Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Gift of Story

My favorite thing to do around the holiday season is to curl up with a great story. Winter seems to lend itself to it -- bathrobes and wassail and Christmas cookies... and books.

To me, it's a great gift to be able to read certain stories over and over, personal classics, and also to find new ones to add to my canon. So, I love to give books and films as gifts!

There are four types of stories (as discussed in Tell Me a Story by Daniel Taylor):

There are four types of stories: bent, broken, whole, and healing.

A. Bent stories portray evil as good, and good as evil.  Such stories are meant to
enhance the evil tendencies of the reader, such as pornography and many horror
books and movies. The best decision regarding Bent stories is to avoid them like
the plague.

B. Broken stories portray evil as evil and good as good, but evil wins.  Something is
broken, not right, in need of fixing.  Such books are not uplifting, but can be very
inspiring.  Broken stories can be very good for the reader if they motivate him or
her to heal them, to fix them.  The Communist Manifesto is a broken classic; so
are The Lord of the Flies and 1984.  In each of these, evil wins; but they can be
very motivating to because people often have felt a real need to help reverse their
messages in the real world.

C. Whole stories are where good is good and good wins.  Most of the classics are in
this category.  Readers should spend most of their time in such works.

D. Healing stories can be either Whole or Broken stories where the reader is
profoundly moved, changed, and significantly improved by his reading

Remember, that as writers, we have the incredible opportunity to create and give the gift of story--a story that can delight or even ignite change in the heart of the reader. So write your gift today, and offer someone the healing power of your story. You are needed to help someone through her day...or her life!

Write on!
Amber M

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Going-Back-to-the-Beginning Syndrome

I’m reading a good book called “The Plot Whisperer” by Martha Alderson. She brings out an interesting phenomenon called Going-Back-to-the-Beginning Syndrome.

I’ll bet you can guess what that is.

We get a new story idea and off we go. However, after completing a few chapters, we realize the beginning needs work. So we go back and work on it.


And again.

And again.

Months or years slip by. The novel never progresses.

Why do we continually migrate back?

Of course there’s procrastination and perfectionism, but those are caused by psychological road-blocks. Would you like to hear a few? (I'm paraphrasing from "The Plot Whisperer".)

  1. The beginning of the project is introductory. We present the setting, the characters, the mood, the issues and all the other important dynamics of the story. We are in control—and being in control at the beginning sounds far superior to being out of control in the middle and the end, places where you must dig deeply into emotions.
  2. In the middle of a story, things get messy as the relationships between the characters develop. Scenes show them as they truly are—warts and all. For writers who like things nice and neat, the middle is an uncomfortable place to linger. It’s much nicer to return to familiar territory.
  3. Going back over what you have already written is easier than coming up with something new.
  4. The middle of the story requires twice as many scenes as the beginning or the end. Each scene in the middle shows, on a progressively deeper level, who the character truly is. If that’s not hard, I don’t know what is.
  5. The energy throughout the middle is more intense than in the beginning, because the protagonist is more rigorously blocked from reaching his/her goals.
  6. Bad things happen in the middle. If you’re in love with your characters, you’ll instinctively be reluctant to let any of these things happen.
       In real life, many of us shy away from disaster and drastic upheaval in order to protect ourselves from deep loss. We don’t want to treat our characters any differently. Once things get rough, we long for the good old days at the beginning of our story, where things were smooth, happy, and superficial.

What can we do about it?

  1. Stop worrying. It won’t be perfect the first time. Writing a “slop-on-the-page” rough draft is preferable to no progression.
  2. Identify your writing strengths and weaknesses. Take a few minutes and think. What makes you love writing? What makes you hate it? What freezes you up? If you can figure it out, you can make a plan of attack. See: 
  3. Use discipline and structure. Compensate for your weaknesses and embrace your strengths.
  4. Start writing whatever words come to you. That’s why you started writing in the first place, isn't it – taking an enthralling thought and putting it on the page?
  5. Push forward, even (and especially) when the writing gets uncomfortable.
  6. Follow through to the end. Until you write the entire story, you do not know what belongs to the beginning. Once the skeleton is in place, you can stand back and see the story in a new light. One benefit of writing a truly awful, lousy, no good first draft is that it can only get better from there.
Not much beats a first full draft, even though it's so raw it’s crawling with flies.

However, it’s there. It’s created.

Yes, it’s begging you to get a it personal trainer and a serious make-up job.

So onward. No more excuses. No more working on the same portion for ten years. Embrace the muscle-tightening terror of the murky middle and, if you’re crazy enough, do a NaNoWriMo and press through. The rewards are worth it.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and FINISH that story! 

Monday, November 12, 2012


Hey, It's your cabin girl again, and it's my week to post. I'm actually posting early in the week because I really have something to post about.

So, last summer, I decided to try co-writing something with my friend, Carina Aldrich. We started it just after I got home from Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers. And I'm almost surprised, but it actually worked. We finished it on election day, all ninety-something thousand words of it. And the plot holds together wonderfully, better than any of the plots in my other stories. It's a paranormal dystopian spy story, heavy on the dystopian-spy part, with only a little paranormal.

One thing that made it easier was that our minds work almost exactly alike. Before we even knew each other very well, we would accidentally say something at exactly the same time. It got kind of scary, actually. Another thing that helped was that we live only a few houses away from each other. We're also both on our emails all the time, so communication was reasonably easy. Even at eleven o'clock at night.

We had a wonderfully loyal test reader who helped Carina pester me to write whatever part I was writing next. Because where Carina would always have her chapter done a day after I sent her mine, I would take up to two weeks on my chapter. Our wonderfully loyal test reader also proved to drive us up the wall by guessing exactly who was going to die and constantly calling our plot twists. 

