Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Day 17: Cultivating Conflict

Doesn't it feel like we've already discussed conflict a few times?  Might that not be a hint that it is central to the entire story-telling process.  Yes.  Yes it might.

Continuing to follow Victoria Lynn Schmidt's "Write Your Novel in 30 Days" and Book in a Month calendars, our focus for today is on intensifying our characters' main problem.  In other words, making our characters' lives a bit more miserable by heaping additional conflicts onto their already harried lives.  But before we can begin brainstorming fun new ways to torture our creations we need to understand the three categories of problems every character will face, as identified by Les Edgerton in his book Hooked.  
  1. The Inciting Incident.  This is the problem that gets the story rolling.  We'll see a bit of "normal" life for the character and then the inciting incident occurs and causes a major disruption to that character's typical flow of activity.  In response the character seeks out a solution, which leads us to....
  2. The Initial Surface Problem.  This is the problem which will occupy most of the novel.  Although it may seem that this is the issue which must be resolved in order for the story to be complete, the novel's true ending is actually brought about via...  
  3. The Story-Worthy Problem.  This problem is less about outside circumstances and more about the changes a character must make within themselves to bring about a satisfying conclusion.
So when Victoria Lynn Schmidt asks us to intensify our characters' main problem, is she referring to the Initial Surface Problem or to the Story-Worthy Problem?

The answer to that is yes.

After all, is it really possible to pile conflicts onto the surface problems without having them influence the story-worthy problems?  As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "A [person] is like a tea bag.  You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water."

So even though we'll be combining conflict to the initial surface problem, remember that these added difficulties will also inevitably impact your characters' story-worthy problem; that character should be pretty dang strong by the end of the novel 'cause we're adding some boiling water via the following types of conflict:
  • Barriers - a character tries out a new approach for overcoming his problem, but it is ineffective.  Schmidt offers the example of a heroine trying to get into the church to stop a wedding but finding locked doors and maybe a couple of goons to keep her out.
  • Complications - a new character or situation enters the story and makes the current problem seem even worse.  A classic example of this, the misunderstanding, is shown in the fantasy-musical film Enchanted.  The hero, Robert, allowed the very innocent Giselle to sleep on his couch because she had no place to stay.  When his girlfriend comes over the next morning to find another woman in the house she walks out without giving him time to explain himself.  Now his current problem (having homeless girl sleeping on couch) has just been complicated. 
  • Situations - a new circumstance occurs which moves the story forward and adds tension.  Schmidt's example is of a man running for political office who suddenly finds out his sister has been arrested and that his campaign is now in jeopardy.
Now its time to brainstorm some possible conflicts for your Act II.  Pull out your previous outline and plot worksheets and see what kinds of problems you had planned.  Now use the Conflict Brainstorm worksheet (scroll down to page 269) and think up a few ideas of barriers, complications, and situations.  Don't be afraid to make things too hard on your character.  The worse things are the more the audience will root for them!

MY DAY 17:  The day itself wasn't terribly productive, but once the hubs and kids were in bed I stayed up and began my writing.  I wasn't feeling it at first so I skipped ahead a bit to a scene I was very excited to write - the characters' first kiss.  Yep, got so engrossed in that one that I stayed up WAY too late to finish it, but man was it fun.  Days like that make me remember why I do any of this in the first place.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Clearly a Guy Chose November

