Are all stories horror stories?

fear one

The themes of our stories tackle tough issues. More often than not, they deal with conquering fears: Fear of the unknown, fear of others, and fear of ourselves.  The novel may be packaged as a romance, mystery, fantasy, or adventure story, but at its very core it’s about facing the things that make us tremble, sweat, and run the other way.

Few writers start with a theme when they begin a story. Usually, one of the voices in our heads (AKA characters) demands that we tell their story. Their story is, of course, intricately and impossibly entwined with our own.

The theme is discovered along the journey to the climax of the book. It is woven in your character’s arc and the challenges faced throughout the book by any character. The various decisions that are made about each challenge shows a different facet of the theme. The character’s turn it every which way as the plod along trying to figure out what it is, and how to ultimately deal with it.

Someone famous once said, a writer only writes one story. The characters, setting, and plot all change, but the theme is the same. The theme of a story is what resonates with readers. It draws them in because they see themselves in the characters or they see their life in the challenges and decisions made.

I don’t have a degree in literary arts, but my guess is that if you look at a group of books written in any particular generation or era you would find similar themes running through all of them. The challenges and achievements of a culture or particular people.

Books create a safe space. A place where writers can express their darkest rational or irrational fear and readers can feel validation and companionship in their suffering and pain. How often do we come across a line in a book or just a few words and say to ourselves, “Yes, I know that feeling. It is an old friend of mine.”

fear three

I look at my own writing and reading, and I see patterns that match with the patterns and journey of my life. Overcoming adversity, conquering what appears to be overwhelming odds, an indomitable spirit, issues surrounding trust, and discovering who we are as individuals and within the world as a whole.

Within my stories, I am safe to relive the lessons again and again until I finally figure it out.

What are the themes of your life?

fear two

Text to Speech

AI

A useful strategy for editing your manuscript is to read it out loud. By doing so, you focus on each word more and can catch mistakes in your writing whether it is a missing comma, a misspelled word, or an auto-correct that is not correct.

Another tool that writers can use is text to voice programs. NaturalReader is a program that will read your manuscript back to you. They have a free version with a male and female voice, and they have a paid version where you get two more, higher quality voices and a few more options for $69.50 U.S. One option I am interested in is turning the book into an MP3 audio file giving me the ability to listen to my manuscript as I do other audiobooks. Granted the electronic voice is a little weird, but if you can get over that issue, having your manuscript read to you is a great way to find extra sneaking mistakes. NatrualReader has multiple languages options such as German, French, and Spanish.

I’ve looked at the IVONA text to speech program too. It’s an Amazon product. IVONA has a thirty-day free trial of their program. You can buy different packages of voices. It’s $59.00 U.S. for one voice and the ability to convert into an MP3. You can get three voices for $119.00 U.S.

yWriter is a free writing program that you can download. It helps with structuring your novel and keeps track of location, time passage, characters, and any other object you put into the program. You can input as little or as much information as you want into the program. It also has the ability to read the scenes to you (you have to be in the Scene page).

Another way of having your manuscript read to you is by changing it to a PDF document and emailing it to your kindle and having your kindle read it, which makes it more portable than a laptop.

Having another voice read my manuscript adds another layer of objectivity, at least for me. Separating myself from my memoir has been difficult. I’ve waited four month before going back to edit it, and I still find it hard at particular points to step back and experience the book as a reader.

Has anyone else tried any of these programs and have a favorite?

 

I’m a full time writer! well sort of

I am Writing

For the next two weeks, I’m a full time writer. I’ve taken vacation from my day job, since the judge is out of town and I don’t have to worry about missing court hearings or finding coverage it is the best time for me to take vacation as well. Of course, I will have a rather large pile on my desk and I’m will be walking back into four trials in four weeks, but you gotta get it when you can.

Over the weekend, I went shopping and cleaned house so that I wouldn’t have to worry about those two things during the week and I could focus on writing. I also decided that I would need a schedule or some sort of structure to my day otherwise I would just waste away unfocused and accomplishing little.

My goal is to finish the first draft of my epic fantasy novel, Syrain’s Marrow, by January 1, 2015. Given that this is my primary goal, I knew that I needed to dedicate a significant amount of my day to working on that manuscript.

I’m also editing my memoir, Fighting for a Chance to Dream, which has been sitting since the end of April trying to be forgotten. Thus, this would be my secondary goal. Finally, because I like three’s and a triangle is the strongest shape, decided I would work on the outline for my serial novel, A Vigil for Justice, as my third goal.

The schedule I’ve worked out is that I will spend four to five hours working on Syrain’s Marrow each day. I will spend one hour editing Fighting for a Chance to Dream and one hour on the outline for A Vigil for Justice.

