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Writing Trick for Remembering Details

Writing is hard enough. Then you have an ongoing condition that you have remember… and inevitably forget. (or maybe you don’t. I definitely do.) Sure, it’s the kind of thing that editing is for, but it can cause some major pitfalls.

Even minor things, like the main character sustaining an injury, can snowball into a big Oopsie. For example, let’s say the main character has an arrow in the back. It’s okay if you don’t constantly mention it. She might forget the pain while in the heat of battle. But then you have her sit in a high-backed cushiony chair without removing the arrow or receiving any form of treatment for any injuries. Let’s say that you make a point of not healing anything. And let’s say that since you’ve already forgotten about the arrow in her back, you describe her sitting in the chair with comfort and relief.

Oopsie.

Pretty much everything is fixable. However, I have a trick that will help keep immediately relevant story facts on your mind while writing, so this kind of thing doesn’t happen. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than simply trusting your memory.

Get a pen that you don’t use for anything else (so you don’t run out of ink) and a stack of post-it notes. I prefer the ones that aren’t freakin’ tiny, but if you write small and have to keep track of a lot of things, then you might want the bitsy ones. Higher up on the list would be getting varicoloured ones, again if you anticipate a lot of must-remembers cropping up.

Then just make a note whenever something happens that you’ll need to recall for an extended period of time. For me, this is a must whenever someone is injured or if there’s an animal around. (I’m terrible at pets.) Some might also like to use this for keeping track of character’s looks and clothes, especially for characters who change clothes and/or hair.

Once you’ve written up your note, whether longhand or your own version of shorthand, stick it to your desk, monitor, anywhere that it will be in your peripheral vision. If you’re worried about cluttering your view of your writing space, then put together some facsimile of a cork board. (I am too cheap to get a real cork board. Also I hate hanging things on the wall in flats and we don’t have a house yet.)

Important note: I know that there’s a Windows program that mimics post-it notes, but I do NOT recommend it for this. The point of this method is to have your reminders in very quick view. I don’t know about anyone else, but my desktop is never in easy view. Alt-Tab-ing is really disruptive to my writing. It’s also much easier to remember to turn your head to catch sight of a NEON PINK post-it than to look at the desktop.

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It’s raining

While the storm buffeted the trailer like a sardine tin in a washing machine, Edie wrapped a fresh bandage around her foot. The stink of ointment filled her small room. If her foot didn’t heal soon, the pink paint was certain to peel. The thought dragged her eyes to her Back to the Future poster. The paint had already been peeling before they’d moved in. Doc and Marty may not have been anyone else’s first choice in covering a small blemish, but she didn’t have any other posters.

She hung other things on her walls. Mostly old dance shoes and jewellery she had made. She fastened a pair of purple clasps to the bandage, then hobbled over to her bed. She stuffed a throw pillow under her foot, and then folded a much larger pillow behind her back.

There wasn’t a television in her room. There was barely a television in the living room. Edie slipped her arms in between her head and the pillow. From the creaking and near thumps, she figured that the storm would soon take out the electricity anyway. She wiggled the toes of her uninjured foot and stared up at the ceiling, stained by previous storms.

It would have been nice of any of the stains had resembled an animal or even a country. Clouds had more experience in that department. However, as the clouds were in the middle of work, Edie made due with the oblique brownish stains. There was a particularly large one that could have been a horse. If she squinted. A lot.

Sighing, she reached for the silver chain around her neck. Her newest creation. The chain had taken almost as much work as the charm she’d strung it through, each link sturdier than it seemed. The pendant resembled a warped door. She had meant to shape it like a crystal, the vague, overly symbolic kind in video games, but something had gone a little wrong.

Thunder rocked the trailer. Edie jerked up, releasing her pillow so that it fell to the floor. In that same second, the lights winked out.

Heart hammering, she gripped her pendant and rummaged for her flashlight. It ought to have been right beside her. Unless someone had borrowed it without asking. Too sore to bother, she flopped onto the bed, flat on her back. It bounced back slightly, jarring her foot.

