Time to Write Now By Julaina Kleist-Corwin

About Writing Plus

The Use of Natural Disasters in your Fiction

Texas hurricane 1900This photo is one of many showing the destruction of the deadly hurricane in Galveston Texas, September 8, 1900, a  hundred fifteen years ago today. Winds raged at least 115 miles per hour and the hurricane was classified as a Category 4. The loss of life, 6,000 to 8,000 people is the worst weather-related disaster recorded in U.S. history. Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 was the costliest. Hurricanes weren’t named until 1953 when they used female names and in 1979, the U.S. National Weather Service began using men’s names also. (Research is important if you use natural disasters in your writing.)

My first NaNoWriMo novel began with a tornado that hit Wisconsin, and the ten-year-old protagonist’s mother was killed in it. When I revised the novel several times, the word count wasn’t large enough. The following NaNoWriMo, I wrote about the same protagonist at age 20. In the revision stage, I combined the two drafts into one novel. Eva at 10 is in the first chapter, the second is Eva at 20, and I continued with Eva’s two ages in alternating chapters.

To keep the tension high in the grown-up Eva’s part of the story, I had it begin with her boyfriend’s suicide. I liked alternating chapters and in Hada’s Fog, I continued the style with Hada’s point of view in one chapter and her husband’s in the next one. It worked very well for both novels. I’m blogging Hada’s Fog on this site (see menu bar).

I understand what we writers are told about putting action on the first page. I have drafts in various stages with the two above mentioned novels, plus the one I’m writing now, Norman in The Painting.

By far, in comparison to the other novels, Eva’s beginning page with the tornado has

  • the most tension
  • the deepest emotion
  • the quickest character development
  • the best immediate reader identification with the protagonist.

The tornado beat the suicide in Eva at 20, it beat Hada’s anger, and it beat Jill’s fear of being killed in Norman in the Painting. Natural disasters don’t have to be in the beginning of a novel or short story. They are useful for the sagging middle to pick up the pace. But be sure it’s not just a ploy. A natural disaster in the middle needs to make sense to the story, you could make it a symbol of a relationship, have it move the story along, or add it in masking a clue in a mystery.

Keep the opportunity to add a natural disaster to your story in a file, post a note, or wherever you keep ideas. I suggest doing research if you want the disaster to be believable in the time and place you have selected.

Have you used a hurricane or tornado or flood, or…..?  Tell us about it.


Information from www.history.com



Roles of Minor Characters in Fiction

minor charac with cut it signMinor characters in fiction are supposed to complement the major characters and move the plot forward. A simple definition, but Orson Scott Card wrote an article for Writers Digest that explains other ways to use minor characters.

Card describes the unimportant minor characters he calls  “walk-ons” or placeholders. They are not important to the story except that they are “background; they are part of the milieu” like the cab driver, the bellman, or horn-honkers who stare at the protagonist in a traffic jam, to name a few. They vanish and are never seen again, often forgotten.

A minor character who is “on stage” for a longer time than a walk-on and for a purpose will be memorable if the writer makes him/her unique, “eccentric, exaggerated, or obsessive.”  “Like flashbulbs, they need to shine once, brightly, and then get tossed away.” Remember, this kind of minor character cannot be in the beginning of the story or the reader will think he/she is a main character. The minor character deserves attention otherwise why is he/she there, however, don’t let the minor character steal the spotlight away from the main character/s.

minor charac deserve attention   minor charac shifts spotlight to him

In Norman in the Painting, I wrote Jack as a walk-on, but he kept entering more scenes and now he is a minor character who has an arc. He starts as a jerk, Jack the Jerk, as Jill, the protagonist calls him. Card would say he is memorable because of exaggeration. When the tension in the plot rises into danger, Jack is there and not as a jerk.


The recent scene in Hada’s Fog I posted, (see Menu Bar) introduces a minor character named Annabel Lee. She deserves attention, she needs to be memorable, because Hada will be contrasting Lilli, one of the antagonists, to Annabel Lee’s personality in future chapters.


Annabel Lee is obsessed with Edgar Allen Poe. She’s eccentric in the way she looks and acts. Her exaggerated friendliness, although sincere, is a bit over the top with meeting people in the baggage department for a few minutes. Does she move the action forward? No. Will she appear again in the story? No. Her purpose is to show through interaction that Hada can be friendly, caring, and light-hearted, a side of her the reader doesn’t see too often.

Dill Pickle Popcorn to Add to Story Lines

Pickle dancing  I shopped at  Trader Joe’s today. The store featured dill pickle popcorn. The sample tasted good so I bought two bags since our college-aged daughter, Ariana, is living with us during her freshman and sophomore years. She has liked pickles since she was little.  Of course, I checked the ingredients and the flavor is from dill pickle oil. I wouldn’t have bought it if it was artificial pickle flavor.

On the drive home, I thought about my novels’ characters and which ones would eat dill pickle popcorn. In Hada’s Fog, her youngest granddaughter, Judi, certainly would but her older sister, Esther, would not.

In Norman in the Painting, Jack, the jerk, as Jill, the protagonist, calls him would eat the dill pickle popcorn, so would Jill and Norman, when he’s out of the painting, of course. Her sister, Viv, wouldn’t and neither would Evelyn or Maggie, certainly not Arctarius.

Jessica Barksdale, my mentor and friend, told us the benefits of writing food into our stories. Food provides several senses for the readers to experience: texture, taste, smell and hearing (if eating something has a sound, like crunching popcorn or pickles.)  Now I’m wondering which scenes would be the best places to put this new popcorn. Besides evoking the senses, how would it move the plot forward?

I received Ariana’s review as she has had her first taste of Dill Pickle Popcorn. She says, “At first it’s confusing, but then it gets addictive.”

By the way, have you tasted Cotton Candy green grapes?  Nob Hill Grocery Store has them.

Setting in a Novel

Viv's best houseThis week I finished chapters 18 and 19 in my romantic alternative reality novel, Norman in the Painting. Jill Steele, the protagonist, doesn’t like to visit Viv, her older sister in their family home. When their parents died, Viv inherited the house, which Jill didn’t want anyway. Living there in her childhood  was not a happy time and the house, although the biggest and nicest one in town, gives her the creeps because her parents were judgmental and cold. The large framed picture of her deceased parents hangs in what used to be their bedroom but is now Viv’s. Jill feels their eyes staring at her with criticism as if they were real.

In three chapters so far, Jill has to go back to the house, once when Viv is intoxicated during a thunder storm and two times when Viv is not home.

I don’t want the house to be like a haunted house or old and rundown. Jill’s family was the richest and most politically well-known in their small town so it needs to be attractive but with some uncomfortable energy.

Does this photo fit my description? If not, why?

I appreciate any feedback since I will be using photos in my promotions.

Jessica Barksdale Writing Retreat 2015

Jessica's my beta readersLast day of Jessica Barksdale’s writing retreat. I’m happy I found two Beta readers for Norman in the Painting. Kari Ann Flickinger and Gretchen Nordstrom. Now all I have to do is get the remaining one third of the book written, send it to them, make revisions from what they find is confusing, then send it to Jessica to edit. More revisions after that and then it will be published. I have a sequel in mind.

Jessica and me.

Jessica and me.

how-to-bake-a-man-with-shadowJessica’s newest novel available on Amazon.