Friday, September 27, 2013

Why yes, this is an old post I'm reincarnating. You see, it's my birthday tomorrow, and I'm treating myself to a little slothfulness this weekend. But don't worry. While I'm growing moss on my fur, you get useful pointers about an issue that repeatedly comes up in my critique group--how to maintain verb tense, and perhaps more importantly, what benefits each tense offers. Win-win, right?

Oh, and if you have any grammar or punctuation question that drives you batty, drop me a note in the comments and I'll cover it in a future post.

Dear Editor-on-Call:

Any advice on staying in one tense while writing? I struggle with slipping between present and past tenses (first person). Is this issue something that improves with experience?

Tense about tense



Dear Tense,

Using a consistent verb tense does become easier with practice, but there are some simple things you can do now to help yourself.

Verb tense is a reflection of the when of your narrator sharing his/her story. You might find it useful to create some visuals to take you there (or "then") whenever you sit down to write.

Past tense narrationFor most writers, past tense flows most naturally because it is the usual mode for discussing events. Every day, we tell others about the events of our lives after the fact. For example, you might arrive at the office and tell a co-worker, "You wouldn't believe what this bozo on the bus just did!" Or you might write in a journal, "In fifth period, a student got up during the exam and puked in my trash can."

Aside from the naturalness benefit, past tense narration give your characters psychological distance from the events and the lovely gift of hindsight. From a looking-back vantage point, your character can clue the reader in about which events are pivotal and can express attitudes about how well or badly s/he behaved in story events. Many of the typical tension-building phrases like "little did I know, my life was about to change forever" express hindsight and require past tense narration as well.

To create a visual, it's helpful to decide how long after the story events this storytelling is occurring. A week later? Six months? Three years? Go search for photos that represent the older, narrator version of the character, and the younger, active protagonist version of the character. Combine the two images. Show the narrator thinking about her past self with the words, "years ago, I..." or "last year, I..." or however you can best express the passage of time between the story actions and the storytelling. This visual can also help you develop voice.

Here's an example (please pardon my lame Photoshop skillz):


If you can't find photos and don't feel confident drawing, it may be enough to post a note on your computer screen: "Yesterday, I ...". This should remind you to have a think-back approach to your story.

You might also find it helpful to keep a short list of common verbs attached to your screen: was, had, saw, felt, thought, went, ran, talked, said, told.

Present tense narration
Present tense is more difficult to maintain, because it is not how we naturally tell stories. Seriously, do you go about your daily routine with a running commentary in your head describing what you're doing? Probably not.

So why write in present? Some writers say they like the immediacy. I don't feel that's reason enough, because this tense is so psychologically weird when you really think about it. What you do gain from present tense is lack of hindsight. You remove a character's ability to have any perspective on what's happening. He or she has to deal with story events as they come.

When might you want to remove hindsight and perspective? When you're presenting an unreliable narrator and/or when your story situation is most plausible and compelling if the character has no idea what the outcome will be.

Your visual reminders can be far simpler. Stick a note to your computer monitor that says, "Right now, I ..." You may also find it helpful to post a list of common verbs in present tense: am, is, talk, say, tell, go, feel, think, see, run.

Flashback caveatKeep in mind that when you deal with flashback material--events occurring prior to the main story time frame--you should change tenses.

If your main story time frame is narrated in present tense, you would switch to past tense for flashbacks.

Example: As I sit in the windowsill and watch traffic flowing below, I remember [here's your time shift marker--everything after "I remember" is in past] the day ambulances swarmed on Columbus when some dude threatened to jump off the roof of April's building. She gave me a blow-by-blow of the whole freaky event as it went on above her.

If the main story is narrated in past tense, flashbacks should be in past perfect tense.

Example: As I sat in the windowsill and watched traffic flowing below, I remembered the day ambulances had swarmed on Columbus when some dude had threatened to jump off the roof of April's building. She'd given me a blow-by-blow of the whole freaky event as it had gone on above her.

Sorry I can't offer a foolproof method to ensure you never switch tenses. This is a discipline that takes time to develop.

If anyone has helpful tech tools to assist with verb tense issues, I'd love to hear about them!

What helps you maintain your story's verb tense? Which tense comes more naturally to you? Why do you think so?
Friday, September 27, 2013 Laurel Garver
Why yes, this is an old post I'm reincarnating. You see, it's my birthday tomorrow, and I'm treating myself to a little slothfulness this weekend. But don't worry. While I'm growing moss on my fur, you get useful pointers about an issue that repeatedly comes up in my critique group--how to maintain verb tense, and perhaps more importantly, what benefits each tense offers. Win-win, right?

