Monday, September 20, 2021

Write Personal Travel Essays

Nancy in Rottweil, Germany

Today's photo who2w me with a well-behaved Rottweiler dog in Rottweil, Germany. The picture was taken several years ago, but is still a fond memory. We were traveling with dear friends who have since passed away. It's one reason why we take photos during our travels. Looking at them later brings back memories of the trip and the people who accompanied you.

When you add writing about the trips, you complete the circle. Whenever we travel, particularly overseas, I keep a daily journal. Must admit to those entries looking like scribbles occasionally as the days are packed full on a trip and time is rationed. 

After returning home, I go through the journals, adding a detail here and there. Then, if something stands out, I write a personal travel essay. Several have been published. The scant details in the journal are enlarged upon. 

I keep hard copies of everything I write in a large 3 ring binder (actually, 2 of them, and a third started). In one, there is a section for travel stories. I use them once in a while in programs or workshops. They are my memories, but others seem to enjoy reading about the places and events, as well. 

Besides the personal travel essays, I turned one interesting experience in South Africa into a fiction story for children. The first place I sent it accepted it. Children's magazines like stories that take place in other countries. 

What should you include in a personal travel essay? This kind of travel piece is not filled with facts and figures about a place. Those things can be worked into your essay, but the main idea is to entertain people with the personal side of your travels. Things like the first night in a B&B in Ireland, which was not a very nice place. We arrived fairly late in the evening and were sorely disappointed when we saw the first place we would lay our heads down in this country where I had deep roots. There was no place open where we could eat a late dinner. We ended up in a grocery store buying sandwich fixings, went back to the B&B and had some good laughs with our traveling companions over this introduction to Ireland. The rest of the two weeks traveling around Ireland was fantastic, but that first awful night stands out in my mind. I did not write a full essay about it, but I certainly could have with a warning to investigate the places you book thoroughly.

Include the feelings you had when a place impressed you. A heartwarming occurrence. An infuriating one. Something humorous.It's a personal travel essay, so make it seem that way. 

Try to write about the places you visit within a relatively short time after you return home. I've been known to write a first draft in longhand on the plane returning home. Don't wait too long, or the whole idea gets lost. 

One of my personal travel essays is below to give you an example.

Grandpa's Town

My husband wanted to go to Germany, rent a car and travel the scenic southern area. He had a yen to visit small towns and villages instead of big cities, which we’d already seen on earlier trips. Ken planned to drive the secondary roads and stay off the autobahn. For people who had relied on tour guides in the past, this was definitely an adventure.
In January, we started planning. I did multiple google searches on hotels, restaurants, attractions, transatlantic flights and car rentals. Ken’s job was to map out the route. He spread a huge map of Germany across our dining room table, leaving half of it clear for us to eat meals. He agreed to fold up Germany when company came.

Pointing to the map one morning, he said, “Here’s Lahr, the town where my Grandfather Kopp grew up.” His finger circled the immediate area. “It’s on the edge of the Black Forest. We could stay there for a few days and take in the surrounding area.”  

With that simple statement, our understanding and love for his grandfather grew tenfold, but not until we’d experienced Lahr.

We arrived in Grandpa’s town on a fine June day. We had good luck winging it as far as hotels went, but Lahr proved a different story. One hotel didn’t meet our standards. Three others were open, but we could never get assistance. They appeared deserted, even though the front doors stood open. We began to wonder what kind of place we’d come to.

We continued to drive up one street and down another. Around a curve, we happened on a place I warmed to immediately. I sent Ken in to look and book. It proved fit for kings and queens, and that’s who could afford to stay there. Ken kept driving, while I had visions of sleeping in the car. Then I grabbed Ken’s arm.

 “There! The Hotel-am-West-End. It looks nice.”

I liked the all-white building and the big, leafy trees that lined the street. The open deck on the second floor, ringed with colorful, overflowing flower boxes beckoned. Ken went in and returned, smiling. We had a room.

