Showing posts with label Story Development. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Story Development. Show all posts

Friday, August 30, 2013

Cold Water in a Hot Pan

FYI, this is what happens when you add cold liquid to a hot pan.

Don't worry, only my pride was wounded.

It was the middle of a busy weekend and we'd spent an entire day running errands around town. Dinner was supposed to be done in twenty minutes. The chicken looked and smelled delicious, but the Asian sauce was starting to overcook and turn into a bubbling, black glaze in the bottom of the baking dish. No biggie. I'd just pour some chicken broth in the pan to deglaze it and keep it from burning any further while it finished cooking. Without thinking, I did what I've done a dozen times in my metal roasting pan - I grabbed an open box of broth from the fridge and started to pour.

The second the pan exploded with an adrenaline inducing BANG! I realized my mistake. Epic housewife fail. My dear husband (once he recovered from his near heart attack) was sweet enough not to tease me, and immediately took charge of ordering and picking up take-out from the only restaurant within ten miles of our house while I swept the glass off the floor.

The next morning, equal parts embarrassed and annoyed, I set to work cleaning out the inside of the stove-turned-blast-zone. Like any good writer trying to build a platform, I thought to myself, "How can I use this in a blog post?"

As I carefully dropped chunks of Anchor Hocking into the trash, I landed on an idea. The perfect analogy. (Okay, maybe it's not perfect, but bear with me).

Have you ever been in the middle-lands of your story and found it wanting? Nothing is happening. The highlight of your last chapter was your main character's grocery list. Or maybe the story is progressing and things are going smoothly - but that's the problem. Smooth is boring. Smooth has no pizazz. Smooth is the opposite of that story-sustaining thing called conflict.

You need to throw cold water in a hot pan. Create an explosion.

There's a commonly hailed rule of thumb among those of us who participate in NaNoWriMo: Story lagging? Kill someone off! But it doesn't have to be that drastic. Chances are, somewhere within your story is something you can use to catapult your tale to the next level. What can you make go wrong? Do it. Which character is supposed to be your MC's ally? Make 'em go dark side.

My very first NaNoWriMo, my story was chugging along, but I was seriously beginning to doubt my ability to sustain it to 50,000 words--not to mention whether it was interesting enough for someone to want to read it to that length. I needed something unexpected to happen. And then one day, as I sat at my desk typing away, my main character's contact in the realm he'd just entered--the person who was supposed to be his only ally in a foreign land--poured him a cup of tea. Spiked with a drug that would render my MC unconscious. I would love to tell you this was a brilliant and intentional strategy, but the honest truth is, it wasn't planned at all. I literally looked at my computer and said--out loud--"You weren't supposed to do that."

But...BOOM! It worked. The heat was already there, it just needed the cold water. And the resulting conflict gave me exactly the twist my plot needed and carried my story through to its conclusion.

Sometimes we get lucky and the story writes itself. Other times you have to search out the solution. Either way, don't be afraid to do something unexpected, even if it wasn't what you originally planned.

Because a burger and fries can taste really good even though you planned on having chicken for dinner.

What about you? Do you have a kitchen disaster story? Share in the comments! Maybe there's an analogy in there somewhere. Or the beginnings of a "What Not to Do in the Kitchen" handbook...

Friday, July 12, 2013

On Unicorns, Rainbows, and Rest


I came across this photo in my Facebook feed last week (courtesy of The Institute of Children's Literature), and I couldn't help but breath a giant sigh of relief. Which was immediately followed by a torrent of doubt. But so many other people say you have to work through it. Write every day even if it sucks. Write yourself out of writer's block! Don't stop, no matter what!

For weeks I felt like I was beating my head against a wall with my current work-in-progress. I just couldn't seem to get back to that beautiful place of writerly bliss. You know, the place where I sit down and look at the blank screen and suddenly the story begins to flow effortlessly and the words stack up as my fingers fly across the keyboard like a unicorn galloping across a rainbow on the wings of inspiration.

Okay, in reality maybe there's not quite so many rainbows and unicorns, but you get what I'm saying.

