Tag Archives | story

Otherwhere: Good Stuff

I’ve been collecting goodies for you, a lot of which came in the last couple of days.  Also, please note my non-link related question at the end.

Here goes:

Writing

Analyze your novel as if it were a dream.

I could not live without the TK.

On beating not-writing.

How to organize your day.

It isn’t conflict that drives the story after all. (READ THIS ONE.)

Best and worst.

Women Fiction Writers (Amy Sue Nathan’s blog)

A new platform for serialized work.

The importance of words.

Structuring story with Robert McKee.

Marketing, Etc.

Be shameless about sales.

Be your own publicist.

Other Creative Stuff

You knitters out there will appreciate this.

I can’t help it, I love nutty Russians.

My buddy Roy has a great story to tell about a long-lost penpal.

I read this blog every morning.

Okay, basta!  Here’s my very important question: if I were to start a Facebook group (that might or might not be closed, I’m not sure), would you be interested in joining it? I’ve long been pondering a way for my loyal commenters and others to have an easier way to talk to each other. Thoughts? What are your positive/negative experiences with such groups? And while we’re at it, what is the secret to life? (Kidding about that last one–unless you have the answer.)

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Should You Write Every Day?

HappywritingI was at a gathering of writers last night (Portlanders, we meet every last Monday of the month for Literary Libations, join us) and Angela Sanders, an accomplished mystery writer who is doing very well with her books (can you say number one on all Kindle sales?) was talking about her career.

Angela talked about how she does very little social media, sends one newsletter out a month (subscribe here, its definitely worth it), and beyond that, "I write every day."

Because–that's the most important thing.

Writing.  

As often as humanly possible.

And yes, while writing in a journal, or writing a blog post, or ad copy for your next class, or whatever, is all terribly important, when we talk about writing every day, we're talking about writing on that project of yours.  You know the one–the novel that keeps you awake at night.  The one where the characters keep doing things that delight you.  The one you have in your head.  Or hopefully in a collection of notes carefully stored somewhere.

So, how important is it to write every day?

Well, I think its every thing.  Every damn thing.  I do.  I believe that writing every day is what we should all strive for.

But people scowl at me when I say this.  They throw things, like rotten apples, at me.  They yell and scream.  Okay, maybe they don't really, but I can see by the look in their eyes that they are wishing they could.  Because they really don't want to write every freaking day.

And that is what it really boils down to.  Whether or not you actually want to write.

I'm sorry, but that's the plain, hard truth of the matter.  (And for the record, I'm lecturing myself here as much as anybody.)  Once, years ago, I read something that bears on this.  I believe it was in a Julia Cameron book.  She said something to the effect that if a man is in love with you, no matter if he's the busiest executive in the world, he'll find time to call you.

So, ahem.  If you're in love with your writing (and you should be) you will freaking find time to do it, even a little, even if you're just thinking about it, every day.

And here's a little tip to help you do it every day:

At the above-mentioned Happy Hour wherein we discussed every aspect of writing, one of my most favorite writers (and human beings) in the whole world piped up and said she'd been writing every day.  

Gasp.  This required a huge gulp of wine to process.  Because Jenni, (who is likely reading this and rolling her eyes) has not written for months.  This has been the cause of much consternation and hand-wringing between my biz partner Debbie and I, because Jenni is a damn good writer, writing a really fun mystery.

So to hear her announce that she was now writing regularly again was amazing.  And we found out her secret, which is…..

Write for ten minutes a day.

C'mon, everyone can find ten minutes.  And the bigger trick to this is that once you start writing, you often look up and realize that an hour, not ten minutes has gone by and you've really not felt like stopping.

So, the moral of the story is that, yes, I do think every one should write every day if at all possible and that really, everything will fall into place for us all if we just write as often as possible.  

Please share what you think in the comments!

Image by Jem.

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Two Aspects of Story Writing

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Hilda?

Here, for your consideration, two aspects of storytelling.

1. Parsing the story.  This is, of course, most often the purview of the rough draft, or shitty first draft, or discovery draft, or whatever you want to call it.  Hilda would do.  (I think I'll start giving my drafts names.  Why not?) Although it must be said that story often reveals itself more fully on the second, third, or tenth drafts, too.

