Writing Diary: When the Story Takes Over the Writing

It never fails. In every novel or novella I have written, the story decides about four-fifths of the way through to scrap my original ending and take a hard turn somewhere else. Every. Single. Time.

The next Lodestone installment was supposed to end in an abandoned warehouse in the outer skirts of New Orleans with a magic showdown/fortress battle. But no…. it decided to stay in the French Quarter, and my villain released an extra werewolf I wasn’t expecting. And she unleashed some fog, so I couldnt see anything going on, which makes for fun writing. (Watching a character wearing a hooded cloak walking through fog under the glow of street lights is pretty sweet, though.) Meanwhile, I’ve got a new ending unfolding in my imagination in split second snippets,and I can’t keep up with it.

Such is the life of the writer. We slave over the research, the character sheets, and the planning, only to have the the story take matters into its own hands.

Personally, I believe this kind of thing, be it our character’s refusing to do what we want them to or the story unfolding the opposite way we planned, is actually our subconscious working out a few of the manuscripts hidden structural problems. In this case, I never felt comfortable with the original ending. It didn’t sit right or make sense. I suspected the “magic showdown” was something I forced into the climax because it sounded cool. I totally ignored that my villain wouldn’t have chosen that method to achieve her goals. When writing time came this morning, I’m pretty sure my subconscious fixed the problem without telling the rest of me.

The only problem with stories taking on lives of their own: the cleanup. I now have to go through the manuscript and fix things and eliminate others. Fortunately, this is just the first draft, so it won’t take as long. Sigh. But it will be worth it. The story is better already.

How about you? Have you ever had a story take th reins? How did it work out? Leave comments 🙂

*****

Do you have M. B. Weston’s Elysian Chronicles on your Kindle yet? Get them now for only $2.99–less than the cost of a Starbucks Latte! (Click here for A Prophecy Forgotten on Kindle and Out of the Shadows on Kindle.)

Be sure to check out M. B. Weston’s YouTube Channel (YouTube.com/TheMBWeston)!

Fantasy, steampunk, pulp, and paranormal novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. To receive notification of M. B. Weston’s book releases click here to subscribe to Dark Oak Press & Media’s e-newsletter.

Click here for a full listing of M. B. Weston’s published books, and be sure to check out her ever-growing list of published short stories here.

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Writing: Using Clothing to Develop Character

When it comes to clothing, society wants it both ways. We say “Clothes make the man,” and pay close attention to every article of clothing the rich and famous don on Instagram. Likewise, we say “don’t judge a book by its cover,” and insist that no one should form opinions of others based on their clothes.

Personally, I wish the world adhered to the latter, overlooking personal style decisions and focusing instead on a person’s character. (I also wish that Disney would release the unaltered, original Star Wars trilogy on blue ray, so that shows how much power my wishes have…)

Like it or not, character attire shows the reader a bit of who they are. Ignoring our character’s clothing choices deprives us of a chance to give the reader a bit more of a bigger picture of who they are.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when using duds to enhance your character’s character:

Clothing can reveal your character’s income. “She’s wearing my salary.” I love that quote from Dennis Leary in The Thomas Crown Affair. Some articles of clothing can cost into the tens of thousands in today’s world. No one can forget Scarlet O’Hara in Gone With the Wind making a dress out of curtains to disquise her fallen income. If your characters live in a pre-industrial setting, the wealthy would have access to rare silks and fabric dyed with hard-to-access dyes. The lower classes will often wear used clothing. In the Victorian times, the poor might be the third or fourth owner of a dress.

Clothing can reveal how much your character wants to be noticed. Some days I just throw on a black shirt and jeans so I can fade into the background. If I want to sell books, I might wear hot pink or red. (Yes, at conventions, I often wear my brightest clothes on Saturday when people are searching for new books to read.) Some people wear clothes specifically to be noticed, and it doesn’t have to be “sexy” attire. Bright colors, statement shoes, bold patterns all garner attention. A shy person will avoid these items. A person who is uncomfortable with their body size or shape will choose clothing that hides certain areas.

