Category Archives: My Writing

Writing I’ve finished and writing I’m working on

Developing Characters

Every novel and most nonfiction books other than textbooks have characters. Developing characters is a very important consideration for any writer.

Some writers may protest that a nonfiction book like memoirs are about real people, not characters. A character is the person or thing the book is centered around whether that entity is real or imagined.

In a memoir a writer may be writing a personal story, but that story happened in the past or is based on the past. And the person you were then is not the person you are now. So you must try to become the person you were then in order to write that story.

Your past self becomes a character.

For me developing characters begins with a general idea of my characters. What they might look like. A few character traits are added.

I read a book called “One Great Way To Write Short Stories” which had a list of possible character traits. I added a few I thought of. Picking a few off this list is a good starting point. It does only work for people.

Animal characters requires a knowledge of the animal and choosing character traits true to that animal. At one time animal stories were actually people stories with animals as the people, but that is no longer how most are done. When I wrote “Capri Capers”, the goats and kids were based on my own goats and experiences with them.

Developing characters is not limited to human characters
This book had both human and animal characters. Each one needed to be unique and believeable.

Developing characters then becomes putting the characters in a situation and writing the situation out. I write the situation letting the characters react to it using their basic traits. Those few traits morph and flesh out as I write.

National Novel Writing Month and Camp are good ways for me to do this. Since I can’t stop and edit without losing my word count, I push myself through. By the end of the story arc my developing characters are real characters.

Since I now have a clearer view of my characters, rewriting the novel lets me adjust the characters earlier in the story. This in turn adds depth to the story, maybe even changing parts of it to make the characters more real for the reader.

Making Writing Fun

There are times when writing is plain hard work struggling to keep putting words down and forcing the story to unfold. That’s when it’s time for making writing fun again.

I was working on “Dora’s Story” trying to get the timing right. There was a missing year to fill in somehow. I began to hate sitting down and staring at the same old problem.

November was coming. I was looking for an idea for a new novel. I needed a diversion. Where would an idea come from?

cover for Capri Capers by Karen GoatKeeper

At the time we were watching old Rin Tin Tin movie serials. For those unfamiliar with Rin Tin Tin, he was a German Shepard hero from WWI who began working in the movies. His sons followed him. There was even a television series.

The movie serials were short chapters in an ongoing story created to keep people coming back to the theaters every week. Each chapter ended in an impending disaster which was somehow averted at the beginning of the next episode.

Growing up my father used to tell us about his high school dramatic ventures. His group would write and perform a new melodrama for the lunch crowd every week. He always played the dastardly villain. At graduation the student body roundly booed him which is the correct way of cheering a villain.

As with “Goat Games” I thought why couldn’t such a serial be written about a goat? So began my wiring project for November, a way of making writing fun again.

First I needed a list of characters: hero, heroine, villain(s). Second I needed a list of possible disasters. Each disaster became an episode written in the original format with the disaster averted at the beginning of the next chapter.

Capri Capers” was not intended originally as a novel. It was only a way of making writing fun again. Except the story was so much fun.

Serious rewriting and editing turned the draft into a novel. Making writing fun was achieved so “Dora’s Story” got done too.

Coordinating Story Lines

In the Planet Autumn series, a group of people is dispatched to the planet to explore it over a span of two years. The first book, “Prelude To Autumn”, has everyone getting oriented at the Central Station. Starting in the second book, “Mounzz Of Autumn”, the people are scattered at four Stations and I am left coordinating story lines.

Although each Station is in its own area of the planet, the people are coordinating with each other. Each Station then has its own story line taking place inside the Station and links to the general story line of the Mission.

The secret to coordinating story lines as far as I can find is to adhere to a strict time line. I tend to start out doing a day by day chronicle for each different line.

I did some of the same things in “Dora’s Story“. The big difference is that those stories were separate incidents around a common character. Both the Planet Autumn series and “The Carduan Chronicles” interweave the stories.

In “The Carduan Chronicles” I am coordinating story lines between two ships that eventually meet up, or hope to. These two ships are in totally different locations as one is on the planet surface and the other is flying through space.

Carduan space ship setting for coordinating story lines
This floor plan of one Carduan space ship alters with the crates replaced by seats for passengers and shows how little area the group of 49 Carduans has and the limits on my plot for one ship.

In this book I worked each ship through a week at a time. This worked because the two ships were not in communication with each other. It was like writing two different books and melding them together. Once the two ships communicate, my tactics change.

In “Mounzz of Autumn” the four Stations are supposed to be contacting each other daily. As information is shared between the groups, the story in each Station progresses.

Once I finish this day by day alternating from Station to Station draft, I will isolate each Station story section. This will let me make sure the story line for the Station is not repeating itself, skipping events, messing up names and events and all the other plot problems that arise.

