First Story Part 2 – How To Write It

mood01So how do you get a 9-year-old to write a story? Sure, it’s hard to get his butt in the chair and actually write, but once there, what does he do? What have they taught him in grade 4?

Much to my shock, it’s actually quite a bit. And yet, it’s also quite simple.

Here’s the thing. There are hundreds and hundreds of books about how to craft a story. Seems everyone has an idea. Stephen King. James Scott Bell. Dilbert.

But looking at the 5 page hand out the teachers gave The-Youngest, it made me realize that sometimes it’s actually not that complex.

Forget the 400 page books on character. Forget the tomes on plot. Forget everything about what you’ve read. Here’s how to write.

Like you were 9 and you had nothing in your head on how to actually do it.

#1. Ask what if. It’s that easy. It’s the basics of story-telling. What if you were transported to the minecraft world? What if you were an NHL goalie and you were in a shootout for the Stanley Cup? What if you were a new Stepdad and spent most the time being constantly confused and bewildered?

What if we could bring dinosaurs back to life?

What if we could bring dinosaurs back to life?

All stories can start from there. All of them. What if Dinosaurs came back to life? Jurassic Park. What if a giant shark decided to attack a beach community? Jaws. What if there was a school for wizards and by writing about it, you could make billions of dollars? Harry Potter. What if women liked porn and bad writing? Fifty Shades of Grey.

See? If in doubt, start with what if.

#2 But where can you get the what if ideas? Try, Building Ideas With Memories. I call it mining your own life, but it’s the same thing. The-Youngest looked at what he did on vacation, what made him scared, what hobbies he had, what events in his life were important.

#3 Begin with Something Happening. In the case of The-Youngest, he had to follow “The night I followed the (blank), this happened”. So, “The night I followed the cat and the cat had to fight a dog.” Isn’t this the essence of how to get a story going? A character, in movement (following), another character, (a cat or turtle or bunny) when something happens.

So, what could happen in Minecraft? Or in an NHL game? Or to some poor stepdad who has no idea how to scorekeep?

After much thinking and talking with The-prettiest-girl-in-the-world, aka his mom, he settled on a minecraft story.

#4 Figure out who your good character is. Figure out your bad guy. What traits do they have? What defines them? Make notes.

Dark Knight succeeds mostly due to its characters

Dark Knight succeeds mostly due to its characters

All stories, yes, all stories, succeed or fail on their characters. Howard the Duck sucked so bad because, well, Howard the Duck sucked so bad. The Dark Knight succeeded because it had a tortured Batman and one of the greatest villains of all time, Heather Ledger’s Joker.

So, The-Youngest made himself a list of traits. (Interestingly enough, one trait was that the bad guy was good looking, while his good guy was ‘not good looking.’ Hmmmm. Interesting.

#5 When you write, use feeling words. It’s how we connect to the characters. We need to feel what they feel if we are to feel for them. Wait, does that make sense? It sounded good in my head, but whatever, think about how your character reacts to what happens. Not just physically, but emotionally. How does it affect them?

Annoyed. Scared. Disgusted.

He made a list.

#6 Use your senses. Smell. Taste. Sound. Sight. Touch.

This is to draw us into the world. A world with 5 senses becomes real. It becomes relatable. Now, I’m not sure he actually remembered this in his final draft, but it’s something to keep in mind when writing. Eating zombie flesh tastes yucky, right? Smells bad too, right? But how does it taste? How would it feel in your hands? What details are so totally gross that you can barely stand to look at it?

He may have forgotten about this one a bit. As do I.

#7 How does your story begin? How does it end?

I always know this, but I struggle with the middle. Still, as a learning tool, it’s vital. If you know where it starts, you can, uhm, you know, start, and if you know where the story is going, where it will end, you can throw things at the characters that prevent them from getting there. Until they do. The end.

#8 Then you write.

Seriously.

So he began with an idea.

What if someone hacked into his minecraft account and destroyed his valuable supply of diamonds, blocks of gold and stacks of ender pearls?

