Monday, March 29, 2010

In my post about setting, many of you commented that you don’t feel comfortable writing about setting and that setting descriptions are what you’re most likely to skim when reading.

Why is that? Perhaps you haven’t seen it done engagingly often enough. It's easy for setting descriptions to simply be an “establishing shot,” to borrow a film term. Image without meaning.

In Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass argues that one "is at a distinct disadvantage by feeling indifferent to the time and place in which one's story takes place." Whether it's a foreground or background concern, stories that succeed don't ignore setting. But how do you keep them lively? The key, Maass says, is not how a place looks, but its psychological effect on characters.

I’ve had to conquer some dull description in my work and found Maass's observations really helpful. However, he stopped at diagnosis and didn't include treatment, so I thought I'd dive in and explain some the techniques I tried. Here is an example I most recently revised:

==============================

Uncle Philip’s tires grind across cobblestones as we enter Ashmede. The main street, lined with quaint shops and pubs, is holiday-quiet. We stop to drop off my grandparents at the rectory, a tall, narrow stone house beside a twelfth-century church and a graveyard full of ancient, mossy tombstones.

==============================

As we enter Ashmede, Uncle Philip’s tires grind across cobblestones, making my clenched teeth rattle. The main street, lined with quaint shops and pubs, is scary quiet. Like a monster ate everyone. We stop to drop off my grandparents at the rectory, a tall, narrow stone house beside a fortress-towered church and its graveyard full of ancient, mossy tombstones. In just days, a new granite slab will appear out there, marking the hole in my universe.

==============================

Which version do you prefer? What’s the difference between the two?

The first is shorter, certainly. And that can be one way to establish setting—keep it brief. Drop in just enough “telling detail”: cobblestones, pubs, twelfth-century, mossy. Give the readers enough information to co-create this world with you in their imaginations. Provide parameters, but refrain from naming every shop, or including overly technical details that don’t link to the story at large, like the church being built from hand-quarried limestone.

I’d argue that example one suffers from the “why should I care?” factor. And that’s what makes readers skip your descriptions. Your protagonist must engage with the setting, or your readers won’t.

In the revision (example two), I looked for ways to make this description less passive or static. It needed as sense of motion and emotion. Here are some areas to address to achieve that.

Physical effects
Whatever your setting, include a detail about how the protagonist is bodily changed within it. Twigs snap under your protagonists’ feet. The damp air makes her shiver. His stomach roils when he smells rot. Her ears pop while riding up the incline. In my example, driving over cobblestones makes Dani’s teeth rattle.

This roots characters in a scene, and gives a sense of realness to your story world.

Opinions
Engagement with setting will involve your character’s value system and expectations. When she comes across something familiar, she will judge it as “safe.” If it’s unfamiliar, she will find a way to categorize it.

In my example, Dani judges the small town to be “scary quiet.” The lack of New York hustle and bustle is unfamiliar and frightening.

Associations
In the process of judging and categorizing an environment, your character will call upon his memories, experiences and cultural influences. He’ll seek to find parallels with what he already knows to make sense of the data. Associations might be expressed as a snippet of back story, a cultural reference, or as a simile or metaphor.

In my example, Dani associates the quiet town with a horror film scenario and expresses it in a simile: “…scary quiet. Like a monster ate everyone.” In doing so, I’ve communicated something about her frame of mind and her frame of reference.

Another character would have seen the quiet and thought, “…is peaceful. Like the ease of sleep.” Or perhaps “…is dull as paste. Nothing exciting has happened here since the Viking invasion.”

Ties to the story problem and plot arc
A description that really pulls its weight will connect to the larger story arc. The setting your character is entering will either help or hinder her in her quest. It might present physical danger or shelter. It might make her let her guard down. It might remind her of the challenge she cannot avoid.

In my example, Dani sees the graveyard and predicts “In just days, a new granite slab will appear out there, marking the hole in my universe.” She is reminded again that her deepest problem—wrestling with grief—can’t be easily escaped by a simple change in venue. That connection to the larger arc is two-pronged: a direct association she makes with the setting and her declaration of meaning.

It’s a powerful question to ask when you approach any setting: What does this place mean to my character?


What writers do you admire who infuse their setting descriptions with meaning?

How might you add physical effects, opinions, associations and story-arc ties to your setting descriptions? Which of these is easiest? Hardest?
Monday, March 29, 2010 Laurel Garver
In my post about setting, many of you commented that you don’t feel comfortable writing about setting and that setting descriptions are what you’re most likely to skim when reading.

Why is that? Perhaps you haven’t seen it done engagingly often enough. It's easy for setting descriptions to simply be an “establishing shot,” to borrow a film term. Image without meaning.

In Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass argues that one "is at a distinct disadvantage by feeling indifferent to the time and place in which one's story takes place." Whether it's a foreground or background concern, stories that succeed don't ignore setting. But how do you keep them lively? The key, Maass says, is not how a place looks, but its psychological effect on characters.

I’ve had to conquer some dull description in my work and found Maass's observations really helpful. However, he stopped at diagnosis and didn't include treatment, so I thought I'd dive in and explain some the techniques I tried. Here is an example I most recently revised:

==============================

Uncle Philip’s tires grind across cobblestones as we enter Ashmede. The main street, lined with quaint shops and pubs, is holiday-quiet. We stop to drop off my grandparents at the rectory, a tall, narrow stone house beside a twelfth-century church and a graveyard full of ancient, mossy tombstones.

==============================

As we enter Ashmede, Uncle Philip’s tires grind across cobblestones, making my clenched teeth rattle. The main street, lined with quaint shops and pubs, is scary quiet. Like a monster ate everyone. We stop to drop off my grandparents at the rectory, a tall, narrow stone house beside a fortress-towered church and its graveyard full of ancient, mossy tombstones. In just days, a new granite slab will appear out there, marking the hole in my universe.

==============================

Which version do you prefer? What’s the difference between the two?

The first is shorter, certainly. And that can be one way to establish setting—keep it brief. Drop in just enough “telling detail”: cobblestones, pubs, twelfth-century, mossy. Give the readers enough information to co-create this world with you in their imaginations. Provide parameters, but refrain from naming every shop, or including overly technical details that don’t link to the story at large, like the church being built from hand-quarried limestone.

I’d argue that example one suffers from the “why should I care?” factor. And that’s what makes readers skip your descriptions. Your protagonist must engage with the setting, or your readers won’t.

In the revision (example two), I looked for ways to make this description less passive or static. It needed as sense of motion and emotion. Here are some areas to address to achieve that.

Physical effects
Whatever your setting, include a detail about how the protagonist is bodily changed within it. Twigs snap under your protagonists’ feet. The damp air makes her shiver. His stomach roils when he smells rot. Her ears pop while riding up the incline. In my example, driving over cobblestones makes Dani’s teeth rattle.

This roots characters in a scene, and gives a sense of realness to your story world.

Opinions
Engagement with setting will involve your character’s value system and expectations. When she comes across something familiar, she will judge it as “safe.” If it’s unfamiliar, she will find a way to categorize it.

In my example, Dani judges the small town to be “scary quiet.” The lack of New York hustle and bustle is unfamiliar and frightening.

Associations
In the process of judging and categorizing an environment, your character will call upon his memories, experiences and cultural influences. He’ll seek to find parallels with what he already knows to make sense of the data. Associations might be expressed as a snippet of back story, a cultural reference, or as a simile or metaphor.

In my example, Dani associates the quiet town with a horror film scenario and expresses it in a simile: “…scary quiet. Like a monster ate everyone.” In doing so, I’ve communicated something about her frame of mind and her frame of reference.

Another character would have seen the quiet and thought, “…is peaceful. Like the ease of sleep.” Or perhaps “…is dull as paste. Nothing exciting has happened here since the Viking invasion.”

Ties to the story problem and plot arc
A description that really pulls its weight will connect to the larger story arc. The setting your character is entering will either help or hinder her in her quest. It might present physical danger or shelter. It might make her let her guard down. It might remind her of the challenge she cannot avoid.

In my example, Dani sees the graveyard and predicts “In just days, a new granite slab will appear out there, marking the hole in my universe.” She is reminded again that her deepest problem—wrestling with grief—can’t be easily escaped by a simple change in venue. That connection to the larger arc is two-pronged: a direct association she makes with the setting and her declaration of meaning.

It’s a powerful question to ask when you approach any setting: What does this place mean to my character?


What writers do you admire who infuse their setting descriptions with meaning?

How might you add physical effects, opinions, associations and story-arc ties to your setting descriptions? Which of these is easiest? Hardest?

Friday, March 26, 2010

If you're in the Philly area this weekend, there's an interesting FREE symposium going on you might want to check out, especially if you're a foodie, a "locavore" or philosophically-minded.

The Future of Food
a Greater Philadelphia Philosophy Consortium Public Issues Forum
sponsored by the La Salle University Philosophy Department

Saturday, March 27, 2010
1:00 – 5:00 p.m.
Montgomery Auditorium

Parkway Central Library,
Free Library of Philadelphia

David Kaplan, University of North Texas:
“Real Food, Fake Food”

Lisa Heldke, Gustavus Adolphus College:
“Down-Home Global Cooking:
Why Cosmopolitanism versus Localism is a False Dichotomy,
and How Our Food Can Show Us the Way to a Third Option”

Panel Discussion led by Solomon Katz, University of Pennsylvania:

“The Future of Food”


Yeah, this has NOTHING to do with writing. My husband is a member of the sponsoring department and, well, philosophers really stink at PR, so this event hasn't had much press.

So, there you go, hon. A little more web presence for your department-sponsored event. :-)

And my UNPLUG...
I will be offline all weekend, but not by choice. We have no phone or DSL at home. Until Verizon sends a repairman, I won't have Internet access. So please see me as disabled rather than rude when I don't respond to comments.
Friday, March 26, 2010 Laurel Garver
If you're in the Philly area this weekend, there's an interesting FREE symposium going on you might want to check out, especially if you're a foodie, a "locavore" or philosophically-minded.

The Future of Food
a Greater Philadelphia Philosophy Consortium Public Issues Forum
sponsored by the La Salle University Philosophy Department

Saturday, March 27, 2010
1:00 – 5:00 p.m.
Montgomery Auditorium

Parkway Central Library,
Free Library of Philadelphia

David Kaplan, University of North Texas:
“Real Food, Fake Food”

Lisa Heldke, Gustavus Adolphus College:
“Down-Home Global Cooking:
Why Cosmopolitanism versus Localism is a False Dichotomy,
and How Our Food Can Show Us the Way to a Third Option”

Panel Discussion led by Solomon Katz, University of Pennsylvania:

“The Future of Food”


Yeah, this has NOTHING to do with writing. My husband is a member of the sponsoring department and, well, philosophers really stink at PR, so this event hasn't had much press.

So, there you go, hon. A little more web presence for your department-sponsored event. :-)

And my UNPLUG...
I will be offline all weekend, but not by choice. We have no phone or DSL at home. Until Verizon sends a repairman, I won't have Internet access. So please see me as disabled rather than rude when I don't respond to comments.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Not long ago I had a nice IM chat with a friend my husband and I visited in England in 2006, when I was in the early stages of drafting Bring to Light. It got me thinking about how discovering a captivating setting can open possibilities for plot, theme and characterization.

In early outlines of my novel, I'd intended to include a one-chapter foray to southwest England, where I'd actually lived with a family when I was in college. But this particular vacation morphed into a major research trip that radically changed my vision for my novel.

The nature of the trip first changed when we entered King's Cross station, the railroad gateway to the north--a hub for rail service to northern England and Scotland. Despite the Harry Potter connection, it's not an elegant station like Victoria or sleek and hip like Charing Cross. This communicated a lot about internal stereotypes among Britons, namely that north England is considered the sticks, and its inhabitants, country hicks. Suddenly a resonant back story on my protagonist's British father began to unfold: Country boy leaves home and culture to seek his fortune abroad, where he'd meet fewer prejudices about his upbringing. (Most Americans can't tell a Cockney or Geordie accent from a posh Oxbridge, or don't have enough context to be prejudiced against less desirable regional dialects.)

