Weekly Progress Wednesday

Michael-Hague

Michael Hauge expounding his wisdoms

Writing Progress

Filles Du Roi WIP: Current word count: 7,235 (no change)

So, I haven’t done any BICHOK work on this, but I’ve been doing a lot of discovery that will give me a much stronger foundation as I move forward. I’ll talk more about that in a second.

Platform Progress

Nothing happening here! It’s been so busy with other things that I haven’t focused as I would like.

Life Progress

This weekend I went to a Michael Hauge Story Mastery workshop held by my RWA chapter. It was two days full of story structure, character development and a little pitch practice too. It was honestly pretty damned amazing. Some of the concepts were things I was familiar with, which was actually pretty great because it allowed me to focus more deeply on understanding the layers underneath what I already knew rather than trying to absorb all new things. It’s improved my direction for my WIP exponentially, and my understanding of character goals and motivations. Michael is primarily a movie story consultant, but most of these concepts cross all types of story and so they are applicable in novels as well. It’s also been a great chance for me to think about how story relates to reality. Why we read stories and what we gain from them. It’s given me a better understanding of psychology and my own growth as a person.

How many times can you say you’ve gone into a writing workshop and come out with a better understanding of yourself as a human and also your marriage? Right?

 

Writing Projects & the New Year

Yesterday I printed out all three stories I’ve been working on this fall so that I could read them and begin the necessary work of getting back into my writing habit. I was so busy last semester with my teaching load that my writing got put on hold towards the end.

In addition to that, I felt stymied because I didn’t know what I wanted to be writing. I had several started drafts at once, and felt pulled in multiple directions.  I had finished my novel, and the editing process (for now) and felt like I was back at the beginning, trying to retrace my steps but forgetting the path. I did some of the same things I did before, casting my characters on Pinterest, laying out the acts and the Inciting Incident and all of the crucial steps, but I was still lost and floundering. I knew I had good ideas, and they had the power to be complete stories, but I felt none of the motivation I had previously to tell the story. I felt like I didn’t know my characters very well at all.

For me, character comes out of conflict. I have a harder time with plotting than with coming up with interesting characters. I could spend all day describing and dressing my characters, giving them names and backstories and quirky traits. But I have a harder time knowing what their story will be. So I start with the harder stuff: figuring out what the central conflict is. Then, I look at the conflict and try to figure out what kinds of characters might be involved in that conflict. From there, I figure out where that character’s motivations and goals collide with the conflict. And I can work backwards to flesh out their character from that.

I finally realized, after lots of pondering and stewing and re-reading of my first pages that I had two great characters but nothing for them to do. So, I at last harped on my conflict, and must now go back to the discovery stage so I can work out the changes that this conflict will mean on my characters. Wish me luck! It’s scary to realize you messed up and have to start over! But, falling down and getting back up is part of the process.

Now, I’m going to write for 20 minutes because that is how I ease myself back in, and avoid too much procrastination. You can do anything for 20 minutes!

Swimming Pool Days

When I was a kid we did swim team. I say we and mean my brother and two sisters and me, but also our entire circle of friends. We spent summer mornings in the pool and Saturday mornings at meets. I used to complain about waking up early and plunging into a cold pool that turned our lips blue, but I secretly loved it, once the circulation came back. I loved swimming breaststroke in a line of others and watching the sun kissed bubbles emerge from the swimmer’s kick in front of me (this is why I was not fast. I was too busy watching the pretty bubbles). I loved the feeling of my legs pushing me forward and the slice of my palm as it cut through that blue water. I loved the tingle of fear I had as I swam through the deep end, imagining against all possibility I’d see a shark lurking below. I loved cheering my team on, and the competitive anticipation that comes right before the starting buzzer sounds. I loved stretching my arms and legs like the Olympians, getting ready to dive and push through my pullout (the kicking and stroking you do underwater) and pop back up from that silence to the churning of the race. At my pool we didn’t have diving blocks so if you had to swim backstroke and wanted a better push off from the edge you borrowed a friend’s legs to cling to as she or he stood on the pool’s edge before the race. I loved that. I loved how the crowd’s roar would crescendo at the very end of the meet as the older guys swam their relays. You could tell the end of the meet from two blocks away by that sound. I still love a good relay.