The point is that you have to figure out the story for yourself.  Yeah, you get a brilliant idea for a novel and set out writing it, but honestly?  There's a crap-ton of stuff that goes into a novel.  A lot has to happen.  Like, a lot lot.  And you have to uncover all this stuff, because it doesn't come downloaded with the idea.  (Or maybe it does for you.  If so, please email me.  I want to steal all your secrets.)  Which is why you launch in and write a rough draft, whether you are a plotter or a pantser.

And then when you are done with that, there's:

2. Deciding the best way to tell the story.  Your story might have come out in a strict chronology, but when you look at it, that's not the best way to build suspense.  (And all stories, not just mysteries and thrillers, need suspense.)  Or maybe it came to you in fragments and now you need to order them.   It is at this stage that you need to take a big, deep breath and figure out how to present the story.  Maybe the last chapter should come first, or vice-versa.  Maybe the character you thought should tell the story needs to be replaced with someone else.  Maybe you need to switch from first to third.  Who knows?  Only you, the author. Just don't make the mistake of assuming that the way the story came out of your brain is the only way it can be told.  

And also, please don't make the mistake of confusing these two aspects.  They each have their time, okay?  When you're writing first draft, your main job is to get the story down on paper. After you have finished a full and complete draft, beginning to end, you can make decisions about how best to present it.

Which is your favorite aspect of story writing?

Photo by ConceptJunkie.

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Review: The Book of Jonas

This is a paid book review for the BlogHer book club, but the opinions expressed are mine and mine alone!

Any book I read (and I try to read a lot, because that's what writers do) I read through the eyes of a writer.  Once you being writing, reading is a whole different experience, because you're studying how the author uses craft as you read.  In The Book of Jonas, I not only enjoyed pondering the way author Stephen Dau wielded craft, I also loved his overall theme, which is of huge interest to writers.

But before I go into that, let me tell you a bit about the book.  The book's main protagonist, Jonas, is just a teenager when his family is killed during a U.S. military operation in an unnamed war.  He escapes to the United States, where he struggles, not only with fitting in, but with the weight of a terrible secret.  This secret concerns the story's secondary protagonist, Christopher Henderson, the U.S. soldier who saved Jonas's life.  Written in dream-like prose, the book builds to quite the emotional ending, though you'll probably have guessed it before the end.

It is quite a tour-de-force of a book and I suspect it will land in the annals of classic war literature.  Extremely well written and nearly hypnotic in its ability to keep you reading, The Book of Jonas is a stunning achievement.  And all that is saying a lot from me because it is not the kind of book I usually read–I shy away from books about war.

As I mentioned, Dau uses the writer's craft in a mesmerizing way.  Part of that is his use of a fractured chronology.  The story leaps from Jonas's current day life in America to his former life in his unnamed homeland, and neither of those chronologies is linear, so the reader is jumping all over the place, yet the story remains clear.  If you're writing a fractured chronology, you should study this book.  And by study, I mean read it over and over again, underline it, and take notes.  It is extremely well done.

Finally, the book offers up a theme that every writer can embrace: the power of story.  It is only through telling the story, in Jonas's case, and writing it down, in Christopher's, that we achieve healing, and ultimately, freedom.

For comment: what book or books have you read lately that inspired you?

 

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Guest Post: Jessica Baverstock on What’s Your Story?

This is a guest post by Jessica Baverstock, an Aussie writer currently living in Beijing, China.  Jessica read my newsletter discussing how we writers get our knickers all wound up in our stories last Jessica_0551_cropped month and it inspired her to write about her own stories.  The process of which was not only entertaining, but enlightening and worthy of sharing.  So here you go.  And thanks, Jessica!

1. Observe – Make a note of the stories you tell.

I am a failure as a writer.

Sure, I love to write and I have the eccentricities down pat – but I can't actually call myself a writer. You see, I've never had anything published. The closest I've ever come was at 19 when I had a poem read out on the radio. Since then I've endured a distinct silence of recognition.

And rightly so. I have nothing worth submitting. I have no polished manuscript sitting in a slush pile waiting to be discovered. I have no polished manuscript at all! I never finish projects. I have notebooks full of scribbled ideas, a bookshelf full of first drafts and several unfinished 2nd drafts languishing in a dark computer folder somewhere – but nothing actually finished.

So you see, I'm a failure as a writer.

2. Write About It – Pull your story apart.

As stories go, this is demoralizing right from the first sentence. While the statements of 'accomplishment' themselves are true, the conclusions inferred are depressingly skewed.

