On Life

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.

 

 

On Life

Put Your Positive Pants On: Staying Positive Amidst Negativity

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Some people enjoy dwelling in negativity. All you have to do is look at some of the political media coverage in our country to know this is true. The media loves to dwell in and propagate negative thinking and doom and gloom, and it can be suffocating. When I feel this way, I turn off the television.

The same is true in real life: when people are filled with negativity, I tune them out as well.

This is not to say that disturbing things don’t happen today. There are, indeed, very disturbing situations taking place all over the world, but when we begin to allow them to affect our own personal outlook and ability to change things, it could hurt us in the long run.

I don’t like being held captive by negativity. By nature, I’m a positive person, but a few years ago, I felt myself go into a downward spiral, I didn’t like it, and I didn’t like who I was becoming. Not one bit. I made a conscious effort to get myself back to who I was and to the power of positive thinking.

Since I’ve done that, a whole lot has changed for me. For the better. I don’t have time to feel badly now—about myself, about others, or about the world around me.

Instead, I’m focusing on how I can do the things I want to do and be the kind of person I want to be in a positive light. I am in control of how I can make a difference and positive impact on people and situations.

There will always be those people who want to see you NOT do as well as they do. There will always be folks who are NOT rooting for you. And, there will always be a line of thinking that is not in line with YOUR way of thinking. These obstacles are just that—obstacles—and you have to power to overcome obstacles. Turning up your positive volume requires you to be strong when you have tremendous belief and passion. Forge on, and remember that the positive energy comes from within you and not from outside sources.

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There are a plethora of quotes and articles about the power of positive thinking. This stuff is real, otherwise, we wouldn’t pay attention to it. And, more than that, it is effective. Things can change for you by adjusting your sails, as John Maxwell’s quote above indicates.

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I had to explain to one of my kids the other day, who was being a little harsh on himself, that the worst thing you can do is to compare yourself to others. I asked him if he did the best he could do on a particular endeavor, and his answer was “yes.” I explained to him that I don’t compare myself to other writers, because if I did, I might start feeling really awful about myself. I told him that what I do is to compare myself as a writer TODAY to the writer I was YESTERDAY, or more specifically, I ask myself if my latest book is better than the one I wrote before it? The only person you should ever compare yourself to is who you were yesterday–are you better than you were the day before and the day before that and the day before that. Comparison leads to negativity, and we should just stop doing that immediately.

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If you want to compare and be competitive, then compete against yourself. That can certainly be a motivator. And, it can be easily tracked. You will know for sure if you are doing better each day.

Positive attitudes can truly change your outlook on things. And it beats the alternative of being down in the dumps, angry, bitter, and negative.

Just typing those words leaves me feeling uneasy.

 

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.

 

 

On Life

Writer’s Toolbox: Tips on Writing Successful Description

Inn Significant | Available via Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com

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One of the tips I have students practice a lot in my college classes is writing using their senses. In case you have forgotten how to do this from your writing classes, it means to write using your sharpest senses. Start any passage by asking yourself these questions:

What did it smell like?

What did it look like?

What did it taste like?

What did it feel like?

What did you hear?

Sharpening your senses will make your writing vivid. Remember: we are shooting for the ideal, which is to transport people to that moment, place, or situation. When a reader becomes completely engrossed by your words—your magic ability to string words together to create a seamless paragraph that is telling and compelling—you have successfully transported them to that moment in your work.

Here’s an example from my latest novel entitled Inn Significant. In it, the protagonist and narrator, Milly, opens the contents of her dead husband’s box that she forgot she had moved with her into her new cottage at an inn. She loved her husband more than anything. Here’s the scene:

When one lone box remained, I opened it. I must have forgotten to label it. Gil’s belongings were inside the box. As soon as I lifted the lid, an aroma I had been familiar with for fifteen years wafted into the air, and I remembered all that I had saved. Gil’s favorite ballcap, the Orioles hat he bought at the ballpark when we went with a group of friends to the game; his favorite t-shirt from our trip to Italy; his college sweatshirt I seemed to wear more than he did; his wallet made of Italian leather; several cards and letters I wrote to him over the years; the Burberry watch I gave him on our tenth anniversary. I picked up the shirt, the one I could picture him in when I closed my eyes that said “Italia,” and brought it to my nose. He couldn’t really be dead; there was still a scent of him in the clothing. His wallet contained a picture of the two of us. I sat down on the floor of my parents’ cottage wishing I’d never opened this box. I wept uncontrollably, ignoring all the advice I’d received from Gretel, Angela, my parents, my sister, and even Miles.