The pain dragged her up, like a marionette on its strings. As she straightened near the window, something caught her eye. The storm had knocked out the entire park. The only lights still braving the battle were the lampposts on the sidewalk, just outside the entrance, and far away from Edie’s family’s trailer.

She pressed a hand to the window, wincing at the cold. There was something out there. Someone walking in the rain. She huffed, glad that they didn’t have a generator to try. Old Mr Bennet’s generator always had some issue, and he never even tried to fix it until a monsoon had hit and the power was gone.

And yet. Mr Bennet was a tall man. Almost freakishly tall, like a guy in the circus with his name in lights. It was difficult to tell with almost the whole world dark as the inside of a top hat, but the dark figure didn’t look tall.

Careful of her foot, Edie knelt so that she could bring her face closer to the window. Definitely not tall. Short, even. Maybe someone her age. But she was the only kid in the park. Everyone else was either single or too old to even have young grandkids. And even procrastinating Mr Bennet didn’t go out to fix his generator without a poncho or an umbrella. This person wasn’t even wearing a coat with a hood.

Still, as wet as it was out there, hair plastered down may as well have been a hood. Or a skull cap. Edie shivered and moved away from the window. Her dad must have been asleep, or he would have come in to check on her by then. She checked the gap under the door for the weak flicker of candlelight.

Nothing.

“Dad?”

Wind rattled the window in its frame as it picked up speed. Raindrops splattered hard against the wall. They sounded like bullets striking iron.

“Dad, the power’s out and you took my flashlight again! I need it!” She heard herself shouting over the sudden rumble thunder. Multiple claps stacked over each other, invisible cards that buried her voice.

Then the blinding flash of lightning that followed revealed a human face just outside her window.

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Free-Writing Descriptive practise

A tree on its own was silent, dignified. But just like people, when trees got together in large groups, silence was out of the question.

Andy picked her way through the forest, wobbling as she tried to tiptoe in her Wellies. Detritus covered the forest floor like the remains of a messy sneeze. She imagined each snapped twig bursting into flame as she leapt away from the misstep.

She paused at the lip of a small ravine. It was deeper than she was tall, though streamless and bare of rocks. Stretching her arms out like a little red scarecrow, she held her chin up in rigid pride. A little hop, toes curled, saw her into the ravine.

A cave would have been better, she thought. Caves were dark and wet, like a black mug filled with water waiting for a tea bag. Nearly as dangerous. Sticking her hand in the mug would have meant getting burned. Caves in her backyard, vast as it was, were never big enough to do more than sit in and get extraordinarily dirty.

She amused herself for a time, marching from one end of the ravine to the other. Her arm punched the air as she tried to remember how soldiers paraded.

Wind whistled through the tree branches. Offkey, like a kid with a tin ear attempting composition. Andy rubbed the tip of her pink nose. Soldiers found shelter in poor weather. She clambered up out of the ravine on the side opposite her initial entrance.

A copse of tall trees lay a few yards ahead. She gave up marching and broke into a run. Pretended urgency set fire through her veins.

When she reached the trees, she squeezed past the outermost to deposit herself near the middle. She pressed her back to the rough tree trunk, straightbacked, unslumping.

Dew and seasonal rain soaked her jeans through within seconds. Her hands, white with winter chill, patted the sodden grass. She swept away fallen leaves. Thus situated, she rested her head against her tree.

Sitting on the ground changed the world. She felt like a toddler, just beginning to walk. Bushes at eye level, the sparse wildflowers imitating sunflowers. Peeking past the tree’s guarding her position.

If she looked up, she would have seen nothing but branches meeting trunk, foliage stretching out in a natural radius. It was like staring up a very large nose. Not a sight that had been illustrated in her Jack and the Beanstalk book, but one she closely associated with giants.

Andy shivered, gritting her teeth to stop them chattering. The sun had risen, in theory. But the cloud cover was so thick that the sun might as well have ignored astrophysics and stayed its orbit for a few hours. The air hung wet and heavy, pregnant with the promise of rain.