Like any other NaNo Mom-o, I have a million things going on in November. Randomly odd things that may or may not have to do with the approaching holidays. I could say that no other November was this busy. That might be true. For instance, I've never taken a week long hunting trip in November in years past that cut me off from cell and internet service. Because obviously that was a big problem despite having a perfectly capable laptop. (Perhaps wasting time by messing around on Facebook is actually productive in some way ...?) And I always come back from the Thanksgiving weekend seriously behind on my word count. But I've always bounced back. It just feels like this November does not have enough days, which caused me to ask the question: Why the heck do we do NaNo WriMo in November? There's Christmas to think of. It's just over a month away, and I just got some wild hair to try and do homemade presents for my boys. And there's Thanksgiving. Everyone's going to lose at least three days there. (Well, in my family we do.) And now is SO not the time to cut back on my exercising since if I do I'll have like 20 pounds to lose in January instead of maybe 10. As Valeri so expertly pointed out, the holidays present a serious challenge to writers because our work times get annihilated by other things. 
So instead of just throwing that question out into the void, I went to the NaNo website to figure out what the heck is up. The reasoning? "To take advantage of the miserable weather." Yes, clearly a man made this decision. Originally NaNo WriMo was held in July. I could so do July. My older child would be home from school to entertain my younger child. Writing at the park anyone? The ability to send my kids outside to play? Um, sure, there's the Fourth of July to contend with, but that's just one night. 
Then I realized, I've been in worse positions than this for NaNo and I've come out on top. So what's with my doom and gloom this year? Well, that would be because I only have 16,926 words and my story is finished. Literally done. I know there's some character development and some relationships to beef up. But there is DEFINITELY not 30-plus words to add. Nowhere. Unless as I once read in one of Chris Baty's (NaNo founder) pep-talks, I start letting my characters read out of the phone book for kicks and giggles. I just happen to be the girl who can't write filler. I know I can cut it later to streamline a book I really want to go somewhere, but I can't bring myself to. It would mess stuff up.
So I might flop for the first time in a couple years. And that's okay. I'm going to try really hard to keep my goal because I still believe in the power of NaNo WriMo. If I come up short, I can live with that.
But if I made it--that'd be one for my record books. :D

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Crunch Time Writing During the Holidays

            The holidays are fast approaching which means our writing time gets crunched.  Burning the midnight oil becomes more common as writing during Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays takes our normal writing time away.
            Writing crunch time means we will do more with our family and friends and less writing for ourselves.  This is not a poor choice by any means, but just a change of venue as we need to spend more time with our families and friends during these memory making experiences.
            Crunch time can also mean what we munch on while we are writing. The stuff we might snack on when we write helps us through our writer’s blocks.  I love crunching on trail mix when I’m trying to think. Some how keeping my mouth chewing keeps my mind busy on how to improve what I have written. Emotions are high as well and sometimes we can write more heart felt dialogue or narration with holiday music playing in the background.
            So sit back for holiday time and try to relax and enjoy the ride.  Family and friends are hard to come by so don’t disappear to your computer too much.  This is what life is all about.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A beat of my own

The first time I heard Lady Gaga, I was standing in the grocery store debating if I could substitute couscous for quinoa (you can), when Paparazzi came on over the speakers. I stood there humming the catchy beat when my husband came up behind me and grabbed a box of plain rice.

"Why can’t we just have this?" he asked.

Ignoring him, I asked if he knew who sang the song pumping over the loudspeakers.

"You mean Lady Gaga?" He asked in mild disbelief.

"Lady Gaga," I said, "I think I’ve heard of her."

"Of course you’ve heard of her, Laura! She’s ridiculously famous. She even has a muzac track," he said, pointing to the ceiling. He shook his head and laughed, before grabbing another box of rice.

Later I related this story to my friend Ju, letting her know how I discovered this really good “new” artist named Lady Gaga. Like my husband, she laughed at me, before informing me I was way out of the loop when it came to music. Even she had heard of Lady Gaga.

I give you this example of my own cultural stupidity, because a month ago I received a request from a blogger for my book Founder's, "soundtrack.”

"Soundtrack?" I thought, "What the heck is that?" It turns out most authors, what seems like every author, is inspired by music. They listen to music as they write, and their characters all have their own style of music.

Apparently this should have been an easy thing to do, but all l I could think was,

When did this become a thing?

I did more research. I read blog posts from other authors about their own soundtracks, and I began to feel more than a little overwhelmed.

I don’t think Laurie Berkner was going to cut it for this one (and let's be honest, Laurie Berkner rocks- my kids sing "We are the Dinosaurs" in their sleep). Could I get away with mixing The Bangles, AC/DC, and The Doors? The last album I purchased was the soundtrack to Tangled, which is what I still stand by as, a “new release.”

