Monday, February 28, 2011

Writer's Journey, con't

Mondays get a slow writing start since I have a Bible study class first thing in the morning. But, here goes with the second installment on the Writer's Journey.

This book is based on the movie premise of three acts. If a book, screenplay or story is 120 pages, one-fourth, or 30 pages, makes up the first act, 60 pages the second act and 30 pages the third act, approximately. The last post dealt with the Original World, first of a story's 12 elements. Once that world is established, the character faces several other elements in the first act.

Element 2. The Call to Adventure - is where the hero encounters a problem, challenge or adventure. The hero is forced to leave the ordinary world and enter a new world where the problem, etc., exists. We now know the hero's goal. In the Wizard of Oz Dorothy wants to return home.

Element 3. Refusal of the Call (Reluctant Hero) - The hero may not accept the call to adventure at this point. She may not commit completely to the journey yet. Her fear escalates, circumstances may change, the problem worsens or she needs a push from someone or something to send her into the journey (adventure).

Element 4. Mentor (The Wise old Man or Woman) - Some stories introduce someone who can urge the hero to accept the journey. A mentor "stands for the bond between child and parent, teacher and student, doctor and patient, god and man." The mentor prepares the hero for the journey. In the Wizard of Oz, the mentor is the good witch who advises Dorothy and gives her ruby slippers which eventually help Dorothy return home.

Element 5. Crossing the First Threshold - At last the hero commits to the journey, accepts the call to adventure, and faces the consequences of the problem. Dorothy takes off on the Yellow Brick Road.

Crossing the first threshold ends act one as the first turning point.

The 12 elements outline the three-act premise of a story. After we see them all, I'll explain the archetypes of a story and explain in more detail the 12 elements. 

On Friday morning I received the Pelican contract for the second in the HOW THE WEST WAS DRAWN series - Frederic Remington's Art. Now I must update all my information, send everything to Pelican, and wait for the return of a signed contract. Then I order permissions/rights. I'm not sure what the publication date is but, most likely, it will be next spring. YAHOO!!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Writer's Journey

I am a book junky. I buy all kinds of writing books but never read them completely. I use them to research writing techniques/tips, etc. My goal is to finish The Writer's Journey. If I post about what I read there, perhaps I'll reach my goal. The book presents a sure-fire way of writing good stories.

Highlights for Children offers a class on the Hero's Journey. Unfortunately, I've never had the chance to attend. Once after seeing the write up, I purchased The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler. The author believes every good story is based on the mythic structure of the Hero's Journey which he discovered when he crossed paths with the mythologist Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero of a Thousand Faces. Google his name for more information on Campbell. After discovering Campbell's pattern for story, Vogler began to compare the pattern to popular movies.

Another follower of the principle is John Truby, a screenwriter, director, and screenwriter teacher. I found out about him through the Writers Store. On that link you'll find articles by John Truby. There are other classes and books based on the idea of screenwriting as a tool for story/novel writing. They teach the three-act form of writing. It works.

Let's begin with an overview. "Book One, Mapping the Journey, is a quick survey of the territory," says Vogler. He tell you to consider the book as a journey map through story. Book Two, details the 12 elements of the Hero's Journey. "An Epilogue, Looking Back on the Journey, deals with the special adventure...... and some pitfalls to avoid on the road."

Element 1 - The Ordinary World

Most stories take the hero from the ordinary, everyday world into a new, unfamiliar world. He is like a "fish out of water." Before you can place him in the unfamiliar, the reader needs to know the familiar world. Then, the reader sees a real contrast in the two worlds in which the hero lives. Take for instance, The Wizard of Oz. When possible, I'll use this movie as an example. A lot of time is spent showing the drab world in which Dorothy lives. Of course, shooting the scenes in black and white contribute to portraying that drab life. Once she arrives in Oz, color shines. The reader definitely realizes the difference.

Monday we will discuss a few more of the 12 elements.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

SCBWI - Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators

The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators gives an award each year to the best book of the previous year - in this case 2010. Members vote for books in their region. The top five, I believe, go to national. Receiving the Crystal Kite award marks a plateau in publishing for children.

As a member and voter, I choose to only vote if I've read the book. (I know some people possibly vote for the person rather than the book.) I checked out as many of the titles as I could find at my local library. The nominee list can be found on the SCBWI websites. Although the Rocky Mountain Region website states it encompasses Colorado and Wyoming, a Utah author appeared on the list. I realize I'll never be able to finish the 20 or so books I checked out before the voting deadline.

However, I will at least have read new releases of the past year. Not a bad thing. Which books received publication? Is there a new trend? Are fantasy books fading? How many are non-fiction vs fiction? All the answers to these questions help in determining what or how I write. Yet, I still stick to my interests and what I believe is a good subject for children. I also become acquainted with local authors' names and watch for their releases.

