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Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

Writer’s Inspiration

In Uncategorized on January 29, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Look here every Saturday for a weekly writing exercise that will get you warmed up and inspired to return to your novel.  Who knows, it could turn out to be your next short story or even the next chapter of your novel!  When you complete the exercise, share it with us by posting it on our blog as a comment.

This week’s exercise:  Choices, Choices

Choose one:

a)      I’d like to be able to fly using my own powers

b)      I’d like to be able to make myself invisible

You now possess this super power for the story you are about to write. 

Start with:  It was just a teeny-weeny little lie

This week’s inspiration is taken from the book, The Write Brain Workbook, by Bonnie Neubauer.

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Part 2 – The Dark Waters of Critiquing

In Uncategorized on January 28, 2011 at 1:42 pm

All right!  So we are prepared to commit some energy, focus and time to critique Mary’s latest piece of writing.  To do a good critique takes all three.  Skill levels in critiquing, like writing, will vary. All a person can expect of you is that you will examine their work to the best of your ability, but you must bring your best game to the table.

Whether Mary’s piece is complete, such as a short story, or a selection from her novel, will affect how and what you can critique. Reading a submission, in its entirety, allows you to view it in a different light, as opposed to only reading a sampling from a novel.

Is it a first draft or a fifth draft?  Chances are they will want you to focus on story and characters if it is a first draft, and not do a line by line unless it is a draft or two later.

On a first reading I believe we should be reading it like one of our future readers: for pleasure.  If we read it this way, and if we enjoyed the piece, it’s because, on a basic level, they were successful.  The story made sense.  We liked the story, characters and style of writing. We actually got drawn into the story and forgot we were critiquing.  Don’t underestimate the importance of this visceral reaction to their work.  It’s hard to argue with liking something, and a wonderful compliment for them. Let them know that.

On a second read, now we can become more detached.  Let’s do our job with the red pen (ok use a green one to avoid the stigma – but colour does really show up better whether you are doing it on the computer or by hand).

Were there any places where you were confused?

Is the confusion perhaps explained later, but it’s really a little late?

Are some sections – descriptions – actions too drawn out? Are some too short and not fulfilling their purpose?

Is the point of view consistent?  Are changes in POV effective?

Are you losing concentration? Bored?  Is there perhaps a lack of conflict to hold your interest?

How is the pacing? Does it keep you reading? Give you a chance to catch your breath?

Do we care about the characters?  Are they interesting?  Likeable? Unique? Are they consistent in their actions and speech based on their personalities?

Is the dialogue interesting? Varied for characters?  Sound real? Necessary?

The list can go on, but we know it would be impossible to comment on everything.  If they haven’t indicated the kinds of things that they would like you to focus on, then try to judge the stage they are at in their writing and focus on one of two areas where perhaps the weakness is repeated.

In the end we must remember that writing is very personal, very subjective.  It is important that we respect their writing style and the stage of development of their writing. The point of the whole exercise should be educational. Our insights into their work will hopefully shed some light on some issues and give them food for thought. 

Remember, our opinions, even though asked for, are only opinions – even if we know we are right.

Now, to go to our meeting and get some feedback! Yikes!

Happy writing.

Dan

BYON (Bring Your Own Needles)

In Uncategorized on January 27, 2011 at 9:04 am

I know, I know, I’m late!  But after you read this I’m sure you will forgive me.  I was sitting at my desk yesterday blogging away but I just couldn’t get inspired.  I kept thinking, Do they really want to hear about my non-matching socks?.  Well, just as I was cursing my boring life Hank spoke and my day was never the same again.

“Natalie, isn’t that your mum?”

“What?”  I look up at Hank.

“Your mum.”  Hank is pointing over to the reception area.  “I think that’s her…”

Oh, God.  Please, no.

I’m afraid to look where Hank is pointing, but unfortunately I don’t have to as I hear the shriek, “Natalie!  You who!” 

I look up as my mother is waving frantically at me as though I can’t see her, though she can only be thirty yards away.  I try to wave back to stop my mother from yelling, but instead she knocks over Claire’s roses that were delivered this morning from her new boyfriend.  I walk over to reception as my mother is trying to help Claire pick up the flowers.  Claire does not look happy, to say the least.

“So sorry about that dear.  Luckily they were almost dead.”  Mum picks up the last rose and looks at it.  “I would have felt just awful if they were fresh.”

Claire takes a quick intake of breath and looks about ready to kill my mother.  She bundles her limp flowers together and storms off.

“Mum, what are you doing here?”  I say.