Oh, and if you have any grammar or punctuation question that drives you batty, drop me a note in the comments and I'll cover it in a future post.

Dear Editor-on-Call:

Any advice on staying in one tense while writing? I struggle with slipping between present and past tenses (first person). Is this issue something that improves with experience?

Tense about tense



Dear Tense,

Using a consistent verb tense does become easier with practice, but there are some simple things you can do now to help yourself.

Verb tense is a reflection of the when of your narrator sharing his/her story. You might find it useful to create some visuals to take you there (or "then") whenever you sit down to write.

Past tense narrationFor most writers, past tense flows most naturally because it is the usual mode for discussing events. Every day, we tell others about the events of our lives after the fact. For example, you might arrive at the office and tell a co-worker, "You wouldn't believe what this bozo on the bus just did!" Or you might write in a journal, "In fifth period, a student got up during the exam and puked in my trash can."

Aside from the naturalness benefit, past tense narration give your characters psychological distance from the events and the lovely gift of hindsight. From a looking-back vantage point, your character can clue the reader in about which events are pivotal and can express attitudes about how well or badly s/he behaved in story events. Many of the typical tension-building phrases like "little did I know, my life was about to change forever" express hindsight and require past tense narration as well.

To create a visual, it's helpful to decide how long after the story events this storytelling is occurring. A week later? Six months? Three years? Go search for photos that represent the older, narrator version of the character, and the younger, active protagonist version of the character. Combine the two images. Show the narrator thinking about her past self with the words, "years ago, I..." or "last year, I..." or however you can best express the passage of time between the story actions and the storytelling. This visual can also help you develop voice.

Here's an example (please pardon my lame Photoshop skillz):


If you can't find photos and don't feel confident drawing, it may be enough to post a note on your computer screen: "Yesterday, I ...". This should remind you to have a think-back approach to your story.

You might also find it helpful to keep a short list of common verbs attached to your screen: was, had, saw, felt, thought, went, ran, talked, said, told.

Present tense narration
Present tense is more difficult to maintain, because it is not how we naturally tell stories. Seriously, do you go about your daily routine with a running commentary in your head describing what you're doing? Probably not.

So why write in present? Some writers say they like the immediacy. I don't feel that's reason enough, because this tense is so psychologically weird when you really think about it. What you do gain from present tense is lack of hindsight. You remove a character's ability to have any perspective on what's happening. He or she has to deal with story events as they come.

When might you want to remove hindsight and perspective? When you're presenting an unreliable narrator and/or when your story situation is most plausible and compelling if the character has no idea what the outcome will be.

Your visual reminders can be far simpler. Stick a note to your computer monitor that says, "Right now, I ..." You may also find it helpful to post a list of common verbs in present tense: am, is, talk, say, tell, go, feel, think, see, run.

Flashback caveatKeep in mind that when you deal with flashback material--events occurring prior to the main story time frame--you should change tenses.

If your main story time frame is narrated in present tense, you would switch to past tense for flashbacks.

Example: As I sit in the windowsill and watch traffic flowing below, I remember [here's your time shift marker--everything after "I remember" is in past] the day ambulances swarmed on Columbus when some dude threatened to jump off the roof of April's building. She gave me a blow-by-blow of the whole freaky event as it went on above her.

If the main story is narrated in past tense, flashbacks should be in past perfect tense.

Example: As I sat in the windowsill and watched traffic flowing below, I remembered the day ambulances had swarmed on Columbus when some dude had threatened to jump off the roof of April's building. She'd given me a blow-by-blow of the whole freaky event as it had gone on above her.

Sorry I can't offer a foolproof method to ensure you never switch tenses. This is a discipline that takes time to develop.

If anyone has helpful tech tools to assist with verb tense issues, I'd love to hear about them!

What helps you maintain your story's verb tense? Which tense comes more naturally to you? Why do you think so?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Today I'm taking part in the week-long Follow Fest, hosted by Melissa Maygrove. It's not too late to join the fun! Swing on by Melissa's blog to sign up. Melissa gave us a handful of questions to help us get to know one another, so without further ado, here's all about me:

Whose blog is this?

Laurel Garver, a city dweller, word nerd, Indie film enthusiast and incurable Anglophile. Professor's wife and mom to an aspiring Ravenclaw. Follower of the Good Shepherd, who is faithful when we are faithless.

Fiction or nonfiction?