After many minutes of inhaling the scent of my dead husband and having a complete breakdown, I heard the knock at the door. (from Inn Significant, by Stephanie Verni, copyright 2017)

In this scene, I wanted readers to understand that she could still smell her husband, even though he was no longer living. In her mind, she was having trouble acknowledging that he is dead. And while I never come out and say he smelled like——, it is understood that he had a smell that she could identify. The description of what she finds is vivid; she recounts each item for the reader so the reader can “see” what she’s uncovered from the box…his Orioles ballcap, his Italia shirt, the leather wallet. The reader can visualize all this stuff and can then, also, feel empathy for Milly as she removes it all, one by one, from the box.

When I’m teaching a writing course at my university, I use this example in class: What do you picture if I say, “The house at the corner of the street.”

If I say that to you, we all picture different houses at the corner of a street.

Diagon Alley at Universal Studios, Florida.

Now, if I say this, “The white house with green shutters, overflowing, vibrant flower boxes, and a curved slate walkway with a white picket fence,” a clearer picture comes to the reader’s mind. It’s easy for us to use our imaginations, but we appreciate that we actually can “see” the image the writer is creating for us.

Why do you think our mouths drop open when we visit Diagon Alley at Universal Studios? It’s because it looks exactly the way J.K. Rowling described it in the Harry Potter books. The description has come to life.

And so should yours when you are writing.

Allow yourself time as a writer to do this.

Practice using your senses; they will take you places.

 

 

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.

 

On Life

“Beautiful. Brilliant. A Work of Literary Art.” – Summer Book Giveaway on Amazon

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A couple of good things have happened over the last two weeks. First, Inn Significant received a Finalist Award from the National Indie Excellence Awards. Second, Inn Significant received a 5-Star review from Readers’ Favorite. I think those two honors warrant another giveaway for the book, don’t you?

To enter to win a book in my Amazon giveaway, just click this link and it will take you there. https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/7bf380fda4adadf1

And then, let me take you to Oxford, Maryland (click here to see an lovely overview of the town form Only in Your State), where one reader said, “Brilliant. Beautiful. A work of literary art. The vivid imagery of Oxford, as you did with Annapolis in Beneath the Mimosa Tree, is just outstanding. No, its not just outstanding. It is compelling. It inspires me to return to a town I have twice loved.”


I hope you’ll enter to win and see what I’ve been up to, not just here on the blog, but in my novel-writing life.

I’d love the privilege of telling you a story.

 

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.

 

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On Life

Overwhelmed at Work? Block Out Some Time for Yourself | Book Review

The other night when a group of ladies met to discuss my current novel, Inn Significant, for their book club, they asked me this question: “When do you find time to write? As a busy college professor with a family and other obligations, how do you find the time?” The answer is highlighted in today’s blog post: I block out time. And guess what? It’s easy to block out time to do something you love. That’s me today, just finishing writing this blog post, which I blocked out time to do. Enjoy!

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Here’s the scenario: Your inbox is overflowing. You have tons of emails to respond to, in addition to answering social media inquiries, answering texts, and making phone calls. You arrive at work and you already feel overwhelmed with what you must accomplish. You are all set to be productive, and then your balloon slowly begins to deflate as you sit sipping your morning coffee being totally reactionary and not proactive about what you need to accomplish. You know you have things you need to get done, and hope you can squeeze that in during the day.

Does this scenario sound familiar at all? If so, I’ve got some help for you, and it comes in the form of a little book called Manage Your Day-To-Day: Build You Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, edited by Jocelyn K. Glei. This book gets right at the heart of managing your daily work responsibilities, while also incorporating time for your own work pursuits. Comprised of short articles from experts in the field, you’ll find yourself nodding along and wanting to better construct your daily schedule. I’m certain of it.

While the book focuses on creative types primarily, it is perfect for anyone who feels overwhelmed by technology’s ability to creep into our lives and not leave us alone—not even for an hour or two while we work on something important.

