Want to Write Better? Go Sit In the Rain

by C. Hope Clark | 40 comments

This guest post is by C. Hope Clark. Hope is author of The Carolina Slade Mystery Series from Bell Bridge Books (Lowcountry Bribe, 2012 and Tidewater Murder, 2013 with Palmetto Poison due 2014). She is also founder and editor of FundsforWriters.com and its family of weekly newsletters. You can follow her on Twitter (@hopeclark).
Sitting in the Rain

Photo by Neal Fowler

Writers research like fiends for their magazine features, novels, and how-to books. We often feel the need to travel great distances to get the facts right when we are wending a story. Writers seek grants, chunks of time away from family, vacation time from day jobs, and retreats, thinking where they are, living their routine lives, adds nothing to the spice they seek for a good tale.

However, sometimes we learn how to write better just by going outside and sitting in the rain.

Inspiration Is in the Details

In our writing, we want to get the details perfect. However, that means more than the history, flora or fauna of a place. We can gather great sensory and other details paying attention to the little things that surround us.

Rather than talking about how much rainfall a place receives, speak about the cold, fat drops, the smell of ozone followed by the scent of the loamy mud. That happens right outside your back door, and your readers relate intimately.

As you’re sitting to Sunday dinner, recall the aroma of yeast rolls, the pepper in the turkey gravy, the drip of salad dressing on a great-grandmother’s table cloth, the crooked candle in the Dutch Boy candle holder.

In the doctor’s office, imagine germs on the magazines, note the boredom of the receptionist, the school on the medical diploma hanging in a dusty frame, the swollen feet and rheumy eyes of a weary patient.

The minutiae that you consider to be boring nothingness, holds potential. One of the easiest magazine column sales I ever made came from a landscaper knocking on my door, talking to me like I’d never touched dirt before. I hold a degree in soil science. Entitled “Know Your Client First,” the piece talked about questions a landscaper could ask a potential client before putting his foot in his mouth. This article literally came to my doorstep.

Your Life Is Inspirational

You don’t need faraway places to create good material. Life is wrought with detail that layers fantastic three-dimensional ideas… the sort of phrasing that takes novelist Pat Conroy from school teacher to best-seller phenom, painting stories that coat your mind.

Dave Barry, columnist and humor virtuoso, writes about Christmas shopping, lawn mowing, tornados, and decaf coffee. You have equal access to the same. Many of Stephen King’s stories were derived from personal experiences like the loss of a pet and a snowstorm in a hotel resort.

Stimuli envelope, dance around and tempt you. Your life isn’t too plain to be fodder for some pretty remarkable stuff.

Have you ever gotten inspiration from sitting in the rain?

PRACTICE

Think about this week. And if you aren’t sure if you have anything special to write about, go outside, sit in the rain, and make others feel like they are seated there, too.

Free write about your week, your environment for fifteen minutes. When your time is up, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, be sure to give feedback on a few practices by other writers.

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C. Hope Clark. Hope is author of The Carolina Slade Mystery Series from Bell Bridge Books (Lowcountry Bribe, 2012 and Tidewater Murder, 2013 with Palmetto Poison due 2014). She is also founder and editor of FundsforWriters.com and its family of weekly newsletters. You can follow her on her blog, chopeclark.com or on Twitter (@hopeclark).

40 Comments

  1. Eileen

    I really like this. Every moment can be story worthy. It just depends on if we have eyes to see it.

    Reply
  2. AL

    Sitting at Table

    Index fingers rub the knobs of the “j” and “f” keys. Just below my wrist the metal edge of the laptop digs into my skin. Today I am able to place my right hand on the computer without assistance. Two months ago I couldn’t.

    The dining room table displays the remnants of life after surgery. A printer kitty-corner from ink cartridges. Folders and reference books to the right. Mail opened and unopened in the center of the table. Squished at the end, a placemat for meals. How I dread the job of returning things to their rightful places. This has been convenient but, oh, so messy.

    I’m grateful my cat is old, twenty-one years. As a kitten, he would push papers to the floor, sit on the computer, attack the printer as it jerks out work. Yes, even decorations were not safe. I remember an Easter centerpiece with little fluffy chicks that I kept finding under chairs and bookcases for months after the event.

