The View

Greetings and sorry for the lapse in blogging!  I’ve been traveling most of the summer.  But now I’m back, at least for now, and ready to share my adventures with you!

On our trip to the Southwest, my husband and I visited a place called Monument Valley situated on the border of Arizona and Utah where we stayed at a hotel with a view of some of the most spectacular naturally made monuments I’ve ever seen.

Though not ruins, the monuments feel like remnants of an ancient civilization, and in some ways they are.  Monument Valley is a Navajo Nation Tribal Park.  This location has also been used for a number of Western films.

Take a look at the four monuments I’ve posted below.  The first one is sometimes called a mitten, which reminded me of home–since the state of Michigan is shaped like a mitten.  Take a look at the others.  What do you notice about each of them?  Which is your favorite?  Scroll down to find out the one I like best.

Monument #1

Monument #2

Monument #3

Monument #4

So my favorite is definitely the mitten!  But now I must make a confession.  All four photographs are of the same monument.  They’re simply taken at different viewpoints while on a hike.  The first is of the front, then the right side, the back, and finally the left side.

This walk was probably one of my favorite hikes.  One of the things it reminded me is that any given thing can be viewed from multiple vantage points, none of which are necessarily superior to the other.  Each view offers a different interpretation of the subject.

As an illustrator, it’s important to find just the right perspective for each illustration in your story.  Will it be a close-up to create more emotional intensity?  Will it be a bird’s-eye or worm’s-eye view?  Will it be a sweeping panorama for depth?  Or angled in some way to add tension and drama?

As a writer, it’s important to figure out what point of view you will use to tell your story.  First person brings your reader closer to the story but limits the reader to only one character’s perspective.  Third creates distance but often stays close to one character in particular.  Omniscient allows for dipping into the thoughts of multiple characters but may make it harder for readers to connect to the story.

In life, it’s important to see situations from different perspectives.  This creates empathy and understanding.  If you’re feeling bored with your own life, trapped by the monotony of your daily routine, try stepping out of your comfort zone and view your life from a different angle.  You might discover new meaning and even excitement!  And maybe just maybe a new adventure could be waiting just around the corner.

 

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The Journey from the Outside In

For all of you writers out there,

Today I’m tackling part 3 of story structure.  Here’s part 1 and part 2.  Just to review.  You start with a complex character and you give them a goal.  The goal should drive the plot.

But don’t confuse the inner journey with the outer journey.  You need both, but the inner journey should be more subtle.  Nobody likes an “issue story,” but you do want to see your character change in some profound way at the end as well as get (or not get) what they originally wanted.  In fact, you might try giving them something else that they never knew they needed.  The happy surprise, just like in real life 🙂

For example: Character X can have a stuttering problem, but the goal should not simply be to overcome that problem.  There should be an external goal, (i.e. the character wants to be class president) which forces the character to face that issue.  As Character X battles his opponent, he must also tackle the childhood wound that caused the stuttering to take place.  The character not only stops stuttering and wins the election, but also comes out with greater self-esteem which is the real prize.

Bottom line:  Your job as a writer might be to show character growth, but  readers are here for story.  If you can deliver that first, they won’t mind the lesson they learned along the way.  In fact, they just might be grateful for it 😉

 

My Book Review on the SCBWI-MI Blog

Greetings all,

Hope you’re enjoying the lovely spring weather!

I’m pleased to announce that a book review I wrote has been posted on the SCBWI-MI blog, The Mitten.  I was asked to submit a review of the book Wired for Story by Lisa Cron after giving it 5 stars on Goodreads.  This book explores the craft of writing novels and screenplays–an excellent read.  If you want to hear more about it, check out the review here.

Happy writing!

Like a Lumberjack

It’s a rainy, cold, blustery spring evening–perfect for curling up with a mug of tea and reading a good book, watching a movie…or writing!

I read a great article earlier this year in the January/February issue of the SCBWI Bulletin.  Author Miranda Paul talks about the West African concept “Ndanka, Ndanka,” which means “slowly, slowly.”  It’s a common response from someone in the Gambia when asked about how a certain project is going.

I think it applies to most projects we undertake.  Anything worth doing always ends up being more than we bargained for.  But it has to be, doesn’t it?  Otherwise, we would probably never get started.

But I think the best advice is to surrender to the task.  Enjoy the deliciousness of working slowly.  Savor it.  Surrender into it.  Swim with it.  Even if it means some days you feel like a lumberjack–slowly, slowly chipping away at your work.

