Reflect, Then Rise Above!

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So, here we are.

Another year draws to a close. Time to reflect.

Have we done all we set out to do this year?

We can use this time to beat ourselves up about not accomplishing as much as we’d wanted to, I suppose.  But, what good is that going to do?

Not one of us knows what the next day will bring.

So, let’s encourage one another to

go further,

climb higher,

rise above.

Happy New Year!!!

Protagonist vs. Antagonist

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In a writing workshop I recently attended, the presenter took us “back to the basics.”

If you’ve been writing for awhile, periodically it’s a good thing to revisit the essential elements of story.

The terms “protagonist” and “antagonist” are about as basic as it gets.

Let’s look at their definitions and what those two elements have to do with a well-written story.

The protagonist is the hero of the story—the central character whose journey we follow throughout the book. He’s the “good guy”. The one we cheer on. The one who experiences set-back after set-back, but emerges victorious at the end.

The antagonist, is the villain. His role is to block the hero’s progress toward his goal at every turn.

The cruel step-mother.

The demanding boss.

The rival for the hand of the princess.

Whoever they are, it’s essential that they do their part by providing those set-backs or road blocks to the hero on his journey.

It is this struggle to overcome that moves your story along to a satisfying ending.

 

 

Note: The inciting incident, another basic, was discussed in a previous post, entitled “Creatures of Habit.” You can read it under ARCHIVED POSTS.

I’ve Changed My Mind

 

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After a meeting, yesterday, the topic of how often one should write (every day? how many hours per day?) came up.

I listened as inexperienced writers eagerly listened to more seasoned authors on the topic that is as dear—and as often-debated—as toilet training is to young parents.

In one of my previous posts, I said that if you are researching for your book or article, or attending a conference, or viewing a webinar, that “counts” as your writing for the day.

Well, like I told the others after the meeting, I now know a bit more about the craft of writing and have changed my mind about what I advised a year ago.

There is no substitute for WRITING.

Here’s why:

You cannot learn to dance by reading a book or studying diagrams of nimble feet doing the Cha Cha.

You cannot learn to fish without baiting your hook and casting the line into the water.

There is no substitute for actually DOING.

We need to practice writing. All the reading and conference going—although worthwhile—cannot take the place of good, old-fashioned application.

Some people find themselves in such an endless cycle of “learning how to write” that they never actually sit down in front of the computer and try their hand at it.

They think that if they will just read one more book or watch one more webinar, then they will be ready…qualified…fully prepared.

All of that is well and good, but as my neighbor’s son studies his driving manual, I am reminded that he must also get behind the wheel and gain the experience of actually driving.

As a child, I heard my mother say, “Wishing doesn’t make it so,” many times. (Mostly this was in reference to having a clean room.) But, apply it to writing an article or book and you can make the connection, can’t you?

So, my conclusion is this: you must learn the skill of writing by writing, writing, and writing some more.

Every day?

Yes.

An hour a day?

At least.

Grab a partner and dance.

Bait your hook and cast your line.

Back out of the garage and get out on the highway.

Turn on the computer and let your fingers fly across the keyboard!

Authors: Introverts or Extroverts?

So often we think authors must be introverts, since writing is such a solitary, introspective endeavor.

Public speaking seems to be more in line with what an extrovert would do. After all, they thrive in environments full of people—malls, cafes, concerts, conferences.

Actually, it seems there is no direct correlation between being a writer and being an introvert or an extrovert.

Sure, if given a choice, introverts may rather express their ideas in writing than in speech and extroverts more often enjoy taking to the stage.

But, for both, writing provides a way of expression, although perhaps a more comfortable medium of expression for introverts.

 

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There is also a third category, called ambiverts, striking a balance between these two extremes. This personality trait includes the qualities of both introversion and extroversion.

I am convinced that the longer a person writes, the possibility of him/her becoming anambivert increases. After all, introverts find that much of their career depends on marketing, publicity, and teaching opportunities. Extroverts realize that even though they thrive on social contact, they must still spend a good deal of their time working  alone.

Of course, people retain their basic personality type, but environment and heredity both play a significant role in the blending of these two types into one super type—the best of both worlds—the ambivert.

A hybrid. A super communicator. A writer.

Ellipsis…or Em Dash-?

It seems I never think full, flowing thoughts anymore. My husband would add that I don’t speak in whole, fluid sentences, either!

This shows up in my writing, as my thoughts pour out in chunks, rather than a steady stream.  And, I think it is for this very reason, I have adopted using the ellipsis and the em dash.