“I’m here to see you darling.”  My mother is now rearranging the items on Claire’s desk.

“No, I mean what are you doing in London?”

“I was in London for a doctor’s appointment, so I thought I would stop in to see if you would like to get a cup of tea.”

I look up to see Claire coming back around the corner and still looking quite angry.  Before she can see my mum rearranging her desk, I grab mum’s hand and lead her over to my office.  Thankfully, Hank and Rachel seem to have disappeared.

“Why are you coming to the doctor’s in London?  What’s wrong with Dr. Archie?” 

Mum has been going to Dr. Archie for as long as I can remember.  I asked her once if she could marry him so I could have a doctor for a dad; but, unfortunately, he has about ten children with his ultra thin Spanish wife.

“Oh, Ira is fine… I still see him.  I just had to go to this special doctor in London for something.”  Mum waves her hand as if to dismiss the subject and then looks around my office.  “Natalie, this place is a pig sty- don’t you ever tidy it up?”

“It’s mainly Hank’s stuff and he doesn’t like people moving things.” 

Truthfully, it’s mainly my stuff and Hank and Rachel are always telling me I need to sort it out.  Though, the second I throw out that pile of House and Home magazines I just know I will be redecorating something and need them.  “And what kind of something did you have to get checked out?”

“Oh nothing serious.”  My mum has picked up my collection of broken pencils from the filing cabinet.  “You know, if you just sharpened one, you wouldn’t have so many broken at once.”

“It’s alright Mum,” I take the cup with the pencils out of her hand, “I have a system.”

Actually, my system is I lost my sharpener about three months ago, so I have been using the pencils and storing them in the cup for when I find it.  I know it sounds odd but, if I throw them out and then find the sharpener, it’s like throwing money in the bin.

“So, how about it then?”  Mum asks.

“How about what?”

“Tea, darling.  Or coffee- there’s a great little bistro round the corner where they do an excellent java.”  Mum has picked up my copy of Lasso and is flipping through it.

“Java?”  I take the magazine out of her hands.  Oh God, I have to get her out of here before she touches anything else.

“Yes darling, you can have a cappuccino, or an espresso… whatever you like.” 

“How do you know what a cappuccino is?”  I know for a fact Mum only keeps Tetley in the pantry.

“Really darling, this caffeine craze has been around for years.”  She looks at my overflowing garbage and frowns.

“Well, I would love to but I’m a bit snowed under here I’m afraid.”  I pick up my folder I carry and tap it.  “Deadlines and all.”

“Oh, well, alright then…”  Mum picks up her shawl off the chair.  “It’s just… I wanted to run something by you… but if you’re busy…”

My mum is fussing with her shawl now and looking a little panicky. 

What could she possible need to tell me?  I only spoke to her a few days ago and she told me she didn’t have any news-

Oh God. 

She’s been to the doctor.  To a specialist

She’s dying.  My only mother is dying.

“Oh, Mum.  Of course I will have coffee with you.”  I take her hand and raise it to my chest and desperately try and fight off the tears- she will need me to be strong.  “Whatever you’d like. Do you need to sit down?”

“No, I’m fine thanks.”  Mum reaches for her handbag.

“Let me get that for you!”  I take the bag and put it on my shoulder.  “And, here, let’s put this shawl round you.  It’s pretty cold out there.”

I lead my mum out of my office by the hand with my arm wrapped around her other shoulder.  We pass Claire’s desk on the way out and she is still giving my mother a nasty look.  I give her my severest stare in return and lead my mum through the doors.  Honestly, she doesn’t need to put up with that on her last days.

I am trying not to shake from fear of what I am about to hear.  I know my mum is overbearing and can be a lot to handle sometimes- but she’s still my mum.   I feel the tears well in my eyes again, but I remind myself that my mother will need all the strength she can get at a time like this.  And, maybe she went to the specialist and has good news.  It’s a nasty illness, but there’s hope.  A special treatment- probably from India.

My mum leads me to the bistro round the corner from work called Javinis and we pick a quiet table in the back to sit.  After we sit down, Mum takes off her shawl and picks up the menu to look at.

The waiter comes to our table and sets down two napkins.  “Hello ladies, what will it be?”

“Hmm… there’s a lot to choose from here… what are you going to have Natalie?”

“Anything,” I wave my hand, “it doesn’t matter.”

“Well,” the waiter points to the menu, “we have a lot of different lattes to choose from.”

“Yep, that’s great.  I’ll have one of those.”

“Or,” the waiter flips over the menu, “we have a large selection of flavoured teas.”