After Saturday meets there was an unspoken agreement that everybody who was anybody would be meeting at the local McDonald’s/Taco Bell/Pizza Hut everyone called McTacoHut. All the other teams would be there, their hair still sticking to their faces, dripping from their ponytails, shirts still damp and bathing suits peeking from underneath. We’d eat fries with our friends and crowd around the older kids as the parents gathered and exchanged stats on races and scores. Our dads would discuss form and who got DQ’d and why, and our moms would brag about how much time we shaved, or explain why we didn’t do as well this week.

Later in the afternoon, or on Sunday, we would be back at the pool. When we gathered with our family friends we’d go to the Olympic sized pool, Lake Newport. We knew all the lifeguards back then. They were our teammates or friends’ older siblings. We didn’t need an ID card for years, because they all knew us. We’d grill out and swim until the hot dogs were ready.

My brother and his best friend shared a birthday, July 27th. Perhaps this is why I’m thinking about it today. I am not close to my brother anymore. His religious beliefs make it hard for my family to feel comfortable around him. My parents divorced and his faith cannot tolerate that so he does not associate with them except for rare moments. Even though he’s as much fun as ever, and still the solid, sweet man he was as a boy, his jokes can quickly turn to serious discussions of a god the rest of us no longer trust. But as his birthday draws nearer, I am reminded of those summers.

Once, in the late afternoon, when the sky has just adopted that hazy purple that mutes the sharp edges of the day, I stood on a diving board and my whole world spread out before me. I could see the bright aquamarine of the pool, the long legs of teenage girls stretched on the lounge chairs, and the green tops of trees beyond the pool’s fence. The sounds of children laughing, the lifeguard’s whistle and the lapping of the pool were muted and my thoughts loud in my head. Our mothers were making dinner, and in a moment I’d swim over and dry off, and eat salty, ridged chips with my siblings and our friends, giggling at inside jokes long forgotten. While standing on that board, the sandpaper grip under my toes, the world open before me, I suddenly realized I was standing in a precious, perfect bubble, and simultaneously observing it all. I must have been fifteen, just starting to explore the shadows in the suburban picture I’d always known, but on this day none existed. It was the late 90s, and I was a pretty teenager in a wealthy suburb, about to dive into a cool pool in the early twilight of a beautiful, carefree day. But even as I stood on that bouncing board I knew this perfect moment couldn’t last forever.

And then I dove.

Stuck in a Book

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I just finished listening to Joshilyn Jackson read her most recent novel, Someone Else’s Love Story, and I’m stuck in her voice. It has earwormed its way into my brain and will remain there, earnest and Southern and sweet. I want it to remain there. I want to keep hearing her voice reading her words and I want to just sink into them. But I am about to join my husband for a viewing of Outlander and the voice is about to be chased out of my head.

I sort of don’t want it to. I love the show, and I’m excited for the episode but I still want to live in this space for a while yet. Have you ever experienced this phenomena, where you are in a story and it fills up your eyes, and ears and nose with its world and then the story ends and you can’t quite figure out how to handle it? I feel as if some limb has been cut loose from me, or a past experience sliced out, or like I moved houses in the middle of the night and woke up in a new one. Even writing this I hear it read in Joshilyn’s voice. It is her cadence and inflections and I’m just repeating them.

I absolutely love her books, all of them. But this one spoke to me in new ways. I’d read it when it first came out.

ASIDE: My husband bought it for me for Christmas and I found it while innocently! putting away laundry. So, I started sneak-reading it. Just bits and pieces of it, when he wasn’t around and marking my place with a teeny-tiny fold so I could find it but he wouldn’t notice. I hadn’t finished it by the time he wrapped it so I didn’t feel too guilty, and was also really excited to finish it so it wasn’t like I was lying when I enthusiastically thanked him for the gift. I’m pretty bad at showing my excitement for gifts and didn’t want to fake it, as I already look like I’m faking it, even when I’m sincere.

Back to the present: This reading was different because I knew what to expect and could pay attention to the rest of it more closely, and god, was it sad. It does end in a positive, we can assume HEA, but man, it made me feel a lot of feels. And I’m sort of mourning for the characters’ pain as well as my own pain at having finished the book. This book is not a romance novel. Not in the sense you might imagine. But it is a whole lot about love, about all kinds of love, and about how to keep love. And about what happens when love is not always enough. God, it was good.