We climbed to the second floor reception area, and Ken introduced Dirk, the owner. Dirk must have lost his razor—either that or he liked the stubble on his face. His clothes were clean although a bit rumpled, but he gave us an effusive welcome, his smile warm and genuine.

Ken told Dirk that his Grandfather Kopp had grown up in Lahr. Dirk looked at the register where Ken had signed in. “Kopp? Ja, we got lots of them here.” Ken knew of cousins who had moved away, but not of any other relations here. Apparently, our last name was a common one in this part of the world.

We ambled down the hall on oriental carpeting, dragging our luggage behind, mouths opened as we tried to take in the amazing antique art and furnishings that lined the walls
We learned later that Dirk ran the small hotel and dealt in antiques on the side. 
After a quick look at our pleasant room, we met the Guest Relations Manager in the hotel restaurant. Schef was a short-legged, fat, amiable dog, who plunked himself next to my chair, hoping perhaps for a morsel of my wiener schnitzel to fall his way while we planned our agenda. We’d only been in Lahr for a few hours, but already felt warmly welcomed. 

Lahr was not a tourist stop, but had its own charm. The town was surely much smaller in the late nineteenth century when Grandpa lived here--where he went to school, played 
games, and maybe gave a wink to a pretty girl now and then. Maybe some of these shops were the same ones where his mother sent him on errands.

Each day, we thought of Grandpa as a little boy, a teen, and then a young man. In this clean, working man’s town, he learned values and formed opinions that lasted a lifetime. His cheerful outlook on life had been cultivated here on these streets. Every letter we’d received from him in our early married years began,“I am fine and dandy. How are you?” 

We did venture to the surrounding area each day, visiting the Black Forest region and crossing the border into Strasbourg, France. After one of these daylong excursions, Ken went out for a walk by himself. He seemed a bit surprised that he felt so much emotion while visiting his grandfather’s hometown. He wanted to see as much of it as possible in the time we had, and he snapped myriad pictures to show his brothers when we returned home. 
Wilhelm Kopf moved away from Lahr at age twenty to try his luck in America. He left mother, father, and baby brother as well as friends. More than fifty years later, he returned for a three-week visit telling Ken’s family in Illinois that he’d see them soon. Three months passed before he journeyed to America again. I have a feeling long-buried memories flooded back as he walked his boyhood paths and visited family and friends. He must have been reluctant to let them go again. But the pull of his family in America proved great enough to make him return.

Our visit to Lahr touched Ken deeply. Even more than a century after his birth, this was still Grandpa’s town, and a part of his own heritage. Ken’s connection may have once been a fragile thread, but by the time we left, it had strengthened considerably and had drawn me in, as well. 


Friday, September 17, 2021

Writers--Dump Those Passive Verbs


Our poster for today is one you might find in a primary grade class. Verb Flash Cards. Still pertinent for writers today. What is the common denominator in run, walk, smile? Action. 

Every writing reference book will have a section on active vs passive verbs. The passive verbs are forms of the verb 'to be.' Words like was, is, are, were, am, been, being, and will be are links to the object in the sentence, but they are weak and kind of blah. They land with a dull thud.

Action verbs bring the sentence to life. They give the reader a clear picture of what is occurring. Even the three simple action verbs in our poster let us see what is going on. They show us while the passive verbs are all about telling. 

When you are editing your drafts, do a word check on those passive verbs. When you look for the word 'was' and click on the Find button in Word or whatever program you use, you might be shocked at how many times it pops up in your entire story or essay. Do another check for the word 'is' and one for 'are' and others. One of the women in my online writing group often includes this kind of check in her critique. I have a feeling the person who subbed the piece gets a bit of a shock when she sees all those passive verbs.

So, why do we use them? They're easy! To find an active verb takes a little more thought, maybe even a glance at a thesaurus on occasion. We use a lot of the passive verbs in our everyday conversation. When we see the great many passive verbs, we need to change as many as possible. You'll still use some of the passives now and then. Your aim is to change those you can. In the end, you're going to have a much more interesting story or essay. 

