Blog Break- 2015

Hi everyone! As you’re reading this post, I’m heading down south for vacation. It’s been awhile since my family and I took one, and I couldn’t be more excited to spend time with them in the sunshine! I considered writing a few posts ahead of time and scheduling them, but I decided against it. Packing and preparing for a trip is so much effort. (Worth it, but still there’s effort.) And to be honest, I just need a break, not only from working and writing but from blogging too. I feel like my posts have been getting stale lately anyway. I little time away will give me a fresh perspective, and hopefully some fun and useful topics to share with all of you when I return!

Upon my return, my daughter will be hosting a French student for a week. She’s her French class pen pal and the girls have been communicating through social media for a few years. The two schools have put together a fabulous exchange program and so now they get to finally meet and hang out together for a week! I would have liked a little time after our vacation to prepare for her arrival, but that won’t be happening. She arrives a half hour after we return. Yikes! If I had only known the date of her arrival sooner I would have planned our vacation differently, but I didn’t. Oh well, isn’t that the way life works anyway…Lives intersect, big events collide, conflicts happen. C’est la vie! (See how I did that??) 🙂

I hope you all have a wonderful few weeks. I’ll post again two weeks from today—the first week in April…hopefully tan, refreshed, and full of new French words! *hugs*

Manuscript Monday #30: Write the Scenes you Can

Manuscript Monday is a series of blog posts which chronicle the life of my latest manuscript. It follows the journey I take to turn my week old baby story idea into a fully grown, polished novel. Take the journey with me. 🙂

We all get too busy to write sometimes. The difference between those who finish their manuscript and those who don’t is drive. If you have the drive to write your story, then you’ll get it done no matter what the obstacles. You’ll make it a priority. You’ll cut back on TV time. You’ll wake up an hour earlier or stay up and hour later. You’ll let the laundry slide for a day longer. You’ll write while you’re in the car waiting for your kids to come out of practice. You’ll write during your lunch break at work. No excuses… you’ll make the time to write somehow.

I know. I know. Sometimes, it’s just impossible. We all have unusual family obligations that creep up or unexpected deadlines at work. We have sick kids or we get sick ourselves. But here’s the thing. If days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months without writing, you’ll never finish that manuscript.

And I’ll never finish my manuscript either.

So knowing all this, I forced myself to work on my draft. As you know, time is at a premium right now, but I know that’s not a great excuse. I also haven’t figured out how the next scene in my story is going to play out. It’s been a bit of a roadblock in fact. So, instead of attempting to write that scene this week, I skipped ahead to a scene I’ve been thinking about that comes near the end of the manuscript. I don’t often write this way, but I gave it a try.

And I made progress! It was actually a fun scene to write. And the best part is, I kept writing several scenes after that. Who knows if these scenes will stay intact, especially as I fill in the first draft, but at least I wrote.

So that’s where I am at Week 30 of this WIP. I’m still writing the first draft. But I’m not discouraged at all because I AM writing. And really, what’s better than that? Good luck on your writing endeavors this week as well. I know it’s tough. But I also know it’s worth it too.

Have a great day, Friends. 🙂 Work some. Play some. Write some!

12 Stages of the Hero’s Journey

Last week, my 15 year-old son was given a creative writing assignment: Write a short story where your main character follows the 12 Stages of the Hero’s Journey. When he told me about it, of course I was intrigued. Not only because I had never heard of the Hero’s Journey, but because I wanted to know what type of hero story my son was going write! I mean, come on. How fun is this assignment?

I looked at the worksheet from his teacher and also did a little research of my own. I was surprised to find out the Hero’s Journey is basically the steps each of our main characters go through, but here they are wrapped up in a shiny package for us!

The Ordinary World

Most stories take the hero out of their ordinary world and put them into an exciting new world. But you must first show the ordinary so the reader can see the contrast between the two.

The Call to Adventure

The hero is presented with a problem, challenge, or adventure. The call to adventure establishes the stakes of the game and clearly states the hero’s goal.

Refusal of the Call

Often the hero will balk at the threshold of adventure out of fear of the unknown. The encouragement of the mentor will help the hero to get over this fear.

