Saturday, May 29, 2010

This week, it seemed like a bunch of TV shows were wrapping up. One of the dancing shows, American Idol, and one of the few I watch - LOST. I started watching LOST because after the first season, a few writers on loop began talking about how wonderful the writing was. Curious, I rented the first season and was hooked instantly.
I questioned why I liked it so much and yes, the writing was fabulous. Not only was there the mystery of where the characters were and the question of how they would survive or be rescued, but there was an interweaving of past, present, and future that complimented each other. For instance, something in the past, revealed not only character, but gave an insight as to why something was currently happening in the island. The writing was complex and treated the viewer as a participant in the show. We were invited to form opinions. The entire plot was not spoon fed to us, and we were treated like intelligent people that could figure things out for ourselves.

My favorite thing about LOST, however was their characterization. The characters were so well developed, and had such a rich, complex histories that they were completely believable. There was a season there when they were battling the others, where they sort of lost me, and I stopped believing that these people that all needed each other would spend so much time trying to kill each other. But for the most part, the characters behaved the way most of us would in their situation. And it was fun to discover new things about them each week.

As a writer, I'm always observing how other writers structure their work, how they build emotion, tension, suspense. How they pace a story to keep interest. I figure I can always learn something new. And I learned a lot from watching LOST. I'll miss it, but will keep an eye what these writers do next.
Happy Memorial Day weekend to you all. And thank you to all of you in the military keeping America safe.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Motivation for Re-Writes

Got my re-writes back on my next novel. Yaayy!! Re-writes are pretty much what they sound like. An editor comments on the manuscript turned in, pointing out where plot, characterization, etc. isn't working. Asks questions about motivation. Suggests changes to make the story better.

So, why am I happy about re-writing when it sounds like they type of work we all hated in English class? Well, first of all, I really, really hate unfinished work. And part of the writing process is getting input form editors to improve the book. Until that happens the book really isn't finished. So this gives me a chance to incorporated all the needed changes and actually finish the book. And secondly, it gives me the opportunity to look at the feed back and see what is working and what isn't working. As I writer, I want to continually improve, so re-writing to make a book better always gives me a charge.

So, now I'll be adding re-writes to my schedule which brings me to what I really wanted to blog about today -- something called self-motivation. I get asked all the time, how I can motivate myself to sit down and write a book - to work creatively when there are so many other things to do: kids, household chores, university work, tutoring work, the list goes on and on. Well, aside from writing because I love it, I think I found the answer in a book by Daniel Pink called DRIVE.

I love everything Daniel Pink writes, but this book was interesting, because as a parent, I also am curious about how to create motivation in my kids. Pink suggest we need three elements to create drive. The first is autonomy. People want to decide how to do a task, when they do it, and if they want to do with someone else (teamwork) or on their own. The second is Mastery. People want to be good at what they do. Mastery requires a lot of hard work, but if someone can master a task, they will wan to do more of it, because if makes them feel successful. And lastly Purpose. If people can see a purpose in what they're doing, they'll want to do more of it.

Althought DRIVE seems to be written more for business people, it's helpful for those of us who want to motivate ourselves to accomplish pretty much anything, from writing a book to losing weight to doing laundry. I know that as long as I can do it my way, feel that I'm successful as I master it, and see the purpose - the reason I'm doing it (vision boards are great for this) then I'll find the drive or motivation to get it done.

Interesting book to pick up. Now, off to work on those re-writes.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Lower Your Blood Pressure, Read More Books

Have you noticed that people are way too touchy these days about everything? A guy walking to a shopping center earlier today stopped beside a car who had pulled a little too far into the crosswalk. He stopped walking and stood over the car of this poor woman and yelled all kinds of profanities, because she was in his way. He could have walked around without making a big issue about it, but he didn't. So, she and the rest of us who were behind her had to wait until he was finished ranting before we could go.

A couple of weeks ago, a guy in my one of my college classes got all bent out of shape because I was chewing a pretzel and he could hear it crunching in my mouth. I now try to sit away from his bionic ears.

My mom joined an aerobics class for seniors and when I asked how she liked it, she said she loved it, but she couldn't believe how rude some of the women in the class were. One woman, rather than welcoming her to the class, informed her that she had taken "her" chair from the stack that sat against a wall. My mom apologized and offered her the chair, and received a dirty look in return as the woman turned away. When she asked the instructor if they had specific chairs assigned, the instructor laughed and said that of course they didn't. They were all the same!

Then, of course, there are all the drivers that are so busy flipping people off that they practically get into accidents in order to let another person know that they are angry.

People seriously need to chill out and read more romances and women's fiction books -- LOL.
No really! There have been studies that reading reduces stress by 68%, even more than music or going for a walk.

