10 Factors That Influence My Storytelling

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Do you ever hop on a treadmill or drive your car and realize you have a lot of time to think? That happened to me over the weekend, and I was thinking about National Novel Writing Month and how different aspects of my life influence my storytelling. I’m sure the same is true for many of you fellow writers out there, but today I thought I’d share the Top 10 Factors That Influence My Storytelling.

1] PEOPLE

No matter where I go, live, work, play, or visit, the people I know, love, or meet for the first time influence my stories. As writers, we take qualities from people we know and love, as well as interesting tidbits from folks we meet along the way. People who share their stories are the best—for it offers a glimpse into someone else’s life.

2] PLACES

As you can probably surmise if you’ve read two of my novels, one set in Annapolis, Maryland, and the other set in Oxford, Maryland on the Eastern Shore, I like to write about places. Being able to work on describing that place so well that your readers can “see, hear, smell, taste, and touch aspects of it,” evoking all of your readers’ senses, is imperative to good writing about places. This is one of my favorite things to do. I welcome the challenge of putting someone somewhere and having readers live vicariously through the characters in their setting.

3] HEARTBREAK

As most people have experienced some type of heartbreak (or many types of heartbreak), I am no different, and I use those emotional experiences to my advantage when writing. Sometimes writing requires you to go to those dark places when things weren’t so pleasant or grief was painful. Being able to tap into those times when life wasn’t so much fun helps inform my writing and make it realistic. But I—and other writers alike—have to be willing to remember how it felt to be heartbroken.

4] LOSS

Whether we have actually experienced loss of any kind or can just imagine loss, writing about it means we have to dig deep and feel it. And it doesn’t just have to be death. I’ve experienced loss in my life that wasn’t my choosing—from friendships to breakups—and being able to recall and craft those types of instances helps mold characters and influence storytelling.

5] RELATIONSHIPS

There is no doubt that I tap into relationships that matter to me, have influenced me, or have touched me in some way. They always say people come in and out of your life for a reason; sometimes we know why and other times we are left scratching our heads wondering why that person was in our life in the first place. Nevertheless, using relationships as touchstones in our own writing will help bring it to life. I like to use aspects of my real, nonfiction relationships in all the stories I write.

6] OTHER BOOKS I’VE READ

Other books can be tremendously influential. We glean ideas from other writers, ideas about style and cadence or our storytelling, and ideas and techniques from those who do what we do. Reading all types of works helps us determine how we want to set up our stories. Many books have influenced my style of storytelling, from Rosamunde Pilcher to Charles Dickens to JoJo Moyes.

7] WHERE I WRITE

I’ve blogged about and done a PODCAST about this so many times that you are probably sick of hearing me or seeing me write about this subject. I absolutely must be inspired by the space in which I write. If I am not “feeling” my surroundings, I will not be motivated to write anything. And the worst thing that can happen is to be uninspired, sit there, and not write a thing.

8] PAST EXPERIENCES

Every past experience influences my writing. I’ve made some stupid choices in my life; likewise, I’ve also made some really good decisions as well. Being able to give your characters realistic experiences helps them seem real, so draw from your own life, experiences, and mistakes. This is a great way to write realistic characters. As no one is perfect, neither should your characters be.

9] MY IMAGINATION

When I wrote Baseball Girl, a friend of mine called me afterwards and asked me which player I dated on the Orioles. I laughed. I explained that I didn’t date any player on the team. She said, “Come on!” “No!” I told her. “I just have a really good imagination.” I had worked in baseball for a long time, and my eyes and ears had seen and heard a lot. So, I tapped into my imagination. That’s when you know you’ve got something good—when your imagination is working overtime. That’s when you’re in your groove.

10] LOVE

Finally, what would any of my books be without LOVE? I write about love, in all its forms, from family to friendships to deep romantic love. The definition of a hopeless romantic is “someone who is in love with love.” Yep. That’s me. So I write about it. It’s what makes the world turn, and it absolutely influences everything I do. I’ve loved a lot of people in my life, so why not turn that love for people into some memorable fictional characters and stories. That’s what I intend to keep doing for a very long time to come.

