Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Story structure skeletons #amwriting #amreading

I’ve been reading a bit more these past few months, something I’ve been doing less of over the past year (since we all know how busy we were last year–NOT 😐 ). As a writer, I’ve caught myself noticing more lately how stories are structured. I probably always noticed, just not noticed. Know what I mean?

My preferred reading genres follow what I like to write (or is it what I write follows what I like to read?) Anyhow, I gravitate toward mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and urban fantasy. There’s always the occasional non-fiction book, whether craft-related or maybe research for a book.

In any case, lately I’ve noticed some things in the books I’ve read that remind me of my writing classes, specifically the things my writing teacher still says in my head regarding the structure of a story, which hits upon the basics of fiction: inciting incident, midpoint reversal/crisis, and climax/resolution, preferably with a twist and/or big reveal. The “things to pay attention to” between the beginning, the middle, and the end might vary, but it seems those three anchors remain no matter what craft book or class I’ve had.

Some lessons use the three-act structure, some the 7-plot point structure, some the hero’s journey, some try to “save the cat”:

and there’s probably a hundred more variations on the idea, but those core tenets are the ones I hear repeated in my mind when I’m “outlining” (i.e. writing a timeline) or revising. All the different interpretations of story structure follow the same basic path. Try doing a search for “story structure” and just look at the images that come back.

I just finished another book that made me think of this structure in particular, because of the character arc, which followed the story arc: inciting incident, midpoint reversal/black moment/point of no return, revelation/climax, resolution.

As writers, I think we learn from every novel or story we read, maybe not always consciously, but subconsciously. As I read this latest book (if you must know, it was Anne Frasier’s The Body Reader), my writer brain noted the structure:

  • This is what started it all, shaped the character. This will determine how the character approaches life.
  • Dead body? Okay, who is it and whodunit? Off we go.
  • This is–wait, what? OMG, seriously? No way. She can’t … I can’t believe she’s going along with this.
  • Oh, whew! Good, she’s gotten back on track. Sort of. Oh, that’s such a bad idea. Don’t do it!
  • Ha! I knew he was involved. Wait, oh …
  • Holy crap! No way!
  • Uh oh …
  • Whew! Saved! Now, where’s …
  • Oh crap! C’mon, get him!
  • Yeah! Got him!
  • Now what? Oh, good. Sigh of relief.
  • What’s the next book?

Which, I realized as I progressed through the story, was the classic structure, the skeleton of the stories I’ve read and really enjoyed. I thought about some of the other books I’ve read recently. Even urban fantasy books follow the structure, though granted, the obstacles in the way of the main character(s) tend to be way more intimidating than in a regular story (I mean, which would be worse, going up against the bad guy pointing a gun at you, or facing a titan with near god-like powers to fry you where you stand and all you got for Christmas was a skull with a spirit and a carved wooden staff (Harry Dresden, in case you were wondering)).

Which, of course, encouraged me to taked a closer look at my current project, Book 2. Inciting incident, check. Rising tension, check. Black moment? Sort of. Note to self: work on that. Climax? Yeah, that works. Maybe there should be another incident. Tension? Yes, but could be better. Hmm. Add this to jack up tension. Higher stakes. What about this? What if …

Bottom line, reading allows us to see how other authors drape their stories on the skeleton of story structure and utilize it to keep the reader’s interest. It reminds me to pay attention to my own work to make sure I’m taking advantage of a proven formula. So even though I’m not writing, I’m still learning. Yep, I’m going with that.

Now to get back into Revision Round #3. May you all have a creative week ahead!

Keep on Writing!

Aren’t you supposed to be writing?


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New Year, absent writer?

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

“Hello?”

My voice echoes in the dimness like a shout in the Sydney Opera House. Faded light from the foggy winter landscape outside strains to illuminate my writer’s empty office. I flip a switch. The dim retreats.

“Julie?”

Where the bloody hell is she? Since NaNo, she’s been writing every day, especially over the holidays. That is, until this week. I can hear her reasoning now: I took the whole week off between Christmas and New Year’s Day, plus the weekends, and we didn’t go anywhere because COVID. Now I’m back to work, so no, I’m not writing as much as I did the past couple weeks.

If she was here, I’d tell her she needs to write every day whether she’s on vacation or not. Once her vacation was over, her writing dropped off a cliff. Not a cliffhanger cliff, a writing cliff. And now she’s AWOL.

“Julie? Don’t make me send out the dragons.”

No answer.

Sigh. Her desk is empty. Messy, but empty. The recliners are empty. I check the little fridge. That’s empty, too? The wall-sized white board is not empty, thank goodness. Notes cover the surface in various colors. At least I know she’s planning to come back.

I open the back door of the office. Icy fog coats the naked trees in frost and filters the sunlight into a dull glow.

Bootprints lead from the office into the fog. “Julie!” Damn it.

