I’m excited to share the winning short story composed by L.H. Westerlund written for the contest associated with Quarantine Writer’s Block: Exercise 1. This short story seized an every day object sitting on the desk and turned it into a curiosity adventure. Enjoy!
It looked inconspicuous. It looked like a hair accessory, that was the only way to put it. A soft fabric circle curled around an elastic, meant to be used to tie your hair up. It was made with half grey, half pink but in matching white-plaited fabrics and it stretched readily around the cord inside if pulled at.
But it lay on the working desk of the single most prized student of the greatest crafts magician of all time – well, excepting the mentioned disciple if the master was to be believed. And perhaps he unceremoniously should be.
The delicate, almost invisible white pattern going across the two colours, the gentle curve of the fabric and the hidden stitches from where it had been sewn together told nothing about the power it might hide within. The fabric was soft and felt maybe slightly warm to the touch, but was it all a trick of the mind? Was this merely something the crafter had left behind, dislodged accidentally by a hand running through her long hair as she worked?
Or was it the product of some new spell? An artifact of unspeakable power using magic most mortals could only dream of wistfully? Who knew what magic it could contain!
The fabric item lay there peacefully, mocking with its secrets. There was no way to tell. None at all… except perhaps… A shout.
“Kiera! What’s that on your desk?!”
L. H. Westerlund is a Nordic author, engineer and playwright living in London. She is currently working on several new novels, including “The End of Elena Heart” which will be available at the end of the summer, and a sequel to the children’s-series “The Truth About Monsters”.
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Unresolved situations are frustrating.
Example: If a character experiences trauma, they will be traumatized and then display signs of trauma as a result of the event.
To not experience trauma in response to a traumatic event indicates something other. This could be used as a literary device. If it is not being used as a device it is distracting and takes away from the work. Make sure all actions have consequences.
Does The Characterization Of Each Character Match Up With The Timeline?
Characters are on a journey. Each character is moving from A to B and some will go on to C or D. Along those paths each character is changed. This creates the timeline of a book. How a character is portrayed in a scene needs to match the point in the timeline a character is at.
Example: A character that is in her twenties thinks about bills and her job as opposed to a character in her teens that is thinking about school. Because of this, the relationships formed around these areas are most important in life and are the most emotionally impactful outside of family and those that might as well be family.
We Didn’t Go Anywhere
When the setting of a story changes it’s important to have some form of transition to show movement of time and place.
There are some stories that don’t include enough details about objective indicators of passage of time and check that they are consistent such that all of the details of the story align temporally.
There are some stories that don’t include them at all and it’s somehow eternal summer somewhere bizarre like Alaska.
There are some stories that include way too much detail. It’s overwhelming and distracting from the story. I am suddenly studying the passage of time and the changing of the seasons instead of the nature of man.
There are some stories that include lots and lots of details. So many details. All the details. But none of them align temporally, so suddenly April was both 6 months ago and 2 months ago with Winter only 3 months away. This is when I start getting headaches. James Joyce does this. A lot.
Characters Have Hidden Lives
It’s Okay To Have “Offensive” Characters
There’s a huge difference between an “offensive” character that upsets readers and an overdone inaccurate stereotyped character that upsets readers because it doesn’t resonate.
The best offensive characters speak to the group they’re offending because they are too accurate and too real. This will be upsetting to some people. That’s the kind of “offensive” I relish. There may be those that demand a content warning. Good – research is showing that content warnings increase the reads a piece gets much like good tagging because people are seeking them out.
I don’t care who the author is – I promise if you have done your research and shaped your character in a way that reveals truths in your observations, I will love your character even if people get really upset with you over it. Cut the wound deep and hit where it hurts, not where it’s been done ad nauseum unless it’s real. Reveal something no one else has, but remember that pen names exist for your protection.
Your Characters Have Conversations The ReaderDoesn’t Know About And Doesn’t See
An author cannot document everything. They are writing down a snapshot of a potential alternate universe that could exist because someone thought of it, right? That means all of those characters have private inner lives the reader can’t possibly know in its entirety. This means characters can have relationships with each other that are implied instead of explicitly stated. All of this helps to create depth.
It helps to come up with a full backstory for every character in a story even if it’s never talked about or mentioned. This will influence how dialogue is written and how hidden relationships between characters are revealed.
Your Characters Have Moods
Depending on your character’s internal state they will have a mood. This mood will translate into action or inaction in response to a stimulus and that will result in some consequence. Moods and energy levels related to exhaustion as an effect of the story timeline should all be cohesive.