He worked on his characters, the good guys, Florence and Flo. He worked on his bad guys who had made a fatal mistake of leaving a small electronic trail F&F could follow and exact revenge.

He knew where he wanted to start, he used a few ‘feeling’ words, and he wrote a pretty damn good story.

It is here if you want to read it.

Nothing like a good minecraft story

Nothing like a good minecraft story

FLOYD AND FLORENCE’S MINECRAFT ADVENTURE

This is a story about how 2 cousins named Floyd and Florence helped the police capture Henry and Jerry. They are wanted all over canada for major robberies. Floyd is 15 and Florence is 12. Floyd is an expert minecrafter and Florence is a noob at the game. Florence is staying for the summer break at Floyds house.

 Floyd helped Florence make a tree house. Florence learned how to place a block, how to hit, how to move, how to mine and how to craft. Together they created a giant castle with a moat.They have 3 double chests full of diamond blocks. These are super hard to get.

One night when Floyd is out with Florence at mc donalds, SOMEONE BROKE IN TO Floyds back door and went straight after the computer. They put it in their bag and they left. Henry and Jerry (the bad guys) hacked into Floyds computer and got on their server. They destroyed Floyd and Florence’s castle but they accidently left a sign there saying where their campsite is on the server. Floyd and Florence were very upset at first but then remembered that they had a backup laptop hidden in the basement.

While Florence is asleep Floyd goes on to the backup computer and gets the server. He follows the sign Henry and Jerry put there and he finds their camp site and gets their stuff back. Floyd sets up a trap at the camp site so when they go in their big main shack it will blow up. The trap is also a virus. It tells the police where they live.

When the police get to Henry and Jerry’s they arrest them. They find $3,000,000 worth of stolen things. Floyd and Florence get rewarded $1,000,000 and really good laptops. Floyd and Florence bought a lot of NERF GUNS and video games. Their parents let them play Minecraft any time they wanted.

the end

I was so proud of him. The ending even made me laugh.

It’s amazing what your children can teach you. In this case, it was to remember, at the end of the day, a story is pretty simple (and writing one can even be fun!)

Stuck Writing? Try An Interview.

A quick post today. I wanted to share something I tried.

catzzHey, we all get stuck at some point. We reach a scene that just doesn’t work or a character that isn’t right, somehow, or some voice gets stuck in our head that says, go clean the spiders out the garage.

So, that happened to me yesterday. And the day before.

In both cases, I got out of my slump by harkening back to a book I read a while ago. Ok, to be honest, I was wondering around the office biting my fingernails and looking all writerly when I saw the book, but whatever. The book was The Weekend Novelist Writes A Mystery by Robert J.  Ray and Jack Remick

They argue that you should always start with your killer first. And one of the suggestions was interview your antagonist after he’s been caught.

So I took this idea a bit farther.

What if, when you got stuck on something, you stopped and did a quick interview? What if you didn’t just think of interviewing the antagonist? What if you looked at anything and everything? Like location.

hells kitchenLocation:

Me : “Hey, Hell’s Kitchen.”

“Sup bro.”

“Ah, yeah, listen, I don’t get you. Can you tell me something about yourself?”

“I ain’t what I used to be. Got the name from long ago. It kinda just stuck, you know.”

“So you’re not really all about kitchens or hell?”

“You want a punch in the face?”

“Not really, and at the risk of getting my nose mashed in, what do you smell like?”

“The fuck?”

“Seriously. What’s your most favourite smell?”

“Kabobs from the Afghan joint off of 9th. Red door. That smell of roasted meat and slightly burnt onions, it’s heaven.”

“So we’re going kitchen smells?”

“You want more? What about Wilo’s Flower Shop that’s at war with the hot dog vendor that parks his food cart right outside. Kinda hard to smell the roses, right?”

“Sure. I guess. Tell me about your favourite place.”

“Easy 39th st and 9th avenue.”

“What’s there?”

flea market“What’s not? It’s the world’s biggest flea market. Everything’s there. Reminds me of the old days when I was really called Hell’s Kitchen and not Clinton or Midtown West.”

“So you hate what people call you now?”