Steph’s Scribe & National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

This morning in my two sections of feature writing on campus, I had students engage in an activity for writing DESCRIPTION. We tapped into our senses of smell, touch, and taste, and I had the students smell different items and try to describe the scents (one was from my garden, one was a spice, and two were candle scents); next, they had to touch something and describe that feeling (it was my daughter’s jar of slime, and they were pretty grossed out—it was awesome!); then, they had to take a bite of something and write about what it reminded them of by describing it through a story (it was a piece of a graham cracker). We turned the lights down low, listened to some relaxation music featuring waterfall sounds, and we wrote. I tried to get them in the frame of mind to enjoy writing, a task many of them do not enjoy. Then, they had to write about a personal experience focusing on description.

I love writing, but not everyone does.

I love writing, so I’m working on inspiring others to write, both inside the classroom and outside of it.

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Books that started as National Novel Writing Month projects. Amazing!

November 1 marks the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. Famous, well-known published authors have started their novels during this time, and whether you can actually complete the designated 50,000-word novel in four weeks, or it simply prompts you to begin writing “that story” that’s been in your head for a while, I’m going to be right here with you encouraging you EVERY DAY OF THE MONTH OF NOVEMBER. That’s my promise. Whether it’s a quick word of encouragement or a post of my latest writing to show that I practice what I preach (and maybe even post excerpts from what I’m writing as a sequel to Inn Significant, my latest work), I am going to be that voice cheering you on and saying, “You CAN do it.”

Likewise, Stevenson University has been designated as a writing space for NaNoWriMo, and we are kicking it off on November 1 in the School of Business Library at 2 p.m. I’ll be giving a very short talk on writing and getting people inspired, and the Library has created a website with prompts to encourage writing. All are welcome.

I’m excited—truly, I am. After a short bout of writer’s exhaustion having produced three novels and one textbook in the last five years, I needed a short break. But now I am energized to get back at it. In other words, my writing mojo is BACK.

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All three of my novels, but I’m exciting to start something new during NaNoWriMo…are you?

I hope you’ll join me for the wonderful journey we’re about to take. Getting your thoughts on paper is super therapeutic, and telling a story that’s been in your head for a long time might just be one of the best things you’ve done in a while.

I’m looking forward to NaNoWriMonth—and I hope you can create some space for yourself to write—even if it’s for only 15 or 20 minutes a day, to do what John Mayer suggests we do in his song, “Say”—

“Say what you need to say…say what you need to say.

Say what you need to say…say what you need to say.”

Let’s give it a whirl, shall we?

How Pieces of You and People You Know End Up in Your Characters

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Luckily, for some people I know, I don’t write a lot of villains into my novels. As I do in real life, I try to not let nasty, uncaring, judgmental, ridiculously competitive and fake people seep into my world too often. However, in the short stories I write, I let them in because I don’t have to deal with them for too long, as short stories are just that—short. However, writers have to allow what we learn about people to grace the pages of our stories and illuminate our characters; these sketches of folks should glide into our stories seamlessly. As well, the same is true with the goodness and quirkiness and loveliness of people.

For example, in my recent novel Inn Significant, I texted my friend Charles and told him that Miles was based on him and my husband—kind of a conglomeration of the two. He had no idea, and was flattered by the depiction of Miles in the book. There are people in real life who can bring liveliness and charisma and charm to the characters you are writing—so let that unfold as the characters are made up of characteristics that you see in people.

As for us as writers, how much of ourselves do we let into our stories? I have a wild imagination, so I tend to consider the character and what he or she likes and what would make them that way. For example, in Inn Signficiant, the main character is Milly, and she narrates the book. How much of Milly is in me? Well, let’s see. We both love living near the water. We both are writers and like to read. We both love cruiser bikes, though hers is pink and mine is seafoam green. We both love our families. We both know what true love feels like. We both know what heartbreak feels like. We both value a pretty simple life. We both have a sense of humor.