This shouldn’t be too difficult, so long as I fight the urge to check Twitter, email, Pinterest, Facebook, and Goodreads.Right. Hmmmm. Okay. How do I deal with that urge? Yeah I put it into the schedule too. One hour for social media.

I’m a morning person, so I’m out of bed by 6:00 am at the latest every day. From there, I head out to swim, bike or run depending on the day and voila the rest of the day can be dedicated to writing and taking care of my boys.

The house is eerily quiet other than my fingers on the keyboard, the blowing of the swamp cooler, and occasional barking of beasty little dogs needing to go out into the sun.

“Boys,” I call into the empty house. Oh yeah, Sky went camping with his grandparents for the week and Jazz, well he’s seventeen, has a social life, and this is after all the last week of summer vacation.

I happily wish Jazz a great day and tell him not to worry I will have an excellent time. He is a bit disturbed by the fact that I am perfectly content to spend my vacation alone, but for the voices in my head.

Structuring Your Novel: Part Three

Structuring-Your-Novel

The motivation-reaction unit (MRU) helps writer’s structure sentences and scenes alike. It is a way of thinking about the cause and effect relationship of incidents within your story. Many writers place the effect before the cause, which makes readers slow down and think about what happened. Even a seconds slowing can distract and/or confuse a reader, so it’s best to keep things in the right order.

Here are a few examples:

Effect then cause:

The cat scratched Simon’s face because Simon pulled it’s tail.

Cause then effect:

Simon pulled the cat’s tail, and it scratched his face.

Effect then cause:

Gertrude slammed the front door, after seeing a man with a shotgun running across the lawn.

Cause then effect:

A man with a shotgun was running across the law. Gertrude slammed the front door.

Each of these examples is more powerful when the cause comes before the effect. The reader has to think less about what just happened when the motivation (cause) come before the reaction (effect).

Sequencing your reaction in the right order is also important. A person reacts to a stimulus in a very specific way. When you get things out of order, it slows the reader down. Reactions occur in the following order:

  1. Emotional and thoughts
  2. Action including involuntary actions
  3. Speech

If you stop to analyze how you reaction to various things in your environment, you will see that you have an emotional response or thought first, followed by an action, and finally speech. Keeping things in the right order helps readers suspend their disbelief and reduces the acrobatics their brains have to engage in to understand what is happening with your amazing characters.

If you want to learn more about structuring your novel, I highly recommend K.M. Weiland’s book Structuring Your Novel (picture above).

Part one of this series can be found here.

Part two of this series can be found here.

Happy Writing!

Structuring Your Novel: part two

Structuring-Your-Novel

The Scene is the basic building block of a story. A Scene has two parts: the action part and the reaction part.

The action half of a scene consists of a goal, conflict, and disaster.

The goal of a scene is usually a small piece of the overall plot goal or it can be a major piece of the plot goal. The goal of a scene must make sense in the overall plot of the story. It cannot be something random just to add something interesting to your story. It must move the plot forward. The goal of the scene has the PoV character (generally the protagonist) trying to obtain or avoid something physical, emotional, or mental. The goal must directly affect the PoV character, if it doesn’t you may what to switch to a character who has a higher stake in the scene. The goal should also lead to a new scene.

The conflict within a scene must flow from the goal. It should be about something that matters to the PoV and threaten the PoV’s ability to achieve the goal. It must be logical or your reader will not be able to remain in the story. Not every scene has to be a major battle. It can be something small that gets in the way of what the character wants.

The disaster should answer the question driven by the goal of the scene and prompt a new goal for the next scene. It needs to be flow logically from the goal and conflict. The disaster needs to raise the stakes, but not be melodramatic.

For example if your protagonist has a goal to obtain information from another character. The question is will he get the information. The conflict could be a million things but for this example, it is that the character with the information is intoxicated and doesn’t make any sense. The disaster is the protagonist never getting the information he needed because the character dies in a car accident on the way home.

The reaction half of a scene consists of reaction, dilemma, and decision. The reaction half can be very short, just a couple sentences, or it can be much longer. At times, it is interlaced within the action.

The reaction needs to correlate to the proceeding disaster. The reaction must make sense in the context of the story and be true to the PoV character’s personality. Reactions are important because they create the bond between the character and the reader. Don’t skimp on the reaction half of scenes.

The dilemma of the reaction portion is where the character reviews what happened, analyzes it, and plans his/her next step. The disaster of the action part of the scene influences the dilemma of the reaction portion. Be as clear and specific as called for in the story.