Another aspect of doing this separate analysis is adding more depth to the characters and setting. Changing the point of views to first person has made the lead characters much richer and more defined. Once the separate drafts are done, they will again be put together. Coordinating story lines is complicated, but doable, if adequate care is taken.

Finding Dora Crossbred Dairy Goat

I like the challenge of National Novel Writing Month every November. However, it means I need to have an idea for a novel every year. One year it left me finding Dora.

One question seems to pop up a lot for authors. Where do your ideas come from? In self defense we come up with some way to answer.

The truth is that they just are there. The nudge can be a book, a news item, a picture, some person we know who has something happen or something that happens or has happened in our own lives. The question is “What if?” to find a new way to look at this nudge.

preliminary sketch for Dora's Story
The drawings for Dora’s Story were done by Martha Cunningham. This is one of her preliminary sketches.

Finding Dora was like that. I was driving out to see a friend thinking about nothing in particular. I had just reread “Black Beauty” and wondered if something similar would work about a goat.

I’ve known lots of goat owners and heard or read about many more. There are owners of other kinds of livestock whose behavior and attitudes are applicable to goats as well.

I found myself thinking about possible owners and incidents. The list was a long one. which ones would I use?

Emily from the goat novel Dora's Story
In Part 2 of Dora’s Story Emily gets and names Dora to participate in a 4-H livestock project. She and Dora become fast friends. When her mother sells Dora, Emily is devastated and tries to find her.

It’s rare I sit down and outline an idea for a novel. Usually I have a bullet list of possible incidents. Finding Dora took an outline.

I decided on a cross bred dairy goat with a young girl as her first real owner. The girl was Emily. She names her goat Dora.

The big problem was the time line. The story took place over a number of years. Each of Dora’s owners had to fit into and fill this time frame. The goat shows had to fit in too along with all the classes, people and goats involved.

I still have those pages of notes. And it is several pages. Finding Dora was challenging and taught me a lot about writing.

Use coupon code FT39Y on Smashwords for your free ebook copy of Dora’s Story.

Determining Points of View

Points of view in Mounzz of Autumn has become complicated. I suppose it has always been that way and I didn’t notice.

This second book in the Planet Autumn series is centered on basic genetics and that has been the difficulty up to now. The real problem was sitting down and working out the genetics.

I like the mounzz and all their colors. These should make the genetics easy. They don’t.

In Prelude To Autumn everyone is at Central Station. It sits in the center of a circular meadow (suspiciously circular) where the mounzz graze. These animals come in vivid colors: red, blue, purple, orange, yellow and blue and yellow stripes.

For those familiar with a color wheel, purple is a blend of red and blue, orange is a blend of red and yellow. The blue and yellow stripes are an argument between blue and yellow. Dig out hazy memories of codominant and incomplete dominance in genetics.

mounzz sketch
At first Fred and the others look out the Observation Window and see these mounds scattered on the meadow. They later find these are creatures they name mounzz in “Prelude To Autumn”.

However, there are other basic genetic combinations. There is simple dominant recessive and sex linked. Add a bit of complication with a second gene affecting how the colors are expressed.

Obviously all of these would be difficult to lump into the group of mounzz found around Central Station. The solution is to have more than one Station and there are four. So I finally sat down and put the genetics in order for each of the Stations.

That brings me back to points of view. In Prelude To Autumn Fred is the main character and tells the story. In Mounzz Of Autumn Fred is now living at East Station. That leaves me with blanks at Central, West and South Stations.

Fred is again telling the story at East. But other characters are prominent at the other Stations. Fred is stuck at East. The original draft went to third person for the other Stations, but first is much better and matches the first book.

So now I am revising the points of view in a new draft. Alexandra takes over at South. Abdul heads up South. Adrian is watching over Fred’s blue mounzz at Central. And writing has become complicated once again.

Look at more drawings and try some tongue twisters in “For Love of Goats“.

Exploring Pumpkins

Plants grow all around us although we often ignore them or call them weeds. They are interesting to study and that is the real purpose of exploring pumpkins in “The Pumpkin Project”.

Pumpkins are interesting for lots of reasons. They are fun to grow. They are good to eat. They are fun to decorate. They are used in competitions.

exploring pumpkins by decorating them
People think of carving pumpkins. There are other ways to create interesting pumpkin decorations. This contest included this dog, a snake, pumpkin men and more.

I began writing “The Pumpkin Project” with the investigations. Each one of these suggested topics for puzzles. That took me to the internet where I began exploring pumpkins.

One site I found is devoted to growing giant pumpkins and entering them in competitions. People from all around the world grow these pumpkins and I emailed a few. Their stories are in the book.

Other sites listed sayings and trivia about pumpkins and there are lots of them. Some of these became puzzles or notes in the book.

exploring pumpkins by growing giants
Young Ben is seven with his first giant pumpkin, 307 pounds. The older Ben has grown them for many years and now judges at the local weigh in.

