Betelgeuse in Orion: It takes a lot of stars to make a brilliant constellation. (Image via Wikimedia Commons, NASA Hubble photograph)
I love October! There’s a phrase in Japanese that goes “Reading Autumn” and I grew up reading all sorts of really great stories during the Halloween season. I haven’t had time for reading much lately, but made time to re-watch the 1988 film, Beetlejuice. (IMDb)
I think my Girls in the Basement were prompting me to do it, because afterward, I realized it had a very similar conflict structure to the story I’m working on.
From the beginning, Barbara and Adam Maitland show a lot of spunk, determination and love. There’s a hint of tragedy in the beginning, but all of their life is quickly overtaken by the fact that they wake up in their house after a car accident, and realize they didn’t survive the crash.
These are our main protagonists. In the first few minutes of the film, they fight a little with Barbara’s sister (who wants to sell their beloved house). They win the immediate battle by shutting her out, but lose the war when they die. The sister sells the house to Antagonists #2.
Antagonists #2 have a lot more going on than Barbara and Adam. Team Maitland basically speak and act with one heart and mind, often led by Barbara. But Charles and Delia Deetz? They have different goals entirely. Delia wants to be an important and influential artist. Charles initially just wants to recover his health from a nervous breakdown, but as he begins to feel better, his ambition to connect people to real estate returns. All that Team Deetz has in common is love, and even that is called into question. They support each others goals in the abstract, but are too busy with their own goals to actively help each other out. Delia wants to gut the house and turn it into a showcase, while Charles compromises by staking out one calm and peaceful room, and letting Delia turn the rest of the home into Continue reading
Today we’re going to have a quiz.
Let’s pretend you’re reading a book by a very popular author of contemporary romance.
It features a young woman who discovers the guy she’s been engaged to for many years in bed with another woman. She flees the scene without confronting him, but just down the road, her car breaks down. She calls an old friend who, it turns out, has been in love with her lo these many years.
Despite all the salt water and snot she’s producing, they hook up that night. This upsets everyone within shouting distance–her brother, who thinks Lover Boy took advantage of her, her former fiancee, who hasn’t gotten the word that they broke up, and his mom, who still thinks Mucus-Girl would make a peachy daughter-in-law.
I made it to my mostly annual homage to RWA for a hefty shot of fiction-writing craft. I, however, made it late as my flight was delayed for three hours. (Note to self – come a day early next year.) I missed the session I really wanted to hit today (Writing Emotion: Opening a Vein with Virginia Kantra) which was a double whammy because it isn’t a recorded session. But my first and only session for today was worth the price of admission. Michael Hauge’s Seducing Your Readers in Chapter 1 was exactly what I needed in the here and now for two reasons. The big reason is that I’m rewriting my first manuscript, which sucks because I wrote it before I had taken any craft classes. The bones are good, but it needs work and I’ve been working on the opening with some success. Today’s session gave me fabulous ideas and motivation and confirmation that I’m on the right track. Woot! The second smaller reason is that I’m reading an old Christina Dodd, and when I came back to the room tonight for some much needed down time (this conference is extremely intense), I picked it up and found a passage that is a good example of one of the things Hauge talked about. Continue reading
As I mentioned in last Wednesday’s post, work on my current manuscript that I am supposed to be buffing and polishing in preparation for pitching at RWA Nationals has been derailed by a new story idea that is refusing to patiently wait its turn in the pending idea file.
Part of the allure – other than the “fun of discovery” vs. the “hard work of wrestling a story into shape” – is that it combines two of my current passions: story and politics.
The heroine, a reporter, wants to cover the new big, shiny exciting story, but instead gets sent to the middle of nowhere to cover a political campaign that she has no interest in. She and the hero, the under-dog politician battling to unseat an entrenched incumbent, couldn’t be more different. City vs. country. Democrat vs. Republican. Vegan vs. hunter/fisherman. If I was writing a mystery, one of them would likely wind up as a chalk-outline. Fortunately, this is romance, so there will be a happily-ever-after if I have to lock them in a room until they can reach common ground. (Note to self: find room to lock characters in.) Continue reading
Spoiler Alert – I totally give away the plot, the conflict and the conclusion of two books.
I recently read two books (actually, I’m struggling to finish the second). Both had the same trope – mistaken identity. But in both cases, it was one person knowing the other didn’t know who they were. Not the mistaken identity of one looking remarkably like the real culprit thing, or the twin thing, or the wrong place/wrong time thing in which part of the book is about the one trying to convince the other of their identity. This was “I know you think I’m one thing but I’m this other thing and I’m just not going to tell you” which leads to the dark moment being about NOT HAVING THE **** CONVERSATION (if I were Chuck Wendig that would be an expletive). I hate that. But here’s the thing – I could tolerate it in the one and in fact purposefully sought out the book for a second read and am still struggling to finish the other (I just can’t not finish a book but I did have to skip the end when they finally HAD THE **** CONVERSATION and then go back to the middle). Continue reading
Sometimes basic is best. Getting back to basics. Basic black. Basic humanity.
And so it is with writing. Every now and then, often in one of the revision stages of a story, it’s time to get back to the basics – the point, the goal, and the conflict of a story. That means it’s time to reach into the writer’s basic toolbox and pull out some old favorites to identify festering plot holes, shore up weak conflicts, and fix leaky sinks. Okay, maybe not that last one.
This lesson presented itself to me when I recently found my Harrow’s Finest Five book 1 revision slowly circling the drain (what is it with me and sinks today?). I was dissatisfied with the story stakes. As I read the manuscript, they didn’t seem to be escalating, further complicating heroine Emme’s life, and leading her to an inevitable clash with consequences of her own making.
An author has options at such times. Crying. Chocolate. Booze. Cyring into chocolate and booze. But I’ve heard it can actually be more empowering to use TOOLS. Powerful, writerly tools. In this case, I opted for the tools and pulled the conflict box out of my toolbox to see why my revision had gotten stuck and my story felt flat. Continue reading
Has it only been a week? Feels like a life-time has flashed by since my last Wednesday post.
Nancy’s Writing is our Superpower post on Monday, with her message about using story to help people make sense of the world around them got me looking at real life from a storytelling perspective, which led me to thoughts about how people react to conflict.
If the events of the past few weeks were something we were reading in a story, then last Tuesday would have been that inciting incident or initial conflict that blasted our protagonists out of their stable-state existence on Monday and drop kicked them into a whole new world on Wednesday. Like “innocent, optimistic, naïve Nancy of November 7”, those protagonists can’t go back to the people they were before; they must now figure out what to do in what is their new reality. They can refuse to change, but they can’t un-change the world around them.
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” ~ Heraclitus
So, if this were just a story, once the shock and blaming were over, what would our protagonists do next? Continue reading