Clothing choices can reveal a moral code. The Amish way of dressing is attached to a moral code. Some religions require a woman to cover her hair. Some people refuse to wear leather and fur.

How someone wears her clothes reveals a lot about her character. Some days, I’m lucky to make it out of the house wearing clothes. I rarely notice whether I’ve put on jewelry, and I often forget to put on belts. Contrast me with a perfectionistic person who makes sure the buttons on his shirt line up perfectly with the button on his pants. Contrast this again with the woman who looks effortlessly fashionable with the perfect amount of accessories. All three methods of dressing reveal character.

How someone cares for his clothes reveals character. Some people iron and starch everything. Some add fabric softener. Some don’t iron when they should. I own a fabric shaver and try to shave off the pilling my clothes because I hate spending money on clothes.

All societies have an unspoken dress code. Whether or not your character chooses to follow it exposes part of his nature. Some people push boundaries. Some people dress down no matter the situation. Some people dress up.

Your characters are human (unless you write sci-if or fantasy and they aren’t human), and they will judge other characters’ clothing choices. My father is an engineer, and sometimes has to go out in the field as part of his job. One day, he entered a jewelry store wearing jeans, muddy work boots, and was quite sweaty. No one in the store would wait on him because of his clothing. Your characters might behave in the same way. If your writing mimics life, it will feel more real.

Keep your audience in mind when describing your character’s attire. If your audience tends to be men who enjoy military fiction, they will probably not be interested in the quality of cotton used in a shirt, nor will they care about what kind of handbag your character carries. If you write for mainly women, mentioning your character’s Birkin bag would totally change their attitude toward your character, (especially if the character is wearing hand-me-downs). Your own writing style comes into play here. Anne Rice will pay more attention to fabric and texture more than Stephen King.

Don’t forget uniforms. They aren’t just for the military.

Don’t write fashion to impress your reader with your knowledge. Use fashion, clothing, and accessories to enhance your characters, not to impress your reader. Overdoing the clothing description will seem out of place if it doesn’t fit with your voice and your style.

How about you? How do you use clothing in your writing?

Do you have M. B. Weston’s Elysian Chronicles on your Kindle yet? Get them now for only $2.99–less than the cost of a Starbucks Latte! (Click here for A Prophecy Forgotten on Kindle and Out of the Shadows on Kindle.)

Be sure to check out M. B. Weston’s YouTube Channel (YouTube.com/TheMBWeston)!

Fantasy, steampunk, pulp, and paranormal novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. To receive notification of M. B. Weston’s book releases click here to subscribe to Dark Oak Press & Media’s e-newsletter.

Click here for a full listing of M. B. Weston’s published books, and be sure to check out her ever-growing list of published short stories here.

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M. B Weston’s Corner: Show, Don’t Tell – Part 1

I’m not an actress. I’m just an idiot with an iPad being goofy and having fun talking about writing. In my first real “M. B. Weston’s Corner” video, I discuss “Show, Don’t Tell” for writers. This week’s focus is on explaining show, don’t tell, and highlighting how writers often miss the mark:

  • Failing to use description and sensory details
  • Telling a character’s emotions instead of showing them
  • Making blanket statements about a usual occurrence or relationship

It’s my first time using some equipment, and I discovered after filming that the camera picked up more than what I thought. It’s also a little bit longer than what I wanted. I decided to post anyway because no one is perfect, and I’d rather be authentic than perfect. 😉 I’ll keep the rest under five minutes 🙂

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Introducing M.B. Weston’s Corner in YouTube

I’m starting a weekly video blog on my YouTube channel, YouTube.com/TheMBWeston.  This is official Introduction video to M. B. Weston’s Corner. I plan to discuss writing: the technical stuff we all need to know as well as the trials and tribulations we authors endure for our craft. It should be goofy, snarky, and most of all informative. Please be sure to check it out, share with others, and subscribe to my channel if you love YouTube. The first “real” video on Show, Don’t Tell should air Thursday.

