Thursday, March 29, 2012

It's my Birthday!

My birthday was this week, and as much as I love celebrating- the laundry waits for no woman. I have a ton of chores and not a lot of time for writing, so I've decided to rerun an oldie I did for my blog tour. As you can imagine, most of my birthday gifts were books. You can find the original article here.

It's two o'clock in the morning and I'm in hiding. 

Some girls might be in a club, sparkly and shining, pumping fist to a thumping rhythm. Some girls might be drunk, in the back of a police car, hunched over and groaning- mascara running lines down their face. Some girls are doing things they're going to regret in the morning, walking home with heels in hand.
Smart girls are asleep.
I am not a smart girl. I am not asleep. 

Remember when you were twelve and your mom would say, "shut the light off! Close the book! Go to sleep!" And you would ask, "just one more chapter, puh-lease?"

That was me for as long as I can remember; except now I'm all grown up.  There is no mom forcing me to close my book.

However, I am married. 
Hence the hiding.

 My husband doesn't understand the obsession. Book obsession. My drug of choice.

There used to be interventions now and then. He would find them under the bed, behind the couch, stuffed in a closet. He would box them up and insist I donate them to a new home.
"New home?" I would ask redundantly. 
"This is their home."
I remember having my first baby, her birth day. She spent most of the time sleeping or eating.
I spent most of the time nursing or reading. 

It was heavenly. I got through three books that day. 

My mother visited me in the hospital. My daughter was asleep in her crib and I was in the middle of rereading Matilda. 

"You know," she said, "you're not going to be able to read as much with children."

My husband looked relieved and I just scoffed at her. 

I have three children now, and I read as much as ever. 

It's the sleep I've had to give up.

It's two o'clock in the morning, and I'm praying the light from my iPad doesn't give me away.

It's two o'clock in the morning, and I'm in hiding.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Day 23: The Reversal


Now that we're into week three of actually writing we're ready to think about the reversal for our character's temporary triumph from the end of Act II, Part One.  The reader can't be duped, of course, into believing the triumph will last; they can see there is still half a book left in which the main character is most certainly going to be getting into more trouble.  This is the point at which you show the reader they were right.

According to Victoria Lynn Schmidt there are several ways a reversal can occur.  I've used her list of potential reversals (from page 158 of Book In a Month) followed by an example in popular literature.

New information comes into play
  • Jane Eyre is a governess who is in love with her employer.  When he confesses he loves her too, he proposes marriage and they are happily engaged for over a month (triumph).  At the altar the wedding is brought to an abrupt end by a man who claims that Jane's employer is already married and that the woman is in fact living in the very home where Jane has been serving as governess (reversal).
A dramatic situation occurs
  • In the movie The Village, Ivy Walker and Lucius Hunt have just confessed their love for each other and become engaged to be married (triumph).  They have only one evening to enjoy their happiness before Noah, a handicapped boy who has always loved Ivy, goes and stabs Lucius because of jealousy (reversal).
Another character turns on the main character
  • In the film Up, Carl meets his childhood hero, Charles Muntz, who saves Carl from a pack of menacing dogs, then invites him to dinner (triumph).  Halfway through dinner Charles realizes Carl has been taking care of an exotic bird that Charles has spent his whole life searching for.  Now his attitude changes; he doesn't trust Carl and he even attempts to chase him down in order to get the bird from him (reversal).
Friends and supporters give up on the main character, abandoning him or her to continue alone
  • In the movie Miss Congeniality, the police are able to find and arrest the man they believe is responsible for threatening to bomb the beauty pageant (triumph).  Sandra Bullock's character doesn't believe they've caught the right man, but since the rest of the bureau are not convinced, she is left behind alone to uncover the real killer (reversal).
A meeting place is changed at the last minute, or a task begins to go awry
  • In The Italian Job Stella is asked on a date by the very man who murdered her father.  She accepts, planning to stand him up so that she and her team can break into his house and steal his gold (triumph).  When the team shows up at his house they see the next door neighbors are having a large party - too many potential witnesses.  Now Stella has to go on the dreaded date, during the course of which, her father's killer realizes who she is and that he's being set up (reversal).
The main character's thinking is shown to be mistaken, misguided, or just plain wrong
  • In the movie The Gift, Cate Blanchett's character sees visions that allow her to find the body of a missing girl, and aid in the arrest of the girl's supposed killer (triumph).  Then Blanchett sees another vision which makes her realize the man behind bars is not the girl's killer (reversal).
The villain becomes the good guy or the good guy becomes a bad guy - a misreading of one character by another
  • The newer movie Puss In Boots, Puss and his childhood friend Humpty Alexander Dumpty work together to steal the golden goose of Jack and the Beanstalk fame.  They make it down the beanstalk with the goose and are dancing around a fire in celebration, surrounded by golden eggs (triumph).  The next day Puss's friends have gone missing and when he tracks them back to his hometown he is handed over to the town's guards by the traitor Humpty (reversal).
Despite Schmidt's claim that the reversal should take place somewhere close to (but before) the 3/4ths mark of the novel, my own study of plots leads me to believe this is not a hard and fast rule.  Some stories offer several triumphs followed instantly by reversals, some none at all.  Look at your contemplated reversal and see if putting it off might create more tension for the reader, or bringing it forward might pick up the pacing a bit more.  If not, you've probably got it in the right place.