“Okay, that’s fine.”

“Well, which one would you like?”  Mum asks.

“Anything, I’ll have whatever.”

“Well, you have to pick something love.”

“I’ll have anything. Surprise me,” I tell the waiter.

“Well, I will have the grande, non-fat, light foam, moccachino, gracias.”  Mum hands her menu to the waiter and smiles.

“Okay, so one moccachino and one… surprise?”

“Yep,” I reply, “fab, thanks.”

As the waiter walks away I stare at Mum to try and see what is wrong with her.  Maybe it’s that swine flu- she does look pretty pale.  Or it could be that outbreak from Africa- the one you get from the monkeys… but where would she have been in contact with a monkey?

“Natalie, what are you staring at me like that for?”  Mum asks.

I jump in my seat a little and quickly look down.  I wanted to try and play it cool- I don’t want her to be alarmed that I know.

“Nothing, I was just looking at your hair,” I lie, “I like the new cut.”

“Oh, thank you darling.  Geraldine tried a new technique- it’s where you take the scissors…”

I can’t let her know that I know she’s sick.  I have to be strong.  She’ll tell me when she’s ready.

“Why did you go and see that doctor?” I interrupt.

“What?”  My mother stops and looks at me.

“The doctor that you went to see today, why did you have to see him?”

“Oh that,” Mum waves her hand, “nothing to worry about.”

“Mum,” I reach across the table and place my hand on top of hers, “it’s alright.  You don’t have to be strong for me- let me be strong for you.”

“Natalie, are you feeling alright?” 

Mothers, always more concerned for their children.

“Of course I am,” I squeeze her hand, “I’m worried about how you’re feeling.”

“I’m fine love.” 

Denial… it’s always the first stage.

“Of course you’re fine, were going to beat this together.”  My eyes start tearing up again.  “But you have to be honest with yourself first and let me help you.”

“Natalie, what on earth are you on about?”

“Mum, tell me why you were at the doctor’s today,”  I press.

“Er…”  Mum starts fiddling with her handbag.  “I’d rather not.”

“Mum, I have a right to know.”

“Really, Natalie it’s nothing.”  She looks around the restaurant for a distraction.

“If it’s nothing then why can’t you tell me?”

“Well… the truth is, I am not sure you would approve.” 

At that moment, the waiter comes to the table with our drinks. As he is placing them in front of us my mind begins to work it all out.

She’s doing something illegal.  Some experimental treatment that she could do hard time for if she was caught- and she doesn’t want to tell me in case they try and make me testify at the trial.  Well, they can forget it. If they think I would testify against my ill mother they have another thing coming.

“Mum, we are not leaving this coffee shop until I know what we are dealing with.”  I take a sip of what looks like a cappuccino, but turns out to be the strongest coffee I have ever tasted.  My eyes water as I try to catch my breath in a fit of coughs. 

Once I have regained control I take a deep breath, “I can handle it.”

“Really Natalie, you’re making such a fuss over nothing.  Your Aunty Beryl and I are just trying to make a little money for our holidays, so we thought we would try something new.” 

Something new?  Oh God, please tell me she didn’t sell her body to science.

“And Dot from down the lane made a fortune last year at one of her Tupperware parties, but she’s having another one this year- so inconsiderate that woman.”  Mum takes a sip of her coffee.  “So we decided to have a party of our own, but obviously we couldn’t do Tupperware-”

“Mum what are you talking about?”

“So we decided to have a Botox party instead.”

“A what?”

“A Botox party,” Mum leans forward, “it’s where you inject fat into different areas of your body to… freshen things up a bit.”

“I know what Botox is mother.”

“Well, we heard on Oprah that people can make a fortune having these parties- Beryl and I might even go to Tunisia if we make enough!” 

“So, you are having a Botox party… in the Cotswolds?”  I can’t believe this.  “And you have this doctor going there to do this for you?”

“Oh no dear,” Mum waves her hand, “that’s the best part.  I came down this morning to learn how to do it myself and pick up the… er… fat.”

“Wait- you’re injecting these women yourself?”

“Oh yes, we save quite a bit of money doing it ourselves. And now I can teach Beryl- it’s all on the up and up.  I just had to take a quick course this morning and now I’m certified- would you like to see my card?”  Mum excitedly reaches for her purse. 

“No, that’s alright thanks.”  This is way too much for a Thursday morning. 

I’m not sure what actually bothers me more; the fact my mother is injecting sixty year old women with someone’s leftover fat, or the fact I live in London, probably the trendiest place in England, and I have never been invited to a bloody Botox party.

