Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Action Packed Scenes

Last week, from Wednesday to Friday, I wrote about 4,600 words in my novel. WOOHOO!!!!! I felt like celebrating. The best part about it? It was easy, so easy. I started writing and a few hours later, BAM, 3,000 words. For some writers this is probably no big thing. For me, it is a big thing. Sometimes I slow myself down by agonizing over just the right word. Other times I just can't seem to figure out where my characters are going. But I knew where they were going last week so it was a simple thing to write that. 

There's another reason it was so easy, and this is the reason I want to talk about today. The scenes I was writing were action. Let me explain: In my novel the character has a jerk for a boyfriend. He's very obsessive. She's done with him but he isn't done with her. He decides he wants her, come hell or high water, and he's going to have her. So, what does he do? Well, he attacks her. And he's mean, not caring if he kills her. Yae! That's my kind of scene! Not because he's brutally violent but because there's a lot going on so it's a lot easier to write. And, because there's so much action, there are about a million adjectives that I can use to describe said action. If my character's are being chased in a scene, I can write like crazy. If they're having a beautiful romantic moment (yes, I'm a sucker for romance), I can breeze through the scene with a happy grin on my face because there's so much going on.
That being said, when I get to what I call a filler scene, I slug through it. If there's advice out there for stopping this, please share! These scenes are not really fillers. They're scenes that keep the novel moving, reveal more of the plot, teach the character something. I'd love to do all of this with crazy action scenes, but I think if I had a book that was only action, eventually I'd be bored to tears with action.
And the scenes aren't sluggish. There is stuff happening, but it's just not action-packed or love-packed or drama-packed. It's two characters, one major and one minor (though the minor has important info that needs to be shared) sitting at a desk or conversing over a cup of coffee or breakfast. They're sitting, not doing much, but through the dialogue important plot elements are introduced. This is how I do it. I think it gives the book a certain ebb and flow that's necessary for the advancement of any novel. The reader gets hit with emotion then gets a moment to calm down before the next emotional element is introduced. This, in my opinion, sets the pace of the story. It lets the reader know the character is safe or unsafe, happy or sad, losing or winning. As the conflict for the character increases, so do the emotional scenes. They get more frequent and more gripping. Like a woman in labor, the novel progresses, getting more and more intense, until the climax (birth) and then the calm comes. So, that's how I do it. I'd love love love to hear the opinions of other writers out there. How do you do it? How do your filler scenes work (I'm sure there's a better name for them then that, but oh well)? What type of scenes do you breeze through because they're so easy?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Keep Going Even When it Hurts

Remember how I said that part of following a passion or goal is getting yourself in a good place emotionally? Yeah, I wasn't kidding. Unfortunately, you can't always avoid those drops that stick you in the black hole. The trouble is, once you're there, digging yourself back out of that hole usually seems impossible. For me, it's like trying to climb up walls of soft dirt so every move up the wall crumbles beneath me and I slide back down. Sound familiar? I hope not.
Guess what, the hole sucked me up today. Hi hole, how are you? Oh, you're deep today. Nice.
Fortunately, I do this often enough that I've learned a few tricks to pulling myself out. The sucky part is that I haven't yet learned how to stay out of the darn hole. It seems to like me.
Anyway, here's what I've learned.
  • 1. Don't allow yourself to stay in 'the hole'. If you throw a pity party, you're never leaving. Usually that's what I want to do. Sit down and give up, tell the hole he won. But if you do this, he really does win and you end up miserable. If you must throw a pity party, make it quick then get your butt in gear!
  • 2. Don't listen to the hole. Okay, so I sound crazy. There isn't a hole and it most definitely doesn't talk. But the hole is a mindset and it's a very mean, brutal, nasty mindset. It likes to make you feel like crap. It's very good at making you feel like crap. So what is it telling you? Well, it usually tells me that I am really bad at what I'm trying to do (Okay, it tells me I suck). That usually morphs into telling me I'm an awful mom and the worst housewife ever. Then it gets worse. It starts telling me to give up because it's all pointless anyway. What's the use in trying when every time it gets better it usually follows that it gets worse? Give up. Quit. Be done with it all. Stop dreaming. Stop living. You'll be better off. Ouch. Whack. Thump. Smash. Crack. The words beat against my resolve. STOP!!!!!! I finally scream. Get out! I don't want you here!
  • 3. Which leads me to my third point. Do the opposite of whatever the nasty little hole is telling you to do. If it's telling you to quit, don't! If it's tells you to give up, try harder. If it tells you to be done with it all, power through it and keep going! Because, inevitably, you will rise from this hole and you will get back to a place where you can think rationally again. Those screaming voices will fade until they become just an annoying hum in the background.
  • 4. Surround yourself with the positive. I know I keep saying this, but it's the best way I know to improve something that's really difficult. If you're focusing on all the negatives in your life, you're going to get a lot of negative. Trust me. I know. I do this. But I've learned that when I really focus on the positive I can view life in a better light and good things just seem to come my way. My problem is that once I'm in a good place, I forget to keep up the positive and the negative slowly comes back. Then guess what happens? Yep. The hole opens its gaping mouth and I fall in. So surround yourself with the positive! Fill your head with positive phrases, thank God daily for all the positive, wonderful things in your life. If you can't find any, then thank him for your health and the ability to breathe. Stick affirmations all over your house, things like I love who I am and I love being me or My life is filled with joy. Whatever you want to be, those are the thoughts that need to fill your head.
When you get back to a positive place, it's so much easier to see your goals and passions as achievable things, so do everything you can to get there. Don't let the hole win. I won't. I'm going to keep going today. And eventually I'll win my fight with 'the hole' and I won't slide into it anymore. Until then, I will move forward because that's what I do.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Negativity in Life and Valuing Yourself

