Tag Archives: fiction

The Three Blogs of Sandra Bell Kirchman


BLOG IDEAS (Photo credit: owenwbrown)

I read somewhere that blog followers are just as interested in the subject of a blog as they are the author.  Therefore, you may be interested in my other blogs, or you may not.  Heck, you might even want to touch base with them now and then just to see if I can keep up with all three.  I’m interested in that myself. On the off-chance that you are interested in one or more of my blogs, I’ll list them here, including the one you’re reading now, including the linked title and a brief description.

Tilly, Oreo, Ling Ling - picture (c) Sandra Bell Kirchman

Tilly, Oreo, Ling Ling – picture (c) Sandra Bell Kirchman

Puppy Dog Tales – This is my newest blog, started two weeks ago.  It is a casual, somewhat humorous and helpful compilation of true stories about my three little Shih Tzu dogs.  Goal is one tale per week.  Readers are enthusiastically encouraged to share stories of their own dogs.

Guru 4 gurus

Guru 4 gurus (Photo credit: sapojump)

News, Views, and Gurus – This is my second oldest blog, started in 2011.  As a writer and former journalist on the press release list, I get a lot of PR‘s from various agencies.  Some of the stories, although not hard news, are just too good to throw back on the pile.  So I set them up as a post, adding my own comments and experience, if any, with the subject matter.

"Birth of a Unicorn and Other Stories" edited by Sandra Bell Kirchman

The unicorn on the cover of “Birth of a Unicorn and Other Stories,” edited by Sandra Bell Kirchman.

FantasyFic – This is my original blog, started in December of 2010.  As the blog description states, it is a celebration of fiction writing and especially fantasy fiction.  I love fantasy fiction and write it almost exclusively, although my second love is mystery, closely followed by historic fiction.  This blog contains quite a bit of my writing–flash fiction and excerpts from novels.  It also shares some of my experience from the decades of writing I have engaged in…from character building to world building and anything in between.


Raw Emotion – Good or Bad for Your Story?

By Hans D. (originally posted to Flickr as Hooded sorrow) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons" )

By Hans D. (originally posted to Flickr as Hooded sorrow) [CC-BY-2.0(http://creativecommons.org/
licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons”)

I won the challenge of NaNoWriMo again this year and ended up with around 52,000 words of unfinished novel.   The thing is, I fell in love with it.  It is a departure from my usual fantasy writing (either urban fantasy or epic fantasy).  It’s one of those hybrids that they’re calling cross-overs between fantasy and science fiction.  I call it science fantasy.

Because of the Mayan prophecy, it sparked my imagination to wonder what would happen to my husband and me and our three little Shih Tzu dogs if there really were going to be some kind of apocalyptic phenomenon.  I took a look at my husband’s characteristics (practical, efficient, no-nonsense, American, get the job done) and mine (emotional, caring, passionate, impulsive, Canadian) and imagined a trek made necessary by the apocalyptic event.  This event is very much secondary to the story, except that it is the motivator for the fear and the drive to go north, where people initially imagine they will be safer.

I found myself delving deeper into character and relationships because the main characters were based on my husband, myself, and some other people I know.  Most of the rest of the characters are fictitious, made up, like in nearly all my stories.  So there is a big departure here.

It also seemed that I was diving deeper into some of the emotions that I would feel in certain of the events that happen in the story.  At least one of them made me cry enough that I had real trouble getting through that part of the story.  This led to my thinking about using raw emotion in a story.  Is it a good idea?  Can it be too raw, too much of a revelation of the author’s personality to the point of author intrusion?  Or can it be an enrichment of the story, allowing the reader to gain insights into the narrative that they wouldn’t otherwise?  Or can it even offer insights into the reader him/herself?

Cristian Mihai, self-published author and brilliant blogger, wrote a post entitled Write What You Know.  In it, he touches on writing about what you are passionate about, what engages your attention and draws you into its circle of charm.  He also states that many writers draw back from writing their raw emotions down, for fear of being judged.

JohnTate, a member of Linkedin’s TWO BITS group (writing advice to writers from writers), entitled his thoughts on the subject “Highly emotive story topics – Do you steer clear?”:

Many hacks parade poorly written stories of horrific events in front of the readers to capture their attention. Sure, we all glance at the accident as we pass by, but good writing has little to do with subject matter. If fact, the better writers can take experiencing a snowflake to stellar levels.

We often forget we use words to paint our “art”. If the words are not well executed, the art is crap, despite an important or horrific subject matter.

Of course, one can and should write whatever he chooses and let the market determine whether it’s worthwhile.