The idea of “chunking” or “blocking out time” on your own calendar to be productive is at the heart of this book. As worker bees, we need to be productive and we need to answer emails. This is true. However, that should not come at the expense of our creative endeavors. They have to be in conjunction with each other.

The book’s brilliant suggestion is to make that morning time YOUR time. Get in early to work when you are fresh and block out the first hour or hour and a half that is YOUR time to do YOUR projects. This makes you less reactionary. Now you are working on things that make your heart sing and make you happy to get to work. Sure, some people may say you didn’t respond to their email fast enough, but you’ll respond in the afternoon (unless it’s absolutely pressing, then I’d get that one done and move on).

It’s so true that we don’t make time for our projects because our day tends to spiral out of control. We lose it to putting out fires, responding to the deluge of emails, or attending meetings that take inordinate amounts of time away from our true productive tasks.

If you’re someone who likes structure during his or her day while also being as productive as possible, I would suggest reading this book. It also has some good examples, like the one I read last night about how someone like Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, blocks out time for his creative endeavors each morning. It provided a lot of inspiration as to how to use your time wisely.

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.

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On Life

FRIDAY FICTION – A Short Story from a Collection

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They can’t all be happy endings.

While my novels always tend to have a happy ending, my short stories do not. I don’t know why they go down this way. It seems to me like short stories—writing in the short form—allows you to write more pointedly, and that, in turn leads sometimes to unhappy little vignettes.

This piece is loosely based on a dream I had. I will say nothing else about it, and I change things around, of course, because it’s fiction as opposed to non-fiction.

This will end up being the first half or third of a short story which I hope to include in my collection of short stories I will publish later this summer.

I hope you enjoy it. And if you twist my arm, maybe it will eventually have a happy ending.

To be continued…

F R I D A Y   F I C T I O N  — R E G R E T

It was cold and rainy for an April day in the south. The trees were swaying as the rain belted down and gusts of wind caused them to become heavy and bend. The dark clouds moved swiftly across they sky, and Sunny jumped back into her car after dropping her four-year-old at preschool. She sat for a second at the wheel chuckling as she thought about Susie who was dressed in her red raincoat with black polka-dots and matching red boots. Sunny made sure she had put her hood up as they walked into the school. Susie, however, insisted on carrying her ladybug umbrella, despite the fight against the wind. Sunny, on the other hand, didn’t even bother with an umbrella because what was the point? She was about to squeeze a workout in and get sweaty anyway, so what harm would a little more moisture do to her?

The intense gym workouts had become an obsession since Jerry left. If she didn’t get one in each day, she felt as if she would go insane, because, quite frankly, a thirty-seven-year-old woman whose husband just left her and her daughter might actually go stark raving mad over the feeling of utter rejection, not to mention the self-loathing that came along with it. Working out to excess simply made her feel better, at least it had won out over yoga and meditation, and she had tried them too.

The gym was just a few minutes down the road from the school, and Sunny put her signal on and turned right into the parking lot. She took a deep breath, grabbed her towel, ear buds, and cellphone, and got out of the car. The rain had turned to a bit of a mist, and she walked through the door. At the check-in, she swiped her card, and began to walk toward the aerobics studio.

“Sunny?” she heard a male voice call from behind her. She recognized the sound of it, but in the second it took for her to turn around, she quickly hoped it wasn’t him.

She turned and saw him standing before her. It had been just over ten years.

“Nick,” she said, more as a statement and less as a question.

“I thought that was you,” he said. There was only a slight smile as he said it, but it was there. Examining his face in that moment, she was able to recall the old expression he wore for months as she looked at him: the way he felt about her then was the way she felt about Jerry now. “How are you?”

“Good,” she lied. For a moment, she considered telling the truth, that she was anything but good, and rather merely surviving. However, she knew better than to do that and quickly focused on how she looked in her cropped, black exercise bottoms, tight top, and sneakers that looked a little ratty. Her hair was pulled up in a high ponytail, and she was without makeup. She thought about the darkness of the circles under her eyes and that the lines around her eyes must have deepened over the years. Of course she had to run into him when she was not looking her best—or rather more like her worst. After all these years, seeing him now in this manner was part of her punishment. “How are you?” she asked him.

“Very well, yes,” Nick said. “I’ve had a lot of professional success, so I can’t complain.”

