Feliz Day of All Souls or Dia De Los Muertos (DDLM). The last two days have been a whirlwind that rivals the 75 degree Southern California Santa Ana winds that we have today. I began NaNoWriMo on November 1st, while getting my micro mini bookstore, The BookNook, ready for opening this afternoon. The last week has been dedicated to unpacking books, retail labels, printing bookmarkers, and all that kind of stuff.
I had the nerve to take off to Los Angeles yesterday evening to catch “Come Fly Away With Me,” at the Pantages, in a quest to relax before opening day. Ten minutes before the curtain rose I received a text that my cake pop treats would not be ready for me today after all, ‘so sorry.’ There was a problem at their bakery. I moaned and groaned (not in the text), said a prayer and began searching for other bakery numbers. Everyone was closed for the evening. Curtain rose, the musical was non-stop dancing to Frank Sinatra songs and I was taken away for 80 brief minutes. Turned my phone back on and a sweet mini-miracle, the bakery texted, everything fixed, your order will be ready.
I call the BookNook micro-mini because it is within a consignment shop, very nice, where I rent a small space for new and ‘gently read’ books. At the shop today is a DDLM commemoration and local artists will build an altar within the store for the community. People are free to bring candles, sugar skulls, marigolds, papel picado and Pan de Huevo.
Before I take my crates of books to the car, double check on my cake pops, and gather up my equipment I thought I’d post some references from my favorite sites on “Character” building for those who are interested in using this information for their NNWM challenge. (I’m already behind with only 1,643 words, but there are 28 days left).
Writer’s Digest did a good job on How to avoid Parenting your Characters. If you haven’t visited Holly Lisle blog now is a good time to follow her and pick up some valuable pointers. IMHO she has one of the most helpful blogs for writers. Over at Kirsten Lamb, who is also a wealth of information and who collaborates with many authors to provide great info, is her article for creating legendary characters.
After my bookstore opening I hope to come back and do some more NNWM words. But in between what I hope are many customers, I will be over at the DDLM altar saying some prayers for the departed and enjoying some Pan De Huevo.
To avoid a twelve car pile up, I am approaching my NNWM project with a semblance of organization. Before I organize I need to review the fundamentals, stored away in a big purse somewhere, and see if I have most of the things I need to get my NNWM party started.
Okay, so in the giant purse I need to find the idea, the characters, the story/plot, setting, and theme. Right now I’m vague on the idea, but I have a couple of them germinating and I think I’ll have a female teenager as the main character. So I tossed those to the side and found “story/plot.” Now I’m waffling. I think I need to review those items.
For assistance I took a look at some of my favorite blogs and found some good advice just in case someone out there in the blogasphere is going to the NNWM party.
Mark Twain said that the first rule of writing was “that a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.” Pretty loosey-goosey for the great American writer but the quote is indisputable. Between “accomplish something and arrive somewhere” can be a vast wasteland or a lush path of unforgettable story. To help us stay away from the wasteland and into the greenery I’ll share the following:
Kristen Lamb author and editor is sharing her wealth of knowledge about story structure. She reminds us that learning narrative structure is a basic building block to writing a good novel. And the most basic of the basics of the building blocks are cause and effect. We have a beginning, middle, and end of a novel and each has to have cause and effect, strung together to form scenes or chapters. Ms. Lamb has devoted several posts to structure.
Over at Larry Brooks‘s Storyfix (an award winning blog for writers), is his two minute exercise for understanding story structure. Pretty interesting way to learn especially if you are a visual learner. He says story structure is storytelling. No structure, no story, no sales. Pretty cut and dry.
Shelly Lowenkopf says, in his book The Fiction Lovers Companion, that story is a bundle of information bits about characters, strategically deployed to produce a series of on-going emotional responses culminating in a emotional payoff. He also says a whole lot of other good stuff but I’ll end with a frequent comment of his: “no conflict, no story.”
And Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird, one of my favorite books on writing, created a mnemonic device to help writers remember how to write story/plots that work: Action, Background, Conflict, Development, and End.
But enough about story structure and plot. It’s time to relax and think about the idea some more before I grab my purse and head out to the party.
Every Saturday morning I travel thirty miles to my writing class in beautiful Summerland, that tiny resort village next to small but chic Montecito, California. For three hours or so I sit at a table, sometimes like the one above or a folding table, with coffee in a cup twice the size of the one above. I look forward to the class, I like everyone there and enjoying hearing the 5 to 10 pages the other six writers bring to share. That is until last Saturday.
It wasn’t them, it was me. I read a three page jail scene that I thought had realistic detail, created a ‘jail like ambiance’, and I thought it was important to the story, after all the protagonist had just been arrested for driving under the influence.
Hit the buzzer, uh….wrong. My instructor, who’s usually mellower than mellow immediately said,
“What is this scene for? How is it relevant to the story…You should have gotten that out of your system with the Juana story…” (reference to a second manuscript about prison). I could have sworn a look of disappointment crossed his face and I hadn’t seen that look before when I read. No one else said a word. It was the last ten minutes of class so I understand that we had to go on. The next person didn’t fare any better either. Instructor repeatedly asked “No story yet…no story yet…” until the writer hit the place where the story really began.
My instructor has written several books and is highly esteemed in writing circles. I know he was correct in what he said, but- yes there’s the but- the scene was written for a reason. I just had to think about it.Not think about the instructor comments, but remember why the heck I had written that scene and kept it in several revisions. I’ve been doing a lot of scene slashing in the past two months, so there must have been a reason I kept that one. Then it dawned on me, I failed to get across the message in terms of what scenes are supposed to communicate.
I returned to my teachers latest book, “The Fiction Lover’s Companion,” and looked up “The Scene.” I hadn’t read that far yet, but it’s no excuse. This is what he said:
“The character in the scene has to have an agenda and expectations…a segment of dramatic engagement in a particular setting where personalities and goals collide, producing a sense of movement toward a resolution or trial. There has to be something in the scene to propel the story further…” (TFLC).
Sol Stein, in “Stein on Writing,” says a scene should be “…an integral incident with a beginning and end…action and dialogue.” In “Manuscript Makeover,” the problem scenes have no clear goal, minor goals with insignificant matters, passive, or the obstacle is absent.
Holly Lisle, creator of “One Pass Manuscript,” says the scene belongs if it address your theme or one of your sub-themes, contains action, conflict, and change, develops one or more of your characters and moves your story forward. ” Even if the scene involves your two main characters, but they’re carrying out action that has nothing to do with what your story is about, does not develop them as characters, and does not move the main story conflict or address any of the sub-themes, cross the whole thing out.”
After reading those definitions, there was no more pondering about what I had to do. There were three elements I wanted to get across but I failed to do so and they did meet the criteria of an important scene. I’d overwritten the scene and got caught up in making it real, instead of concentrating on the reasons the scene needed to be there in the first place. It was easy to make a list of important elements to include but harder to decide how to incorporate them into the jail scene.
I re-wrote the scene and sent it off to a trusted writing friend to ask for her opinion. She’s in my writing group so she heard the discussion. If the revision doesn’t make it as a scene, it has to be slashed and put on the burn pile, like so many others. Whether I love it or not. At least I’ll feel I gave it a good ‘trial,’ before I sentenced it to death.