My purpose, here, is to acquaint you with their various uses—though not in any way try to convince you to use them in your own writing—as some find them confusing and irritating—or so I am told.

The ellipsis, or …, indicates an unfinished thought, a pause, awkward silence, an echoing voice, or even a leading statement. (The aposiopesis is the use of an ellipsis to indicate the trailing off of a voice or noise into silence. For example, “But, I thought she’d…”)

The em dash is often used in place of a colon or parenthesis, showing an abrupt change in thought, to set apart definitions, show interruptions— by another speaker or self-interruption—contemplation or emotional trailing off, lengthy pauses, bleeps (as in censorship), substitutions, or where a series of commas have already been used in a given sentence.  (Much like the one I just wrote!)

So, if you tend to speak, think, or write in frequent spurts and stops, consider how much easier and quicker the writing process might be if you consider using the both the ellipsis and em dash.

I’m just saying…

Are You A One-Trick Pony?

So, here you are

in front of your computer,

pens all neatly in a row,  a stack of scratch paper nearby,       stock-photo-businesswoman-using-pc-computer-on-her-office-table-215226196

ready to write.

Want to do something different?

Fun?

Challenging?

Write the first paragraph of a story in different genres.

The characters are: Twelve-year-old Shauna Price and Twenty-year-old Stockton Miller.  Setting: Windsor Mall. Sunday afternoon.

I’ll begin:

Suspense:  The point of Stockton’s knife had already torn a hole in Shauna’s bulky sweater. Her eyes searched for the nearest exit. Would she somehow be able to slip away, and lose herself amongst the other shoppers in the crowded mall? She took one calming breath, then another. After saying a silent prayer, the twelve-year-old twisted her wrist from his grasp and ran in the direction of the escalator.

Now, it’s your turn:  Using the same characters and setting, write the opening paragraph of the story as Fantasy, Sci Fi, Romantic Comedy, and so on.

I found this to be a fun exercise. After all, I am a fairly new writer. I am not yet settled on any one genre. My first book, Runaways: The Long Journey Home, is Fiction Suspense. However, the novel I am writing currently, The Choice, is completely different.

It is true that writing in only one genre, may help a writer grow a following of readers. And, it is also true that a writer may be able to hone their skills more quickly if they stick to one genre.

However, if you are a new writer and haven’t yet settled on a particular genre, now is the time to try your hand at different genres, techniques, and writing styles…before you are “type-cast” (I borrow this term from Hollywood) as one kind of author or another.

And, if you find you like writing in, say, two genres, there is always the possibility of writing in one genre under your real name, and using a pen name to write in the other genre. Lots of authors do this very successfully. Their followers are frequently unaware that their favorite Historical Romances are written by a well-known author of best-selling Thrillers!

Spring Cleaning!

 

It’s spring—at least where I live, in Arizona.

Friends that do what they call “spring cleaning,” disposing of the clutter and mess associated with the winters months. Me? Well, my husband and I love to buy homes and renovate them, so we are usually ready to find a new project house and move anywhere from March to May each year. We joke with each other and say, “The windows need cleaned. It’s about time to move!”

I know. I know. It would be so much easier just to get a bucket of water and squeegee those windows, huh?

At any rate, on a somewhat smaller scale, I need to focus on my home office. It is in dire need of reorganization—all to be done, of course, in the honor of my favorite season of the year—spring!

If you are like me, an organized desk and supply closet results in an organized mind, which results in more meaningful work accomplished.  You might not think so, but just little things like cleaning out and organizing my pen/pencil container can be the catalyst for a story about a…oops, I digress from the subject at hand.

A list should keep me focused:

1) Put all reference materials, including my Thesaurus, back on the same shelf.

2) Put marketing/publishing materials into folders and refile.

3) Take out bits of paper, napkins, and gum wrappers with story ideas collected all winter and add them to the master list in “Future Stories” file.

4) Go through writing-related books. Type notes from the ones I have read. Put the books I’ve not yet read into a stack, front and center on the shelf, so I see them every day.

5) Put books no longer needed/wanted into a box and into the trunk of the car headed for a Goodwill store or share with my critique group.

6) Go through my supply cupboard, making a list of supplies such as copy paper, ink, notepads, etc.

7) Treat myself for getting this far, by going to the mall to pick up items in #6 and then having a mid-week lunch with my sister before returning home.

8) Arrange supplies just purchased on closet shelves—oops, first organize shelves, putting things that are out of place back where they belong—now, for the addition of the new fashion-colored Post-it-notes…

9) Go through old phone messages, to-do-lists that are only half done, and throw away or consolidate onto one page, if possible.

