Friday, January 16, 2009

Using (Minor) Adversity to Breathe Life into Fiction

Picture this scene:

On the back porch of a house in a suburban Texas neighborhood, one small, brown snake lay curled around itself in the warm afternoon sun. A twelve-year-old boy spies the snake and alerts his brother and cousins. Soon, five children clamor around the reptile, pointing and hollering loud enough to attract the attention of the two middle-aged moms—my sister and me—who are inside the house. We shoot out the front door and run full-speed to the backyard.

“Josh,” I ask my son, “is its head triangular or round?”

The group consensus is that it has a round head—it’s probably a garter snake—but I don’t want a snake in my yard, even if it’s not poisonous. I grab a shovel and a bucket.

Who am I kidding? The snake isn’t going to cooperate. It’s going to lunge, and I’m going to scream and fling the shovel. We need a container with an opening large enough for some wiggle room. I put down both the shovel and the bucket and pick up a cooler. “Let’s try this. Wait . . .” I peer at the open drain spout. “With the plug missing, that’s a pretty big opening. Do you think the snake can squeeze through here?”

“No,” my sister answers, “but even if it can, we’ll find something to plug it up.” She picks up the shovel.

Five barefooted children huddle around us like we need their help. Okay, I had asked my son if he thought it was poisonous. Now I remember that I’m the adult and responsible for their safety. I make swooping arm motions. “Y’all get back.”

I’m still worried about the opening in the cooler. I want to stuff it with a plastic bag, a stick, something. But there’s no time.

My sis has slid the shovel across the cement. Oops. The area isn’t smooth and she’s not able to slide under the snake easily like a spatula lifting a brownie.

The snake quickly slithers toward safety in the grass. Like a mother bear, my sister protects our young and attacks the reptile.


She strikes, but misses.

I shriek, which helps so much.

She charges the snake into the grass.


Another miss.

Another whack!

And another.

We no longer see the snake, so I suppose I can stop shrieking.

Whew! Hopefully, it has hightailed it to Austin by now. I really don’t care where it is—as long as it’s not on my property.

As the scene unfolded in my yard, I knew this little drama was worth it because someday it would play a small role in my fiction.

So when you face trials, even small ones, instead of getting upset, grab a piece of paper and jot down notes. With a simple change of your attitude, you can allow “all things to work together for good. “ Not only will you make lemonade out of your lemons, you’ll find that you have great stories to tell.

Seems like I’m adding to the list every day. Oh, well. They’re only inconveniences, like a snake on the back porch, but they’re going to become conflicts for my characters.

Join me in using adversity to breathe life into our fiction.

~Roxanne Sherwood~


  1. LOL, I can picture this story making its way into one of your novels. :)

    For this girl, a snake is a little more than minor adversity--it's a full-blown phobia. I can't even look at the creatures in magazines without scaring myself. I had a tough time with Lori Copeland's Mother of Prevention novel. :)

    Using real-life events in our fiction does bring them to life on the pages because we've already experienced the emotions.

    Great post, my friend!

  2. Well said, Roxanne. Welcome BACK to Seekerville.

    Pass the Krispy Kremes, and HALLELUJAH it's Friday!!!

  3. ROXANNE!!!!!! Sooooo good to see you here, my friend! And I LOVE your post (actually forgot I was reading a blog because the snake incident had me in its teeth).

    And I totally agree that personal adversity enriches our own fiction. For instance, a friend of mine came to dinner and was talking to my husband. She told him that she loved A Passion Most Pure, but she couldn't quite believe the bedroom fight scene between the parents when Marcy pounces like a wildcat. "I just can't see that happening," she said. "It doesn't seem real." My husband grinned and popped a peanut in his mouth. "Believe it," he said, "it's real." :)

    Ah, diversity, the spice of a writer's life!

