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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Commitment

Our local Sunday paper had an interesting article called ‘The work and art of writing: Muscle vs. Muse’. The author, Joe Kurmaskie, contacted different authors to see which approach they used. He writes, “Without exception, generous amounts of coffee enter the equation, and divine inspiration packaged as an entire book waiting to be channeled strikes no one.” Here's the article. I know we’ve talked about muscling through the writing process before, but it does bear repeating. Especially if you’re a forty-something writer with a fairly full plate who’s been procrastinating new writing a lot. *ahem* A whole lot.

I think I can safely say that every writer I know, have met, or have heard talk about this subject – every one – considers themselves to be a writing athlete. They don’t write for the muse, they keep going no matter what. That doesn’t mean that they don’t pay attention when a story idea appears in their heads, it just means that this is a job, pure and simple. It’s the difference between a local running club and the Olympic trials, between talking about a secondary degree and actually enrolling, between dating and getting married. It’s about commitment.

After finishing my first book, I think I’ve spent a wee bit too much time patting myself on the back and waiting for everyone to fall at my feet in awe of my accomplishment. Can you see me rolling my eyes here? (I think I sprained my eyelids. Ouch.) So I’m refocusing on my commitment to this rollercoaster ride of a calling, and thinking back to what made me decide to do this in the first place.

Let’s all renew our vows, so to speak. What made you realize you had committed to writing? What makes you continue to be committed to this wacky journey? And should we all be committed for thinking we can do this? *g*

Friday, August 22, 2008

Every Four Years

It began when I was ten.
That summer, the summer of ’84, my parents piled my sister and I into a used van and we headed west from our upstate New York home. For ten weeks we lived out of that van, traversing the country and stopping everywhere from Yellowstone and Mt. Rushmore to Wall Drug and the Corn Palace. It was an incredible journey with an even more fantastic destination: Los Angeles and the Games of the XXIII Olympiad.
That was the summer that my deep love of the Olympics was born. I was there when the now-familiar Olympic Fanfare and Theme was heard for the very first time in history during the Opening Ceremony, I was there when Mary Lou Retton tumbled across the floor towards America’s first All-Around gold, I was there when Carl Lewis flew down the track in world record time, and I was there when the president of the IOC handed the Olympic flag to the South Korean president and he danced across the stage with it like a child with a shiny new toy.
What is it about the Olympics that captures our imaginations and makes us stand still and hold our breath for sixteen days? Is it the beauty of a tiny gymnast spinning through the air and the powerful majesty of a swimmer moving through water? Is it the look on an athlete’s face when he bows his head to receive his gold medal and the way a runner falls to her knees after winning the 100-meter dash? Or is it the bubble in which the Olympics seems to exist, as though all the evil of the world, all that stuff outside, cannot touch it? It is all of these things, and a thousand things more.
My father was a marathoner who participated in the Olympic Trials in ’68. And though he didn’t make it to Mexico City that year, he continued to run marathons for decades after. He loves running so much that he founded the Road Runners Club in the county where we lived and trained my stepmother for her own marathons. I’m sure when he ran in the Trials he could only see the immediate goal of getting to the Olympics in front of him. When he didn’t achieve that, instead of quitting, he turned his passion into a lifelong love, and inspired others to do the same.
As writers, we’re engaged in a marathon every time we start a new story. When we write, we go into that zone that marathoners talk about: just one foot in front of the other, just one moment at a time. Don’t worry about Mile 23 when you’re at Mile 15. And don’t forget to breathe.
We may not all win the publishing equivalent of a gold medal: a Pulitzer or a Newbery or a RITA. But if we fill ourselves with joy every time we sit down to write, just as a runner does when he steps out onto the track in the morning light, we have won. If we turn our passion into a lifelong love, we have won. And if you’ve ever written the words THE END, you know you’ve run a marathon.
My father never held it against the Olympics that he didn’t make it there. He’s been to every Summer Games since the 1976 Montreal Games, except for Moscow ’80 and Seoul ’88. He’s in Beijing right now, watching the marathoners trickle into the Bird’s Nest, one by one, each on their own journey. That is the beauty of the Olympics; it loves everyone that comes to it with a dream or a hope or a desire to be inspired.
Writing is like that too. It loves us deeply. It wants us to succeed, whatever that might mean to us. It whispers encouragement in our ear as we tie our laces and set our foot on that track. It loves us even when we falter at Mile 21 and rejoices when we cross the finish line.
The Olympic Creed reads, “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” They are words we hold true for sixteen days every four years, and should carry with us every day in between.