Primarily fiction, but I do have a writing craft book in the works.

What genres do you write?

I write young adult (YA) literary fiction with Christian themes: stories about the places where life and beliefs collide. I also write poetry.

Are you published?

Yes: Never Gone, a novel, and Muddy-Fingered Midnights, a poetry collection. Descriptions and links are HERE.

Do you do anything in addition to writing?

I'm a professional editor with 20+ years experience in trade, association, and academic publishing. My specialty is copy editing / line editing. I make sure everything is correct at the sentence level, including grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice, and idiomatic usage. If you're a non-US writer who writes American characters, I can help you Americanize not only your spellings but also vocabulary and usage. Contact me at laurels (dot) leaves (at) gmail (dot) com to discuss your project.

Where can people connect with you?

This is how I look on Twitter. 
Blog
Twitter
Facebook
Google+
LinkedIn

Author pages:
Goodreads
Amazon
BN.com
Smashwords

Is there anything else you’d like us to know?

I'm open to taking guest posts, especially those on writing / publishing tips (tie-ins with new releases are fine). I'll happily host giveaways for contemporary fiction (MG-adult) that would earn a film rating of PG-13 or below (moderately edgy and emotionally hard-hitting is okay; erotica, gore, and profanity-fests should look elsewhere). Contact me at laurels (dot) leaves (at) gmail (dot) com.

Welcome, new friends! Tell me a little about yourself...
Tuesday, September 24, 2013 Laurel Garver
Today I'm taking part in the week-long Follow Fest, hosted by Melissa Maygrove. It's not too late to join the fun! Swing on by Melissa's blog to sign up. Melissa gave us a handful of questions to help us get to know one another, so without further ado, here's all about me:

Whose blog is this?

Laurel Garver, a city dweller, word nerd, Indie film enthusiast and incurable Anglophile. Professor's wife and mom to an aspiring Ravenclaw. Follower of the Good Shepherd, who is faithful when we are faithless.

Fiction or nonfiction?

Primarily fiction, but I do have a writing craft book in the works.

What genres do you write?

I write young adult (YA) literary fiction with Christian themes: stories about the places where life and beliefs collide. I also write poetry.

Are you published?

Yes: Never Gone, a novel, and Muddy-Fingered Midnights, a poetry collection. Descriptions and links are HERE.

Do you do anything in addition to writing?

I'm a professional editor with 20+ years experience in trade, association, and academic publishing. My specialty is copy editing / line editing. I make sure everything is correct at the sentence level, including grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice, and idiomatic usage. If you're a non-US writer who writes American characters, I can help you Americanize not only your spellings but also vocabulary and usage. Contact me at laurels (dot) leaves (at) gmail (dot) com to discuss your project.

Where can people connect with you?

This is how I look on Twitter. 
Blog
Twitter
Facebook
Google+
LinkedIn

Author pages:
Goodreads
Amazon
BN.com
Smashwords

Is there anything else you’d like us to know?

I'm open to taking guest posts, especially those on writing / publishing tips (tie-ins with new releases are fine). I'll happily host giveaways for contemporary fiction (MG-adult) that would earn a film rating of PG-13 or below (moderately edgy and emotionally hard-hitting is okay; erotica, gore, and profanity-fests should look elsewhere). Contact me at laurels (dot) leaves (at) gmail (dot) com.

Welcome, new friends! Tell me a little about yourself...

Friday, September 20, 2013

It's phonics Friday, when we learn to tell apart sound-alike words known as homophones. This week's pair came to my attention while copy editing at work. Even folks with PhDs in English can get things mixed up, and spell check will not help you.

Compliment

image: pippalou for morguefile.com
(v., trans.) To express regard, esteem, affection or admiration; to praise; to present with a token of esteem.

(n.) Praise; an expression of regard, esteem, affection or admiration.

Examples

Rupert gave me the nicest compliment; he said I have a winning smile.

Wendy strutted over in her designer dress, clearly fishing for compliments.

My compliments to the chef!

Mnemonic
Compliments mean I like it!

Complement

Photo by Modnar at morguefile.com
(v., intrans.) To complete or enhance something by adding to it.

(n.) something that completes, fills up, or makes perfect; the quantity needed to make something complete.

The term also has technical uses in geometry (making a right angle), music (completing an octave), medicine (blood components), and grammar (completing a phrase with predication), which you can read about HERE.

Examples
The throw pillows perfectly complemented Suzanne's new couch.

Kelly's illustrations complement Joe's poetry so beautifully.