It does, however, give one a feeling of security. If you've already declared yourself a failure, then no one can be disappointed in you no matter what the outcome of your efforts. It's the same reason why people who are prone to falling find lying on the ground oddly comforting – at least you can't fall any further. In this case, by declaring yourself a failure, it pre-empts someone else implying it or saying it outright.

Declare yourself a writer, on the other hand, and people will immediately expect proof. 'What have you written?' 'Have you been published?' 'Can I read some of your work?' Using the above story, you've given them all the proof they need. After such a tirade, who in their right mind is going to ask to see your work?

3. Assign it to a CharacterUse your story as one of your character's stories.

I am assigning this story to Shelly – a character in a novel I'm currently working on.

Shelly is bubbly, insightful and kind – always quick to point out the accomplishments and worth of others. However, as soon as she opens her mouth with this story, we realise she is not as kind to herself.

She's nursing a very personal disappointment. Her dream from childhood was to be a writer, to publish stories and see her name in print. But it never happened. She reads articles about younger people who have achieved their writing dream – how their insight into human nature, their turn of phrase, their attention to detail contributed to their success – and realises she hasn't reached the height of quality necessary to accomplish a similar feat.

She reminds herself that such dreams are childish – don't all young girls want to be ballerinas and all young boys want to be astronauts? The fact is, the world is filled with an infinite array of different occupations. This must prove that at some point in a person's development, childish dreams fall by the wayside to allow new understandings of life and the world emerge. Such is what happened in her case.

However, on the bookshelf next to her bed are several colorful journals, written in from her childhood onward and so precious to her that she cannot part with even one of them. And every morning, over breakfast, she writes in her journal about the wonderful characters and stories she dreamed of the night before.

Now isn't that the sign of a true writer?

4. Consider All the Elements – Look for the main elements, characters, themes, plot, action.

From a storytelling point of view, the only way this story can progress is for the storyteller to effect a complete change of attitude. Currently it's a 'dead end' tale. The words "never", "nothing" and "failure" do not move forward. They do not hold promise of more and better to come. They sit limp, heavy and stubborn on the page – refusing to allow any plot or action to follow.

In order for the plot to develop further, the character must step up and take action. Although the catalyst which starts a story is usually out of a character's control, the character should be the one to make the decision to launch into the next chapter – to spark off the journey which we long to read about.

Therefore this character must change her tune – she must transform her theme from 'failure' to 'opportunity.'

And this can all be done starting with one very simple word – yet.

"I have never had anything published." Yet.

"I have nothing worth submitting." Yet.

5. Write a New Story

I am a writer. I haven't had anything published yet because I'm working through what I like to call my 'apprenticeship.'

I've worked on many different stories, genres, characters and plots – learning along the way. I'm finding my distinctive voice, discovering the tricks to storytelling, creating collections of ideas, instituting schedules, building friendships and practicing the art of writing itself.

One day I will produce polished work worthy of submission. Until that time, I am thoroughly enjoying my journey – for without it I would never accomplish my dream.

Jessica Baverstock had her first run in with the writing life when, at age 3, she met her father's typewriter. Ever since, she's been passionate about putting words on paper, dreaming one day of making it to publication. She can be found at her blog, Creativity's Workshop, where her Creativity is featured as a real character – writing in distinctive purple text.

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There’s Power in Conflict

I volunteer with an organization called Step It Up, which connects high school students with experts in their chosen careers, and offers advice and support around jobs.  Over the last couple of months, I've done a couple of writing workshops for them, with a co-leader who is a teacher.

The last two days we've been working with the kids on writing cover letters and thank yous.  Specifically, my task was to help them find ways to get stories into their cover letters (and job interviews) to make them come alive.

As my co-leader Christine and I planned how we would do this last week, I told her it was very simple.  That there was one thing that every single story from the beginning of time had in common.

"What is that?" she asked.

I'm sure all of you reading know the answer, so say it with me:

CONFLICT.

The bedrock, bottom-line, starting point of all story.  Conflict.  Stories don't exist without it.

And yet, my co-leader, an educated woman with a master's degree who had taken tons of English classes and participated on the debate team, had never heard this simple fact.  Which doesn't actually surprise me because I've run into plenty of grown-ups who haven't either.

The cool thing is that Christine went off and put her new knowledge into place.  Yesterday she stopped me after the workshop and said, "Thank you.  This whole story thing has totally blown my mind and changed the way I look at everything."

