Wednesday, September 23, 2015

It's Walking!

Yesterday we built the body of a story, but it is still in a coma. (Might want to take a peek at it if you missed it.) We have sensory details and we gave the reader a sense of being there, but without conflict the story doesn't move. When a story is in a persistent vegetative state it's know as a vignette or an exercise in description.

There are four main types of conflict classified as either external or internal. External conflict is Man vs man, nature, or society and internal conflict is man vs self. I like to add a couple extra that could technically fit within the big four;  man vs supernatural, fate, or technology.

So what does that mean for our poor story on life support? It means that we have a lot of options and different ways to go but we should look for one that has the biggest impact on me, er,  our character. A good way to help us decide what conflict is best is to identify what the character wants and then explore ways of making that 'want' hard to get. Don't forget the stakes. If the conflict is too low key and the character is unaffected by the resolution of that conflict, then the stakes are not high enough. (Remember, our story is about me in a coffee shop and I want to write.)

Man vs Man

Mike the barista has decided to flirt and distract me from my goal of writing a blog post. Flattering. Depending on how pushy Mike is, this could be a good option.

Man vs Nature

The power goes out due to a thunderstorm. Unsettling, but our character has a battery powered laptop. She might leave early to pick up her daughter, but unless there is some catastrophic storm this isn't something to keep her from her goal. This option could work if your story has no word limit and you have room to build in the catastrophic storm.

Man vs Society

Sitting in a Starbucks with a laptop is widely accepted and I daresay, expected. No viable conflict here.

Man vs Self

Our character struggles over the content of her blog post. Perhaps the reason her knee hurts is because she is in the first stages of cancer (I'm not. This is for storytelling purposes only). Perhaps she hasn't told her family but needs to vent to someone so she starts a blog about her journey. This has the added benefit of setting up further conflict down the road with her family if one of them finds her blog.

Man vs those other three.

We could have aliens or a mythical beast appear (I know the cute kitty brought up zombies, but please, no more zombies!) or we could have a prophet come and tell her to never post anything or her computer could explode.

Whatever you chose, you must remember that your job is to be mean to your characters. I don't want Mike to creep up on me or to be away from my babies when an awful storm comes or to have cancer, but without something bad happening there is no movement in the story and nothing for our hero to overcome. The stronger you want your character to look, the more they should overcome. Maybe the Melissa in our story has cancer and is blogging about it during a storm when Mike pushes her for her phone number.

Of course, I don't want to be pushed to my breaking point, but our fictional characters should be. The resolution, seeing the character come out the other side, will be much more satisfying for your reader.

Take that still body of a story and shock it with enough conflict to give it more than the shuffling movement of a zombie. Pile on the conflict and bring your creation to life.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

It's Alive!

What makes a story come to life? Not Pumpkin Spice Latte, but I'd argue that it helps in the process.

I believe there are many things that work together to make an experience for the reader, something they feel and not just know. Behind the scenes elements are important. Can the text be understood? Are the verbs strong? How's the spelling and grammar? But really, the reader doesn't know or care about writing dos and don'ts. I know I never recognized 'I was running.' as weaker than "I ran" until I studied how-to-write books.

So what exactly is 'it'? What is the thing that engages a reader?

As an editorial assistant, I often sound like a broken record. "This scene is not immediate. I'm not immersed in the story." Too often, instead of getting sensory details and emotion I get a flat list of events. I know the 'show don't tell' advice has been repeated so often that it's easy to dismiss, but don't be too quick to ignore it just because everyone says it. The advice is the core of immersive storytelling.

Here's an example of what I mean:

"Melissa went to Barnes and Noble every Tuesday and sat in the Starbucks where she would enjoy a seasonal cup of coffee while working on her computer. Some days she wrote, other days she reviewed, but today she wrote a blog post because she was determined to put one out every weekday."

Not bad. Not really. The reader gets an idea of what Melissa is doing. Great. The sentences are clear. Nothing technically wrong. But do you care? Do you really? Heck, I'm the main character here and I'm about to go to sleep.

Let's see if I can take the same scene and make it something a bit more engaging.

Melissa limped into the Starbucks in Barnes and Noble, her computer bag bumping against her hip. She shouldn't have run last night-- pushing herself to run a 5k had led to a knee injury. Urgent Care would be her best bet, but she wouldn't have time until Thursday.

"Hey! How are you doing today Melissa?" 

She came in every Tuesday to review and write while her youngest was at dance class. Smells of coffee made this corner of the bookstore feel more welcoming. The barista, Mike, smiled extra wide. "You gonna have Pumpkin Spice today?"

"Sure thing. Thanks." After handing over a five, she plunked down in her usual chair and opened her laptop. For a long moment she let her hands rest on the keyboard with her eyes closed. Reviewing may be impossible today. She didn't have anything nice to say. And writing? Blah. The hum of the cooler holding drinks drowned out the canned music coming over the speakers but she still wished she hadn't lost her headphones.

Mike sat her latte next to her computer. "Here you go. I hope you have a good day."

"Thanks, you too." She took a sip of her latte and opened a new blog post. She had said she would go the extra mile and while she couldn't do it literally for a while, she could keep her word and do a new post.

The second way is longer but offers detail that the first didn't: the type of drink, the price, the barista's name. Showing also allows the mindset and emotions of the main character to come through (Injured knee, grumpy, not wanting to write). Instead of listing the basics of what happened, I did my best to take the reader there.