“Wouldn’t you? I got a proud heritage, you know. I been here a while and now, all of a sudden, people don’t call me by name, like there was something wrong with me, like they don’t love me no more.”

(This goes on for far too long so let me cut to the chase.)

However, by doing this I had several revelations.

First, I may need to see a psychiatrist.

Second, great writers make location a character and by chatting with Mr Kitchen, I began the thought process that lead me deeper into that part of NY.

Lastly, Hell’s Kitchen, AKA Clinton, seems a bit unsure of himself and yes, he’s a he. He’s also a bit of a jerk, and kind of unforgiving, you know, but he wants to avoid the future. Maybe he’s fighting against it in his own way.

So, could I use all this in a story?

You bet. I found that by talking to my city, I began to think about it on a whole new way. Not only did I find more intersesting places, but if you think about a place having a personality, then I would think the lights wouldn’t always work cuz the city’s a little pissed off. Or the sewer line constantly breaks. Or buildings have odd cracks.

I get this may not work for sane people, but hey, if you’re stuck, go interview someone or something. The hero’s car. The Antagonist’s mother. The dog who loves to poo on the victim’s lawn. The mail carrier who delivers mail.

Whatever.

It’s just a different way of getting a new way to look at something and maybe that look will inspire you to get bum back into chair and write.

Whadda think? Am I crazy?

The thrill of outlining – part 2

Karalee’s Post #62

I haven’t told my fellow 5Writers often enough that they are an inspiration to me, that they help me keep my life in perspective as they share their perspectives, and how important our group’s encouragement and sharing of information is a powerful source of positive energy that helps to keep me on my writing journey.

So, thank-you fellow 5Writers!

This blog came to be because over a year ago our group came to the conclusion that monthly critique meetings weren’t servicing our goals the way we had intended. Submitting 7500 words each was still a significant amount of critiquing for everyone, but was jerky progress at best in completing our individual novels in good time. For that reason we decided to challenge ourselves to work toward larger goals and come together as a group less frequently. Our blog was born as a surrogate meeting place and a way to share with our followers how our group works together.

All I can say is thank goodness for social media. As writers we hear that it is so important to be connected nowadays in order to market ourselves, but I feel it is also a very important medium to allow individual groups to stay connected. Writing doesn’t have to be a lonely occupation.

At present our goal is to come together this month and share our outlines for our next manuscript. To that end, I will continue my blog on that topic.

Outlining Part 2. The Middle.

outlining middlePart 1 addressed the overall story premise and jotting down four or five big moments in the plot line. If you really don’t write anything down you can keep all the information in your head instead, although I still consider this as a form of outlining as well. Actually, it’s a great exercise for the brain too and can possibly deter Alzheimer’s, but my brain doesn’t hold information for me like that.

I need to record things in order to remember details that must be consistent throughout my story. Brainstorming ideas can come from all directions and connect my characters and settings in ways that I hadn’t considered before and I easily forget the paths if I don’t write them down and I’d rather not miss the opportunity to make a good story great.

I also need reminders in front of me regarding key factors in the story that help keep me focused. As my story develops what I will tack to my wall is:

  • my story premise
  • protagonist and antagonist motives and desires (often what a character wants to do but can’t at this moment)
  • goal of the story
  • conflicts – major and minor
  • theme

More than likely when you are thinking about your story premise and big moments you will also  be thinking about what type of characters will play out the action.

This brings us to the next part of outlining.

The Middle

Characterization

This section is also super creative. You get to conjure up your characters using your own life experiences as well as drawing from a plethora of references available. These range from watching movies & documentaries, news stories, books on character development, applying enneagrams or personality or psychological profiles, researching history and cultures, taking relevant courses, visit your settings and experience them, people watching, and talking to strangers, teachers, and colleagues, etc.

At the same time you develop your characters, the settings they grew up in, moved away to, and live in now will also be coming to light as they are part of what makes up your characters too. 

While you start to understand who your characters are and note down your ideas (or log them in your brain), your story line is also burbling away as you envision what your characters are doing or need to do. Scenes start to emerge more clearly, filling in holes between your major big moments.