Meeting with the Mentor

By this time, the hero will have some interaction with a wise merlin type character. The hero-mentor theme is common and very rich in symbolic value as it shows the bond between parent and child, teacher and student, doctor and patient, and God and man. The function of the mentor is to prepare the hero to face the unknown. They may give advice, or guidance, or even a magical item. However, the mentor can only do so much and eventually the hero must handle the adventure alone.

Crossing the First Threshold

Here, the hero fully commits to the adventure, steps into the new world, and crosses the first threshold. He agrees to face the consequences or challenge presented to him in the Call to Adventure. This is where the story really takes off and the adventure begins.

Tests, Allies, and Enemies

Once across the First Threshold, the hero (and his allies) encounters new challenges and learns the rules of this new world. This is where we see the first signs of character growth as the hero and his companions react under stress.

Approach to the Inmost Cave

The hero comes to the last edge of a dangerous place. Often this is the most dangerous place in the new world –the Inmost Cave. As the hero crosses this second major threshold into this fearful place, he will often pause to prepare or plan for the challenge.

Supreme Ordeal

The hero hits rock bottom in direct confrontation with his greatest fear. This is a life or death situation and his morals are in dire jeopardy. He faces the possibility of death (or some other major catastrophe) and the audience waits in suspense to see if he will survive. This is the critical moment in the story. The hero must “die” in order to be reborn in a way. The reader’s emotions are temporarily depressed so that they can celebrate at the hero’s “return.”

Reward

Having beaten the odds, the hero (and reader) rejoice. The hero retrieves the treasure he has been seeking whether it’s a physical object or some type of intellectual knowledge. Oftentimes the hero will reconcile with his biggest fear.

The Road Back

The hero’s not out of the woods yet. Now he must deal with the consequences of confronting the powerful forces of the Supreme Ordeal. If the hero has not yet reconciled with a parent or raging being, they may come after him. Here, the hero must also make the decision to return to the ordinary world even though there are still challenges to face.

Resurrection

This is often a second life and death moment where the hero will face one final test. Here the reader will know if he has finally learned the lessons from confronting the Supreme Ordeal. The hero is transformed during these events and will return to the Ordinary World a changed person.

Return with Elixir

The hero returns to the Ordinary World but his return is meaningless without the treasure (either physical or intellectual). He shares this treasure with those around him knowing (whether it’s a healing potion or some other lesson learned) that it may be useful to the community around him.

Cool, huh?

Keep in mind these stages of the Hero’s Journey are flexible and can be customized to any story without losing its power or magic. As I read each of these stages for the first time, I thought of my own middle grade novel. It was a great exercise trying to see if my MC followed the steps of the Hero’s Journey in any way at all. And I was so excited. She pretty much does! Give it a try with your own story. See how heroic your main character is after all.

Oh, and because I can’t resist telling you…my son’s short story followed the Hero’s Journey of Rocky, a brave hockey stick who finds his strength by learning to flex his blade just in time to save the game. He begins his journey on a rack in a hockey shop, and after being chosen by a 15 year-old boy, he faces his fear with the help of a more experienced taller hockey stick owned by the boy’s older brother. He eventually ends up taking the winning puck home to his new rack in the garage and shares his newfound knowledge with the other new sticks. Great fun story!

I hope these 12 steps help you in some way. Every story needs a hero. Now you know the steps he needs to take to navigate the world you put him. If you found this info useful, pass it on if you can. I think its too good not to share! Thanks!

Have a great day, Friends! See you all next week. 🙂

Manuscript Monday #29: Handling Setbacks

Manuscript Monday is a series of blog posts which chronicle the life of my latest manuscript. It follows the journey I take to turn my week old baby story idea into a fully grown, polished novel. Take the journey with me. 🙂

Setbacks. We all have them. It may involve a story Idea that at one time seemed brilliant but now seems downright awful. It could involve a subplot that worked at one time but now confuses your main plot, or doesn’t mesh with your character’s growth. It could involve a plot twist that was so perfect, but now seems, well ordinary.

What to do? What to do?

I had a setback of my own this week. I finally submitted my chapter outline for the day-job project. I was so pleased with it and was sure my client would be too. Well…he was, but he wants me to save it for another book. The good news is I’ll get another project out of it. The bad news is he changed his mind about the direction for THIS book. He wants different characters and a different plot too. Yeah kind of a big deal. So I need to completely redo the chapter outline.