Eventually you’ll finish–never doubt that.  But it’s the murky middle, as we say in writing and perhaps in life, where all the magic happens.  You don’t want to miss that!  But you will…if you don’t get started–or worse–if you finish too soon.

Stick to the Mission

I recently talked about the importance of giving your story structure.  See my post here.  Today I’m going to share part 2 of that concept.

To maintain the structure you worked so hard to create, you must continue to keep the tension going and build suspense.  But how do you do that?

Remind your readers of what’s at stake.  What is the mission?  This should always be present in some way or another.

The easiest way to do this is through action.  

Ex: The hunter clung to the rock ledge, reaching for the rare flower that would heal her brother’s fatal wound.

But you can also do this while building your character.

Ex: Rubbing her face clean of dirt, she tried to remember what it was like to be a woman in love.  Then she carefully  added the war paint.  A smile played upon her face.  She had a new role now.

Or through setting.

Ex: The rolling hills reflected the setting sun like a shiny new penny.  The road looked rough, but she didn’t mind.  These hills would save her, if they didn’t kill her first.

No matter what you’re trying to do with character or plot, don’t ever let your readers forget what they came for.  THE MISSION.  That’s what drives the story.

Just remember.  As the writer, you’re at the wheel.  So take your readers where you want them to go.

Give Your Story a Backbone

What’s missing in your story?  Try a story structure.  Focus your story more.  Give it a backbone.  If you’re a plotter, you may have already done that.  But if you’re a pantser, like I used to be, you probably didn’t.  You just went along with the story following it wherever it went.  This is fine.  Some great stories were created that way.  But I guarantee those same stories went through a rigorous round of revisions as well.  The best part is that once you’ve found your focus, it will be so much easier to cut away the excess material.

How DO you find your focus?  Start with a story question.  Figure out what your character wants.  Figure out your character’s wound, which is shaping his world and holding him back.  What or who is physically standing in his way?  And what is he afraid to lose?  Don’t forget to add a ticking clock to add tension.

Now get going.  Grab an eraser and get to work.  Kill your darlings, as they say.  Underneath the rubble of words you just might find your masterpiece.

“Get to Work” Playlist

I don’t know about all of you, but for me, sometimes getting to work can be quite a challenge, especially since I work from home.  There are so many distractions!

So I’ve developed a system, or rather a series of mind tricks, that I can use to get myself to work OR back to work if I’m taking a break.

  • The most recent is the “Get to Work” playlist.  It takes a little time to make the playlist, but once it’s done, the results are so rewarding!  The bonus: you get your creative muscle working by picking out songs.  One song I chose was recommended to me by a good friend.  It’s called “Over and Over” by Madonna, in the early years.  The tune is very 80s, but the words are what count.  She reminds us that we must get up again, over and over.  Think of that Weeble Wobble toy that can’t stay down!
  • Make tea or coffee.  The simple act of getting up can really get you going.  Before you know it, you’ll have forgotten all about the tea until it’s cold 😉
  • Have a mantra or two that you repeat to yourself to get moving.  Add a little action, like a punch or a high kick, and it will really solidify your start.
  • If you’re really down, go to your list of affirmations–the reminders of all the things you’ve accomplished and all the positive messages you’ve received over time.  Everyone needs a little encouragement, time and again, to quiet the negative voices in the background.
  • Practice gratefulness.  Nothing like reminding yourself of what you have to help you forget what you might be lacking.  It helps cure boredom, too, which is really just a form of fear.
  • If you have a work space, get up and get it ready for work.  The simple act of cleaning off your desk can make you feel ready to tackle new projects.  Just don’t let it turn into an all-day cleaning marathon 😉
  • Take 15 minute breaks at the end of each hour with a reward (nothing too distracting).  It might sound counterintuitive, but it actually helps refresh the mind so you can go longer and stronger.  It’s good to give the eyes a break from the computer screen, too.  Practice blinking to keep those eyes from going dry from too much staring.  Some healthy rewards include doing a few yoga stretches or taking a quick walk, having a little protein snack, or drinking more water or tea.

So go make that playlist.  I guarantee that even after one song, you’ll be ready to get to work.  And FYI, if you’re in the middle of a project and you feel stuck and want to bolt–Don’t.  Turn on one of your songs, instead.  It often does the trick to keep your body in the chair long enough so you can work through the problem creatively rather than run away from it.

Now get to work! 😉

 

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