My favorite author as a child was AlbertPaysonTerhune, who wrote books on animals, domesticated or in the wild, mostly dogs.  The travails of these creatures brought me to tears and I succumbed to real sorrow at their unfortunate plights.  Yet Terhune wrote in a narrative way, not so much involving his own emotions as describing emotions of the animals, or even simply telling the story of what happened.  It was tremendously effective nevertheless.

In the meantime, here is an excerpt of the passage from my NaNoWriMo novel of 2012, entitled The Rocky Road to the End of the World.  This passage is the one that made me cry.  Let me set the scene.  Mark and Alex (the characters based on my husband and me) are fleeing northward to what they hope will be safety, along with a couple of people they have picked up along the way for various reasons.  They are also accompanied by their three little beloved Shih Tzu dogs (Oreo, Ling Ling and Tilly Tot).  It is important to note that one of Mark’s biggest concerns is looters.  Alex is not as aware of this danger.  Read the excerpt…decide if the emotion is too raw for you.

What woke me up was Oreo whimpering in his sleep.  I should have left him in his carrier then, but the sound was so pitiful that I just couldn’t.  In retrospect, it was a hard way to learn a lesson I’ll never forget.

I reached past Justin, who apparently slept like the dead, as we had already seen the previous day.  By twisting quietly and kneeling I could reach back and slip open the door of the carrier stacked sideways behind Justin’s seat; Oreo cautiously pushed it open with his nose.

Usually he bounded and/or wiggled his way to me, his tail waving with delight.  This time he crept…past the gap between Justin’s seat and the rear door.  I picked him up, just about breaking my puckering string in the process.  Oreo was a husky little bundle.  Tilly greeted him quietly and, trembling, Oreo pressed against me.  How terribly hard this was on him.  He hated the car, and twenty hours in one was almost too much for him.  I felt I should have let him out when we stopped for a little exercise and a potty break.  I have to admit I didn’t want to face Mark with such a request.

Tilly, Oreo, Ling Ling - picture (c) Sandra Bell Kirchman

Tilly, Oreo, Ling Ling – picture (c) Sandra Bell Kirchman

Oreo shivered and whimpered again, and I knew what the main problem was.  He had to go out, and not just pee this time.  I didn’t know what to do.  I looked over at Mark, who was sleeping as if he too were dead.  He must have been exhausted with the stress of it all.  He wasn’t a youngster anymore and dealing with people stressed him out.  I began to realize what I had done to him by inviting Justin and Patty to ride with us.

The little dog whimpered again, more urgently, and I made up my mind.  I quietly opened the door and let Oreo down on the ground.  Tilly thought that was a great idea and jumped down as well.  Her silvery coat glowed in the moonlight.  I look up and thought, Damn, it’s almost as bright as day.  This is not a good idea.  Oreo had run ahead to find the “perfect” spot for a poo.  I picked up Tilly and trotted after him.  I could see well enough to spot him in the underbrush and I let Tilly down to do her own little duty.  Just as I was picking her up, the sound of someone crunching through the brush made me spin around.

“All right, lady,” a man said, emerging into the full moonlight, “you’re gonna help me get that vehicle.”  He waved his gun at me.  “I will use this if I have to.  I want that Jeep.”

I gasped.  “You’re the man from our last rest stop.  How-how did you catch up to us on foot?  It’s not possible!”

He gave a low chuckle.  “You never saw me in my beat-up old Chevy.  I came to just as your tail lights winked around the bend and followed you.  I’m not stupid enough to attack a vehicle full of possibly armed individuals, so I was just waiting for my chance.  And you’re it.”

The man grabbed me roughly by the arm and thrust me ahead of him.  “You’re going to go back to the car and wake up the driver and tell him he has to come out.  Tell him anything…like, you twisted your ankle and can’t get back in the car by yourself with the dog.  That’s it.  Give him the dog.  That’ll distract him.

“Get moving, and limp like you mean it.”

I had almost blurted out about Oreo still in the brush, then thought better of it.  It would serve no useful purpose letting him know about the dog, and maybe Oreo might startle him at a good time.

He gave me a push to get me started.  I stumbled and started limping.  At the same time, a whirlwind of vicious growling flew at us…at the man, actually.  I had never seen Oreo in a killing rage, but he had only one thing in mind: to get this horrible human away from his beloved Mommy.

The man pivoted with a started exclamation just as Oreo grabbed his shin above his ankle.  From the sound of it, he had taken a chunk out of the shin.  The man was yelling, I was screaming…then there was a shot.

