Elizabeth: Disability Depictions

Looking for your weekly dose of Writing Sprints?  Head on over to our Wednesday post for this week’s words and resulting stories.  There’s still plenty of time to play along.

As Michille mentioned in her post yesterday, the annual RWA conference is fast approaching.   In going through the proposed schedule of workshops this afternoon I was amused to see that the session about “Optimizing Writers Conferences” is being offered on Friday afternoon – more than half-way through the conference.  Somehow that seems less than optimal.

Every year the conference seems to have several sessions focused on a particular theme or topic.  At the first conference I went to it was “self-publishing” (that was quite a while ago).  Other years have addressed forensics, the military, and crime-scene processing.    The last conference I was at had a number of sessions talking about how to increase diversity in writing – both from the stand point of diverse characterizations and attracting diverse writers – a topic that is still being talked about and worked on in the writing community.

There appear to be several new topics on the schedule this year and one workshop that caught my eye was “Creating Authentic Characters with Disabilities.” Continue reading

Elizabeth: You’re Wrong!

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

Nancy: The Most Important Question You’ll Ask Your Characters

We writers ask our characters a lot of questions. Who are you? What do you want? How will you get it? What are you willing to suffer, sacrifice, and change to reach your goal? If and when you reach it, are you sure that’s the thing you really want, after all?

These are all important questions. They are fundamental to building believable characters. But they aren’t enough to get to the heart of your story. To do that, you have to ask your characters why? Not just once or twice or even three times, but over and over again. Ask it until there is nothing more to uncover, until it seems your characters have nothing left to say. And then ask it one more time.

The importance of the question ‘why’ is a core concept of Lisa Cron’s Story Genius approach to writing. It makes sense. Of course we want to know why our characters do what they do. One way to learn why our characters want and do and react the way they do is to add whys throughout our development process. So what do you want? is followed by why do you want that?. How will you get it? is followed by why is that the path you’ll take?. Etc., etc. Ad infinitum.

And when should you stop asking why? Continue reading

Elizabeth: Writing Exercises

Spring has sprung, judging for the Golden Heart is completed, and it’s time to pick up the pen (or keyboard) and start writing.  I have a couple of contemporary stories in progress at the moment (short attention span), but have decided to dust off the story I started with at McDaniel instead.  It’s the first story I ever completed and I have some ideas about how to make it better so that, just maybe, it won’t have to spend the rest of its days tucked away in the desk drawer gathering dust.

It’s been a while since I’ve looked at the story, so I need to do a little pre-work to get reacquainted, especially with the characters.  After all, I can hardly hope to make them come alive on the page if I can’t make them come alive in my own mind.  I could just look through all of my notes, but I’d like to get a fresh perspective and (hopefully) pick up some new ideas.

Writing exercises to the rescue! Continue reading

Elizabeth: What do you stand for?

img_1219If you’ve been paying attention to American politics recently, you’ll have noticed that there are a lot of people taking a hard look at what they stand for, what they believe in, and what they are willing to do in support of those beliefs.

People who have never participated in a march have marched.  People who have never called their elected representatives have made calls.  People who may have thought of politics as something that just sort of happens have started to realize that it’s a participatory process.

All good things.

Deciding what you stand for has its challenges, especially if what you stand for is in opposition to what someone else believes.  Even if you believe the same thing as someone else, you may have different or possibly conflicting ideas about how those beliefs should be addressed.

So what does all this have to do with writing? Continue reading

Elizabeth: Characters and Christmas

2008-xmas-dsc_0498As I mentioned in last week’s post, I spent a few days recently at the Happiest Place on Earth (Disneyland), taking a digital break and doing a little mental refresh.  The weather was good, the fireworks were spectacular, and it was great to disconnect for a little while.  Now that I’m back and the holiday decorations are up (mostly), it’s time to work on my manuscript.

Though I don’t have a daily word goal this month like I did in November, I’m trying to follow Jilly’s advice and to make sure my story doesn’t get lost in the holiday / year-end crush.

Right now I’m focusing on getting to know my characters a little better. Continue reading

Nancy: WU UnConference Lesson 2: The Decoder Ring

Portals of the Past, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco CA

Portals of the Past, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco CA

Last week, when sharing some of the great wisdom imparted to me during the early November Writers Unboxed UnConference, I discussed the importance of theme as the heart of your book. This week, I’m going to discuss another essential element of your story: the decoder ring. Heart and a decoder ring. Makes sense, right? Er, perhaps I need to elaborate.

As Lisa Cron said many times during her workshops at the UnConference, when it comes to the story you are writing – the story your main character is telling – the character’s past is the decoder ring to the story. Quoting William Faulkner, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” OK, he wasn’t talking about your story or mine, in that case, but the famous line has been applied to the craft of writing by many writing teachers.

So how does this idea of the character’s past being part of the present-day story jibe with the admonition to stay in the now and not bog down your book with the dreaded backstory? Paraphrasing Lisa Cron, it’s not backstory that’s the problem; it’s poor usage of backstory. In fact, she argues, we not only want the pertinent parts of your characters’ backstories, we need them to understand who the characters are and why they react and behave the way they do. But how do you include backstory without throwing the reader (or the contest judge, in Jilly’s case) out of the story? Continue reading