It's gotten so bad that when I sat down at a coffee shop a few minutes ago to work on this blog and I went to plug my laptop into a plug that a guy at the table in front of me was using, I had to brace myself for what he'd say. When he, instead, reached across and plugged it in for me, I was shocked that he had been kind.

It's pretty bad when kindness, courtesy, or a nice word is the exception and not the rule. What's wrong with people?

My wish for the day: that everyone let at least one offense slip past without reacting to it. No flipping off or honking at a car that cuts you off (maybe they just didn't see you). No giving dirty looks to a poor mom with screaming kids (she's probably tired and overwhelmed and feeling horrible enough as is). No taking out your frustrations on being over billed on a clerk who isn't in the billing department (coming from a woman who found out her bank made a $300+ error this week - and no I didn't yell at the teller or even the manager, but I did clear up the error and got my money back).

If you're looking for a good book to read, I recommend Kathy Murillo's WAKING UP IN THE LAND OF GLITTER. I'm reading it and enjoying and I know my blood pressure goes down as soon as I open the cover.

Have a great weekend!!


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Today, I spoke to the Apple Valley branch of the California Writer's Club about plotting a novel, or I should say about my difficulty in plotting novels. That's because I have never been a plotter. I'm what they call write-from-the-seat-of-my-pants type of writer. When I write, for example, I have ideas or themes that I want to explore and I base my book on these themes.

With Evenings at the Argentine Club I wanted to write about a woman who had weight issues. So many women feel insecure because they are not the perfect weight (whatever that is) or because they don't project the image that society ingrains in us that we have. I wanted the heroine to deal with the problems that were behind her weight gain and end up at the conclusion of the book with a new appreciation for herself. I wanted to show that perfection either in weight or any part of life, is impossible. Accepting our faults and ourselves with our faults is important, and our heroine (and we) have to accept that and be the best we can be anyway.

I also had another idea for a book floating around my head, and it was to write an immigrant story, based on letters that my father had written to my grandfather when he first immigrated to America from Argentina. I wanted to show the excitement and expectations of success that immigrants have when they first arrive. I wanted to demonstrate through the main character how the American dream of success is an exhausting challenge and does not come easy -- for anyone, but much less an immigrant.

I never expected these two idea to come together into one book, and really, it has turned out to be more of the second story than the first, but one thing that is obvious from looking at these germs of ideas for the book is that they do not make a plot. I have no structure and no scenes. The characters are barely "alive". I needed a plot.

So, what is a plot and why do I say I'm not a plotter? Simply, a plot is what happens in the story, and a plotter is able to create a plan for the story. They systematically write down what will happen first, second, third, and so on until they reach the end of the book. They generally use some type of structure, like the three act structure, or The Hero's Journey to plug the plot into.

Sitting behind my laptop with the three act structure firmly in mind, I found I couldn't write down a punch of made up plots, because I didn't know what was going to happen yet, I hadn't written it.

The way I usually approach writing is that I let my books develop as I write. One scene leads into the next and when I'm finished, the book just needs to be polished or fleshed out.

The problem with this type of story development is that it is impossible to share with an editor or agent what your story is going to look like. "Just wait and see" doesn't seem to work. Also, the novel itself tends to become the plot outline and you end up having to cut and add scenes late in the process that could impact the rest of the book

As I continued to chant that a plot was simply a plan, I realized that plotting a novel wasn't all that different than what I do personally when I goal set. Since I'm a huge believer in setting goals and would never dream of going through life just hoping to reach my ultimate goals, I started to ask myself why I was not wlling to do this when writing a novel. Why couldn't I write a set of plot points that were not set in stone, but that were possible stepping stones to get me to the final climax and resolusion of the story?

Well, the answer is that writing a book is a creative process, not a plan for life, and the way my brain works is that it wants to create, build and discover a story as I write. The creative process is difficult to explain. For me, the plot develops as I see the characters in action. I've also found that trying to stuff characters into a preconcived plot makes them less interesting
What I did with EVENINGS and with upcoming novels is compromise. I plotted possible events that could happen which would lead me to the the end of the book. I then went back and saw how those events might fit into the three act structure. If they fit, I left them alone, if they didn't, I added or deleted or moved certain plot points around. After that, I started writing the book the way I normally would and only looked at my plot points if I felt stuck or as I started my writing day each day. Amazingly, I followed the plot points pretty much the way I'd written them the first time.

I don't think I'll ever be one of these amazing authors who can plot, outline, and see their entire novel before it's written. However, I've been able to become a better plotter and become more organized and more efficient as a writer.

And that's good, right?