**To read more of Natalie’s adventures please click here.

Photo: Injection Needle

Photographer: jscreationzs

http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Writer’s Inspirations

In Uncategorized on January 24, 2011 at 1:14 pm

A weekly writing exercise that will get you warmed up and inspired to return to your novel. Who knows, it could turn out to be your next short story or even the next chapter of your novel! When you complete the exercise, share it with us by posting it on our blog as a comment.
This week’s exercise:
One Sill A Bull: This is a great activity because it really makes you dig for words. Each word in this piece must be ONE SILL A BULL (one syllable). Start with: The bull…
Good Luck!
Leann
This week’s inspiration is taken from the book, The Write Brain Workbook, by Bonnie Neubauer.

Upon This Rock I Will Build My House

In Uncategorized on January 21, 2011 at 10:06 am

One morning not too long ago, when I was feeling particularly naive, I told my husband, “I am going to build Ava a beautiful wooden doll house for Christmas.” 

My husband had his usual reaction, “Does she need a wooden doll house?”

And like I said to the wii remote in the shape of Elmo the day before, “Of course she needs it!  She will have it forever and always take care of it!”  So, I got in the car and set out to get the supplies for the most beautiful dollhouse.

Well, three hundred dollars later (JUST FOR SUPPLIES!) I sat down to make my daughter a Christmas present.  The lady in the shop told me it would take forty hours to make.  It took me two hundred.  But, as you can see from the picture above, it is beautiful.  And it was also a very useful experience.  As I was painstakingly sanding, painting and assembling every piece of siding together (don’t even get me started on the balcony…) I was thinking to myself (as you do when you have been trapped in the same room every night trying to prove your husband wrong) that building a dollhouse is not unlike writing your novel.  How you say?  Well, let me tell you…

Getting Your Pieces in Order

When I opened the box and looked at the pile of wood and the instruction manual (with no pictures and the dimensions as the only description of the pieces!) I had to sit down and figure out what was going on before I started.  Like writing a novel, you should always sit down and think about what you want to accomplish before you start.  Now, I know some people are able to just sit at the computer without any idea where they are going, but I would argue that you still need to have a general idea of what the story is about.  You need to know who your character is and you need to know what you want the conflict in the story to be.  Yes, you can start writing with a vague notion of what is going to happen, but I promise you that the more you know about your character’s background (their past, their wants, their needs, their motivations) it will save you time on your editing and it is will also help with writer’s block.  Of course you don’t need to write a detailed outline of your character and where you want the story to go, but as I found out with the dollhouse, the better described your instructions are from the offset the easier it is for you in the process.

The Foundation

This part is also involved with your planning from the offset.  Once you are done your novel and you begin the query process there is going to be one question on everyone’s tongue and no, unfortunately it is not, “How do I sign you as my client?”, but rather, “So, what is your story about?”.  And sometimes (alright, more often than not) we get through our speech about our novel and when we are out of breath and smiling from remembering our brilliant work they utter the words that all authors dread, “And?  Is that all that happens?  What makes your book different from the book on the exact same subject I received yesterday?”

When constructing my daughter’s house I spent more time on the foundation then was perhaps necessary just to get the house constructed, but I knew that if this was wrong the whole house would be wrong.  You spend a lot of time on your manuscript, mine is like my second child.  Make sure that when you start writing you know what you’re writing, that it is enough to sustain the reader’s interest, and that the conflict is compelling enough to push the story and characters forward. 

The Construction Has Started

I’ll admit that when I started I was an idealist.  I remember walking in with the huge box in my arms and when my husband raised his eyebrows I smiled and asked, “How hard can it possibly be?”

Apparently extremely difficult.

When  raising the walls and carefully adding every piece of siding I was thorough.  I knew some of this work would never be appreciated and that in the end it would probably look the same as the person who had spent forty hours putting it together, but I didn’t care.  I needed to take that long.  When you are writing your manuscript you might be writing in back story that people will never see, witty comments that you spent hours thinking of that no one will ever laugh at.  My manuscript was complete at 75,000 words but a wonderful editor I am working with wanted me to trim it down to 55,000.  EEK! I know.  And as I am trimming out word after word I keep thinking that all my hard work and the time it took me to write those words are lost.  But are they?  After finishing with the axe, I have read back through my manuscript before resubmitting it to my editor and I am noticing that the sentence makes sense without the four lines of back story before it.  Taking out that character has put a greater focus on my heroine and it is her story- she deserves our sole attention.  So yes, perhaps no one will read every word you have written, but in my case I have learned that the time it took to write those words was not wasted. 

