Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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We all can relate

I watched Jurassic World last night for the first time (yes, I know it’s been out for, like, three years, but I’m a little behind. I just saw Hidden Figures last week). It’s a good movie for those who like dinosaurs (me! me!), but as a storyteller, I noticed a few things that made me think of writing, plotting, etc. (Note: if you haven’t seen the movie, just sayin’ there will be spoilers.)


Yes, I know it’s one of those all-action, not much in the line of story-telling movies like so many these days. There was more character development in some of the Transfomers movies (yes, I like big, sentient robots too 😀 )

Anyway, that wasn’t what I noticed. The first thing I noticed is something that my writing teacher mentioned in our Master Novel class. A writer has to draw the reader in, and there has to be conflict of some sort. You know the classics: man v. man, man v. nature, man v. self, and man v. society. (I looked this up to verify my memory was working, and discovered now there is one more: man v. the supernatural. Well, I would consider that nature *shrug*)

The conflict is obvious: man v. big bad dinos juiced up by man’s incessant desire to tinker with Nature. How does the saying go? Don’t mess with Mother Nature, she’ll kick your ass. So what if they filled in some DNA gaps with other stuff? You know, like cuttlefish camoflauge DNA or frog DNA (in the first Jurassic Park, that’s what caused the problems in the first place, the spontaneous gender-switch some frogs (lizards too?) will do). What could possibly go wrong?

Character development is at a minimum. The only characters that seem to develop by the end are the main character Claire, who takes the typical “ignore family because of work” to the “family in danger, family is more important” route. The two boys, a teenaged brother and a somewhat younger brother, change from the sulky teen and smart-but-lacking-confidence middle-grader to a stronger, more confident pair who take care of each other.

Yawn.

Where was I? Oh yeah, conflict and drawing the reader in. The part that reminded me of my writing teacher is the drawing the reader in part. Once way to increase conflict and make the reader care more about what happens is to create a bond between characters, either between the one in danger and the hero/ine, or between the protagonist and the antagonist. They did that with this movie, as well as with the first one, Jurassic Park.

In Jurassic Park, the man who started the park, Hammond, invited his grandkids to see the park before it opens. Of course, the kids get into trouble when the dinos get loose, but there is a family tie, which automatically ramps up the tension. In Jurassic World, the woman managing the new park, Claire, is tasked to babysit her nephews while her sister and brother-in-law deal with marital issues. Once again, the kids get into trouble with the super-smart, bad-ass dino gets loose.

See a pattern? Tension is increased when the conflict involves a relative or loved one. Even the first Jack Reacher book had a family tie: Reacher’s brother is killed, and Reacher hunts for the culprit.

A reliable way to draw readers into the story is to use family ties of some sort, because everyone has experienced having a sibling or parent or significant other or favorite/hated relative. We care more about people we can relate to, which is why in my debut novel I include a family tie, where in the first draft I had none. It made a huge difference in how the reader cared about the main character.

The plot was pretty typical action movie stuff. Bad guy/dinosaur/robot/supernatural creature terrorizes hero/ine’s loved ones, good guy’s goal is to save loved ones and beat the bad guy, in spectacular, CGI-laden, heart-pounding, explosion-ridden, magic/mutant power-blasting style.

The other thing I noticed was the ending (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT). Granted, I didn’t sit down and watch the whole thing; I was making fresh salsa for my home-from-college-for-the-weekend daughter during the first 30 min of the movie, so I might have missed something, but when Claire released the kraken–er, wait, wrong film. When Claire released the T-Rex, I had to suspend my disbelief. It was the T-Rex from the original movie, but I don’t remember them mentioning the old T-Rex at all. I could rewatch the whole movie (or I could just rewatch the first half hour) to find out if they foreshadowed the T-Rex, but really? I mean, talk about deus ex machina.

Do not do that in your writing. Seriously. Totally blew the experience for me, because I was wracking my brain for anything about the old T-Rex from earlier in the movie. I might have to rewatch it anyway.

Repeat after me: No magic/unexpected solutions to finish off the bad guy. No pulling a rabbit out of a hat to beat the bad guy if you haven’t told readers about the killer rabbit earlier. Just. Don’t.

Today will be apple bread and chocolate chip cookie day. And little, if any, writing. Sigh.

Have a great weekend!

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Recharging Creative Energies

 

from balcony

View from Julie’s balcony, Crystal River Inn B&B

*leans over balcony railing* “You bloody well owe me for this.”

