Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy National Jelly Bean Day, Among Other Celebrations


fabric facsimile of 1950s jellybean dress
"Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen." --Willa Cather

Today, April 22, is National Earth Day which, along with its original intent in the environmental movement, is special over this way because hubby and I met on the very first Earth Day 1970, (ahem...) 45 years ago. April 22 is also National Girl Scout Leaders Day and National Administrative Professionals Day (source: National Day Calendar). Somewhere along the way I also saw where the month of April is not only National Poetry Month but "Distracted Driving Awareness Month."

But what I'm celebrating today is National Jelly Bean Day. (Check out the link for ideas on how to celebrate!)

Yes, Jelly Bean Day, April 22. Jelly beans can be celebrated anytime, of course, since it's like they bring their own party to town when you eat them, but it is nice they have their own day. For me however they carry special significance--and not just because they are a favorite candy. That fact was proved this past Easter season when I gave into the impulse to eat more than I should. Thankfully the stash is finally gone.

No, it's because I am transported back to the five-year-old-me whenever I eat them--and all because of a dress.

I can still visualize it. The top was a pale pink trimmed in black piping, pretty basic and plain. But it was the skirt that was special. Oh, the splash and array of those colorful jelly beans floating and skimming and swirling on the black background. Mom said it was all she could do to get me out of that dress as a kindergartner. She said she washed it out in the evenings so it would be ready for me to wear the next day...and the next...and the next. I wish the school picture that year captured the whole child and not just the typical portrait setting. For there it is, in this picture, sans the skirt. But the memory is forever in my head. Isn't it interesting the things we remember?

And speaking of interesting, in reading up on jelly beans I discovered that the confectionary actually came into play during the time setting of my WIP--the Civil War era. According to Jelly Belly's Origin of the Jelly Bean: "The exact origins of the jelly bean are lost in time, and only a part of its history is known. Most experts believe the soft center is a descendant of a mid-Eastern confection known as Turkish Delight that dates back to pre-Biblical times. The shell coating is an offspring of a process called panning, first invented in 17th century France to make Jordan Almonds for the Royal Court...Somehow the two processes made their way to America. The earliest known appearance of a jelly bean is a 1861 advertisement for William Schrafft of Boston that promoted the sending of jelly beans to soldiers in the Union Army during the Civil War."

Ah, will I use that tidbit of history in my story? Who knows--it hasn't made its way in yet. But it does pique my interest and I wonder... Is it a tempting idea because it could be integral to the story or because in my childhood I had a jelly-bean dress? Is it part of discovering my story, or because nostalgia drives the idea and I want to make it work?

Was Willa Cather right in saying most of a writer's basic material is acquired before the age of fifteen? Hmmm, something to think about.

Have you found any surprising tidbits lately that you are considering adding to your story? Are there any leftovers from your childhood that have find their way your pages? (Hopefully they don't include any stale jellybeans!) What is your favorite flavor of jellybean?
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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Clear the Deck: What Creativity is Not

photo courtesy pixabay.com
"Clear the decks (idiom): a.) to prepare for combat, as by removing all unnecessary gear;  b.) to prepare for some activity or work, as by getting rid of hindrances."--dictionary. com

Last time we talked about creativity, and what it is. I thought it'd be interesting to discuss what creativity is NOT. Creativity is not:

1. Fear of failure. "An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail." --Edwin Land

2. Fear of being wrong. "To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong." --Joseph Chilton Pierce

3. Self-consciousness. "Don't think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can't try to do things. You simply must do things." --Ray Bradbury

4. Negativity. "Negativity is the enemy of creativity." --David Lynch

5. Self-imposed limitations. "People put limitations on their creativity, believing they have to rely on what they know and what they have done." --Bertrand Piccard

6. Status quo. "Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun." --Mary Lou Cook

7. Routine. "Routine kills creative thought." --Scarlett Thomas

8. Lack of curiosity. "The creative person wants to be a know-it-all. He wants to know about all kinds of things--ancient history, nineteenth century mathematics, current manufacturing techniques, hog futures. Because he never knows when these ideas might come together to form a new idea. It may happen six minutes later, or six months, or six years. But he has faith that it will happen." --Carl Ally

I'm sure there are many other things that creativity is not, but for starters, let's clear the deck of fear, self-consciousness, negativity, limitations, lack of curiosity. There's too much to enjoy in writing to be bogged down with those kinds of hindrances!

What on the cluttered deck of your writing holds you back?
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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Up for Discussion: How Do You Define Creativity?


photo courtesy pixabay
"Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way." --Edward de Bono

Agree? Disagree? How would you define creativity?
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Monday, March 30, 2015

Road Map to Plot: 13 Thoughts on Getting Where You're Going


photo courtesy pixabay
"Ay, now the plot thickens very much upon us."--George Villiers, The Rehearsal (drama, 1671)

Travel has certainly changed over the years. When we were first married, we found that the best resource for planning a road trip was the local AAA (American Automotive Association), a place where you could sit across the desk from an agent who would meticulously line out a flipchart map--famously remembered as the "triptik"--on which she would highlight the route with a yellow marker and even make note of the stretches where road construction might slow us down. In later years we made use of mapquest.com. Of course now there's the GPS and even more recently, all you have to do is ask Siri.

But I still like to hold a printed map in my hands and watch for upcoming landmarks on paper as we putter down the road.