The Decision must be an organic result from the dilemma. It also needs to lead to a strong goal for the next scene and advance the plot. As will every piece of the scene it must be an important logical step in the plot of the story.

All the scenes of a story should line up like dominos. Each triggering the next in the line.

Overal Structure of a Novel

Structuring-Your-Novel

As some of you know, I internet and book stalk K.M. Weiland. I just finished reading her book, Structuring Your Novel Essential keys to writing an outstanding story. It’s an excellent resource for beginning and more experienced writers. Her informal witty conversational tone make the book easy to read and understand. She uses examples from her own fiction to demonstrate ideas throughout the book. Here is part one of what I learned. I’ll cover Scenes and Motivation Reaction Units in Part two and three, so stay tuned in.

K.M. Weiland is a proponent of the three-act structure for novels. From the opening sentence, you must hook your reader with action and a specific character. Within Act one, you have the inciting event and the Key event.  The reader should ask the major story question, which will be answered in the climax. Smaller questions will keep the action and suspense going along the way.

The inciting event is the thing that sets the story in motion. Sometimes this occurs before the story begins, but frequently it will be in the first couple of chapters. The Key event draws your protagonist in to the story. Act one concludes with the first major plot point. This point should draw your protagonist into the plot and slam the door behind him. There is no going back or changing course.  Typically, the setting and/or surrounding characters change from this point out.

Act two is the bulk of your novel and contains pinch point one, plot point two (midpoint), and pinch point two. Pinch points are times in the story, between the plot points, where the antagonist flexes his muscles and reminds the antagonist of his strength and determination lest the protagonist forget what is at stake in the story. The second plot point(midpoint) is a game changer in the story. The protagonist goes from reaction to situations to taking action toward his goal.

The first half of the novel the protagonist is climbing the mountain dodging whatever the antagonist throws down at him. The summit is the second plot point. The second half is the protagonist chasing the antagonist down the other side. Mind you, the antagonist is still a huge threat and lays landmines and other nastiness along the path.  The antagonist is not running out of fear of the protagonist, but because recklessness is fun.

The second act ends with the third plot point. This is usually a low point for the protagonist. A reminder of the challenge he took on at plot point one. Like plot point one, this is a doorway that must slam shut once the protagonist steps through. Things change here, probably not for the better and the protagonist must rise to the occasion enough to keep moving toward the climax.

The pace of the novel increases in act three. All of your subplots and twist should be funneling into the climax. You probably want to wrap some of them up on the way. The climax occurs about three quarters of the way through act three. The climax should resolve the major question proposed at the beginning of the story.

The resolution follows the climax. The resolution doesn’t have to be long, but the reader needs to know that the lives of the characters they have grown to love go on in one form or another. This is important even if you are writing a series.

 

Define Yourself

girl with arms raised

Many people put their dreams and goals off for the right time.  You hear these and similar words all the time.

“I’ll do it when my kids are grown.”

“When I retire, I’ll have time to work on my dreams and goals.”

“Once I’m stable in my job, I’ll have time.”

Life won’t wait for you to decide your dreams and goals are important. It keeps right on going day in and day out, despite what you are doing. One day, it will be gone, and you will be left standing in the void wondering, what if..?

What if I broke my goal down into something I could do once a week or once a month to get me closer to achieving it?

What if I could find 15-20 minutes a day to work on my goal?

I’m asked all the time, how I am able to be a single mom, full-time attorney, ultrarunner, and writer.  Here’s my answer:  I can do it because it’s important to me. I can do it because everything else is dropped like a dirty diaper.

You have to be willing to sacrifice. You have to delve deep and find what is important to you and who you want to be for yourself and the world.

You have to leave behind people who don’t support your efforts at achieving your dreams. Sometimes that means cutting them off completely or regulating them to a small role in your life. Chasing your dreams is hard work. Don’t drag unnecessary weight with you.

It comes down to that question we all began to answer the moment we drew our first breath, who am I? We exerted our independence as toddlers and again as teenagers trying to define who we were separate from those around us.

As we become adults, we become caught up in society’s grey dream as automatons. We color within the lines laid before us by others. We paint by the numbers.  We wait for the right time and the right place to escape into our dream.  If you don’t work toward your dreams, you will be paid to work toward someone else’s. Why is theirs more important than yours?

It is not what we do that defines who we are. It is the why we do it that defines us. Decide your dream is achievable, conquer all obstacles, and jump through any hoop, even if it has burst into flames.