Check out the Reversal Brainstorm Worksheet (scroll down to page 275)  to begin planning how to bring an end to your character's short-lived contentedness.

MY DAY 23:  Despite my best efforts I realized there was no way I would be finishing the manuscript by the end of the 30 day challenge.  I hope that by giving you a week of prep time prior to the actual writing this will not be a problem for the rest of you.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Mental Health Day

"My tummy hurts."
These are the three words I dread as a mom.  Choose any other part of the body to hurt as a child, and it can probably be repaired with a kiss and a bandaid.  
Maybe a couple of tylenols.  
But the stomach?  Tummy means trouble.
Like dominoes we went down one by one.  My school age child brought it home and my husband held out as long as he could, but eventually we all succumbed.  Normally being a mom and being sick isn't exactly harmonious.  Can we really ever have a sick day?  Sick means I can’t really indulge in my own well being, I still have to take care of everybody else.  It is the very definition of being a mother- no sick days.  However, this time it was bad.  Broke my washing machine doing laundry, bad.  I had to call in the calvary (ie my own mother) for support.
When she agreed to come, I wasn’t really full on sick yet.  I entertained the brief thought of perhaps being able to take advantage of the opportunity of having my mother here.  I dreamt of getting whole chapters of my newest WIP revised in between bouts of sickness.  
I think that is in the mother’s DNA.  Even when we are at our worst, we can think of something that needs to be done.  The reality of the situation was much less pleasant, in which I spent most of my time sleeping with my head next to the bathroom toilet, or trying to sip a disgusting concoction called happy belly.
It took a few days before my belly could be anywhere near happy again.
When I was conscious and not concentrated on immediate physical needs, I would stare at the ceiling for long spaces of time.  My brain hurt too much to try and concentrate on revisions, but it didn’t keep the voices out.  I began to hear long streams of character dialog.  I had a delirious breakthrough in my plot line.  
Then I fell asleep.
When I woke again the ideas were still there, and after a quick trip to the bathroom, I jotted them in my notebook.  It was right around this time that I thought I should call out sick more often.  Being quarantined seems to spark creativity in me.  With the lack of distractions and pressures on my time, I could really hear my characters.  Obviously I knew this on a somewhat subconscious level, since my best writing comes when all my children are far, far away from me.  
“Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of being alone. It has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word solitude to express the glory of being alone.” Paul Tillich
It’s a fine line isn’t it?  I long for the day when my children will all be in school.  Fantasize about the long stretches of time I’ll have to write.  I feel I need a little bit more of the glorious side of solitude in my life.

For now I’ll settle for a sick day once in a while.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Day 22: Mastering Story Structure


Despite talking about story structure in several of my previous posts, I've really felt unsteady about it.  Sometimes I find myself getting lost in terminology like turning points and plot points or denouements and resolutions, so today I decided to tackle this head on.  I sat my little bum down on my bed and have been pouring over all the story structure books I own until I FINALLY feel like I've got the hang of it.  (I even created the little pie chart below to better visualize the way all of these pieces fit together).

So now I turn to you.  I'm going to offer up my interpretation of what story structure is, and then you're going to comment and tell me if it looks right or if I'm totally off the mark.  *deep breath*  Here goes.

Your story should begin with a hook.  In the past I wasn't sure if the hook was just another term for the inciting incident but I've concluded that they serve different functions, despite occasionally being presented in the same scene.  The hook is whatever draws a reader in.  This could be the story's concept (a civilization has 24 of its children fight to the death on live television, as in The Hunger Games), its language ("Between the silver ribbon of morning and the green glittering ribbon of sea, the boat touched Harwich and let loose a swarm of folk like flies..." - G.K Chesterton in The Blue Cross), its humor ("A healthy male adult bore consumes each year one and a half times his own weight in other people's patience." - John Updike, Assorted Prose), or any other number of openings that compel the reader to keep reading.  