I was forcing myself to write, waffling between two ideas--both with potential--but coming out with exactly what the above quote describes: uninspired dreck. The more I wrote, the more frustrated I became, and the more I fell into an "I love you but I don't like you right now" relationship with both of my stories. So, with few other options and still feeling like I was breaking some sort of set-in-stone, thou-shalt-not-stop-writing rule, I took the above advice and stepped away. I didn't touch my laptop for several days in a row, worked on other creative projects that didn't involve writing, and curled up for some much needed reading therapy. I cleared the clutter from my word-mired mind and made room for inspiration to return from its vacation.

And it did.

After a week, I began to feel the itch to take up my pen. And as of today, I finally have a solid outline for my book and am ready to press forward. 

Also, my house is freakishly clean.

I learned a couple things from this little exercise. One: At some point I think you have to release yourself from the notion that there's a perfect formula for anything. Otherwise, you'll waste valuable time trying to follow other people's strategies. Everyone's process is different, and that's okay. Maybe your path to inspiration looks like plowing forward now and straightening your plot lines later. Maybe it looks like taking a long walk or watching your favorite comedy. Maybe it looks like closing the laptop (or notebook) and only writing to jot down notes as they come to you. Whatever works for you, go forth and do without guilt.

Two: I think it's important to remember there's a difference between quitting and resting. Quitting is a result of fear. Resting is a result of movement. It's a natural and necessary part of the cycle: work, recharge, work, recharge. 

No matter what your strategy is for getting unstuck, I think it would benefit all of us to give ourselves permission to rest. You can't go forever without burning out. Just because you take a break, doesn't mean you're giving up--it means you're filling up. And that's not just okay, it's good.

What about you? What strategy works for you when it comes to tackling creative block? What refills your cup of inspiration? I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

In the Flesh

A couple of nights ago my husband and I watched the movie Ruby Sparks. In the film, the main character, Calvin, is struggling with a massive case of writer's block. After his shrink gives him an impromptu writing assignment, Calvin has a dream about a beautiful red-haired girl and begins writing about her. And then the unbelievable happens--Ruby appears, in the flesh, in Calvin's house. He fell in love with her from the moment he began her story, and his attachment only deepens now that she's real. Of course this creates conflict when he realizes he can control her actions and emotions through his typewriter.

Throughout the film I was enchanted with the idea that Calvin had created a character who was so well written that she could slip into the world and no one would know she was made of ink and paper. He knew every detail of her life, who she was, and what had shaped her. When Calvin is describing Ruby to his shrink, he slips into this beautiful narrative that delves so much deeper than what she looks like or her favorite foods. 

This brought to mind my own characters and how well--or not so well--I know them. If they suddenly appeared and a stranger asked them about their life--their family, what they do, what they love, what defining moments shaped who they are--would my characters be able to answer? Would they be able to reply confidently, in a way consistent with their personality? Would there be enough backstory, enough thought-out, relatable details, for my characters to take on a life of their own and make it in the real world without being found out?

Image courtesy of jannoon028 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
So I started thinking about my next project and my main character, Abbey. What does she look like? How does she wear her hair? These are pretty basic, so I asked myself "why?" Why does she wear her hair like that? I know her favorite books, but why are they her favorites? (This lead to the discovery that she feels Nancy Drew is far inferior to Sherlock Holmes.). I looked at some of the personality traits I'm drawn to the most in Abbey and realized it's because I share them (which helps me write these parts of her with more authenticity). I asked Abbey how she's different from those around her and whether she's okay with that (she is) and if she would be willing to maybe change the way she thinks about some things (she might eventually). And I soon found that one of the biggest perks to getting to know Abbey better is the more I know about her, the more the pieces of my plot's puzzle start to fall into place.

I've been wanting to watch Ruby Sparks for a while, but I'm glad I ended up watching it now (perfect timing since my writing group just happens to currently be discussing character development and interviewing your characters) because it inspired me to seriously delve into this process. Because really, my characters are a part of me and I owe it to them to get to know them well enough to tell their stories properly.

Hemingway said it well: "When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters."