April 18, 2019
Building Blocks for Writers Series, #3
It’s life’s tiny moments—little happenings that I call blossoms—that find their way into a novel and give the story the feel of real people, real events.
Here’s one example:
When I was a young girl, my cousin sent my sisters and I a heavy, cardboard box, probably two feet by four feet, shaped like a treasure chest. Inside we found squares of material: large, small, all different textures and colors.
We played with that cloth for days. We didn’t have a sewing machine, so we sewed by hand (and used a lot of safety pins). We made doll clothes. Some squares were big enough that we made skirts. I decided I would make a quilt out of the smaller pieces. My “quilt” was very small, because my fingers quickly grew tired, but for a time I slept with my creation draped across my shoulders.
In my first book, Keeper of Coin the young ladies at Dempseys spent their evenings making uniforms for soldiers in the Civil War. One day they received a trunk filled with beautiful fabric rather than uniform cloth. The army told them to keep the material, and the girls had a wonderful time making new dresses for themselves. This scene grew from my cousins’ gift of material scraps.
Another “blossom” of an event from my childhood: my sisters and I were staying with my grandmother, and she told us a story about her mother cutting strips of material to make a rag rug. She and her sister didn’t like the ugly color and the rough material of some of the strips. Rather than braiding the strips and attaching them to the rug, grandma and her sister took turns throwing the cloth into the fire. From grandma’s voice we could tell she was still contrite when she related how sore her poor mother’s hands had become from cutting those strips of rough material that they had carelessly tossed into the fire.
This story made its way into that same book, Keeper of Coin. While they sewed uniforms one night the girls told the story of making a rag rug, and of their mother cutting scraps from a heavy burlap material, and of them tossing the strips into the fire. I’m sure my grandmother and great-grandmother wouldn’t mind me using their rag rug experiences to enhance my description of the evening sewing chore at Dempseys.
At one point in my life, I was between finishing my degree and beginning full time work and I put some of my excess energy into crocheting. I bought yarn and patterns and before you know it our closets and drawers overflowed with afghans, scarves and hats. Since our house was not that big, I had to force myself to find something else to do.
In my almost-but-not-quite finished (and untitled) historical fiction work several of life’s little happenings manage to appear on the pages. In one particular scene, Molly, the heroine of the story, learned to knit. Like me, she didn’t know when to stop and her apartment quickly became filled with the results of her knitting.
I think I’ve made a pretty sound case for including some of life’s little moments and experiences in fiction writing. I wouldn’t ever suggest using this method to portray the major happenings in the life of a main character. Relationships, births, deaths, marriage, etc. are best left to one’s imagination, and here’s one example of why.
A short time ago, a friend brought to my attention the fact that that in the majority of my stories the mother figure is troubled, harsh, and even a little mean. I must set the record straight. I had a really nice, really good mom.
Happy Easter!! And Happy Spring blossoms, everyone!!
Mary Kay Tuberty
The Carty Sisters Series
Keeper of Coin
Keeper of Trust
Keeper of the Flame