Did you know pumpkins began in South America and were grown only for their seeds? They weren’t even orange then.

I love looking at seed catalogs and packets. How do all those seeds get into those packets? I didn’t know and I found out.

Of course one activity is growing pumpkins. Some pumpkin plants are small enough to grow in a large pot. Others will take over an entire garden.

Lots of people love to decorate pumpkins and this makes a great activity. I prefer to eat them and I found lots of great recipes which I made and enjoyed eating. The cookies with lots of walnuts in them are my personal favorite.

Missouri state record giant pumpkin
Richard Bottorf loves growing giant pumpkins. He spends a lot of time preparing his pumpkin patch and caring for his pumpkins. It paid off several years as he set new Missouri state records.

My garden still includes sugar pie pumpkins. These are the best eating pumpkins. My goats think so too.

The book began as a botany science book. Once I focused on and began exploring pumpkins, the book was a lot more interesting and fun.

Get started on your pumpkin investigations, puzzles and activities. Check out “The Pumpkin Project“.

Dealing with Writing Interruptions

Over and over writing instructions say a writer should write everyday preferably at the same time. Writing interruptions don’t read those instructions or, if they do, take delight in disrupting them.

What should a writer do when faced with such disruptions?

I’ve found fighting the problems is a waste of time. It’s better to accept the loss of a day or two than to force circumstances to conform to a schedule. They won’t. Creativity dies under anxiety.

Most of my writing interruptions are weather related. The latest was the polar vortex. It was coming and had no regard for human endeavors.

writing interruptions include snow and cold
The bird feeder was a busy place for the two weeks of snow and cold with the birds almost standing on each other, scouring the ground and devouring double the usual amount of seed and suet. The birds needed extra calories to keep warm.

My buck High Reaches Augustus has a roofed over open pen. Zero temperatures and wind are not healthy for him. Two days of my writing time was spent cleaning out the barn and constructing a pen for him.

Once the cold and snow arrived, the goats and chickens needed attention every few hours. No water could be left out. Food disappeared as the animals wanted extra for calories to keep them warm.

My house is old and drafty. The wood stoves tried, but my computer room stayed at sixty or below for five days. I used the time to read and do mending. Thinking is difficult when the feet are turning into ice cubes.

A friend asked me to edit a story for her. It’s the beginning of a novel. I rarely do editing for anyone else as I simply can not work on someone else’s story and one of my own at the same time.

These are examples of writing interruptions. They suspended my work on “The Mounzz of Autumn” for the month of February.

Another problem is not wanting to write. Procrastination sets in. I sit in front of the computer and stare at it. Every sentence gets redone several times.

The three blog posts for my website fix this problem. They must get done and done on time. It seems to help that they are on other topics.

Once I’m back to typing away, the writing interruptions become a thing of the past. Now comes the next problem. After a month away, I must go back to the Planet Autumn and the crisis developing on West Station.

Don’t miss out on your free pdf of “Goat Games” this week! Drop me an email from the Contact page.

My First Book “Goat Games”

My first book was an accident. My mother tossed a crossword puzzle book into a box of Christmas gifts. None of the puzzles even mentioned goats. I decided to make up some puzzles about goats.

My best friend for making up word puzzles is an old Scrabble game with a triple set of letters. The board size is about right for most word skeletons or word searches. It makes organizing letters for anacrostics and similar puzzles much easier as well.

fun picture from Goat Games
Goats strike lots of fun poses just begging for humorous captions.

Puzzle topics were centered around goat care to begin with. Then I looked up some sayings about goats and found piles of trivia. The stash of puzzles kept growing.

Anacrostics are challenging as each letter is used only once in the word clue answers. I wanted some theme to make choosing these clues easier and came up with the National Parks. I had visited many of them and had always loved to go camping.

My favorite puzzles were number puzzles so I made up some of them. The stash was now over sixty. What was I going to do with all these goat puzzles? The obvious answer was to make up a puzzle book.

perfect goat owner mailbox
Dairy goat owners love their goats and come up with many ways to let everyone know about their passion. This was the mailbox at Price o’ the Field.

I looked up similar books and found one on horses published by Storey Publishing. It included pages about various breeds. My first book suddenly became more than a puzzle book.

I raise Nubians and am a member of the American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA). Each year ADGA puts out a membership book listing goat owners. I looked up owners of major dairy breeds living in my area. Most were thrilled to let me visit, interview them and take pictures.

Goat Project owner and goat
Goats make good 4-H and FFA projects as they take up little room, are easy for younger children to handle and make friendly pets.

Goats are used for meat and fiber as well as milk. I looked up owners of these goats and added them to the book. Extra pages were added about using milk, meat and fiber.

The result was “Goat Games”. My first book hooked me on writing.