  4. Another big welcome to Seekerville, Roxanne! I've had a couple encounters with what wer probably harmless snakes, but who knows for sure???? I've had a couple scares on horseback that showed up in Adelaide's fear of horses in Courting Miss Adelaide. Waste not, want not applies to writing too. :-)


  5. Hi, Lisa and Tina!

    I'm thrilled to be back today.

    Julie, that's hilarious! I can't wait to go reread that scene in APMP--with new eyes. LOL!

  6. Hey, Roxanne!

    Well, this has been the week of (minor) adversity. Whoo-boy!!! And frankly, I'm sick of it. A sick car, a sick child, I'm not sure how this fits into historical romance, but the emotions--frustration, anxiety--are making their way daily into my heroine's life! Poor thing. I feel sorry for her.

  7. Roxanne!

    Girlfriend, long time, no see! Welcome to our humble abode, my dear, and hey, Tina-dear, send one of those Krispy Kremes my way. I miss the Krispy Kreme store we used to have in the next town. Oh my word, they melt in your mouth. I can still remember my first Krispy Kreme, Penn Station, NYC.

    Love at first bite.

    I thoroughly enjoyed your adversity snake story. I was always cool with snakes. Part of nature, live on a farm, lots of sand, perfect for garters and milk snakes...

    UNTIL they started getting in our house.

    Gone was the nice woman who let her children pet and hold snakes. I declared war on reptiles...

    It's amazing how small a space/hole those guys can fit through.

    Oh my stars it was an interesting year. I paid .50/snake...

    Let me just say we cut the population down significantly.

    And I plugged the hole in the basement chinking when I found it.

    Roxanne, so good to see you. Hey, here's a bacon/egg/cheese/potato casserole I brought. Nice and hot, the cheese all melty over the top.

    Help yourself.

    And where's Ann with the coffee???


    Oh, pooh, Tina, if ours is empty, I'll head to the market and get more. Any requests?


  8. Roxanne,

    LOVED your post! I wouldn't do very well in Texas! I hate snakes! I was shrieking along with you as I read your post.

    I have a scene in my novel where a tow truck driver invites his client home. That happened to my husband. The driver said he'd take my dh and friend anywhere they needed to go . . . accept he needed to stop home first to get his gun! True story!

    Have a great day!

  9. Hello Roxanne:

    Enjoyed your post. I find little adversities -- with quick resolutions -- are a way to reward the reader for reading and thus enhance the reading experience. Janet Evanovich is an absolute master at doing this. Her heroine, Stephanie Plum, has one little adversity after another -- in between the big ones.

    BTW, could you give us a little biography? I went to “TheWritingRoad” but that seems to be someone else’s web site. I’m just curious about what yo do.


  10. Janet, horses & snakes. What a bad combo! Glad you didn't waste a good opportunity and used that experience in a scene.

    Melanie, I had a flat tire recently and can relate. I thought of the snake encounter--and using the adversity--and made mental notes for a heroine's flat tire. It actually helped with my frustration level to know I could use the situation in my writing, though I guess I'm fortunate to write contemporaries.

    Sherry, LOL! I love when God brings colorful people in my life. They make such great characters!

    Hi, Vince! I'm part of TheWritingRoad team, and I do need a bio. I'm a yet-to-be-published writer with one completed ms. I have seven kids, ages 21-2, so I have tons of inspiration. I homeschool, but I'm closing that door soon to pursue full-time writing. I was widowed 20 months ago, days after my baby's first birthday. My last visit here at Seekerville was autobiographical. Check out the label for adversity for the original post.

  11. Ugh. Snakes. Shudder.

    Yes, I have a snake story. Thanks (I think) for reminding me of it.

    I might use it in my current wip.

    And, I'm with Lisa: Snakes ain't no (MINOR) adversity!

    Hey, guys and gals, grab a bowl. It's a little nippy down in Mississippi, and fellow employees Ed & Linda made chili for us today.

  12. Hi, Ruthy!

    Thanks for the warm welcome! You always feed guests so well.