The Final Touches

The paint, installation of the windows, staining and installing (individually might I add!) 864 roof shingles is the hard part.  It is the finicky little work that hurts your eyes and just makes you think you are never going to finish.  I would look at the door I just installed and squint my eyes because it just didn’t look straight.  The level said it was straight but my eyes were telling me something else.  My husband came down and said it was straight but his eyes were wrong as well.  Though, he did point out one of the windows was upside down and I had to throw him out the room in denial (then secretly fix it when he was safely upstairs).

When your manuscript is done and you are taking the red pen to your beloved piece of art it can be daunting.  Sometimes you need to take a break, for a week, a month, even a year sometimes to get perspective.  You have to ask others to help you gain perspective and sometimes they tell you things you don’t want to hear.  Listen to them.  If it hurts your feelings and you just can’t face it right then and there, then write it down.  When some time has passed you will want to look it over and evaluate it.  Sometimes they will be wrong, but more often than not they will be right and you can make your changes accordingly.  Remember, you asked them to look at your manuscript for a reason- you value their opinion.

The Finished Product

When Christmas morning came and I brought my  Ava’s beautiful dollhouse upstairs I had the biggest smile on my face.  I loved it, I had worked hard for it, and I was so proud to give it to her.  When my nearly two-year-old came down the stairs she gasped, opened her eyes wide and pointed at the house I had built for her.  I smiled from ear to ear as she squealed and ran to the house, but as she got closer she walked right around it and picked up the little ducky she had left on the table the night before and started kissing and hugging it.

To say I was crushed would have been an understatement.  Later my husband graciously showed her the dollhouse more carefully and she did show some interest but the duck had won the day.

As we clutch our edited, polished manuscript in our arms and gently hand it over to agents/publishers with stars and money signs in our eyes, we are crushed when the rejections roll in.  Trust me, I know, 146 rejections are a lot on someone’s self-esteem.  But the truth is, perhaps they are not ready yet.  Perhaps we are not ready yet.  Perhaps our work just isn’t ready yet.

The editor I am working with right now has requested changes and I am working on them just as hard as I worked on that dollhouse.  A big name publishing house is giving me a chance when all others said no.  Did the rejections hurt?  Absolutely.  But, two years later I am presented with the opportunity of a life time.

I know my daughter will grow to love that dollhouse and one day perhaps she will even give it to her daughter.  I know now that she was too young to receive it but I was too impatient to wait.  I had put my heart and soul into it and I wanted her to notice, I wanted her to be ‘wowed’. 

So, after all your hard work is done and you are ready to share your labour of love with everyone, you might be in for the hardest part of the whole journey- waiting.  It will be hard, you will question whether it was worth it or not, but please if you take nothing else from my experience remember this- it is.

-Emily Harper

*I must send out a big thank you to my sister-in-law Laura.  Without your hard work and calming presence, Ava’s beautiful dollhouse would still be a work in progress.

***To find out more about the author, please click here.

One Man Wanted

In Uncategorized on January 19, 2011 at 9:47 am

I want a date for Valentine’s Day.  The internet let me down for New Years, so I have decided to try a more conventional route.  I know, what you’re thinking, Natalie that isn’t like you!, but I have to be realistic and get my head out of the clouds this year.  So, I have a new plan.

Want ads.

I haven’t had much luck in the guy department in the past.   But it isn’t like I’m not looking. 

Trust me. I’m looking.  Everywhere

I’m an avid reader of Lasso, our company’s new in-house magazine that is supposed to be all about how to get a man and what to do to keep him; though half of the bloody thing is filled with advertisements for naughty call-in lines.  It actually started out as a bit of a blip and not even our own designers wanted to read it.  They soon discovered, though, that if you pay enough people loads of money then anything can be a success.  Now, Lasso has a readership of over fifteen thousand a month (though the press package says it is twenty).   Every issue, it tells us lonely hearts that men want a woman who has a mind of their own, are independent and outgoing.  I read this every month and do you know what I do?  The exact opposite.  I meet a man and tell him verbatim exactly what I think he wants to hear.

As I was drinking a terrible cup of coffee that my co-worker Rachel just made- which I always tell her is the best I have ever tasted- I was flipping through the February edition, looking at all the lovely shoes I know I would never get my feet into, let alone be able to walk in, when I came across it.  It was as if a light went on all around me and I could hear the ‘hallelujahs’ in the background.  There, on page one hundred and ninety-three was the beginning of the rest of my life.