“Yeah, yeah.” My writer yells from the yard. “I told you last weekend I wanted you to write the post while we’re here.”

“This is not part of my job description.”

My writer waves. “I’m going on the lake tour. You can catch up when you’re done.”

“You heard the part about owing me, love. Trust me, I will collect.”

Julie piles into the van with her fellow writing sisters without another wave.

So here I bloody am writing her blog post. Again. But this time it isn’t to be nice. Mercury is in retrograde, and damn it, my writer has an energy drain that’s been pulling her down since last weekend. She asked me to do this, but I agreed on one condition: she has to work on Book 2 every single day for the next month.

She blew her July NaNo. I’m ready to take bets on if she will manage to get 30k words done in a month. A thousand words a day. I’m ready to pull out all the stops on her.

You writers think we muses have it so good. You think all we have to do is sit on a shelf like some fecking holiday elf and you magically get inspired.

Well, it doesn’t work that way. We have to figure out how to encourage your creative energies to kick around ideas and images in your head. And if that doesn’t work, like it isn’t working for my writer (damn it all to bloody hell and back), we have to gather it ourselves and shove it into you.

It’s like trying to collect sparks from a Roman candle and cramming them into your head like …  Trust me, it ain’t easy. It helps that the reunion is at such a quiet location, with a river running behind it. It gets my writer to open up to the energy, which makes my job a hell of easier.

Besides, I left my bullwhip and fedora at home. Hasn’t been working anyway. Now that Julie has finished the list of stuff she got from her editor (THAT wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be), she can focus on her next project. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to just sit by and wish the creative energy to infuse her.

No, I’m going to fecking channel the energy into her. I didn’t take that Muse refresher course for nothing. And I didn’t learn the rules so I wouldn’t break them. Besides, they’re more like guidelines…

Signing off, because I’ve got a Muse rule or two to break.

Get your arses writing!

crystal river


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Blank

Yep. The barren white page stares at me, daring me to deface it with words. Hell, with anything resembling a scene in my story.

Stuck. I’m not sure if it’s the transition scene or if I’m trying too hard to cover bases my editor pointed out in my manuscript, but something is blocking me.

Coincidentally (or maybe fortuitously), I’ve read a few articles about overcoming “stuck”, including an older one about breaking through writer’s block, and another about what to do when you stall out. BTW, if you aren’t familiar with Janice Hardy’s blog, you are missing out!

I’m trying to figure out just what I’m getting hung up on. I know my characters. I know the backstory. I know the plot. And I know I’m getting distracted by real life stuff. For instance, my daughter had orientation this week at college. She’s been terribly anxious about it because she doesn’t know what she wants to do (undecided). The college has a wonderful program to help undecided students explore their options. And the people are soooo nice (which my daughter commented on more than once).

We spent all day at the school. And by the end of the day, my daughter was feeling much better about going off to school (yay!). My plan was to get home and finally give my garden some attention since, well, it hadn’t rained for a few days (but it was hella hot and humid). That is, until it started raining as we got home.

So, I should spend the time writing, right? I pulled out my computer, and stared at the screen, and the dozen words I managed the day before. Added about a hundred words.

Sigh.

I’ve got the brainstorming wall out, and my bucket of ideas, but the spatters and splotches aren’t making any sense yet. And my Muse happened to “leave” his fedora on the corner of my desk. A hint, I suppose.

And of course, he’s somewhere but not here, probably on a pub crawl. Maybe I need a pub crawl. I wonder if I could find him–I could crash his crawl.

Damn, that sounds like fun 😀

This weekend I have got to get into the garden, or I’m going to need a machete to find my way. I’ll try to take pics and post them next week–if I’m brave. And writing, damn it. Maybe I’ll get things moving by scribbling for a bit with pencil and paper. That seems to help, even if it’s just “thinking out loud but on paper”.

I’m counting down to our annual Writing Sister reunion–yippee! I’m also counting down to my first meeting with a blogging buddy. I always wonder what it would be like to meet the cool blogging writers I know in person. I get to find out next week!

Anywho. Hope your creativity is moving along better than mine 🙂 Have a great weekend (and may the weeds fail to choke out your veggies 😀 )

 

P.S.: Hey, S, my Muse left a note to ask you if your “package” arrived. If you want to return it, let him know. He might have another that might work out. 😉


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On to the next task

I sent it off yesterday. Yep, my manuscript, all revised/edited and everything.

Whew!