Your Characters Of Different Cultures Are Going To Have Trouble Getting Along
Culture clash is real. The minority of people will be peaceful and fine and that’s great, but your characters aren’t the saints you think they are. Nope. They are averse to change and other cultures and view other as dangerous. This goes all ways. Be real – your characters from different cultures are going to be uneasy around each other and hesitant to make friends for legitimate reasons evolutionary wired in (if they’re humanoid).
Settings Are Places That Can Only Be KnownThrough Experience
Setting Descriptions Have A Time And Place With Characters In Them
It is not uncommon that I run into setting descriptions that are detached from the story either by the characters not interacting with the setting features or by the characters existing completely separate from setting descriptions.
By integrating setting details with the story as a whole the sensory experience can be the focus. The integrated sensory experience of the setting provides the reader with a greater sense of passage of time.
Settings Indicate Culture
Think about it – In the United States, if I set a story in the South a reader is going to anticipate a lot of passive aggressive saccharine manipulation straddled by y’alls happening. If I set a story in the Northeast, there’s a more WASPy social norm puppet show expectation.
But that’s based on the dominant culture of an area. What about when you’re writing about an area’s subculture?
I like to refer to framing subculture structures in writing as “country clubs” – it’s exclusive, you need to know someone to be someone, and there are generally specific central gathering places.
Make sure everything makes sense temporally
Ground the reader in temporal details outside the character
Offend by speaking the truth and make very effort to ensure that truth resonates in an effective and impactful way with the audience
Characters have conversations the reader won’t see but totally influence what the final dialogue will be.
Characters have inner lives, states, and energy levels that change as a result of the story. Write that.
Culture clash is real. Observe it and describe it. Be curious and nuanced. This gives a story so much depth.
Details of setting can be added to show passage of time in the story and immerse the characters and action in the location.
Settings indicate dominant culture and can somewhat indicate subcultures.
Thank you for reading! If you like this post on writing please like and let me know. What are things in books that drive you crazy?
But I really like cookies and my sister has gotten me craving cookies. I blame you dear sweet sister, Becky.
Except, unlike her, I am not an angel of the kitchen. No. I create abominations behind closed doors. I present to you:
The Pillsbury Gluten-free [Cayenne Surprise] Chocolate Chip Cookie*
“But Lo,” You ask, “What’s the surprise if you tell us the cayenne is in it?”
Well, most people aren’t prepared for a cayenne chocolate chip cookie made with coconut oil instead of butter.
Don’t forget to preheat your oven to 375F because Pillsbury says,“🦆 the metric system!”
That’s 1/2 cup of softened coconut oil, couple dashes cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoon tap cold water, and an egg.
Blend until decently homogeneous such that unsuspecting husband cannot see the cayenne pepper flakes.
Advise him that he can taste how spicy they are if he would like. Watch as he makes his “ew that has raw egg in it” face.
Laugh on the inside as you taste it and suggest adding more. He says, “No.”
Elevation seems to impact cooking time a lot for this baking mix. At 3205 feet elevation (at MSO) the cook time is approximately 10 minutes. I have made this recipe at 6000+ feet elevation and 10 minutes was not the correct time. Both were gas ovens, but there are other variables to be aware of.
Listen, gluten-free baking is weird and I’m constantly whispering incantations like “you better work you 🦆ing box of baking soda tasting 💩 “ over it. I’m not a wizard, contrary to what my last name may lead some to believe.
Once the cookies are out you have to let them cool a little, then detach them.
Next comes the fun part – the cayenne.
Dust the cookies with cayenne then transfer to a rack to finish cooling because I obviously trust you to do the right thing. Right?
Psych! Get that second batch in the oven and get your favorite homogenized nut juice some weirdo is insisting you call nut milk. Pour a glass and get a plate with at least 2 cookies.
If you are using horchata instead, you’re the true goddess, my friend.
Are you ready?
Yay! 2/2 approve! Cayenne Surprise is the good kind.
So What’s The Surprise?
The spice sneaks up on you. The tingling starts around your lips and crawls around in your throat balanced with the flavors of chocolate and cookie. It’s subtle, but you can’t eat too many. The cayenne isn’t super noticeable visually. It adds a brightness close up. Overall, I’d say this was a success. Have you tried similar with a different chocolate chip cookie mix or recipe? How did it turn out?
What should I try to add to cookies next? Do you have another domesticpotentialdisasterfor me to attempt? Comment below!
I’m excited to share that Alaine Greyson is partaking in #AuthorTube. With each video Greyson takes the time to share what she finds helpful in her journey as an independent romance author.
Romance is a genre I admire Greyson for writing. I find emotions to be one of the most difficult aspects of the human experience to capture, describe, and communicate. Greyson is a natural at writing human emotions if you read her books.
Visualize an object in your mind, or better yet, look for something “weird” you own.