Looking for a man, but seem to be looking in all the wrong places?  Wondering what is wrong with you and why you are so blue when you should be saying “I do”?  Did you know that only 7% of women that meet men in a bar or club end up having a lasting relationship?  No matter what your mother says, it’s not you and there is something you can do to find Mr. Right- right now!  Place a want ad in next month’s issue for our Month of Love special and see what fate has in store for you.  Don’t spend another holiday alone, hopeless and resorting to desperate measures- resort to them now!  To see your ad in the Love Wanted section just send a maximum sixty word description of your ideal mate with twenty pounds to Lasso Love Connection, 128 Foxham Street, London and see what love has in store for you.

That was it.

*For more Natalie’s Nook please click here.

*To learn more about the author, Emily Harper, please click here.

A JOURNEY IN SELF-DISCOVERY

In Uncategorized on January 17, 2011 at 11:26 am

One of the things which has most pleasantly surprised me about the novel writing process is what I have learned about myself and what I have learned about what I didn’t know that I knew.

When I sat down to start my novel, blank screen in front of me, I literally had no idea what I would write about.  I knew only that I had long harboured a desire to write a novel and the biggest stumbling block preventing me from actually doing it was the thought that I had absolutely no idea of what I would write about.  Unlike many other writers I had not mapped out a detailed outline, written up complex character sketches or outlined the goals and motivations of my main characters.  I had nothing but a blank page and an open, empty mind.

From this blank space a mental picture gradually emerged.  A cold winter morning, a man standing on the bridge of a boat staring into the misty distance, rubbing his hands together and stamping his feet to keep warm. Who was he waiting for and why?  I started asking questions about him and allowed my imagination to provide the answers and slowly his story has unfolded.

This is a fascinating process because it feels like I am reading the book as I write it. Like the reader, I have no idea what is going to happen next and I am on a voyage of discovery, but I am journeying not only into the life and mind of my characters, but also into my own subconscious.

Every now and then it coughs up something unexpected on the page and I stare in amazement.  Where did that come from?  I didn’t know I was thinking that.  I didn’t know I knew that.  Sometimes it feels like I’m coughing up a hairball; dry and scratchy and I really want to get rid of it. Ugh. There, it’s out.  I look at it on the page. It’s ugly, but it adds something to the story.  Mmm…I can work with this.  Other times something rich and delicious rises within me and I roll it around the back of my mouth like a smooth single malt.  Yes, I want to hold on to this, savour the flavour, even let it mature a little more before I let it out on the page.

And so, as I have embarked on the exciting journey of writing my first novel, the unexpected by-product has been, in parallel, a journey into self-discovery.  Don’t get me wrong, it is a work of fiction, the characters and plot are all a figment of my imagination, so fictitious in fact, that I too did not know they resided somewhere within.  What I am discovering is the vast and wonderful expanse of imagination, of what resides within my mind while I am busy with life. And all that I have needed to access this rich and interesting place is the discipline to sit down each day and write. 

Apart from the satisfaction derived from putting words on the page – not just any word, but the word which conveys exactly the fact and sentiment intended – apart from the rhythmic pleasure of the language and the technical attention to detail, I have also enjoyed this journey into the unchartered territory of imagination.    It is in this place of imagination that my subconscious comes out to play and it is in play that, like a child, I am learning surprising things.  For that reason alone, and even if my book is never published, it will have been well worth the effort I am putting into it.

Linda

*To find out more information about the author please click here.

Creating a Great Protagonist

In Uncategorized on January 14, 2011 at 10:10 am

Recently, on this site, Linda, in her article, Eating the Elephant, touched on some points on how to tackle writing – one piece at a time.  In that article, one of the keys that Michael Hauge stresses is to very quickly create, in our reader, identification with the hero or protagonist.  Linda further details some of his suggestions to do this.

1. Make the reader feel sympathy for the hero
2. Put the hero in jeopardy – make our reader worry about him or her
3. Make the hero likeable – even if the hero is not good, they must be someone the reader cares about
4. Make the hero funny, or
5. Make the hero powerful

 Another interesting take on creating a great protagonist, comes from Hal Croasmun of Screenwriting U, an excellent site that offers courses in screenwriting and all its associated skills.  Occasionally they will post free phone sessions detailing how to address and improve areas of your script, which of course can also be applied to your novel.  Yes, the sessions are to encourage you to sign up for a course, and you might want to. 

His suggestion – and I think it is a great one – make sure your protagonist is inherently dramatic.  Does the profile you have created for your character inherently bring drama to the scene?  Are they a naturally dramatic character who brings tension to every scene because of their characteristics?