Durham itself was the second great discovery, a rare jewel few tourists ever see. The city is perched on cliffs on a peninsula formed by the rivers Tyne and Wear, with a stunning 900-year-old cathedral its crowning beauty. At the cathedral and elsewhere in the region, we saw evidence of Christianity's long history sunk deep into this land--back to Roman times. The ancient past of the Vikings, the Saxons, the Romans seems nearer here than in the south, where generations have built over the past time and again. This got me thinking about the decision every generation must make: will we examine and learn from the past, or bury it?

Our friends, American transplants to England, patiently answered my thousand and one questions. Unlike natives, they were able to see the jarring differences between the "two cultures divided by a shared language" that my American-born protagonist would also notice. I soon saw how cultural differences--especially American versus British ideas about privacy and emoting--could have interesting consequences within a family dynamic.

What role does setting play in your work? Has your work ever changed significantly after discovering an exciting setting?

*This is yet another lazy re-post from my early blogging days. It's a busy week. :-)
Thursday, March 25, 2010 Laurel Garver
Not long ago I had a nice IM chat with a friend my husband and I visited in England in 2006, when I was in the early stages of drafting Bring to Light. It got me thinking about how discovering a captivating setting can open possibilities for plot, theme and characterization.

In early outlines of my novel, I'd intended to include a one-chapter foray to southwest England, where I'd actually lived with a family when I was in college. But this particular vacation morphed into a major research trip that radically changed my vision for my novel.

The nature of the trip first changed when we entered King's Cross station, the railroad gateway to the north--a hub for rail service to northern England and Scotland. Despite the Harry Potter connection, it's not an elegant station like Victoria or sleek and hip like Charing Cross. This communicated a lot about internal stereotypes among Britons, namely that north England is considered the sticks, and its inhabitants, country hicks. Suddenly a resonant back story on my protagonist's British father began to unfold: Country boy leaves home and culture to seek his fortune abroad, where he'd meet fewer prejudices about his upbringing. (Most Americans can't tell a Cockney or Geordie accent from a posh Oxbridge, or don't have enough context to be prejudiced against less desirable regional dialects.)

Durham itself was the second great discovery, a rare jewel few tourists ever see. The city is perched on cliffs on a peninsula formed by the rivers Tyne and Wear, with a stunning 900-year-old cathedral its crowning beauty. At the cathedral and elsewhere in the region, we saw evidence of Christianity's long history sunk deep into this land--back to Roman times. The ancient past of the Vikings, the Saxons, the Romans seems nearer here than in the south, where generations have built over the past time and again. This got me thinking about the decision every generation must make: will we examine and learn from the past, or bury it?

Our friends, American transplants to England, patiently answered my thousand and one questions. Unlike natives, they were able to see the jarring differences between the "two cultures divided by a shared language" that my American-born protagonist would also notice. I soon saw how cultural differences--especially American versus British ideas about privacy and emoting--could have interesting consequences within a family dynamic.

What role does setting play in your work? Has your work ever changed significantly after discovering an exciting setting?

*This is yet another lazy re-post from my early blogging days. It's a busy week. :-)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Congrats to Carrie at Heim Binas Fiction for having her Twitter microficiton piece published in the e-zine Thaumatrope. And she got paid, too! Go swing on by HERE to cheer her on and see her story.

To learn more about microfiction forms and my microfiction challenge, click HERE.

What small victories have you enjoyed lately?
Wednesday, March 24, 2010 Laurel Garver
Congrats to Carrie at Heim Binas Fiction for having her Twitter microficiton piece published in the e-zine Thaumatrope. And she got paid, too! Go swing on by HERE to cheer her on and see her story.

To learn more about microfiction forms and my microfiction challenge, click HERE.

What small victories have you enjoyed lately?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Great minds think alike? Sarah at Fallen Formulates Fiction is also holding a writing contest to celebrate hitting a followers milestone. Choose from a list of six writing prompts, write a flash fiction piece (up to 750 words) and submit it by Friday, March 26 for a chance to win some pretty fabulous prizes. Read about the details HERE.

If you need a little more lead time, my Eleventy-one Followers Celebration Writing Contest has a deadline of Sunday, April 4. Submit a dialogue-driven piece, up to 700 words, that involves negotiation and persuasion. Novel excerpts are fine, if they can stand alone. The genre and content is up to you. I only ask that you keep it clean: Please no erotica, horror or R-rated language. I'm giving away critiques or copy editing (I edit professionally for a scholarly journal), as well as some pretty awesome books. Click HERE for more details.

And don't forget my microfiction challenge! It's a fun way to join the ranks of the published!

Are you considering my contest, but feel a little low on ideas? Would some writing prompts help get the juices flowing?
Tuesday, March 23, 2010 Laurel Garver
Great minds think alike? Sarah at Fallen Formulates Fiction is also holding a writing contest to celebrate hitting a followers milestone. Choose from a list of six writing prompts, write a flash fiction piece (up to 750 words) and submit it by Friday, March 26 for a chance to win some pretty fabulous prizes. Read about the details HERE.

If you need a little more lead time, my Eleventy-one Followers Celebration Writing Contest has a deadline of Sunday, April 4. Submit a dialogue-driven piece, up to 700 words, that involves negotiation and persuasion. Novel excerpts are fine, if they can stand alone. The genre and content is up to you. I only ask that you keep it clean: Please no erotica, horror or R-rated language. I'm giving away critiques or copy editing (I edit professionally for a scholarly journal), as well as some pretty awesome books. Click HERE for more details.

And don't forget my microfiction challenge! It's a fun way to join the ranks of the published!

Are you considering my contest, but feel a little low on ideas? Would some writing prompts help get the juices flowing?

Monday, March 22, 2010

There’s something about the warmth and bright sun that stirs my desire to tackle a messy corner of my house, especially one that isn’t functioning to its full potential. Sometimes all that’s needed is a little cleaning and tidying. Perhaps the furniture could be arranged differently to improve traffic flow or floor space. Sometimes I have to step back and think about how I’d ideally like to use the room, then completely reconceive how to achieve that purpose. Furniture may need to be removed or swapped for a piece that’s in another room, or a new purchase made.

While I was doing such a clean up in a few bedrooms over the weekend, I noticed some parallels in my current writing work. The revision process can feel very much like spring cleaning. My sense of needing to revise always starts from the feeling that a scene isn’t functioning as well as it could. At times, trims and tweaks and a rephrasing or three do the trick. Sometimes it’s the scene flow—actions aren’t happening in the right order or some element is hidden in a corner that needs greater emphasis. A bit of rearranging scene elements can usually cure these woes.

The scene plaguing me this weekend needed the more radical approach. While I liked the shape of the “room”—the scene “occasion” of gathering at a pub to drink to the memory of my MC’s father—it wasn’t serving much of a function in the narrative, other than to introduce some minor characters and thematic concepts. What it lacked was what Sandra Scofield calls "event"--the overall action that has impact and meaning and adds up to something significant with consequences. Every scene MUST have this, or it isn't pulling its weight.

Scofield describes event this way:
"something changes or is revealed or new questions are raised; the ground is laid for future events, or the meaning of past events is made clear; characters show themselves to be who they are make demands on one another. The protagonist acts and is affected in some way. This happens through decisions and external acts, the stuff of change."

My protagonist’s world wasn’t changed for better or worse as a result of the scene. Without that element of change, the scene was largely static and just taking up space. My protagonist had to enter the scene with one attitude/perspective and leave with another, based on what transpired in between. Once the nature of the attitude shift becomes clear in my mind, I can better decide what needs to happen plot-wise to motivate it. From function, I can determine what “furniture” from the earlier draft can stay, what needs to be cut and what new writing is needs to fill out the scene.

Until I meet my crit group deadline, this back-to-basics revision is going to be my focus for the next few days. And bluelines just hit my desk at work, so I have a significant pile of proofreading to occupy me, too. I'll try to squeeze in responding to comments this evening.

Has your revision process mostly involved cleaning and tidying? A little rearranging of existing furniture? Have you gone "back to basics" in a scene that wasn't working? How did you figure out what to fix?

Do all of your scenes include "event" as Scofield describes it? How could employing her concept strengthen your work?
Monday, March 22, 2010 Laurel Garver
There’s something about the warmth and bright sun that stirs my desire to tackle a messy corner of my house, especially one that isn’t functioning to its full potential. Sometimes all that’s needed is a little cleaning and tidying. Perhaps the furniture could be arranged differently to improve traffic flow or floor space. Sometimes I have to step back and think about how I’d ideally like to use the room, then completely reconceive how to achieve that purpose. Furniture may need to be removed or swapped for a piece that’s in another room, or a new purchase made.

While I was doing such a clean up in a few bedrooms over the weekend, I noticed some parallels in my current writing work. The revision process can feel very much like spring cleaning. My sense of needing to revise always starts from the feeling that a scene isn’t functioning as well as it could. At times, trims and tweaks and a rephrasing or three do the trick. Sometimes it’s the scene flow—actions aren’t happening in the right order or some element is hidden in a corner that needs greater emphasis. A bit of rearranging scene elements can usually cure these woes.

The scene plaguing me this weekend needed the more radical approach. While I liked the shape of the “room”—the scene “occasion” of gathering at a pub to drink to the memory of my MC’s father—it wasn’t serving much of a function in the narrative, other than to introduce some minor characters and thematic concepts. What it lacked was what Sandra Scofield calls "event"--the overall action that has impact and meaning and adds up to something significant with consequences. Every scene MUST have this, or it isn't pulling its weight.

Scofield describes event this way:
"something changes or is revealed or new questions are raised; the ground is laid for future events, or the meaning of past events is made clear; characters show themselves to be who they are make demands on one another. The protagonist acts and is affected in some way. This happens through decisions and external acts, the stuff of change."

My protagonist’s world wasn’t changed for better or worse as a result of the scene. Without that element of change, the scene was largely static and just taking up space. My protagonist had to enter the scene with one attitude/perspective and leave with another, based on what transpired in between. Once the nature of the attitude shift becomes clear in my mind, I can better decide what needs to happen plot-wise to motivate it. From function, I can determine what “furniture” from the earlier draft can stay, what needs to be cut and what new writing is needs to fill out the scene.

Until I meet my crit group deadline, this back-to-basics revision is going to be my focus for the next few days. And bluelines just hit my desk at work, so I have a significant pile of proofreading to occupy me, too. I'll try to squeeze in responding to comments this evening.

Has your revision process mostly involved cleaning and tidying? A little rearranging of existing furniture? Have you gone "back to basics" in a scene that wasn't working? How did you figure out what to fix?

Do all of your scenes include "event" as Scofield describes it? How could employing her concept strengthen your work?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ready for a dose or reality, my friends? Here are the answers to yesterday's "guess the truth from the lies" game I posted yesterday. I many of you will be surprised.

I'm going to take these in reverse order, since most folks have voted for the later items on the list.

6. I was captain of my high school debate team. We made it all the way to state level championships, coming in sixth in Pennsylvania.

Nope. My school didn't have a debate team.

5. My mom brought some of our baby chickens to school to show my second grade classmates. The peeps got loose and my class spent three hours chasing them.

Sorry. My mom did bring peeps to school, but they never got loose.

4. I broke my collarbone at 17 during a riding lesson. The stallion I was riding got wind of a mare in heat and ran away with me, eventually bucking me off. Ow.

Mixed bag here. I did break my collarbone at 17, but in a bike accident. I did have a randy stallion run away with me and try to buck me off at a riding lesson when I was 13, but I jumped to safety in the manure pile (stinky but soft).

3. During my brief stint as an Avon lady, I accidentally set off a house alarm: horns whooping, lights flashing. I ran and hid in a neighbor's doghouse for over an hour until the coast was clear.