So you may wonder what the big deal is. I am getting paid to do this so just redo it, right? The trouble is, I’ve spent the past several weeks with this story brewing in my head. The characters, the obstacles, the setting…all of it. I finally came up with a story that I was happy with and hit all the points the client was looking for. I was so ready to write it—to bring the characters to life. I was so ready to draft. And now I can’t. Now I have to clear all of it out of my head, and start fresh. Oh my!

So while it may not be a typical setback, for me it’s still a setback. So what will I do? The same thing all of us do when we have one with our story. I’ll push on. I’ll regroup and put on my thinking cap. I’ll come up with a new story. I’ll make it great. Now sure exactly how, but I will.

And if you’re dealing with a setback with your own story, I hope you’ll push through too. 🙂

So that brings me to my fiction WIP for this week. Unfortunately since I’m going to be working on the day-job project longer than I thought, it will be awhile longer before I can work on it. Bummer. But we all know this happens sometimes.

I wish I had more to report at this time. Maybe next week! Until Wednesday, have a stellar week. And in case you missed it, take a look at my last post on character quirks. I love using them! In fact, I may have to include some unusual ones in my next book. Maybe you should too. 🙂

Good luck to you all this week. I’ll be thinking of you as you write wonderful words!

6 Ways to Carry a Character Quirk through a Story

We all know we need to write memorable characters. We need to give them a personality trait or even physical habit that can make them stand out to your readers. It can be anything from cracking knuckles to hair twirls but whatever it is, there needs to be a reason for your character to do it. Otherwise, it can come off as contrived or even annoying.

There are valid reasons for using a quirk. One is to make your character seem real. We all have quirks. Some of us just have more noticeable ones. So be sure to choose one that fits your character’s personality. For example, if your character is high energy all the time, it would make sense for him to bounce on his toes while he talks or jump up on chairs every time he has a great idea.

The other reason to use a quirk is for plot. If a particular quirk is obvious to the character early in the story, it may make sense to bring it out in full force as a plot twist. For example, if Dylan won’t ever leave home without his Swiss Army pocket knife, and you mention that fact in various scenes, then when he gets trapped in a cardboard box, the pocket knife will come in handy. (Okay not the best example, but hopefully you get the idea.)

The key to using a quirk effectively though is to carry it throughout the story. If it only shows up once or twice, then what’s the point of it being there? Here are six ways to use quirks consistently:

1. Introduce the quirk early in the story:

The wrestling match was in full swing when Hannah Prince arrived. She knew it would be no more than thirty minutes before it was her turn to take the mat. She scanned the room for a sign of her opponent and cracked her left pinky knuckle. 

Here the reader learns that Hannah is a wrestler AND she cracks her knuckles.

2. Have another character notice the quirk:

Hannah sat at the dinner table stirring her peas until they became a mashed mess. She looked up to see her grandmother’s warning look. “Hannah, Dear. You know the rule. If you squish your food you clean up the bird cage.”

Hannah put down her fork and scowled. Not the bird cage! She cracked first the knuckles on her right hand and then the ones on the left. “And do please stop cracking your knuckles like that! Your hands will grow too big to clean up after the birds.”

Here the reader learns that other characters notice that Hannah cracks her knuckles too.                                                                                                                                       

3. Have the character make internal mention of the quirk:

Hannah thought she heard wrong. Was Mrs. Montgomery really going to make her whole class clean up the broken eggs, scrawny Sammy Slater brought into class and cracked? She felt a twinge of pain in her left hand. I thought I had broken my knuckle cracking habit. I guess not.

Here the reader learns that Hannah is aware that she cracks her knuckles and is trying to break the habit.

4. At various times in the story, include the quirk when appropriate:

Hannah walked into the library. Her ex-best friend, Stella was sitting with her now new best friend, Kit. She quickly ducked into a cubicle by the window and cracked her left knuckle. And then her right. Getting mad wouldn’t help. But getting even would.

Here the reader realizes that when Hannah is anxious or upset, she cracks her knuckles. 