Cherishing a Short Life

baby in isoletteAlice Park Photography

On a weekly basis parent child relationships are forever severed by the law. I’ve seen it too many times to count. I don’t envy those responsible for supervising the goodbye visit between parent and child. The thought of looking either of my children in the face for the last time brings tears to my eyes. I know many substance abuse treatment programs require their parent participants to write goodbye letters to their children as a way of driving home, how their drug use has harmed their children.

Loss of this sort, is nearly a daily occurrence in my world. Despite its frequency, it never passes over me as freely as water does. It’s more like oil that takes good soap, hot water, and scrubbing to remove. Then you always find it someplace later and have to repeat the process.

This past week was much the same with an enduring difference, I was reminded of how quickly life can pass us by and to cherish all that I have, especially relationships with others because you never know when they will slip through your fingers. Even the relationships you believe will endure for a lifetime, such as your children.

I’ve become an expert at cherishing what I have even during the darkest times of my life because of the frequent reminders I receive, but this one has hung on with more persistence. A short life, which rippled through the world.

A woman with long auburn hair bends over the warm isolette watching her sleeping child through the clear glass. The baby girl’s tiny chest rises and falls, a comforting sight. She weighs a mere 3 lbs and 8 oz. Tubes run into the baby’s underdeveloped lungs through a tracheotomy and into the side of her abdomen, providing her with breath and nutrients to grow and get stronger.  The woman is able to hold her child for only a short time each day due to the child’s precarious hold on life.

Ava was born premature due to her mother’s drug use during pregnancy. Ava is not this woman’s first child and she probably will not be the last because the auburn hair falls on the shoulders of a twenty-year-old woman. Her slender build makes her appear more like a prepubescent female than other’s her age.  Like the baby in the isolette, the drugs have sapped all excess life from her body.  Her hair is dry and brittle. Her cheeks are sunken, and her skin has a grey pallor.

She has watched her child cling to life through the glass for four months. She visits when she can, about once a week. Doctors tell her that Ava, will not survive without the machines. She must decide how long Ava should be forced to remain here. The little blue eyes flutter open and she brushes the fine soft hair on Ava’s small head with her shaking fingers.

When asked why she doesn’t visit more, excuses and justification spill from her lips.

“No transportation to the hospital,” she said as her eyes flicker around the room, pupils the size of the abyss.

“What about the bus pass we gave you?” asks a nurse. They know she is high, but how do you approach that subject with a woman who is here to say goodbye to her baby forever.

“I can’t find it.” She looks at her black converse shoes with grey frayed laces tangling along the floor.

Ava’s father was allowed to leave the prison accompanied by two guards to help make the decision of when his daughter will be taken off life support. It is the first and last time he will be able to see her with his own eyes and hold her. He caresses her cheek, and places his finger in her tiny hand. He understands this loss more than the mother because he views it through a mind that has been forced sober by incarceration for the past six months.

His hazel eyes are rimmed in red and tears trickle down his face. His breath catches in his throat as it constricts with the ache twisting his heart and soul. Our poor choices eventually catch up to us. Sometimes we lose the most precious things in our lives when they do.

Once he’s released  from prison will he remember the short time he was able to cradle his daughter in his arms and make choices she would be proud of him for making?

Ava is given morphine and the machines are turned off and the tubes are removed.  Her breathing slows as her parents cradle her small body wanting to hold her for as long as they can.

Writing Space and First Drafts

I am Writing

Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking about making a space for me to write at home. Up until now, I have just sat at either the living room table or the kitchen table. This arrangement requires me to pack up all my writing gear and move it from place to place. It also means my writing doesn’t have a home.  In my home, I have a room called an office in the basement. No one uses the “office” for anything but a library. A library is important don’t get me wrong. In fact, it’s necessary at my home. There are bookshelves along each wall, and most of my books can be found there.

I’ve tried writing in the “office,” but it never works well. My dogs need in and out of the house to go see their friends, sniff the strange spots in the yard, feel the warmth of the sun on their fur, and all the other stuff dogs do. The coffee maker is upstairs. My children are upstairs. You would think that being downstairs away from the children would help me focus, but it doesn’t. They actually come and interrupt me more when I am downstairs where they can’t see what I am working on.

I realized that this had to change if I was going to make writing a priority. So, I created a space in my bedroom, which is on the main floor, where I can write. I have all of my books on the craft, pens, pencils, notebooks, laptop, children, dogs, and coffee within easy reach and supervision.  I can open the window allowing in the sun, birdsong, and the summer breeze.

Sky, my youngest son who is thirteen, came in and sat on my left while I wrote. He didn’t interrupt. He just watched. The dogs curled up with one another on blanket on my right. Jazz, my oldest son who is 17, popped in and asked questions and let me know what he was planning for the day.