Even now while I’m typing this, the theme song is pumping from my children’s princess karaoke machine.

I’m simply not inspired by music. I sing (barely). I dance (when necessary). I listen to. . .nothing usually. I like the sound of silence. You really learn to appreciate quiet when you’ve grown up in a huge family and now live with three incredibly rambunctious kids. Don’t get me wrong, I have my favorite songs- I think music can be uplifting or enforce whatever mood I’m in. But I’m much more likely to be caught listening to an audiobook, then listening to some top forty hit.

I began feeling very alone in this feeling, so I called my friend Liz to discuss my problem.

My friend Liz, musical encyclopedia, equally horrified that I had never heard of Lady Gaga.

I handed over my iphone and she filled it with what I needed. Current music in every genre she thinks I would enjoy.

David Guetta, for the gym.

Grace Potter, for my car.

Adele, for my home.

For the next week I felt like I was surrounded in a music bubble, earpiece surgically connected to one ear as I concentrated on my characters and pieced it all together. My head throbbed with lyrics, my iPhone shuffling through different playlists. I visited the land of Pandora and had a brief relationship with Spotify. Then finally, finally I made something up and sent it off. Proud of myself for accomplishing the impossible.

Now I’m back to normal, and I wonder- Am I really so alone? I find the rhythm distracting when I write, especially when my characters need to have their own voices. I don’t understand why anyone would need a soundtrack to their book.

But. . .what do you think? Do you listen to music while you type?

And what do you listen to?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"Show, Don't Tell"

Okay, so I'm deviating a bit from the Write Your Novel in 30 Days calendar to discuss a principle which has been on my mind recently - the classic "Show, Don't Tell" adage of writing. 

Back when we got engaged my husband and I were taking a class together at BYU.  We always sat together and probably even snuggled a bit (I'm not shy of such public displays of affection), but it wasn't until I wrote "I'm engaged!" next to my name on the attendance roll that I felt I had truly shown the world how excited I was for my upcoming marriage.  When I showed it to my then-fiancee he rolled his eyes good-naturedly, (public displays of affection are much less appealing to him) and then I handed the roll on to the next person and thought nothing more about it.  That is, until a few days later when the roll was being passed around again and I saw written next to my excited scrawl the words "No one cares."

I'm not sure why I keep thinking of this incident.  I wasn't really offended... I mean, I didn't even know the person who'd written it, so they obviously didn't mean it as any kind of personal attack.  Still, I wondered a lot about the type of person that would write such a thing.  Was this person left bitter after a recently-botched relationship?  Did they feel they were old and "beyond their prime"? (given the average age of married students at the BYU campus feeling "old" is a lot easier than you might think...)  Maybe they were just sick of hearing about marriage when they felt the focus of the institution ought to be on education - no time for frivolities like love.  I don't know.  I've never known, but I've often wondered.  

I tell you this story not for your pity (though you're welcome to offer it), but as a pretty dang good example of how your novel will be much more emotionally engaging if you reveal your characters through show rather than tell.  Let's say Mr. "No one cares" is the main character of your novel.  It would be easy to simply tell your readers he is a bitter old harpy who resents anyone else's happiness, but the reader would only "see" what you want them to see without necessarily feeling what you want them to feel.  What if, instead, you show an attendance roll being passed around.  You show it coming to your character.  You show how various emotions are roiling inside of him until he rashly dashes off "no one cares" next to the words "I'm engaged!" and then quickly passes the roll along before he can think too much about it.  Wouldn't a scene like that provide the reader with essentially the same information, but much more feeling?  That is the difference in showing versus telling:  feeling.  Whereas telling a narrative is merely relating a story, showing it helps the reader live through scene right along with the character, providing that magical illusion of being a part of the story.  