5. Include the quirk at the turning point or climax of the story:

Hannah raced into the gym just as Big Mouth Marvin tossed scrawny Sammy Slater into the recycling bin. She cracked her right knuckle and marched over to the bully. “Oh, Marvin that’s so nice of you to help Sammy find a seat for the match but he really doesn’t need your help. He’s going to be sitting with me and the rest of the wrestling team. Come on, Sammy. Let’s go.”

Here the quirk makes sense to the reader since it’s been used throughout the story.

6. Use the quirk to show character growth:

Hannah looked her opponent straight in the eye. Funny how after all her worrying, Janice Clockmeister didn’t look so scary after all. She stepped onto the mat and reached for her left hand. Instead of cracking her knuckle though, she took a deep breath. Now was the time to stay focused. May the best girl win! 

Here the reader learns that not only has Hannah broken her knuckle cracking habit, she’s learned to a bit about competing too.  

So my examples here may be well…odd, but hopefully you see how using a quirk throughout the story can make it a strong character trait. I love using quirks. It’s a great vehicle for character growth and also a subtle way to keep your character real yet memorable.

Have a fabulous week my friends. May all your characters develop a quirk or two. And may they all be memorable!

Manuscript Monday #28: Drafting a Routine

Manuscript Monday is a series of blog posts which chronicle the life of my latest manuscript. It follows the journey I take to turn my week old baby story idea into a fully grown, polished novel. Take the journey with me. 🙂

Hey there everyone!

How was the weekend? Great, I hope. I hope it gave you a chance to recharge. Mine was pretty good— not recharging in a spa weekend sense, but still recharging. I spent a relaxing Friday night at home with my husband that somehow ended with a late night take-over by teenagers; a busy Saturday working out, watching my son’s hockey game, and running errands; and a fun Sunday afternoon shopping with my daughter followed by a quiet dinner with my parents. So definitely not spa-like, but sometimes a break from routine is all it takes to recharge us for the week!

And that brings us to Monday, the day routines resume. And since so many of us are in the midst of drafting manuscripts right now, I’m wondering if our daily routines are similar at all. We may live in scattered places all over the world, but drafting a manuscript probably looks the same everywhere, right? Maybe, maybe not.

I’d love to hear how you fit drafting into your day. Are you a daytime drafter, a late at night after the kids get in bed drafter, or some other type? Here’s what my days look like when I’m deep into drafting….

I wake up at 6:15am, shower, make the kids breakfast, pack their lunches ( I know, I know. They should do this themselves!) and bring them to school at 7:30am. I come home, have breakfast with my husband, do a quick clean-up of the house, and throw in load of laundry. I allow myself fifteen minutes to check emails, Twitter, and Facebook.

Then, I get to work drafting by 9:00am. Now keep in mind, if I have a work project going on (like now), my drafting is for work, but if I don’t, I get to draft my own manuscript. But the process is the same either way. I work until about 10:30am, then I change over the laundry and make a smoothie to keep me energized. (Coconut milk, banana and pineapple is my current favorite!) This 15 minute break keeps my muscles from feeling stiff too. I hate that feeling!

Then back to work around 10:45. I draft again until 12:30pm when I stop for lunch. I watch the first half hour of Young and the Restless to clear my head while I eat. Guilty pleasure, I know! Then right back to drafting until 2:45 when I pick up the kids. With spring sports starting soon, I won’t have to pick them up until 5:30pm so I’ll gain a few hours there too. Yay! I’ll draft until 4:30 (with a ten minute break for coffee probably around 3pm).

At 4:30pm, I’ll put my manuscript away. I’ll work out, pick up the kids, make dinner and then my night is free to do whatever. But at least I’ve spent a good 5 hours or more drafting. On days that my draft is for work, I’ll use my free time at night to work on my own manuscript. But some nights are too busy with family stuff and that’s not possible. That’s why drafting my personal stuff usually doesn’t happen in the weeks when I’m drafting for work. My brain can only create so much!

I make sure I get up a lot to walk around on days that are busy like this. Writing is such a sedentary activity and my body feels lethargic if I don’t move around every hour or so. I also do my best to plan out my snacks ahead of time. Apples slices are my go-to. They fill me up and recharge my brain just enough. Otherwise I end up eating left over Valentine’s Day candy all day. My brain and body fall into a sugar coma and my drafting definitely suffers from it!