You might need to change the order of your sentence when correcting a passive verb and making it active. It's fine to do that. The original meaning will stay the same. 

For an exercise, look at these sentences which all have passive verbs. Rewrite the sentence using an action verb.:

A.  Johnny was on his way to the park.

B.  She was at the circus tent. 

C.  He was going to be in the school play. 

D.  The flat tire was changed by Pete.

E.  The song was written by Sam in one day.

F.  That song is enjoyed by the high school chorus.

When you edit your work, make looking for passive verbs high on your checklist.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Cutting Words in Your Writing


Slash! Cut! Snip! Ax! Clip!  All those words relate to our poster quote today. Stephen King's advice is always right on. We should heed his words since he has written so many successful novels and a wonderful reference book for writers titled "On Writing." 

I am in agreement with him about cutting the excess fat. Last night, I wrote a first draft of a story to submit to Chicken Soup for the Soul whose guidelines state no more than 1200 words. And they mean 1200 words. My draft was 1244, but I've done the cutting exercise so many times that I feel confident I can cut those 44 extra words, and maybe more, to make my story stronger and more concise. 

Most writers don't like to cut words they have written. They are precious, but if your story can be made better by cutting, then go for it. It's not as difficult a task as some think. And, as I said earlier, the more often you do the slashing words exercise, the better you become. A master slasher! (That phrase 'as I said earlier' could be cut without losing meaning in the sentence.)

How do you cut words? Read through the entire draft first, then go back and look at it paragraph by paragraph. You might be surprised by the number of times you repeat a word that isn't necessary. Let's look at several ways you can cut words.

A. Word Repetition:  You might find a section like this:  Alice drove to the beach with tears streaming. She'd go to the beach to forget him. She loved the beach.  20 words. Rewrite it like this:  Tears streaming, Alice drove to her beloved beach to forget him. 11 words. 

B.  Idea Repetition: Some writers fear that readers will not 'get' a point they are making, so they repeat the same idea in the next paragraph. You don't need to do this. Say it once and be done. Readers are capable of 'getting it' the first time. Another possibility is the writer is not sure what to write next, so the easy way out is to repeat the same idea using different words. All it does is add to the word count.

C.  Unnecessary words: When we talk or write, we tend to toss in many unnecessary words. They are words that have no bearing on the meaning, words that, when cut, do nothing harmful to the sentence. Words like 'just, very, really, usually, that, rather, quite, and probably' can be eliminated without losing meaning in the sentence. Google 'unnecessary words in writing' to read more.

D.  Dump the word 'the' in some places: We tend to use 'the' in many places where it is not necessary. The following sentence can be shortened. We use the recipe books and the hand-written ones from our mothers. Rewrite as: We use recipe books and hand-written ones from our mothers. You've cut two words and left the meaning. When you edit, look for places where 'the' can be dropped.

E. Eliminate 'that' when possible: In this sentence, We know that Paul will be late and that he will laugh about it. The word 'that' can be cut without losing any meaning. It would read: We know Paul will be late and he will laugh about it. 

F.  Cut adverbs and adjectives:  These are modifiers and are not always needed. Some writers think if one adjective is good, use two or three. That's overkill. One is fine, and most adverbs can be cut, too. Adverbs lead you into the trap of telling rather than showing.

G.  Conjunctions:  You can eliminate the 'and, but, or' words when you are writing a lengthy sentence. Instead, cut the conjunction and create two separate sentences. Do it in many places, and the number of words cut adds up.

H.  Lengthy sentences: Some writers love long sentences. Not only can they be divided into two sentences, but also lose some words. Read a very long sentence and note ways it can be trimmed.

If you can cut words without losing meaning, go ahead and ax them. The more you work on cutting words, the easier it becomes. You train your editing eye to look for places to cut. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Endings in Your Stories

I pretty much agree with our quote today by none other than Plato. I would add that the ending is a very important part of a book or short story, as well. 

