Archive for February, 2013

It’s the same old story…I have an idea, I toy around with a scene here a plot sequence there. But until I grab the stack of post-it notes and start plotting, I have nothing. I can picture the beginning and the end, but the journey in the middle is hazey.

I’ve committed to make 2013 the greatest novel output of my writing career and so, in this 2nd month, I’ve implemented three things:

1. Scrivener A program for writers that has a corkboard, index cards, endless supply of paper and an outlining process that makes sense. Despite past bad reviews, the folks at Literature and Latte dot com have fussed and fixed the program. I love it!

2. Story Elements by Larry Brooks. This book, while quite wordy initially, has been invaluable to me this month. It set out on a platter the key pieces of a story, what they look like and where they belong. Blueprints to a best seller! With the Scrivener program and this book, I’ve plotted out an entire novel. Now I just have to finish writing it.

3. I unplugged when it’s writing time. In clicking the button “disconnect from wireless” I have connected my brain to my goals. The world wide web is a perfect distraction from everything we want to acheive. Sure, I will use it to market, to meet other writers and parents, but when it’s time to write, I will write scenes for my latest novel, not facebook updates. Clicking “Like” will not get with work done!

writing pics 005


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What makes a story tick? What gives a tale that spark of life that sets it apart? What connects a reader to a story? What drives a story to a conclusion?

The answers are: Theme. Setting. Character. Plot.

In essence, a writer toils over words, sentence structure, and descriptions to discover the HEART OF THE STORY.

We can find definitions for those four concepts. Grab your Webster or click over to dictionary dot com. But knowing what they are and enriching them within a story are completely different and will not enrich your story. Today is Valentine’s Day, when heart décor runs amuck, when flowers are gifted to loved ones, when red and pink and white abound, we writers turn to what we love most: the written word.

Just like a heart with four chambers, a story has four chambers. Amy Deardon, author of The Story Template, calls these four chambers ‘pillars’. To high school writing teachers they are the four basic elements. No matter how you look at it – chambers or pillars or elements- a heart doesn’t work without all four chambers pumping perfectly.

A tent requires four pillars or the strength of the structure is weak. The four elements? Well, if you’ve read my novel,Gateways, you know how much I love the natural elements 🙂

And so it is with stories.

Think of the stories – either stories you read or movies you watched – that stick with you past “THE END”, past the rolling credits. What did you carry away from that story? That is the heart, the still beating entity that becomes a piece of us. Yeah, that sounds a little Frankenstein…sorry, but that was a great book!

The hidden (or not so hidden) message of the story. The lesson. The moral. The purpose the author has in writing. The essence of understanding behind the tale. How do you strengthen the theme of your story? First, you should identify it.

What is the backbone of your story? Or, continuing with the heart analogy, what is the blood, that source of life? Identify the theme your story will share. For example, in Frankenstein, the theme is creation, the act of creating outside the divine. It’s recycling to the extreme. But don’t stop with just one theme! Frankenstein is deliciously rich in themes (some of which are stretched pretty far by grad students) such as: revenge, desire, love, faith, truth, fear, loss, family, justice, nature vs. nurture, solitude, sympathy… the list goes on. Goggle “Themes of Frankenstein” and you’ll see what I mean.

Then, what is the opposing force to that theme? If the character is seeking revenge, what might make that revenge impossible? If truth needs to be told, what circumstances would keep the lie alive? If the character wants justice, how might that never be possible? Think of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. The four siblings are sent to the country to avoid the dangers of war, but end up smack dab in the middle of a war in a magical land. Let’s look again at Frankenstein. He wants to create a life, but the responsibility to care for it and it’s monstrous fate are too much. The creator abandons his creation and refuses to create for it something that would appease it – a mate.

Examples of novels with a strong Theme: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin, Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, The Underneath by Kathi Appelt.

I don’t know about you, but the term ‘setting’ in relation to writing brings back nightmares of high school writing classes. Time and Place. Referring back to Deardon’s book, The Story Template, she uses a beautiful term: Story World. That has a lovely fantasy feel to it – the genre I first loved. What is the story world of your novel? Write down everything you can about where and when your novel takes place. Include notes about the weather, the culture of the people, the clothing, lifestyles, common complaints of people in this story world. Does your story take place in a real place at a real time in history? If so, gather as many photographs and paintings as you can and decorate the walls of your writing space. Is there a type of music that would fit in that place and time? Make yourself a playlist and play that while you write.

Examples of novels with a strong Setting: The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, The Never Ending Story by Michael Ende, The Secret of Nimh by Robert O’Brien.

Who is your story about? Take the time to do some extensive writing about this person – either fictional or a historical figure – you must know him intimately (you know what I mean!) before you can tell his story. It really doesn’t matter if she’s tall and slender and has long auburn hair. If the reader doesn’t know a little about her, they won’t care what happens to her in the story. The physical characteristics help create an image in the reader’s mind, but the personality, the choices a character makes drive the story.

Write the backstory. Create a tale from the character’s childhood. What were his parents like? Did she attend a boarding school? What was your characters worst nightmare? Was she raised in a faith-filled family? What happened during his first week of his first job? Many writers hesitate to spend this much time writing something that won’t show up in the novel, but just like dating before you marry, you must know his story to make sure that your future together won’t be hindered by his history. And backstory is just that – the story in the background. If you feel compelled to use some of it in the novel, that’s great. But only use 10% of the backstory.

