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Sunday, February 24, 2013

John Holland's Dry Bones: Poetry from Australia

My California-based author/blogging friend, Nia Simone, introduced me to John Holland's work, Dry Bones: Poetry from Australia. If you ever wished to study a poet's gift to mine it for those "secret" words that lend themselves to resonance and high emotions for use in short stories, novellas, novels and epics, here's a wonderful place to land, take up residence.

Holland's descriptions on the page, whether of his continent's geography or of a hurting humanity, translate to vivid pictures permanently in my head. Just amazing.

Two things come to mind. First, Bells' Plot & Structure speaks of one way to get an idea for a novel just from a title, whether you think it up yourself or find it among your daily reading. John Holland's poem titles stir my imagination. Just look at these: Dancing in the Dirt, Eden Misplaced, Compression, Quiet Satisfaction, Still Holes, The Poet's Moon, Time Moves On, All the Little Fears.

Did any of those send you off to find pen and pad? They still do for me.

The other thought was about that fun writing assignment you will find if you knock around author groups long enough. Have someone pick a trio of random words. Or even better, have three people each pick a different and totally unrelated word. Now, in the next fifteen minutes, take them and incorporate into a short story of 250 to 500 WC.

Then read each version. Those three words sparked different reactions, other locales, a rabbit trail not taken by anyone else. This homework exercise is empirical evidence of our special takes on this world we call home. The only thing in common will be the required words. The rest...well, it is pieces of us, as fresh as our fingerprints are distinctive.

Writing is all about joining random things, yet usual, commonplace even, and adding our personal perspective to make it all unique. Just remember, what may be commonplace to you is unique to another.

For those of you who love travel sites and beautiful worldwide pics, plus blogs about ski conditions and books recommends, check out Nia's prolific and interesting posts at niasimoneauthor.com.

Here's the Amazon link to John Holland's Dry Bones: http://www.amazon.com/Dry-Bones-ebook/dp/B00AAX3N7E/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1361714541&sr=8-1&keywords=John+Holland+dry+bones


Denise Barker, author + blogger + copy editor

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Take Time for Your Life by Cheryl Richardson

The full title of this book is Take Time for Your Life: A Personal Coach's Seven-Step Program for Creating the Life You Want. It's a good one for your self-improvement shelf of your home library.

Cheryl's book was published in 1998, and I've read it twice so farSeptember 2002 and September 2010. Don't know why it was September both times, but I'm gonna break that streak and reread it this month. Watching an old VHS tape of a short interview of Cheryl reminded me of this great book.

There are two things that stuck with me, from the two readings, from the interview and from a longer PBS program on Cheryl that I remember watching long ago.

First, in line with the Law of Vacuum, Cheryl states, if you want new clients/more business, go empty a drawer in your office. This law also works when you donate clothing and electronics to Goodwill, too, by blessing you in various areas of your life.

Second, deal with procrastination. Like FLYLady.net reminds us, clutter can be in the mind as well. The Bible tells us to get rid of anger before going to bed at night. It also tells us to share our sins with others (such as a minister or doctor or simply in a letter that you burn afterward). We aren't meant to hold stuff in. Like that great line in the movie French Kiss, it festers inside us. I believe it causes all manner of diseases.

But, back on track here, Cheryl tells us to make a list of all the stuff that needs to be done, that's been nagging at us, over and over. Then we mark it Delegate (good for lawn care that your teenagers can tend to), Do It (for dentist appointments where only you can handle it) or Hire Someone (maybe to prepare income taxes). Then comes the kicker. She wants us to complete that list over the next thirty days. Gasp! I think I remember her saying to pick the top ten worrywarts from our list.

So I'm taking baby steps here and made a list of my top three. Got the bush transplanted in my front yard. (Hope it lives.) Gathered the nonworking electronics stuff on one side of the garage, awaiting a drop-off at Best Buy to scavenge for parts (unless those practices have changedneed to check online). Haven't gotten this errand accomplished as it entails my son's truck and, since I need his help loading, his time too. Haven't found the right opening in his schedule yet.

Plus it's been raining here, so not a good time to cart stuff in the open bed of a pickup. But I'm getting there. Just knowing it could be done in weeks (instead of years) is freeing.

My third project is a final edit on the third tale and then uploading my first short story collection to my three main venues. Hope to get to this any time that I am in between copyediting projects.

All this positive, productive activity is lending itself to other acts of organization. It's wonderful when that happens.

So start small and repeat daily and watch for miracles.

Denise Barker, author + blogger + copy editor

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell

Great book. I recommend all authors read it, study it, apply it. Do the listed exercises even.

I finished reading this selection a week or two ago. I had made twenty-five double-sided pages of notes while digesting the info therein. Then over the last few days, I've been reducing those first handwritten nuggets to six double-sided pages of solid tips for me to put to use as I create my future novels.

So when I say that what I'm about to quote from Plot & Structure urged me to write this post, then it must be pretty awesome. And it is.
'Know thyself,' the sages admonished, and that's still good advice. Especially for writers. By knowing yourself truly and honestly, by writing with passion and intensity...you'll find your writing is not only fresh, but a joy. You'll have you. And that's enough to start writing.
In other words, write true to yourself and your writing will be unique.

But what struck me, and what is not spelled out in Plot & Structure, is that while our writing may be fresh to others, it will not seem so to us. Don't let that hinder you.