But now I have to go and try and pay attention to a really great show when part of my brain will be thinking about how much I adore William Ashe and his rational, odd and loving brain. And Shandi and Walcott too. Goodnight guys, I’ll miss you.

Conflict and Clear Vision

While listening to the ever insightful, funny team of Lani Diane Rich and Alastair Stephens debate back and forth and laugh at each other’s and their own jokes on StoryWonk, I came to a rather jaw dropping realization. Well, jaw dropping for me, I guess. And any other person who has happily finished a draft and thought, “now I just have to fix a few things and polish!” Ha, bloody ha.

It happened while I was listening to their daily podcast (now defunct in favor of a longer form weekly show) entitled Elegant Conflict. And I realized suddenly that my first draft’s conflict was definitely lacking. There were so many sticky, webby parts you might think it was a particularly disorganized spider weaving this story. Not that the conflict didn’t exist, but that it was so internalized and so distant that it didn’t exert much pressure on my characters. And as we know, only pressure and time create diamonds. Ok, and carbon.

So as I was driving along, listening to their discussion on conflict, the other part of my brain was busy untangling knots. I find that driving long distances, much like taking showers or walks with the dogs, is a GREAT place to think about storycraft. There’s something about engaging your more critical, logical and driven part of the brain in some activity that is mindless enough you don’t have to concentrate too hard, but still have to focus on so that the rest of your brain can just play and wander.

And I figured out how to ratchet up the pressure a few notches so that the conflict becomes even more visible and the characters have to actually DEAL with it! In addition to this, it creates lots of nice pockets for character driven plot that otherwise has to be forced into place. Now it falls quite naturally into its slot.

And THAT, my friends, is why we tell new writers to put their work away for a while and come back to it when your brain is refreshed and ready to see the problems more clearly! Now, I just have to REWRITE ALL THE THINGS!!

all the things

image created by the hilarious Allie Brosch at Hyperbole and a Half

Research!

One of the things I love most about historical fiction is the chance to dive into great big piles of articles about a topic and emerge with a little nugget of inspiration. Tonight I was preparing for my British Literature class by doing some research on Sir Thomas More and his literary and religious adversary, William Tyndale.

Here’s the few nuggets I collected that I might just polish into gold as part of my story:

  • Thomas More was engaged in spying on Protestant heretics.
  • He was given a special license to “read and keep certain books of Luther” which were banned at this time, so that he could use him in his response to Luther’s revolutionary ideas about the Church.
  • When King Henry VIII became the “Supreme head on earth of the Church of England” (how is that for a title?) his followers were able to rely on the common people’s ideas of obedience to one’s ruler as a Christian duty to get them to follow Henry’s changes in religion (somewhat). But, when his daughter, Mary, came to the throne and reverted England back to Catholicism this little idea created quite the dilemma! Do you all of a sudden backtrack and encourage the common people to follow a “papal queen” down the road to “certain hell”? (emphasis mine, but they’d probably say it too!)
  • During the years 1534-1547 there was a massive overhaul of the physical expression of the Catholic Church. It started with the Dissolution of Monasteries under King Henry, when he gave away land to the gentry in order to get their support for his new church (and kept a lot of the money found in the monasteries for himself) and it continued under his son, Edward. Stained glass, shrines, statues, crucifixes, and bells were all taken down and destroyed. Clergy were no longer expected to be celibate and the saying of mass for the dead was ended.
  • Many feast days were banished, which unsurprisingly upset the common people, who rather enjoyed the feasting and celebrating that went on in the villages on these days. Mobs also tried to prevent the dissolving of the monasteries, and other changes to their faith.

Why did I find all of these archaic details fascinating? Because they are the basis for storytelling and plot! Just think of the human tragedies that went on under the dissolving of the monasteries and abbeys, and destroying of common objects of faith. Think of the political machinations that occurred as part of Henry’s efforts to gain support, or his daughter’s accession to the throne. Imagine the anxiety of the messenger who had to carry Luther’s books to Sir Thomas More, special license or not! All of this is fodder for the story. All of this carries with it the passions of people who, no matter what we think now, felt deeply about these issues and were willing to die for them. That is what makes telling these stories and helping them come to life so exciting and vital. And a little romance to ease the pain doesn’t hurt.