Glorious Tulips in Washington DC

Washington DC always has very pretty tulips!

Visualizing the Setting

A couple of writers and I were talking on a list serve about describing setting — in this case, having trouble getting it into the story. Right up my alley. One of the writers said she didn’t get a visual image of the setting, so she had a hard time even remembering to get it on the page.

Then there’s me. I’m visual spatial, which means I think in pictures. You’d think that would translate easily into describing setting …

Not so much.

My default, in fact, is to simply leave it all out. It’s in my head, and it doesn’t get on the page unless I make the effort to do it — sometimes a lot of effort.

It’s hard taking a picture and translating it into words.

Add to that I don’t do well with the details, or the telling details as it’s been described for writers. I see more of the big picture, and the details tend to fold themselves up into that. So the woods are the woods. I can see them, and I get the picture, but I lose the specifics. So putting down that the character walked through the woods or that everything was brown makes perfect sense to me because I’m getting the picture, but then everyone says I didn’t describe anything.

But I can see the picture — why wouldn’t it be simple describing the setting?

I have to stop and think “Details.” Then it’s “What details are important to this character?”

I don’t think in details, so I’m having to do two things, both of which are very hard:

  1. Translate the details, which is sort of like translating French when I don’t speak the language.
  2. Sort through the big picture and try to figure out what details are important.

And none of this is like a description exercise where the goal is to treat the setting as if we were looking at a picture. Just about as dull as no description. It’s not about simply writing down what I see, but trying to figure out what the character would notice.

But also, it’s not just describing the setting once and getting it out of the way. If the character stays in that setting, there is constantly new setting information being introduced (about every 500 words) because he is still interacting with that setting. So I’m constantly having to revisit and translate that picture into words, at least two to three times in every scene, and it has to shift because it obviously can’t be about the same thing.

Take this picture of the tulips blooming:

Yellow and red tulips blooming

My default: Tulips were blooming at the side of the building.

Translation: Yellow and red tulips had started to bloom next to the building, soaking up a patch of warm sunshine. I wanted to lay down there with them and get some of that sunshine, against the warm, damp earth, and let the cool breeze carry everything else away.  I also knew I wasn’t going to get that.

This is not something I can let go for later and do a placeholder that says DESCRIBE TULIPS.  When I pulled the character into the description, it becomes a major piece of the scene that needs be in there.  So it’s constant state of trying to translate the pictures for each scene.

Saturday, According to Linda

This morning, I went out to eat for breakfast at IHOP, which I do every Saturday. I did sleep late, which was like to about 7:00.  I like to take the newspaper and read over pancakes. There’s something special about a leisurely breakfast. The staff there knows me pretty well — I can do a half order on pancakes and get only 2 instead of 4, where I would only eat half.

After that, it’s hit the grocery store because it’s right nearby and I want to grab sales.  I’ve been stockpiling pantry items because the evil F word keeps getting mentioned on the news: Furlough.  Homeland Security’s getting it right now, but when the budget battles rolls around again, we’ll probably make that round, too.  This time, I want to have a good stock of supplies so I can shop there and keep the costs down when money isn’t coming in.  Plus, I was quite horrified to discover that the state I live is the most expensive in the U.S. when it comes to food, so I’m working on cutting the costs down.

Then it was off to Target because I needed to pick up a composition book for my March planner (green checks for spring.  I’m trying to be optimistic.  It was 18 out when I went to breakfast).  Later today, I’ll add CVS to the list — both these stores are for strategic use because I get a couple of benefits going today that I can use for when the expensive allergy medicine goes on sale.

Then it’s probably to the library, since I have to return books, and I might need to get gas.  I usually do that on Sunday, but tomorrow is supposed to snow again (spring anyone please?).  I’m currently reading Personal by Lee Child.

And somewhere in here, I’m finishing up a short story for a writing workshop I’m in.  The story is urban fantasy, called Ladymoon.  That was a last name I ran across, and it fit the story — yes, werewolves, but spy werewolves.  Spies are way cool, at least the fictional versions.  Washington DC has the Spy Museum, which was what led to the idea for the story.  I also have to review the material for the class.  I flipped it this week to give me an extra few days to do the story first.

I always end up running errands on Saturday — who wants to do all this coming home from work?  My ideal one is just simply not trying to jam all the errands into one day and spread them out over the week.  But it’s the time available.  I don’t want to go to a grocery store on Monday after work when it’s crowded, and I’m tired, and I feel like I have to rush.

From The Daily Post: What’s your ideal Saturday morning? Are you doing those things this morning? Why not?

Writing with the Caterpillars

Spring in the Washington, DC area is a glorious thing.  Everything’s green and pretty, and the temperature is in the right place to be able to sit out and soak up all that sun.  So I usually go outside during lunch at work, especially to get out of being in the building all day.

We have a nice area with some trees and grass. Sometimes I work on critiques, sometimes I write, sometimes I read, and I always do a short walk. There are three or four picnic tables under the trees, and I share these with the green and black caterpillars and the occasional white spider.

I don’t know why, but the caterpillars like to crawl on the table. I’m usually picking the table because there are not as many caterpillars on it. The green ones are very tiny and almost a Day-Glo green. They move by hunching up their middle and then will periodically raise half their body to look around or smell the air.