    During my last visit, you asked about my wip. I really wanted to share but it was a finalist in the Touched by Love contest, so I wasn't sure if I could talk about it. Now, the contest is finished, and I was the overall winner (Yay!), I wanted to share how truth is stranger than fiction.

    More than five years ago, I was a happily married, homeschooling mom when I began writing a novel about a young widow, Stephanie, who loses her husband suddenly.

    (Note: If it takes five years to write a book, you're mostly NOT writing.)

    I wondered if I had the emotions right. I imagined her sorrow that her young sons would never know their father. I tried to envision how lonely she'd be and how hard she'd find it venturing into the dating world again. My poor heroine's emotions were a jumbled mess.

    Other than identifying with my heroine as a mom, I wasn't writing what I knew.

    My life was wonderful and I was busy editing my ms. I had a great husband, Jack, who was devoted to me and our kids, and who loved having a baby in the house again.

    On our twin daughters' 17th birthday, Jack had a heart attack and died on the way home from work.
    Without warning, I was a widow, and the words I'd placed in Stephanie's head were running through mine. Like Stephanie, my youngest son will never know his daddy.

    When the grief was fresh, I couldn't edit. Later, it was healing, maybe therapeutic, to escape into my fiction. Sometimes I'd pause, look over to where my husband used to sit, and grief would pour over me. I'd swallow, then dig back into the story, where I'd think of Stephanie's troubles instead of my own.

    Though I've tweaked her emotions some in the rewrite, I've been surprise at how spot on I was to begin with.

  13. LOL, I think the things we think are horrible do turn out to be good or at least funny in the end ;) And I'm always using things that happened to me in my stories.

    I can't stand snakes, so I'm glad that didn't happen to me! Ever since I saw a rattler when I was little, I've stayed clear of all snakes, even dead ones. LOL. A hard thing with 4 brothers...;)

  14. Hi Roxanne:

    I just read your past post and saw the pictures. I can’t think of anyone with more heartfelt experience or who is more deserving to be a successful writer. I bet your first published work will win an award and you’ll be called an “Over Night Success.” I’d like to be the first one to buy your book.


  15. Vince, you are so kind!

    I've been blessed with the friendship of wonderful writers through ACFW and RWA/FH&L. If I'm published, it will be because of God's grace and their fabulous teaching. Of course, the Seekers are the best!

  16. ROFL! This snake image cracked me up.

    Nice post! Thanks for visiting with us again, Roxanne.


  17. I live in Florida where snakes abound so your story made me laugh. Make sure you use this--nothing should go to waste. Glad you're back in Seekerville!

  18. Oh, sure Vince.

    Just because sweet little Roxanne tosses the big ol' sympathy card, you're in line to buy her book.


    Move to the back of the liine, Bub. There's a whole troop of us waiting to celebrate that day. I'll be one of them.

    Roxanne is one of those spirit-filled, heart-and-soul women you only meet a few of in your life. And she likes me and no one holds that against her!


    Gotta love a girl like that, LOL! She's a true romance heroine, although I'm sure some days she feels more like a household mop that spent too long in the squeegee...

    Really wrung out!

    Go get 'em girl, and mega congrats on the TBL win. Truly deserved and there's some hot, hot competition out there.

    Hey, anybody got a diet soda??? I'm about two hundred points over with that egg bake thingie.


  19. I liked the line about trying to pick up the snake like a spatula lifting a brownie.

    Very vivid.

    I bet the variety of adversity here in Seekerville would be pretty colorful.

  20. Diet soda?!?!


    Life here on earth is too short to spend it drinking diet soda. Ain't nothing but real thing for me, bay-bee.

    Roxanne, I'm still cringing over your snake story. Times like this are when I didn't wish I had an active imagination. Not to mention when Julie starts going all passion on us. While I'm happy for her, I don't need any visuals. ;-) (Julie, my hubby is giving yours a mental pat on the back. Men.)

    Oh, talking about sex...tonight's the Battlestar Galatica final season opening episode. Be still my sci-fi heart. Tina, be sure to tell hubby that I want to hear his impressions of the show and who he thinks the final Cylon is. I have my suspicions.