I stood still for a moment, staring at Oreo crumpled on the ground, a dark stain on his side oozing heavily and smearing his delicate, fawn-coloured fur.  I dropped to my knees, still holding Tilly, and set her carefully against me.  She was trembling and didn’t want to go anywhere.  She nuzzled Oreo.

I felt the pulse at his carotid artery, but there was nothing.  I held my hand to his little nose but felt not even a whisper of air.  The pain of his passing crushed my heart, and filled my eyes with tears that would not fall.  I thought I was having a heart attack, but I didn’t care.  My little baby was dead, and it was my fault.

The man jabbed cold steel against my neck.

“Get up, lady.  You are just lucky I don’t put bullets in you and the other little mutt here.”

I got to my feet and trembled, feeling sick to my stomach, and stood there.

“Now turn very—“

Another shot rang out and the man’s body slumped against me.  I convulsively pushed him away, and Tilly yipped as his hand swiped her on the way down.  He lay still at my feet, right beside Oreo.  I felt as though I was living in a nightmare, as though my life was running right out of me, as though I had to scream my sorrow until I had no voice.  I knelt on the ground and started to sob.

A hand gently closed on my shoulder.  “Are you hurt?” Mark asked.

I just shook my head, unable to speak, the sobs building up into something I didn’t think I could control.  Mark walked over to the man and pushed him over onto his back with his boot.  He knelt and felt for a pulse.  He stood up and shoved him again with his boot, showing disgust in his motions.

“Oreo?” Mark asked, kneeling to touch the still dog.

That’s when the dam burst.  I cried as I hadn’t since my mother died twenty years earlier.  My heart felt like it was burning up and was about three sizes too large for my chest; I had trouble catching my breath.  All I could think of was my beautiful little Oreo, such a gentle, sweet soul, and he was gone…and it was my fault.

Mark touched me on the shoulder again.  I looked up and saw the sorrow on his face.  I made a huge effort to get myself under control.  Oreo had been Mark’s little buddy.  He was always telling Oreo, “It’s hard looking after da wimmins all day.  Us men’s gotta stick together, right, Buddy?”  A shudder went through me, but I clamped down on it.

“Babe, we better get going.  We don’t know if that guy had any friends around, or if all this noise is bringing someone to investigate…or loot.”

I nodded my head vaguely.  “Sure, Mark, soon as we bury Oreo.”

Mark was silent, and I looked up at him again.  His stunned expression faded quickly to a look of hopelessness.

That look shocked me into a state of realization.  I was putting him into another corner.  Here I had not only gotten Oreo killed, but I was jeopardizing Mark, the other two people in the Jeep and the other two dogs with my sentimental notion that a burial was necessary.  I just couldn’t stand the thought of wild animals tearing apart Oreo’s little body.

Mark jumped up.  “Wait here, I have an idea.”  He ran back to the Jeep while I felt Oreo again to make sure he was dead.  From the placement of the entry wound, it looked like the man had got Oreo right in the heart.  He was definitely dead.  I tried to steel myself to the idea that nothing that happened to his body now was going to hurt him.

Mark returned, carrying Oreo’s carrier, still with the pee pad and the quilt and blanket.

“You’re worried about animals eating Oreo, right?  We don’t have time to bury him, but we can put him in here, bundle him up, and put the carrier, tightly closed and locked, up in a tree.  That will keep him safe.”

Tears streamed down my face.  “Thank you, Mark,” I said softly.

It didn’t take us long to wrap him lovingly in his blanket and for Mark to put the carrier up in the limbs of a burr oak that overlooked the little clearing.  It was silly, I know, but I liked the idea of the pretty place we’d found for him.  He had loved barking at strange noises and he loved sitting in the sunshine in our beautiful backyard.  He would feel somewhat at home here.  Oh, damn!  I shook my head and hurried back to the Jeep.

So, how about it?  How would you have written this?  Maybe you wouldn’t have written it at all.  Share your thoughts on the writing of raw emotion.

The Pain of Revising and How to Cure It

Here what James A. Michener had to say about revising:

James A. Michener, author

“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.”

After reading the towering masterpieces of this American writer, works such as Tales of the South PacificHawaii, and Centennial, I believe it.

At the beginning of my career not only did I not believe Michener , but I hardly ever did any rewriting, other than correcting typos.  This one time I had spent hours on a short story, lovingly carving each word and bringing it to life with my own blood and tears.  When it was finished, in the flush of creation I deemed it perfect and sadly didn’t look at it again.  Instead I sent it out “as is” to an editor.  The story was rejected.  I sent it out again.  Rejected.  And again.  Rejected. 

