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Category Archives: Writing

Hooking the Reader

Hooking the Reader

When asked “What does it take to force a reader to read?” …

I don’t like that word “forced”. To force them is to kidnap them, kicking and screaming, dragging them someplace they don’t want to go.

Instead, I prefer to trick the reader. Lure them in with a pretty cover, a sexy title; then hook them with the very first sentence, a sentence that would keep them up at night staring at the ceiling, if they didn’t continue reading. Now you’ve got them–and under their own power.

The challenge is: you have to deliver on the promise of that first sentence. Not only does the story itself have to pull them into your world, you have to keep throwing more “hook” sentences out there at sneakiest moments. Like at the ends of chapters, or in quiet moments when they think everything is okay again.

But it’s never okay! Bwahahahaha!

You have to put the reader in the hot seat, make them realize: These characters they’ve fallen in love with will not survive without the real hero–the reader–getting them safely to the end of the story.

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2019 in Blog, Fiction, Writing

 

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The Purpose of Backstory

The Purpose of Backstory

My short answer to a recent writing site prompt asking, “What is the purpose of backstory.”

For me, there’s two flavors of backstory…

If the backstory is part of the story, then it is where the hero’s Problem lurks, the one they trip over in the inciting incident and must battle throughout the story, until they finally see it and stomp on it in the end. Although stories seem to be about a battle with the Antagonist, in the end it is usually winning the battle with some part of themselves that allows them to win against the bad guy.

If the backstory is not shown to the reader, then it’s often used as a bible of sorts for the writer to follow to inform who their character is as a three-dimensional, fallible–and often broken–person. It helps them know what their character will do and feel in any situation the writer throws them into.

It pays to get to know your characters from beginning to end. The more “alive” they are, the more they will bring your stories to life, too.

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2019 in Blog, Fiction, Process, Writing

 

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Favorite Starts

Favorite Starts

(A response to the prompt “What’s your favorite way to start writing?” when you don’t know what the story is yet.)

Although it doesn’t often work out this way, the most enjoyable part of my writing process happens when I’m scribbling longhand in a notebook somewhere pretty outdoors, about whatever I find interesting or silly or disconcerting at that moment, until … an idea forms. Excited by the possibilities, I continue scribbling until a story begins to evolve. Eventually, witnesses will report a crazy person running home to the computer to see where the ideas take her.

For me, paper is slow and good for thinking;
The keyboard is fast and good for writing.

You might want to try this yourself if your ideas have difficulties gestating. Perhaps it will work for you, too. Tell the police I put you up to it.

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2019 in Blog, Process, Writing

 

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The Job versus The Dream

The Job versus The Dream

How many of you find yourself in this place: Trying to figure out if your Dream Job is more a job than a dream?

I know, it’s a silly question really … unless you’re a college student wrestling with her choice of major. Or a writer wondering if she truly wants to court MGM … or Barnes and Noble. Hollywood or New York. Movies or books. Working for someone else (a Job) or in my coffee shop (a Dream).

I’ve been paddling around in this boat, seemingly in circles, as the current of time pulls me inexorably into my senior year in college, and my life into that phase where it’s either put up, or shut up.

Most of my life I’ve spent outlining, pondering, daydreaming, brainstorming, scribbling, writing, revising and agonizing over stories I thought would one day become novels. It’s what I’ve known since I was a wee tykette, after discovering  libraries as safe havens for geeks, where bullies feared to tread (all that knowledge threatening to dissolve the ignorance that made them who they are).

My eyes glittering, surrounded by endless shelves of books, each one full of . . . Potential: knowledge and experience and stories my quiet little life had never dreamt of. I began to consume books like potato chips.

The science fiction and fantasy section was an especially tasty place to begin ingesting the material in that place, but then I branched out to other parts of the Dewey Decimal System when I found a plethora of other fun things to learn, things that made my classes at the time seem horribly boring in comparison (I’ll never understand how public education manages to make something like History so indigestible). I would inexpertly regurgitate bits of things I’d learned on my own, as little stories in the margins of spiral notebooks meant for more academic scribblings–then full sections in the back when the margins became too constricting.

I got hooked on writing very early. But did I ever decide what I would ever do with it? What industry, if any, would I pursue with this practice? How would I apply myself?

Like I mentioned, the novel had always been my default target, simply because it was what I’d known. It wasn’t until well-meaning peers and fellow students started reading my stuff and commented on the how “visual” the scenes were that I began to consider switching to moviemaking. What an intriguing idea . . . !

Several years ago I actually finished one of the many story ideas I’ve been collecting (I counted 98 separate story folders on my hard drive recently) as an actual “Novel” . . . (wake and cue orchestra). It became a 650 page monster, full of quirky fun dastardly bastards and unappreciated heroes. My first readers seemed to love the thing, but it was far too big for a first time author to publish. I marked it down as a practice exercise, shelved it and moved on.

Then came this new love affair with the movie genre and all its lovely constriction: 120 pages maximum (unless you’re Kevin Kostner), one page per minute of movie time, no internal thoughts, everything is visual, out in the open. I thought to myself (rather unvisually), “there’s what I need to battle my page-monsters! I’ll write movies!”; the constrictions of the form actually turning me on.

I worked my way through an Associates degree with that idea in mind, then my Junior year, proudly proclaiming myself a Film major. I was ready to write a dozen Blockbusters all by myself, once I truly learned how.

Only it’s not quite that simple. If it ever was …

Everything in life has a trade off. This one has a doozie: When you work in film, you can make a boatload of money, if you’re a success, but you don’t get to call any shots. Not one.