Turns out she had spent the weekend with a group of girlfriends, and every time it was her turn to talk or tell a story, she found herself rearranging it a bit mentally so that she started with a bit of conflict.  And now she's thinking about how she can put conflict into her cover letter stories and jazz them up.

Its the power of conflict, baby.  Use it whenever you can, in the stories you tell, the letters you write, the books you are committing to paper.   Your writing and your story telling will be richer and more compelling for it.  Put the conflict on the page and keep it out of your life, is my motto.

For the record, when I asked the teenagers in the workshops what the basic element of story was, most of them answered, "conflict."  So there's hope for future writers.

How do you develop conflict in your writing?

**If you want to know how to develop conflict in your book proposal, consider taking my book proposal teleclass.  It begins June 7th, and the early-bird pricing is still on.  Check it out here.

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How Do You Become Heroic?

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I have a friend who sets up mini-challenges for herself.  She's a pro at navigating through LA traffic to get somewhere on time when it looks impossible.  She not only zips from lane to lane and takes clever alternative routes, she projects thoughts to ease her journey.

When she succeeds, as she usually does, it becomes a story she loves to tell.  Why? Because she has become the hero of her story.  She has become heroic to herself.

Mind you, she's not doing this consciously.  She's not setting out to be heroic.  It's just one of those little subconscious games we all play.

We all have stories that drive us.  And often, we create circumstances that make us the hero or heroine of those stories.  The other day, I started pondering how I make myself heroic.  One way is through meeting deadlines against all odds.  I love to tell the story of how I've written 100-page books in 4 days.  My stories often have to do with extreme bursts of creativity (which, I hasten to add, is not the healthiest way to go about things).

But, here's the deal.  I want to become heroic in new ways now.  I want to become heroic because I've fulfilled long-standing goals, for instance, or because I've not only had a brilliant idea and gotten excited about it, but I've carried through with its promise.  I want to become heroic consciously, and not just by acting out on my subconscious drives.

So, here's my question to you:  how do you become heroic?  Look at:

–the stories you tell about yourself to yourself

–the stories you tell about yourself to others

Deconstruct these stories the way you would deconstruct a novel you were studying or one you are attempting to write.  What do you find?  Are you the hero or heroine of the correct story?  Or are you stuck in a genre you hate?  What are your heroics?  And what do you want them to be?

Feel free to share, or not, as your courage may dictate.

**Photo of Hercules courtesy of Xerones, from Flickr, via Everystockphoto.

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It is Always the Story

Copyspace_space_copy_246205_l Yesterday, I wrote about watching the Winter Olympics and how Bode Miller winning gold inspired thoughts about stepping up to the plate.  

Today the subject is story.

My daughter and I were watching the men's ski cross races on Sunday night.  This is a relatively new sport, and, correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe it is the first time in the Olympics.  It doesn't have a lot of stars that we're yet familiar with and so NBC chose to focus on one of the Canadian men.  (I know, shocking–NBC actually featured an athlete who wasn't from the US!  It was because he grew up in Colorado but had a Canadian father.)

So, here's this new sport, which is mildly interesting, and a bunch of guys participating that nobody's ever heard of. I'm  watching with half an eye, catching up on emails and blog comments at the same time.  But then there's a slow moment in the action and NBC decides to run the pre-taped story about said Canadian, whose name is Chris Del Bosco.

And suddenly I'm paying attention.  Because this guy has a story.  From the time he was a wee boy, he showed a talent for skiing and racing.  But then, as a teen, he started drinking and doing drugs.  And suddenly he wasn't winning races anymore.  Pretty soon he wasn't even racing anymore.  This dark period ended with him so wasted one night that he fell into an ice-cold stream and if a passer-by hadn't found him he would have frozen to death.

He's bombed out of any ability to compete here in the states, but through a synchronicity, he heard that the Canadians were looking for guys to ski on the ski cross team.  And suddenly a new career opens up.  He's getting a second chance to do what he loves. 

And I'm rooting for him.  Suddenly, I'm completely and totally paying attention.  The computer is closed and set aside.  My eyes are glued to the TV.  Del Bosco easily qualifies for the finals.  I so desperately want him to win!  Alas, it is not to be.  Though it looks like he is coming from behind to win a medal, on one of the last bumps (jumps? not sure what they are called in this sport) he overestimates and ends up crashing.  

The point is this: I cared about Chris Del Bosco because NBC told me a story about him. Not only that, but the story they told had all the elements of a classic–amazing talent that, lots of conflict, the opportunity for a second chance.  I was right there with him because of it.