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Writing: Exploiting Your Readers’ Fear

Ah, Halloween. What better time to discuss the ins and outs of scaring your readers? Horror writers probably know many of these tips, but those of us writing other genres usually encounter a few scenes where we want to make sure our readers are good and terrified. These should help the latter bolster the fear factor in their scenes and hopefully serve as good reminders for the former. 

(Note, If you are looking at writing a full-on horror story, I encourage you to read this blog post on how to write a ghost story by James Colton.)

First, remember that a reader’s greatest fear is fear of the unknown. Let me direct you to one of FDR’s arguably most well-known quotes: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The unknown is a petri dish for fear to feed on. Look at the numbers of people who visit psychics and mediums because they fear the unknown future. Not knowing what lies behind the door you have to open is far more terrifying than knowing a hideous hungry monster lurks there. With this in mind, keep your readers in the dark. Remember, Jaws freaked out audiences because they never saw the shark until everyone knew the characters were going to need a bigger boat. Note: keeping your characters ignorant helps keep your readers ignorant. Having characters wonder or question or take stabs at what the problem might be will remind the reader that he doesn’t know what is going on either.

Twist the “normal.” Picture this: Veronica always locks her car, and she discovers her car is unlocked. The dog who always barks at intruders is now wimpering. The lone, unsmiling man at the amusement park eyeing the machinery.

Remember that your readers will go farther with fear than you lead them. In my novel, Out of the Shadows, my character, Marcus, was captured during a battle. One of my beta readers wrote me a nasty comment in the margin: “Marcus had better not be a traitor!” I laughed because I would never have thought to torture my readers with the possibility of Marcus betraying Davian, but my reader had taken his disappearance much farther than I ever intended. Set it up, hide information, throw in a few red herrings, and let your reader worry. Worry turns pages. Page-turning books sell.

Please don’t tell your readers that the character is scared. Show it. Show, don’t tell. Go through your manuscript and eliminate all the typical “scary” words: scared, terrified, frightened. And don’t just pull out a thesaurus and replace them either. Show your reader how your character is feeling. What natural, biological reactions that indicate fear is the character experiencing? Goosebumps? Wet hands? Sweat? Chills? What is your character doing that indicates fear? Clutching a pillow? Crying in a corner? Twisting something? Holding a talisman or other religious article? Show these things. Make your reader feel terrified by allowing her to experience your character’s emotions and reactions.

Make sure your setting helps induce fear. A friend approaching you in broad daylight is not scary. The same friend holding a flashlight approaching you at midnight in a dark woods is. A setting with few escapes or dim lighting works well. Play with your setting to allow for maximum fright.

Use sensory details. Make your reader feel as though he is in the story. Sight, smell, taste, touch, sound. Ignite these senses in your reader’s imagination. And then turn on her. (***manaical author laughter***)

If it scares you, your readers will sense it. Writing what scares you will make your story fresh and real. If you feel like your story isn’t delivering the fear, you might want want to make sure that your premise scares you.

One last note: Putting characters that can’t fend for themselves in frightening situations is terrifying. Be very careful if you choose to do this. Use babies, toddlers, mentally handicapped, and animals as fodder for your creature might be too much for non-horror readers. You might be able to pull it off, but tread lightly.

What about you? Do you have any tricks you have used in your writing to treat your readers to an extra helping of fear? (Oh my goodness, that pun sounded much funnier in my head…)

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Writing: Can Your Readers See The Light?

No, seriously. Have you included lighting in your story?

Autumn has settled in. Our days continue to shorten, and this always makes me remember the importance of light (and lack thereof). When I walk down the street in the day, everything looks normal. At night, shadows play tricks on my eyes. Sounds become more important. A rustle in the trees during the day won’t grab your attention. At night, however, is another story.