Sorry again. I was an Avon lady, but never set of an alarm or hid in a doghouse.

2. I wore a vintage wedding dress to the prom and my date rented a 1930's convertible to take us there.

Nope. I never went to the prom. I threw an anti-prom party with my fellow geeks instead.

1. When I was 23, I dated a 37-year-old who worked in mergers and acquisitions and owned two Mercedes-Benzes. He asked me out for the first time at a funeral.

Surprise! This one is absolutely true, every bit of it! Rich guy turned out to be a controlling jerk, but it took me over a year to figure this out. So, so, so many red flags! Men who date women 14 years younger are bad news. Ditto with ones who pick up girls at funerals. But, hey, I was fresh out of college and naive as all get-out.

Someday I'll write a story about this relationship. It was bizarre from beginning to end. Especially the end. He broke it off after I "selfishly" hadn't called for a week; I was busy helping my parents after their house burned down. Yeah. Nice guy, huh? Once I showed signs of being a real person with real problems, he was done.

What are some of your craziest dating disasters and bad matches?
Saturday, March 20, 2010 Laurel Garver
Ready for a dose or reality, my friends? Here are the answers to yesterday's "guess the truth from the lies" game I posted yesterday. I many of you will be surprised.

I'm going to take these in reverse order, since most folks have voted for the later items on the list.

6. I was captain of my high school debate team. We made it all the way to state level championships, coming in sixth in Pennsylvania.

Nope. My school didn't have a debate team.

5. My mom brought some of our baby chickens to school to show my second grade classmates. The peeps got loose and my class spent three hours chasing them.

Sorry. My mom did bring peeps to school, but they never got loose.

4. I broke my collarbone at 17 during a riding lesson. The stallion I was riding got wind of a mare in heat and ran away with me, eventually bucking me off. Ow.

Mixed bag here. I did break my collarbone at 17, but in a bike accident. I did have a randy stallion run away with me and try to buck me off at a riding lesson when I was 13, but I jumped to safety in the manure pile (stinky but soft).

3. During my brief stint as an Avon lady, I accidentally set off a house alarm: horns whooping, lights flashing. I ran and hid in a neighbor's doghouse for over an hour until the coast was clear.

Sorry again. I was an Avon lady, but never set of an alarm or hid in a doghouse.

2. I wore a vintage wedding dress to the prom and my date rented a 1930's convertible to take us there.

Nope. I never went to the prom. I threw an anti-prom party with my fellow geeks instead.

1. When I was 23, I dated a 37-year-old who worked in mergers and acquisitions and owned two Mercedes-Benzes. He asked me out for the first time at a funeral.

Surprise! This one is absolutely true, every bit of it! Rich guy turned out to be a controlling jerk, but it took me over a year to figure this out. So, so, so many red flags! Men who date women 14 years younger are bad news. Ditto with ones who pick up girls at funerals. But, hey, I was fresh out of college and naive as all get-out.

Someday I'll write a story about this relationship. It was bizarre from beginning to end. Especially the end. He broke it off after I "selfishly" hadn't called for a week; I was busy helping my parents after their house burned down. Yeah. Nice guy, huh? Once I showed signs of being a real person with real problems, he was done.

What are some of your craziest dating disasters and bad matches?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Thanks to Crystal at Write Because You Must for granting me the "Creative Writer" award. Boy, oh, boy, have I ever been jonesing this one--it comes with the stipulation I share some falsehoods and a truth. My mischievous side rubs her hands in glee at an opportunity to fool you all. Mwa-ha-ha!

Here are my five lies and a truth:

1. When I was 23, I dated a 37-year-old who worked in mergers and acquisitions and owned two Mercedes-Benzes. He asked me out for the first time at a funeral.

2. I wore a vintage wedding dress to the prom and my date rented a 1930's convertible to take us there.

3. During my brief stint as an Avon lady, I accidentally set off a house alarm: horns whooping, lights flashing. I ran and hid in a neighbor's doghouse for over an hour until the coast was clear.

4. I broke my collarbone at 17 during a riding lesson. The stallion I was riding got wind of a mare in heat and ran away with me, eventually bucking me off. Ow.

5. My mom brought some of our baby chickens to school to show my second grade classmates. The peeps got loose and my class spent three hours chasing them.

6. I was captain of my high school debate team. We made it all the way to state level championships, coming in sixth in Pennsylvania.

Pass it along to:

Alicia at Eyes 2 Page


Chasing the Moon at Dancing Down Seredipity Street



Rhonda at Snarktastic Ramblings

Can you guess which is the truth?
Answers tomorrow!
Friday, March 19, 2010 Laurel Garver
Thanks to Crystal at Write Because You Must for granting me the "Creative Writer" award. Boy, oh, boy, have I ever been jonesing this one--it comes with the stipulation I share some falsehoods and a truth. My mischievous side rubs her hands in glee at an opportunity to fool you all. Mwa-ha-ha!

Here are my five lies and a truth:

1. When I was 23, I dated a 37-year-old who worked in mergers and acquisitions and owned two Mercedes-Benzes. He asked me out for the first time at a funeral.

2. I wore a vintage wedding dress to the prom and my date rented a 1930's convertible to take us there.

3. During my brief stint as an Avon lady, I accidentally set off a house alarm: horns whooping, lights flashing. I ran and hid in a neighbor's doghouse for over an hour until the coast was clear.

4. I broke my collarbone at 17 during a riding lesson. The stallion I was riding got wind of a mare in heat and ran away with me, eventually bucking me off. Ow.

5. My mom brought some of our baby chickens to school to show my second grade classmates. The peeps got loose and my class spent three hours chasing them.

6. I was captain of my high school debate team. We made it all the way to state level championships, coming in sixth in Pennsylvania.

Pass it along to:

Alicia at Eyes 2 Page


Chasing the Moon at Dancing Down Seredipity Street



Rhonda at Snarktastic Ramblings

Can you guess which is the truth?
Answers tomorrow!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

We hear again and again that without conflict, you have no story. So what kind of conflict should you have? How will it arise? One obvious way is to toss in a bad guy and mean girl or two and let them make trouble. Alas, bad guys and mean girls can become cliched and cardboard, sucking away energy and tension rather than adding it.

Who really wants to write generic bad guys, let alone read them? Ya-awn. And who says you really need a traditional villain anyway?

Here's another concept, from Nancy Kress's Dynamic Characters: "...you don't actually have to have a villain in your story at all. Many novels flourish without any bad guys. The conflict in these books comes from wrongheadedness, moral muddles, human confusion and incompatible goals of basically sympathetic characters."

What you might have instead of villains are simply characters who play an antagonistic role, blocking your character, causing her doubt and anxiety, influencing her to do out-of-character risky things. We all have people in our own lives like this. Here are a passel of traits that can make some of your characters become causers of conflict.

Good at 101 things your protagonist is not
This is the shiny, perfect person who makes your otherwise competent protagonist become a babbling idiot. And if the good-at-everything person is also humble and nice, all the better for highlighting your protagonist's neuroses and insecurities.

Curious to the point of being nosy
Whether it's the neighbor who logs your protagonist's comings and goings, or the geeky guy who stalks your teen MC or that annoying little kid who can't hesitate asking "whatcha doin', mister?" every time your lead tinkers with his car, a nosy antagonist can quickly change your protagonist's habits and behaviors to avoid the scrutiny.

Acceptance hungry, and willing to do anything to get it
It's good to have friends, but when social climbing becomes a ruling passion, watch out! This kind of antagonist might drag your MC into some strange new worlds he'd never normally go near, or might drop him at the moment of greatest need because he's "not cool" anymore. And this behavior is certainly not limited to the under-22 set (though it's perhaps overdone in YA).

Ambitious to an extreme
On the job, he's "the yes man" who everyone thinks is "so nice," until he betrays co-worker after co-worker on his climb to the top. In school, she's the girl so determined to have "leadership quality" singing all through her transcript that she joins every club and pulls strings to get officer positions. The trick of making ambitious antagonists not become bland is to make their motivation for success complex and fraught with inner tension. Some of their reasons should be noble.

Caring to the point of being invasive and clingy
These Velcro types don't have clear boundaries about where they end and another begins. Clingy folks like this love in a smothering way. They need to be needed. They take unprecedented pride in their beloved's accomplishments and take it as a personal attach when their beloved doesn't mind read and live up to their unspoken expectations. When your protagonist attempts to get needed distance, the clinger just pursues and clings even more. When a Velcro-type is in the picture, every outside relationship suddenly becomes a tug of war for the protagonist's attention.

Change averse
When inertia rules for a key player in your protagonist's life, it will require a lot more than bribes or whining for your protagonist to get to her goal. She'll have to evade and work around the stuck antagonist's habits. To make any major change that includes this person--a move, job change, having kids, getting an education--will require mustering every resource the protagonist has at her disposal. Change-averse types can be very charming in their stuckness, if you can overlook the wardrobe that's 40 years out of date.

True believer
A character who is certain of his moral rightness can become a fearsome opponent to your protagonist. When this antagonist's cause is just, but blocking or hindering your protagonist's goal, it can lead your protagonist to doubt and founder. Proselytizing is common from this type too, though the cause may be ecology or vegetarianism or Marxism rather than religion.

Addict
Whether it's an alcoholic, workaholic or shopaholic, the addicted antagonist is often in the grips of a drive she can't control with willpower. She'll desert your protagonist, take away resources, and in some cases, add chaos to your protagonist's life. Yet addictions are often a kind of mental illness that need treatment, adding a layer of guilt when your protagonist gets fed up.


What kinds of villains and antagonists are making life difficult for your protagonist?
What other traits would you add to the list?
Thursday, March 18, 2010 Laurel Garver
We hear again and again that without conflict, you have no story. So what kind of conflict should you have? How will it arise? One obvious way is to toss in a bad guy and mean girl or two and let them make trouble. Alas, bad guys and mean girls can become cliched and cardboard, sucking away energy and tension rather than adding it.

Who really wants to write generic bad guys, let alone read them? Ya-awn. And who says you really need a traditional villain anyway?

Here's another concept, from Nancy Kress's Dynamic Characters: "...you don't actually have to have a villain in your story at all. Many novels flourish without any bad guys. The conflict in these books comes from wrongheadedness, moral muddles, human confusion and incompatible goals of basically sympathetic characters."

What you might have instead of villains are simply characters who play an antagonistic role, blocking your character, causing her doubt and anxiety, influencing her to do out-of-character risky things. We all have people in our own lives like this. Here are a passel of traits that can make some of your characters become causers of conflict.

Good at 101 things your protagonist is not
This is the shiny, perfect person who makes your otherwise competent protagonist become a babbling idiot. And if the good-at-everything person is also humble and nice, all the better for highlighting your protagonist's neuroses and insecurities.

Curious to the point of being nosy
Whether it's the neighbor who logs your protagonist's comings and goings, or the geeky guy who stalks your teen MC or that annoying little kid who can't hesitate asking "whatcha doin', mister?" every time your lead tinkers with his car, a nosy antagonist can quickly change your protagonist's habits and behaviors to avoid the scrutiny.

Acceptance hungry, and willing to do anything to get it
It's good to have friends, but when social climbing becomes a ruling passion, watch out! This kind of antagonist might drag your MC into some strange new worlds he'd never normally go near, or might drop him at the moment of greatest need because he's "not cool" anymore. And this behavior is certainly not limited to the under-22 set (though it's perhaps overdone in YA).

Ambitious to an extreme
On the job, he's "the yes man" who everyone thinks is "so nice," until he betrays co-worker after co-worker on his climb to the top. In school, she's the girl so determined to have "leadership quality" singing all through her transcript that she joins every club and pulls strings to get officer positions. The trick of making ambitious antagonists not become bland is to make their motivation for success complex and fraught with inner tension. Some of their reasons should be noble.