He suggests the following advantages if you are able to create a naturally dramatic protagonist.

1       Inherently dramatic characters naturally create dramatic situations

2       Are more interesting

3       Engage the reader or audience

4       Are easier to write

5       Are more attractive to actors

As an aside, let’s face it, we all want our book to be made into a movie and it can’t hurt to have an outstanding protagonist.

A)  Give your character a trait that creates conflict, such a being constantly cynical or selfish.

B)  Give him a flaw.  Perhaps he is bitter about something that happened to him and it colours his response to everything, thus creating drama.

C)  Give him a serious dilemma or problem that will create the drama you are looking for.

D)  Give him a motive that might create dramatic subtext in your scenes.

For my next lead character I am still going to keep him likeable (gotta be likeable!)  but I am going to try Croasmun’s approach. 

I’ll let you know how it turns out. 

Dan

I’ve Had a LOVEpiphany

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2011 at 9:25 am

I’ve often wondered if my man troubles are really my fault.  I mean, I’m not picky.  I try and have an open mind about his occupation (though I could never get my mind around dating that gynecologist…).  I’m not even that concerned about looks (though if he should happen to have even a remote resemblance to Johnny Depp I feel extra points are warranted).

Though, as I was reading through my magazine the other day I  came across an article which I think has changed my life forever…

I’m sitting in my room, listening to Cheryl yell something to Ben about him being a lazy git, when my eye falls to the next page where an article entitled “GET A MAN AND KEEP HIM” catches my eye.  The by-line reads,

“From the acclaimed relationship expert Dr. Rebecca Gonnard; this is a comprehensive guide to get you past the first date with a man and straight to the altar.  Carefully followed you are guaranteed to turn your pitiful and for some non-existent love life into a storybook ending.” 

I carry the magazine over to my bed and begin to read the article. 

Did you know that a man will go out with an average of twenty-six women before he settles down with one woman?  Did you also know that a woman will be rejected by an average of twenty-nine men before she will be in a committed, long-term relationship?  If you are worried that there just doesn’t seem to be any good blokes out there for the picking then think about this: for every hundred females there are one hundred and five males in the world.  The odds are in your favour ladies, and yet statistics UK state that you have to suffer through twenty-nine ghastly dates until you find a man willing to commit to you!  So what’s the problem? 

For starters, we, as women, look internally for the solutions to life’s problems.  What can we do to improve, what can we change to be accepted? Women are constantly adapting to the world because they are terrified that the world will not adapt to them.  This way of thinking must be broken in order for you to achieve your goal of securing a healthy and substantial relationship.  Are you tired of meeting loads of chaps but not finding the right one?  If so, then you have to stand out from the flock of women fluttering all around you. Don’t be one of a hundred girls, be the one and only you!

I do like those odds better…

The first step to standing out in the crowd is to be different from the crowd.  Stop listening to all your girlfriends’ advice on what to do with men because chances are they haven’t got a boyfriend either.  Learn to forget all that you have heard and done in the past, in fact it’s most likely best if you just do the exact opposite of what you used to do. 

Always arrive early on a date as to not keep him waiting?  DON’T!  Try arriving at least fifteen minutes late on your date; not only will your man be anxiously awaiting your arrival for a change, it also lets him know who will be in charge. 

Always let the bloke pick what to do on date night? DON’T!  Let him know from the start that you have no intention of spending the night on his pullout couch, watching the telly while you share a pork pie. 

See, I knew I shouldn’t have done that with Adam.

No one is going to treat you special if you don’t tell them you’re special. 

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, don’t have sex with him until at least the fifth date.

Fifth date!  Bloody hell that’s a bit long with no sex…

No, it’s not too long to wait.  Think of it this way, men look at things from an investment standpoint.  If you’re a quick cash grab, they may potentially buy you[1] now but with no long term commitment or grand expectations.  However, if you are different from the other investments and- most importantly- challenging, then the lads will approach you with the mindset that they are in it for the long haul.

This is all making complete sense; I am an easy investment- I’m a penny stock!  I need to be a cool, exclusive stock like Berkshire, or that new company from the telly that sells appetite-suppressing lip gloss.

You must believe in yourself if you want others to believe in you too.  You must make the commitment to change your life and go after what you want. 

Are you up for the challenge?  If so, I want you to say this out loud and begin committing to a new you!

I am strong.

I look at my door quickly to make sure it’s still shut.  Don’t get me wrong, Cheryl and I have a pretty open relationship.  However, I don’t think either of us has quite forgotten last week when she caught me examining myself- I won’t tell you where.  Before I know it the words are tumbling out. “I am strong.”