Now to take a sort of break. Hubs and I laid out the garden last night, and I started planting before it got too dark. The problem, though, is it’s raining today, so I won’t be able to put in the rest of the garden until tomorrow at the earliest, depending on how much rain we get. Probably not until Monday. Ugh.

My youngest is graduating from HS tomorrow, and her grad party is next weekend. And here I thought after I got my manuscript edited and sent off that I’d have a few days to relax and do, well, not nothing–my house looks neglected, and I have yet to completely finish unpacking after my mini writing retreat, so I won’t be kicking back and eating bon-bons (though I can see enjoying a nice glass of wine 😀 )

Anyway, apologies to everyone; I’ll be trying to catch up on blog reading this weekend, so I’ll get there 😀 I’m just really far behind!

After that, the next task will be outlining Book 2. I was struggling with it this past winter, but my Writing Sisters helped me out (love you guys!). I’ve got a more solid (and interesting) plot now. Multiple books in a series can be a challenge, especially when you write the first book without much thought about the next ones. I mean, unless you go in with a multi-book story arc for a trilogy (fantasy books are great for examples of this), how does an author come up with Book 2 or Book 3?

The exercise is fun, because you’ve spent so much time with the characters, additional books are an excuse to spend even more time with them–provided you aren’t tired of them. I knew the next books would take place at airports or at least around airplanes because my main character is a female aircraft mechanic. The options are to stick with the same setting in Books 2 and 3, or venture off to other places. Staying in the same place works for most mysteries, I think, but an airport is a pretty limited setting when you think about it. Just how many bad things (read: dead bodies) can happen at the same one, even if it is as big as the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport?

The fun thing is, every major and most minor cities have airports, and there are air shows throughout the summer, which are great venues for more nefarious stuff. Putting the main characters at a different location opens the door for more story opportunities, but that also means leaving behind (at least for a while) supporting characters the reader may have fallen in love with in Book 1.

For instance, in Book 1 I have a character who is like “a grandmother channeling Cher”. Fun lady, and one of my editor’s favorites, but she won’t appear in Book 2 because that book takes place in a different location than Book 1. Same with another supporting character, who is a friend of my male lead. The crime scene team leader is like the buddy you met in college, and you still get to work with each other on occasion. Kind of the “invite over for a weekend BBQ” or “watch the game” friend. My editor also liked him, but again, he won’t appear in Book 2.

So what do you do about those characters? Obviously, if a future story (provided your editor/publisher or another wants it) is set in the original location, those characters will appear. I feel kind of bad about leaving them out, because I like those characters, too. I won’t get back to them until maybe Book 4, but I may never write Book 4. Maybe I’ll write a novella that is set at the location in Book 1, just to spend time with those characters again.

Anyway. Rainy day activities like cleaning (ugh!) and catching up on reading blogs are on tap for today. May you have a great relaxing weekend! Write on!


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When Characters need a tune-up

Making up characters to star in your story is one if the best parts of writing fiction, at least in my mind. In my debut novel, I created this awesome character and cast her as a strong female protagonist, a woman in a man’s world who can hold her own.

Every main character should have something to round them out: a realistic background, a family of some sort, maybe close friends or pets, and often some challenge in their history that they have overcome or are working to overcome in the current story. Sometimes the obstacle is an addiction of some sort, like Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan (alcoholism–oh man, I never noticed that before. Get it? Temperance is a recovering alcoholic). Maybe the character experienced a divorce or death in the family, like J. A. Jance’s Joanna Brady (first husband died). It doesn’t have to be a major hurdle; it could be as innocuous as losing a job, like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum or Kellye Garrett’s Dayna Anderson. And sometimes the character’s past is instrumental in shaping their present, like the abuse suffered by Eve Dallas and the life-on-the-streets struggle of her husband Roarke in J. D. Robb’s “In Death” series.

My protagonist survived her own trauma six years before the story starts. Not only did her ex-boyfriend stalk her after she dumped him, but he tried to kill her. By now, she’s taken back control of her life. Then he’s released from prison. No worries–he’s, like, over a hundred miles away–but little by little she notices things that make her question just how safe she is.

Oh, did I mention the detective on the case (psst, love interest 🙂 ) suspects she had something to do with the dead body she found? So, not only is my MC wary about the return of her ex-boyfriend, she’s trying to prove her innocence by looking for the culprit. Conflict? Check. Goal? Check. Obstacles she needs to get through to reach her goal? Check.

This is a mystery, so the MC should work on solving the case in some way, right? Cool. She shuffles the few puzzle pieces she has, and picks a direction based on what she knows. Then the Big Bad Ex shows up and proves he knows where she is.