Caring to the point of being invasive and clingy
These Velcro types don't have clear boundaries about where they end and another begins. Clingy folks like this love in a smothering way. They need to be needed. They take unprecedented pride in their beloved's accomplishments and take it as a personal attach when their beloved doesn't mind read and live up to their unspoken expectations. When your protagonist attempts to get needed distance, the clinger just pursues and clings even more. When a Velcro-type is in the picture, every outside relationship suddenly becomes a tug of war for the protagonist's attention.

Change averse
When inertia rules for a key player in your protagonist's life, it will require a lot more than bribes or whining for your protagonist to get to her goal. She'll have to evade and work around the stuck antagonist's habits. To make any major change that includes this person--a move, job change, having kids, getting an education--will require mustering every resource the protagonist has at her disposal. Change-averse types can be very charming in their stuckness, if you can overlook the wardrobe that's 40 years out of date.

True believer
A character who is certain of his moral rightness can become a fearsome opponent to your protagonist. When this antagonist's cause is just, but blocking or hindering your protagonist's goal, it can lead your protagonist to doubt and founder. Proselytizing is common from this type too, though the cause may be ecology or vegetarianism or Marxism rather than religion.

Addict
Whether it's an alcoholic, workaholic or shopaholic, the addicted antagonist is often in the grips of a drive she can't control with willpower. She'll desert your protagonist, take away resources, and in some cases, add chaos to your protagonist's life. Yet addictions are often a kind of mental illness that need treatment, adding a layer of guilt when your protagonist gets fed up.


What kinds of villains and antagonists are making life difficult for your protagonist?
What other traits would you add to the list?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Many thanks to Jen Daiker of unedited for passing along the Prolific Blogger award to me.

The award is described thusly:
"A Prolific Blogger is one who is intellectually productive...keeping up an active blog that is filled with enjoyable content."

The rules for this one are as follows:
1. Every winner of the Prolific Blogger Award has to pass on this award to at least seven other deserving prolific bloggers. Spread some love!
2. Each Prolific Blogger must link to the blog from which he/she has received the award. (see above).
3. Every Prolific Blogger must link back to this post, which explains the origins and motivation for the award.
4. Every Prolific Blogger must visit this post and add his/her name in the Mr. Linky, so that we can get to know the other winners.

Here are my nominees:

-Anne at Piedmont Writer, who somehow juggles multiple writing projects and encouraging posts.

-Aubrie at Flutey Words is the epitome of prolific. She is on fire with submitting short fiction!

-Charity at My Writing Journey digs in to what makes fiction work on an emotional level.

-Crystal at Write Because You Must grapples so deeply with what it is to be creative. And she paints too!

-Mary at Play off the Page is another deep thinker whose posts stretch my mind, heart and soul.

-Roni at Fiction Groupie consistently encourages great discussions by tackling tough topics and her "Beta Club" is simply inspired.

-Sarahjayne at Writing in the Wilderness consistently knocks my socks off with her craft, especially her ability to write tight. Her snippets teach me tons.

Microfiction challenge update
Kudos to Michelle Gregory at Beautiful Chaos for getting two pieces accepted to Two Sentence Stories! You can go rate her stories here: You Can't Run Forever and Day Job. These e-zines often have very quick turn arounds. Hope that inspires you!


Tell me about a time when you were prolific. What was it that drove you to great heights of productivity?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010 Laurel Garver

Many thanks to Jen Daiker of unedited for passing along the Prolific Blogger award to me.

The award is described thusly:
"A Prolific Blogger is one who is intellectually productive...keeping up an active blog that is filled with enjoyable content."

The rules for this one are as follows:
1. Every winner of the Prolific Blogger Award has to pass on this award to at least seven other deserving prolific bloggers. Spread some love!
2. Each Prolific Blogger must link to the blog from which he/she has received the award. (see above).
3. Every Prolific Blogger must link back to this post, which explains the origins and motivation for the award.
4. Every Prolific Blogger must visit this post and add his/her name in the Mr. Linky, so that we can get to know the other winners.

Here are my nominees:

-Anne at Piedmont Writer, who somehow juggles multiple writing projects and encouraging posts.

-Aubrie at Flutey Words is the epitome of prolific. She is on fire with submitting short fiction!

-Charity at My Writing Journey digs in to what makes fiction work on an emotional level.

-Crystal at Write Because You Must grapples so deeply with what it is to be creative. And she paints too!

-Mary at Play off the Page is another deep thinker whose posts stretch my mind, heart and soul.

-Roni at Fiction Groupie consistently encourages great discussions by tackling tough topics and her "Beta Club" is simply inspired.

-Sarahjayne at Writing in the Wilderness consistently knocks my socks off with her craft, especially her ability to write tight. Her snippets teach me tons.

Microfiction challenge update
Kudos to Michelle Gregory at Beautiful Chaos for getting two pieces accepted to Two Sentence Stories! You can go rate her stories here: You Can't Run Forever and Day Job. These e-zines often have very quick turn arounds. Hope that inspires you!


Tell me about a time when you were prolific. What was it that drove you to great heights of productivity?

Monday, March 15, 2010

What the heck is "microfiction"? You might well ask. It's a term that encompasses several forms of very, very short stories with low word counts and high impact.

Many of you, dear readers, have not attempted a short story since that college writing class taught by the flaky professor chick wrapped in scarves. After all, novels are what the public is buying these days. Right? Or perhaps you believe one of the following myths:
  • The characters crowding my brain have stories that are too big to fit in 25 pages or less.
  • If I don't spend every ounce of writing energy on novels, I'll never finish.
But a novel is a huge commitment with almost no rewards for years and years. The marketing process with novels is so slow and rejection-filled, it's enough to take the wind out of one's sails for good.

Many of the books on marketing novels stress the importance of having numerous publishing credits. This is a good idea not just to make your query shine and to get your name out there, but also because small victories are important for morale. And low morale is a creativity crusher.

There are a number of established and emerging forms I thought I'd bring to your attention. The beauty of these very short forms is they force you to write very, very tight, a skill every writer should develop. They don't require the elaborate plotting of a 300+ page mystery thriller either. Short forms can be a way to explore an intense moment, or try out a new genre or style.

Flash Fiction
up to 500 / up to 1,000 words
Definitions vary from publication to publication, but most agree 1,000 words is the upper length limit for flash fiction. That's just four pages, folks.

My crit partner Simon argued very well in his guest post on Carol's Prints that the flash fiction form is something every fiction writer should try. He also explained how you might be able to mine your current WIP for material that could be turned into a stand-alone short piece you can market and publish.

There are over a thousand publications seeking flash fiction, including genre markets! The nonpaying markets are usually very open to new writers, but don't fear the paying markets including Flashquake, Every Day Fiction and The Shine Journal. Go to Duotrope's Digest and select "flash fiction" from the "length" drop-down menu to learn more about flash markets.

Drabble
100 words
Drabble is a story that must be exactly 100 words. For some examples, see Boston Literary Magazine and Flashshot (SF, fantasy and horror). Some other exact-word-count forms longer than Dribble (see below) are 55 fiction and 69er.

Dribble
50 words
Like Drabble, Dribble is an exact-word-count form, but even more limited--just 50 words. To see some examples, go to 50 to 1 e-zine and Boston Literary Magazine.

Twitter fiction
up to 140 characters
Are you a champion tweet writer? This might be the form for you. Go to Nanoism to see some bright gems in 140 characters or less.

And Tinier!
Two Sentence Stories publishes, oddly enough, stories of just two sentences.
Vestal Review publishes "Dirty Dozen" stories, which are 12 words long.

Microfiction resources
PerContra magazine featured this helpful roundup on microfiction, including some editor input about what makes a story publishable.

PiF magazine featured this excellent article on craft considerations of microfiction.


Here's my challenge to you: try one of these microfiction forms and submit a piece for publication by July 31.
Are you game? Which forms have you/will you try?
Are you not game? Why (aside from being too busy)?
Monday, March 15, 2010 Laurel Garver
What the heck is "microfiction"? You might well ask. It's a term that encompasses several forms of very, very short stories with low word counts and high impact.

Many of you, dear readers, have not attempted a short story since that college writing class taught by the flaky professor chick wrapped in scarves. After all, novels are what the public is buying these days. Right? Or perhaps you believe one of the following myths:
  • The characters crowding my brain have stories that are too big to fit in 25 pages or less.
  • If I don't spend every ounce of writing energy on novels, I'll never finish.
But a novel is a huge commitment with almost no rewards for years and years. The marketing process with novels is so slow and rejection-filled, it's enough to take the wind out of one's sails for good.

Many of the books on marketing novels stress the importance of having numerous publishing credits. This is a good idea not just to make your query shine and to get your name out there, but also because small victories are important for morale. And low morale is a creativity crusher.

There are a number of established and emerging forms I thought I'd bring to your attention. The beauty of these very short forms is they force you to write very, very tight, a skill every writer should develop. They don't require the elaborate plotting of a 300+ page mystery thriller either. Short forms can be a way to explore an intense moment, or try out a new genre or style.

Flash Fiction
up to 500 / up to 1,000 words
Definitions vary from publication to publication, but most agree 1,000 words is the upper length limit for flash fiction. That's just four pages, folks.

My crit partner Simon argued very well in his guest post on Carol's Prints that the flash fiction form is something every fiction writer should try. He also explained how you might be able to mine your current WIP for material that could be turned into a stand-alone short piece you can market and publish.

There are over a thousand publications seeking flash fiction, including genre markets! The nonpaying markets are usually very open to new writers, but don't fear the paying markets including Flashquake, Every Day Fiction and The Shine Journal. Go to Duotrope's Digest and select "flash fiction" from the "length" drop-down menu to learn more about flash markets.

Drabble
100 words
Drabble is a story that must be exactly 100 words. For some examples, see Boston Literary Magazine and Flashshot (SF, fantasy and horror). Some other exact-word-count forms longer than Dribble (see below) are 55 fiction and 69er.

Dribble
50 words
Like Drabble, Dribble is an exact-word-count form, but even more limited--just 50 words. To see some examples, go to 50 to 1 e-zine and Boston Literary Magazine.

Twitter fiction
up to 140 characters
Are you a champion tweet writer? This might be the form for you. Go to Nanoism to see some bright gems in 140 characters or less.

And Tinier!
Two Sentence Stories publishes, oddly enough, stories of just two sentences.
Vestal Review publishes "Dirty Dozen" stories, which are 12 words long.

Microfiction resources
PerContra magazine featured this helpful roundup on microfiction, including some editor input about what makes a story publishable.

PiF magazine featured this excellent article on craft considerations of microfiction.


Here's my challenge to you: try one of these microfiction forms and submit a piece for publication by July 31.
Are you game? Which forms have you/will you try?
Are you not game? Why (aside from being too busy)?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Just moments ago, my hobbit assistant drew the name of my Eleventy-one Followers Celebration prize drawing.

And the winner is...(drumroll please)...

Abby Annis!
visit her blog here.

Congratulations, Abby. You've won a copy of Elizabeth Lyon's Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Writer Can Afford to Ignore. It's one of my favorite resources on revision, chock full of great advice and handy checklists.

Please send me your mailing address to laurels (dot) leaves (at) gmail (dot) com and I'll ship your prize post-haste.

Thanks to all of my followers for being so fabulous! Remember you have another chance to win more stupendous prizes.

Eleventy-one Followers Celebration
Writing Contest
(deadline 4.4)

Grand Prize
A 15-page critique OR copy editing

Runner-up prizes (3 total):

An 8-page critique OR copy editing

The Scene Book: A Primer for the Ficition Writer by Sandra Scofield

You Just Don't Understand: Men and Women in Conversation by Deborah Tannen

To enter, submit a piece of original fiction (not previously published), up to 700 words. It can be flash fiction or a scene from an existing WIP that works as a stand-alone scene. Your scene or story must be dialogue-driven and show an instance of negotiation and persuasion, like the sample posted HERE.