Just as lighting sets the tone and mood of a movie or a stage play, it also sets the tone for your scene. Here are a few thoughts on using light and dark to your advantage:

The type of light can matter. Fluorescent light sets a certain mood, especially when compared to the soft glow of a bedroom light. LEDs have a blue tint that might appear in a more modern setting. The soft glow of flickering candles can be romantic. (Or they can indicate a clandestine meeting of rebels in a medieval story.) Cell phones cast light as well. The uneven glow of torches can mean castle halls or an angry mob. Lanterns or flashlights might indicate a search party. Then, you can always have a little fun with gaslight… Be sure to remember light when you create a picture for your audience.

How you describe light (and dark) matters. Each scene should affect your reader’s emotions in some way. Your descriptive word choices affect the scenes mood. As mentioned above, candles can be romantic or secretive. Don’t use “the soft flickering glow” to deserve them if your characters are plotting a murder…

Light illuminates what is in the dark. This is comedy and horror gold. Think of all the things you can hide from your characters in the dark. A prowler, a spider, a bed post waiting to cause a good toe-stubbing. Flip on the lights and have fun. (Also remember all the rodents and bugs that will scurry away when you turn on the lights.) 

Light reveals truth. The shadow that appears to be a black dog in the dark turns back into a log during the day. You can use this concept symbolically or simply use it as a tool for confusing or enlightening your characters. 

Light gives hope. I can think of far too many symbolic examples of this in books and movies. If you want to douse your characters dreams, dim the lights. You can also use light to tease your characters, offering them false hope as bait. (The same goes for readers.)

Darkness lowers inhibitions. People do things in the dark they wouldn’t dare attempt in the light. From romantic encounters to club dancing to crime, remember your characters behavior changes in darkness. Even Harry Potter was more willing to sneak around Hogwarts in the dark, and he had a good cause.

When the lights are on, it’s had to see what is outside in the dark. It’s a pupil dilation thing, and most people don’t notice it, but remember this in your writing. Your characters having dinner in a well-lit dining room aren’t going to see the prowler outside. I’m typing this in the dark on my cell phone, and I see nothing in my bedroom, which is kind of freaky. On that note, it takes a good hour for pupils to fully dilate. If you have ever been to Disney World, you might notice you can see more parts of the rides at night than you can during the day, which makes no sense–unless… When you get on a ride after being in the sun, your pupils don’t dilate fully. The ride appears darker. At night, your pupils are fully dilated and you can see more. Keep this in mind with your characters.

The full moon lights up the night and casts shadows. I’ve walked on asphalt in nights with a full moon and noticed that the moonlight actually reflected off the shiny prices of rock in the asphalt. If you write military, moon cycles are key to when covert operations take place. Moonless nights and nights with cloud coverings are quite dark. (The clouds can reflect the light of the city underneath, so keep that in mind.)

What about you? Have you noticed any interesting interplay between light and dark that you have used in your writing?

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On Writing: Weather’s Effect on Your Characters

Hurricane Irma left 94 percent of Naples, Florida without power. It also left them with windless, mucky days and horrendous humidity. As I scrolled through my Facebook feed throughout the two weeks after Irma, I noticed an immediate difference in the posts of those who had regained power (and therefore air conditioning) and those still waiting for relief. I also noticed immediate changes in the tones and attitudes on Facebook the moment someone’s power was turned back on.

Irma illustrates how weather can affect your characters both emotionally and physically, the same way it effects us. (Look at the excitement about summer changing into fall fluttering around in social media posts.) If you are in the middle of a writing project, consider taking a hard look at weather.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Bad weather hinders action scenes. If you write military, pulp, or anything in the action genre, adding in a bout of bad weather can spice up your action scenes and increase tension for your reader. Consider having your hero do a car chase in the rain. Make your army roast in their armor. Snow can hide evidence from your private eye. Sure, your characters will hate you for it, but that’s the whole point of the story…

Weather can affect a story’s mood. If you want your readers to feel lighthearted, give them a crisp fall day or a warm day at the beach. If you want to create something more melancholy, give them rain. Snow can go both ways. Fresh, crisp snow under a blue sky feels far different than sludgy, brown, February snow with a grey sky. Consider using weather as another tool with which you can toy with your reader’s emotions.