What? You thought we come and go at our writer’s whim? You think writers have a little bell they ring to call up a muse every time they sit down to write? Ha! We know writers work better when they open themselves to us, not when they sit down and ask us to shove creative energy into them. Although that can work, we usually save that as a backup plan.

In my vast store of experience (and no, I’m not going to tell you how long I’ve been doing this gig), we get the best results when we hang out around our writer all the time. Not that we don’t take a break for a pub crawl or surf outing, but we’re like the cat that shows up wherever you are, too damn tenacious to shake.

A figure appears in the fog, trudging toward me. About fecking time. “Where have you been, love?”

She blows out a cloudy breath. “I have shit to do, and it’s cramping my writing time. And focus. And I haven’t even gotten to the cleaning. I needed to walk.”

“What shit to do?” I ask, challenging her. I know exactly what she’s doing. Procrasinating. Happens every time she goes back to work after a long vacation, even when she works from home.

She narrows her eyes before she rolls them. “You really need me to list the stuff?” She shoves past me into the office. “Which reminds me, I need to make a list.”

“There’s a list on the board, love.”

“A new list. One that includes redoing my website, catching up with blog reading–I’m so freaking far behind, and taxes. Gotta pay sales tax for the three books I sold last year. Sheesh. I’ll be glad when we can do in-person events again. This virtual stuff doesn’t foster that connection between writer and reader.”

“And the novella is on that list, right?” I ask. “Along with the editing of your police procedural and finishing the first draft of the rural mystery?”

She toes her boots loose and flips them off. “Yeah, but first Book 2. And damn it, I can’t fricking focus anymore.” She shuffles to the fridge.

“It’s empty. I checked.”

She sighs. “You know, this year at work we have to use up all our vacation by the end of the year, since we’ll be starting on our new parent company’s self-managed time off scheme next year. I think I’m going to spend some time at that little place with the cabins up toward Lake Mille Lacs. All by myself.”

“Alone?”

Another eye roll. “Gawd. You know what I mean. A whole week of nothing but you and me and writing. No TV, no garden, no work, no cleaning, no anything except writing. In the woods.”

“Sounds nice, love. Any pubs nearby?”

She groans. Or growls. I can’t tell. “I’ll be back.” She swings the office door open. “I’m going to get some water. And I need some help coming up with a good short story to submit. Maybe a ghost story. Has to be a mystery.” She leaves.

I think I’ll pop out to hunt down some nice lager. I have a feeling I’m going to need it.

Hey all, sorry I’ve been quiet; been trying to focus on writing and staying away from social media and news as much as possible. News bums me out (although I feel more hopeful now that Jan 20 is closer), and since hubs is a news junkie and has to have the TV on incessantly, I’ve been struggling a bit. On the bright side, weather’s been nice, so I’ve been walking. It’s great! Don’t knock the power of a good walk outside, preferably in the embrace of nature.

Happy Writing!


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A week of cute trouble #kittens

So last week I mentioned I probably wouldn’t get much writing done this week because we were going to be cat-sitting for my son’s 2 kittens. And I was right. I did, however, manage to get some baking done (kittens napping on one’s lap interferes with writing, but not baking 🙂 )

What a pair! The little black one, Nyx, is the troublemaker. I think they have her picture next to the definition in the dictionary. And I swear she’s part monkey as much as she climbs around. We have a rickety old Chinese laundry that’s been glued and rubber-banded together for years. Nyx spent time using it as a jungle gym (she managed to tip it over twice, but didn’t get hurt).

Steady …

Tibbers is the chill one, as long as he’s not being skittish. He’s not one to brush against your legs as cats do, but he’ll walk right past you then plop on the floor and stretch.

Chillin’

Zoey was NOT happy about the interlopers, and hissed at Tibbers on a regular basis. Tibs, on the other hand, followed her around. She would stop and hiss at him, and he just sat and waited until she started moving again, then followed.

Another thing about Nyx is that she loves being high up. I suggested to my son that he get a cat tree (his girlfriend is getting him one for Christmas).

Not only does Nyx like to climb, she is incessantly curious. The rule at our house (and my son’s apartment) is cats do not belong on counters or tables. Ever. My son has been trying to train them with a spray bottle and water, which works fine for Tibbers because he doesn’t like it. Nyx, of course, doesn’t mind the water. We had a spray bottle we had to refill while they were here. Nyx would get up on the counter where she wasn’t supposed to be, we’d scold and spray, and she’d jump down, lick off the water, and jump right back up on the counter.

On the bright side, because we’re home all day and consistent, she knew not to jump on the counter by the end of the week. Not that she didn’t try, but we didn’t have to spray as much. Curiosity is strong with that one!

We got to watch the usual kitten antics: play wrestling (Tibbers is bigger, so he could smack Nyx down, but Nyx is quicker), zoomies (they had a lot more room around here than at the apartment), and a fun cat toy consisting of a miniature fishing rod with a pair of feathers fastened to the end on a line (my son called it a “bird”).