    The projects I planned to accomplish during post surgery time are far from complete. I certainly wasn’t realistic. Yet, I’m glad I set all this up. I kept myself well entertained during rehab and current in bills and emails. The time is almost here to return to a more “normal” life. But this time I want to make it simpler.

    Reply
    • eva rose

      This makes me appreciate simply being able to type! Somehow we can adjust to a bit of chaos when health intervenes. I can picture your table. And your leaning toward the simpler life!

    • AL

      Thanks for reading and for understanding.

    • James Hall

      This was very interesting, especially the part about returning to normal life and making it simpler. People often over-complicate their lives and blow things out of proportion. Sometimes a single event can have life-changing effects, even change the way we view the world.

  3. eva rose

    Her Aussie shepherds depended on their daily walk and waited expectantly at the door. No tails to wag but their rear ends swayed in hula fashion. It was raining. Most grown people don’t choose to walk or even drive in the rain, but there was no escaping those pleading eyes. She found her old rain jacket and peered from under the green vinyl hood to search for lightning bolts. There were none and she ventured forth. She had not walked in the rain without an umbrella since she was a child.
    The streets were as quiet and green as Emerald City as a steady rain fell. Nature’s irrigtion was thorough, not missing any corners of the yard. Blossoming shrubs seemed to bow low in appreciation after weeks of stifling heat.
    The dogs had no problem with the weather, their thick coats easily shed the moisture. They strained against their leashes, and pink tongues hung low as they ascended the hill.
    She watched streams of water pouring down to the gutter and cascading into the yawning drain. On the low side of the drain a trickle formed a new riverlet and bits of twigs, leaves and pine straw diverted water flow into the street. Mother Nature offered free maid service: dusting, Swiffering and air freshening simultaneously.
    Returning to her driveway, she found a persistent stream of water flowing toward the house. Battling adult reasoning, she placed both feet into the path of the water and watched as it rose and flowed over the tops of her running shoes. The two dogs sat on wet concrete and watched patiently without hurry or criticism. She was years younger after her walk in the rain.

    Reply
    • R.w. Foster

      I really liked that. The parts about the dogs’ hips moving hula fashion, and the last line were brilliant.

    • C Hope Clark

      Some great visuals here. Spice it up with some serious smells and you’ll have some very 3-D feelings here.

    • eva rose

      Thanks, great suggestion!

    • James Hall

      You know what part of your writing inspired me to write the whole section above. “It was raining.”

      I had to stop and go write before I could even finish reading your post.

      Foster nailed the description on this one. Give us more insight into what she is feeling, emotionally, The smells are a good way to introduce this.

      Excellent, excellent imagery. Thank you for sharing.

    • Beck Gambill

      Ooh, great description. I loved the interplay of the dogs, weather, and person and how they affected each other.

    • Abigail Rogers

      This is pretty fantastic! I like the descriptions, especially the bit about Mother Nature’s maid service. Also, the “battling adult reasoning” is very close to home–it’s hard to fully abandon oneself after getting older.

  4. R.w. Foster

    From something I’m working on. I hope you like it:

    The sky was a gorgeous midnight blue around the pure white of the full moon. Her breath was visible in the crisp winter air. Wood smoke came to her on the easterly breeze. She turned her face into it more fully. ‘Mmm. Delicious. Warm blood. Dinner is soon to be served.’ The thought was in her head, yet didn’t feel like her own. A familiar scent caught her attention next. Her head whipped around and she saw the source of the smell. On a nearby hill, silhouetted by the moon reared an enormous monster. It had a rounded head, and high, pointed ears. Its arms were ape-like and hung nearly to its knees. Its thick legs were reverse jointed like a cat’s. The monster raised its arms like Clark Kent revealing his Superman costume, raised its head, revealing an elongated muzzle and howled. It was a werewolf.