Weather will also affect your characters’ moods and decision making. See above. Don’t forget that your characters’ moods will affect their decision making. This is key. Your normally disciplined character might do something rash if he is miserable. Remember in The Hobbit, how the dwarves wandered off the path in Mirkwood? Mirkwood’s weather helped drive that little bit of stupid…

Bad weather creates discord. This might not happen as much in a story with modern luxuries, but if you are writing about characters who don’t have access to central air and heat, you are going to see a little bit of tension. Think of the tension between Scrooge and Bob Cratchet over how much coal to burn to keep the counting house warm. Also, remember that people often want someone to blame when things don’t go right. The Fellowship of the Ring could barely stick together when the weather turned bad, and they had a wizard with them.

Weather can actually be a character. In some stories, weather might actually be the antagonist. In the classic movie Key Largo, a hurricane was one of the villains. Earthquakes and volcanos have also played similar roles. The Who disaster movie genre wouldn’t exist without bad weather.

Including weather makes your story feel real. Your plot may rock, but it’s those little details about your characters’ environment that create the illusion of reality. Think of the reader’s mind as a blank canvas. As you tell the story, you add paint to the canvas. If your story focuses too much on plot and leaves out essential details, that canvas will have a picture in the foreground, but it won’t have anything in the background. Fill the canvas. 

How have you used weather in your own stories?

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How Agents of Shield’s Lash can help Writers Build Captivating Characters

Conflict turns pages. No one wants to hear about a day in the life of M. B. Weston unless it begins with something like, “I had no idea putting diesel in my Toyota Camry could cause so many problems…” (Yes, I did this on the way to an author appearance at a convention. No I didn’t show up on time.) While writers know conflict is the essence of an engaging plot, we can forget it is often the essence of characters that captivate us and glue us to the story. A conflicted character can wrench our hearts out and make us look deep inside ourselves, wondering how we might behave in the same situation.

Quite possibly the best conflicted character I have encountered recently is Agents of Shield‘s Lash.

WARNING: For those of you binge watching it on Netflix, here comes a spoiler…

I immedialty liked the psychiatrist, Dr. Andrew Garner. He wasn’t a Shield agent, but he consulted for them. Andrew employed his skills and knowledge to help Shield protect the world. He was one of the good guys. My kind of guy.

Then something happened. Without  going into details (since it took the series several shows and lots of backstory to explain), Andrew, through no fault of his own, became exposed to a chemical that turned him into the inhuman, Lash.

Lash is not a good dude. He has an inexplicable desire to get close to and kill other inhumans, and he ends up killing a few humans including shield agents as well.

For a while after the initial exposure to the chemical, Andrew can transform into Lash and then back into Andrew, etc. As Lash, he can’t really control his impulses (although he does hold onto some sense of himself until the end). As Andrew, he must deal with guilt and other emotions brought on while he was Lash. He’s supposed to be one of the good guys, and now someone else’s trap has made him one of the very things he is hunting. (He’s kind of like the Incredible Hulk, except his inhuman side is totally evil.) Slowly thought several episodes, the Lash side takes over, making Andrew a truly tragic character.

And he captivates me.

As a viewer, I find myself continuing to watch Shield episodes to find out what happens to Andrew. Can he shake Lash off? Can Shield find a cure? Can Shield forgive him? And what exactly is the right thing to do with him? Most importantly, what would I do if I was in his situation?

Even though he is a TV character, Lash’s example should inspire writers of all genres and mediums. I’m a conflict avoider, and I have to remember to throw struggles at my characters. A character wrestling with conflicting emotions and desires creates drama and tension. It adds to the richness of the plot. It moves the story along. It creates potential subplots and story arcs. Most importantly, conflicted characters mirror reality. Each of us have struggled with wanting to do the right thing when our nature is encouraging something different. We’ve all failed at some point. We can each relate to Andrew/Lash.