We have a full complement of staff on duty this weekend.

Mnemonic
A complement is needed to complete it.

Were you aware of this pair? Any others you'd like me to cover in future posts?
Friday, September 20, 2013 Laurel Garver
It's phonics Friday, when we learn to tell apart sound-alike words known as homophones. This week's pair came to my attention while copy editing at work. Even folks with PhDs in English can get things mixed up, and spell check will not help you.

Compliment

image: pippalou for morguefile.com
(v., trans.) To express regard, esteem, affection or admiration; to praise; to present with a token of esteem.

(n.) Praise; an expression of regard, esteem, affection or admiration.

Examples

Rupert gave me the nicest compliment; he said I have a winning smile.

Wendy strutted over in her designer dress, clearly fishing for compliments.

My compliments to the chef!

Mnemonic
Compliments mean I like it!

Complement

Photo by Modnar at morguefile.com
(v., intrans.) To complete or enhance something by adding to it.

(n.) something that completes, fills up, or makes perfect; the quantity needed to make something complete.

The term also has technical uses in geometry (making a right angle), music (completing an octave), medicine (blood components), and grammar (completing a phrase with predication), which you can read about HERE.

Examples
The throw pillows perfectly complemented Suzanne's new couch.

Kelly's illustrations complement Joe's poetry so beautifully.

We have a full complement of staff on duty this weekend.

Mnemonic
A complement is needed to complete it.

Were you aware of this pair? Any others you'd like me to cover in future posts?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Thanks, readers, for weighing in on my new author photos. It was helpful to hear which photo spoke to you and why. With so many sites requiring a profile picture, it's nice to have so many good options. I can use one picture here, another on Twitter and yet another on Facebook. Variety is the spice of life, right?

My plan is to go to a Tuesday-Friday schedule here on Laurel's Leaves, so swing by this Friday for a brand new Phonics Friday for help with those pesky sound-alikes, homophones. This week, I'll be talking about a pair that one of my college professor authors mixed up: compliment and complement.

Several weeks ago, C.M. Keller passed along the Super Sweet Blogger Award


I have to answer five sweet questions and nominate five sweet bloggers

1. Cookies or Cake? Definitely cookies. I have far too many favorites among the from-scratch variety. Of the store-bought, I have found nothing as heavenly as these:



You can get them only in the UK. We ate through almost a tube a day when we were there in June!

2. Chocolate or Vanilla? I'm more of a caramel and ginger gal. I do prefer vanilla when it comes to milkshakes, dark chocolate in cakes and especially paired with coconut. Or malted milk. Or that crunchy stuff in Butterfinger bars.

3. Favorite Sweet Treat? These:



4. When Do You Crave Sweet Things The Most? After having spicy food. Doesn't everyone?

5. Sweet Nick Name? My dad used to call me honey, which is funny because I cannot stand the stuff. I think it's the concept that it's flower nectar that a bee ate and then barfed up. Eeeew.


I nominate these five sweeties:

Charity Bradford
Faith Hough
Mary Aalgaard
Melanie Schulz
Shannon O'Donnell

Are you passionate about one kind of sweet, or do you like a variety (like I do)?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013 Laurel Garver
Thanks, readers, for weighing in on my new author photos. It was helpful to hear which photo spoke to you and why. With so many sites requiring a profile picture, it's nice to have so many good options. I can use one picture here, another on Twitter and yet another on Facebook. Variety is the spice of life, right?

My plan is to go to a Tuesday-Friday schedule here on Laurel's Leaves, so swing by this Friday for a brand new Phonics Friday for help with those pesky sound-alikes, homophones. This week, I'll be talking about a pair that one of my college professor authors mixed up: compliment and complement.

Several weeks ago, C.M. Keller passed along the Super Sweet Blogger Award


I have to answer five sweet questions and nominate five sweet bloggers

1. Cookies or Cake? Definitely cookies. I have far too many favorites among the from-scratch variety. Of the store-bought, I have found nothing as heavenly as these:



You can get them only in the UK. We ate through almost a tube a day when we were there in June!

2. Chocolate or Vanilla? I'm more of a caramel and ginger gal. I do prefer vanilla when it comes to milkshakes, dark chocolate in cakes and especially paired with coconut. Or malted milk. Or that crunchy stuff in Butterfinger bars.

3. Favorite Sweet Treat? These:



4. When Do You Crave Sweet Things The Most? After having spicy food. Doesn't everyone?

5. Sweet Nick Name? My dad used to call me honey, which is funny because I cannot stand the stuff. I think it's the concept that it's flower nectar that a bee ate and then barfed up. Eeeew.