Yesterday, the ladies in my Book Club were discussing a book we'd read and enjoyed, but every person said they were disappointed with the way it ended. The reader is kind of left hanging with many questions yet to be answered. 

I've read other books or stories that have a less than satisfying ending. I always feel like the author was really done with writing and wanted it to be finished. Get it over. I've had it! What a disappointment for readers who have stayed with the full reading only to be shaking their head at the ending or still filled with questions. We want the loose ends neatly tied up. 

We know we should have strong beginnings, but the endings need to be strong, as well. There are also different kinds of endings. Everybody is happy, a lesson learned, a surprise, a cliffhanger, and more. You might google 'writing endings' and read a few articles about the importance and how-to of bringing a story to a conclusion. 

Some authors use an epilogue to let the reader know a bit more as to how the characters fared after the ending of the story. As a reader, I like them since I often wonder what happens to the characters next. 

When writing a personal essay, the ending should offer the reader the universal truth or lesson learned from all that precedes the final paragraphs. It can also be written in another part of the essay, but most often, we find this universal truth or lesson in the last paragraph or two. It's the reason you wrote the essay in the first place. It's the golden nugget you're offering your readers. 

Nancy Kress is a science fiction writer who wrote a book for the Elements of Fiction series. The title is Beginnings, Middles, and Ends. I read it many years ago when I was a newbie writer. I found it to be a clear and concise reference book. The book is still in print, hardcover, paperback and ebook. It's lasted these many years because it is well done and still relevant for the writers of today. Your library might have it, or look at your favorite bookseller website to find it. It receives 4.5 stars. We're discussing endings today, but Ms, Kress has good advice for the beginning and the middle of your story, too.

For the writer, endings can be difficult. He/she has worked hard to bring a story to the readers in the best way they know. He/she doesn't want to let the reader down with a weak ending. When editing the final draft, ask yourself if the ending is of the same caliber as the rest of the book. Ask yourself if you hurried up and ended the story, or did you put a lot of thought and planning into it?

I don't write a lot of fiction, and when I do, it's usually a story for 9-12 year olds. I often have trouble when it comes to finding a satisfying ending for the story. I don't want it to be a dull thud kind of ending, but sometimes it feels that way to me. That's when I go back and do a rewrite, and maybe another one, until I  am satisfied.

Plato's point about beginnings should be heeded, but I'd like to think he would have put as much importance on the endings, as well. I hope you will, too.


Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Sorting Out Point of View


One of the most difficult things for new writers to learn is the Point of View in writing fiction. Today's post is a repeat with a few additions, but still important now. The importance of the point of view, or whose story is this, cannot be stressed enough. My article below:

 A no-no in fiction writing is changing the Point of View back and forth in one chapter. When you are writing a novel, you need to choose one person who will help the reader 'see' the story through his/her eyes. There are, of course, other characters who help move the story along and who are important to the story itself. If you change the Point of View back and forth between characters, you'll be doing what is often called 'head-hopping.' All it does is serve to confuse the reader and sometimes irritate them. If Jennie is your protagonist, let us see the story through her eyes. Let the readers know how she reacts, what she thinks, her relation to the other characters. 

Does that mean we can't ever know what the other characters are thinking and more? The writer can let the reader see these things in the other characters by the way they act, through dialogue, and showing rather than telling. Let your protagonist 'see' what is happening by showing what another character is doing or saying. 

There is a way to have more than one Point of View character, and that is to change that POV character chapter by chapter. One chapter could be all seen as Jennie sees what's happening. The next one might be Charlie's POV. It takes an experienced and talented writer to pull it off. Some even attempt to use three POV characters

POV is a complicated issue. If you're at all confused, google a more detailed article or a book on the topic.  Keep in mind that your Point of View is the way you see things. Just you. No one else.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Writers As Mountain Climbers


On our writing journey, we have one happy day after another. The sun always shines on our writing. We are gleeful day in and day out. 

If only all the above were true! Instead, our writing journey is filled with potholes and other roadblocks. Our poster today tells us that everything is going to be alright. That's soothing. But then, the little girl says '...maybe not today but eventually'  That's the hard part.