If you find your writing seems flat or your plot is burning out, consider adding conflict within one of your characters. Have someone doubt whether or not she is on the right side. Make another distracted by something “shiney.” (Hey, we all know the dark side has cookies, right?) Let a character’s past haunt his present. 

Conflict. It’s what turns pages. Trust me, having to find a mechanic in the middle of Podunkville, Florida because I filled my stupid car with diesel (all while wearing heels and a black dress) sucks in real life, but makes much better reading than “M.B. Makes Coffee…” Andrew becoming Lash is much more gripping than a story about a psychiatrist helping Shield.

What about you? How have you added conflict to a character, and how did it help the story?

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When Disaster Strikes: What Writers Can Glean From Harvey, Irma & Maria

To keep a healthy perspective on my problems, I often tell myself, “You’re doing just fine if you can drink the tap water without getting sick.” For the past ten days, my neighbors in Naples, Florida haven’t had that luxury. Hurricane Irma left them with a boil water order and a host of other problems most of us don’t encounter in modern-day America.

Evem though I evacuated (and am still evacuated) my position as the president of our condo association has kept me quite busy and given me new understanding of what happens to society when simple things like sewer systems break down.

If you are a writer, film maker, or other type of storyteller, and you are writing a sorry that includes a major disaster, a post-apocalyptic, or a dystopian story, studying the aftermath of Harvey, Irma, and Maria can help you add conflict and realism to your project. I’ve listed a few things below that I would never have thought to include in these types of stories until Irma hit Naples.

Loss of power means more than just no air conditioning, refrigeration, or cooking. Irma toom out 96% of Naples’s power. This didn’t just include residences. It included water plants, sewage systems, gas stations, basically everything. No power meant no ability to process credit cards. The gas pumps, well didn’t. Lift stations that move the sewage from homes to the sewage plant stopped working. Unprepared residents had no way to get food or drinkable water. People stood in gas lines at the few open stations for four hours for days, and if they didn’t have cash, they couldn’t buy. In your disaster stories, think about what might happen to the sewage after only a few days of no power, especially if it gets flooded. (Hint: it starts coming out the manholes. It also spreads disease.)

Water, Non-perishable food, and gas are the hottest commodities. My friends stood in line for four hours for gas, two hours just for ice, and the same for water. (Municipalities need electricity to get water to homes. No electric, no water.) Fights broke out over gas. Deputies had to direct traffic in the gas lines and maintain a presence and to keep order. Grocery stores lost their perishable items and sold out of their non-perishable items before the storm even hit. In your stories, focus on these things. Obtaining food and water to survive will be your characters’ greatest source of conflict and tension.

The smell. Stagnate water. Broken sewer systems. Dead animals. People who can’t shower. If you have ever been backpacking, you might be familiar with that sweaty/dirty/smokey backpacking funk smell that sticks to everything. Find someone who served time in the military to give you a better idea of what happens when people can’t shower. (Thanks to Jerry Phillips for giving me this idea.) Including these details can enrich your stories.

Inescapable, oppressive heat and humidity transforms humanity. The calm after a stores is just that: calm. No wind. No breeze. And heat. Wet heat. It drives the sanity out of people. I watched friends on Facebook go from excitement that they survived to despair only a few days later and back to thankful elation once their power returned. The homeowners in my condo literally changed personalities once the AC came back on. If your characters are exposed to heat and humidity with no escape, they will become grumpier than a hungry person in a Snickers commercial. If they are elderly or small children, they could also die, which happened.

When food, water, and gas are scarce, remember that someone has guns. I’m not making a political statement. I’m stating the facts. If guns exist at all in your story, then someone has guns. Your job as the author is to figure out who has the guns and how they intend to use them. Who is armed? Just the law enforcement and National Guard? Does your setting include gangs? Do your residents arm themselves? If you think gunviolence is bad now, imagine what might happen to a community when necessities for life become scarce or non-existent. Thank goodness our law enforcement kept a strong presence near gas stations and grocery stores. Whoever has the guns will have the power to control these items. 

