Oct 14 2010

Rancher’s Windmill

Melissa Crytzer Fry

In the southwest, you see them everywhere. Windmills. The old-fashioned kind, and even now, some of the high-tech wind turbines scattered about.

I’ve always admired the spinning wheels against azure skies, viewing them mainly as relics that mark a bygone era. I never stopped to think about the vital water they provided (and still do) to open-range cattle.

This water-pumping windmill, an F&W made in Kendallville, Indiana, is in a remote area of southeastern Arizona, but is now retired. Click to enlarge.

So, yes, it’s safe to say I didn’t think much about windmills at all. And I certainly never thought about the idiots that think it’s a sport to shoot at windmill blades and motors. That is, until I met a local rancher who graciously shared his insight for my Work In Progress (WIP – commonly know as novel).

When windmill hunters aim for the motor (and hit the target), it’s no surprise that oil leaks out and the engine seizes up. When these “sportsmen” shoot at the blades, the bullet holes create resistance, making the blades less efficient. So, either way, it’s a pretty jerky thing to do.

My advice to these hunters: find a new sport. Because behind every windmill are a bunch of thirsty – and sometimes angry – cattle. And standing just beyond the cattle, there just may be a rancher holding his own gun.

For Writers: The writer’s mind often spins at the same rate as a working windmill. Ideas whirl in our heads, plot points intersect, we get confused, we get excited. And yes, sometimes we even spin our wheels.

To keep your windmill of ideas primed when beginning a new WIP:

  • Create a binder: For my current WIP, I’ve created sections in a binder for each main character and for each research topic. When I find pertinent information, the research (i.e. occupational, medical, etc.) is inserted into the binder for easy reference, later, when I need it. Some people find index cards an easy organizational tool, though I confess, they’re too small for my verbosity.
  • Develop character profile sheets: As author Marion Dane Bauer says, “Good stories stand or fall on good characters.” Yes! Yes! This is so true – especially in character-driven fiction. That’s why you need to know your characters inside and out. What makes them tick? Why do they react in certain situations the way they do? How did your protagonist’s childhood shape her adult life? What is her biggest fear? What is her overall goal? How is she flawed? How does she speak? What is her occupation? Author Jody Hedlund created a wonderful character profile sheet that you can use as-is, or that you can adapt to fit your novel. Or consider creating your own. Knowing your character’s motivations is key to creating believable characters. Those motivations will shape what situations you put your characters in, how they react, what they desire.
  • Adopt a system. To keep things organized, author Julie Buxbaum says she has five documents always handy on her laptop:
    • WIP – her working draft of the novel
    • Cuts – a document including sections she’s cut (which she may need later)
    • Chapter list – a list/description of each chapter as she writes it (to keep track of her plot, events, etc.)
    • Character lists – to keep track of character details she adds as she goes (who has red hair, who walks with a limp, who stutters around women, who says “Yowza.” Okay … I added everything in parentheses.)
    • Notes – a working list of questions about her novel as she thinks about them. Sometimes these notes result in a “next novel” idea or help her think through themes.

Whether you use Buxbaum’s method, which lends itself to allowing the characters to drive the story, or whether you are a plotter-planer with an outline, developing some system of organization can help the creative juices flow.

Give it a whirl. These techniques might help you avoid spinning out of control, or may prevent the blades of your imagination from seizing up.

5 Responses to “Rancher’s Windmill”

  • Rachna Chhabria Says:

    Thanks Melissa, I tend to be a bit haphazard in my organisational skills.I keep losing the research pages as I don’t organise them in folders. Keeping a binder is a good idea where one can keep a track of all the character details. Actually all the ideas are very writer friendly.


  • Melissa Says:

    Thanks, Rachna. I would say that organization of my paper-trails does not come easily to me. I wonder if all writers struggle the way we do 🙂 ? Or maybe it’s just part of the creative process (if it isn’t, then it’s a good excuse, at least).


    steve Reply:

    this is a test reply


  • Jamie Says:

    This post is pure gold! Never having written a novel, I have no idea what sort of system I need. I’m sure as I get into it, I’ll develop my own, but this is so helpful. Maybe now I can get started. 🙂 Thank you!


  • Melissa Crytzer Fry Says:

    Glad you found the information helpful. It IS a daunting task to tackle a novel & you never seem to know where to start. I’m not real big on formulaic approaches to novel writing, BUT if you’re not sure where to start, the Hollywood ‘industry-standard’ to storytelling is the mythical Hero’s Journey. This concept has been adapted to writing by Chris Vogler in the book “The Writer’s Journey.” It really provides a nice overarching outline/structure that can help you get started. What I liked about it is that it is totally flexible and, thus, not so formulaic. Might be something for you to think about as you forge ahead!


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