The deadline to submit is Sunday, April 4, midnight EDT. More detailed contest rules are available HERE.

Many thanks to all of you. I look forward reading your amazing dialogue scenes!
Saturday, March 13, 2010 Laurel Garver
Just moments ago, my hobbit assistant drew the name of my Eleventy-one Followers Celebration prize drawing.

And the winner is...(drumroll please)...

Abby Annis!
visit her blog here.

Congratulations, Abby. You've won a copy of Elizabeth Lyon's Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Writer Can Afford to Ignore. It's one of my favorite resources on revision, chock full of great advice and handy checklists.

Please send me your mailing address to laurels (dot) leaves (at) gmail (dot) com and I'll ship your prize post-haste.

Thanks to all of my followers for being so fabulous! Remember you have another chance to win more stupendous prizes.

Eleventy-one Followers Celebration
Writing Contest
(deadline 4.4)

Grand Prize
A 15-page critique OR copy editing

Runner-up prizes (3 total):

An 8-page critique OR copy editing

The Scene Book: A Primer for the Ficition Writer by Sandra Scofield

You Just Don't Understand: Men and Women in Conversation by Deborah Tannen

To enter, submit a piece of original fiction (not previously published), up to 700 words. It can be flash fiction or a scene from an existing WIP that works as a stand-alone scene. Your scene or story must be dialogue-driven and show an instance of negotiation and persuasion, like the sample posted HERE.

The deadline to submit is Sunday, April 4, midnight EDT. More detailed contest rules are available HERE.

Many thanks to all of you. I look forward reading your amazing dialogue scenes!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A quick reminder: the deadline to enter my Eleventy-one Celebration drawing is Saturday. All you have to do is become a follower. For more details, click HERE.

Part two of my Eleventy-one Celebration is a writing contest. To enter, you must write a dialogue-driven scene or short story that shows an instance of negotiation and persuasion. (Details about the writing contest are HERE.)

You might well wonder what I mean by "negotiation." I get the term from Sandra Scofield's The Scene Book. She calls it "another approach to conflict" and describes it as "an exchange of character desires and denials and relenting, until some sort of peace is carved out, or else the interaction falls apart."

Negotiation is a way of approaching conflict as power plays, in which each character tries to get what he or she wants. How those power games and assertions of will play out will depend on the characters' temperaments, the strength of their desires and the nature of their relationship--especially if there is an imbalance of power. Scofield notes that "once in a while a character will scream at the top of her lungs, but most of the time you will see attempts at manipulation, negotiation, subterfuge, flattery or any other strategy that works for victory without drawing blood."

I thought it might be most helpful to see a negotiation in action and do a mini-analysis. I'll work with the scene from Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring I cite as an example for the Eleventy-one Contest. Notice that the weaker party tries to assert his power through defiance of the other's authority, while the stronger party uses multiple approaches--reasoning, persuasion, flattery, appeasement, challenge, shaming, intimidation and at last giving aid.

To reacquaint you with the context, in this scene the powerful wizard Gandalf is trying to convince the brave little hobbit Bilbo to leave his magic ring in the Shire when he takes his next journey.

==========

Gandalf looked again very hard at Bilbo, and there was a gleam in his eyes. 'I think, Bilbo,' he said quietly, 'I should leave it behind. Don't you want to?' [persuasion: notice Gandalf exercising meekness--strength under control--with his soft voice.]

'Well yes--and no. Now it comes to it, I don't like parting with it at all, I may say. And I don't really see why I should. Why do you want me to?' he asked, and a curious change came over his voice. It was sharp with suspicion and annoyance. [disturbance and growing agitation--notice the escalation with each sentence, culminating in the change of voice tone] 'You are always badgering me about my ring; but you have never bothered me about the other things that I got on my journey.' [counter-attack]

'No, but I had to badger you,' said Gandalf. [justification] 'I wanted the truth. It was important. Magic rings are--well, magical; and they are rare and curious. I was professionally interested in your ring, you may say; and I still am. I should like to know where it is, if you go wandering again. [reasoning and attempt to look mild and less powerful] Also I think you have had it quite long enough. [challenge] You won't need it any more, Bilbo, unless I am quite mistaken.' [persuasion]

Bilbo flushed, and there was an angry light in his eyes. His kindly face grew hard. [physical changes indicating fight-or-flight kicking in] 'Why not?' he cried. 'And what business is it of yours, anyway, to know what I do with my own things? [counter-attack] It is my own. I found it. It came to me.' [justification and defiance]

'Yes, yes,' said Gandalf. 'But there is no need to get angry.' [appeasement]

'If I am, it is your fault,' said Bilbo. [counter-attack] 'It is mine, I tell you. My own. My precious. Yes, my precious.' [justification and defiance]

The wizard's face remained grave and attentive, and only a flicker of in his deep eyes showed that he was startled and indeed alarmed. [retreat and retrenching] 'It has been called that before,' he said, 'but not by you.' [reasoning--calling upon shared knowledge and a shared story and a veiled shaming by comparing him to an enemy]

'But I say it now. And why not? Even if Gollum said the same once. It is not his now, but mine. And I shall keep it, I say.'[justification, more defiance]

Gandalf stood up. He spoke sternly. [assertion of authority and veiled intimidation--there's a huge height difference] 'You will be a fool if you do, Bilbo,' he said. [reasoning, attempt to shame] 'You make that clearer with every word you say. It has got far too much hold on you. [persuasion] Let it go! [challenge] And then you can go yourself, and be free.' [persuasion, offer of a prize]

'I'll do as I choose and go as I please,' said Bilbo obstinately. [defiance]

'Now, now, my dear hobbit!' said Gandalf. 'All your long life we have been friends, and you owe me something. [flattery, calling up a debt] Come! Do as you promised: give it up!' [challenge of Bilbo's character, his trustworthiness as a promise-keeper]

'Well, if you want my ring for yourself, say so!' cried Bilbo. [counter-attack on Gandalf's character, a veiled accusation] 'But you won't get it. I won't give my precious away, I tell you.' [defiance] His hand strayed to the hilt of his small sword. [veiled threat of violence]

Gandalf's eyes flashed. 'It will be my turn to get angry soon,' he said. 'If you say that again, I shall. Then you will see Gandalf the Grey uncloaked.' [counter-threat] He took a step toward the hobbit, and he seemed to grow tall and menacing; his shadow filled the little room. [intimidation]

Bilbo backed away to the all, breathing hard, his hand clutching at his pocked. They stood for a while facing one another, and the air in the room tingled. [fear response and impasse] Gandalf's eyes remained bent on the hobbit. Slowly his hands relaxed, and he began to tremble. [retreat of weaker party]

'I don't know what has come over you, Gandalf,' he said. 'You have never been like this before. [accusation] What is it all about? It is mine, isn't it? I found it, and Gollum would have killed me, if I hadn't kept it. I'm not a thief, whatever he said.' [reasoning]

'I have never called you one,' Gandalf answered. [reassurance] 'And I am not one either. I am not trying to rob you, but to help you. I wish you would trust me, as you used.' [persuasion and reassertion of friendship] He turned away, and the shadow passed. He seemed to dwindle again to an old grey man, bent and troubled. [retreat from intimidation]

Bilbo drew his hand over his eyes. 'I am sorry,' he said. [peacemaking] 'But I felt so queer. [justification] And yet it would be a relief in a way not to be bothered with it any more. It has been so growing on my mind lately. Sometimes I have felt it was like an eye looking at me. And I am always wanting to put it on and disappear, don't you know; or wondering if it is safe, and pulling it out to make sure. I tried locking it up, but I found I couldn't rest without it in my pocket. [explanation with lots of blame shifting] I don't know why. And I don't seem to be able to make up my mind.' [veiled request for help]

'Then trust mine,' said Gandalf. [persuasion] 'It is quite made up. Go away and leave it behind. Stop possessing it. [challenge] Give it to Frodo, and I will look after him.' [persuasion, offer of help]

Bilbo stood for a moment tense and undecided. [deliberation] Presently he sighed. 'All right,' he said with an effort. 'I will.' [surrender]

Source:
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. 1954. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1993. 41-43.

What techniques do you see in Tolkien's craft that you can emulate?
Thursday, March 11, 2010 Laurel Garver
A quick reminder: the deadline to enter my Eleventy-one Celebration drawing is Saturday. All you have to do is become a follower. For more details, click HERE.

Part two of my Eleventy-one Celebration is a writing contest. To enter, you must write a dialogue-driven scene or short story that shows an instance of negotiation and persuasion. (Details about the writing contest are HERE.)

You might well wonder what I mean by "negotiation." I get the term from Sandra Scofield's The Scene Book. She calls it "another approach to conflict" and describes it as "an exchange of character desires and denials and relenting, until some sort of peace is carved out, or else the interaction falls apart."

Negotiation is a way of approaching conflict as power plays, in which each character tries to get what he or she wants. How those power games and assertions of will play out will depend on the characters' temperaments, the strength of their desires and the nature of their relationship--especially if there is an imbalance of power. Scofield notes that "once in a while a character will scream at the top of her lungs, but most of the time you will see attempts at manipulation, negotiation, subterfuge, flattery or any other strategy that works for victory without drawing blood."

I thought it might be most helpful to see a negotiation in action and do a mini-analysis. I'll work with the scene from Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring I cite as an example for the Eleventy-one Contest. Notice that the weaker party tries to assert his power through defiance of the other's authority, while the stronger party uses multiple approaches--reasoning, persuasion, flattery, appeasement, challenge, shaming, intimidation and at last giving aid.

To reacquaint you with the context, in this scene the powerful wizard Gandalf is trying to convince the brave little hobbit Bilbo to leave his magic ring in the Shire when he takes his next journey.

==========

Gandalf looked again very hard at Bilbo, and there was a gleam in his eyes. 'I think, Bilbo,' he said quietly, 'I should leave it behind. Don't you want to?' [persuasion: notice Gandalf exercising meekness--strength under control--with his soft voice.]

'Well yes--and no. Now it comes to it, I don't like parting with it at all, I may say. And I don't really see why I should. Why do you want me to?' he asked, and a curious change came over his voice. It was sharp with suspicion and annoyance. [disturbance and growing agitation--notice the escalation with each sentence, culminating in the change of voice tone] 'You are always badgering me about my ring; but you have never bothered me about the other things that I got on my journey.' [counter-attack]

'No, but I had to badger you,' said Gandalf. [justification] 'I wanted the truth. It was important. Magic rings are--well, magical; and they are rare and curious. I was professionally interested in your ring, you may say; and I still am. I should like to know where it is, if you go wandering again. [reasoning and attempt to look mild and less powerful] Also I think you have had it quite long enough. [challenge] You won't need it any more, Bilbo, unless I am quite mistaken.' [persuasion]

Bilbo flushed, and there was an angry light in his eyes. His kindly face grew hard. [physical changes indicating fight-or-flight kicking in] 'Why not?' he cried. 'And what business is it of yours, anyway, to know what I do with my own things? [counter-attack] It is my own. I found it. It came to me.' [justification and defiance]

'Yes, yes,' said Gandalf. 'But there is no need to get angry.' [appeasement]

'If I am, it is your fault,' said Bilbo. [counter-attack] 'It is mine, I tell you. My own. My precious. Yes, my precious.' [justification and defiance]

The wizard's face remained grave and attentive, and only a flicker of in his deep eyes showed that he was startled and indeed alarmed. [retreat and retrenching] 'It has been called that before,' he said, 'but not by you.' [reasoning--calling upon shared knowledge and a shared story and a veiled shaming by comparing him to an enemy]

'But I say it now. And why not? Even if Gollum said the same once. It is not his now, but mine. And I shall keep it, I say.'[justification, more defiance]

Gandalf stood up. He spoke sternly. [assertion of authority and veiled intimidation--there's a huge height difference] 'You will be a fool if you do, Bilbo,' he said. [reasoning, attempt to shame] 'You make that clearer with every word you say. It has got far too much hold on you. [persuasion] Let it go! [challenge] And then you can go yourself, and be free.' [persuasion, offer of a prize]