This is what I want you to take away from this article. Just because your writing doesn't wow you, it could still amaze others. So share it. Your words may reach someone and work wonders in a person's life.

Also in Bell's book, and in further support of my interpretation above, is this quote by William Saroyan:
I don't have a name [title] and I don't have a plot...I have the typewriter and I have white paper and I have me and that should add up to a novel.
Love that one! For those who like mathematical formulas, it goes like this:
Author + Computer/Typewriter/Pen/Pencil + Paper = Story.
So never discount the Author component.
Denise Barker, author + blogger + copy editor

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Plots, Shlots

For pantsters everywhere, you will rejoice.

For you plotters, you can carry on, just with a different focus. Or not.

This post is borne out of a recent discussion in one of my CP groups. Hope it helps you as it freed me.

Here are a few foundational elements to my theory I'm about to propose:
  1. I'm a character-driven author and reader. If you give me an interesting character, I'll follow them just about anywhere. Examples from books: Eve and Roarke from J.D. Robb's In Death series; Stephanie Plum from Janet Evanovich's bounty hunter series. Examples from TV: Jessica Fletcher (from Murder, She Wrote); Alan, Charlie and Don Eppes (from Numb3rs) and all the Gallaghers from Showtime's Shameless.
  2. People are basically curious. We want to know what the Joneses next door are doing in their lives. What makes them happy, successful. Individually and in marriage. We want to know what Brad and Angelina are up to. What exciting and interesting things they have done. What (remote, unfamiliar?) places they have traveled to now. What else explains the sales of the gossipy magazines at the checkout lane in the grocery store, even while most consider them to be filled with invalid info? Other than possibly living vicariously through the people made the subject matter therein.
  3. Those different sections in a (physical) bookstore are about the emotions they evoke: horror, love, mystery, wonder, humor, adventure, suspense/intrigue. This is often espoused by fantasy author Dave Farland.
So, if readers want emotions and interesting characters, we should focus on that, right?

And this therefore is my theory: It's not about plot. It's about the character arc. So while you may continue to create your requisite plot points, just think of them as hanging off the ultimate bell curve: your character arc.

In Robert McKee's Story, on pages 319–331 in the hardcover edition, he gives examples of his Principle of Antagonism, which deals with themes and emotions. I agree. Add communicating it well, being at least as smart as your sophisticated reader of today so there are no flimsy, faulty holes in your reasonings as to cause and effect, or human nature, etc., and you are set.

So, to put my theorem in a more usable format, here's the new revised "fought points" that I'm working from, at this point forward, to keep me focused on the correct nexus (repurposed from Campbell's original Hero's Journey):
  • Ordinary World. Our hero/heroine (H/H) with their individual secrets, their individual fears and, whether they know it yet or not, how that may conflict with each other's set of secrets/fears, or circumstances or internal compass; H/H are familiar with this stage, representing the known, the stilled waters; whereas the unknown evokes more fears and could involve change(s) which may be unpleasant to go through.
  • Inciting Incident. Thrown into the stirred waters, our H/H's secrets are threatened, or their fears are put to the test, either by circumstances or the other main characters' actions or internal guilt, regrets, depression, whatever you can imagine to put them through.
  • (At least) Three Try/Fail Attempts. This represents our H/H's experiments to get out of the bad place they find themselves and back to the old one, until they grow enough to envision a better one.
  • Climax. The "light bulb" moment where the H/H figure it out; their character has been changed, self-growth achieved.
  • Denouement. Resolution, tying up all the loose ends of minor character arcs, or any remaining questions revolving around the main character arc andtaking this next part from most of the beloved long-term TV showsending on a relaxing, regrouping moment of personal reflection or introspection into their new, improved self and resultant life. And successes, hopefully.
As with any theory, this is a work-in-progress, subject to subsequent experiments and failures and more tweaking. I've always considered myself plot-impaired and now I see why. My focus was off.

Anyway, if this resonates with you, give it a try.

If this is not for you, disregard my abstraction and continue carrying on. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Denise Barker, author + blogger + copy editor

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Put Your Goals Where You Can See Them

If you want to produce speckled yet strong sheep, cull through them first, then set black and white reeds before their watering (and mating) trough. See Gen. 30:2543. This "in your face" technique works for people and their goals, too. See Deut. 27:8, but I especially like Habakkuk 2:2 where (paraphrased) it states to write the vision/goal plainly so that anyone can understand.

For a personal example, I love using Yahoo! Calendar for daily reminders, some more affirmations than To Do list entries. But one recent item (within the last two to three weeks) related to spring cleaning three rooms of my home. Guess what? I've done 1.5 of them. Not bad for someone who had no intention whatsoever to get to these rooms until next year at best. Hence the use of the calendar, so I don't have to remember this particular whimsy twelve months later on my own.

And let me repeat that these reminders are daily. So I tend to skim over them following that initial appearance. Even so, it is working. It is not only reaching my conscious and my subconscious, but actually prodding me to get up and do something singularly related to this designated chore. Wow.

So I'm trying another visual aid. I have two exercise DVDs on my desktop to remind me to exercise, which hasn't been working one iota, long since before the new year started. But I admit, they were hidden under bookmarks, a handheld calculator and my cell phone.

But not anymore. Now you can clearly see each like the turned-out books in a Barnes & Noble store.

This time, I'm counting the days to see when the effect from the cause first arrives.

I'll let you know.

Denise Barker, author + blogger + copy editor