Looting will happen. Enough said on that, but take it a step further. People didn’t just take items from stores and empty homes. They took necessary items from occupied homes. One of our friends had his generator stollen from his house while it was plugged in and working. Another one of my friends heard people outside his house trying to steal his generator. (He has a concealed carry license, and was able to defend his property. See, whoever has the guns…) One business had filled its fleet of vans with gas in preparation before the storm. When they arrived after the storm, someone had siphoned all of the gas from the vans. Make sure to include these types of events in your stories.

Compromised communication will  aid in society’s breakdown. On friend told me the scariest part of Irma happened in the few days after the storm when they had no idea what was going on. Irma took out cell phone towers, the internet, phone lines, and  mail service. Our society has moved away from radios to Pandora and Spotify, which don’t work if the internet is down. Even if you have a radio, the radio stations need electricity too. When 96% of your county is without power, there’s a good chance you ain’t getting radio. When people don’t know what is going on, fear takes over. They start imagining the worst: the worst of what might happen and the worst of others. They will falsely accuse their neighbors. They will suspect foul play where it doesn’t exist. Use lack of communication to mess with your characters perceptions. It will create conflict, which turns pages.

Fear and despair are powerful enemies. They make us do dumb stuff on an ordinary day. What do you think will happen if you take away a whole city’s food, water, shelter, and gas? How will your characters behave? I can honestly tell you I don’t know what I would do if my child was starving. Would I follow the law? I would like to think so, but fear and hunger can make people do things they would never do in ordinary circumstances.

Hope is a better weapon than a gun. People in Naples knew the electric company was doing everything possible to restore power. The county and city communicated using Facebook and Twitter.  Evacuees coming home texted friends and posted pictures of the electric trucks coming to help. Naples residents were given hope, which is part of the reason they didn’t need to worry about guns. Only time will tell how Puerto Rico will hold up when they are being told that they won’t have power for 6 months. If you have put your characters in a hopeless situation, prepare to write the fallout.

If your story includes a mega-disaster, try to research real disasters. Read the personal articles. Look at pictures. The more specifics from life you can include, the more real your story will feel. 

How about you? Do you have any concepts about disasters to add to this list?

Update since first posting: I’ve heard from many of you and I need to add a free things to this list:

Medical care required electricity. Thanks to Carol for reminding me of this. Naples was able to get power back to its hospitals without any news worthy incident, but Puerto Rico is going to have some major problems. Hospitals need electricity, not just for lighting, but for all the machines. Some monitor; some keep people alive. Hospitals have generators, but if you have a post apocalyptic story, a lot of people will pass away at the hospital once the gas disappears. Regarding monitoring, I would have died in childbirth without the machines that monitored my baby’ s heartbeat, so keep that in mind. Many people hooked up to machines that keep them alive would struggle as well. Don’t forget the effect of no AC on the elderly and sick. In Miami, 8 nursing home residents died from over heating.

People are traumatized. Their emotions will be fragile, and emotional breakdowns will occur. Tempers will flare. The stress will cause people to be unable to perform regular tasks easily. 

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Things You Might Not Know Know About Floridians Evacuating Irma…

At 11:15am today two women, a mother and daughter, stood in the middle of the meat section in Sylva, NC’s Wal-Mart, staring at a smart phone. Concern and worry clouded their faces. The mother kept scrolling down the screen. The daughter wiped a tear out of her eyes. Suddenly, both ladies smiled.

“It’s moved west,” said the mother.

The daughter pumped her fist in the air and wiped away another tear. “It’s down to a Cat 3!”

This behavior might seem strange on the surface until you find out these women have evaluated Hurricane Irma. 