'I'll do as I choose and go as I please,' said Bilbo obstinately. [defiance]

'Now, now, my dear hobbit!' said Gandalf. 'All your long life we have been friends, and you owe me something. [flattery, calling up a debt] Come! Do as you promised: give it up!' [challenge of Bilbo's character, his trustworthiness as a promise-keeper]

'Well, if you want my ring for yourself, say so!' cried Bilbo. [counter-attack on Gandalf's character, a veiled accusation] 'But you won't get it. I won't give my precious away, I tell you.' [defiance] His hand strayed to the hilt of his small sword. [veiled threat of violence]

Gandalf's eyes flashed. 'It will be my turn to get angry soon,' he said. 'If you say that again, I shall. Then you will see Gandalf the Grey uncloaked.' [counter-threat] He took a step toward the hobbit, and he seemed to grow tall and menacing; his shadow filled the little room. [intimidation]

Bilbo backed away to the all, breathing hard, his hand clutching at his pocked. They stood for a while facing one another, and the air in the room tingled. [fear response and impasse] Gandalf's eyes remained bent on the hobbit. Slowly his hands relaxed, and he began to tremble. [retreat of weaker party]

'I don't know what has come over you, Gandalf,' he said. 'You have never been like this before. [accusation] What is it all about? It is mine, isn't it? I found it, and Gollum would have killed me, if I hadn't kept it. I'm not a thief, whatever he said.' [reasoning]

'I have never called you one,' Gandalf answered. [reassurance] 'And I am not one either. I am not trying to rob you, but to help you. I wish you would trust me, as you used.' [persuasion and reassertion of friendship] He turned away, and the shadow passed. He seemed to dwindle again to an old grey man, bent and troubled. [retreat from intimidation]

Bilbo drew his hand over his eyes. 'I am sorry,' he said. [peacemaking] 'But I felt so queer. [justification] And yet it would be a relief in a way not to be bothered with it any more. It has been so growing on my mind lately. Sometimes I have felt it was like an eye looking at me. And I am always wanting to put it on and disappear, don't you know; or wondering if it is safe, and pulling it out to make sure. I tried locking it up, but I found I couldn't rest without it in my pocket. [explanation with lots of blame shifting] I don't know why. And I don't seem to be able to make up my mind.' [veiled request for help]

'Then trust mine,' said Gandalf. [persuasion] 'It is quite made up. Go away and leave it behind. Stop possessing it. [challenge] Give it to Frodo, and I will look after him.' [persuasion, offer of help]

Bilbo stood for a moment tense and undecided. [deliberation] Presently he sighed. 'All right,' he said with an effort. 'I will.' [surrender]

Source:
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. 1954. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1993. 41-43.

What techniques do you see in Tolkien's craft that you can emulate?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

True confessions: as a kid, I was a bit of a rebel when it came to reading. I come from a family of anti-sports book lovers. Our coffee table was always piled high with magazines. Long car trips usually meant a read-aloud trip to Narnia. Dad devoured historical fiction, especially Civil War stories. Mom loved a good mystery or character-driven mainstream story. My brother gobbled through adventure stories. Me? I preferred being out in the woods, building forts on the stream bank and imagining my own adventures.

In seventh grade, my reading teacher picked up on my rebellious reluctance to read and had a sixth sense about how pre-teens think. She called me over to her closet chock full of paperbacks one day with a "Psst. Come 'ere. I hear you take horseback riding lessons. I've got a little something you might like. Our little secret, though, okay?" She pointed me to a shelf of Walter Farely books and the addictive YA horse stories by Patsey Gray (whose stuff is now considered "rare" and "collectible").

It took just one of Grey's books to get me hooked. From there I devoured every horse book in my small-town library and even re-read the Narnia books on my own. It surprised me to no end how captivating Lewis was in my own internal voice rather than my mom's external one. Perhaps the magic was more sparkling when I didn't have the mind-numbing miles between Pennsylvania and my grandparents' place in western Montana as a soporific backdrop to the experience.

Were you a reader as a kid? What were the gateway books that drew you in to a lifetime habit of reading?

*This is a repost from my early blogging days.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010 Laurel Garver
True confessions: as a kid, I was a bit of a rebel when it came to reading. I come from a family of anti-sports book lovers. Our coffee table was always piled high with magazines. Long car trips usually meant a read-aloud trip to Narnia. Dad devoured historical fiction, especially Civil War stories. Mom loved a good mystery or character-driven mainstream story. My brother gobbled through adventure stories. Me? I preferred being out in the woods, building forts on the stream bank and imagining my own adventures.

In seventh grade, my reading teacher picked up on my rebellious reluctance to read and had a sixth sense about how pre-teens think. She called me over to her closet chock full of paperbacks one day with a "Psst. Come 'ere. I hear you take horseback riding lessons. I've got a little something you might like. Our little secret, though, okay?" She pointed me to a shelf of Walter Farely books and the addictive YA horse stories by Patsey Gray (whose stuff is now considered "rare" and "collectible").

It took just one of Grey's books to get me hooked. From there I devoured every horse book in my small-town library and even re-read the Narnia books on my own. It surprised me to no end how captivating Lewis was in my own internal voice rather than my mom's external one. Perhaps the magic was more sparkling when I didn't have the mind-numbing miles between Pennsylvania and my grandparents' place in western Montana as a soporific backdrop to the experience.

Were you a reader as a kid? What were the gateway books that drew you in to a lifetime habit of reading?

*This is a repost from my early blogging days.

Monday, March 08, 2010

My library haul this past week was eye-opening. Two of the four books had amazing voice, but the plots fizzled, in part because of subplot sputter-out. I've seen this ailment in contemporary YA more than other genres, and it got me pondering why that might be.

In analyzing the problematic plots, I found it helpful to contrast with a book that did succeed where the others failed. Because book three of the library haul was a winner: Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick. (Thanks to Sherrie at Write About Now for recommending it!) For brevity, I'll cite it as DG&DP.

The best books' subplots relate to the main plot. They complicate matters or shed light on the core story problem or bring surprising help to the MC. Less effective subplots pop in to create tension for the sake of tension, feel inorganic and almost never resolve. I see three core areas to address in your plot when thinking about and creating effective subplots.

Stakes. If your MC's dilemma is too low-stakes, you will be tempted to create tension for tension's sake with very random plot elements. You know what I mean--explosions, zombie attacks, unmotivated fights, suicide attempts, unplanned pregnancies and the like--because something needs to happen here.

Your novel's protagonist must have something at stake worthy of a 200+ page exploration. There must be something of great value to be lost, and the cost of that loss should be devastating. One can raise the stakes over the course of the book by upping the value of the desired thing (make winning it have multiple rewards) and/or making failure appear more and more costly (make losing it have multiple punishing effects).

DG&DP opens with 13-yo Steven voicing self-confidence problems and resentment of his angelic little brother. When angelic brother is diagnosed with leukemia, Steven's issues take on a whole new twist. Fighting for attention from parents and seeking status at school continue to plague Steven, and small wins in these subplots help him cope with the high-stakes main plot. It's because Steven is dealing with such a huge issue--possible death of a family member--that his moments of struggle with smallness matter very much. Will this trial make him grow up or regress? If he regresses, will it tear his fragile family apart?

The story-problem stakes give weight to the subplots and the subplots up the stakes of the story problem.

Natural consequences. The anxiety, stress or time-suck of your main story problem will cause ripples in other areas of the MC's life. Think through what those might be and you can have tension-building subplots that feel organic.

In DG&DP, Steven's ability to concentrate at school evaporates. He eventually begins having confrontations with teachers about it. His options for repairing the problem involve tutoring with guess who? That's right, two love interests.

Steven's usual coping mechanism is to escape into music making. As a result, his skill improves and becomes his means of reaching out to others.

Relational fallout. In times of high stress, relationships around your MC will always be tested. Exploring how those around the MC help and/or hinder her can be a great way to build up and release tension. Those she seeks for support may disappoint, distract, disappear. The weak sidekick may show surprising strength when put to the test.

In DG&DP, the father character emotionally shuts down. Steven struggles with the very same tendencies, and seeing how his father's unavailability hurts him, he begins to change.

What are your thoughts about causes of subplot sputter-out? Read any good books lately that have organic subplots that support the main plot and resolve adequately?

A side observation: Sonnenblick's wonderful book was a debut novel, while the unnamed not-so-effective novels were by established authors. I very frequently wonder if established authors are forced to write under tremendous deadline pressure and if their storytelling suffers as a result. What do you think?
Monday, March 08, 2010 Laurel Garver
My library haul this past week was eye-opening. Two of the four books had amazing voice, but the plots fizzled, in part because of subplot sputter-out. I've seen this ailment in contemporary YA more than other genres, and it got me pondering why that might be.

In analyzing the problematic plots, I found it helpful to contrast with a book that did succeed where the others failed. Because book three of the library haul was a winner: Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick. (Thanks to Sherrie at Write About Now for recommending it!) For brevity, I'll cite it as DG&DP.

The best books' subplots relate to the main plot. They complicate matters or shed light on the core story problem or bring surprising help to the MC. Less effective subplots pop in to create tension for the sake of tension, feel inorganic and almost never resolve. I see three core areas to address in your plot when thinking about and creating effective subplots.

Stakes. If your MC's dilemma is too low-stakes, you will be tempted to create tension for tension's sake with very random plot elements. You know what I mean--explosions, zombie attacks, unmotivated fights, suicide attempts, unplanned pregnancies and the like--because something needs to happen here.

Your novel's protagonist must have something at stake worthy of a 200+ page exploration. There must be something of great value to be lost, and the cost of that loss should be devastating. One can raise the stakes over the course of the book by upping the value of the desired thing (make winning it have multiple rewards) and/or making failure appear more and more costly (make losing it have multiple punishing effects).

DG&DP opens with 13-yo Steven voicing self-confidence problems and resentment of his angelic little brother. When angelic brother is diagnosed with leukemia, Steven's issues take on a whole new twist. Fighting for attention from parents and seeking status at school continue to plague Steven, and small wins in these subplots help him cope with the high-stakes main plot. It's because Steven is dealing with such a huge issue--possible death of a family member--that his moments of struggle with smallness matter very much. Will this trial make him grow up or regress? If he regresses, will it tear his fragile family apart?

The story-problem stakes give weight to the subplots and the subplots up the stakes of the story problem.

Natural consequences. The anxiety, stress or time-suck of your main story problem will cause ripples in other areas of the MC's life. Think through what those might be and you can have tension-building subplots that feel organic.

In DG&DP, Steven's ability to concentrate at school evaporates. He eventually begins having confrontations with teachers about it. His options for repairing the problem involve tutoring with guess who? That's right, two love interests.

Steven's usual coping mechanism is to escape into music making. As a result, his skill improves and becomes his means of reaching out to others.

Relational fallout. In times of high stress, relationships around your MC will always be tested. Exploring how those around the MC help and/or hinder her can be a great way to build up and release tension. Those she seeks for support may disappoint, distract, disappear. The weak sidekick may show surprising strength when put to the test.

In DG&DP, the father character emotionally shuts down. Steven struggles with the very same tendencies, and seeing how his father's unavailability hurts him, he begins to change.

What are your thoughts about causes of subplot sputter-out? Read any good books lately that have organic subplots that support the main plot and resolve adequately?

A side observation: Sonnenblick's wonderful book was a debut novel, while the unnamed not-so-effective novels were by established authors. I very frequently wonder if established authors are forced to write under tremendous deadline pressure and if their storytelling suffers as a result. What do you think?

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Why is it I had the overwhelming urge to add (uh-huh, uh-huh) to that title? Probably my 70s childhood. And my daughter's strange love for disco. And my hubby's favorite prank, stealth disco (though usually without the videotaping component). And I'm rambling in a manner very atypical for my blog. So sue me.

