For starters, try eavesdropping

Rude? Normally, yes.

Eavesdropping is never in vogue, unless, of course, you’re a writer.

Eavesdropping involves observing, listening and perhaps inhaling details, without being obnoxious.

In public buildings, on buses, on the street … any venue could provide inspiration.

It may be a conversation you’re in or one you’re listening to …

What’s he saying? Something about a pig crossing a road, and before he knew what was happening, he hit it with his truck, his beautiful yellow truck.

Observe the incredulous expression on the face of the man to whom he’s telling this sordid tale: There’s an initial look of disbelief, eyebrows raised and then lowered as polite conventionality prevails and overtures of sympathy are made over the damages to his friend’s truck.

But, as the absurdity sinks in, a snicker escapes from the man’s lips.

“Unbelievable” he says, finally, shaking his head. In the Yukon … miles from anywhere … you hit a pig.” The man lowers his head to hide a smirk. Then his shoulders begin shaking. He covers his mouth, but it escapes—a chuckle becomes laughter and spreads to his belly, which is shaking, as well. And, in a matter of minutes, the two of them are laughing so hard that stares are inevitable.

Others join in, not knowing why it is they’re laughing, but unable to stop, all the same.

Realizing that they have drawn the attention of nearly everyone nearby, the men sit up straight, take a dignified sip of coffee, then chuckle spontaneously, involuntarily, and it begins again until they surrender to the sidesplitting laughter … so rare to see such a thing between two men in a public place.

You were laughing, too.

Well, it might seem a rather far-fetched example of a starter, but such a thing could happen.

Try carrying a small notebook and jotting down notes in an inconspicuous manner, like you’re really minding your own business. You’ll gain some wonderful starters.

I’m not advocating an insensitive approach where you eavesdrop, then immortalize the intimate details of someone’s life. You must choose carefully and sensitively what you will write about.

It may help to remember, as you revel in writing, that it’s all for the reader.

Fiction must contain believable elements; and it is in the showing, not the telling, that the reader is caught up in a story. The writer must “disappear” for a story to have a life of its own.

Hooks are wonderful starters, as well, and can be found everywhere: in conversations, in newspapers, in activity, in your imagination, in music … If you would like a copy of the clinic on hooks, please e-mail me and I’ll send it.

The former editor of What’s Up Yukon, Darrell Hookey, suggested that, while interviewing, writers draw a line down one side of their paper, creating a margin in which to jot rich descriptive details about setting and not what the interviewee is saying, but how they are saying it — anything to “show” rather than “tell” the reader.

This practice can be a starter, as well. Whenever you have a few minutes, stop what you’re doing and jot down what you see, describing it in as much detail as possible. What are you looking at? How can you describe it so it puts the reader where you are? What colour is it? What does it smell like? taste like? sound like? What can you liken it to?

Direct metaphors (he was a bear) and similes, which use “like” or “as” to compare (like a cat pouncing on a mouse), are powerful writing tools. They create word pictures. They put the reader into your story.

There are starters everywhere, in common places and where you least expect them.

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