    Her jaw clenched. ‘Silence!’ Her voice was heavy with Command. The lycanthrope instantly quieted. ‘Stupid dog. Go hunt. Quietly!’ She watched as the werewolf dropped to all fours and raced off through the woods. Shaking her head, she returned her attention to the wind. Tantalizing odors came to her sensitive nose as she followed the breeze to a small farmhouse. It was small. Maybe one room. The walls were mud-chinked logs. The roof was sod. Grass was growing up there. Smoke curled lazily from the chimney. She stalked
    to the rude wooden door and knocked.

    A stoop shouldered man appeared in the doorway. “May I help you?” His voice was cracked and gravelly from shouting at his oxen all day.

    “A brief few minutes by your fire, if that is okay, sirrah? The night is frigid.”

    ‘What the hell? My voice isn’t that deep!’

    “Of course, come in.” The man stepped back and gestured for her to enter.

    As she stepped over the threshold, she felt the ancient magic parting, allowing her to come and go as she willed now. ‘Foolish mortals. It is so easy to gain
    permission to enter.’ She glanced around the simple home. A sturdy table
    stood in the middle of the floor. A hook rug was before the fireplace. A small
    child huddled under covers on the far side of the house. Near the empty bed, a
    baby cooed in a lovingly carved cradle.

    “Can I get you anything?” The man was near the table, lifting a clay jug.

    “Stay still and quiet.” Of all the powers, Command was near the top. With a blanket order like this, everyone obeyed. She stalked over and pulled the man’s head to the right. Her fangs grew and then she sank them into his neck. ‘Omigod! Ewww!’ The hot blood flooded into her throat and she swallowed it down. The sweetness of it was almost orgasmic. When the flow ceased, she sucked, getting the last few drops form his body.

    The man’s body crashed into the wall, causing a musket to fall. She glanced at it, and dismissed it as insignificant. If the werewolf had been in the hovel, he probably would have wanted to examine it. He was fascinated with human technology. She pulled the blankets off the child in the small bed. She was young, maybe twelve. Though Command prevented her from making a sound, she wasn’t forbidden from crying in fear.

    “Are you afraid of me, little one? You may answer.” The child nodded, too
    terrified to speak. Her heart was pounding like a frightened animal, hard and
    fast. She lifted the child from her bed and pulled her head to the side. Fear
    wafted from the girl, then her pants became soaked as ammonia hit her nose. The young one had wet herself. She chuckled before sinking her teeth into the
    tender little neck. There were a couple of twitches, then the blood stopped.

    She turned to the cradle and looked in at the little baby. A large hand reached for the infant.

    3

    “No!” Jennifer sat upright, sweat drenching her body. Her hands flew to her face and she sobbed for that lost family.

    Rob found her like that having come at a run. Her scream had terrified him. He sat on the edge of the bed and held her. “Shhh. It was only a bad dream.” He rubbed her back and smoothed her hair down. “Shhh. It’s okay, Kirei. It’s all over.”

    She clung to him. Her stomach was tight and eyes hot. After several minutes, she pushed away. She accepted the handkerchief that was offered and blew her nose. “Good Christ that was awful.”

    “I bet.” He rose and moved to a chair. “Transferred memories are…difficult to deal with for some folks.”

    Jennifer blinked. “What do you mean? And who are you? Where am I?” She scrambled over the edge of the bed, away from him.

    He stretched his legs out in a slouch. “My name is Robilar. No surname. I saved your life.”

    “Saved my life? Sure you did.”

    “You were attacked by a vampire.”

    Reply
    • C Hope Clark

      I see you used lots of senses in your piece. Good job.

    • R.w. Foster

      Thank you. I decided to go with a winter scene and aftermath because I think I’ve been sharing a lot of rainy scenes on here lately.

    • James Hall

      “Its a werewolf” – dun dun dunnnn
      “Shut up! Stupid dog…”

      That’s funny!

      ‘What the hell? My voice isn’t that deep!’

      I’m taking this was suppose to be some kind of monologue. I think it should be on the same line as her statement. Confused me at first.

      Beautiful scenes with lots of tension. Is killing babies cheating? Everytime the life of a child is threatened, it seems like the tension and suspense in a story go through the roof. Sometimes, it seems almost like a cheap gimmick.

      But, what you wrote here was well-done.