Examples of novels with a strong Character: Diary of Bridget Jones by Helen Fielding and Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts

Oh, plot. How I love to write thee…and how I hate it when it becomes too real. A fellow writer was recently lamenting her list of troubles, but I saw only conflicts that had ‘best-seller’ written all over them. That’s the advantage of a third-person point of view 🙂 Plot, by definition, is a series of connected events (think cause and effect) that take the main character from the old-self to the new-self. The conflicts the character must overcome are closely related to the theme, affected by the setting, and determined by the personality of the character.

And that is the clincher – all four chambers must beat together in order to bring life to the story.

How do you ensure a well-functioning heart of a story? Think Cardiac Rehab.

This next exercise is the therapy to keep the Heart of your Story strong. After you make notes on all four chambers, draw connections between them. How does the location of the story bring conflict to the plot which the character must overcome? How does the character’s driving need in the story bring conflict to the plot and touch off the fuse to revealing the theme? (Coming soon – a graphic organizer for the visual learner/writer.)

If this is intriguing and if you need more speicifics on these four elements, I highly recommend the following books:

The Story Template Amy Deardon

Story Engineering Larry Brooks

Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook Donald Maass

These are three of my favorites. I’m not receiving any benefits by suggesting them to you – just being a good neighbor and sharing what has been helpful to me 🙂 If you have other recommendations, please leave it in the comment section. For, as much as I have written, I’m hope to always be a student to the skill.

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In this digital age, it shouldn’t surprise me that I can attend a writing conference for Indie Authors – for Free! – on line. Yes, I will bask in the joys of learning from other authors, while sipping hot tea and sitting at my desk in my PJ’s!

I’ve never done this before, but here’s the link if you would like to join me: IndieReCon It starts February 19th and ends on the 21st.

See you there!

the location of my writing conference this week :)

the location of my writing conference this week 🙂

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Bucket List. Kind of depressing when I think about it; a list of things to do before I die. The image I have is one of an older generation rushing around, trying to tick off adventures and experiences before the big dirt nap.

Which lead to me to think about lives and how we live. The key word being LIVE. How would the idea of a bucket list change if it was called a LIFE LIST?

The items on the list would no longer be checked off before one dies, but experienced as one lives. What if, instead of creating a list of things to do, we kept a list of things must do, but do them with a joyful heart? The bucket-list-turned-life-list becomes an exercise in optimism.

I’m anxious to try this because I’m a stay-at-home mom, blessed with four children, and encouraged by a husband who completely supports my desire to home school these little ones. My life is not a movie-worthy adventure. We don’t vacation in exotic places; in fact the farthest we’ve been from home on vacation was a five hour drive away when we camped for a week. However, if I could find the joy in the mundane I would be a better mother, a better wife, and a better friend.

This year I’m changing my bucket list to the Life List, taking the challenges of parenthood, of home schooling, of writing, and flipping the negative thoughts on its head.

Bucket List: Retire as a millionaire.
Life List: Grocery shopping trips will become adventures as I shop for an entire month with four kids in tow and stay under budget – putting the money I save in our retirement account.

Bucket List: Tame a wild animal and perform with it at a Circus.
Life List: Train a toddler to be still during Mass.

Bucket List: Become a Psychologist and create a new treatment for behavior disorders.
Life List: Become a parent and train your children to respect authority.

Bucket List: Skydive.
Life List: Watch your daughter drive away in your car on her sixteenth birthday.

Bucket List: Visit every state capital.
Life List: Visit your city’s Soup Kitchen on Thanksgiving Day (better yet, once a month) and serve a meal.

Bucket List: Have picture taken with (insert favorite celebrity here).
Life List: Become a child’s celebrity by becoming a reliable mentor.

Bucket List: Write a book.
Life List: Write a book.

Hey, whatdoyaknow? Sometimes Bucket Lists and Life Lists line up!

I recently wrote a novel based on this idea of a life list. Here’s the back cover blurb: Jack Elliott has Alzheimer’s. To preserve his mind, he has written his life’s story: his westward journey and discoveries. When Jack’s journals are stolen, his granddaughter, Alison, realizes that nothing will protect her grandfather from the evils of Alzheimer’s. Victims of a hit-and-run, Jack is seriously injured. Desperate to find a piece of his past to bring to him, Alison continues the journey, searching for answers, seeking the people and places her grandfather once knew. As Alison follows the stories she grew up on, she realizes discovers her grandfather’s darkest secret.

To sample the first few chapters of Unforgettable Roads here. Unforgettable Roads has been offered a contract from Martin Sisters Publishing and should be released mid-2013.

Writing and actively seeking publication creates a whole new list of Bucket List adventures. Here’s my list for 2013:
1. I’m going to figure out how to use Twitter to reach readers.
2. I’m working towards completing 3 manuscripts that have been in the works for some time now and really need to be finished.
3. And then the editing, revisions, and submissions of those 3 manuscripts.
4. I’m going to read more books written by Independent authors and write reviews for them.
5. The blogging experiences is coming together for me and I love it. It’s more of a community than I expected. To this, I hope to work at my blog, connecting with other writers and readers to network, compile information about writing, research, publishing, and seeking publication.
6. And somewhere in all this, I hope to keep my house a little cleaner. Well, we all have dreams right? Maybe I can do it all…I am a woman. That’s what we believe 🙂

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