Writing My Life

Now and Then

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Just plotting along.

If an author writes, ‘The king died and then the queen died,’ there is no plot for a story. But by writing, ‘The king died and then the queen died of grief,’ the writer has provided a plot line for a story.

~ from The Elements of Literature

If it were just that simple! You have this story running amok in your brain, and you know point A and point Z, but getting there is when you enter the crazy maze. Before you know it, you are totally lost! And so are your characters.

What SHOCKS me is how quickly it can happen. I’ve found that STARTING the novel is NOT a problem for me, BUT just a few chapters in, I feel like that little lost mouse or hamster in search of the BIG CHUNK ‘o CHEESE or the exit, whichever comes first.

So, I did something I didn’t want to do. I solicited the help of my eldest son, the screenwriter. Chris has written about a dozen screenplays over 13 years, and has yet to sell one or see one produced. Nevertheless, he PERSEVERES, and he is close to seeing his dream come true – at least we think so. At any rate, his scripts are outstanding – seriously – and I’m not just saying that because I am MoM. Enough credible people have critiqued them to support my assessment.

So the other day I chatted with him about my latest WIP. (Even though they are all very encouraging, I don’t like to do this with family. Not sure why.) Because Chris has a lot of writing fiction experience, I decided to take a chance. Besides he might want company in his misery in pursuing the big break.

As anticipated, he asked the hard questions about my plot, including these …

  • What is your overarching theme?
  • I am an English teacher and must admit I didn’t even think about the theme! For shame. I guess I thought it would just “show up.” But Chris said that having a theme in mind helps guide the plot’s development. It doesn’t have to be one of those super deep messages that only an English professor will recognize, but rather something simple that holds the story together.

    And so I am thinking about this and have come up with a theme that is reflected in both the content AND the text structure. It has to do with the ways and means beings try to communicate with each other. Got that? Really intriguing, huh? But I hope it makes sense once this project is completed.

  • Who is the antagonist?
  • While this might not seem like a plot-related question, we discussed how characters drive the plot. If I don’t have a good idea of who my characters are and how they contribute to the unfolding of the story, I will most likely end up with a loser plot.

    Although I thought a lot about the main character, I hadn’t really decided upon a bad guy or girl or “thing.” But I threw out a couple of ideas, neither of which could really work into much of an enemy. So Chris shared 2 suggestions: that I look beyond the MC’s immediate circle of family or friends and that I introduce that character early in the book.

    He also mentioned some possibilities, including a teacher, but I could NOT bring myself to turn an educator into a villain. Teachers have enough problems right now without capitalizing on the few miscreants who give good ones a bad name.

    Shortly after our conversation, I thought of a perfect foil, and I had even met such a person. It was a TERRIBLE experience!

    Chris’ last suggestion was to consider studying Michael Hauge’s “Six-Stage Plot Structure.” This structure was created to help screen writers, but Chris thinks it will work with novels as well. Here is what it looks like:

    (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

    I haven’t “played” with this structure yet, but I am anxious to. I’ve written 5 chapters of my WIP, but I’m feeling the effects of wandering in that maze. I think I better give this a try.

    So, writing friends, what do you think? Have you ever tried anything like it? I’d love to hear from you.

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    After reading this, you’ll think I’m bi-polar.

    If you’re down and confused
    And you don’t remember who you’re talkin’ to
    Concentration slip away
    Cause your baby is so far away.
    Well, there’s a rose in a fisted glove
    And the eagle flies with the dove
    And if you can’t be with the one you love
    Love the one you’re with
    Love the one you’re with

    ~ Stephen Stills, 1970

    I am clueless as to what the first two lines of the chorus means, but “a rose in a fisted glove” and “an eagle [flying] with a dove” are pretty cool images. If I understood the symbolism, I could probably tie them into this post, but since I don’t, I’m going with “… if you can’t be with the one you love, then love the one your with.”

    Naturally, I’m NOT writing about a former boyfriend or a clandestine lover – I’m a happily married blogger – but I am thinking how this applies to my writing doldrums of the past few weeks: To abandon a potentially great idea because it is NOT really I’m not REALLY into it. When I ventured to write up a character bio, as I committed to do, and found I couldn’t even complete that, I decided it was time to admit momentary defeat and hang with the NEW idea “on the block.” But what exactly was that?