I nominate these five sweeties:

Charity Bradford
Faith Hough
Mary Aalgaard
Melanie Schulz
Shannon O'Donnell

Are you passionate about one kind of sweet, or do you like a variety (like I do)?

Monday, September 16, 2013

....it's a rare Monday post from me! But I will pop in on my "off days" for special occasions, including two I'll share below...

Photos

I had some new author photos shot recently by the talented Leah Kelly. Here are my four favorites--two indoor and two outdoor shots.

1. Thoughtful chick in specs



















2. Jaunty angle



3. Philly girl
4. Garden variety author






































I like each of the photos for different reasons. I'm curious to know what you think! Please visit my Facebook page to vote: http://www.facebook.com/AuthorLaurelGarver.

New release

I'm thrilled to be a contributor to the recently released Indiestructible: Inspiring Stories from the Publishing Jungle. If you're curious about Independent Publishing/Entrepreneurial Authorship, don't miss this wonderful new collection of essays from folks who have been there, done that.This is not a how-to guide. This is the best of the indie tradition of experienced authors paying forward what they’ve learned, giving you information to help you on your journey.

All this wonderful inspiration is available now for just 99c. And better yet, all proceeds will be donated to BUILDON.org, a movement which breaks the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and low expectations through service and education.

A great bargain that does good in so many ways. What are you waiting for?

CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE INDIESTRUCTIBLE

eBook $0.99 USD
Publisher Vine Leaves Press
ISBN 10: 0987593102  ISBN 13: 9780987593108

Compiled and edited by Jessica Bell

Contributing authors:


What are you excited about this week?

Monday, September 16, 2013 Laurel Garver
....it's a rare Monday post from me! But I will pop in on my "off days" for special occasions, including two I'll share below...

Photos

I had some new author photos shot recently by the talented Leah Kelly. Here are my four favorites--two indoor and two outdoor shots.

1. Thoughtful chick in specs



















2. Jaunty angle



3. Philly girl
4. Garden variety author






































I like each of the photos for different reasons. I'm curious to know what you think! Please visit my Facebook page to vote: http://www.facebook.com/AuthorLaurelGarver.

New release

I'm thrilled to be a contributor to the recently released Indiestructible: Inspiring Stories from the Publishing Jungle. If you're curious about Independent Publishing/Entrepreneurial Authorship, don't miss this wonderful new collection of essays from folks who have been there, done that.This is not a how-to guide. This is the best of the indie tradition of experienced authors paying forward what they’ve learned, giving you information to help you on your journey.

All this wonderful inspiration is available now for just 99c. And better yet, all proceeds will be donated to BUILDON.org, a movement which breaks the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and low expectations through service and education.

A great bargain that does good in so many ways. What are you waiting for?

CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE INDIESTRUCTIBLE

eBook $0.99 USD
Publisher Vine Leaves Press
ISBN 10: 0987593102  ISBN 13: 9780987593108

Compiled and edited by Jessica Bell

Contributing authors:


What are you excited about this week?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Why do stories that turn on a simple epiphany bother us so much when we encounter them in fiction? Probably because they feel so fictional. In real life, insights are a lot easier to come by than true change. Look at the vast self-help section in your local bookstore and you'll see what I mean. Gurus everywhere offer tests and tools to help identify our every weakness.

But changing those things? Ah, now there's the rub.

In Think Like a Shrink, Emanuel Rosen's primer on 100 basic principles driving human personality, he discusses the limits of insight. Therapeutic relationships, whether with a professional counselor or an insightful friend, will only get you so far, he says. Why? Those insights are just a theory--a theory one is prone to resist--until some experience makes it real.

In other words, your story will fall flat if you stop at the point of realization for your character. She needs the further step of a new experience to test and perfect what she's learned. This new experience might happen during the climax or the denouement. But it must happen.

photo: hotblack, morguefile.com
When you show your character acting on an insight, behaving in a new way, relating differently, you do more than just prove change. You act on your readers' imaginations in a way that helps them to make a similar leap. This is where fiction has a role to play in being a healing force in society.

So what will that new experience look like? That depends entirely on the character's flaw and how he or she is wired. A bold character should have a bolder healing experience than a quiet character does. Consider Ebenezer Scrooge's bodacious acts of generosity at the end of A Christmas Carol versus Pip's quiet reunion with Estella in Great Expectations.