What we don’t share is that she has felt tragedy, as she has lost her husband in a horrific accident, and goes through a bout of depression. And while I haven’t felt loss like Milly (thankfully), I can imagine its intensity, devastation, and profoundness. I also understand what feeling depressed is like, as I bumped up against that a few years ago during a trying time in my life, and one in which I learned a few lessons about good friendships vs. yucky ones.

As writers, we have to allow these things we know and understand to help develop our characters. We do allow bits of ourselves to show up in our characters, and if it’s not a bit of us, then it’s a collection of bits of others that we know, have interacted with, have been friends with, or maybe even have had a falling out with along the way.

The main point to writing character is to believe that they are real, and then make others believe that they are real. Make them so authentic that people completely understand them. That’s not to say that the characters might not drive readers crazy at times or make them shake their heads and say “what?,” but we need to put realism into our writing.

Plot is wonderful, but people have to be able to identify with the characters.

Years ago, I read the book The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbaugh. I read this book because I was writing Baseball Girl, and I wanted to read as much baseball fiction as I could before I published anything. While Harbaugh’s writing is absolutely beautiful—a true work of literary splendor—the characters were, to me, wholly unbelievable. I couldn’t relate to any of them, and truthfully, only finished the book because I was so deep in at that point, that I needed to see how it ended. But I didn’t enjoy it that much, if I’m being truthful. I desperately wanted to connect with any one of the five main characters in the story. I wanted to find some of their actions redeemable, and yet, I came up just feeling this way about it: meh.

My goal is not to have anyone say meh about my characters. I keep that in the back of my mind the entire time I’m writing.

So don’t leave yourself out of the equation when writing strong, memorable, and relatable characters. You have the potential to bring so much to the story.

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Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

 

 

Answering the Question: How Many Books Have You Sold?

How many books have you sold?

It’s the question people like to ask me about my recently released novel entitled Inn Significant. It seems to be the question people have on their minds as the marker that indicates how successful the book has been thus far.

The funny thing is, I liken the question to someone asking me about my age, how much I make, or how robust my sex life is.

Sometimes we are focused too much on the results and not on the process. At least that’s what my husband and I try to teach our kids. The most important aspect revolves around the process that helps us achieve our goals; the results are often secondary (and yes, at times, can be quite important).

As for Inn Significant, I didn’t set out to write a bestseller. That thought is not based in reality; I like to think more realistically. When I began writing the novel, I set out to start the process, see the process through, and complete a project. A writing project. Do you know how many people start something and never finish it? My goal is always to complete it. Writing has been in my blood since I was about 13 years old. I feel compelled to tell stories, and I’m more concerned with the process of that storytelling journey than I am with the results of that journey.

Moreover, I find myself echoing the sentiments of writer Elizabeth Gilbert when she says, “…if I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something (myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind).” Well said, Ms. Gilbert.

If you have the creative inspiration to redecorate a room, you do it, don’t you? If you have the urge to build a spectacular garden with a fountain in your back yard, you take it on, right? If you sit at a blank canvas and paint something that moves you, you don’t tell your inspiration to run away and hide, do you?

No, you don’t; nor do I. If I have the inspiration—if it happens to bless me with a story I think I can piece together in a meaningful way—I write it. Why would I tell my creativity to take a flying leap?

As for book sales, I do my best to try to promote the book, talk up the book, market the book, and sell the book where I can. Just this week, I entered two independent author book contests, and I’m about to enter more. I sent my book off to people who may be able to help promote it. I mailed out press releases. I was booked to talk at a library and a book signing is in the works at a bookstore. I do what I can.

But this is not why I write.

I write, once again, to quote Elizabeth Gilbert, because of this one, main reason: “…at the end of your creative adventure, you have a souvenir—something that you made, something to remind you forever of your brief but transformative encounter with inspiration.”

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 11.07.47 AMTo put it simply, I just like to be able to say that I welcomed inspiration and “I did it.”

I also love the fact that my kids see their mom be fearless about putting her creativity out there.

That’s a process worth teaching.

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15781589_865992106837911_1585157622209528074_nStephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of the newly released Inn SignificantBaseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree.  Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt. 
To visit Stephanie’s Amazon Author page and see her books, click here.

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