What about you? What does you drafting routine look like? My routine definitely looked different seven years ago when my kids were little. Most of the magic happened when they were at gymnastics and hockey practices! I feel pretty lucky that my time has freed up a bit. And really that’s what keeps me going on days like these. I go into ninja drafting mode. I guess I still value my writing time so much. I feel like it can be taken away from me at any time!

Have a fantastic week, my friends! I can’t wait to hear about your progress. Week #28 for my personal WIP is pretty slow, but I’ll chip away at it at night when I can. I hope you will too! Please leave us all a comment. Maybe something you do will help another writer organize their time. Or maybe your word count progress will inspire the rest of us to get moving! 🙂

 

The Imagination Effect

What is it about the word Imagination?

Something about it evokes a feeling of whimsy. Images of bright colors and rainbows pop into my mind and I find myself racing for the construction paper and finger paints. I picture myself in a land of crayons with lollipop fences and a playground made of candy. Why does this happen to me? Am I really just a seven year-old girl at heart? Isn’t it time I grow up? Shouldn’t I have left the playground a long time ago?

I don’t think so. For creative types like me, imagination is a part of life. It’s a large part of the way many of us think. We use it to brainstorm new characters, their problems, and the worlds they will conquer. We imagine putting our characters in unusual situations and spinning new twists on every day events. But what about the other parts of our lives? Does imagination really play that big of a role in the non-writing things we do?

According to Albert Einstein it does. He so famously said:

Logic will get you from A to Z but imagination will take you everywhere.

And who am I to argue with Albert Einstein?

But what exactly is imagination? How does it affect these other things we do? Imagination is the ability to create a mental image of something not perceived by using the five senses. It’s the mind’s ability to build scenes, objects, or events that do not exist in the present and have not existed in the past. But it’s not limited to seeing pictures. Some people imagine more in feelings or through any one of the other senses.

Imagination enables us to experience a whole world inside the mind.

It affects the way we look at the world, and allows us to experience life in whatever way we choose. We can try different images on for size and mold them into something unique to us. We all possess a certain amount of imagination ability, and for some of us it’s a more highly developed skill than others.

We all know children who could be described as dreamers—the types who stare out windows instead of at the pages of their school books. The ones who make up stories about the animals living in the clouds. The ones who play dress up instead of video games. These children are encouraged and praised for their vivid imaginations. But once these children grow into teenagers, we try to rein in their daydreaming and nag them to focus. But isn’t that what they’re doing? Aren’t they focusing on what their mind is exploring? They may be living in the clouds, but is that really so bad? Maybe in the clouds is where the magic is happening.

A developed and strong imagination doesn’t make you a daydreamer without practical focus. It strengthens your creative abilities and is an effective tool for remodeling your world—for remodeling all areas of your life. We all use our imaginations. Sometimes it’s a conscious thought, sometimes it’s an unconscious feeling that occurs while we carry out a mundane task. But in any way it happens, its impact is everywhere:

Imagination affects the way we work.

People with a developed imagination can solve problems more creatively. They can see opportunities that others cannot. Instead of seeing roadblocks, they see an underground tunnel or a pair of wings. They don’t feel stuck in a dead-end job, they envision the job they dream of and create the steps necessary to get it.

Imagination effects the way we love.

People with a developed imagination can hear the same old argument from a spouse, and instead of lashing out, build a solution that makes both partners happy. They can watch their child suffer at the hand of a bully and instead of blaming society, they brainstorm and create a strategy with their child that will build their self-confidence.

Imagination effects the way we play.

People with a developed imagination don’t wish for time to play tennis or learn a language or go on a hike. They get creative with their household chores and work schedules. They tackle those challenges in unconventional ways, and reward themselves with a plan that allows them time to play hard.

A developed imagination is a power, a creator of circumstances and events. When you know how to work with it and channel it, it plays an important role in the success of any endeavor—whether you’re planning a meeting or a planning party; building a sandcastle or building an organized household; running a marathon or running a multi-million dollar company.

So when you find yourself daydreaming about your story, your next vacation, your dream job, or an organized closet, don’t fight the process—encourage it. The image or feeling or scent your mind creates will manifest into exactly what you imagine…something amazing—something you’ve created!