The process I go through for plotting a book is similar: I like a hands-on, up-close approach, seeking help from those who have gone before and from whom we can draw on expertise. Over the years, I've collected a number of definitions, explanations, and "mile-markers" that have helped map my process on the road to plot, starting with the basics:

1. Plot (n.)--"1. Also called storyline. the plan, scheme, or main story of a literary or dramatic work, as a play, novel, or short story; 2. a map or diagram." --dictionary.com

2. "Traditional plot has this structure: 1. exposition (setting forth the beginning); 2. conflict (a complication that leads to a climax); 3. denouement (literally unknotting, the outcome of the conflict, the resolution)." --An Introduction to Literature

3. "The greatest gift the Greek dramatists bestowed upon humankind was this: ascending action, climax, denouement...In writing, it's the classical plot outline." --Steven Taylor Goldsberry, The Writer's Book of Wisdom 

4. "Plot is nothing more than the way you organize your story--the way you fit the puzzle pieces together to form a connected and coherent picture for the reader." --Nancy Lamb, The Art and Craft of Storytelling

5. "Essentially and most simply put, plot is what characters do to deal with the situation they are in. It is a logical sequence of events that grow from an initial incident that alters the status quo of the characters." --Elizabeth George, Write Away

6. "All fiction is about people, unless it's about rabbits pretending to be people. It's all essentially characters in action, which means characters moving through time and changes taking place, and that's what we call 'the plot.'" --Margaret Atwood

7. "Plot springs from character in conflict." --Martha Alderson, Blockbuster Plots

8. "Plot is the crucible in which character is formed." --Stephen Roxburgh, Editor

9. "What happens is the plot. Someone is the protagonist. The goal is what is known as the story question. And how he or she changes is what the story itself is actually about." --Lisa Cron, Wired for Story

10. "Plot is what happens in your story, and structure is the shape of that plot." --Laura Witcomb, Your First Novel

11. "Let us define plot. We have defined a story as a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence. A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality (cause and effect)...It it is in a story we say 'and then?' If it is in a plot we ask 'why?'" --E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel

12. "Cause and effect: that's what makes a plot." --Ansen Dibell, Plot

13. "A textbook definition of plot would be 'the sequence of narrative order.' Or, 'the sequence of events showing characters in action.' But in fact, when thinking about plot, it's best to remember what some British school children said when asked what writers they liked to read. Enid Blyton, they said--because 'there's always something going on.' Always something going on. In some ways plot boils down to those four words. Always something going on." --Jane Yolen, Take Joy

So to plot includes a plan, organization, action, sequence of events, outline, cause and effect, character in conflict, and a story in which there's always something going on.

Wow, that sounds like quite a trip. Are you ready to get your map together? What road signs along your route have helped you with your story's plot?
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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

More Advice on First Drafts: 8 Quotes to Inspire

clip art courtesy pixabay
"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." --Vladamir Nabokov

Work on the first draft of current WIP is progressing but, depending on the day--or week, words flow or words dry up. Pages have scribblings (I'm handwriting this first draft!) or are left half-blank. We've talked about this before (here and here), but the first draft can seem so...well...blank. I'm in need of a shot of encouragement again. How about you? We're in good company, you know...

1. Begin. "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it." --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

2. Close the door. "Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer." --Barbara Kingsolver

3. Take chances. "Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it's the only way you can do anything really good." --William Faulkner

4. Jump off cliffs--and grow wings. "We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down." --Kurt Vonnegut

5. Develop intestinal fortitude. "Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt." --Silvia Plath

6. Get yourself a club. "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." --Jack London

7. Raise rabbits. "Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen." --John Steinbeck

8. Wear ear plugs. "Don't listen to people who tell you that very few people get published and you won't be one of them. Don't listen to your friend who says you are better than Tolkien and don't have to try any more. Keep writing, keep faith in the idea that you have unique stories to tell, and tell them." --Robin Hobb

And keep the end goal in sight, that's what I keep telling myself. Each word gets you closer! Even if the ending holds some surprises you couldn't fathom at the beginning:

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." --Douglas Adams

Any words of advice you could share on staying the course? How do you resist giving up on that elusive first draft?
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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Timeless Suggestions for Writers, Circa 1950

1950 me
"There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories." --Ursula K. LeGuin

I came across the following in a 1990 Writer's Digest buried deep in my files (and I thought that publication date sounded old):

"The cover of the January 1950 issue of Writer's Digest..." (Wait! 1950? I was only a year old in 1950!) "...featured this list of New Year's Resolutions:
1. I will write 500 words each day, at about the same hour.
2. I will write for a definite market and I will carefully read and study that market.
3. I will seek only professional editorial advice and ignore what the homefolks say about my manuscripts. (A newspaperman, a person who loves books, or a minister is not a professional editorial adviser.)
4. I will believe in myself and my ability.
5. I will keep abreast of the best work done in the writing field that interests me.

Really, is there any new advice all these years later? The rules of writing are timeless, aren't they?

What fun to go back and see what earlier generations said, see common threads. What will future generations say about the writing of today?

How far back do you go with your writing? How successful are you at 1950-style resolutions?
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Saturday, February 28, 2015

"Nodes" and Potential Story Connections

February 2015
"I discovered that if I trusted my subconscious, or imagination, whatever you want to call it, and if I made the characters as real and honest as I could, then no matter how complex the pattern being woven, my subconscious would find ways to tie it together--often doing things far more complicated and sophisticated than I could with brute conscious effort. I would have ideas for 'nodes,' as I think of them--story or character details that have lots of potential connections to other such nodes--and even though I didn't quite understand, I would plunk them in. Two hundred pages later, everything would back-fit, and I'd say, 'Ah, that's why I wrote that.'" --Tad Williams

Do you trust your imagination to come through for you in your writing? Have you ever experienced an "ah-ha" moment when an unexpected but welcomed detail bubbled up from your subconscious and surprised you, making you ask where did that come from? Doesn't it make you want to push through to the end of that first draft in order to see how all those "nodes" connect?

There's hope in the midst of the pain of a first draft. Just look for the gift of the nodes and trust they will eventually connect to build a commanding story!
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