She noted the emphasis on “professional” success. She glanced slyly at his left hand. It was without a wedding ring, but that didn’t mean anything anymore. Lots of men didn’t wear wedding bands on their fingers. Still, she wondered.

“So what are you doing in town?” she asked.

“Doing double duty. I’ve got a work engagement, and I’m visiting my mom,” he said.

“That’s convenient,” she said. “Double duty.”

“I suppose,” he said.

He stared at her with his intense brown eyes. There was always something about Nick’s stare that made Sunny feel as if she were completely naked in front of him, as if he could see right through her and down to her soul. Perhaps that’s why he wrote about such things. About broken love and the seeming lack of forgiveness. About people who kill each other’s dreams slowly by making the wrong choices. About love gone wrong.

The thought of it all—even after so many years—made Sunny suddenly not care about her workout. She searched his eyes to see if anything remained. He had never forgiven her. They had said it all so many years ago, and yet it still felt unfinished. The truth was, she would never know. She would never be brave enough to ask him.

He was still looking at her, still staring, and with nothing more to say but those few words exchanged. Ten years of words left unsaid.

“Well, I’ve got to run, Nick. Good to see you,” she said, beginning to walk away.

“But you haven’t even worked out,” he said.

“Wrong class time,” she yelled back, heading for the glass double doors, trying to keep it together, her escape route just steps away.

She got in the car and could feel herself begin to pant. Her hand trembled as she put the key into the ignition. Tears fell onto the steering wheel. It was becoming clearer now—now that she had been through the same. She felt his pain wholeheartedly now and understood why he was so bitter and angry and vengeful for a while. She got why someone incredibly like her in all aspects showed up in his stories sometimes. The names were always changed, but she could see herself in the characters.

Sunny looked at her watch and knew she had time before she had to pick up Susie, so she drove straight home and into the driveway like a maniac. She ran into the house and turned into the study where for years she had kept them all—every single one of his books. Did he know she had read them all a thousand times? Out of her favorite book spilled the letters, the postcards, and the scribbled but never said wedding vows. She gathered up all of Nick’s works in her arms. She loved the scent of the books—especially his books—for in some miraculous way they seemed to smell like him. The titles were all there and she placed them on the floor, stretched out on top of them. Regret was a powerful thing. She cried the entire hour until she had to pick up Susie.

Some broken hearts don’t mend. Won’t mend.

(End part 1; Stephanie Verni/2017)


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.

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On Life

Chapter 1 of the Sequel to Inn Significant

I’m not saying I’m going to do this. Making a commitment to writing another book may be too much for me right now, but the other day, I could “hear” Milly’s voice in my head, so I sat down and wrote.

Maybe I’m not done with her yet. Maybe I’m not done with her story and the story of the Inn.

What follows is what came right from my head to my fingertips as I typed, and is what could potentially be the beginning of a sequel. I’ve never written a sequel before, and the notion of it scares me a little because there’s a lot of pressure to do the first book justice. Nevertheless, I’ve heard what some of you have said…that there’s still more story there…and I’m toying with it.

To those of you who have read Inn Significant, I’d love feedback. I need it.

I’m not sure if this is what’s next on my writing horizon or not…but I would appreciate any input you may have.

We shall see, my friends. We shall see.

By the way, the inspiration for how the barn looks comes from this barn, the White Sparrow Barn in Texas. It’s stunning.

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Photo credit: The White Sparrow Barn, Texas

T h e   S e q u e l   t o   I n n   S i g n i f i c a n t (maybe)

C h a p t e r   1

The wind whipped, bending the trees in half, as the storm began to wreak havoc on our small town. The river looked angry, as it tossed the white caps into the air and pummeled the shoreline. We had just spent the previous weekend planting vibrant crepe myrtles, miniature cypress trees, and a variety of shrubs and flowers around the perimeter of our new, bright white structure with a light grey tin roof. The long, curvy, slate walkway was completed just two days ago, and the lights that lined it were supposed to be installed today.

No such luck.

We were down to the wire with our first wedding scheduled in two weeks, and the storm was certainly going to set back our timeline—by days. All of the tables and chairs were scheduled to be delivered this week, the chandeliers needed to be installed as they had arrived late from our vendor, and the remaining final touches of paint and sinks for both the men’s and women’s bathrooms were on the docket to be finished over the next seven days.