The fourth time was the charm.  On the standard rejection slip, some kind editor had scribbled.  “Needs ext. revision.”  After getting over my first knee-jerk reaction of angry denial, I spent some time puzzling over what “ext.” meant—surely not “exterior”?  “Extra”?  Extant?  It finally dawned on me that it meant “extensive.”  I sank in my chair, amazed and chagrined…not my perfect story that was so beloved and contained so much of my bs&t (blood, sweat and tears)!

Sheesh, was I embarrassed!

I pulled the manuscript out of it return envelope and started reading.  My face slowly heated up as I became more embarrassed the further I read.  Not only did purple prose stare me in the face, but there were typos.  I struggled with revising it and sent it out again; but I never did sell that story.  I finally filed it under UNSOLD and moved on.

For a couple of years after that, I always read my manuscript over and tried to revise it.  Trouble was, I didn’t really know how to revise.  Then I got my hands on a book, which changed my writing life.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name or author of the book and I loaned it to someone who never gave it back.  However, I learned to enjoy revising, and it became a challenge to find the areas that needed revision.  Once that happened, I started to sell my fiction material.  Most writers I know of credit their success to successful revision of their first raw draft.  Some writers revise many times.  Some only once, but the ones that do no revision at all are rarely successful.

Here are some of the things I have learned about revising, which I will be demonstrating in my next post with my work in progress, Battle Cleric.  It’s sort of a first draft and needs work.  I will share with you how I do it.

1.  Start off stories with a bang.  It doesn’t have to be direct action, but it does have to be compelling, in a way that makes the reader ask questions and WANT to read on to find out the answers.  In short stories, it is called the sizzler, the zinger, or the hook.  In a novel, you want to introduce the main character and give the reader an idea of what the book is going to be about.  If you have a theme for your story, it would be helpful to put it in the first few pages as well in some way.

2.  Don’t give too much of the back story in the beginning.  Let the reader find it out through dialogue, through flashbacks later on, and through deduction.  If you see a man in a robe that is not a bathrobe, custom declares that this story is not set in modern times, and quite possibly not of this world.  That is a clue for the reader about time, place, and circumstance.

Throw away the throwaway words.

3.  Remove all throwaway words.  These include there was, there are, there is, there were.  Check all adjectives and adverbs to see if they are absolutely necessary.  Strength comes from your verbs, but watch out for purple prose.  If you have too many people howling, roaring, stomping, crashing, etc., it starts to become melodrama, which is often unintentionally funny.

4.  Be careful of dialogue tags.  You want to minimize such tags as whispered, sobbed, laughed, choked, gurgled, etc.  Said is the best and most invisible dialogue tag you have in your toolbox of words.  Said is your friend.  Occasionally, you can insert one of the more powerful verbs as a dialogue tag (roared, stammered, shrieked, etc.), but they are like strong spices in the stew of dialogue tagging…meant to be used sparingly.

Watch out for the eyes.

5.  Watch out for eye movement.  Hysterically, she threw her eyes around the room (and what? Spent the next hour searching for them blindly?)  I have seen eyes slanted at, cut toward, sweep a room, send a disgusted glance, and so on.  It has always made me laugh.  You don’t want uninvited laughter from a reader.

6.  Search for awkward phrasing.  For instance, you probably have been told never to end a sentence with a preposition.  But the writing can get stiff and overly formal if you hold strictly to this.  You can either rewrite the sentence to avoid the preposition altogether.  Or you can do it the way you were told not to.  See?  The world didn’t come to an end when I did that.

There is lots more to come.  I learned a ton over the last three or four decades.  And I want to share it all with you.  But not all at once 🙂  So be patient, and practice working with those first six I have just given you.  You will be amazed at the resulting cosmetic and intrinsic value of your writing.

Where, oh where, has my main character gone? – Describe the locale where your main character finds him/herself.

We entered a clearing where the path was broader and more firmly packed. As the clearing widened, it became more like a meadow bordered by trees, with the sound of water slapping against a shoreline beyond; on the far shore of the blue lake stood the tree-covered slopes of the Challa Mountains. I expected to find rough village huts such as one would find in a goblin encampment, but I found I had underestimated the Strakkin and their esthetic senses. As a matter of fact, despite my turmoil, I had to stop and appreciate the loveliness of their town.