The black ones are more of the problem. They have so many legs that they look fuzzy. They’re about two inches long, and they crawl everywhere. I’ll be sitting at the table and have to keep an eye out for them as I write because they don’t seem bothered by this big person sitting at the table. They’ll crawl right under my arms as I write, or along the bench I’m sitting. Even I’m not exempt! I’ve suddenly looked down and realized they’re headed for me, or they’ve found my notepad interesting.

One of the things I don’t like about being a writer is that a computer — my general tool of writing — comes with an inherent office environment, and sometimes I really need to get away from that. A notepad is a good tool for that, even if I get to share it with a few caterpillars.

Seasonal Changing of the Military Uniform

In an area where the seasons change, the military uniforms change with the seasons.  But it’s not like the soldier looks out the window and decides to put on a field jacket today because it’s cold or rolls up her uniform sleeves because it’s warm out.  Every change in the uniform was directed, so everyone looks alike.

We wore Battle Dress Uniforms (BDU) for our regular work.  Every morning, we’d have a formation where the First Sergeant or Company Commander put out information.  When the post commander decided it was time to roll up our sleeves for summer, it would be sent down to all the commanders.  On the specified day, our first sergeant would tell us to roll up our sleeves.  Then we would all jump to getting them rolled up and helping anyone who was having trouble.  After that, we reported to work every day in sleeves rolled up until some point during the fall when the post commander decided we should roll down our sleeves again and the whole process repeated itself.

The same thing applied when we went to Desert Storm.  We had both the BDUs and the Desert Camouflage Uniforms (DCU), but because supplies were low from the mass build up, we were only able to get two DCUs.  So our first sergeant picked two days that we would wear the DCUs and the rest were BDUs.  The only exception was this one sergeant who was unable to get any DCUs.  He was very tall, and they didn’t have any in his size, so he just wore BDUs and stood out in green in formation!

Linda – 0; Seagulls -1

It’s about three weeks until spring comes in Washington, DC. I can already see signs of it. Tiny buds are popping up on barren tree branches, and the music of the birds in the morning that wake me up earlier than I want. But the surprise was the seagull spotting I had at the local K-Mart when I went to buy two jigsaw puzzles.

Seagulls landed in the parking lot aisle, their white and light gray coloring are a shock in the last vestiges of winter. We’ve barely gotten the birds, and the weatherman is talking snow flurries, and here these seagulls are. I was surprised to see them because we’re not near the ocean. Since I’m from California, I’m more used to seeing them on docks or near the beach:


Photo from Stacy Green26 on Flickr, WANA Commons

But it turns out they come because of nearby Potomac River and have been sighted in Georgetown.

Still, a K-Mart in Annandale seems like a strange place to be, especially if you’ve ever been to Annandale.

The seagull won’t move. In fact, he deigns not to even look at me. This giant car is sitting in front of him, and he’s completely ignoring it.

Okay, so I press the horn lightly. Beep.

Not one seagull in the group takes to flight. The one in front of my car doesn’t move.

A man with swarthy skin and black hair, bundled up in a black jacket, watches from the shopping cart area. Guess this bird battle must be entertaining because he’s laughing.

I honk the horn again, this time harder. BEEP!

And those seagulls still don’t move.

Finally, I steer my car around them, like an obstacle course made out birds. The birds still ignore this giant metal monster moving around them and continue doing what they were doing, which was standing in the parking lot.

Linda – 0, Seagulls – 1.

B is for Beginning

Spring is here in Washington, DC.  It’s a very different time of the year than it was in Los Angeles, where I grew up.  The announcement of cherry blossom bud sitings brings in spring.  They bloom first, along with the dogwoods, and it’s like a switch has been turned on.  Everything starts to wake up. In just a few weeks, the entire area goes from completely barren and dead-looking to full of life.

The beginning of my story has been blooming like that.  Sometimes I wish I was finally done with this book — I have worked on it for so long and struggling through so many problems that I just want it done.  But it’s like spring, it’s started to bloom and become more than it is.

QUESTION FOR YOU:  Does your writing habits change when the weather changes?  Do you bloom, or do you just keep plugging away?

March of the Cherry Blossoms

By the time Phil the Groundhog pokes his head out of his hole, I’m past ready for winter to end.  I want it to end now.  I want the sunshine to come out.  I want the world to be warm again.  At last, I spotted my first sign of spring:  A cherry blossom tree.

It was on a divider in the street, pale pink sunshine bursting Washington, DC, out of winter.  When the blossoms reach their peak bloom, they look like lace sleeves bunched up on the branches, with black showing through.  The trunks are actually dark brown, but the delicate flowers make them appear more stark.

The tidal basin trees are 100 years old this year.  They were given to the U.S. by Japan in 1912, but none of the original trees survived.  Despite their beauty, the blossoms have a short life.  We’ll get a windy day shortly after the peak, and the wind knocks off the petals.  The only thing left of the blossoms are pink petals blowing in the gutter like dust.

What will you do now that the weather is changing?  Do you have any exciting vacation plans?