Some of these big moments might also shift and change, which is the beauty of thinking through your story before wasting huge chunks of time writing something that doesn’t work.

For me, drawing a big bubble map at this point helps me with my timeline and who is where doing what to whom. You may use a notebook split into sections, a writing software or a simple word document. Pictures are helpful as well both for settings and characters.

During all of this exciting and creative thinking and exploring time, you may be asking yourself where to start your opening chapter. I know this is always a huge issue for me when I start a new manuscript. The inciting incident must be established, but it doesn’t have to be at the starting gate. A key event must also happen that pushes your protagonist onto a path of no return. Before this course I wasn’t aware of the two as separate entities as they had worked together for me.

  • The inciting event is something that happens that “changes the world” in your story.
  • the key event brings the protagonist through to the “new world.”
  • the two can be the same event or separate. For example, if they are separate, the inciting event could be a major fire that destroys a neighborhood while the key event could be what brings your protagonist on scene, such as the discovery of an underground bunker full of stolen paintings. And of course, the antagonist will become involved as well through the stolen paintings in some way.

Your mind will keep throwing out ideas from all directions so I recommend to keep noting them down to be sorted at a later time.

Now back to characterization.

Your character’s history is really what has made him/her the person he/she is today. This means you need to know your character’s life over and above the details of DOB, physical characteristics, and where her/she was born and lived.

The rest is what is called backstory and is what makes your characters do interesting things for interesting reasons. It is through backstory that you discover your characters’ motivations, desires, internal conflicts, etc.

Backstory includes:

  • family, friends, colleagues, lovers – and how they have influenced your characters. What major incidents happened in your characters’ lives in childhood and onwards (good to note at milestone times) that shaped their motivations, desires, fears, strengths, weaknesses, etc.
  • time in history – present, past, future (understand the setting)
  • cultural influences. For example, understanding the culture is a good jumping point to go against the norm in a believable way and add conflict.
  • present profession and jobs leading up to what the characters do now
  • hobbies/interests
  • travel experiences
  • life-altering experiences – sickness, traumas, abuses, extreme weather events, but also acts of kindness, etc. too

The overall purpose of backstory is:

  • to weave in connection points in order for your reader to relate to your characters in some way either positively or negatively. It allows readers to understand where your character is coming from (motives, desires, fears, strengths) when he/she takes action, whether the action is as expected or unexpected. Here the cliche “show don’t tell” is helpful and information often can be given through dialogue rather than through narrative dumping. (this has been a hard lesson for me to learn.)
  • a source of inner conflict in your story
  • understand your characters arcs and how they can change in a believable way in your story

outline novel bookIn her book Outlining you Novel Map Your Way to Success, KM Weiland suggests a couple of ways to develop your characters:

  1. Start at the inciting event and work backwards to answer why your protagonist and antagonist would be affected and why will they do what they do in your story?
  2. Interview your character and ask oodles of questions such as those given in her book and her free online book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

Her website is helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/resourses/free-e-book.

Have fun developing interesting and memorable characters.

Happy outlining!

Crime of passion

crime_of_passion_ver2

Paula’s Post #57  Happy 5writers New Year’s Eve!

In yesterday’s post, The Top 10 Most Overlooked Emotions, my 5writer colleague Silk closed out the year with a thought-provoking commentary enumerating ten under utilized emotions writers may wish to consider when seeking motivation for their fictional characters.

I’m sure Silk’s outstanding post caused many of you, like me, to pause and reflect on your current work in progress. Did you find yourself examining your literary characters’ motivations and how these motivations relate to your plot and character development?

What’s the verdict?

In retrospect, did your protagonist’s emotions seem real and genuine? Believable? Likely to enthrall your readers and keep them flipping the pages into the wee hours of the night?

I hope so.

But what about your antagonist?

I think we can all agree that here is where the real fun starts. If we 5writers learned anything this past year or so it is that we had a whole lot more fun with our antagonists than with our protagonists.

Many of you have been fortunate enough to attend a seminar, workshop or lecture given by literary agent and writing guru Donald Maass, the author of several bestselling books on the craft of writing including Writing the Breakout Novel, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook and The Fire in Fiction, all available from Amazon.