Amber at Musings of Amber Murphy tagged me for the like/love/hate meme. And hey, it's only taken me a week to get around to it. Seriously, though, I'm trying to be better about scheduling my posts. You might notice I've begun to post a meaty how-to piece every Thursday. The other days will be what strikes my fancy when it strikes me. I like a little routine and a little flex.

And here are some other things I like (and love and hate) per the meme.

I like
discovering a kindred spirit.

I like sweater weather.

I like making up stories about my fellow train commuters.

I like crazy gatherings with my extended family (I'm one of the quiet ones!).

I like making a little mischief.

I like being understood.

I like making a difference.

I like stargazing.

I like rivers and trees.

I like themes, motifs and surprising connections.

I like knowing my kooky life experiences are entertaining.

I like where my life is going.

I love that God is faithful when I am faithless.

Today was my first spring peek at the mysteries poking up through the soil in my garden: tiny tips of tulips, new leaves on mums, rose foliage red on the stem. I remember again that God grows things secretly in the dark places.

I hate injustice and oppression.

I hate gory violence in film or books.

I hate litter.

I hate plumbing disasters.

I hate public speaking and having to be clever on command.

I hate being late.

I hate driving behind a brake tapper.

I hate sweating.

I (secretly) like liverwurst.

I love making music with words that transport and transform.

I pass this bit of fun along to the following bloggers:

Jen at unedited
JEM at Can I Get a Side of Reality with That?
Karen at Write Now
Sarahjayne at Writing in the Wilderness

Tell me about
your today. Was it productive? Fun? Frustrating? Did it involve any stealth disco?
Saturday, March 06, 2010 Laurel Garver
Why is it I had the overwhelming urge to add (uh-huh, uh-huh) to that title? Probably my 70s childhood. And my daughter's strange love for disco. And my hubby's favorite prank, stealth disco (though usually without the videotaping component). And I'm rambling in a manner very atypical for my blog. So sue me.

Amber at Musings of Amber Murphy tagged me for the like/love/hate meme. And hey, it's only taken me a week to get around to it. Seriously, though, I'm trying to be better about scheduling my posts. You might notice I've begun to post a meaty how-to piece every Thursday. The other days will be what strikes my fancy when it strikes me. I like a little routine and a little flex.

And here are some other things I like (and love and hate) per the meme.

I like
discovering a kindred spirit.

I like sweater weather.

I like making up stories about my fellow train commuters.

I like crazy gatherings with my extended family (I'm one of the quiet ones!).

I like making a little mischief.

I like being understood.

I like making a difference.

I like stargazing.

I like rivers and trees.

I like themes, motifs and surprising connections.

I like knowing my kooky life experiences are entertaining.

I like where my life is going.

I love that God is faithful when I am faithless.

Today was my first spring peek at the mysteries poking up through the soil in my garden: tiny tips of tulips, new leaves on mums, rose foliage red on the stem. I remember again that God grows things secretly in the dark places.

I hate injustice and oppression.

I hate gory violence in film or books.

I hate litter.

I hate plumbing disasters.

I hate public speaking and having to be clever on command.

I hate being late.

I hate driving behind a brake tapper.

I hate sweating.

I (secretly) like liverwurst.

I love making music with words that transport and transform.

I pass this bit of fun along to the following bloggers:

Jen at unedited
JEM at Can I Get a Side of Reality with That?
Karen at Write Now
Sarahjayne at Writing in the Wilderness

Tell me about
your today. Was it productive? Fun? Frustrating? Did it involve any stealth disco?

Thursday, March 04, 2010

In writing early drafts, even plodders tend to skim the emotional surface of their scenes. One's initial focus is on pushing the plot forward and grasping the first burst of emotional play in character interactions. Usually one can retain the protagonist's core motivation (what Sandra Scofield calls the "pulse") as other characters interact with her. That's fine as far as it goes. But when you start passing your draft around for critique, expect your readers to find your protagonist flat and unrealistically single-minded. Because when are any of us of one mind about anything? Emotion is always a mixed bag. Always.

This is where revision comes to the rescue. On second draft, it's essential to go deeper in every scene. Look especially for places where you or your critique partners feel the emotion isn't quite what it could or should be. The reactions are flat, melodramatic or don't ring true in some way. Mark and label them, then set the manuscript aside.

Now pull out those character profiles you made while laying the groundwork of your first draft. Look at you character's back story, and identify her core values--things she stands for--and her deepest fears. Usually these things are connected. Always-poised characters, for example, often have some point of shame in their background. They value reputation and fear exposure. These drives will color every interaction in a story, even if only tangentially.

From these character sheets, brainstorm past the surface desire/motivation in the scene you need to revise. In a scene I'm currently revising, my character wants to keep a secret from a friend. But what else does she want? Well, she wants to maintain the friendship, to reassure her friend, to have her friend's support and love and acceptance. Immediately, I see inner turmoil for my protagonist--conflicting desires to conceal and reveal. Her back story will determine which desire takes precedence. In my protagonist's case, concealment is all that's ever been modeled in her family.

What about the friend? She wants information, wants the protagonist to open up, wants to be trusted, wants the protagonist to be free of hang-ups, wants the protagonist to stop game playing. Her back story as an extrovert ringleader in a boisterous family of six kids will make her more likely to push hard against the protagonist's reticence. She'll thus struggle with conflicting desires to know NOW and to reassure/support with gentleness.

Back to the manuscript. Look at those weak spots again. Where could the characters' mixed motives and mixed emotions express themselves? And how would they express themselves?
Nancy Kress's book Character, Emotion and Viewpoint notes some helpful techniques.

Show
-bodily reactions (muscles tightening, tears welling, etc.)
-actions (punching the wall, tidying a mess, high-fiving, etc.)
-dialogue that expresses the emotion without labeling it ("Hotdiggity! That's awesome!" rather than "I feel so excited for you, Jim.")
-character thoughts rendered like internal dialogue (expressing emotion rather than labeling it, but without the quotes)
-snippets of back story that shed light on the character's emotion or motivation

In the case of mixed emotion and conflicting motives, it's a matter of layering techniques. A character might inwardly cringe while outwardly acting nonchalant. He might say something supportive while his body reacts with anger, like clenched fists or a surge of heat.

*this is a repost from my early blogging days, in case this is sounding oddly familiar.

What are some of your favorite ways to show mixed emotions? Which authors do you try to emulate who express complex emotions well?
Thursday, March 04, 2010 Laurel Garver
In writing early drafts, even plodders tend to skim the emotional surface of their scenes. One's initial focus is on pushing the plot forward and grasping the first burst of emotional play in character interactions. Usually one can retain the protagonist's core motivation (what Sandra Scofield calls the "pulse") as other characters interact with her. That's fine as far as it goes. But when you start passing your draft around for critique, expect your readers to find your protagonist flat and unrealistically single-minded. Because when are any of us of one mind about anything? Emotion is always a mixed bag. Always.

This is where revision comes to the rescue. On second draft, it's essential to go deeper in every scene. Look especially for places where you or your critique partners feel the emotion isn't quite what it could or should be. The reactions are flat, melodramatic or don't ring true in some way. Mark and label them, then set the manuscript aside.

Now pull out those character profiles you made while laying the groundwork of your first draft. Look at you character's back story, and identify her core values--things she stands for--and her deepest fears. Usually these things are connected. Always-poised characters, for example, often have some point of shame in their background. They value reputation and fear exposure. These drives will color every interaction in a story, even if only tangentially.

From these character sheets, brainstorm past the surface desire/motivation in the scene you need to revise. In a scene I'm currently revising, my character wants to keep a secret from a friend. But what else does she want? Well, she wants to maintain the friendship, to reassure her friend, to have her friend's support and love and acceptance. Immediately, I see inner turmoil for my protagonist--conflicting desires to conceal and reveal. Her back story will determine which desire takes precedence. In my protagonist's case, concealment is all that's ever been modeled in her family.

What about the friend? She wants information, wants the protagonist to open up, wants to be trusted, wants the protagonist to be free of hang-ups, wants the protagonist to stop game playing. Her back story as an extrovert ringleader in a boisterous family of six kids will make her more likely to push hard against the protagonist's reticence. She'll thus struggle with conflicting desires to know NOW and to reassure/support with gentleness.

Back to the manuscript. Look at those weak spots again. Where could the characters' mixed motives and mixed emotions express themselves? And how would they express themselves?
Nancy Kress's book Character, Emotion and Viewpoint notes some helpful techniques.

Show
-bodily reactions (muscles tightening, tears welling, etc.)
-actions (punching the wall, tidying a mess, high-fiving, etc.)
-dialogue that expresses the emotion without labeling it ("Hotdiggity! That's awesome!" rather than "I feel so excited for you, Jim.")
-character thoughts rendered like internal dialogue (expressing emotion rather than labeling it, but without the quotes)
-snippets of back story that shed light on the character's emotion or motivation

In the case of mixed emotion and conflicting motives, it's a matter of layering techniques. A character might inwardly cringe while outwardly acting nonchalant. He might say something supportive while his body reacts with anger, like clenched fists or a surge of heat.

*this is a repost from my early blogging days, in case this is sounding oddly familiar.

What are some of your favorite ways to show mixed emotions? Which authors do you try to emulate who express complex emotions well?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Yes indeed, the happy day has arrived! It's time for my Eleventy-one Celebration in honor of making 111 blog friends. I couldn't have asked for better timing than 3.3 to announce the festivities. I believe Tolkien would heartily approve of the felicitous connection:

"Bilbo was going to be eleventy-one, 111, a rather curious number, and a very respectable age for a hobbit (the Old Took himself had only reached 130); and Frodo was going to be thirty-three, 33, an important number: the date of his 'coming of age.'"
--J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 30 (emphasis in original)

It was hard to not go excessively hobbit-y with this celebration, since my inspiration for 111 was Bilbo's birthday. But since this blog is dedicated to all things writing (and I don't write fantasy), the contest will merely have a little hobbit flair.

Part One:
Fabulous followers prize drawing


"As for the hobbits of the Shire...they delighted in parties, and in presents, which they gave away freely and eagerly accepted."
--J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 11

Hobbits are generous and love comfort, so Part One of the contest requires little or no effort on your part. Just be or become a follower for a chance to win a copy of Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Writer Can Afford to Ignore by Elizabeth Lyon.

If you are one of my original 111 followers, you will automatically get two entries in the drawing. New followers who join by 10 AM EST March 13 will each be automatically entered once.

I'll draw the lucky name from a hat with the aid of my hobbit assistant. (Here she is in her hobbit burrow, all curly-haired, large footed, wondering when we're going to serve second breakfast.) The evening of 3.13, I'll announce the winner. Just my way of saying thanks!

UPDATE: Abby Annis was the lucky winner of this drawing.

Part Two: Quest for treasure

"Bilbo was very rich and very peculiar, and had been the wonder of the Shire for sixty years, ever since his remarkable disappearance and unexpected return. The riches he had brought back from his travels had now become a local legend...."
--J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 29

The second half of the celebration is a writing contest.

Let's start with the tantalizing treasure to be won:

Grand Prize
A 15-page critique OR copy editing
From a professional editor with 14 years' experience and a masters degree in journalism

Runner-up prizes (3 total):

An 8-page critique OR copy editing

The Scene Book: A Primer for the Ficition Writer by Sandra Scofield
Scofield's primer on the basic building block of fiction--the scene--is the one resource that took my writing to the next level. It's like an MFA course in travel size. It covers everything you need to know to build solid scenes that flow logically and artfully build and release tension.


You Just Don't Understand: Men and Women in Conversation by Deborah Tannen
If you ever want to write the opposite-sex POV, this is an invaluable resource for understanding the differences between how men and women talk. Tannen is a linguist who studied gender communication styles and does an in-depth analysis. It's a fascinating book written for a general audience that will improve your writing AND your relationships.

What do you need to do to capture such fabulous prizes?