But, how to choose? The choices vary. I learned about the Candy Bomber of the Berlin Airlift. I read about a girl whose mother changes location every year. I gathered information about other countries that served as settings. Since many of the books are YA, I wonder if the categories could be tightened. The list included YA to young reader picture books. After reading the local nominees, I'll watch closely for the winners and read those for comparison.

If you write for children, be sure to join SCBWI. But, most of all, READ, read children's books. Not only the new releases but the classics as well.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Words and How We Use Them

We often place unnecessary words in sentences. Words like "There are," "It is," and "In order to." There are other phrases we include just as useless. Check these examples from Kathleen Phillips How to Write a Story.

"There are five things that are important to remember." Besides the opening's useless words, the verb is passive and the word "that" is often not necessary. Change the sentence to "Five things are important to remember." The "that" disappeared but the verb does nothing. We could say "Remember these five important things." Sounds a little more emphasized. Depending on where the sentence falls, "things" might need to be named.

At other times we repeat ourselves with words. We say the same thing twice.

"First began" - the words mean the same. The sentence could read "First, . . . . " and then state the rest.

"Free gift." Isn't a gift always free?

"Small trifle" - the words mean the same.

"Final conclusion" A conclusion is final.

"Consensus of opinion" - leave out "of opinion." Consensus is an opinion.

"Carry out the implementation" - either "carry out" or "implement."

Another pet peeve of mine concerns adverbs, most of which are "ly" words. Usually they can replace the inactive verb rather than work as an adverb. Check these examples.

"walked slowly" - I checked my Flip Dictionary (a user friendly Thesaurus) and found these words for stroll - amble, mosey, ramble, roam, rove, saunter, wander.

"walked slowly and tiredly" - trudge - lumber, plod, slog, toil, traipse, tramp. Plodded - drag, grind, labor, schlepp, struggle, toil.

"walked unsteadily" - staggered, limped, hobbled. Stagger - lurch, careen, reel, rock, hobble, stump, sway, totter, waver, weave.

If I check each verb listed above, I find more word choices. Yes, it takes time! But when every word must count, the time is well spent.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Dangling Phrases and Clauses

When we write, we know what we mean but don't always express it. Take for instance, dangling phrases and clauses. If you reread your manuscript after a few days, you may discover them or you may still overlook them. A critique group usually finds them. Then you feel really silly for having made such an obvious mistake.

What is a dangling phrase or clause? Phrases (a sequence of two or more words acting as a unit in a sentence) and clauses (which have a subject and verb and could be a sentence on its own) appear in different places within a sentence and refer to a noun or pronoun. If placed incorrectly, they refer to the wrong noun, pronoun, or to nothing. Let's look at some examples Kathleen Phillips used in her book How to Wrtie a Story.

1. "We saw the flowers walking in the garden." Who is walking, the flowers or we? To correct the sentence we can begin with a phrase. "While walking in the garden, we saw the flowers." Now who saw the flowers and who is walking?

2. Sometimes we leave out a subject or verb and forget what we are talking about. "When still a puppy, I taught Fido to shake hands." Who or what was the puppy? If we change the phrase to a clause with a subject and verb, we understand. "When he was still a puppy, I taught Fido to shake hands." Or we can take "I" out. "When still a puppy, Fido learned to shake hands."

3. Danglers may appear anywhere in a sentence. "A dog almost bit me when I was riding my bicycle." If we change the order of the sentence, it becomes clearer. "When I was riding my bicycle, a dog almost bit me."

4. Orphaned pronouns cause misunderstanding in a sentence. "The dog bit my tire and then it sprang a leak."
Although the pronoun "it" is closer to tire, it still seems to refer to the dog because of the word "then."
Rearranging the sentence solves the problem. "My tire sprang a leak when the dog bit it."

5. If a modifier rests too far from the word it modifies, the meaning can be confusing, amusing and/or distracting. "Later I saw the dog with a girl on a long leash." What did the author mean for the phrase to modify? If we place the phrase closer to dog, we correct the meaning. "Later, I saw a girl with the dog on a long leash."

Dangling phrases and clauses provide humor and relaxes any tension within a critique group. However, I'm not saying to add them to your writing for humor sake. What if they aren't caught?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Get It Down, Then Get It Right

Babysitting 22 month-old twin grandsons sort of prevented me from posting yesterday. A classroom presentation got in the way of posting earlier today. But, except for distractions of preparing dinner and folding the laundry, I'm ready to give some thoughts on today's subject - revising.

Hemingway said there are two processes for writing. First you get it down, then you go back and work on getting it right. It is not a matter of polishing the manuscript by correcting misspelled words, eliminating adjectives and adverbs or tinkering with flow. Instead, consider it as creating and refining thoughts. Many authors spend countless hours, days and years perfecting a manuscript. James Joyce spent 20,000 hours writing Ulysses and 17 years on Finnegans Wake. No wonder they are classics.

Another author answered a question about how much he rewrites with "Writing is rewriting."