Your story should also have an inciting incident, but here's where things got even more complicated for me.  In Writing Great Books for Young Adults I read that the inciting incident should take place almost on page one, absolutely as soon as you can introduce it.  In Story Structure -- Demystified I read that the inciting incident should take place within the first 25 pages of your novel, but that some "life as usual" scenes should be exposed first to showcase just how much the inciting incident will change your character's world.  Then in Hooked, Les Edgerton suggests that a good hook will involve the inciting incident, thrusting the character into trouble and egging the audience to continue reading.  The conclusion I've reached from these varying sources is that the inciting incident of your story can be introduced at different times, depending on the style of book you're writing.  For example, most young adults have accustomed themselves to the fast-paced world of instant messaging, instant microwaving, and instant gratification.  If they have to wade through pretty prose and petty backstory your book won't stand a chance.  On the other hand, my mother isn't interested in reading a book if it lacks a sense of poetry and a deep understanding of character early on the in story.  I would say the best advice for the point of introducing the inciting incident is to study examples from your genre.

After including the obvious necessities of introducing your hero, showing life as usual (or how the inciting incident has changed life as usual), dropping bits of backstory, and foreshadowing things to come, you will end Act I with the first plot point.  (Plot points can also be referred to as turning points, so don't get confused by that).  Plot point one is when the main problem, or "initial surface problem," for the character is introduced.
"[It] occurs as a direct result of the inciting incident.  And while it may seem at first glance that solving this problem is what the story is really about, it's not.  ...[E]very story is about solving the deeper, more complicated story-worthy problem that is slowly revealed as the story progresses," (Hooked, Les Edgerton, page 26).

The beginning of Act II is all about responding to the first plot point.  Often a character will need a bit of time to sit and plan out how to best overcome (or secure if it's a romance) these recent changes.  Larry Brooks suggests that any attempts the hero makes to fight his antagonist in these scenes cannot succeed, but that each failure slowly helps to strengthen him, preparing him to overcome the antagonist in Act III.

At about the 3/8ths mark of your novel you should consider including a pinch point, allowing the reader to see firsthand how strong the antagonist is.  This helps increase suspense as it causes a reader to wonder just how the hero really will come off conqueror when his foe is so capable.  Larry Brooks offers that, 
"Pinch points can be very simple and quick.  It can be one character reminding the other of what's going on.  A glimpse of an approaching storm - take that literally or metaphorically...  The simpler and more direct it is, the more effective it is" (Story Structure -- Demystified, locations 1393-1399 on Kindle).
The midpoint occurs halfway through your novel.  It is the point at which the main character is allowed to conquer their adversary momentarily.  This is where the temporary triumphs that I wrote about previously come into play.

At about the 5/8ths mark it's time to include pinch point two.  This serves the same function as the first pinch point - reminding readers of the power of the antagonistic force - only this time the antagonist has gotten stronger.  Just as the hero has grown and evolved with every failed attempt to rectify the problem, so has the antagonist evolved after being defeated by the hero's temporary triumph.

The reversal is what puts the "temporary" in temporary triumph.  Victoria Lynn Schmidt's Book in a Month shows the reversal of the hero's temporary triumph occurring near the end of Act II, Part 2, but that is subject to interpretation.  Depending on the style of story you are writing, the reversal may come at any point after the temporary triumph; (In my story it comes almost immediately after).  The advantage of putting the reversal off until the end of Act II is that it functions well as a catalyst for the "dark moment."

Not a necessary part of a story, but certainly one that increases dramatic tension, near the end of Act II is the "Dark Moment" (or as Larry Brooks calls it, the pre-second plot point lull).  This is the point at which things really can't get any worse for the hero.  All hope seems lost and the audience is left wondering how in the heck the hero will get himself out of this jam.

The dark moment now plays the role of catalyst, spurring us into the second plot point.  Occurring 75% of the way through, this is the point at which the final bit of new information is introduced, giving the hero all the knowledge he'll need to conquer the villain in Act III.  After having gone through her toughest trial yet the heroine has reflected on how committed she really is to this goal.  The second plot point shows her renewed commitment to solve this problem.  
            An interesting note:  In David Warfield's article on story structure he points out that the second plot point often answers the surface problem, or as he terms it, the "dramatic question."  The problem that was plaguing the hero from the beginning, the one that kept readers wondering "Will he ever be able to solve this?" gets solved right here.  The hero is inevitably given a new set of goals as a new dramatic question is posed.
"Example[s]: In Seven, at the end of Act II the Serial Killer comes to the police station and turns himself in!  Mystery solved!  Dramatic Question (will the detectives stop the Serial Killer?) answered.  Story over? Not quite… In Wedding Crashers, the hero’s sins are exposed (by the antagonist fiancĂ©) and the girl he loves now hates him: she’s sure to marry the fiancĂ©!" (Story Structure in 17 StepsWarfield).

Act III is all about your main man getting his hero on.  He's been doing what he can to solve the problem up till now, but he was lacking some skill or personality trait that would allow him to succeed.  After having gone through a series of challenges and failures your hero has grown and developed and is ready to take on the antagonist.