If you’ve ever attended one of Mr. Maass’ workshops, you’re familiar with his oft asked question:

What could cause your villain to care deeply enough to… ________”

Go ahead. You fill in the blank.

Right about now, I can see you thinking about your carefully constructed character sketches… your convoluted plot… wondering if you’ve imbued your protagonist and/or antagonist with sufficient emotional triggers to carry your story.

If you’re writing a murder mystery, or even a thriller, your plot may revolve around a: ‘crime of passion’: the name given to any crime committed under circumstances that involve the compelling emotion of the perpetrator.

One usually thinks of murder or at least assault causing grievous bodily harm.  The ‘Love Kills’ garden variety type of crime where a jealous cuckolded husband takes revenge on the adulterous couple.

But even here, isn’t the writers’ magnifying lens required to determine the actual emotion at play? Did jealously provoke the act? Humiliation? Rage? Overwhelming feelings of inadequacy? What is the triggering emotion that caused such a loss of control? Some component of anger for sure, but here, the subtle differences are the writers’ paintbrush.

Take a closer look at the definition: ‘the compelling emotion of the perpetrator”.

No where is the word jealousy used. You, the author, have free rein here. Your imagination and the endless reach of the internet your very best friends. Check it out yourself by googling “crimes of passion” or better yet “odd crimes of passion” or even “bizarre crimes of passion”.

Having fun yet?

Getting some good ideas?

I mean come on! Who can forget the headline grabbing accounts of Lorena Bobbitt’s bizarre attack on her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt in 1993?

If you clicked on the “bizarre attack” above, you’ll notice that I’ve linked back to the Wikipedia account of the crime. I can already see some of you frowning. She does her research on Wikipedia? Seriously? ‘Lightweight’ you mutter under your breath.

But stop and think about it for a moment – if you’re seeking inspiration, if you’re writing fiction, does your source research need to be completely accurate? Isn’t it more important that it just be believable, or better yet entertaining? Your not writing a scholarly treatise here, you’re looking for inspiration.

In the Bobbitt case, I have no idea whether the contributors to the above wiki are correct or not when they report:

“After the incident, John Wayne Bobbitt attempted to generate money from his notoriety in a number of ways. He formed a band, The Severed Parts, to pay his mounting medical and legal bills, though the band was unsuccessful and failed to generate enough money.[12] In 1994, John appeared in the  John Wayne Bobbitt: Uncut, in another attempt to make money. In 1996, he appeared in another adult film, Frankenpenis (also known as John Wayne Bobbitt’s Frankenpenis).”

Frankenpenis?

Seriously? Is that true? The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) says it is, but who cares?

Yes, who cares!

I could go on forever with examples mined from the internet, but the point I’m trying to make is that perhaps for many of us, our background and training has fettered the way in which we approach our fiction. Are we too logical? Too dispassionate in our research?

Have you fallen into this trap?

If we writers spend too much time researching dates and places and facts and figures, if we get bogged down in a futile attempt to probe too deeply into the soundness of scientific theory, are we not perhaps missing out on the opportunity to entertain our readers?

If you’re a fan of Tom Clancy’s techno-thrillers, I can already hear you grumbling. But just for fun, give it a try for yourself.

My challenge, for this last post of 2013 is to ask each of you to do a little internet surfing of your own. Research the phrase ‘Crime of Passion’ or some variant thereof. Mine one or two little gems from the internet and concoct your own ‘pitch’ for a story.

A one line story idea that sparks your imagination. I cannot tell a lie, I got the ‘one sentence’ idea from onesentence.org a fabulous site inspired by the concept of brevity. The idea that most of the best stories that we tell from our lives have one really, really good part that make the rest of the boring story worth it.

So, have some fun. Think up a crazy crime of passion. Tell us the story in just one sentence. Maybe you’ll find your inspiration on the internet, maybe in one of Silk’s 10 most overlooked emotions.  Don’t be shy. Post it below! A real writer could never resist this challenge.

Happy 5writers New Year!