Tibbers, being the less-energetic of the pair, liked to take a break on the stairs and watch his sister’s antics.

You know cats are comfortable in a strange place when they find your lap the ideal place to take a nap. Usually the kittens disappeared in the afternoon, finding nap places somewhere in the house. Nyx is less shy, and more affectionate than Tibbers (to make up for the trouble she causes?). And she’s a purr machine.

Tibbers warmed up by mid-week, and he’s bigger than Nyx, so a lapful of Tibbers was a true lapful. Just look at the size of this handsome boy (he’s about six months old, I think). My chair is oversized, so that gives you a little perspective.

He hasn’t quite grown into his paws. I’m pretty sure he has some Maine Coon in him.

Ready for my close-up

My son and his girlfriend came and picked up the kittens last night, so Zoey has the house to herself again. And I got my dose of kittens. No writing, though. I’ll try to make up for that this weekend.

Two weeks until Christmas! Eek! Hope everyone is doing well and staying safe. We’re not doing any in-person family gatherings this year, though one of my brothers suggested a virtual gathering via Zoom. We’ll see how that goes.

Write on!


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What?! Only three weeks until Christmas? #amwriting #mnwinter

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

It’s the end of the first week of December, and this season has been mild. We haven’t seen snow since we got those six and a half inches in October, and couple inches more a few weeks later. In MN, that’s uncommon. Even more uncommon is seeing temps in the 40s this time of year. Not that I’m complaining. A daily high of 40 degrees F sure beats a daily high of 30.

That also means it doesn’t look a lot like Christmas, not that anything looks a lot like we’re used to this year. I hope everyone stayed safe over Thanksgiving. Chances are, even if you did, so many other people didn’t that by the time Christmas rolls around, it’ll look even less like what we’re used to. Hubs already declared we aren’t going anywhere. Considering no one knows whether they will recover or not if they get COVID-19, I guess I’m okay with that. I do miss family, though.

So, in lieu of family gatherings, I figured I’d do something I haven’t done since we were living in Michigan all those years ago, when we were almost-married, and then freshly-married. Our families lived in MN, we were living in MI, and neither of us had time off to travel. So I did what I thought was the next best thing: care packages! (of course, now that I said that, I spoiled the surprise if any of them read my blog).

It was a way to connect with family. My family is more dispersed now. Back then, my youngest siblings were still at home, my nieces and nephew on my husband’s side were still at home, and I had a lot more energy. Now, all my siblings have their own families, and my nieces and nephew are scattered.

One thing I love about Christmas (and granted, Christmas doesn’t have the same feel since my mom passed away 15 yrs ago; it was her favorite holiday), is baking cookies. I do it every year and take an assortment to family holiday gatherings. My brothers’ wives all bake since they have younger kids, so my treats are just added to the rest. My in-laws don’t bake because the kids are gone and it’s just them, so they always enjoy my treats.

Baking cookies is almost a tradition for me, although I think I do it mostly because I used to do it with Mom. With five kids in our family, cookies in general never lasted very long while we were growing up. Christmas cookies had a short lifespan as well. We made a variety, but we had our go-tos we made every year.

What about you? I know a lot of you have grandkids, and some of you have younger kids. Do you bake cookies for Christmas? Just for the grandkids? (I say just for the grandkids because anyone who has kids still at home probably bakes anyway 😀 ) Do you save the whole baking experience until the grandkids come over so they can help? One year when we gathered at my dad’s house for some occasion (not Christmas, I don’t think), I invited one of my nieces to help make our family’s secret chocolate chip cookies. My sister-in-law was skeptical because of past experience, but my niece did great (she was maybe five at the time). What fun!

So, baking (and ugh, cleaning) this weekend, with writing in-between. I thought this would be a more writing-focused post, but maybe next time. I must be looking forward to baking cookies more than I thought 🙂 .

AND bonus this coming week: my son has to travel for his job the first half of the week, and his apartment management is doing safety inspections, so he won’t be home (and he really isn’t supposed to have two cats). My daughter lives in the same apartment complex, so she’ll be subject to the inspections, as will my son’s girlfriend. So what to do with 2 adolescent kittens for three days?

You guessed it–bring them to Mom and Dad’s house! Zoey will not be happy to share her territory with the 2 invaders for OMG! Three days! But I’m looking forward to it. Having kittens around who actually like to snuggle will be a treat! (Zoey doesn’t snuggle, she demands lap time (not to be confused with snuggle time) on her terms, and tolerates petting. She’s kind of a drag that way.) Mischievous kittens (at least Nyxie is mischievous) are so much fun to watch!

So I’ll have pictures next week. Will I get any writing done while I have two kittens to distract me? I’ll have to wait and see. I’m sure my Muse will be around to loom and remind me to get my butt in the chair and write.

Stay safe! Keep writing! And remember, the shortest day of the year is only three weeks away 😀

In honor of their upcoming visit!