Our own common sense tells us that all those problems we run into when we write will be fixed or look better later, not necessarily today. What we must do is to remember that and not let what feels like an insurmountable problem knock us right off our writer's pedestal. 

Writer's pedestal--you know that place we put ourselves when we're feeling good, when everything is going well, or when we've just received an acceptance, or published a book. And why not? When life is positive, we should enjoy whatever is happening. We know we'll slip right off the pedestal when the next trouble spot arises.

The writer's world is one of ups and downs. If you drew a graph showing same, it would look like a series of mountains. Isn't that what we do as we write? Climb one mountain after another until the problem is solved. The successful writer is the one who keeps climbing after she/he has slid down from one of the peaks. The writer who gives up sits at the bottom and stops trying to climb to the top of the next mountain.

We sometimes need an attitude adjustment when writing woes get us down. Once again, determination is key to solving our writing problems. That and knowing that it is up to us to get through whatever trouble spot we're in. 

We also must keep in mind that eventually, everything's going to be alright.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Write about Sad Times, Too

 Amongst all the enjoyable early fall activities this weekend, we mark the 20th anniversary of 9-11. Certainly the most somber part of our weekend and a tragedy we must never forget. Yet, today, I saw college students being interviewed saying they didn't want to hear the gruesome details nor did they want to be told who was responsible. Have the children today been so protected that they cannot stand to learn of tragic happenings in our history? If so, that's sad. All the tragedies America has experienced through the years have a bearing on what our life is like today. I feel strongly that children, at a proper age, need to learn what happened.

In that same respect, today[s post is centered on writing about the sad or tragic happenings in your life. Many memoirs center on sad lives and how certain experiences influenced the rest of a person's life. These memoirs sell. Readers seem drawn to reading about the difficult times in a person's life. Maybe because they can relate to it, or maybe to learn from what was written. 

As my regular readers know, I am a big proponent of writing family stories. Many who take up this task write about the happy times, the laughing times, the warm family gatherings. That's great, but every family has sad happenings, too. Some are even tragic. We need to write about them, as well.

Maybe an uncle went to jail for theft. His situation affects the other people in the family. Some will be angry while others may be sympathetic. Some may want to cover it up, keep the incarceration a secret, which is pretty hard to accomplish. Some family members will be heartbroken, some will feel ashamed. It's a part of your family history so don't hesitate to write about it. Write about it, but don't judge. 

Perhaps, a member of your family died in battle in the military. Definitely nothing to be ashamed of but not easy to write about either. Gold Star families take great pride in the service their loved one gave. Again, write about it and how it affected different family members. 

There are many other tragic happenings in our lives--a jilted bride or groom, the loss of an infant or a small child, the loss of a teen, loss of a spouse, dealing with dementia.. Writing about these sad times can be one step in the healing process. Not a cure, but one step in healing. People who live with issues like this have so much hurt welled up inside. Writing about what happened or is still happening is a kind of release. Even a little of that can be helpful.

Chicken Soup for the Soul has a call for stories for a new book on grieving and how a person overcame it or found some peace. I am working on a story for that book. The deadline to submit is September 30th. Read the guidelines and tips here. You might have a story to write and submit for this book. Or you may write the story to include in your family stories. You can also write it only for yourself, and that is perfectly fine. We're all different people and have various feelings on this subject. 

Mark the 9-11 anniversary in whatever way feels right to you--on your own or with your family. I wish those young people who didn't want to hear about the gruesome details or hear who did it will be willing to listen. Most of all, I'd like them to learn of the tremendous outpouring of love people gave to the families of the victims. I'd like them to know how our country pulled together. We were all Americans, not of one political party or the other, not of this religion or that one, nor of any specific racial group. We grieved together. That, too, is an important part of our history.

Write Personal Travel Essays

Nancy in Rottweil, Germany Today's photo who2w me with a well-behaved Rottweiler dog in Rottweil, Germany. The picture was taken several...