My writing space is not fancy, but it’s mine and it communicates to me and everyone else that writing is important to me. Having a space also preps your brain to get into its creative mode. If you always sit in the same spot to write, when you sit down the creative juices start flowing. With children, my writing time is scattered between all my other responsibilities as a single mom. Having a space always ready and waiting is important because if I have to take the time to set up each time I have five minutes to write, the book will never get finished.

I finished the outline of my fantasy novel tentatively titled Syrain’s Marrow early last week, a whopping 33 pages. It took a few more days to cut and paste it all into yWriter. I had Thursday off work last week because in Utah, Thursday was a holiday, Pioneer Day, commemorating the day Utah decided being a state was more important than bigamy being an acceptable practice.

I took Friday off work to start my first draft and frankly, I needed a break after a busy on call week the week before. I was also able to spend some extra time with Sky.

So far, I have found my outline to be immensely helpful in maintaining my focus and keeping the words flowing. I believe the biggest complaint about outlining is that it is too restrictive. I haven’t found that to be the case.  Since I have scene after scene already outlined I see plot holes much easier. I also notice when I drop a character and never pick them back up again. It is easy to go back and find something I referenced in a prior scene because I can look at my outline and know, approximately, where it is. The outline also helps me maintain consistency with my details and the voices of my characters.

I have yet to become stuck wondering what should come next. The words just flow. I know it will still be a shity first draft, and they always are, but it will be a completed first draft, and that’s what matters.

The Death of a Dream

dream death

The death of a dream is the worst imaginable type of death. Death in any form is awful, but to watch someone’s dreams struggle for breath, fall to its knees clutching at its heart, to never rise again is the most traumatic experience this life has to offer.

Dreams are crushed everyday throughout the world. War, poverty, family violence, drugs, and many other more mild things you would not suspect gobble up dreams with careless abandon.

Dreams are precious. They are the essence of our soul. Without them, we are nothing. Our dreams define who we are and who we may become. If a person could trade in dreams, they would be the richest person in the world.

Dreams cannot be sheltered or hidden away, but they do have to be protected because they can be lost or stolen, and once gone fighting to get them back is a battle easily lost.

A dream can be lost when a person becomes caught up in the desire for money and power. They forget all about the thing that made their heart sing and dance. The forgotten dream lies upon the ground becoming buried beneath dirt, laundry, diapers, and bills.

A lost dream can be found. Once you realize you have misplaced your dream, an extensive search should begin immediately. The longer you are without your dream, the more soul will leak out of your body. Call upon friends and family, form a search party, and bring in the bloodhounds. Spare no expense. Without your dream, you will wither away.

A dream is stolen when a person perpetrates a trauma against another. The victim’s dreams are ripped out of their soul, and it leaves them consumed by pain and suffering.

A stolen dream can be reclaimed, but it leaves a gaping hole in the center of your chest. The separation is debilitating, and reinforcements are critical. Dust off the chainmail, and strap on the battle-axe. Call your dragon, Pegasus, phoenix, griffin or any other fantastical creature you rely upon during times of immense crisis.

A dream dies when it is forgotten or starved by its owner. Separation by loss or theft for an extended period of time will also result in death.

You can tell when someone’s dream has died. The glimmer of light in their eyes is gone. They walk in the dark going through the motions of their life. Nothing drives them. Nothing moves them to action. They resent others who have thriving dreams. It is difficult not to stop, stare, and try to help these empty vessels, but if you spend too much time with them, they often siphon your dream’s energy trying to resurrect their own. Dead is dead, and there ain’t no coming back.

Dreams feed on thoughts, beliefs, faith, and love. Never let your trough become empty and continuously fill the troughs of those around you. A waterfall fills the pools below it until they are overflowing, and then another waterfall is born to replenish yet another pool farther along the path.

The best protection for a dream is visibility and sharing. It is hard to forget what has been etched, into your skin and that is where you should wear your dream. Each morning we rise and wrap our bodies with clothing and each morning we should wrap our heart in our dream. When you share your dream with another, they may take it up as their own assisting you along the journey. Find a mentor who can be a mirror reflecting your dream back to you. If one cannot be found, find someone who will hold you accountable for progress toward achieving what feeds your soul.

Is there no hope for those who have buried their dead dreams? There is always hope. Roaming among the average and hidden by a veil of normalcy are dream architects. Like an underground spring that never runs dry, they pour forth the food of dreams. An architect will provide the plans for a dream, but the dreamer must gather the supplies and begin construction on their own.

Dream huge, without limit and restraint. Share your dreams with the world. Devise plans for the walking dead, just in case construction is ready to begin.