10) Locate the “new” pictures of the grandkids received at Christmas and replace the framed ones on my desk.

11) Dust/vacuum.

There. Ready for the new year.

I sit for a minute, looking at my clean desk and organized shelves. The adrenaline starts to flow, just like clockwork. An idea for a new book chapter begins to take shape when my husband calls to me from the sofa where he has been putting in some serious time on the I-Pad. Seems he’s found a “fixer-upper” for sale just a few miles away.

I may not have to clean the windows this spring after all!!!!!

Stir Their Hearts. Make Their Skin Crawl.

 

Fiction entertains. It mystifies. It sometimes makes us cringe. It oftentimes invites readers to experience different worlds…odd creatures…unusual circumstances. It makes us laugh. It makes us cry. It stirs our hearts…

Non-fiction informs. It often tells of heroes, the downtrodden. It recounts historical events and the people who lived through them. It takes us to different countries, cultures, and peoples. It entices us to travel and experience all that our world has to offer…

As writers, we hold within our pens the power to spark many different emotions in the hearts of our readers: fear, surprise, empathy, anger, love—the list is endless. We take them on a wild ride, of sorts. And, they love it.

Their hearts pound. Their skin crawls. Their tears flow.

They crave it. We deliver it.

But, by the end of the book we need to wrap it all up. Sometimes neatly…sometimes not so much.

For myself, I choose endings that encourage, uplift, offer hope.

In this fast-paced world full of hurting people, in this climate of unrest and uncertainty, my goal is to give readers something to hold onto.

When they read that last page and turn out the light, I want them to rest a little easier, feel a little safer. I want them to have experienced relatable characters that have triumphed over insurmountable odds…who have claimed victory over negativity or self-doubt…who have learned a life lesson and emerged the better for it.

I want my books to change them in some way.

Maybe they’ll experience release from a false belief about their own self-worth. Perhaps they’ll be energized by an idea they find within its pages. Perhaps they’ll be inspired to reunite with a family member or old friend.

I want to give them the same thing I want from a good book: to emerge from the reading experience a little wiser, more sensitive to the needs of others, more open to change, happier—just different somehow.

 

 

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Do You Want More of It?

We are repeatedly asked to rate products and services on a variety of surveys and questionnaires.

Teachers sometimes use “thumbs up/thumbs down” with their students.

Some people use a scale of 0-10.

Others use a sad face, neutral face, and a happy face.

I was in a store last week in which customers indirectly rated their choice of ice cream BEFORE they ate it by selecting it by size labels:  Like It!     Love It!    Gotta Have It!

Wouldn’t this be an interesting way to get feedback on our books (AFTER they are read, of course)?

 

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Like It! Might mean is was ok. Not particularly noteworthy but not a waste of time, either.

Love It! This choice would mean, perhaps, that it was very exciting or especially funny. It was well worth the time invested in reading it…the reader would consider reading another book by the same author.

Gotta Have It! This choice would mean that the book was really a page turner. It was inspiring. It spoke from heart-to-heart. It was a great read. The reader would like to read another book by this author.

Didn’t Like It!  To be fair, we need to add this category to indicate a book that was not exciting or interesting or worth the time spent reading it. Perhaps, it even might be used to label a book that the reader put aside, mid-read, never to be picked up again.

And just so we include all possible reactions to a book, we might add a final category for books that are “over the top.” We might call it:

Gotta Have More of It! This would indicate a book that so resonated with the reader and he is watching for the author to pre-release his next one so he can continue the experience! He can’t wait to get his hands on another book from the writer. The author has gained a new follower!

I am close to the end of a novel right now. I think I’ll give it a try.

What about you? What books have you read, lately, and how would you score them on the “ice cream” scale?

 

 

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IF…THEN

If you watch your gas gauge, then you will not run out of gas.

If you clean your plate, then you can have dessert.

If you listen in class, then you will learn.

It’s really simple, isn’t it?

If…then.

Writers can use the “if…then” principle, too.

If writers will learn the fundamentals of the craft, then the quality of their writing will improve.

If writers will dedicate time to reading, then they will learn much from published authors.

If writers will join a writing/critique group, then they will find encouragement from fellow writers.

If writers will schedule a block of time for writing every day, then they will become a more disciplined writer.

If writers will make a Thesaurus their best friend, then their writing will become more interesting.

If writers will attend a writing conference, then they will find increased opportunities to network.

If writers will pursue writing with their whole hearts, then one day they will find they have a tangible product:

an article

a journal

a book.

If…then.

If not now, then when?