Rewriting is more than crossing out the adjectives and adverbs. You replace them with nouns and verbs that that better express your meaning. You catch mistakes. You punch the prose. While you correct the small things, keep your mind tuned to possible radical improvements. Toss the first paragraph, page, chapter if it doesn't truly begin the story. Perhaps the middle drags. Punch it up by thinking of new directions, conflicts, or characters reactions.

Look at revision as re-vision. Go in new directions or change the structure. Sometimes it takes hiding the manuscript under the bed, in a drawer or the trash can. Starting over combines your original idea with more momentum, new directions, new perspectives, and a higher quality of writing. That first draft acts as the foundation on which you build a better product. It reminds me of looking for a lost object. I may overlook the thing several times before I find it right in plain sight.

During the rewriting process, take yourself away from the manuscript for a hour, a day, or a month - whatever it takes to look at it with new eyes. Your new vision surprises you with easy fixes.

When does rewriting end? Sometimes you'll find it hard to cut your beautiful words. However, will you remember what you cut in a few days? Make sure everything fits with the story. Take out those "show-off phrases" you love. Listen to reader feedback. You are not obligated to change all to please your critique readers. However, take their suggestions to heart, consider if they make a manuscript better or just become their writing voice.

An author discovers she/he can always tweak their work. It never seems perfect. Realize at one point you must print the document, cut the apron strings and let the baby go.

You may find a guest post I did for Patricia Stoltey's blog, interesting. Named "Publication and Promotion: They Go Together," the post sums up my publishing path for HOW THE WEST WAS DRAWN and some promotion tips I've covered in this blog.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Show vs Tell

We hear "Show don't Tell" over and over but what does it mean? Here is a good example from You Don't Have to be Famous: How to Write Your Life Story.

"Ginny was elated when she won the tournament. It was very emotional."

First of all, the two sentences have passive forms of "to be" verbs. The verbs don't do anything. Elated describes many different actions. Compare that to this paragraph of showing.

When Ginny won the tournament by sinking the three-foot putt, a roar went up from the crowd. She hurled her putter into the air, dropped to her knees, covered her eyes and sobbed.

I've changed the quote a bit to include active verbs rather than "ing" words the author used. A warning: don't think everything has to be shown. Some events, etc., require telling. All showing gets boring, too. Mix them for the best effect.

Remember that "the weakest tools for descriptive writing are adjectives and adverbs." Most times a noun or verb can take their place. I eliminate every "ly" word I see. "A noun is much better off alone than with a predictable or inadequate modifier.

Take for instance: She was stepping into snow above her knees. Instead, take away "was" and replace it with a form of the "ing" word. She stepped into snow above her knees. Better yet is "She sunk into snow above her knees."

Try painting a word picture. Here are two examples from a recent chick novel I read by Kristin Hannah.

"She led the girl across the necklace of stepping stones that meandered through the garden." Here, too, I changed a couple of words. I think I cut a few words.

Another example from the same book is "The rain softened the world into the muted blues and greens of a Monet painting." Both of these examples paint a word picture you, the reader, can see.

Go through your manuscript. Circle all the verbs. Are they active or passive? Change them to active. Then underline all the adjectives and adverbs. How can you replace them and keep your meaning and at the same time paint a word picture? It isn't easy. Try it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Story Middles

Middles answer "What is the problem and how does it get solved?" The middle adds complications, unexpected happenings and seemingly insurmountable problems. In another word, CONFLICT. After the five "Ws" of writing, who, what, where, when, why, comes how. The how happens suspense. Not like a mystery, but suspense that builds to solve whatever problem the writing entails. Action and tension contribute to suspense.

Action may go up, dip a little and head up again until it reaches a point of no return, a breaking point, the darkest moment. For every action there is a reaction.

Now some basics for writing the story.

Who is your audience? To get across an idea, pretend you are talking to one member of that audience. What does that person need to know about the story you are telling them? Where might they ask a question? Answer the questions before they have a chance to interrupt and ask.

As you write, be sure to have a dictionary or Flip Dictionary/Thesaurus handy. A Flip Dictionary is a form of Thesaurus. It lists words similar to ones you use in your story and helps eliminate "echo" words (often repeated words). These resources allow you to be specific in your writing.

In being specific, you'll need to replace “it” with the name of something. Be aware that new writers, as well as experienced, sometimes place "it" to refer to the wrong noun. If you substitute the name of something for "it", the message will be clear.

Say what you mean. Adjectives and adverbs can be misleading. For instance: "Our first cruise was incredible." What does incredible mean? Good or bad? Actually, we looked out the back of the ship at blue skies filled with fluffy white clouds, unlike the sky out the front – black. During the night, waves swelled to 48 feet and continued throughout the day. We rode the crests of Hurricane Gordon. Yes, the trip was incredible, but a better word to describe the trip adds the proper meaning. Be specific.

Next blog will talk about the often used term "Show don't tell."