Monday, September 19, 2011

Writing Again

It's been a slow summer for writing. I didn't know what happened next, and I couldn't seem to bestir myself to care. Part of the problem was overload in the critique department resulting in too many other voices in my head. And another part was the fact that I still struggle with plot and story structure. I have asked many, many published authors to describe their plotting process. Each one gave a different answer. I think that's what makes this subject so difficult to teach, and to learn. The trick is to figure out what works for me.

I have studied books and taken classs and workshops for the past few years and have yet to fling that door wide open and hear angelic choruses confirming that I finally get it. Sometimes I feel like a chick pecking away at an eggshell that won't crack. But I'm close...I can see pinpricks of light shining through.

One resource that has proven helpful is Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks. He does a good job of defining and explaining the elements of a story in a way that makes sense to me. That book has provided several "aha" moments. I'm also looking forward to The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master, by Martha Alderson. Her blog and YouTube video series are both awesome.

It feels good to be writing again. Last week I wrote a (mostly) new chapter and I'm trying to do the same this week. It's been fun and rewarding. I've been listening to the characters and the story instead of the little devil on my shoulder insisting that everything is stupid and I should just give it up. My main critique group has really helped encourage me to climb back into the saddle. Yay, Erin and Emalee!!

Yesterday, I even got some encouragement from a couple of little fans. Two sisters sidled over to me at church and the older one shyly said, "I really like your book, Whose Ears Are Whose!" I thanked her and said I'd try to remember to bring them bookmarks next week. The younger sister earnestly replied, "Wite a note to yusewf." They made my day.

And so now I'm trying hard to listen to the angel on the other shoulder and keep slogging.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Romeo & Juliet

My 10-year-old niece, Michelle took this awesome photo of two swans forming a heart...perfect for a Romeo and Juliet themed post!

While visiting us last week, she showed me some videos she and a friend made of themselves on her iPod Touch. Michelle played Juliet and her friend played Romeo (making sure to clarify that she's really a girl in the intro). This stuff was hilarious to watch. And I was more than a little impressed that these two modern girls knew so much about a play that was written over 400 years ago. They had a balcony scene from the top bunk complete with the line, "Romeo, Romeo, where art thou Romeo?" They even used a generous amount of language such as thee, thy, thine, thou. All this without ever reading or watching the niece didn't even know that it's a tragedy. Somehow they absorbed enough to get the gist from somewhere.

I happen to live in Cedar City, Utah, home of the Shakespearean Festival. Last night I watched a beautiful performance of Romeo and Juliet with my daughter. Again, the timeless impact of Shakespeare's writings struck me. People flock from all over the country and even the world to our little ol' town to see these plays. I sat in awe of the characterization, plot, poignant representation of human nature, and use of tools such as cause and effect, foreshadowing, and humor. Centuries later, he's still got it.

As writers, we could learn a lot from The Bard, master storyteller and literary genius.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Quotes from Randy Pausch's
Last Lecture

My daughter graduated from high school on Friday. One of the speakers shared some inspiring words from the famous Last Lecture by college professor Randy Pausch, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2008. How timely to remember him this Memorial Day and take his advice to heart: keep slogging away, no matter what!

"Don't complain. Just work harder."

"The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough."

"Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted."

"Luck is truly where preparation meets opportunity."

Wow. What an amazing man. And what pearls of wisdom, not only for the Class of 2011, but for each and every one of us, wherever we may be on life's journey. Thank you, Professor.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Getting Ideas

Okay, today I will be dipping my character's toes into the beginning of the dreaded middle. Ack! I actually had some cool world-building ideas this morning. About time. Wouldn't it be nice if our brains teemed with brilliant story nuggets on demand? Maybe yours does, idk. For me, it's a process. Writing a novel is like putting together a giant puzzle, and I'm always looking for the missing pieces. I love it when they finally start clicking into place. I also think of it in terms of the old elephant analogy: one bite at a time.

Snippets of insight and advice from other authors always float through my mind on some level, occasionally rising to the surface at random. For example, Dan Wells told our critique group at Storymakers, "I think most writers are introverts who force themselves to become extroverts." At Writing & Illustrating for Young Readers last summer, Brandon Mull said that when evaluating a story idea, he asks himself, "How high is the ceiling?" My hope is that I'm absorbing everything and when I sit down to write, the myriad of stuff I've learned over the years will naturally flow through my fingertips into the soul of my story. Heh. Because I can't be expected to store it all in the conscious gray cells...because they're only just barely conscious.

Anyway, I've been reading Bram Stoker's Dracula on my Nook Color, which my husband bought me for our anniversary. He wanted me to be able to show people my Whose Ears Are Whose? picture book. So sweet! But I've been slow to start reading novels on it...resisting change. Barnes & Noble gave me a free download of the Dracula book, and my daughter immediately glommed onto it (oh, I love that word...I'm going to use it in my book). When she finished, I got a turn. And yesterday I thought I saw J.K. Rowling's handprints on a couple of pages. Stoker referred to a trio of vampire women as "those weird sisters" (p. 83 and in Shakespeare's Macbeth as well), and described the Count's eyes turning on Jonathan "with all their blaze of basilisk horror." (p. 86)

Oooooh. More than one kind of goosebumps there, reinforcing the fact that story ideas and tidbits are all around us, waiting to be plucked and molded to our distinct variations. Rowling obviously relied on myth for some elements (a three-headed dog; a hippogriff rescuing a prisoner from a tower window; and so on). Who's to say she didn't lift her witch rock band and monster of Slytherin from Dracula? I try to stay alert for tantalizing little kernels like that, too...pieces of the puzzle that present themselves here and there from day to day in conversations, books, movies, incidents, whatever...and then put my own spin on them.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Slog

A few days ago, I read an article about rocker Tom Petty's thoughts on popular shows like American Idol. He wondered whether the winners "might actually be missing out on the most valuable industry training of all — the slog." [Fox News]

What's the slog? "...all the training you get while you work your way up."

Hmmmm...well, I think this insightful assessment holds as much relevance for writers as it does for singers.

"We're into instant gratification," Petty said. "They want to be stars right away."

Don't we want to be stars right away, too? Don't we complain when the rejections start piling up? And yet, don't we also get better and better as we overcome obstacles and keep going?

Yes! Maybe instead of resisting it, we should be embracing the slog and trying to get the most out of this golden training opportunity.

And so, my new blog gets a name. And it rhymes. Somehow, everything always does.

Thanks, Tom.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Storymakers & New Blog

Welcome to my new blog! Hopefully I'll be more faithful about keeping up with this one. The focus here will be on writing.

Along those lines, below are a few tidbits from the LDStorymakers Conference earlier this month:

"A flair for words and a flair for storytelling are two different things, and you need both. A very deep, passionate, enlightened relationship with craft is literary physics." –Larry Brooks

"Wait as long as possible before showing the monster." –Dan Wells

"We admire people for their strengths, but we love them for their flaws." –Clint Johnson

"What's going to make me want to keep reading?" –Sara Crowe

"The best villains are like heroes who went on a slightly different path." –Jeff Savage

I'll also be posting about my two critique groups from time to time—and all kinds of stuff related to books and writing.