Now, I’ve (thankfully) never gone through the type of trauma one would experience after being attacked like she was, but I can believe she would have some PTSD. She’s got her life back on track, but now the old fears and anxiety return.

Where does the tune-up come into play? Well, after talking things through with my editor and my agent, I realized my MC stopped working on the mystery once the baddie resurfaced, and instead spent her energy fighting against the old emotions.

In other words, she became a victim again, which weakens her role as a strong protagonist. She does break out of the victim archtype, but not to work toward the story goal; she breaks out to save her skin (and in the process discovers something that cracks the case, which does work toward the story goal). The main mystery-solving efforts now come from the male MC (yeah, I know it’s his job, but he’s not the headliner).

Once I finally figured that out (took me long enough–sheesh), how do I fix it? Enter my wonderful Writing Sisters and the brainstorming wall. We hashed it out and came up with a couple small things I can add. Those bits will help my protagonist break through the victim archetype and refocus her energy toward the main story goal. It also tunes up her character by reminding her of her strengths, and that the black moment in her past can help her in the present.

Bottom line, it’s okay for the MC to lose power, or become a victim (the midpoint crisis), but s/he needs to come back strong in order to keep his/her position as the star of the show.

On the non-writing related front, here’s what my daughter got me for Mother’s Day. I think my book dragon will like the company:

dragon1_cr

It’s a sort of terrarium–there’s some dirt under the purple rocks, and a succulent behind the dragon. There’s a bit of moss as well. Here’s another angle:

The little dragon is so adorable! The container is a teardrop shape, with a twine hanging loop. I don’t have a good spot to hang it, or a decent spot to set it right now, but it’s too cute not to put someplace where I can see it every day.

Now my Muse has two junior muses to contend with. Mwahahahaha! Heh, it’s a good thing he’s out on a pub crawl. 😀

Spring/summer (ugh, 80F is too warm for May) is here–woo-hoo! No garden planting plans quite yet, but I do have to clean last year’s debris out of the asparagus patch so I can find the spears when they start to come up. *rubs hands together* I can’t wait!

Have a great writing weekend!


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A-musing Reckoning

The clock on the wall in my writing office is ticking. Me, well, I’m waiting. I’ve got my “prize” from my weekend in Wisconsin to keep me company. moon manI’ve started working on my editor’s notes, but right now I’ve got something else on my list, and I’m waiting for my quarry.

I don’t have to wait long before my Muse shows up. I adjust myself in one of the recliners in a corner of the office and take a long sip of my brew. “Nice of you to show up.”

He zeroes in on me. “I see you’re working hard, love. Or should I say, hardly working.”

I tip my bottle again and savor the slight citrus tones of the ale. “I have been working. Every night since I got back. Unlike someone else I know. Where the hell have you been?”

He leans back against my desk, hands braced on either side. He’s wearing a black thermal shirt advertising The Old Fashioned tavern, where my Writing Sisters and I had dinner after our panel. Great place to eat if you’re ever in the area. “You do know that writing conferences are also muse conferences, right?”

I manage to avoid rolling my eyes. “Uh-huh. What’s this I hear about you hanging out at The Old Fashioned?” He can’t deny it. All 6-foot 2-inches of masculine energy, with intense blue eyes and GQ-esque physique, makes him pretty easy to spot.

He looks down at his shirt. “You and your Writing Sisters were there.”

“Yes, but I wasn’t standing at the end of the bar handing out business cards. I’ve got a witness.”

A slow grin stretches across his face. “Your Writing Sister? The one who kept her Muse from having fun because she had edits to do? Yeah, I talked to her about that.”

“I heard. You shouldn’t have distracted her.” Though she didn’t exactly complain … Honestly, neither would I 🙂

“Distracted? She–and her Muse–needed a break.” He crosses the office to stand in front of my recliner, hands on hips and a noticable lack of humor on his face. “You are accusing me of handing out business cards. Why would I want to start over with a new writer? For your information, love, those were drink tickets for the closing party. With the weather that weekend, we needed to get muses to stay.”

Why am I having a hard time believing him? “Likely story.”

“I heard about you and some new muses. Were you auditioning replacements?”

Oh crap. “No. They were part of one of the presentations I went to. They’re from a book by Jill Badonsky that helps writers with creativity.”

He leans over me. “Are you saying I’m slacking? I seem to remember my writer being stalled out for, gee, weeks. And nothing I did could knock you loose.”