Nana’s embroidery project from three summer’s ago that she gave you for your birthday? Perfect!
That Betsy Johnson cat locket ring you picked up for 50 cents at a yard sale? Golden!
That polaroid you found on the sidewalk while jogging last week? Best one I’ve heard yet!
Grab it, mentally or literally. Now, forget its past. That object is now foreign to you. Write 250+ words of new, completely fake information about that object and how it relates to a story. Think about the setting transitions the object goes through. What characters handle it? What experiences does the object witness (though it has no eyes)? To follow up with the previous examples:
Who were the people in the polaroid and how did it end up on the sidewalk?
Who bought the cat ring for who? And what was put inside?
Why did that embroidery project go terribly wrong and what shenanigans did that embroidery circle get into?
Who bought the cat ring for who? And what was put inside?
How To Use An Object In A Pre-Existing Story
In every story there are objects that characters interact with and often we forget how critical we make objects for the progression of a story. Be it a quest for buried treasure (object) or the consequences of a cursed [object], there are objects that come into play each with its own unique role. To use this exercise, you could consider one of these objects in your story as your object of focus.
Arthur is not king until he has his sword and unites the Britons (every King Arthur legend ever)
The one ring to rule them all must be thrown into the fires of Mount Doom. (Lord of The Rings, JRR Tolkien)
Trisha uses her Walkman to survive the Maine wilderness. (The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Stephen King)
Arts & Crafts
I have found that in severe cases of writer’s block a physical representation of the object is very helpful. In this case, break out the arts and crafts. No matter how bad the representation, having something you can physically interact with while brainstorming will help immerse you in that world. The act of creating the object can be its own helpful therapy. Also, the models that you make bring your story to life in your own mind, and could help ease writers block on their own. Put them on display in your writing zone.
Collage & Antiquing
Some authors will hunt for objects in antique stores – in the time of quarantine, antiquing is not really an option (except online). Pinterest albums and other collaging methods are much friendlier. Finding an image to create a sketch from or even print out as your representation is useful!
Write Around The Object
Now that you have the object, physically, mentally – whatever way works best for you – start thinking. Sometimes, I prefer thinking of minor objects in a particular scene I’ve been trying to write because it helps lead me into writing the scene I’ve been blocked on. There are many ways to flex your brain around the existence of objects within a story and how they are playing a role. This allows the object to be written around – it’s there to help break down the mental block.
Do I Leave It In The Story?
It’s easy to edit out anything once it has served you, but a writing exercise can get you writing when you’re struggling. I have based entire short stories on objects, and I have cut entire objects out of stories. The choice is up to the individual author and what they want out of their writing.
Exercise 1 Summary: With an object related to your story, either physical or imaginary, write at least 250 words about that object fitting it into a scene you are trying to write or relating it to your story.
Bonus: Do some arts & crafts to make a physical representation of your object.
Objects can be useful for helping your brain overcome writer’s block
Think about the role objects play in your story and select an object from your story to focus on.
Physical representations of objects in your story are sometimes helpful in overcoming writer’s block – these can be made with arts and crafts.
Try to write at least 250 words fitting an object into a story to overcome writer’s block.
You never have to leave what you have written from a writing exercise in a story.
I would love to feature your writing on my blog!
Please let me know if this helps you in the ways it has helped me! I would love to read every single short story written using this methods (100% serious). Tell me about your stories and the best ones will be featured in their own posts – please submit using the subject line: Object Oriented Writing. I am planning on getting a group of judges other than myself to read these if people actually participate. This contest will be running through 30 April, 2020.
Word Count: 250 – 2000 words
grammar or spelling mistakes do not interrupt reading experience
Must be capable of being rated PG
Has the entire story written following the exercise above (Beginning, Middle, End, etc)
Please be sure to include your name or pen name, contact e-mail, and other identifying information in the body of the email.
Please submit your short story in a .pdf (an attachment that can be read by Google Docs) with a unique 5 digit number you pick at the top (do not include this in the e-mail). I will use these 5 digit numbers to announce winners on Twitter.
(Optional) include a picture of your object
The story cannot have been previously published elsewhere as it needs to be a new composition using the above method.
Author retains all rights beyond the printing of the story in a blog post on LoPotterWrites.com with any other promotional material the author provides for their writing. The author can request that the story be removed at any time should they wish by contacting me.
If the above rules are not followed your story will sadly be disqualified.
You will be notified if your story is chosen (or not) by 31 May 2020 (assuming there are not thousands of submissions).
Right now there is no prize besides having your short story on my blog. I am working on figuring out ways to improve this and how many prizes I can offer.
Thank you for reading – without you, this would be a shout into the ether.