The moment you write a story and sell it in Hollywood, it’s not yours anymore. Unless your name holds a ton of cred, like perhaps Stephen King–and even he has horror stories of his own with Hollywood, which I find deliciously ironic–you lose any right to the story. You typically lose any revising rights, as well. If you’re smart, you turn your back on the story altogether, because Hollywood loves to rewrite, repurpose, revamp, reimagine . . . until the original story can no longer be resuscitated.

Very few stories make it through Hollywood intact, unless the story has already grabbed up a serious cult following in the form of . . . wait for it . . . a novel!

Think J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkein, or PG Wodehouse (and most of Stephen King). New authors, like myself, won’t be found on that list … yet. We’re on that other list, the one that’s titled “bend over and get ready for unwanted collaborationism.”

Hollywood is a hugely collaborative industry. Everyone who has anything to do with a movie (look at the credits … there are thousands!) has an opportunity to tweak the story, if not grab a pipe wrench and twist it into something else entirely.

Novelists, on the other hand, get to call all the shots. Sure, they make far less money generally. “You can’t make a living writing books – but you can make a killing,” I’ve heard said (anyone know by whom?). But when I write one it stays written. And I don’t have to move to L.A., where you basically must live to make it as a screenwriter. When would I have time to write if I’m stuck in traffic all the time?

So, here I am, asking myself the Big Question: Is Film really where I want to be? I have a year to figure it out. In the meantime, I’ll be here in my coffee shop, writing … something. A good story, I hope.

A good story will work anywhere.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2015 in Blog, Memoir, Writing

 

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Where the Words Have Gone . . .

This is a response to a writers prompt that I found particularly apropos at this moment in time, when I feel I have been suffering from not writing. The prompt is from How to Tame a Wild Tongue by Gloria Anzaldua, who asks you to define your “native tongue,” the voice by which you speak–or, in my case, write.

There are other tongues we use in other situations. Sometimes they don’t get along with each other. This is their story . . .

I find my native tongue when I’m writing most freely. When I feel I have nothing to say, consciously, but the words flow from my fingers faster than I can barely keep up with. This is when I feel like I am but a channel for my writing, as if I am a secretary for a Universe of Creativity that I have the privilege of serving, when I can.

This is also the part of me I miss the most when I have to switch “tongues,” forced by my classes to write essay, or delve into that very PhD-ness of regurgitated research writing that I so despise, where the beautiful pictures in my head dim and go out in a fizzle of inauthenticity. I feel as if creativity is at an all time low at these times, but since I’m forced to do it by instructor decree, I put myself to it—after a spate of severe procrastination, during which I can do no writing at all.

At these times, I feel as if my mind is forcing itself into a place, changing its complete paradigm, to become something else, something foreign. If I try to write in my “native tongue” during this time, I’m conflicted by the stress of the deadline to write in that strange unwanted place instead. Words of my own choosing will not come, my mind is still reeling attempting to spin up enthusiasm to do this horrible bidding. Instead of simply getting it over with, the horror of writing from this unknown place makes me find ways to hide from it, to do anything but that. Only sheer panic and a deadline less than a day hence will force me to get through that gauntlet and get the work done, only to spend days recovering my voice, my tongue again, though it feels diminished from the stress of it.

My native tongue is light, silly, hopefully funny to others—if I can manage it. Often I need to find others’ voices, funny light voices to read in print to remind me of my own, to give me dungeonpermission to write in my own voice again, a voice I’ve hidden away safely in a dungeon until the natural cataclysm of the essay or research paper has passed.

Seeing it this way I think it must be a sensitive thing, something I must protect at all cost. I would have thought this would bring on castle-thick stone walls of writers block that I would have to scale to … but I’ve never allowed myself to believe in writers’ block. It’s more a writers’ avoidance, avoidance of the chair in which I sit to write. I know once I sit there my fingers will find something to do. But will it be worthy?

That worthiness to write, to channel the creativity I most yearn for … THAT is the thing that will keep me from sitting down. From starting.

I am in that place now. I will make a pilgrimage to the library, I will find a book by Jenny Lawson or David Sedaris and let them lead me back to my native tongue, that silly place where my creativity resides. I will lock my essayists brain in the dungeon instead, where it belongs.

The creative universe calls to me.

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2015 in Blog, Memoir, Writing

 

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Being Fearless at University @ #FearlessPSU

Being Fearless at University @ #FearlessPSU

My awesome university, the one that is helping me to reinvent my life–to finally follow my passion as a writer–is hosting a contest to celebrate fearlessness on campus. It’s a lovely campaign to instill pride in our strive, to recognize in ourselves that we can follow our dreams and succeed, that we can be the best possible version of ourselves if we but believe in ourselves.

For my part, going back to college is the keystone of a lifelong passion to write, a dream that once sat on a shelf to make room for a career that seemed more “successful,” but was not my dream. Thanks to another hiccup in my life (which I don’t want to talk about . . . yet), all kinds of wondrous things spilled out of my heart to be collected, rediscovered and placed back in the focus where they belong.

Writing is my passion, my dream. It is who I am. I am fearlessly, doggedly reaching for that dream again. There is no more motivating place to do this than on a campus surrounded by thousands of people following their dreams. It is here where my mentors and teachers and peers come to goad and teach and learn their craft. It is here where my dream will take shape.

Help us celebrate our fearlessness. Visit www.fearlesspsu.com and click like for those of us who are making our dreams come true. (And here is mine). =)

Perhaps we can inspire you to find the life you’ve always wanted, too. Join us on a campus near you!

There’s room for everyone’s dreams.

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2015 in Blog, Memoir, Writing

 

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