Writers, what are the stakes when you torture your characters?

Karalee’s Post #39

Silk posed the question “Why do we torture our heroes?”

Everyone in our group wrote a manuscript that did just that, but some were much better than others. Myself, I tortured poor Karla until she appeared a victim. Other 5Writers tortured their characters with moral dilemmas, and other characters went on quests with an extraordinary amount of adventure that demanded that they rise to challenges at such an extent that there was no time for the reader to breathe in the middle. We all went to the extreme, exposing our inner writer’s mind to our group to see what worked and what didn’t.

Over the last week I’ve reflected on the input from my fellow 5Writers. I purposely set out to have my main protagonist have a history of fears, experiences, and a cultural background that would effect her reactions in her job as a detective and challenge her to rise above them. Alas, I failed.

Why?

1. I had the villain so smart that I didn’t have my detective working the way she should have to reveal her fears and flaws that would demand her to make difficult decisions. Ultimately these decisions would have made her grow and change.

2. I didn’t make my protagonist’s personal stakes clear. I need to choose one or two challenges for my protagonist and have her work through these and not address everything in her life in one book! In other words, I can make my life as a writer easier by being less complicated. The KISS principle would serve me well.

My mind has been busy while I’ve weeded my garden and looked after the family. I’ve asked myself, what are the stakes writers challenge their characters with? To me there are three kinds:

  • Physical: life and death, get from A to B before C happens, perform an seemingly insurmountable feat, or even hold back doing something that he/she would normally do
  • Emotional:  overcoming fear, weaknesses, prejudices, pain, anxieties
  • Moral issues: never do harm to others, stealing, trust issues, honesty issues, society beliefs, religious/spiritual beliefs

That said, I need to start my rewrite by immersing myself both in my villain’s and my protagonist’s heads again (read bios thoroughly and make changes) and choose the stakes that are best reflected in my story. And ideally, the decisions my protagonist and antagonist make would also reflect the story theme.

Then back to the outline and rework the story.

I do remember in a previous post that I said that I enjoy revisions. It’s a good thing since this rewrite demands plot and character changes.

Beyond a doubt I have great faith that my characters will rise to their challenges.

Happy rewrites.

Two for the price of one

Karalee’s Post #37 — Sometimes a bargain isn’t a bargain. Don’t we all have those clothes in the closet that we’ve bought but never worn and tossed out without even removing the price tags? But hey, they were two for the price of one….

The comments I received from my critique today weren’t unexpected. As I had written in a previous post running up to this critique week, I had concerns about my protagonist and antagonist vying for equal attention.

Today I had unanimous feedback: I had written two books, not one!

I had been so clever in hiding all my villain’s villainous activities that my detective had nothing to detect. That was my struggle in writing this novel as well, and I certainly wasn’t able to hide that from my wonderful 5Writers.

So here I am with two books, and not to my surprise, the antagonist won as the more compelling story, or should I say, had a story to tell. My weaknesses show like red flags in a hurricane, but my strengths do too. I had a lot of fun writing the villainous parts while I struggled with my detective detecting parts and it showed.

In general my characters need to be fleshed out more and have higher personal stakes. Sounds simple if typed quickly, but creating characters is not an easy job.

A adult character comes on stage fully mature with all his life’s experiences making him what he (or she) is. The author (me) must have concocted the character’s complete family/friend/school/professional/cultural/global background, and then only let out bits like releasing steam from a pressure cooker. The character’s personal information must not be too much at once and take away from the action, and it must also be relevant in the context of the scene and be personal and believable to the character.

Oh did I mention that the plot must pushed along too? 

It’s not an easy task, but when it happens it is pure magic.

And that’s the magic I want in my writing. 

This is my first draft of a book that has a strong and unique premise. Now I need to look at it like one does at the stalls in a flea market and pick and choose what to purchase and what to walk away from in order to create a manuscript that will keep readers up all night. 

Fortunately there are fixes for every problem and the brainstorming among our group was invaluable to me. I’m off with fresh ideas and my delete button will be busy in the coming weeks. My fingers will also be flying on the keyboard creating a new maze to be unraveled.