Part of following a passion or pursuing a goal is getting yourself in an emotional place where you can pursue what you want to. Every day we all experience hundreds of emotions. Most of them aren't great variations from what we're used to, so we don't notice them, but some throw themselves in our path and change the course of that path. Sometimes that's a good thing and sometimes it's a bad thing. It's a good thing when the emotion that threw itself in your way is a strong positive emotion. It changes your course, but it changes it for the better and, because it was positive, it was a change you feel like you had a choice in. Negative emotions, however, seem to do the opposite. They plop their nasty little Jabba the Hutt bodies in our path and we feel forced to vary. We don't decide. We respond, and usually the response isn't something we're happy with.
So, our goals and passions are constantly influenced by our emotions. If we live all the time in a world of negativity, we will respond to everything and our dreams for ourselves will be influenced, changed, and sometimes gotten rid of altogether. This is why I say that you have to get yourself in a good emotional place. Pursuing a passion when you're depressed is a very challenging thing. You constantly second-guess yourself, you constantly wonder if you're just crazy or stupid, you wonder if it's even the right thing for you or if you're just selfish for trying to achieve something for yourself. You fill your head with negative thoughts and they become the quicksand sucking you away from your dreams.
On the flip side, if you can get yourself to a place where most of your thoughts are positive, where you have learned to let go of the negative, then the goals and passions become clear. You're not second guessing yourself or wondering if you're just an idiot for trying. That positive emotional place gives you clarity to know exactly what you're pursuing, why you're pursuing it, and how you can achieve it.
So the obvious question that follows is how do you get to that place? Honestly, I don't spend all of my time there yet so I don't know the exact path. I get there sometimes. I've experienced it. But I'm constantly fighting to stay there, simply because I've been in the negative for so long that now I think my body and mind are comfortable there. Yikes!!!!!! Still, there is one way that should work great, and that is to change your mindset. When you think a negative thought, replace it with a positive one. Instead of berating yourself for all of your supposed failures, praise yourself for your talents. Try to see yourself as God sees you, and you'll learn to live in a more positive place. I'm not saying this is easy, because it's a daily struggle for me, but I do believe it's entirely possible and I have seen a huge improvement in my life since I started trying to see myself differently. Why not choose to see yourself in the best way possible? If you saw yourself as your father in heaven sees you, think about what you could achieve! Why do we not achieve our goals? Mostly because we think we're not worth it, we feel stupid for trying, or we feel stupid for failing a few times and we give up. All of these are simply ways we don't take value in ourselves. So change your value in yourself. See yourself as valuable, treat yourself as if you are your most valuable possession, because you are, and maybe those positive changes will begin to take place.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Kathryn Stockett

I get emails from Writer's Digest. I wait for the weekly email that contains little tibits of writing advice, some of which I take into account, some of which I ignore. This week I followed a few links and found this story of Kathryn Stockett. Now, I've never read "The Help" but I like the advice she's giving: keep going even when nobody else has faith in you. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Perseverance is the key to any passion! Kathryn Stockett persevered and now her perseverance has paid off. Good for her!

Here is the link to the story I found --Kathryn Stockett's Story

Friday, August 12, 2011

Emotional Involvement

There are a lot of elements that have to come together in order to create a good story. You have to have compelling characters, you have to have a plot that actually goes somewhere, you have to have scenes and events that unfold at a quick pace, and you have to infuse your story with emotion. This may be the most important part of the story. If you don't get your readers emotionally involved, you won't get a story that works. It's like baking bread but forgetting the yeast. Without the yeast, bread won't rise. Without the emotions, your story will fall flat.