    • R.w. Foster

      Thanks. What was going on was a dream/transferred memory. She was seeing things from the point of view of a vampire that had bit her. The vampire called the werewolf a stupid dog (memory) the “my voice isn’t that deep!” is her subconscious trying to tell her it’s a dream.

      I hope that this clears things up rather than makes them more confusing…

    • James Hall

      Thanks, now I have NO IDEA what is going on…

      Just kidding. A good guy having a dream memory of a bad guy. Interesting.

      If I were you, I wouldn’t use ‘single quotes’ to depict the character outsides mind, I’d use italics. If there is any chance that the given character may be able to have both their original and dreamer thoughts, I’d use either parenthesis or braces.

      “Eat my Shorts!” [That doesn’t sound like me!]

      I’m not sure how a case like this is handled in printed books, honestly, but that’s my suggestion.

    • R.w. Foster

      Sounds good. I keep forgetting that this commenting forum allows italics. So, that’s part of the reason…

      I do like the brackets idea.

    • Christina Chenier

      Wow. This was amazing. It really kept me on my toes!

    • R.w. Foster

      I’m glad you liked it. I hope you’ll like it more when it is finished, and edited.

  5. Jake Borrett

    This is an excellent blog post. It is extremely true that we can use personal experiences such as death of a loved ones or moments of embarrassment in our stories.
    I have not thought about sitting in the rain before. This article has certainly convinced me to try it. I think it will be a good idea as we will be able to connect with intrinsic beauty and fine detail in the world around us.

    Reply
    • James Hall

      Usually, I can paint a more vivid image of scenery in my head. I also try to get into my character’s head.

      I find that what helps me write the most is defined “Writing Modes”. If I define clear points where I just write and don’t care. Writing in my journal, and especially in a quiet room, almost always brings the writing. Usually, so do The Write Practice Prompts.

      I really wonder how much the world around me at the time of writing affects me.

      Though, I do find the intrinsic beauty and fine detail of the world around us to be inspiration at times, especially for setting elements.

  6. Brianna Worlds

    I felt numb.
    It was like a cold disease, seeping through my mind. It couldn’t be true. Impossible. Things like this didn’t happen in real life. Not to me.
    My heart thudded, stomach contracting. My face blank and disbelieving.
    The entire room seemed to have frozen. The excitement of our road-trip had evaporated, as if it was never there.
    For a moment, I stared uncomprehendingly at my dad. Had I heard him right? My eyes were wide, wondering and hoping and pleading that I had.
    “So your mother asked me to bring you over. Let’s go,” my dad intoned gently.
    I was the first to move. I was the oldest of my sisters. I had to be strong. Set an example. I forced my limbs to move, feeling as if the bone had been replaced with a heavy, stiff substance.
    The world around me suddenly seemed to become invisible and still; unimportant next to this.
    The fifteen minutes in the car passed in complete silence. Jaime, the youngest, only seven, sniffled a couple times. No one could believe it.
    I remember walking into my house, the front door creaking as it opened and closed like always. And I remember the freeze frame of grief that hit me like a wall.
    My mom was sitting with my step-dad, her eyes red and swollen, J looking grim and as disbelieving as I felt. He’d already lost his first wife; now his youngest son was dead too. Even the dog, a solemn eyed golden-retriever named Molly knew there was something wrong. She was lying, head on the ground, looking up at us with big, sorrowful eyes. I stumbled forward, falling to my knees beside my mom’s chair.
    Images, memories, whirled through my mind. My brother’s goofy, smiling face as he proclaimed that he would taste the mud because it looked so like chocolate. The nights we spent, in the basement of the house, making forts with magazines as weights, blankets and chairs and couches pushed together. The way he’d treated us no differently because we were girls, letting us wear the cape’s made out of towels, wooden swords clashing as he ‘taught us to sword fight’. Laughing, shooting Nerf bullets at each other.
    His dramatic, staggering fall to the ground when he was ‘shot’. How he always had time for us. How he could always make me laugh, even when I was crying.
    Never again. Never again would I see that foolish smile, real and alive and breathing.
    It sunk in. Reality tore through me like a howling gale and tears gathered in my eyes, welling and spilling down my face. A choked sob forced it’s way out, and I climbed onto my mom’s lap for the first time in years. My sisters’ soon followed and together we grieved. We grieved in silence. It was such a sorrow so beyond words and expressions, so we said nothing, made no sound. Our faces were carved of stone, our eyes marbles.
    I didn’t know how I would survive. How I could pull out of this. Later, my sister said that when we were first told, she was convinced my dad was talking about someone’s dog; not her beloved step-brother. He was our step-brother, but having know each other for so long, we were more like best friends, real siblings.
    It felt as if some crucial part of me had been snatched and put somewhere dark and silent.
    But I did survive. Life went on. I went back to school, eventually. Time passed, and at times I could even forget.
    I never want to forget. Never.

    ~~~

    Kind of self-explanatory, I think… Wow, that was a depressing writing session. It was his birthday the other day. He would have been turning 14 with me.

    Reply
    • AL

      Very powerful piece of writing. I certainly identify with the girl and feel her pain. And I want to know more. I hope you use this in a larger manuscript.

    • Brianna Worlds

      Not sure if I can use such a personal experience in a writing project, but I may. Thanks 🙂

    • Victoria

      Wow … This is so sad, and so touching. If we’ve been through something, we can write it and make our readers feel it, because we feel it! Thank you for sharing something so close to your heart.

    • Brianna Worlds

      Thank you. I’m glad 🙂

    • James Hall

      Very emotional. The only thing I found distracting was the “How” spiel, which tend to be overly-used for death scenes.

      I found it very vivid and identifiable.

      Honestly, it reminds me of my all-time favorite short story, the Scarlet Ibis.

      http://www.calapitter.net/dead/39/scarlet_ibis.html

      Nice job, would love to read more from you.

    • Brianna Worlds

      I think ‘how’ spiels are important, as they give insight as to what my brother meant to me, and what experiences we had together that would make me forever. But thank you 🙂

    • Abigail Rogers

      That is powerful, Brianna. I especially appreciate the little details you included that give such insight into your step-brother’s character. The last two sentences are also powerful. Well done.

    • Brianna Worlds

      Thank you. Glad it was worth something 😛

    • DeborahPenner

      Beautiful, Brianna … And beyond your years! Thank you.

    • Brianna Worlds

      Thank you yourself 🙂 That means a lot to me.

  7. James Hall

    As he felt the first pecks of rain droplets, Rass stared out at Dayotan. He knew he must go to the boy, invite him into the shelter. But, the melancholy of the boy ensnared him. Rass slid his tablet from his pocket and began to draw a sketch of the dejected boy: limbs limp, head sunk into his hand, and eyes gazing into the dark and reflective waters.

    Dayotan had taken to leaving out on his own while the group encamped. Even his long walks of reflection did nothing to lighten his mood or bring any glimmer of happiness to his face. If anything, they only sunk the child deeper into a black, agonizing despair. Greybo had told him of the raid on the boy’s town that had killed his parents right before his eyes. Rass felt tears welling in his eyes as he finished pouring the sympathetic pain he felt into the sketch of the boy.

    But he wasn’t familiar too well with this sort of thing. Gnomes had sorrows of their own, times of mourning even, but not like this. Gnomes were lighted-hearted almost always. Surely, there was something he could do, some little prank that he could pull, that would restore, even if only for a fleeting moment, a smile to the boy’s face. But nothing came to mind. O, what a sad sight. O, what a sad day.

    Reply
  8. Beck Gambill

    Baby girl with ringlet pig tales had crossed the threshold. The school door closed behind her shutting the door on her babyhood. I walked home slowly, eyes brimming, throat tight. The tears splashed when I opened the front door and found Pink Bunny draped across a chair, left behind. I had to take little girl’s favorite stuffed animal upstairs to little her bed, the bunny’s forlorn waiting was more than I could bear. How does freedom and sorrow come wrapped in the same package?

    For the remainder of the day my house made unnatural sounds, sounds only the quiet could reveal. Until joy bounded in on happy feet and my heart sighed relief as I gathered childhood in my arms.