This is an example of the difference showing and not simply telling can make, but there's another element that is needed for the reader to be engaged. We have the body, but is it alive yet? 

No, we need some conflict. An immediate scene puts the reader there and feels alive, but conflict keeps them engaged and reading to see what happens next.

I'm out of time. Dance class ends soon. To be continued tomorrow... with conflict.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Inspiration? Anyone?

In line with my 'I will do this' post, here I am, showing up. (Cue crickets.)

I've written and deleted several awkward jokes. Even I didn't think they were funny. I know it's bad when I don't laugh. I'm used to my kids rolling their eyes and saying 'oh mom!' but I know I'm in trouble when I'm the one rolling my eyes. That's the problem with writing everyday for me. There are moments like this one. Moments when I'm forcing those words, making bad jokes, describing the color of a character's eyes for the third time... moments when I want to give up. 

I've used 'Write or Die' and the gentler, 'Written? Kitten' to force word count-- all of which end up useless because I fill it full to the brim with things like "I don't know what to write so I'm going to randomly type words. Cat. Sleep. Cute." And on it goes.  I've used 'Seventh Sanctum'  to generate fun plots or alien names or characters. I end up wasting time reading the funny comments. 

What's a woman to do? 

In terms of a novel, I've got that answer covered. An outline can lessen the awkward moments of not knowing what to do. An outline doesn't analiate lack of inspiration, but having an idea of where to go next helps. They aren't the answer to everything. I've still made my share of mistakes despite having a pretty detailed outline, but I can't imagine writing Asthore without one. 

Short stories are a whole different problem. With a novel, you take the idea and you explore and stretch and expand. A short story is all about getting in and back out with a clever twist. Each offer their own sets of challenges, but for me, the inspiration-lacking-little-time-to-write-between-loads-of-laundry- mom being a short story writer is particularly difficult. 

So, you writer buddies of mine out there, where do you find your inspiration? How do you push on and keep going? Or do you take a step back and try again later? 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Silly Writing Rules

I'm a bit of a fangirl for Supernatural and Doctor Who. I dreamed up some silly 'rules' for keeping me writing a while back and I thought I'd share since tomorrow is the premier of the new season of Doctor Who. 

Rule 1:Find a coffee shop and drink it.
Rule 2: Do not salt and burn the bones of the story. It may haunt you, but resist the urge.
Rule 3: Absolutely no deleting. You are not a cyberman!
Rule 4: Embrace the mess and stop worrying about strict progression from cause to effect. It’s okay if from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint that it’s more like a big ball of wibbely-wobbely… timey-whimey…stuff.
Rule 5: Basically…. Write! Don’t stop moving and don’t blink.

If you understand these references, then congrats! You may be part of the Supernatural and Doctor Who fandoms. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

That Extra Mile

I've done a bit of growing up over this past month. Not that I wasn't grown up. Kids will do that to a person. But I've learned a few things about being a writer.  

1. Can't hide forever. 
I'm passionate about my novel. I love the characters and I think other people will love them too. While I've talked my Mom and best friend's ears off about Asthore, I'm fairly quiet about my novel in general. About my writing in general. How will anyone else besides my closest friends and family ever read anything if I'm a clam about it? So I'm taking baby steps. I set up a Author page on Facebook. I'm going to put myself out there in a more meaningful way and stop fearing the negative things people may say and get excited about the positives to come. 

2. Mistakes make me human.
I sat in a Barnes and Noble and I looked at all the books surrounding me. I wondered how the heck I could compete with all of that. How will my baby steps ever amount to anything more than me torturing my little introvert self? The good side about being a nobody is that my mistakes won't matter in the grand scheme of things. They will be buried under tons of other books. So why not try? Why not have fun along the way? 

3. Just do it.
To borrow from Nike and Shia LeBeouf, I just got to do it. I have to sit down and write.. Everyday. I have to write my pages on Asthore. Everyday. I'm not one to tell anyone else how to live their writing life and don't buy that everyone has to sit down everyday to write to be considered a writer. I heard a lady on a podcast say she wrote a novel in 72 hours. Sat down with some coke and goldfish and cranked it out. I'm sure she's not sitting down everyday, instead doing her writing in extremely productive stags. And it works for her, so I'm not going to tell her she's not a writer because she isn't doing it everyday. For me, I know I need to make my writing a priority. I was the type who waited for inspiration, and as such, Asthore has taken much, much, longer than it should. 

4. That Extra Mile
I run using a tracking app on my phone. I made a mistake and paused the app after the first ten minutes. I ran a mile after that without tracking it. When I saw what had happened, I had three options. Ignore the program and know that I reached my goal, or stand there and shake my phone until I got the virtual trophy, or suck it up and run some more. I ran that extra mile and I was tired and sore, but also very pleased with myself. I have to apply that same determination to my writing. I can write my story and then hide it in my desk and be happy with my virtual trophy. I could say I finished but I'd be the only one who knows. Or I can suck it up, deal with the everyday problems and do whatever I need to do to reach my goal. 

These are not huge revelations that people haven't said before and more eloquently. But most times, I can't understand something until I feel it for myself, so here I am staking my small claim.

No more hiding, I'm going that extra mile, mistakes and all. 

Healing in Room Twenty

This story is a continuation of Doris Lessing's 'To Room Nineteen'. Lessing's powerful story is about a woman, Susan, who ...