish. Where did I leave my characters? Always (literally, always) on a mode of transport someone else controlled. Once on a city bus, another time on a subway. I must have figured that putting someone else in the driver's seat would keep the story moving. 

Didn't work. 

Finally, I finished Falling Into Place (my favorite piece, a novella) by skipping ahead and not worrying about the middle. Once I wrote much of the last third, I knew what I needed to write to take the reader to the end.

Ultimately, writing short scenes or parts of them keeps me moving. I can't say I'm stuck, because there's always something churning if I don't worry about how it will fit with everything else. You need to decide whether (for you) writing in chunks is a worthwhile tool or a delay tactic.
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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Writing in Chunks When You're Stuck

By Elaine L. Orr

An earlier post on Irish Roots Author discussed writing scenes out of order. Why? It can keep the creative juices working when the flow for getting from action A to Action B is murky.

Scenes take a lot of thought, some authors would even say planning. They definitely need a beginning, middle, and end. Eventually they need to be placed in the most logical part of the book. But, I digress.

If a scene is more than you're prepared to write today, how about a chunk? By my definition, a chunk of writing is one of several things: a discussion between two or more characters, a dramatic segment (which does not need to include physical activity), or a short explanation of anything related to a story.

Perhaps your mind sees what a young child wears on the first day of school or what the amateur sleuth views the moment she discovers the agitated spider monkey trapped in a bread box. You don't want to lose either image. Write them -- if only a few sentences.

You may not need the chunk technique if your mind has the equivalent of dozens of paper or digital file folders and you have a good memory and you can easily get to your notebook or computer.

If you're like me, one or more of these criteria may not exist. Or, like many authors, there are many facets of your life and ideas leak out of your brain.

No matter how busy you are, you can have a three-by-five card in a pocket or note software on your phone. Jot a few sentences. Maybe half of the jots will look dumb next time you peruse them. But some will lead you to a scene or a way to express a character's motivation.

Give it a try. Check back for a blog post next week that discusses things to watch out for if you try the chunk technique.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.