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Sunday, September 1, 2019


Post by Doris McCraw
writing as Angela Raines

SPARK- look at some of the synonyms: hint, flare, jolt, ray, animate, excite, enliven. You get the idea.

When it comes to creativity, the spark for the project; beginning, middle or end, may come from many sources, if one is open to it.

I've been re-reading the short stories of author T.T. Flynn. I love his small strokes that create a character picture without being overly descriptive. In one story, 'Spawn of the Gun Pack' the opening line read: "Tom Brush killed his first mam when he was fifteen, and his last man when he was twenty— and in the years between, death missed him a dozen times only because he had been raised by Long Tom Kinnard." A great opening line, and a descriptive one at that. You get a feel for the character of Tom Brush, yet it leaves you wanting to find out more.

What kind of character would this man be if he missed dying because of who and how he was raised? What was his childhood like? These questions ring in my mind as I am developing the character in my current WIP. What kind of man is my hero? What in his childhood made him the loner he is? How did he become so self-contained?

Whether I use the answers to all these questions isn't important. What is important is my understanding of the man and his actions. This is where reading Flynn is so useful for me. It's his ability to create deep characters, in so few words, that jump out at you from the page.

My Thursday night improv writing group, weather permitting, is where I get sparks galore. It is amazing how a 'prompt' can lead your story in a wonderful direction. The key is to not get set in where you think the story is going. Many a time a prompt will open up a piece I'm working on and I get so excited. The prompt that sparked my current WIP was 'Knowing is not enough; we much apply. Willing is not enough; we must do." I knew it would be about a woman physician in the 1870s-80s Colorado, but not much else.

Here is a rough draft excerpt from the beginning:

     "Mother," Caleb called.

     Dr. Pauline Wilson looked up from the medical journal she was reading. It thrilled her that her son Caleb found the world such a place of wonder. She smiled. He was always calling her to come and see his latest find. Well, it was better than getting into trouble, although some might say what he was doing could lead to trouble. She had worried as he’d gotten older that no having a father would be hard on him. She still mourned her husband George, yet it was his death that propelled her to follow her dream of being a physician.

     "Mother, hurry."

     Pauline pulled herself away from her memories, hearing a sense of urgency in her son’s words. Pauline arrived in time to see her twelve-year-old son attempting to catch a large man as he tipped out of his saddle. Rushing forward, Pauline helped Caleb steady the man, draping his arms over the horse. “Caleb, go get the wheel-barrel.”

Sometimes it is a 'what if,' or 'what happened' from a piece of history or a character from another story that is the spark. I have an early novel I wrote about a brothel owner that came from a piece of history I was researching on a murder here in Colorado Springs in 1879. The research kept talking about how bad the wife was. I wondered what her side of the story would be? Fifty thousand plus words later, I found out.

Of course, photos are a great spark. Many a haiku came from a photo I took.

Giving to the world
Yet alone in disaster
Loneliness defined

We can never know what may be the 'spark' that sets us on a new journey. I think part of the gift is being open to the unexpected and going with the flow. So the next time you see the words poignant, purple and "Oh me!", see what you can go with them.

I will leave you with the beginning of my story in "Hot Western Nights" which began with a musical prompt.

     Miranda Foster climbed the hill overlooking the ranch her stepfather left her to run for his heirs. Clouds flew across the sky. Standing on the hilltop, she watched a storm building, its track headed toward the ranch house. She didn't begrudge her duty, but by the time her step-brother Byron was old enough to take over, she'd be an old maid. 

     No one knew she wasn't the owner. It was her step-father's way of keeping the ranch safe. She remembered their conversation. "I know I'm asking a lot of you, but you'll be taken care of." 

     Miranda thought back on that conversation as she caught movement near the leading edge of the storm. Watching, she saw five specks detach and draw closer. The wind was pushing her back the way she'd come, trying to guide her to safety.

Purchase from Amazon

Happy Writing, Be Creative and Watch for those "SPARKS"

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
For a list of Angela Raines Books: Here 


  1. Fascinating blog, Doris! Love how you get 'sparks' from so many places.
    You have a gift of writing very compelling openings.

    1. Thank you Lindsay. I really want to grab the reader and leave them wanting more. Your words give me hope that I'm on the correct path.

      As for 'sparks', my mother would have said, "she's always off on some adventure of her own creation." of something similar. (Grin) Doris

  2. Excellent post. Thank you for sharing. Now, I need to go look for those Sparks myself.

    1. It is fun looking for them and you find them in the most unexpected places. Happy hunting my friend, and thank you for the kind words. Doris

  3. Interesting post. I always love getting a spark and allowing my mind to work it over to see if there is a novel in it. I'll look forward to reading your story of Dr. Pauline Wilson,

    1. Thank you Ann. I love the early women doctors, and since I'm always researching them for non-fiction it seemed logical I'd write about them in fiction also. (Smile)

      Thank you also for the kind words about the post. It is just plain fun seeing where a story will go. Doris

  4. Because we all interpret what we read based on our own history and emotional makeup, we all have a unique take on every story. I do like it when the writer doesn't hand out all the information like Pablum on a spoon. I appreciate it when I get bits and bits of a character until I have my version of that person.
    I have a jar of prompts written on strips of paper in a quart jar in my study. My great niece and I used to pull out a prompt for fun. We'd each write a paragraph or 2 of a story the prompt inspired. They were often very different--and lots of fun I must add.
    Loved the haiku!
    All the best to you, Doris...

    1. Oh Sarah, you story of your great neice and you reminds me of a friend who did/does the same thing with her daughter. Those are special times.

      Thank you also for the kind words about the haiku. I still write them, just not everyday like I used to. I think that is my favorite form of poetry to write.

      Return wished for wonderful things for you also Sarah. Doris

  5. Great post. It can be the oddest things which spark a story idea. I find it often happens when I'm researching and come across a quirky bit of history. Sometimes the strangest things are those you couldn't make up.

    1. A person after my own heart. Like you, I find sparks in the most unusual places, and usually it's when I'm researching or reading.

      Glad you enjoyed the post. Doris

  6. Story sparks often flare out of the blue (hmmm...a few cliches there lol) An image. A lyric. A line of poetry. An offhand comment. A situation in the news. And so little time for us to write a story for all of them.

    Your scene with the man about to fall off his horse is great.

    1. That's what I love about 'sparks' Kaye, they can be anywhere if we watch for them. I know music is a big one for you.

      Thank you for the support for the opening scene. I'm still working on that one. LOL. Have a great weekend. Doris

  7. Doris, you always manage to entertain while you inform. Loved your post. I believe writers are a special group of kindred spirits who do not travel the common road because we are prompted by things around us and stop to wonder about them instead of just shrugging them off and keep walking. I also loved Sarah's comment about having a jar of "prompts" written on pieces of paper and pulling one out for a little fun writing exercise. How lovely to do it with your grandniece. I bet she'll be a writer, too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and wisdom, Doris--you always entertain and leave me wanting for more.

    1. Thank you Elizabeth. I try to share some of what I learn, while keeping the post down to about 250-350 words. Never want them too long.

      I've also enjoyed the responses and learn so much from reading what other people share. Here's to the sparks that fire our imaginations. Doris

  8. Doris, as I've said before, I always enjoy your posts very much, and this one was great. Very inspirational and it's got my juices just going to town. Thanks.

    1. Thank you Bev. I have always loved creativity sparks and enjoy sharing them. If just one person feels the urge to follow through on the dream the spark inspires, I'm thrilled. Happy Creating. Doris