I am invincible.

I can do this, I know it.  I read somewhere about this thing called the placebo effect which is basically if you believe something is going to work, even if it’s a complete blip, it will still happen because you believe it- at least I’m pretty sure that’s how it goes.  “I am invincible!”

I AM WOMAN.

“I am-” Wait, isn’t that Aretha Franklin?


[1] Editor’s Note: Lasso in no way solicits prostitution in exchange for goods or happiness and hereby relinquishes all responsibility or suggestion of said act.

*To read more of Natalie’s adventures or find out about the author please click here.

Photo: Valentine

Photographer: Salvatore Vuono

THE HERO’S INNER JOURNEY

In Uncategorized on January 10, 2011 at 10:10 am

So while your hero has been undergoing all sorts of adventures and challenges on his outer journey, he has also been undergoing some sort of inner turmoil and change.  Our own hero, Michael Hauge, has a fair bit to say about this as well.  Here is my summary of some of his key points which I have found helpful:

First of all, Michael reminds us that, for readers, stories begin on the level of plot and that we need to see a visible journey before we can explore the deeper meaning imbedded in the story.  While the outer journey shows your hero overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds to achieve a visible goal, the inner journey reveals your hero’s path to fulfillment, peace and some sort of inner change. 

Michael says that quite often in stories the hero starts out being defined by others and by the end of the journey, she has defined herself.

Michael identifies certain qualities which he says all heros have:

  • LONGING OR NEED

All heros want or need something.  Some heros may be aware of this need and express it and others may not verbalize it, but on some level it is apparent that their lives are deficient.  Something is missing.  If it is expressed it is a longing, but the hero is paying lip service to it and is too afraid to actually go after what he wants.  If the hero is unaware of it, and doesn’t even express it, then it is a need but the hero is too afraid to even admit that there is something missing from his life. 

It is your job as the writer to present the hero with an opportunity to go after what it is that he wants but is too afraid to pursue. This creates a level of emotional conflict in your story.

  • WOUND

The hero must have suffered some wound before your story even begins, or very early on in the story. Whether or not this is referred to explicitly, there must be a sense that your hero is damaged in some way and that this wound is a source of ongoing pain and avoidance behaviour in your character.  The wound is a source of fear in your hero and this is the reason he or she is not going after the fulfillment of their need. Did your hero have his heart broken by someone else?  Was he abused by his father? Was she humiliated by her boss? Did someone close to her die?

  • IDENTITY

Out of your hero’s fear grows his or her identity.  Identity is the way the hero defines himself to the world (this is true of us too).  It is what he sees himself as being and it serves the important purpose of protecting the hero from his fear.  It is the outer shell.  Identity is what the hero is, not who he is.  Constituents of identity are: job, family, location, beliefs, money, position, role, upbringing, etc.  Identity protects the hero but also prevents him from being who he truly is. (Rings true doesn’t it?)

  • ESSENCE

Now, if you take away everything your character is attached to, what would be left? Strip away title, status, job, geographical location, family, financial standing, public position, etc.  And what is left is who he is.  What is left is the spiritual, deeper self – the essence. 

And here is the nub: In order for your hero to achieve her visible goal (outer journey language) or to fulfill her longing (inner journey language) she will have to get rid of her protection, shed her identity and stand up for who she really is.

The inner journey is the journey from IDENTITY to ESSENCE and this journey parallels the outer journey in pursuit of the external, visible goal.  Character arc stories are essentially stories of life and death, not necessarily actual death (as would happen in the outer journey) but death of the identity in order to fulfill the hero’s longing and allow him to live true to his essence.

This transition from identity to essence is not instant, it takes time (generally the length of your novel) and is a gradual process during which the hero gets stronger, is tested, and is finally able to shed his identity and find his essence.  (In a tragedy, however, the hero may not learn anything, may not change, and goes through inordinate tribulations for nothing –that’s why tragedies leave us feeling so hollow.)

Before I leave you to ponder, and hopefully incorporate some of Michael Hauge’s valuable insights into your own writing, here is an interesting little exercise you could try.

To figure out your hero’s identity complete the following sentence:

“I’ll do whatever it takes to achieve my goal, just don’t ask me to ______________ because it’s just not me.”

You might learn something about your own identity too!

Happy writing!

Linda

To find out more about Linda Dorrington and her novel “Mungo Joudry” click here.

To find out more about the Hero’s Inner Journey, click here.