I’m the daughter in this story.  I live in Naples, FL, which lies directly in the path of Hurricane Irma. I fled Irma on Wednesday, September 6th with my husband, daughter, and dog. My mom and I were searching a website for the 11:00 hurricane update to find out which path Hurricane Irma was taking.

Many of you have been so generous, giving those of us in Irma’s path a place to stay. A warning, however, You might notice us act a bit odd at seemingly random times, possibly with mood swings and spacey looks. Please remember, we’re putting up a brave front, but we are cracking on the inside.

I thought I might share a few things we’re experiencing to give you a better understanding of our behavior. Trust me, you aren’t getting the full story on our social media posts.

  • Many of us have been questing for water and gas since Monday, September 4th. I couldn’t find water in Target or Publix (our awesome grocery chain) two days before we evacuated. It’s now Saturday night, and some Floridians started their evacuation today. That’s six days some have spent scouring Facebook and twitter posts for information on where to find water, gas, and other essentials. 
  • Many of us have worked non-stop preparing our homes. We’re physically exhausted. I’m fortunate. I live in a second floor condo that’s basically a concrete bunker, and I can’t board it up. Others, however, have been nailing plywood (or custom hurricane shutters) to windows for the past few days, and many have had to search for plywood. Many have been trimming trees, packing valuables, and moving furniture and computers away from windows.
  • Some of us haven’t slept in over 24 hours. Several of my friends literally took off the moment they secured their homes, only to spend 10 to 12 hours in bumper to bumper traffic. Some of us have endured the drive with screaming babies and/or whining pets. We are exhausted.
  • We’ve all left someone behind. It might be a family member who refused or couldn’t leave or a close friend, but we each have several people we know stayed in harm’s way. I’ve got a mother-in-law and father-in-law who evacuated to Orlando, a sister and her family who finally left Naples for The Villages (near Orlando), and a sister who was supposed to be safe near Tampa. If we keep checking our phones, we aren’t trying to be rude; we’re making sure our loved ones are okay.
  • We need tv/internet access at 5:00, 8:00, 11:00, & 2:00 (both am & pm if we are awake). The Weather Channel and other news outlets update Irma’s projected track and wind speeds during these times. The Irma gets to Florida, the more important these updates become. Please don’t take it personally if we have to check our phones or the tv to hear the next update.
  • We can’t control what happens during these next few days. Information is our only form of control. Some of us will cling to it in an OCD way. Just a warning.
  • Our financial future is uncertain. Florida is a tourist state. Tourism season starts in October. This hurricane is about to destroy all our infrastructure right before our tourist season. Some of us are just finishing up a financially lean summer, and we honestly don’t know if we are going to get through this.
  • We don’t know when we will be able to go home or what we are going home to. We don’t want to inconvenience you or overstay our welcome, but we also don’t know what Irma is going to leave us with. A massive storm surge could wipe out most of my hometown. I don’t know when they will get power back up. As of the 11:00pm update, Naples is no longer in the center of the cone of probability (aka cone of terror). These unknowns are dancing around in our heads, even as we laugh and joke with everyone.
  • Some of us could lose everything. My condo is in a storm surge zone and today they put Naples in the 12 feet catsgory. One of our cars is still there. I’m expecting we will lose it in the surge. Others have one-story homes in the storm surge zones, and they might lose their homes and everything in them. Many of us don’t know if we will still have jobs when this passes. I look at my 2-year-old daughter and wonder if we will be able to provide for her after this. It’s weighing on me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. The biggest stress is the not knowing.
  • We couldn’t do this without you. We Floridians try to be self-sufficient. We don’t want to put anyone out. We don’t want to clog your roads and interrupt your lives. We can’t tell you how grateful we are to you, and some of us will never be able to fully repay you. We are in your debt, and we won’t forget it. We might be stressing over how to repay you for your hospitality, but we don’t want to show it.

Hopefully, this might explain why your Floridian houseguests might be acting weird. Despite our moods, we love you. Thank you so much to everyone hosting an evacuating family. You’ve helped save lives. We hope we can do the same for you.

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