And while all this might sound a bit desperate and chaotic at the last minute, the construction had gone swimmingly. The barn had been built in record time; its soaring, vaulted ceilings and windows allowed natural light to flow inside it—and it turned out exactly as our architect, Simone, had designed it. She was instrumental in planning a venue that suited the land, matched the feel of the existing Inn, and offered a picturesque setting for weddings and other special events. The sliding doors on the river side of the barn were crafted to open fully to a covered patio with waterfront views, and they were dreamy to say the least. We had decorated the patio with potted boxwoods and cascading flowers planted in urns, which we had moved inside last night before the storm hit to preserve them.

This behemoth of a tropical storm, as it was now being referred to by weatherpersons on every news channel, was churning up a lot of debris, and I’d never witnessed the Tred Avon looking so violent. The Chesapeake Bay was thrashing even more than the river, and pictures of flooded downtown Annapolis had made the news highlights this morning. The images of the storm reminded me of what had happened to Nana’s dear Ferio as he endured that fateful hurricane so long ago. The thought of it all sent a chill up my spine, and I couldn’t help but worry about some folks who may not have taken proper precautions and made their way to safety.

Mother Nature does not mess around. When she has something to say, she tends to say it in a big way, just to make sure we’re all paying attention, and we are quickly reminded that we must respect her authority.

I stood on the porch of Inn Significant in my rainboots and blue raincoat and watched as Oxford got pummeled. My mother was inside making a huge pot of soup for all of us in case we lost electricity, which was certainly a possibility, but hadn’t happened yet. Despite the deluge from the sky and raindrops the size of small pancakes, it was still warm out. John and I had scurried over in our SUV, crawling at about five miles per hour, but my new house—the one I bought impetuously—was only about three quarters of a mile away. We had secured that property—the one that we would soon live in together—and decided to weather the storm at the Inn. There were no guests booked, as everyone had cancelled when the latest weather report concluded that treacherous weather was indeed approaching.

While the renovation on our new place was being done, John had remained living on the grounds in his cottage on my parents’ property. Truthfully, we were enjoying a little bit of courtship before our own wedding, which was set for later in the year.

I looked down and touched the diamond he had given me after we had fully committed to each other and our relationship. Sometimes it felt surreal.

The ring was stunning—and much bigger than the one Gil had given me during our humble beginnings when we were very young and didn’t have any money. John had a lot of money saved up over the years, and he prided himself on being able to give me a ring that, as he said, “was as beautiful as I was, inside and out.”

Those are the kinds of words you can get used to hearing for the rest of your life.

A bolt of lightening flashed in the distance, and seconds later, the boom of thunder sounded and echoed across the river. I felt the porch tremble, and I must admit, I did as well. It also must have startled the seagull that was perched under a tree, for he took off flying against the torrential rain, battling the wind that offered tremendous resistance. And yet, the seagull somehow prevailed and made it safely to another perch.

I stood on the porch and watched as the river sang a much different tune today than it did most days in our town; I wanted it all to be over.

There was something ominous about it, and I didn’t care for it at all.

–Copyright 2017/Stephanie Verni/All Rights Reserved

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.

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On Life

Writing Tip: Making Your Characters and Dialogue Realistic

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Yesterday on Instagram, a fellow writer I follow who follows me back asked for input from other writers. Her question was this: How do you write authentic characters, and then how do you make them sound convincing in dialogue?

As someone who has written three fiction books and teaches the subject of writing, I have some advice I can offer. I may not be perfect, and I may be an indie author, but I think I have some ideas to share that may be helpful. I enjoy offering tips to beginning writers because we’ve all been there. These tips are from experience and encompass the best advice I can give from my own perspective.

First, let’s tackle making characters authentic and believable. To begin, you have to have a pretty good sketch of your character. To illustrate my points, I’m going to use John, a main character from my newest book, Inn Significant. Milly, the other main character, is the narrator, so it’s up to me as the writer to showcase John as Milly sees him throughout the book through her eyes. Let’s begin.