The climax is the most important scene in Act III (arguably the whole book).  A good portion of Act III should be spent building up the tension and stacking the odds against your main character to make his triumph all the greater.  The climax is the height of dramatic tension where the reader still questions if the hero will win or not.

It is only in the resolution (as a direct result of the climax) that the hero's victory or defeat is certain.  Now we see all of the loose ends tied up as the hero's life moves to a new state of normalcy.  The best resolutions are often brief, 
"provid[ing] a... 'coming down' period to emotionally center the audience to the idea that ORDER HAS BEEN RESTORED in the world of the protagonist," (Story Structure in 17 Steps, Warfield)
So tell me, did I get it right?  Did I forget anything or mix terms or roles together?

MY DAY 22:  This was a hard day for me.  Up to then I'd been writing in the female perspective but, having duel-narrators, I made my first attempt at writing from the male perspective.  If my man were verbose and semi-charming it would have been a bit easier, but he's a complete realist who isn't going to get all flowery in his descriptions of a scene.  I'm not totally sure how to convey detailed goings-on when they're being told by this minimalist.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Challenges of Writing

I have been sitting here staring at a blank screen for the last two hours trying to write my blog entry.  My children are around involved with several things: playing video games, watching “The Aviator” and staring at our broom standing up on end.  That alone would probably get my brain going.  Still nothing.  So I start to research what I might talk about: Politics, religion, health issues, children.  Nothing strikes my fancy.  I read through my “morning pages” and all I have been writing about is all the woes of remodeling without enough money .  No good.  So I go to my writer’s notebook and low and behold there are some notes on writer’s block.
  From Stephen Blake Mettee article on Banishing Writer’s Block, he suggests several ideas. If you think you have nothing to write about then think about this: 
            1. you have no plan
            2. you don’t have enough information
            3. you don’t change subjects enough.
            4. you have a lack of passion
            Having a plan is easily fixed with writing down your ideas in a notebook as I have done.  Gathering information about a topic is also not difficult only time consuming.  You can do it with a few hours of time. Changing the subjects in your writing isn’t that difficult either.  Reading and researching takes time but it is worth it.  And the last of them: passion.  If you have no passion about anything, I don’t know what you can do about that.  You can’t just run out and buy some.  Writer’s need to work on what gives them their opinions and ideas about certain subjects.  The passion should soon develop. I’ve done all of that and still no ideas. What else am I to do.

            Perfectionism is another idea Mr. Mettee wrote about with writer’s block.  He says to allow yourself to write a flawed and mistake ridden draft and edit it later.   Just get the ideas down on paper and never mind how they look.  You can always rewrite it.  You can’t rewrite a blank page.  So I just start typing whatever is in my head.

            Self-Doubt.  Another challenge to overcome is the negative thoughts that drain your creativity and set you up for failure.  Give yourself positive thoughts and just start writing.  A pep talk to yourself so to speak.  You can do it.  You have done it so many times before. Just start typing and before you know....voila you have something you can work with.

            So there you have it.  How to overcome writer’s block.  A challenge we all face from time to time that we must overcome.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I refuse to die (literally).

Monday afternoon my oldest daughter came home with a note from school. 
A project was due the next day.
A project she should have been working on for two weeks, yet I knew nothing about.
A project she would be presenting, from memory, to her class.
My daughter is seven.
I called the teacher immediately for details and sure enough, my daughter had failed to give me the initial FIVE page packet explaining said project, along with the additional TWO reminder notes sent home about said project.
I did not have time for a freak out. We plunged in head first, churning out notecards, internet pages, and everything we could find about Giraffes that could be rubber cemented to a poster board. She presented it yesterday and all went smoothly. 

I would even dare say, better than if we had all of the two weeks to prepare.
I work well on a deadline.
For those of you that may have missed me mentioning it in previous posts, I am a runner.
I am a runner that hates to run.
Running falls into the category of things I wish I could do asleep. Then running would just be a nightmare, instead of my dreaded reality three times a week. Because I absolutely hate to run and it’s really good for me, I schedule three or four races a year to keep me training.
There is absolutely nothing more motivating than an impending deadline, especially when you have a team of girls counting on you to be at the starting line with them.  
I feel this way about writing.  Half the time I wake up and write because I see the impending deadline in the future, the goal to finish my next book looming.
Sometimes I hate the writing process, especially when I feel myself tapping out words I know I will erase a week or two later.
I’ve been in a a bit of a slump recently, writing and erasing, writing and erasing.
Until I installed a new program into my computer to “encourage” my writing.
Have you heard of it?  It’s my newest obsession.  It combines the panic of finishing a school assignment the day before it’s due, with the pressure of training for a race.
There is nothing like the power you feel when finishing something that demands everything of yourself.
Use Write or Die in your next word war and prepare to be amazed at what you can accomplish.