Encouraging this process is easier for some of us than it is for others. In a future post I’ll be talking about ways you can develop your own imagination. Until then, let your mind swirl with whatever images, thoughts, and feelings it wants to. Something you’ve never dreamed of may come to mind and it may end up in your next story…or it may help you solve a problem at work. Because remember, logic only gets you so far. Albert Einstein said so!

As I mentioned last week, I’ll be adding more materials to Swirl and Spark Academy soon. I’ll be expanding on the topic of imagination and how it can impact your success. Imagination isn’t just for kids. It’s for kids at heart too–even those of us who seem to be forever stuck on that candy-filled playground!

Manuscript Monday #27: Critique Corner Recap

Manuscript Monday is a series of blog posts which chronicle the life of my latest manuscript. It follows the journey I take to turn my week old baby story idea into a fully grown, polished novel. Take the journey with me. 🙂

Hello friends!

Happy Monday and Happy March! Could it be that we’ve entered the final month of winter? Could it be that spring lilacs and daffodils are in our near future? I choose to believe they are, and that an abundance of sunshine will fill our lives once again—very soon!

I am overwhelmed with the abundance of writing wisdom and care that I witnessed during our February Critique Corner Round. This round surpassed my expectations. I felt like I jumped into a quiet corner of a virtual coffee shop with all of you as I read each entry, gave my thoughts, and read the comments. And by all of you, I mean our six brave and talented writers, Melyssa, our fabulous honorary critiquing guest, and of course the countless rest of you who stopped by to read the entries. The number of people visiting this site over the last week hit an all-time high. I “watched” in awe as many of you clicked away at the entries. And though, I’ll never know specifically who was stopping by, it was an amazing feeling to see that this round had an impact on so many writers from all over the world.

It was fun for me to read the entries. The work by our writers was varied, but so intriguing in their own way. It’s safe to say there was something for everyone! I thank each of you for putting yourselves and your writing out there for readers to see. I don’t take that leap of faith lightly. I know how difficult it can be! I can tell that you all are some serious writers…your 500 words were pretty polished already. I hope you found the comments helpful, and that you can take what you’ve learned to make them sparkle even more. 🙂

I was blown away by the thought that went into the comments too. I’ve known for a long time how special the writing community is. It’s encouraging to be surrounded by so many writers who not only want to make their own writing better, but want to help writers they don’t even know make their own writing better too! So thank you for the time you took to do so.

And that brings me to Melyssa Mercado… A giant, heartfelt thank you, to her as well. When she offered to give feedback on all the entries, I never dreamed that she’d give a full-blown, detailed critique on each one! The amount of time she must have spent reading and thinking and crafting comments is beyond crazy! Besides that, she helped me promote the round on Twitter. She even gave us a hashtag! #critcorner…A Hashtag! I feel so important! (Too bad we didn’t use it until the very end, but in future rounds I’ll be sure to keep the idea going.) So, now you guys know why I think she is the best critique partner ever! So thank, thank you, Melyssa. You’re amazing!

I hope you all found this round to be helpful. I’m not certain when we’ll hold another one, but I’ll post details in Critique Corner when it’s confirmed and announce it on Twitter too. As always, I’d love to hear what you liked about the round or what you’d like to see in future rounds. So please feel free to leave a comment. Please also note that more comments may appear on the entries over the next few days, so please keep checking back. I hate for anyone to miss constructive feedback.

As you can imagine, I didn’t make much progress on my own new manuscript this week. But, it’s all good. Anytime I have a chance to critique other writers work, I’ll take it. My own writing always benefits from doing so too and I’m certain things that I’ve picked up will make their way into my own WIP somehow!

I guess now that this round is coming to a close, I’ll be diving back into my day-job project. The deadline for the chapter outline was pushed up to this Friday. Phew! It was nice to have some breathing room during Critique Corner, but now the push must resume. And then of course drafting will begin and the chaos in my life will ensue. What fun…and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

I hope all of your projects (writing or not) are coming along too. It’s always great to feel a sense of accomplishment in whatever we do. I hope you can stay motivated and focused and keep that imagination swirling. Our creative ideas have positive effects on everything we do, so make sure to keep yours swirling!

And again thank you for checking in today. *Virtual hugs* to you all!