Houses were spaced along a broad avenue of packed earth, with a large lodge at the end of the avenue, which I mistakenly took for the chief’s house. The smaller buildings were made from hewn logs that came from the slender birch trees scattered throughout the forest. Each house, raised from the ground by framework closed in by open latticework, had two or three rooms, which were visible from the ground. This was because the end wall was open and strung with beaded hangings that glittered in the sunlight.

You could see into the home’s main area, but the other rooms were private, closed off with brightly colored woven cloth. The roofs were made of split wood, tiled to prevent leakage and seamed with some kind of dark material, like tar, except where on Athero would these people find tar? Certainly not in the northern woods of Challa. The whole effect was rather ethereal with the weathered silver look of the birch, the filmy latticework of the open foundation, the beauty of the beads and gaiety of the colored cloths within.

The picture above left is one of the pictures I collected to help me visualize the area that I have described. This description starts shortly after Emerald, the High Priestess, and main character of the story, has been captured by the Strakkin, an undiscovered race of dark-skinned people on Athero. Emerald is on a desperate mission to save both the benigns of Athero from a savage coup by the maligns, as well as her own eyesight, and cannot spare the time to be captured. But there she is. This is her first glimpse of the “natives’” home and she is quite taken with it. The reason this description is important is that it starts giving clues as to where the Strakkin actually come from. I won’t tell you more, though, and spoil the story.

So here’s a little exercise for you…look at that picture and place your main character in it. Describe the scene through his or her eyes and little by little reveal why s/he is there. Try doing it in 275 words or less (the above quote is 276 words). If you wish to share it with us, we would be delighted. If not, that’s okay too. If the above picture doesn’t work for you, find another one that will. Good luck and have fun!

How to describe a fiction character by finding her face

Woman's face, selected for Kyan.

The face to the left is a reasonably pretty face, older, say in her late 30s or early 40s.   However, there is nothing tremendously remarkable about this face.  So why do I have this picture featured in my post?  Easy–it’s an exercise I do to not only find or develop a character, but to then have a simple, visual way to identify one of my characters rather than reading a bunch of description.

It’s okay, if you only have a few characters, but if you have a lot of characters, as I do in my WIP, Battle Cleric, the Novel, then I need a quicker way to identify the character and pull up some characteristics i might need for my next scene.

Here’s how it works.

Decide which comes first—the chicken or the egg.  In this case, do you have a character you want to explore more fully?  Or are you looking for a character to fill a certain spot in your story?  In this case, I have a character, and I know a fair amount about her.  She is an Eslin elf, ex-soldier formerly under the command of Emerald Verity, erstwhile battle cleric, retired, and now High Priestess of the Maker in the Eslin elf city of Shemara.  She is now Emerald’s personal assistant and her name is Kyan.  Since she is a minor character, albeit an important one, I have not fleshed her out more than that.  I want to do it quickly and get on with the story.

So I went looking for a character in all the magnificent galleries that allow free use of their photos.  I had a vague idea in mind about what she looked like, nothing really concrete, and I also knew approximately how old she is.  I searched through gallery after gallery of pictures of women’s faces.  Nothing.  I didn’t think I was being too particular, but no photo reached out to me and said, “This is your character, Kyan.”  Then suddenly it happened.  There was the perfect Kyan.

I studied the picture and began writing down what I saw in the picture—age 37, light brown hair and eyes, pretty face that is unmarred by the horrors of battle, a strong personality, very loyal, innovative and creative, a lover of the outdoors and animals both wild and tame.  This last part made a perfect set-up for Kyan to be the keeper of the puppy that finds its way on board as Emerald and her crew search the oceans of Athero for the elusive green Sea Rose.  I won’t tell you more about the puppy now, because that will spoil it, but it is a very special puppy and needs a very special keeper.

Who is this character and what does he look like?

The serendipity of uncensored writing comes into effect when you are looking for one thing and find another plot point or character or both pop up because of the stimulus of the face of your character.

I found out quite a bit more about Kyan, copied it all down, then linked the picture with Kyan’s name to the description, and placed the picture on the page of character pictures I have.  I can now look at that page and at a glance tell a lot about the character.  If I NEED more detail, I can go to the full description via the link.  It works beautifully for me.

If I had been looking for a character to be Emerald’s personal assistant, I would have done the same thing, only perhaps I wouldn’t have had to do a little prep work first—sex, age, physical condition at the very least.  If I found a great photo that didn’t match, that’s okay, I could change it.  The visual backup here is very comforting for a writer who deals nearly exclusively with words and text.  It rounds out the picture of the character and makes it easier, at least for me, to write good action scenes and dialogue involving the character.

Try it yourself.  I would love to hear back from you how it works for you.