    I know all this sounds too familiar, BUT I promise this ends on a more positive note. For awhile now, I’ve toyed with an idea that I liked but couldn’t solidify, and then … ¬†(Is the anticipation significantly building?) …

    I watched NEW MOON!!!

    For the first time.

    Do NOT – I repeat – do NOT panic. I have NO intention of whipping out yet another vampire novel, but watching 2 freaking MISERABLE characters MOPE over each other added substance to my nebulous idea. And I decided I LOVED it. (The IDEA, not New Moon.)

    Because this story is lighter than Not That Way, the working title of the “other” novel-in-the-making, I’ve been able to “throw up words.” Something I wanted and needed to do but couldn’t because the subject of Not That Way was SO heavy, and the character-arc SO wide that INTENSE thinking prohibited puking on paper.

    This is a truly lame comparison, but I felt like I was TRYING to love deep and dark Edward, but I’m NOT obsessed and depressed Bella! I was forcing a relationship that wasn’t there. NOT to say it will always be that way, but for right now, I’ve ditched the … . Well, you know what I’m sayin’.

    The point is that for a first-time novelist, I need (I was tempted to write “Jacob” but controlled that urge) something different. I’m not sure of all the reasons why, but this new thing feels right.


    Now what am I going to write?

    Now for the bad news. While there are those who will tell you they simply start writing and keep going wherever the story takes them (Stephen King and James Clavell are just two), for us lesser mortals we need a bit more help.

    ~ Steve Manning

    After having such a great day writing last Saturday, I was haunted about whether or not this is the novel I should be writing at this time. While trying to put a finger on the reasons I felt this way, I created a list of reasons this might be the case. I thought others may benefit from my experience, and soooooooo I created the following:

    The Top 10 5 Signs You Shouldn’t Be Writing This Book

    1. You are not in the mood to write this happy/sad/inspiring/depressing novel. In my case, I have been writing a tragic story, but I’m wondering if I can really do this. Tragedies in my life are minimal – some wouldn’t even consider the dramas as tragic. I am basically a “good-mood” girl. Rarely am I grumpy, sad, or pessimistic. In fact, many think I am pretty funny, and so if you should write what you know, shouldn’t I really be writing something in the realm of good natured, optimistic happiness? But who wants to read that?
    2. You can’t find the forest for the trees. (Sorry about the cliche’.) Your mind is filled with dozens of details, but they don’t add up to the picture you imagine – or in this case, the story you want to create. You love the details, but you get lost in them, and the next thing you’re asking is, “Now, what is the point?”
    3. The more you write, the more you don’t like the story, the characters, the setting, etc. While I love my character, she’s not moving in the direction I envision. Maybe that’s because I haven’t created character bios or developed the character’s arch. But I don’t know what a character’s arch is! I asked another novice writer to define that term for me via a blog comment, but she didn’t respond. So I’ll Google it, and figure it out, but I’m afraid after I go to all that trouble, I’ll still feel uncomfortable with this story.
    4. You find yourself thinking about another possible character/plot line/idea. While some writers are strong enough to put aside these invasions, others (like me) consider them as possible hints that you’re engaged to the wrong guy, or in this case, engaged in the wrong project. So rather than 2-time your significant other, you’re thinking of giving the “let’s just be friends” speech in hopes that later on you’ll pick up the relationship again. In the meantime, you can “play the field” by experimenting with other relationships/genres. (Okay, I think I’ve beaten this metaphor into the ground. Moving on.)
    5. You’d rather be blogging/napping/cleaning/shopping/fill in the blank __________________. While every writer gets distracted at times – at least that’s what I’ve been told – it is another thing to LOOK for distractions. This was a biggie. Even though ideas for this book swam around my brain before falling to sleep and throughout the day, I didn’t feel excited to sit down at the computer and weave them into the latest chapter. Instead, I decided I really better organize that closet or search for that missing tube of make-up. By the time I finished all the items on this “must-do” list, I had either forgotten about the inspired ideas I’d been mulling over OR convinced myself that they weren’t all that great in the first place.

    I talked with Ann Cannon once after reading that she decided she needed to change the viewpoint of a book she was writing. I asked if she had done that, and she said no. I can’t remember why, but I do know she decided to abandon it – at least for the moment. I know that many writers abandon partial AND whole manuscripts, and so I don’t really feel too bad about dumping the 3 chapters I’ve written. But I sort of feel like the girl who breaks up with her boyfriend without having another possibility in sight, and she’s one of those chickies who HAS to have a guy in her life.