John’s Character Sketch

John is 38 years old. He was in the military and had a couple of heartbreaking and powerfully disturbing experiences when he was overseas flying military aircraft. These experiences haunt John, and while I never come out and say he has PTSD, he has PTSD.  As the writer, I know this about him. This is the makeup of John that leads him to want to live a simple life on the Eastern Shore of Maryland working at an Inn in a small town (where he is from). He wants nothing complicated. He works for Milly’s parents at the Inn and has his own cottage on the grounds. From this point, I made a list of other things John likes in order to “see” him as a character—and to keep me on track as I wrote him. What are some other characteristics about John? He’s kind. He’s helpful. He likes doing things to please others. He likes to sneak into the Inn’s kitchen at night and whip up his grandmother’s muffins for the guests. He is an artist, which is how he relieves his stress. He runs every day. He’s in shape. He has high cheekbones and is tanned from working outside in the gardens. He drinks Gatorade. He listens to James Taylor. He’s close with his family, and he adores his grandmother. He’s respectful. He’s loyal. And he’s always been incredibly fond of Milly, even when she was married (before her husband suddenly passed away). He likes to read, but isn’t a writer. He owns a boat and likes to kayak.

That’s my basic character sketch of John. These were the things I knew about him as I began to write.

Knowing all these things about him helped me write dialogue that works. So how can you write dialogue that works? To me, you know the characters so well that you can picture exchanges happening as if you are watching a movie. You almost have to pretend they are real. How would you like to see things unfold? How would the characters relate to one another? What would a realistic scene sound like?

Keeping these questions in mind will help you write your dialogue scenes in a way that you should write them. And my other big tip on writing dialogue that works is to read it out loud many times to yourself, and if possible, read it aloud to someone you trust to get feedback.

kitchen-at-is
This is how I imagine the kitchen looks where the muffin-making scene below takes place.

As an example of this, I will share an exchange between John and Milly from my book; this exchange takes place the first night John asks Milly to hang out with him in the Inn’s kitchen and only her second day working at the Inn (she’s filling in for her parents who have gone away for a year). Milly has not been alone with a man since her husband’s death two and a half years prior, so she’s a little awkward and nervous, but trying to relax as he’s baking.

The Excerpt from Inn Significant

I watched John move around with ease, almost ambidextrous in nature, gliding around effortlessly, pulling items and food from cabinets and pantries. He opened the oven to check the temperature. He mixed up a gooey batter in a sturdy, red mixing bowl with a matching red Williams-Sonoma spatula.

“I’m sorry. I already started the process when I decided to knock on your door,” he said. “This batch is mixed.”

He filled the muffin cups with the batter, letting it pour into each cup, and when they were all filled, he slid the entire tin of what looked like perfection into the oven.

“Would you care for a cup of tea?” he asked, attempting to conjure up a British accent. It didn’t go too well, and we both smiled.

“Yes. Decaf, please,” I said, attempting to produce a similar accent in response, but failing miserably at it.

“Got it,” he said as he began making it.

“I feel silly just sitting here not helping.”

“Don’t. It’s my grandma’s recipe, and because a little birdie told me you didn’t try one this morning, I’m going to make you try one as it comes out of the oven. Your mother told me that your writing career began with food reviews. I’m looking forward to your verdict.”

“That was a long time ago, when I actually was a writer and it meant something.”

“I understand,” he said. “But I’d still like to hear your review of Grandma’s muffins.”

“I’m feeling extraordinary pressure to like them,” I said.

“The word ‘like’ shouldn’t be a part of your vocabulary when you’re describing treats you will salivate over,” he said with a wink. “That’s something you do on Facebook. As a writer and former food critic, I expect a far more elaborate and eloquent dissection and analysis of the food from you.”

“I’m better on paper,” I teased.

When the timer went off, he pulled the first batch out of the oven, steam rising off the tops ever so slightly, and then sat across from me at the table.

“Have one of these,” he said, and he placed a hearty, substantial treat onto my delicate plate adorned with roses.

“A crunchy muffin?” I asked. It appeared to be hard on the bottom with some sort of loose, sugary topping that resembled a crumb bun on top.

“Grandma will want to know if you like her recipe.”

—From Inn Significant

 

I remember distinctly when I wrote my first novel, Beneath the Mimosa Tree, and I read a passage back to my husband. I was writing from a 32-year-old man’s point of view, and I needed to know if Michael would say what I had written. I read the passage aloud to my husband, and when I was done, I stopped.

“Is that what Michael would say?” I asked my husband.

“No,” he said. “Michael would not say that.”

“What would he say, then?” I asked my husband, seeking help with the paragraph, especially because my husband happens to be A MAN.