An uplifting read and a writing exercise

A writer friend of mine put a very comforting and inspiring entry up on her blog today. And I've determined that linking this exercise to her blog is way better than the cheesy writing prompt I had for you today.
With that in mind, head out to Lise's blog, read it slowly, in a quiet place. Then, choose one or more of the "activities" she mentions and write a scene in which your main character(s) engage in that activity. Or, if you're a poet, choose and activity and write a poem about the emotions it may invoke.
And remember, we'd love to hear about any breakthroughs or just plain giggles you're experiencing when doing these exercises. Share with us!
All right then, here's the link to the blog:

right here

Good luck and Get writing!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Characters

As I'm working through revisions this week, a new character has been elbowing his way into the story. He's a minor character, but important to the plot. His unexpected arrival has had me thinking a lot about creating characters.

On that note, my dear friend and mentor, Marsha Skrypuch, just completed running the Brantford Summer Writing Workshops, wherein she presented a workshop on creating characters. When sharing her notes with me, she said, "Another thing that I point out is that not once do we ever talk about appearance when building characters because appearance has nothing to do with character."

That really struck me. It's absolutely true in real life, right? So naturally the same holds for characters we're creating. I just had never thought about it. Of course our readers want to know what the characters look like, but that's just packaging. Who they are is the important thing.

How do they act when they think no one is looking? How do they handle stressful situations? What makes them happy? What drives them up a wall? And, more importantly, why? What makes them tick?

Often, our characters don't even know the answers to those questions... but they should find out through the journey of the story.

Anyone else have a revelation on creating characters they'd like to share? How about a favorite character from something you've read? What made that character memorable to you?



Monday, August 11, 2008

Speaking of THE DARK KNIGHT

Or is it just "Dark Knight"? Doesn't matter. I am today holding this blog hostage so I can talk about the movie. And okay, not the whole movie. Yes, I, too, can go on at length about the brilliance of Heath Ledger's performance. I, too, can sigh and swoon over Christian Bale. I, too, can praise the testosterone poisoning that created such great action sequences. But none of that's going to happen here. Here, on a writer's blog, I want to look at character.

So.... I'm in the middle of edits on my latest completed manuscript. And one of the things I struggle with is character depth. Knowing this, when I do edits I go back to familiar sources to help me work through concepts of character. One of these sources is Mary Buckham and Dianna Love's Breaking into Fiction plotting templates. Another is screenwriting guru Michael Hauge. This weekend, with many thanks to Gerb, I sat and watched Hauge (with Chris Vogler) talk about the Hero's Journey and there too he talks about character.

One of the things Hauge stresses when it comes to character is making your characters relatable. He suggests a number of ways to do this. And while I pondered how to make the characters in my manuscript relatable, my thoughts wandered (as they do) until they landed on DARK KNIGHT. I've been going 'round for a couple of weeks saying DK is a fabulous movie, just a hair shy of excellent... but adding that it wasn't quite "my thing". Only, I couldn't put my finger on why. Now, after pondering Hauge, I think it was - FOR ME - a lack of relatability in the characters, and its extension, a lack of likeability. I'm afraid that probabably the character I can most grasp and relate to is Alfred. And seeing as the movie's not about him, the whole experience left me kind of... unmoved.

So, without getting into a bashing and without bringing comic book history into this, what are your thougths? Could it be that there is a lack of relatability in the characters? Or was there some flaw somewhere in the story? What trait exists in Bruce Wayne that the audience should/could relate to? What trait does The Joker possess?

Discuss.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Big Leagues

Last week, teens everywhere (and a lot of adults) were howling over the imminent release of the newest Stephanie Meyer book, Breaking Dawn. As numerous stories of her path from suburban stay-at-home-mom to bazillionaire author deluged every media outlet, I thought about making it big in publishing. Really, really big. What would that be like? Could I imagine being one of the few in the Big Leagues? Uh, yeah!

When I finished drooling over the imaginary shopping list to spend my bazillions, I wondered what it would take to make my imaginary dream a reality. Is it possible to craft a story that will sell to everyone based on what you know of popular culture? Is there a way to create universal appeal? What makes us latch on to characters, never to let go and forever to sing their praises at book clubs, dinner parties and casual grocery store conversations?

Unfortunately, there isn't a 'bestseller checklist', dang it all. You can use the Hero's Journey templates, write complex and endearing characters, study the trends and predictions, and try to imitate those Big League Authors. But even if you do all those things you could still be a mid-list author, or even an undiscovered one. The only thing you CAN do is tell your story, the best way you can. Will it be great? Will it intrigue an agent and publisher to take a chance and publish it? It's a crap shoot. But when you are true to the story in you, which is what most of the members of the Big League did to get there, I have to believe that good things will come your way.