Writer’s Craft #112 You Have To Be There

Widdershins was born in England, grew up in Australia, moved to Canada in 2004 and married the love of her life the same year. She is a writer and a shaman, a bicyclist and a feminist. She’s been an architect, a seamstress, an athlete, and a field hand.
Writing is her passion and her profession, novels specifically, short stories occasionally, and always with lesbian characters.
She writes under the pseudonym ‘Widdershins’ because she is, if nothing else, contrariwise.
She blogs about all things Widdershins-and-writerly, at
Widdershins Worlds, and can be contacted through the links on her ‘About me’ page.
Her Great Canadian Lesbian Science Fiction Novel,
Mortal Instinct (the first book of the ‘Gallery’ Series) is available as a eBook from her publisher, (in all sorts of eBook formats) in eBook and paperback from Amazon, and of course, from your favourite neighbourhood bookstore.

There are so many things to learn when we begin walking this writer-ly path.
There’s basic grammar, not just what we think is right, but what actually works. There’s pace and plot, infodump and character development, editing and rewriting, first drafts and revisions, etc, etc.
Each of these things has it’s own set of rules. Rules we need to know in order to break, or to not break, as the mood takes us.
Then it’s time to actually tell the story. Which, surprise, surprise, has a set of rules and truisms, all it’s own, handed down from generation to generation.
The most famous of these is ‘write what you know’. Which is about doing research, then incorporating that into the story. Otherwise, how could we write a story about a place we’ve never seen?
But, sometimes, we just have to be there.
I live on an island in the middle of a lake, in British Columbia, Canada. Before that I lived on the east coast Australia; where temperatures peak well above 40°C (104°F) plus every summer.
When I moved to Canada I saw snow, meters deep, for the first time. Until then I believed it was some kind of fairy tale, like moose, and raccoons, and bears.
This winter our lake froze.
For someone who’s experience of monochromatic landscapes had been drought baked deserts or bushfire blackened plains, the sight of an entire frozen lake took my breath away.
Cold radiating from a lake covered in ice is different than the cold from a hillside covered in snow. I know the difference, and now I can describe it.
I have a story brewing that revolves around this bit of information. Information I could’ve read about, or watched a video on, or even listened to someone tell me about. But, I wouldn’t’ve known the truth of it, what it felt like, if I hadn’t experienced it.
Sometimes you have to be there.

11 thoughts on “Writer’s Craft #112 You Have To Be There

  1. I live in BC, and know snow and ice well. I also write, and know the difference between “whose” and “who’s”. I have difficulty accepting the words of those who either do not, or who are careless in their use. I suspect you fall into the latter category. Perhaps this is proof that all writers need editors, even for notes. 🙂

  2. I like what you say about different climates, different scenes that you can now write about because you’ve been there and seen them!–also loved the bit about your essay! my all-time favorite exercise in an English class was when the teacher said: “Here’s a sentence, now write for 20 minutes.” Ah, the delight!

    1. Hiya Nikki … I had one of those classes too. Luckily for me it was 1969, I was in Primary school, (Years 1-6 in Australia) ten years old, and Apollo 11 had just landed on the moon.

      I wrote a poem called ‘Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins’, wherein I repeated their names every second line. (which is all I can remember of it now) My ten-year-old self though it very avant guarde, but I do remember my teacher being a bit snarky because it wasn’t an ‘essay’.


  3. I have a file on my PC called Observations and Ideas. The whole point of the file is very much in line with Widdershins’ experience. Here’s a sample of what I’ve gathered over the years:

    Dowdy weather. Gray November day, closed in by flat gray clouds with no shape to them, like an old woman dressed in faded clothes years out of date.

    Strange thunder. At 3:30 in the morning it woke me, a rimshot on a bass drum. Or perhaps the thudding footsteps of an enormous giant. Boom. Boom. Boom. No rumbling, no grumbling, just short, discrete booms, drawing inexorably closer. Are these booms associate with lightning strikes to the ground, not between clouds? The rain lashed nearly sideways in huge sheets, smacking against windowpanes, undeterred by the overhanging eaves. The clouds drenched the earth with nearly an inch of rain in 20 minutes. Then the tornado sirens went off. I took the dogs downstairs to relative safety, but Lucifur kept trying to go back upstairs, to his usual refuge in the bathtub. I finally brought down two leashes, hooking Lucifur’s around a chair leg. Shadow’s I laid on top of the crate. She was locked in, and it’s a safe place to be. I crept back upstairs, but only halfway–far enough to look over the edge of the floor to see the TV. It was bad.

    Driving to work, I sprayed through small lakes of water in low places, but also on hillsides. It couldn’t drain off fast enough, and sometimes a pool would stretch for nearly a block. The car shushed softly through the water, great wings unfolding on either side.

    Looking out over the airplane’s engine, the clouds below looked like the grayish surface of a huge cauldron of greasy soup, boiling gently with bumpy cumulus clouds scattered across its broad surface.

    Thank you for this post. it reminds me that I haven’t kept up with this file very well, and I need to keep it at my elbow so I don’t forget to add to it.

    1. You’re welcome, Marti 😀 …What a brilliant idea! I have a ‘story ideas’ folder, but your ‘Observations’ one is something I hadn’t thought of. *whacks head on desk* It’s like having a photograph album of memories.

      It’s so easy to lose those ‘flashes’ of inspiration/observation that don’t immediately spark a story, or a scene in a story.

      Thanks for sharing your concept.

      Note to self: Must replace notebook (the paper kind) in bicycle pannier, and set up ‘Observations’ folder on computer.

  4. Thanks Widdershins, weather/environment is an important part of the writing and sometimes I like to think – a character that has a driving force in the story. I use weather I’ve experience to set up moods, tones and textures for characters or scenes, such as: ice in Alaska, rains of Bay Area and in Rocky Mountains, winds of dust, rain or snow in the Great Plains. Each has power.

    1. When you think of how much time us humans spend talking about the weather it’s not surprising that we’ve endowed it with so much emotion, and there’s nothing like it for a good force majeure story arc.

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