“I don’t know,” he said, “but he wouldn’t say that.”

I reworked that paragraph at least ten times until finally, I read it aloud once more, and my husband said, “That’s it. That’s what Michael would say.”

And that, my friends, is why you seek input from others and why it takes time to write something vivid, meaningful, and realistic.

Now go and get to work.

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.

 

On Life

Flash Fiction: A 500-Word Short Story About An Apology

Fellow writers–I don’t know about you, but after I’ve written a novel and it takes everything out of me, I need a break for a while. In my time of decompression, I like to stay in touch with the craft by writing short fiction. You never know where it could lead, and it keeps you thinking and telling your stories. Today’s story is about saying your sorry…to the person you need to say it to when an apology is owed. Especially a big one.

Out of the Circle

He always knew he’d be back. But when you make as many mistakes as he did, he certainly wasn’t expecting to be greeted with open arms, or even an acknowledgment that he existed. He might as well be dead, he thought often, as once he made the decision to go, he was gone, and they all treated him as such.

Unreachable. He made sure of that. A disappearing act that was difficult to follow.

He parked the car around the corner, as it was the same car he’d driven away in seven years ago, a Ford Taurus, and he didn’t want anyone to even take note of it or realize he was back on the street. He hated the car with every fiber of his being and wished he had something sportier, but he never sold it. He figured it was a part of his penance for his inability to stay, his inability to commit. Plus, he could barely afford to eat and pay his bills.

He’d hit rock bottom, and he wasn’t really sure, even now, months later, what had been the turning point. Ten different jobs, six different residences in the last seven years, and a host of “change of address” cards made him a certifiable mess. After finally waking up and realizing that he was destroying his own life one sip at a time, he decided that it might be the right time to reach out for help.

Was it the girl he thought he could love with the raven hair who shouted at him half dressed amidst rumpled sheets and liquor bottles strewn across the room? Was it the old man he’d shared a meal with at the dump of a diner on Main Street? Was it the kid who looked at him inquisitively as he sat on the park bench eating a cheese sandwich who said, “Hey, mister, what’s wrong with you? Why do you look so sad?” He wasn’t sure what the tipping point was or how he managed to climb out of the Scotch and Rum and Vodka, but he somehow got himself into a chair surrounded by others who had the same demons plaguing them every day as well.

In that first moment, as they welcomed him into the circle and he said his name aloud and admitted his dependency and why he was there, for the first time since he could remember, he felt less alone.

Twelve months after the circle, he found himself walking up the street to his old address.  The one he shared with her, the brunette with big eyes and a sweet smile. The one with whom he ruined it all. He pulled his hat down a little in case anyone was outside who might recognize him. He’d done his homework and knew she still lived in the house, though he was not sure with whom she shared her life now.

But he was there for a reason, and he didn’t care who was there with her.

He just knew he wanted to see her. That he needed to see her.

And that he needed to say the words he’d mustered up the courage to say for the last twelve months.

His knees were shaking as he rang the doorbell, and yet he knew he had the courage to do it.

He knew he wouldn’t leave until he looked her in the eyes and was able to say he was sorry.

imageStephanie 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.

On Life

Through Books, You Can Travel

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One of my favorite aspects about reading novels is that they allow us to travel to places we may never get to experience, at least not the same way the author sees them. Books such as Adriana Trigiani’s The Shoemaker’s Wife or Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things—two books I can’t and have no desire to get out of my head—submerge us into different aspects of the world and see it through their eyes.

As another example, who reads Maeve Binchy’s novels and doesn’t want to go to Ireland? Who reads anything by Rosamunde Pilcher and doesn’t want to visit England and the villages of Cornwall?

On the flip side, as a writer myself, I welcome the opportunity to incorporate a place into my stories by offering readers the most accurate description of what that place entails. When I do my research, I take a lot of notes. I also take a lot of photographs to jog my memory when I begin to write and tell my stories. For my latest novel that is set on the Eastern Shore of Maryland—particularly in the towns of Oxford, St. Michaels, and Easton—I spent a lot of time exploring and writing impressions, anecdotes, and talking to people. Getting things right, and using places that actually exist as the storyline unfurls is important to me and offers readers that realistic feel. I take writing about places as seriously as I do developing my characters. In fact, I think of the places as characters in the story.