And that’s why I feel blessed to be part of this group that is helping me (and each other) on our journeys to be the best writers we can be.

Happy rewriting!

When writers need an uplift

Karalee’s Post #32

I did something for myself this weekend and registered for a Writer’s Digest University course called ‘The Agent One-on-One: Your First Ten Pages Boot Camp.

Now why would I do this right at crunch time before our writer’s group final FINAL deadline of May 15, 2013? It certainly isn’t because I’ve finished and have time to twiddle my thumbs. It’s because I needed it and it felt right.

I needed a break from:

  • being inside my head in a fictitious world for too long and starting to emulate my protagonist in my real life. Who wants a cop for a mom, a  wife, or a friend, especially a fictitious one that needs to run to the Internet to study up on proper protocol? Although, I must confess to being a great shot with guns in the little experience I’ve had, and if my husband bought me a RCMP uniform I might wear it for him…. 
  • worrying that my writing isn’t good enough. Although I may sound brave and confident about my writing, and brag that living on a sailboat depressed with three kids and a husband surviving storms and night crossings is easier than finding an agent, I’m not too sure….
  • being anxious about meeting the deadline with a complete manuscript ready for my group to critique. I might make it, I might not, but the most important thing is to have a story I’m loving and having it come together. I must say that I am loving the process and I do think I have a story worth publishing. It may take a little longer to get to The End, but hey, Helga and I edit as we go, so our rewrites should be less. Right? Maybe?
  • I’m  VIP member so I got 10% off. Hey, it all helps.
  • cleaning house sucks. I needed a break from routine.

This weekend break came at the right time and my confidence is boosted. Not only do I now know beyond a doubt that I can sign in to an on-line course and download seminars and connect to forums even with my computer-technical-savvy husband out of town on a business trip, I also got great feedback on my first 10 pages! (That does deserve an exclamation mark.)

Did I say great?

I was assigned to have Gina Panettieri, President of Talcott Notch Literary Services to read my first 10 pages that I had to submit by 10 a.m. EST  on Saturday.  Within 24 hours  comments were to be sent back. I won’t expand on the comments here in detail as it would interfere with my writer’s groups’ critiques, but I’ll overview them.

Gina sent my comments in the standard Writer’s Digest format:

  1. Strengths. In  general both my pace and character development were strong and and the reader would want to keep reading. (This deserves many exclamation marks, but I will refrain myself.)
  2. Issues. It’s best not to use the Hells Angels gang since publishers probably won’t embrace it. Use a fictitious gang name. (easy fix) The first scenario with my villain  needs to be tighter (less risk to be caught) and a minor character needs to act more in character. (another quick fix) And lastly, my dialogue in a couple of places could be less repetitive. (another quick fix) And that was it! I was over-the-moon-happy that there weren’t major flaws that would have me rewriting my entire plot line.
  3. Next Steps. Basically fixing the above issues.

The best news is, that at the end of Gina’s comments she wrote:

  • You’re off to a great start! I look forward to seeing your revisions and working more with your pages! Gina

Did you see the word ‘great’ in there? Not just good or interesting, but great! Complete with two exclamation marks too?

Now that in itself is enough to get me pumped about my writing and jumping back in my head and embrace having my protagonist and villain take over my life again.

But the workshop isn’t over yet. On Sunday between 1:00 and 4:00 EST all the agents at the workshop were available on Blackboard to answer any questions about our 10 pages or about other writing issues such as what publishers are looking for, etc.

Then after the forum, I had until 10 p.m. EST Sunday to resubmit my first 10 pages with all my fixes for Gina to re-read.

I will hear back by Friday, May 3rd. If Gina or any of the other agents are interested in my writing and the premise of my book, they can request for me to send them more pages. 

Who knows what will happen, but the weekend was what I needed to keep my enthusiasm keen.

Not only did it feel good, it was good!

Happy writing.

My villainous day

the-villain

Credit: iStock licensed image

Silk’s Post #32 — I love him. I love him not. I love him. I love him not. I love him. I love him not.