The writing part worked well, because Carina's better at female pov characters, and I prefer writing from male pov. So since we had one main character of each gender, we just each took the pov most comfortable for us, and alternated chapters between them. My character was more the main character of this story, but when we eventually write a sequel, if we eventually write a sequel, her character will take center stage.

So, here's what I learned about co-writing:

The great stuff about it:
-You have someone else who cares about the story and the characters as much as you do.
-You can bounce ideas off of each other and work out plot problems three times as easily as on your own.
-You have someone to tell you honestly when the chapter you've just written stinks and you need to fix it.
-If the other person has a job and you don't, you have someone to buy you ice cream.
-You only have to write half of the scenes.
-When you get stuck, the other person pesters you and gives suggestions.

The less great stuff about it:
-Killing characters hurts more.
-Petty revenge on your test reader becomes a serious and amusing possibility.
-You end up wanting to kill each other. (Actually,  I think it was Carina mostly wanting to kill me).
-The story doesn't feel like something that is yours as much as it does when you write it on your own.
-When you get stuck, instead of sympathy, you get pestered.

And here's some of the other things I learned.
-Carina likes to temporarily kill her main character, no matter what she's writing. Every. Single. Time.
-Flying trains are just not cool enough to be covered by the rule of awesome
-Even mint chocolate-chip ice cream can be ruined forever.
-When Indians (from India, not America) get married, they only get a party if it was an arranged marriage
-Do not name one of your characters something that sounds like a common object you see every day, and then kill that character.
-I cannot write on demand. At all. It ends up horrible when I try.
-laughing gas is very deadly
-I am good at writing torture scenes. And I instinctively know how to brainwash people.
-Do not write what you dream. Make your co-writer write what you dream, because then it won't be so cheesy.
-My pov character is pretty cool when he's depressed, but really weird when he's happy.
-When your test-reader figures out your plot twists BEFORE you do, you want to kill them, or at least get some sort of petty revenge on them. 
-Petty revenge is a whole lot of fun.
-Ice cream fixes everything. Unless it's mint chocolate-chip ice cream. Don't even mention that.
-The worst thing that can possibly happen after killing your comic relief character is to realize that he had a wife and kids.
-I have a bad habit of systematically making my main character destroy everything they care about, mostly by coincidence and bad luck. (although I should have known this one already).
-I should not write dystopia. Because of the torture thing. It's just too easy with evil governments.
-I honestly can't face the death of my characters. The only scene I wrote in which a character actually died was from that character's point of view and the other characters didn't know he was dead yet. He didn't even know he was dying.
-Co-writing takes a lot of energy, a lot of tears, a lot of near-murder, and a lot of work. We are not going to write that sequel for a LONG time.

But overall, it was great. Another manuscript completed is one step closer to getting published! And working with Carina was far too much fun, even if it was emotionally taxing for both of us. We'll get to that sequel eventually. Someday. Maybe.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Saturday, November 3, 2012

More than Wires and Lights

"This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference.”
-Edward R. Murrow

Two things happened this week that have converged in my mind.

Disney bought Lucasfilm.

I watched the film, "Good Night and Good Luck."

In "Good Night and Good Luck," broadcast journalist Ed Murrow takes on Senator McCarthy at the height of the Commie-Terrorist-Witch hunts in the 1950's, much to the dismay of Mr. Murrow's boss at CBS. "People want entertainment, not a civics lesson," CBS executive Mr. Paley says. "You're losing your sponsors. Keep this up and one is going to buy advertising time on your show." But Mr. Murrow believes that television should be more than flickering lights in a box. It can educate. It can inform. There are people out there who really want to know what's going on, not some sugar-coated, totally-balanced, everybody's right version. There is evil in the world, and if people don't stand up to it then others will suffer.

Mr. Murrow's boss never censored the content of Mr. Murrow's show. A whole generation of Americans that were being terrorized by the same sort of fear that kept citizens in Communist regimes in check, the fear of being turned in by your neighbors, of being falsely accused with no recourse, are grateful that some prominent figure in broadcast media like Murrow took a stand against McCarthy's unconstitutional actions, and that CBS let Murrow do it, in spite of the fact that some other content would have brought in more money.

So what's this got to do with Leia and Padme acquiring the status of "Disney Princess" this week?

A USA Today article quotes Disney CEO Robert Iger: "We actually determined that we'd be better off as a company releasing a sequel to Star Wars than probably most other, I'll call them 'not yet determined' films," Iger said. "So we love the fact that this will take its place in our live-action strategy as an already-branded, already-known quantity."

Did that send a chill down your spine? As the hopeful creator of several "not yet determined" intellectual properties, I want to bring my babies into a world where executives in book, television, and film are willing to take risks on new ideas. Sure, most new ideas won't be smash hits. Hardly any of them will be. I know everyone's going to go see Star Wars sequels, no matter how horrid they are. If Joss Whedon writes and directs them they'll probably be pretty good. But in the end, an entertainment company who's greatest priority is to make the most money possible is going to deliver nothing but the same old, familiar, sugar-cereal, already-branded, already-known, flickering lights and wires that Murrow refused to conform to.

“We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late. ”-Ed Murrow

The surpluses are gone now, and so is television the way Murrow knew it. Now we have the internet to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate ourselves. With so much freedom of choice on the consumer's end, we have no excuses. Are we going to forever imitate each other, endlessly re-posting the same memes, or are we going to seek for new directions?

Support some independent media today.