Additionally, I instruct a  Special Topics course at my university in Travel Writing, and I implore students to document their travels as it makes their writing come alive. Taking the time to recount what you’ve learned, seen, and experienced allows you to bring everything to life. Travel journals are awesome, and I love them, but any piece of paper will do.

If you read either my first novel called Beneath the Mimosa Tree that I set in Annapolis, Maryland or Inn Significant, my latest novel that I set on the Eastern Shore, I would love to hear your feedback.

Did I get the places right? Could you “see” them as you were reading? And, did you travel there via the novel?

I surely hope I succeeded.

Stephanie 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.

 

 

On Life

Celebrating 6 Years of Blogging with “The Best of” Steph’s Scribe

* * *

We all say it.

Time flies.

Before you know it, my kids will be done with high school and college and I’ll be retired, sitting alongside my husband on a beach somewhere sipping something with an umbrella in it and attempting to play golf.

Well, that’s the dream, at least.

Yesterday marked six (6) years of blogging. Six years. It kind of blew me away this morning, but it reminds us what a love for something and a little discipline can do for us. At the minimum, I blog one day a week; most weeks, I blog twice. It’s not always easy coming up with things to write about, but the bottom line is, we do. As bloggers, we always have something in mind that makes us think or that we want to share with others.

As such, to commemorate these past six years, I decided to pull together the posts that get the most hits as sort of a “Best Of” celebration.

Thank you for following, commenting, and sharing Steph’s Scribe with others. I can’t wait to see what the next six years have in store.

BLOGGING has become part of who I am. I cannot imagine my life without it now.

Best of Steph’s Scribe

Birth – The Very First Post on Steph’s Scribe

A Little Game of No Repeat Fashion

Most Attractive Names

How Pinterest Helped with Our Home Renovation

Inn Significant Released

Beneath the Mimosa Tree Wins Readers’ Favorite Award

Instructions for Writing a Love Letter

Lessons from “The Holiday” and James Cameron

Political Opinion Posts and Friends

You Can’t Get There From Here

Learning from Conflict and Experiences & Oprah

Don’t Bring Negativity to My Doorstep

Baseball

Travel

Storytelling

Stephanie 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.

 

 

On Life

Bridges of Madison County Author Dies: A Tribute

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The year was 1992. I picked up a copy of best-selling author Robert James Waller’s The Bridges of Madison County and couldn’t put it down. I knew it was a love story, and I was riveted. Like many other readers, I was intrigued by Francesca and Robert Kincaid’s 4-day, intense love story set among the landscape of rural farmland in Iowa. Kincaid is a photographer, out to shoot the covered bridges in the area; Francesca is an Italian war-bride whose husband and two children go off to the state fair for the weekend. When Kincaid stops to ask Francesca for directions, a whirlwind affair begins that changes forever the lives of these two souls.

Image result for covered bridges featured in bridges of madison county

While literary snobs panned this novel, claiming, as the New York Times writes, that the characters were “unconvincing, the sentiments sappy and the writing overripe,” I found the novel charming, sad, relatable, and refreshing. It’s a stark reminder of the choices we make in life and why we make them, despite the overwhelming passions we may feel.

Waller’s ability to paint Francesca as a dutiful wife and mother with a deep-seeded passion, along with his depiction of Kincaid’s tough-guy image with a soft and endearing heart, are at the forefront of his writing. The tenderness that ensues makes you both like the characters and feel sorry for them all the way to the end when you understand Francesca’s request she makes to her own children when they learn the truth.

Another reason why I regard this book so fondly is because I was nearing the end of earning my first master’s degree in professional writing and was taking a class in writing short fiction. Waller’s style is one I admired and tried to imitate; he may have written in dramatic fashion, but he knew how to tug at a reader’s emotions. He is definitely someone who influenced me as a writer.

Waller was 52 when he wrote The Bridges of Madison County, yet another reason to admire the man. After years as a business professor, he got the idea of the story after visiting the covered bridges in Iowa and, as a musician who had written a song about a woman named Francesca, brought the two notions together into his novel. The rest, they say, is history.

The Bridges of Madison County was a best-seller for three years, outselling Gone with the Wind. Clint Eastwood directed and starred in the film version along with Meryl Streep in 1995. Mr. Waller died on March 10 at the age of 77 of multiple myeloma.


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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