Contest rules:
1. Submit a piece of original fiction (not previously published), up to 700 words. It can be flash fiction or a scene from an existing WIP that works as a stand-alone scene. It may be any genre except erotica or horror. And please refrain from using R-rated language.

Your scene or story must be dialogue-driven and show an instance of negotiation and persuasion, like the post-party scene in Fellowship of the Ring in which Gandalf convinces Bilbo to leave the ring of power in the Shire (pp. 41-43). You can read an excerpt HERE.
(This is meant to illustrate the type of scene, not the style. You don't have to mimic Tolkien.)

2. Include your name, e-mail and postal addresses with your submission.

3. By submitting to the Eleventy-one contest, you give me permission to publish your winning entry on Laurel's Leaves. Payment for this publication is stipulated above. (The editor in me had to include that legal stuff. If you have concerns about rights being granted, drop me an e-mail.)

4. Send your submission via e-mail as inline text to laurels (dot) leaves (at) gmail (dot) com.

5. The deadline to submit is Sunday, April 4, midnight EDT.

Many thanks to all of you. I look forward to the prize drawing and reading your amazing dialogue scenes!
Wednesday, March 03, 2010 Laurel Garver
Yes indeed, the happy day has arrived! It's time for my Eleventy-one Celebration in honor of making 111 blog friends. I couldn't have asked for better timing than 3.3 to announce the festivities. I believe Tolkien would heartily approve of the felicitous connection:

"Bilbo was going to be eleventy-one, 111, a rather curious number, and a very respectable age for a hobbit (the Old Took himself had only reached 130); and Frodo was going to be thirty-three, 33, an important number: the date of his 'coming of age.'"
--J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 30 (emphasis in original)

It was hard to not go excessively hobbit-y with this celebration, since my inspiration for 111 was Bilbo's birthday. But since this blog is dedicated to all things writing (and I don't write fantasy), the contest will merely have a little hobbit flair.

Part One:
Fabulous followers prize drawing


"As for the hobbits of the Shire...they delighted in parties, and in presents, which they gave away freely and eagerly accepted."
--J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 11

Hobbits are generous and love comfort, so Part One of the contest requires little or no effort on your part. Just be or become a follower for a chance to win a copy of Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Writer Can Afford to Ignore by Elizabeth Lyon.

If you are one of my original 111 followers, you will automatically get two entries in the drawing. New followers who join by 10 AM EST March 13 will each be automatically entered once.

I'll draw the lucky name from a hat with the aid of my hobbit assistant. (Here she is in her hobbit burrow, all curly-haired, large footed, wondering when we're going to serve second breakfast.) The evening of 3.13, I'll announce the winner. Just my way of saying thanks!

UPDATE: Abby Annis was the lucky winner of this drawing.

Part Two: Quest for treasure

"Bilbo was very rich and very peculiar, and had been the wonder of the Shire for sixty years, ever since his remarkable disappearance and unexpected return. The riches he had brought back from his travels had now become a local legend...."
--J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 29

The second half of the celebration is a writing contest.

Let's start with the tantalizing treasure to be won:

Grand Prize
A 15-page critique OR copy editing
From a professional editor with 14 years' experience and a masters degree in journalism

Runner-up prizes (3 total):

An 8-page critique OR copy editing

The Scene Book: A Primer for the Ficition Writer by Sandra Scofield
Scofield's primer on the basic building block of fiction--the scene--is the one resource that took my writing to the next level. It's like an MFA course in travel size. It covers everything you need to know to build solid scenes that flow logically and artfully build and release tension.


You Just Don't Understand: Men and Women in Conversation by Deborah Tannen
If you ever want to write the opposite-sex POV, this is an invaluable resource for understanding the differences between how men and women talk. Tannen is a linguist who studied gender communication styles and does an in-depth analysis. It's a fascinating book written for a general audience that will improve your writing AND your relationships.

What do you need to do to capture such fabulous prizes?

Contest rules:
1. Submit a piece of original fiction (not previously published), up to 700 words. It can be flash fiction or a scene from an existing WIP that works as a stand-alone scene. It may be any genre except erotica or horror. And please refrain from using R-rated language.

Your scene or story must be dialogue-driven and show an instance of negotiation and persuasion, like the post-party scene in Fellowship of the Ring in which Gandalf convinces Bilbo to leave the ring of power in the Shire (pp. 41-43). You can read an excerpt HERE.
(This is meant to illustrate the type of scene, not the style. You don't have to mimic Tolkien.)

2. Include your name, e-mail and postal addresses with your submission.

3. By submitting to the Eleventy-one contest, you give me permission to publish your winning entry on Laurel's Leaves. Payment for this publication is stipulated above. (The editor in me had to include that legal stuff. If you have concerns about rights being granted, drop me an e-mail.)

4. Send your submission via e-mail as inline text to laurels (dot) leaves (at) gmail (dot) com.

5. The deadline to submit is Sunday, April 4, midnight EDT.

Many thanks to all of you. I look forward to the prize drawing and reading your amazing dialogue scenes!

Monday, March 01, 2010

I'm thankful to be the recipient of so much blog love lately. It's rather overwhelming, really. Here are some of the kind surprises I've received.

I received the Sugar Doll Award from Carol at Carol's Prints. She is an insightful reader, a stunningly talented writer and shares my love of word play. Thanks, Carol!

Since it is Lent, I'm going to half the recipe here, and share five things about me and pass to five blogging sweeties. You all are welcome to go for the full ten if you wish.

Five completely random things about me:

1. If I had the financial means, I would buy a marimba and a horse.

2. I am the youngest of five kids and my siblings are 5, 15, 17 and 19 years older than I am.

3. I got really terrible TMJ after having my wisdom teeth out at 13 and had to wear a night guard appliance for years. I named it “George.”

4. In high school, I dressed up one Halloween as the headless horseman, got my pal Sue to be the grim reaper and we spent the evening jumping out from behind bushes scaring little kids.

5. I toured one summer with a music ministry team from college. We decided it would be a great idea to adopt some kittens, and keep them in the van while we drove around all summer.

I pass the Sugar Doll award along to the following sweeties:
Amber at Musings of Amber Murphy keeps me young with her zingy humor and won't stop calling me "adorable." (blushingspice!)
Elle at Elle Strauss, author has been a consistent voice of kindness and support and I'm thrilled to my toes that she recently signed with an agent!
Jemi at Just Jemi takes proverbial Canadian niceness to new heights.
Shannon at Book Dreaming is always inspirational and a super-sonic encourager.
Tricia at Talespinning pairs poetry and photos with writing tips and keeps me in touch with all things lyrical.


I accept with thanks the Quillfeather Award from Jemi at Just Jemi, who is one of the coolest chicks in the blogosphere, IMO.

This one comes with a handsome rooster that reminds me of my farmy childhood. They are vicious critters, chickens, if you ever happen to get closely acquainted with them. You really don't want to watch them establish pecking order. Nor see a flock of chicks feed from a round dish instead of a long, skinny one. Not pretty.

The rules for this award are to share how you like your eggs cooked and pass the award on to some other cool chicks.

I like my eggs sunny-side up, with the whites nice and crispy. After a quick steam at the end to finish the top whites, serve with a buttery English muffin to dip in the yolk. (This is my supper most Sunday nights. Yum!)

I pass it along to the following cool chicks:
Aubrie at Flutey Words site is always piping up with a tuneful note of encouragement or praise.
Kristi Faith at Random Acts of Writing plays Mad Libs on her blog! Too kewl!
Nisa at Wordplay, Swordplay mixes funny kid stories with tales of valor.
Tess at Tess Himlo is full of inspiration and goes wild with fun font faces.


And thanks to Mediea at Mediea Sharif for the Creative Writer Award! Her YA novel The Bestest Ramadan Ever, due out in 2011, looks fascinating.

I hereby bequeath this award to the following creative souls:
Karen at Novels During Naptime always has some fun going on, whether nostalgia for 80s TV or snippets from her playful writing.
Mary at Play off the Page has journal prompts with every entry--a wonderful idea-generator when you're feeling stuck or burned-out.
Nicole at One Significant Moment at a Time knocks my socks off with teasers of her work every Tuesday.

These are no-pressure awards. Pass them along as you see fit. Just know I appreciate you all!

The anticipation builds for my Eleventy-one contest celebration. Part 1 includes a random drawing--all you have to do is be a follower. The first 111 automatically get two entries. Come join the party! I'll announce all the details once I hit eleventy-one followers.
Monday, March 01, 2010 Laurel Garver
I'm thankful to be the recipient of so much blog love lately. It's rather overwhelming, really. Here are some of the kind surprises I've received.

I received the Sugar Doll Award from Carol at Carol's Prints. She is an insightful reader, a stunningly talented writer and shares my love of word play. Thanks, Carol!

Since it is Lent, I'm going to half the recipe here, and share five things about me and pass to five blogging sweeties. You all are welcome to go for the full ten if you wish.

Five completely random things about me:

1. If I had the financial means, I would buy a marimba and a horse.

2. I am the youngest of five kids and my siblings are 5, 15, 17 and 19 years older than I am.

3. I got really terrible TMJ after having my wisdom teeth out at 13 and had to wear a night guard appliance for years. I named it “George.”

4. In high school, I dressed up one Halloween as the headless horseman, got my pal Sue to be the grim reaper and we spent the evening jumping out from behind bushes scaring little kids.

5. I toured one summer with a music ministry team from college. We decided it would be a great idea to adopt some kittens, and keep them in the van while we drove around all summer.

I pass the Sugar Doll award along to the following sweeties:
Amber at Musings of Amber Murphy keeps me young with her zingy humor and won't stop calling me "adorable." (blushingspice!)
Elle at Elle Strauss, author has been a consistent voice of kindness and support and I'm thrilled to my toes that she recently signed with an agent!
Jemi at Just Jemi takes proverbial Canadian niceness to new heights.
Shannon at Book Dreaming is always inspirational and a super-sonic encourager.
Tricia at Talespinning pairs poetry and photos with writing tips and keeps me in touch with all things lyrical.


I accept with thanks the Quillfeather Award from Jemi at Just Jemi, who is one of the coolest chicks in the blogosphere, IMO.

This one comes with a handsome rooster that reminds me of my farmy childhood. They are vicious critters, chickens, if you ever happen to get closely acquainted with them. You really don't want to watch them establish pecking order. Nor see a flock of chicks feed from a round dish instead of a long, skinny one. Not pretty.

The rules for this award are to share how you like your eggs cooked and pass the award on to some other cool chicks.

I like my eggs sunny-side up, with the whites nice and crispy. After a quick steam at the end to finish the top whites, serve with a buttery English muffin to dip in the yolk. (This is my supper most Sunday nights. Yum!)

I pass it along to the following cool chicks:
Aubrie at Flutey Words site is always piping up with a tuneful note of encouragement or praise.
Kristi Faith at Random Acts of Writing plays Mad Libs on her blog! Too kewl!
Nisa at Wordplay, Swordplay mixes funny kid stories with tales of valor.
Tess at Tess Himlo is full of inspiration and goes wild with fun font faces.


And thanks to Mediea at Mediea Sharif for the Creative Writer Award! Her YA novel The Bestest Ramadan Ever, due out in 2011, looks fascinating.

I hereby bequeath this award to the following creative souls:
Karen at Novels During Naptime always has some fun going on, whether nostalgia for 80s TV or snippets from her playful writing.
Mary at Play off the Page has journal prompts with every entry--a wonderful idea-generator when you're feeling stuck or burned-out.
Nicole at One Significant Moment at a Time knocks my socks off with teasers of her work every Tuesday.

These are no-pressure awards. Pass them along as you see fit. Just know I appreciate you all!

The anticipation builds for my Eleventy-one contest celebration. Part 1 includes a random drawing--all you have to do is be a follower. The first 111 automatically get two entries. Come join the party! I'll announce all the details once I hit eleventy-one followers.