Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Writing Elements’

Mountain fires and writing with fire

In 52 Writing Topics, Motivation, Passions, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on July 1, 2012 at 11:00 am

The High Park fire as viewed from Fort Collins, Colorado.

When the wind rode my laptop screen as if it were a sail, pushing my years of work across the table and onto the cement ground, I panicked.

Had I saved my latest work on my flashdrive? What if I lost a few pages, a few poems or a short story?

This was before theHighPark fire struck northernLarimerCounty, smothering the air in my hometown with the smells of a campfire gone wrong. From a lightning strike, thousands of burning acres. Evacuees. Lost homes. Harmed wildlife. A story that is becoming too large to imagine, at least from the outside.

I am writing about fire, a project I started in January nearly six months before my environment became engulfed in the smell, the texture (ashes drop like gray snowflakes), the sight (the smoke rises off the mountain as if from a chimney) and the taste and sound of burning .

My character in “Dropping Colors,” has lost her home in an apartment fire and is on the quest to find her lost things. A few of theHighParkevacuees had the chance to grab their essentials and most important personal things. Kate Letts, my character, does not get that chance and becomes reflective about the meaning of stuff.

Writing is about stuff, about loss and gain and about fire and the flame that lets the words burn. That burn will be revealed in my six-month review of blogging about 52: A Year of Writing Basics, Beliefs and Beauty.

Here’s the stuff, or what is essential to writing: Plot, Setting, Character, Dialogue, Voice, Pacing, Flashbacks, Scenes, Arc, Storytelling. The elements of fiction that are the pieces of wood in a fire.

The match is that initial idea for a character identity, an outline for a story or a snippet of something seen or overheard with the unanswered What If?

Strike the match to that pile of wood symbolizing the writer’s blank page. The spark is the inspiration, motivation, creativity and imagination that ignite the initial idea into flow.

Flow is the opposite of writer’s block, which is the state of mind when words refuse to come.

Flow is losing track of time, place and whatever evokes the senses and getting lost in the telling of the story. For me, it’s almost like reading, because I am not in complete control, though I am conscious, at least somewhat, that I am writing.

To stoke the fire to last until the next writing session, find a good stopping point in the middle of a scene or a chapter or an idea. That way the flame can be picked up to continue the writing burn.

Stoking the fire is keeping to a writing schedule. It is discipline. It is putting time into the craft and art of storytelling.

To keep on writing, there needs to be goals, a belief in the self and the knowledge that this is a rough draft. Just as the main character has to face her flaws, fears and limitations and overcome them to get what she wants, the writer has to work through the same things.

That’s what passion is, doing this thing you love without ever giving up. Despite heartbreak. Despite being told your work is ashes. Despite not having a home for your words.

Writing is Catching Fire, Running with the Wind and Being Wild with all the elements of fiction, so that what results is a thing of beauty. From fire comes a myriad of colors that cannot be washed away. It becomes part of the text, so that the readers lose track of their own settings, identities and stories of their lives.

Writing to 100 Percent

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Shyness, Writing on June 10, 2012 at 10:16 am

Though a bit arbitrary, the number 100 relates to the writing process, but not as profoundly as does “1.”

Page 1. Get started somehow, as long as you begin the process.

This is my 100th blog since I began writing in the format, six days short of my two-year anniversary on June 16, or 6 days from 6/16, which is equal to 10, or 1/10th of 100 (I like the pattern in the numbers here).

I initiated my blog, taking the advice from my writer’s magazines that aspiring authors need to have a platform, of which blogging and having a Website play a part (see

At first, my blog felt like homework. Called Shell’s Ink, I spent the first half-year talking about my dog, Zoey the Cute Dachshund. I blogged from Zoey’s perspective in Zoey’s Paw, developing a voice and character for a 9.5-pound long-haired miniature dachshund who thinks she’s Miss Princess.

In 2011, I learned that my blog had to have a theme and relate to my writing projects, so I blogged about shyness. One of my characters is shy, Maggie Cooper in “One April Day,” which I was editing at the time.

I took on a shyness challenge, doing things that scared me into being more outgoing and then writing about my experiences. The challenge worked – at least my friends and family were telling me that I didn’t seem shy, and I no longer felt that way.

This year, I’m blogging about 52 writing topics in 52 weeks. Like my shyness blog helped me get over the last fragments of shyness, my writing blog is helping me review each element of writing. Taking the time to think about those elements, such as minor plots, character arc and dialogue, is like coloring in the outlines, making my understanding more vivid and real.

What does all this have to do with 100?

I looked up the number and was reminded that 100 is the square of 10 and the basis of percentage. Currency is divided into 100 subunits. The construction of the Great Pyramid lasted 100 years. And in Christian literature, the number 100 symbolizes celestial beatitude.

The number 100 is part of a whole. A book can be written in a 100 days, or 30 during NaNoWriMo. Becoming a good, or actually great, writer requires writing 1 million words (100 X 100 X 100, or 100 to the 3rd power). And writing and editing a book, at least for me as a part-time novelist, takes 100 or so weeks – one year to write and one to edit.

One hundred is the number of perfection. It indicates 100 percent effort, 100 percent motivation, 100 percent not giving up, 100 percent hope.

It is 100 percent of putting your heart into this thing you love.

Writing without 100 becomes too hard, bringing up pain and the past and things you don’t want to think about or deal with, causing a giving up into numbers less than 100.

In other words, 100 is an absolute need to write because without it, you can’t breathe.

A Writer’s Toolbox

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on May 13, 2012 at 11:00 am

Every writer’s toolbox has different tools, but the most essential is the desire to write.

Learning about the elements of writing – storytelling, story structure and word usage – is similar to using an instruction manual to fix a car.

Diagnosing the problem, looking at a chart pointing out the parts of the car and reading about the necessary steps doesn’t mean the problem will be solved. The missing element could be the desire to do the work, or the confidence and skill to complete it so the car runs.

Writing requires work, and to do that work, there needs to be motivation, discipline and, I believe, a love for some or several aspects of creating or the final creation. Do you love words, individually or how they sound in sentences? Do you love telling stories? Do you love solving story problems? Do you want to make readers feel? Do you want to feel?

Or maybe you like to see your name in print? Or to have finished something?

Writers need spark, just like cars need spark plugs to fire the ignition. For me that spark is a passion for words and getting lost in the story or poem I’m writing, so that what comes out feels like dancing and breathing and living, while I lose awareness of my physical self.

Like cars that need gas in the tank, writers need the space and time to be present for writing. If the tank drops toward the E, writers need to ride out their writer’s block or frustration with the knowledge that these emotions are not permanent.

I find that I get frustrated having so little time for writing.

The result is I save up words, emotions and ideas like money in the bank for when I do get to hang out with my laptop. I let go of my editor and inner critic, plus any negative emotions I have, because now it’s time for my date with QWERTY.

I schedule my writing time, not to specific days but to two to three times a week. I log in the hours I write, so I can see that, like an odometer marking the miles, I am making progress toward a goal. I get excited about every 5,000 words I finish in a novel’s rough draft.

All of this is my fuel for not giving up when I am unpublished with a burning, driving, raging yawp to get my words out into the world. I want my words to be heard, read and even sung.

I don’t necessarily have a map with every step plotted out, but what I do have is a giant imagination, a spark of creativity without which I would fade and a passion for this art I cannot stop loving.

See Zoey the dachshund’s interpretation of toolboxes at