The thing I probably suggest the most when reading a client's manuscript is to take out narrative and put in more scene.  Scenes dramatize your writing and make it come alive.  A scene shows us something, instead of telling.  It presents a story. 

We respond to story because it is hard-wired into us.  From the beginning of human time, we've told stories to each other.  And still we do, whether on TV, a movie, or through reading a book.  The power of story is so powerful that it has become a cliche.

But sometimes cliches are good.  Because, ultimately, it always comes down to story.

What about you?  How do you use the power of story?  What have you gleaned from watching the Olympics? Or have you been ignoring them completely?

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Overcoming Flat Scenes: Rising and Falling Action

This is the third post in a series on scenes, and specifically, flat scenes. You can find part one of the series here, and part two, here.

What is a flat scene?  It is one in which the emotional tenor is the
same all the way through.  For instance your heroine may start out the
scene depressed and end it depressed.  Or your hero may begin the scene
happy and end it happy.  A flat scene can also be flat by virtue of the fact that there are no turning points  in it.  A turning point is when a character acts on a goal (or call it an objective, if you want) and is either successful or unsuccessful.  Since you want to create as much conflict as possible for your characters, odds are good that you will be torturing them by making them unsuccessful.  Then they have to try another way to achieve their goal.  Or if they are successful at achieving their goal, that goal creates other, unforeseen problems.

But I digress. 

A scene turns when it ends at a different place than it began, and I don't mean just physically.  If your character begins the scene unhappy, creates a goal to change that unhappiness and achieves the goal, she might end the scene happy.  And thus the scene has turned.  There has been rising action, from sadness to achieving the goal, and then happiness.

Or if your character begins the scene unhappy, works on a goal that fails, she might end the scene devastating, destroyed, completely ruined.  The scene has turned.  That would be a case of falling action.  Now she must pick herself up and figure out what to do next. 

Rust Hills talks about the end of the last chance to change as a turning point in short stories.  If the character has a chance to change and takes it, that makes a story.  But there's also a classic short story structure in which the character has a chance to change that is his last, and doesn't take it.  And that is a story, too.  Both options create turning points.

In a flat scene, there is no turning point, no chance to change, no last chance to change.  Your characters begin and end in the same emotional terrain. 

How to avoid this?  The easiest way (and I say that facetiously, because there is no easy in writing) is to start each scene with a goal.  This can be as simple as creating a desire for a character.  Then put obstacles in the way to achieving it.  This is exactly what we do when designing a plot, and if you do it for each scene, you'll have a strong structure for your novel (and by the way, all this talk of scene applies to creative non-fiction, also).  If you suspect your scene is flat, ask yourself what your character's goal is for the scene and see if that doesn't give you a spine to hang the action on.

Bear in mind that each scene is like a mini-story, a hologram of the big picture, if you will.  Don't go off creating scenes willy-nilly just for the sheer joy of it.  Your beautifully crafted scenes must relate to the plot.

Remember, death to all flat scenes.  Make them rise, make them fall, make them turn and twirl and dance.  Your novel will thank you for it.

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Story

What's the difference between a novel and a story?

A story is shorter.

Funny joke.  I know, I know, don't quit my day job as a writer to to become a comedian, right? 

The truth of the matter is, a short story is a lot shorter than a novel, and that makes all the difference.  For starters, every word and every sentence must count in a story.  That doesn't mean that you novelists get to slack and not worry about words and sentences, it just means that stories are more like poems in that every word must count.

A story also has to reach a pinnacle of some sorts.  Of course, a novel must also, but the novelist has 300 or so odd pages to accomplish this while the short story writer might have 20 if she is lucky.  In a story, either the character changes, or he reaches the "last chance to change" as the famous editor Rust Hills called it, and decides not to change.  Something happens over the course of the story (or else there wouldn't be a story) and your character either changes because of that, or decides not to change, consciously, or more likely, unconsciously.

Why am I pondering the elements of a short story?  Because I've actually been working on one, for the first time in quite awhile.  My friend and colleague Linda Parker is putting together an anthology of Christmas stories and essays, and I'm adapting a chapter from my first novel for it. 

Story is a topic that endlessly fascinates me, and because of this, I'm going to devote a feature article on my first newsletter to it.  That will be coming out next week, after I return to Nashville, and if you want to get on the newsletter mailing list, just sign up on the handy little box to the right.

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