Michille: Cold Start

HeronWe’ve been talking about cold starts this week. Mine process is a little unusual. It relates to the shamanic drumming journey I took to discover my spirit animal, which is a Great Blue Heron. Associations for the Heron are balance, exploration, renewal, and wisdom, among others. They are solitary creatures, which jives with the writing life, their stillness when they hunt lends itself to meditation and contemplation. So that leads into my cold start process. When I’m having trouble getting starting, I meditate and become the Heron. Most of the time, I’ll fly over the fictional town my story is set in and imagine what my characters are doing, how they are moving around the town, interacting with others, solving problems.

And that is a load of crap – complete fiction. I don’t do that. Continue reading

Michille: Stages of Intimacy

Desmond_Morris_(1969)With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I was reminded of an RWA session I attended a couple of years ago with Linda Howard in which she presented Desmond Morris’s 12 Stages of Intimacy as a means to build sexual tension in a story. I believe it comes from his Intimate Behaviour: A Zoologist’s Classic Study of Human Intimacy, but I can’t confirm that because it is out of print. I would love to get a copy of it.

Of course, with the recent deluge of sexual harassment/assault accusations and subsequent consequences, the can apply to that conversation also – as in – how far down this list can you go before it is considered harassment/assault.

The list is below: Continue reading

Michille: The Comma

Oxford CommaThe comma is my friend. Too friendly. I use too many of them when I write. We all learned in elementary school when to use a comma in the basic sense: in lists, to separate clauses, to enclose parenthetical words/phrases, between adjectives, before quotations, in dates, etc. One of my favorite writer websites if Writers Write and they have a series they call Punctuation for Beginners which goes up on Tuesdays. In general, I like to noodle around on grammar sites for refreshers as it’s been a while since I learned grammar. Yesterday, the post was All About Commas. I learned a little about writing, but mostly I found the humor.

I think my biggest problem is the parenthetical word/phrase use. I put a lot of parenthetical information in my writing for clarification and that requires a comma. Until I looked over that post and then dug a little deeper, I realized that I could use the comma as a flag to edit (well, as another way to edit). If I examine the use of commas in a sentence, and I’ve stuck in clarifying information that could be written another way with even more clarity – Voila! – better writing.

A woman that I work with refuses to use The Oxford Comma. We have good-natured arguments on a fairly regular basis (she is also a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and I’m a Baltimore Ravens fan so we argue about more than the comma). The Oxford Comma is defined, in the Oxford Dictionary, as “an optional comma before the word ‘and’ at the end of a list.” I send her any memes I come across that make the Oxford Comma critical to the meaning of the sentence in a funny way, like (pics not included):

After beating the Steelers, Tim Tebow thanked his parents, God, and Ms. Trunchbull.
After beating the Steelers, Tim Tebow thanked his parents, God and Ms. Trunchbull.

We invited the strippers, JFK, and Stalin.
We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin.

Of course, there is the standard comma humor, too:
Let’s eat, Grandma versus Let’s eat Grandma.
And “Stop clubbing, baby seals.”

I could go on and on with the funny stuff, but you get the idea and I’m sure you’ve seen these all over the ‘net. Do you have favorite grammar humor? Or a problem with being too free with your punctuation?

 

Jilly: Three Things I Learned at McKee’s Story Seminar

I promised to report back on last weekend’s craft marathon, otherwise known as Four Days of McKee—three days of the legendary Story seminar and a further day dedicated to the Love Story.

It was physically grueling. I can’t remember the last time I spent four eleven-hour days in a row sitting in a lecture theater, and it’s been more than thirty years since I had to take notes longhand. I treated myself to a new notebook and pen for the occasion.

It was mentally challenging. I had mixed feelings about Mr KcKee’s teaching style (to say he has strong opinions, robustly expressed, would be to understate the case), but no reservations about the quality of his analysis. Even though much of the material was familiar to me and I only made extended notes where I thought it necessary, I still filled more than sixty pages and went home every night with a head full of new ideas.

I could blog for the next year or more about the things that I learned, but three nuggets top my list of things to chew on, because I think they will be especially useful to me when I get on to writing Alexis’s prequel story. All three were superbly illustrated during the final session of Story—a six-hour scene-by-scene analysis of Casablanca and again during Love Story’s breakdown of The Bridges of Madison County.

Continue reading

Michaeline: NaNo Special: Chapter Transitions

People who read Lois McMaster Bujold’s new novella, “The Prisoner of Limnos” in the first 24 hours of release got  bit of a shock when Lois announced on her blog that the early edition had somehow dropped the last lines of several chapters. (Links at the end; WordPress isn’t in a sharing mood today.)

As students of writing, we’re taught that these last lines are of extreme importance. Story, by Robert McKee, talks about how a scene can change the whole situation from a plus to a minus, or vice versa – and sometimes, it’s that last line in a scene or chapter that gives the final twist. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King also places importance on the final words of any scene. Compared to painters, we writers have it a little bit easier – we can put on as many finishing touches as we like, and all of them can be take-backs or do-overs with a simple application of the delete key or strike-out. In the editing stage, we decide, and the reader never has to know the anguish we put into those decisions to keep or to leave.

Given the importance of the endings, what’s shocking to me is that as an early reader of “The Prisoner of Limnos”, I only noticed one chopped-off ending. If endings are so important, what was going on here? I had had a great experience with the book as-is; had I missed an even greater book because the ending lines had been dropped?

Well, I’m happy to report my second reading was as rewarding as the first, even though I had to stop (!) and think (!) instead of ride the wave of story. From now on, we’re heading into spoiler territory, so if you haven’t read the Penric novellas, I highly recommend that you do, and come back. They are all fixed now, and you can update the old ones. (See second link below.)

In general, Lois’s last lines add Continue reading

Jilly: The Seeds of a New Story

How was your week? Did you learn anything new?

It’s been good news/bad news here. The good news is that after a frustrating few days when I couldn’t get a grip on my new story, on Tuesday things fell into place. A propos of nothing I had a flash of insight that gave me a premise for the book and the GMC (goal, motivation, conflict) for all the main characters. As a bonus, I even figured out who owns the story.

The bad news is, it seems farming and gardening are important to the new WIP, and I have a brown thumb. My mother and grandmother were excellent gardeners, but I don’t even have houseplants, because they take one look at me and give up the ghost.

It would have been great if the Girls had sent up a plot I knew something about, but I’m not complaining–I’m grateful to get a workable idea. The garden stuff is important, but it’s a vehicle for the characters and conflict, and as long as I get those right, everything else is fixable. My current plan is Continue reading

Jilly: Search and Destroy

Do you repeat yourself, waffle on, or over-use pet words and phrases? Do your favorite authors?

This week I’ve been cleaning up my WIP, which is due to my editor tomorrow (yikes). I’ve spent way more time than I would have liked down in the weeds, examining individual words.

I know some writers use editing software like AutoCrit to iron out their tics and foibles. I’m tempted to try it some time. For now, my chosen method is to teach myself better writing habits by working systematically through a checklist of problem categories and likely offenders.

Based on this week’s findings, I have work to do.

Continue reading