Really. I love him not. Or maybe her. I’m not ready to tell you that yet.

I’m talking about my antagonist. My villain. My thing that goes bump in the night.

I spent the entire day today with my antagonist. Cooped up with a twisted character, an evil presence. I’m happy to report that I don’t like my villain very much, and I hope you won’t either.

One may smile, and smile, and be a villain.
— William Shakespeare

I’m lying, of course. (I learned that from my antagonist.)

I actually love my bad guy. Or gal. Why? Deeply flawed characters have to be very complex, or at least that’s how I like them best. They’re so fascinating. Delving into the psyche of a villain is like descending into a scary, but fantastic, hypnotic and awesome cave. We keep going down because we can. We just hope we can get back up again.

History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts.
— Ian Fleming

Pure evil isn’t really all that interesting. It’s just the reverse of pure good, which is also not very entertaining, as admirable as it may be. It’s the messiness, the illogic, the unique way in which the antagonist is broken, distorted, unpredictable that makes him or her so fascinating.

Things were easier for the old novelists who saw people all of a piece. Speaking generally, their heroes were good through and through, their villains wholly bad.
— W. Somerset Maugham

After all, there are limited ways a character can be “good.” Goodness can be quirkily flawed, but it has to remain within rather narrow moral, emotional and behavioural parameters. I think that’s what makes it challenging to come up with truly interesting, memorable and relatable protagonists, as Helga discussed in her last post, “A Grimm Tale”. After all, we do have to like the protagonist. Otherwise we won’t care what happens to him or her.

But there seem to be no limits to the devious ways a character can be “bad.” First of all we don’t have to like them. That certainly opens the floodgates! In fact, we have to have negative feelings about them. Disgust. Hate. Fear. Anger. All powerful stuff. This gives the writer virtual carte blanche on creativity.

I love to make even villains people you can relate to. When you find out who did it, I think you almost like the person, which is not easy to do.
— Harlen Coben

The most horrific monster is both a victimizer and a victim. We do have to relate to the bad guy, too. That’s where one of the most important feelings of all – pity – comes in to play. When a writer can reveal the painful story of how a villain became so warped, what awful background made the apple rotten, we feel the tragedy more deeply. We see the buried, tortured spark of humanity, the good character that the antagonist might have become if only … if only … and we despair.

Nothing is more dramatic, more affecting, than the fall from grace. It’s so central to virtually every creation legend.

So, no wonder we love to hate our monsters.

In the old days, villains had moustaches and kicked the dog. Audiences are smarter today. They don’t want their villain to be thrown at them with green limelight on his face. They want an ordinary human being with failings.
— Alfred Hitchcock

But back to my monster. He, or she, has been mocking me all day. Just when I thought I knew why my villain acted in a certain way, every time I tried to connect the story background to the story foreground, some piece would slip out of place. The bottom line is that I “get” my antagonist. I know his or her damaged psyche, motivation, frightening capabilities. But I haven’t yet totally integrated these into the plot.

Red Riding Hood has met the wolf. I just haven’t quite figured out what the wolf’s plan is.

And in the end, maybe his, or her, plan is just to act like a wolf. We think everything has to make sense. (Or I tend to, at least.) But with an antagonist, we can sometimes break that rule.

As for an authentic villain, the real thing, the absolute, the artist, one rarely meets him even once in a lifetime. The ordinary bad hat is always in part a decent fellow.
— Colette

Remember the famous story of the scorpion who hitches a ride across the river on the alligator’s back? Halfway across, the scorpion stings the alligator and they both drown, but not before the alligator, completely befuddled, asks the scorpion: why, why why? The scorpion says: Because I’m a scorpion. It’s just in my nature.

That’s what I’ve been battling my antagonist about all day today. I keep wanting to make my villain conform to logic. Make sense. He, or she, keeps telling me: I’m crazy, you dumb b*tch of a writer! I don’t have to conform to your girl scout, two-plus-two-equals-four, sappy f*cking logic! You’ve never been down here in hell with me, so stop trying to tell me what to do!

And it’s true.

He, or she, wins.

The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture.
— Alfred Hitchcock