    You all may use your active imaginations to picture me breaking out in a song-and-dance rendition of "Oh Happy Day."

    Anyhoo, great point, Roxanne, about how personal adversity affects/influences our fiction. This morning during my quiet time, I read Acts Chapter 9. For those who haven't read that chapter recently, it's when Christian-prosecutor Saul runs into a brick wall called Jesus.

    One verse that really stood out to me was where the Lord tells Ananias to "Go, for [Saul] is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake."

    Now I freely admit I like the first part of Jesus' announcement. Who wouldn't want to do great things for God? Like Isaiah, we say "Here I am, Lord. Use me."

    But there's that little not-so-fine print added.

    Great things, lots of suffering.


    I kinda like good things with mediocre suffering. And even then, fair things with minimal suffering is sounding awfully non-painful-ish. And between you and me and God, I'm really not into suffering.

    Clearly, though, Saul didn't have a problem with the fine print. Within weeks of his conversion, the Jews in Damascus and the Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews) in Jerusalem both wanted him dead and took active steps to kill him. Dude was on fire for God. So much that the apostles banished...umm, sent him back to Tarsus.

    Even in the early church days, the Christian community had a comfort-zone box. I'd say more, but wisdom is telling me to shut up. (Yes, Tina, despite the times I stare absently at the ceiling during our counseling sessions, I shall heed your advice and vow to work in 2009 on not sharing all my snarky thoughts and opinions.

    On a side note...

    I like how Lisa said:

    Using real-life events in our fiction does bring them to life on the pages because we've already experienced the emotions.

    I love books (fiction and non-) where the author clearly has experienced the emotions s/he's writing about.

    One of my favorite non-fiction books is about being a godly woman. Great read. Except one section in one chapter near the end.

    Call me nutso, but I struggle with taking birth control advice from a woman who's never been married and never had any kids. Get married, pop out a few snot-nosed critters who eat dog food and have a fascination with what's on top of the refrigerator, and then I'll consider your opinion.

    Drat. There goes another snarky opinion.

    Tomorrow, Tina, I promise, tomorrow...

  21. How funny, Roxanne!! Do you write romantic comedy by any chance?? :)

    I loved your story. Thanks for the laugh. And I have to say that laughter is one big way I deal with adversity. But now I'll also take note. :)


  22. That was supposed to say I'll take notes. plural. Like you recommended. :)

    Gina, honey, where would we be withhout your snarky comments?!

    Roxanne, was your story about Stephanie the one that won the overall TBL??


  23. Also, Gina, I learn a lot about very descriptive language from your posts, especially when it has to do with children.


  24. Yes, Missy, Stephanie's story won the overall TBL. I was thrilled!I love the characters and love that story. I hope God wants it in print, but sometimes I wonder if it wasn't written just for me...

    I would love to write romantic comedy, but I'm not sure I'm funny enough. Still, I try to insert humor whenever I can.

    Ann, I'm glad you commented about the spatula. A couple of others have told me they liked that vivid image too. Yet, I had debated whether to use that line. LOL! Guess I'm not my best editor.

    Gina, thanks for reminding us what God says about adversity.

  25. Welcome to Seekerville Roxanne,
    What a great idea to take notes during all the moments of trauma. And aren't there plenty in life? What I really should write down are my feelings when someone cuts me off on the freeway. That would fill a page. yikes. But could I use it in a book. I guess not, but the feelings-yes.

    Thanks again and enjoy those snakes.

  26. There are some things I'd rather just interview someone about than experience first hand!

    But they say that if a writer experiences it, she must use it for good--and you will use it well. You're such a good writer, Roxanne.

    I enjoyed this, despite despising snakes!!!


  27. Wow! The topic of this blog should have been pacing instead of adversity. You scene sucked me in. Unfortunately, it ended far too soon. On second thought, maybe adversity was the appropriate topic -- the reader's adversity as opposed to the writer's adversity.