Friday, July 24, 2009

The Title Really Does Apply Sometime

I can't believe it's been almost two weeks since my last post. I've been busy with everything but writing. When I finally went back to Assignment #2, guess what? Nothing had happened! An elf had not come in the night and advanced my plot. (He hadn't made me any shoes either!)

Nope, I've hit a brick wall. My face, at first just ghostly, turned the writer shade of pale. I'm trying not to over-react. Writing's funny in that way. It's easy to psych yourself out, to try so hard that you create what you fear: writer's block. So, I'm just taking deep breaths and acting nonchalant whenever I get around paper or a keyboard. (Whistling past the graveyard.)

It's funny how writing requires that you monitor your thoughts and fears. I think inside the head of every writer there must be a saboteur who would just love to fling shoes in the loom--or the metaphorical equivalent. Why is that, I wonder?

I'll get back to work on Assignment #2 tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Plot Simmers

I have a new assignment: write a story based on a word list. Some of the words--float, candle, cup--suggested a ghost story set in a 16th century English tavern. (That's word association for you.) I came up with a protagonist who is a 14-year-old ghost of an American boy. Through some mix-up in the cosmos, he gets sent to the wrong place at the wrong time and wants to go home to haunt familiar time and territory. His first problem is how to move around in the absence of gravity. At first, all he can do is float around in the rafters.

I need three "skeleton" scenes (no pun intended): 1st: at the one-quarter point, the ghost must be thrust out of his comfort zone. That's the easy one. I've got it covered. ("Everybody looks good at the starting line.") 2nd: at the halfway point, the ghost's situation should worsen, preferably because he's tried to make it better. And 3rd: the climax, where things are as bad as they can be, and yet the ghost will do something to finally resolve the problem. Of course, all of these things must be consistent with the ghost-story logic I've set up. Once I outline a sensible plot that includes these key scenes, I can write the story in sections, aiming toward each key scene. The ending should "wrap" to the beginning somehow.

So . . . the plot's on the back burner with the lid on and the heat turned down low. I'm cooking it slowly because good things take time. And because there's more than a month until DEADline. Cheerio!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I Should Have Known (Slow Was) Better

In yesterday's post, I mentioned what I call "trance writing." It has a fancy technical name I can't pronounce--maybe I can spell it: "proprioceptive writing." There now, but it doesn't tell you a thing does it?

It's essentially "getting into the flow" of writing. To me, it's a state of intense, but relaxed concentration, like a trance. There is a book about it, but the book is as much about psychology as about writing. Not that the two aren't related. They very much are. But that's not the subject of this post.

I find that writing slowly, deliberately, with music in the background (Irish harp music works for me) promotes writing with more depth and better quality in most cases than say, freewriting, which tends to be hurried and harried. Freewriting can help break writer's block, is great for getting something/anything down on the page, but most of it is throw-away.

If you want to try trance writing, pick your subject first. Then put on whatever instrumental music will aid your concentration. Set a timer for 20 minutes or so, and go to it. Write slowly, listening carefully to your thoughts about the subject, following them as they try to get ahead of you. Don't let them. Make them slow down. Your thoughts may backtrack or take strange turns. That's fine. Follow them.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What the Teacher Said

A couple of days ago I reported that my teacher returned writing assignment #1 with her comments and suggestions. I think I've calmed down enough to talk about it without gushing. But first, I must say how impressed I am with this course so far and with my instructor, who is a real, live published author--and she's reading my stories! How great is that?! (Am I gushing?) Second, even though I've been writing every day since late December 2008, it hasn't always been structured writing. I've done what I call "trance writing," (more about that later), journal entries, freewrites, essays, etc., as well as a few stories, and about 500 edits of the first chapter of a novel! However, in less than three weeks of this course, I have written two complete stories and begun a third!

Now, to my teacher's critique. She pretty much said everything I did in my recent post, "The Elephant Bites Back," except that when she said it, it was encouraging. She offered a lot of additional suggestions on the old "plot" monster that will be helpful to me when I expand this story beyond 750 words. I wrote the story for the adolescent/teen market (the protagonist is 14), which routinely expects 1,200- to 2,000-words, so I have a lot of room to create some gripping conflict.

One thing my teacher said, and I didn't, was that the protagonist seemed too cerebral and not emotionally involved enough in the situation. I agree. I'll work on that.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Google Earth

Is anybody besides me freaked about Google Earth, the old eye in the sky? It's not like I'm paranoid or anything: if somebody really is watching me, then I ain't paranoid, right? But anyway, it's not just about being watched. Let me explain. I went to Google Earth and entered my childhood hometown. Planet Earth filled the frame of my monitor as the camera zoomed in on the place. You could easily see the river running through and the main streets and the treetops. Surreal! Then I entered the address of my old home. No one I know lives there now. It drew a box around the lot, but the lot has lots of trees, so that's all you could see.

But there were icons that gave ground level views nearby. One of these was of an intersection a block away from my old home. I remember riding my blue Schwinn bike toward that intersection one particular day when I was around 6, and a barking German shepherd changed my mind about turning the corner. I stood up and pedaled hard, afraid he was going to catch up with me and bite me in the butt. I didn't go that way for a long, long time.

Another time, something should have changed my mind about turning that corner. I was 14 and had lied to my elderly babysitter.

"Daddy lets me drive. All the time!" Sure!

Well, she took me at my word and gave me the keys to her mint green Rambler. She rode shotgun as I careened around the corner on two wheels. I hit the curb and blew out a tire!

The point is that my hometown and that intersection near the place where I spent my childhood is a loved place, a place of memories--pretty sacred memories to me--and I resent its objectification by anyone who can supply the address to Google Earth. So P-f-f-f-t on you, Google Earth.

Monday, July 6, 2009

My Teacher Responds

Just a quick post to say I got feedback from my teacher today on Assignment #1. After I've had a chance to digest it all and gain a little perspective on her comments and compliments, which lined up pretty closely with my self critique (below), I will comment more. Right now? I'm too excited to think. I am certain, however, that I've never gotten a more helpful critique. That shouldn't be a surprise, of course, since I've never before had a published novelist critique my work!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Elephant Bites Back!

Here's our first tomato of the 2009 season. Actually, it's the second; the first one we ate immediately. Yum!

Okay, so I've submitted Assignment #1 and I'm waiting to hear from my instructor. In the meantime, I decided to critique my story and see how close my criticism comes to my instructor's.
1. The title really sucks.
2. The protagonist is already too mature and so doesn't grow or change by the end of the story.
3. Structural problems: The set-up scene is too long and I had only two middle scenes instead of three.
4. Protagonist's inner conflict is not developed, only implied.
5. The age target is wrong. Not for ages 13-16, but for the adolescent market, ages 10-14.