    Oh well, I guess I’ll play around until something surprises me. In the meantime, I have 2 partial novels waiting in the wings until I make up my mind.
    I would love to hear how others of you know you’re going down the wrong path or following the wrong plot line or spending too much time with a dead-end character. Please tell me your story! ūüėÄ


    If you THINK it, INK it.

    “Vomit and THEN clean it up.” – by Not-Sure-Who

    I don’t really like the word “vomit,” but the alternatives are not much better. So when talking about getting words/stories down on paper, some writers call it “throwing up” words or “puking on paper” – POP?

    I don’t mind “hurling words” or “word hurls” as there’s an element of assonance in those phrases. What do you think of “barfing up big ideas” or “upchucking info?” ¬†Oh, and then there’s the lesser known term “ralphing” or “ralfing” – not sure of the spelling.

    The point of all these sickening metaphors is the idea of purging oneself of the thoughts, ideas, details, and developments clogging inner creativity. Once all those chunks are splattered across the computer’s screen, the revisoinist’s clean-up can begin in ernest.

    This is hard for me to do as I am a “clean/revise as you go” kind of writer, (not a domestic attribute, I’m afraid.) That process works for short pieces, but it can stop up the work when contemplating a novel.

    So my challenge to myself is to write until I puke, hurl, or vomit – OR throw up 750 words a day, whichever comes first. (Of course I can’t pick up the gauntlet until I return from CA!)



    So much to write; so little time.

    “Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning:¬†
    I wanted to know what I was going to say.¬†“

    ~Sharon O’Brien¬†¬†¬†¬†

    I have three NOVEL ideas – I know that’s a lame pun, but it’s the truth. The first idea is a work of historical fiction, and I’ve written 2 chapters. I stalled because I decided that I needed to research the location, which just happens to be in Great Britain. That is out of the question, and so I just stopped writing.¬†¬†¬†¬†

    But now I have an important reason to continue this project as I am attending the Young Readers Annual Writing and Illustrating Workshop, and it starts next week. May I say I am PUMPED? Nervous, too, but VERY excited.     

    Because my historical fiction piece is the only one of my ideas that have made it onto¬†paper, I think I need to go with it. There’s lots of information I have researched in¬†books and online, and I¬†can continue. For example, I located shires on Google Map and was able to see highways and byways, shops and cottages, etc. Albeit, these are 2010 views, but let’s face it, some of G.B. remains much the same. Of course, I’m guessing, having NEVER made it across the pond to¬†visit our cousin’s homeland.¬†¬†¬†¬†

    Moving on.     

    I also want to write at least ONE page for each of my other ideas because the workshop is also sponsoring a First Page Contest for Writers and Illustrators. If I have first pages for all 3 ideas, perhaps I will receive peer feedback that will help me decide which to submit for the contest.     

    Besides my historical fiction idea, I am toying with recreating an incident I witnessed while teaching 7th graders some 14 or 15 years ago. It involved 2 tragic situations experienced by two wonderful girls. While the circumstances were sort of similar, student reponses to the girls and their ordeals was vastly different. And I think that would be interesting to explore. 

    • Why did their peers treat the girls differently? (There¬†are many possibilities.)
    • How did the girls cope with their individual tragedies?
    • How did they respond to their peers’ attentions of lack thereof?
    • How did their peers’¬†reactions¬†affect the girls during that time period and the years following?

    I think these are good questions to get me started. What do you think? Is your curiosity piqued?    

    My last idea is to rewrite a classic novel. NOT like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies! I may have chuckled at that “revisionist” telling, but I couldn’t bring myself to force¬†another classic author¬†to roller over in her grave. No, my idea is to write a modern version of children’s classic because the world of 2010 bears some similarities¬†to certain¬†decades of the 19th century.¬† This means, however, that I need to re-read the classic as it has been years. ¬†¬†¬†¬†

    So, with all these fun ideas swimming around in my brain, I jump out of bed each day, eager to start writing. BUT start writing WHAT? Historical fiction? Realistic fiction? Classic update?  

    And then there is THIS question? What is currently popular in young adult fiction Рbesides vampires? Any thoughts about all this? PLEASE share! 

    So MUCH to think about!