“Exactly. So the presentation was about how to go after the creative process a little differently. Relax. I’m not planning to break in a new Muse.”

He straightens and chuckles, one of those “silly writer” chuckles. “As if you could if you tried.” He settles into the other recliner. “Let’s get to work.”

Whew. Sorry I’m still so far behind in reading blog posts, but I’m trying to catch up. I’m hitting the edits, but there’s a few adjustments I’ll have to make, and I’ve got to think on those for a bit. Today is earmarked for a college open house, then since it appears Spring is finally showing up for more than a day or two, I’m going to have to take a nice long walk before digging back in to my edits.

Enjoy your weekend, and WRITE!


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Paper chain countdown

Okay, not really a paper chain, but I’ve been looking at the calendar every day for the past week or so in anticipation. Despite Winter’s stubborn hold on the weather–last Monday we got 4 inches of snow (give or take), and this Sunday we’re supposed to get yet another snowstorm–I’ve been waiting for this week to arrive.

In less than 5 days I’ll get to see my Writing Sisters! All of them! One of us lives in California, so she doesn’t always make it to the reunions, but next week we’ll all be in Madison, WI for the Writers’ Institute. You should join us; we’re even going to be on a panel discussing our sisterhood.

If you’ve never been to a writing conference, you’re missing out. Seriously. There’s nothing quite like the energy created when so many writers gather. Yes, I know most of us are introverts, but everyone there is enthusiastic about the same thing: writing.

I’m looking forward to tapping the group for help with my current projects. I got my editor’s notes back, and need to do some brainstorming both for my revisions and for Book 2. I’ll bring the brainstorming wall and chocolate 😀

Just an FYI, after you’ve revised your project to within an inch of its life (yes, we all think we do), and get that contract … yeah, it ain’t over. I’ve got some changes to make, some of which I know will strengthen the main character. Some changes I’ll have to consider. That’s another bonus of going to the conference and meeting up with my writing sisters. Though most of them have never read the whole story, they can often see things from a different angle, and can suggest options I never thought of.

“Does this mean you’ll finally get your shit together, love?”

Where the hell did he come from? I look up, and there he is, my Muse, standing like a drill sergeant in front of my desk, arms crossed on his chest. The sleeves of his burgundy Henley shirt are shoved to his elbows, exposing the lean muscles of his forearms. His jeans are at that well-worn stage between brand-new indigo and faded white.

“What are you doing here?”

“Really, love? Just how much have you written in the past week?”

“Hey, I was in Dallas last weekend for my niece’s wedding. Give me a break. Not to mention I’ve been reading through my editor’s notes.”

He rests a hip on the corner of my desk. “I don’t see you working on them. In fact, I haven’t seen you work on anything for a disturbingly long time.” Before I can answer, he lifts a finger at me. “I don’t want to hear it. I want to see you write. And I don’t think you want me to take it to the next level.”

I open my mouth to respond, but nothing comes out. I try again. “Next level?”

A slow grin stretches across his face, his brilliant blue eyes holding something less like amusement, more like … er, like he’s got something up his sleeve that I have a feeling I’m not going to like. “You remember the urban fantasy, love?”

A shiver skitters down my spine. “Don’t you dare. I’ve got to work on my manuscript, my editor’s notes. Don’t distract me.”

His chuckle seems a bit, ah, malicious. “Apparently, you have no problem getting distracted. It’s the focusing part you have trouble with. And if I have to hit you with undiluted Muse energy again, I will. Trust me.”

Gulp. “Look, I’ve got the Writers’ Institute next week. My Sisters will be there. I’ve already set aside some time with my writing mentor and my agent to discuss things. I’ll be focused. You can hang out with the rest of the muses.”

One of his eyebrows arches. “And I’m supposed to trust you, love?”

“I’ll be thinking about writing the whole time.”

“Thinking? Is that all?”

“I’ll write. I’ll have to write with all that creative energy. And all those muses.”

He narrows his eyes. “I’m not sure I believe you. Or trust you.”

“You’ll be there. You can babysit me all you want.”

“You bet your ass I will.”

Yikes.

It’ll be prep time for the next few days. Oh, and of course there’s a boatload of stuff going on in the everyday department, too, including Winter’s stubborn hold–we’re due to get snow AGAIN tomorrow, prom dress shopping, college open house for my daughter. That’s just through the end of the month. Ugh.

It’s been colder than normal for April even here in MN. Good thing I have my handy-dandy lap warmer:

zoey_cr

Have a great writing weekend!