    Reply
  9. Abigail Rogers

    Sitting underneath the stars, hearing the whirr of traffic just a few feet beyond the parking lot, balancing on the grey, pebbly picnic bench, I realize how much I have.

    There’s a cup of ice cream in my hand, luscious folds of half-melted creamy stuff in white and deep fudge brown mingling among the peanut clusters, and I dig in with just the tip of my plastic spoon, catching a tiny 1/4 bite on my tongue, letting it melt and squish around my teeth as the sweet creaminess sinks into my tongue.

    Around me are the voices of loved ones. Parents sitting side by side, each licking an ice cream cone. Dad has frozen yogurt because he’s on a diet, and Mom says hers is healthy because it has cherries. Maraschino cherries. My brother and his friend ordered the usual double scoops, as much ice cream as the cone will hold without the whole thing toppling onto the warm cement. It takes them eons to lick them down to a manageable size.

    And out there, all around, are the sights and smells and feelings that I’ve grown to associate with “home”: the Southern twang, the Ford trucks, the lights of the hotels beckoning business travelers, office parks and dog parks and art museums and McDonald’s restaurants, long summer days and cicadas and sweet tea and cliche songs on the radio. Each little thing is a word, a word that makes part of a sentence, and that sentence tells a little bit of my story. It’s the prologue, the backdrop, the context that shows where I’ve come from and gives a sneak peek into where I’m going.

    But the most important thing about knowing this is home, is that I know it now. I know it before I leave, before it all disappears and I’m left with nothing but memories. I can’t hold on to what’s left of my childhood, I can’t stop change, and no matter how much I want to I can’t make life stop still. It has to keep going. All I can do is appreciate the moment while it’s here, experiencing something to create a future memory out of globs of ice cream and fragments of laughter, a splash of whispered conversation and one or two significant looks, all tied together with the ribbon of white headlights streaming down the street towards midnight.

    Reply
  10. Christina Chenier

    Since my week has been completely uneventful, and a storm is brewing at this very moment, I’ll sit on my porch and describe it:

    The sky is a soft grey and clouds hang low, casting a grey haze over all the green. It’s hot and humid out here, and I can hear and see the wind in the trees. I can even feel its coolness on my skin, but the air in front of my nose remains unmoving and hard to breathe. I try to breathe in the cool, but in vain. Around me, everything is quiet except for the breeze in the trees. Thunder interrupts the silence, growling like an angry dog. First, it sounds like it’s in the woods across the street… Then it sounds again, off to my left. A yellow butterfly visits clover flowers in my overgrown front lawn, unaware of the storm that can render it flightless. The rain is late, but I know it’s coming. It’ll come first as one drop, then another; hardly anything. Then, in increasing fury, it will become one with the raging storm, coming down in sheets upon sheets as if trying to drown my little town. What did it ever do to deserve this oncoming fury?

    Reply
  11. Christina Chenier

    The rain comes, not one drop at a time, but all at once. I knew it was coming. The distant growls of thunder and the humid, unmoving air gave it away. Even though I can feel the coolness of the breeze on my skin, and see it moving the trees, the air in front of my nose remains still and hot, making it hard to breath. The rain is coming down so hard and fast that the gutter above me cannot keep up. Water pours over the sides, spilling over onto the rail and splashing me. I thought the point of a covered porch was to stay dry?The rain dies down for a moment, and everything grows darker than it was before. The sky turns from soft grey, to a dark charcoal grey in that one, brief moment, and the wind picks up. The storm is coming, even though the rain now is nonexistent. The only proof of its appearance are the puddles and my soaking wet little brothers. More thunder rumbles, warning me of it’s arrival and my siblings run inside, heeding its warning. I alone remain outside. The rain has come again, but not as hard as before. Still, it gradually rains down harder as the wind blows it around toward me. Finally, all the elements come together: the rain, the wind, and the thunder. The storm is here.

    ————–
    It just so happens that this was written in real time. What a neat exercise!

    Reply
  12. Mike

    Well, that was pointless. I ended up shivering, wet, took a hot shower and went to bed.

    Reply

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