Think about all the stories you've ever read. Which were your favorites? Which stand out most in your head? Which ones can you not forget about? Better yet, which ones had your blood pumping and your heart racing? Which ones left you peeking behind your shoulder looking for the villain? Which ones left you sobbing in a ball on your couch while the characters dealt with a loss of some kind? I'd be willing to bet the ones that stand out are the ones that got you emotionally entangled with the story.

When you're a writer, it's extremely important to remember emotions. Look at the difference in these scenes by adding a few emotions....

"You're leaving me?" John asked.
"Yes," Anna confirmed.
Anna glanced away, "Well, I'm looking for different things than you are. The life I have with you isn't the life I want."
John was silent. "Oh," he finally said. "Then I can't fight that."
"No. I'm sorry John." Anna turned and walked away.
All John could do was watch her go.

Okay, that's a scene. You get the picture. You feel kinda bad for John, but you don't really get the depth of it. So, here it is again with a little more emotion....

"You're leaving me?" John asked. The words felt like a vise, squeezing his heart. His chest throbbed painfully.
"Yes," Anna confirmed, looking away. She couldn't look at him, knowing she was breaking him.
"Why?" he choked.
She sighed, "I'm looking for different things than you are, John. The life I have with you isn't the life I want."
John was silent, heartbroken. His chest constricted as he fought back the pain that threatened to crush his heart. He couldn't make her stay. He couldn't change anything to make it better for her. His hands were tied. "Oh," he finally managed. "Then I can't fight that."
"No," she smiled softly, tears in her eyes, and touched his arm. "I'm sorry John. I really am." She turned and walked away, leaving John staring after her, broken and helpless.

So that was scene two. In my opinion, you feel more for John after reading scene two. Of course, sometimes the simple scenes work better. But, still, emotion. You have to get emotion in a scene otherwise it just won't work! So the question that comes up is obvious: how do you get emotion in a scene? In my writing I've found that the best way to do it is to put myself in the character's shoes, try to feel exactly what they're feeling, and then put that on paper. I visualize. I close my eyes and imagine myself as the character. How would she feel physically and emotionally? How would she react? I've found that this technique really helps me discover what emotions and feelings need to be in the scene. This works so well, in fact, that the scenes I find easiest to write are those that are emotionally charged. If my character is sad, scared, lost, upset, or any reaction that draws out strong emotions, I'll write the whole thing, thousands of words, and it'll take me hardly any time at all. Without the emotions, I drag through a scene trying to make it work. Emotions are key both for you and your reader!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Hourglass Door Trilogy

A couple years back I wrote a post on a book called The Hourglass Door. Well, I finally bought and finished the trilogy. I have to say, I enjoyed them. I'm glad I bought them because they're going to end up in my rotation of books I read every year or every couple of years. I'm okay with that.

At the end of The Hourglass Door I was completely hanging. Lisa Mangum cut it off at such a point that you know there's more story and you're slightly irritated that you don't have it right there in front of you to continue with. It took me two years to get the remaining books. First, because they weren't written when I read The Hourglass Door and second, because I had a really hard time finding the books, which was strange because the first book they sold in Costco. I picked it up on a grocery shopping trip. Needless to say, I have been wondering what happened to Abby and Dante since I read the first book.

Here's the good part. The first book was good, but it was very young adult. Still, I enjoyed it. It was a good story with a sweet romance. I love that. The second and third books continued on with the romance, but they had more depth to the story. Actually, I think a better way of putting it would be that the knife hanging over the character's heads (metaphor, obviously) was far more drastic. The problem they had to face was huge and complicated for the characters and that greatly improved the storyline. So, I liked two and three even more than I liked the first, and I liked the first one better after reading it a second time around. So that's great!

Anyway, I'm not going to give away the story here. You'll just have to read them! But I will tell you a couple of details:
  • Abby is in high school. She's trying to make choices based on what she wants and not on what everybody expects of her.
  • Dante is Italian. He's trying to make adjustments to a life that was thrown on him by outside sources, a life that no one would ever expect to have.
  • Zo has been put in a situation he's not happy with, but he is determined to twist it into something that gives him unlimited power
  • And last, I hope you like time travel because that's what these books are all about.
Oh, and for those of you who like to get your copies signed by the author, Lisa Mangum is doing a book tour through Salt Lake City and the surrounding areas. I'm sure she'd love it if you showed up.
Here are the Tour Dates