Dad had promised they would go fishing. The weather was better at keeping promises. Soldiers knew things like that.

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Description Practise with Caro

My major weakness lately is descriptive writing. I used to write it sparingly-yet-enough, but now it seems like I never put in description at all. It’s almost as bad as Jane Eyre having too much description. It doesn’t help that I’ve been reading a lot of really good description recently, and I don’t think I’m soaking up any learning.

So while writing in 750 Words this morning, I grabbed Caro, changed perspective, and gave it a shot.

::

The city stretched out beyond the point below my feet, elongated through the fisheye lens of too much vodka. Too much cheap vodka. My wallet hurt either way, but my teeth were cleaner than if I had been sucking down bleach all evening. Although that might have tasted better. Ah well.

Evening had come and gone. Long shadows melted into a dim dark that coated the street. Even the most minuscule crack in the pavement became a bottomless pit. It gave me a craving for chocolate.

I pulled my hair back, wishing I had something to tie it with. I must have been neon in the falling night. Pink, Easter-egg hair in thick liquorice whips, bright lipstick, and a blue dress that could have directed traffic. The idea had been to stop it, but then I had gone inside, and traffic had ceased to intrude on my thoughts.

There wasn’t any traffic in this part of town. Not at two in the morning. I was grateful. The wind was cool and grating on my freckled arms. My skin prickled with gooseflesh. I felt like a hedgehog standing to attention.

I sat under a lamppost and tried to imagine it was a sunlight. Then I realised that it wasn’t working, and if anyone had been around to see me, they would have imagined that I was a prostitute. I rubbed my arms and clomped on towards my flat. A block later, my heel caught in one of the cavernous pavement cracks, and snapped off.

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Someday Serial 3 – Siobhan

Siobhan was up to her elbows in blood. Sweat drenched her forehead, threatening to slide forward and blind her. Her left eye twitched.

But she held still.

Mum worked the needle back and forth while Siobhan held the patient still. He was out cold, but he wasn’t paralysed. If he moved at all… She ignored the ache in her muscles. He wouldn’t move.

Someone banged on the door. Her back twanged with the repressed reflex to look up. She kept her eyes and hands on her work. One day, she would do the stitching and someone else would hold the men down.

“Almost done,” Mum said. Almost too soft to hear.

Shame burned under the heat of pressure and bad weather. Siobhan didn’t need reassurances like that. They were for kids. She bit the inside of her cheek rather than mouth off about it.

Stitches finished, her mother cut the thread and went for the bandages. Siobhan let go of the man’s leg and moved back. Almost the instant that her fingers lifted from his bloody skin, he gave a slight jerk. She had certainly been needed. No one on this entire dusty, craphole planet could sit still for love, life, or money. Especially not for life.

She moved to help with the bandages, but mum shooed her in the direction of the sink. Siobhan had gotten bloodier than her mother. The man had thrashed so much that she felt guilty about calling Finn twitchy the other day.

Once her hands were washed, she left the op room. The stupid, impatient people waiting impatiently for the patient would keep banging on the door at the worst times, but her part was done. Mum never liked her to deal with the healthy. Probably because Siobhan would have ended up making them less healthy.

They were all so annoying.

She wandered over to the monitoring equipment and flopped into the spin-chair. Blips showed her where everyone was. Everyone, everyone. Each of their clients and each of their retrieval agents.

Siobhan watched the blips move. They looked like rats in a feeding frenzy. Another fight, then. If the stupid explorers were going to call them in whenever raiders or beasts attacked, then they should have just hired mercs to protect them. She leaned back in the chair. Next client, she’d raise the rates.

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Someday Serial 2 – Finn

Finn curled up in a part of the jeep that no one else fit into, and tried to sleep. He envied Siobhan. That girl could sleep anywhere. He could barely sleep in his bed.

They had both grown up on this rock, although he suspected that his circumstances might have been better. Siobhan had always lived in the compound, with her mom. He’d lived in a house, more or less. It was more like a tin can, with all of his brothers stuffed inside it.

A rock punched beneath one of the tires. Finn jerked out of his place, scraping his nose on the edge of the seat in front of him. One of the others grunted. Dale, probably.

The alert had been a deep one. They wouldn’t get there for another twenty minutes at least. Finn sighed and pillowed his arms under his head.

Business had been a little too good lately. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d gotten any sleep. They’d had a green alert–a retrieval alert–at least once a day for a week. Or once a night, as the case might have been.

More people had been going out into the wastes. And nobody went out into the wastes without some insurance. Their retrieval agency was the only one with medical personnel built into the deal. It gave these crazies an extra sense of security.  Hopefully someone else would figure that out, and Finn could get some sleep.

Dale thumped on the side of the jeep just as Finn was dozing off. He kicked the seat, cursing under his breath.

“Looks like fighting time.”

“Oh, piss off. This is the same reason as last time.” Raiders taking potshots at explorers. They’d only been preying on people since before Finn was born. Why didn’t the explorers ever think about raiders before going into the wastes? “We’re retrieval, not merc fighters.”

Nobody was listening. They never did. Half of them liked the fighting. Finn sighed and found a weapon.

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Someday Serial 1 – Siobhan

Sirens blared throughout the compound. Siobhan opened one eye, then let it drift shut again. Green alert. Not her territory.

The walls shook as boots thundered about. Men liked to run. Had the alert been blue, she might have run a little too, but only to make her mum happy. It wasn’t that she didn’t need to hurry as much as the rest of them. She just had something the rest of them didn’t.

An irregular thud prompted her to open her eye again. Finn had tripped, just inside her field of vision. He was already scrambling to his feet, one arm in the sleeve of his dust jacket. She opened her other eye, but stayed where she was, curled up on the ratty brown sofa. “Haste makes waste.”

“Stuff it. Where’s my gear?”

She waved a lazy arm toward the lockers. “Where else would it be?”

He clumped over to his locker, jamming his other arm into the appropriate sleeve. This must have been a good day. Usually, his jacket went on backwards at least twice before he managed to right it. “I keep it in my room.”

“That’s a stupid place to put it when you’ve got a locker right here.”

But he didn’t hear her. He had already yanked his rucksack out of the locker and slammed it shut. He had to come back for his headset, but by the time he did, Siobhan had rolled over. As far as Finn was concerned, the only thing that Siobhan had that he didn’t was a pair of breasts.

The sirens wouldn’t calm for another few minutes. They’d be gone before the lights switched off. Another girl might have whined and moaned to match the wailing sirens. Maybe even smothered herself to stop the lights slicing through her eyelids. Siobhan had lived with the alerts since she was a baby. They were like a lullaby.

The only alerts that would wrest her from her napping place were blue and red. The latter meant a direct attack on the compound. Those were rare, but the threat was enough to justify the extra bulb.

Droning hums added themselves to the alert. Siobhan stood before she had quite left the sofa behind. A blue alert. Blue meant that it was time for her to work.

She pulled her hat off and dropped it onto the floor as she left the room. No hats in the op room. One of mum’s many rules. As Siobhan made her way to the op room, she braided her hair. Strands of brown stuck out like thorns from a squashed bush, but “out of her face” was the only requirement.

The rusty sink beckoned to her just inside the op room. Mum was already there, scrubbed pristine, standing erect. Like a statue, made of ruddy stone. Siobhan nodded a professional greeting and set about washing her hands.

The guys would be out in the sandy wastes, seeking out one of their clients in distress. She and mum had the more immediate work.

“What do we have?”

After a quick critical scan, Mum opened the door. A truck had already parked, haphazardly. Three burly men and women carried a writhing man on an improvised stretcher. “Call said a panel fell on his leg.”

Siobhan stood at her place by the op table. If the leg was crushed, they might have to amputate. But in all the time she had seen her mum work, the woman had never lost a leg. One day, Siobhan hoped she could hold to the same reputation.

What Siobhan had was dignity.