One of my favorite examples of "show vs. tell" narrative comes from Les Edgerton in his book Hooked.  I realize I've already shared it with you on this blog, but I think its worth a repeat:
"Characters are best revealed by their actions... For instance, if you feel it important to develop your protagonist’s characterization as a skinflint, don’t give some long, drawn-out tale of him pinching pennies as a youngster, or (worse!) tell the reader he’s a miserable miser. Instead, in your opening scene, show him doing something miserly within the context of the inciting incident scene. Show him having to transfer two handfuls of hundred-dollar bills to one hand so he can scoop the inside of the coin return of a candy machine for forgotten nickels."
Have you struggled with understanding the "show, don't tell" principle in writing?  For those of you who are more experienced writers, do you feel it has become easier as you've practiced it?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Is it a sign?

At the time I wrote this, NaNo Wrimo was only four hours and 15 minutes away, and yet I was indecisive when it came to what novel to write.
What novel to write? You ask ... I thought you had yours all planned out weeks ago. That you were too ready to pull this thing off. It's all part of Murphy's Law, I suppose. The more ready you are, the less likely things will go according to plan. I already saw part of this coming. Just days after the blog post where I bragged about how ready I was posted, I had a minor glitch and lost my entire outline -- my entire, detailed, more-specific-than-I've-ever-written outline. Luckily, thanks to iCloud backup, it came home safely.
So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when, while driving to my son's school to watch the Halloween parade, more craziness attacked. I was pondering how much I wanted to write my latest idea for NaNo WriMo (sometimes having a wildly active imagination is more of a curse than a blessing -- like when you turn a harmless plunk in the middle of the night into terrorists attacking your house to steal you and your children). In a nutshell, it's about a girl who dies before her time and gets a second chance to come back and help someone she loves. Right now I have four points on the outline -- four points as compared to seventeen! So why would I even consider it? (Besides the fact that scenes keep coming to me, and it seems like it will be SO fun to write) Because right in the middle of me recklessly pondering changing gears with only hours left The Band Perry's song "If I Die Young" started playing. 
It was like a sign!
But I can't put aside my original idea, one that I'm also SUPER excited to watch play out. Then I considered trying two novels. Two novels in one month? Clearly, NaNo WriMo hasn't even started, and I'm already losing my mind. But why not? There's no way I'll complete two. Realistically, I can't even attempt it. But I can still write two and see where it leads. Because that's the magic of being a NaNo WriMo writer. Spinning wildly through November with only one thought to the end. I'll probably only end up with 10,000 words or less on the secondary novel, but I still like the idea of not having to wait. I suppose that's why NaNo WriMo really appeals to me. I'm the instant gratification sort. 
So here goes nothing, guys! 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Grandmothers are Important

I am visiting my daughter and son-in-law this week to watch my two very active granddaughters, 5 and 3.  They are a hand full to be sure, especially without their parents here.  They are the lucky ones who are away for the week.  I am also the lucky one who is watching over them trying to find some bonding time.

Unfortunately, my daughter had a flu bug when I got here on Sunday and she was quickly trying to recover.  Fortunately, she did recover and they are now on the road to their destination.  Unfortunately, I now have this 24-hour flu bug and I'm waiting it out till it is done.  Fortunately, I was able to get the two girls to bed by 8pm so I can write this blog and try to recover.  Unfortunately, it took them over an hour to settle down and go to sleep.  Fortunately, they are now asleep and I can do some writing.

Amazingly enough, I had a weekly column to finish, a public relations article to write about an eagle scout project that happened over the weekend and this blog.  I was able to do all three without mistake.....hopefully.  But a writer's call comes and writers must do their duty to finish by a dead line; even with two granddaughters and the flu.

One of my duties as caretaker of the two girls is to keep a watchful eye over my daughter's four chickens that just started to lay.  There are only two of them that have laid eggs so far which is an interesting phenomenon but I think I figured out why the other two haven't laid yet....... they are both roosters.  A rooster expert ( a friend of theirs) came by to help me reprogram the entertainment center since I really messed it up.  She took one look at them and said "those two are roosters". I suppose that solves that mystery.

Now all I need is to not puke and keep from messing up the entertainment center again..  Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day, I still have five days left.......