A particularly stubborn character won't likely do a 180, but will take an incremental step toward the new pattern of behavior. Yet that small gesture--a sympathetic nod, a few coins in a tip jar, a mumbled "thanks"--can have big impact when it shows a new direction for your character.

How might moving from insight to action improve your story? What favorite books do this in a way that resonated with you long after you closed the covers?
Wednesday, September 11, 2013 Laurel Garver
Why do stories that turn on a simple epiphany bother us so much when we encounter them in fiction? Probably because they feel so fictional. In real life, insights are a lot easier to come by than true change. Look at the vast self-help section in your local bookstore and you'll see what I mean. Gurus everywhere offer tests and tools to help identify our every weakness.

But changing those things? Ah, now there's the rub.

In Think Like a Shrink, Emanuel Rosen's primer on 100 basic principles driving human personality, he discusses the limits of insight. Therapeutic relationships, whether with a professional counselor or an insightful friend, will only get you so far, he says. Why? Those insights are just a theory--a theory one is prone to resist--until some experience makes it real.

In other words, your story will fall flat if you stop at the point of realization for your character. She needs the further step of a new experience to test and perfect what she's learned. This new experience might happen during the climax or the denouement. But it must happen.

photo: hotblack, morguefile.com
When you show your character acting on an insight, behaving in a new way, relating differently, you do more than just prove change. You act on your readers' imaginations in a way that helps them to make a similar leap. This is where fiction has a role to play in being a healing force in society.

So what will that new experience look like? That depends entirely on the character's flaw and how he or she is wired. A bold character should have a bolder healing experience than a quiet character does. Consider Ebenezer Scrooge's bodacious acts of generosity at the end of A Christmas Carol versus Pip's quiet reunion with Estella in Great Expectations.

A particularly stubborn character won't likely do a 180, but will take an incremental step toward the new pattern of behavior. Yet that small gesture--a sympathetic nod, a few coins in a tip jar, a mumbled "thanks"--can have big impact when it shows a new direction for your character.

How might moving from insight to action improve your story? What favorite books do this in a way that resonated with you long after you closed the covers?

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The prevailing wisdom is that conflict is the core of every story, advice that can be a bit perplexing. Not every character is prone to fist-fights or verbal sparring. Some people, when at cross-purposes with others, use soft, more positive tools to achieve their aims--they  might flatter, beg or joke. This, too, is dramatic. Story-moving.

In The Scene Book, Sandra Scofield outlines a new way of thinking about conflict that helpfully addresses this range of real human approaches, from violent to passive.

She uses the term "negotiation" to describe how most characters experience conflict. She defines 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.

I find this a helpful concept, because "conflict" is a pretty wholly negative term, whereas negotiations are often a mixed bag, and frankly, mixed bags offer more interest and diversity. Instead of one-note characters in one-note plots, negotiation helps you build character complexity and plots with organic twists and turns.

The power plays of negotiation depend first on the kind of relationship characters have, and second, with the way each character tends to relate to and use power.

How characters relate

Power in relationships can be about hierarchy. Private to sergeant. Novice to expert. Citizen to leader. Subject to king. Within hierarchical relationships, certain rules govern how the more powerful can exert his power. Power plays in these relationships will often revolve around these rules to uphold what is just and good.

Other relationships are based on equity and intimacy--friends, colleagues, partners, lovers. These, too, will at times become out of balance because of something internal or external to the relationship. A lover grows bored. A friend becomes popular and hip. A colleague cheats. A partner gets lazy. One party will often try to take the upper hand and exert power temporarily in order to restore or create balance and intimacy in the relationship.

Somewhere in between are relationships that are both hierarchical and intimate: parent and child, mentor and protege, teacher and student, older and younger sibling. In these relationships, restoring intimacy will at times trump restoring justice, or vice versa.

Keep this in mind as you build character conflict: is the relationship hierarchical, equitable, or mixed? It will make all the difference in how the characters will wield power.

How one wields power

The tools of exchange in a negotiation will vary among relationships and temperaments. Some exchanges will use mostly negative tools, others mostly positive. The most compelling exchanges will use a mix of both.

Negative tools

En garde, scoundrel! (Photo: Grafixar from morguefile.com)
accuse
attack
badger
blame-shift
clam up
compare to enemy
complain
defy
exert authority
indebt
intimidate
lie
name-call
outwit
refuse
remind of past failure
shame
taunt
threaten
twist truth


Positive tools

Pretty please?? (photo: morguefile.com)

apologize
beg
call in a favor
compliment
compare to hero
distract
downplay
expose inner self
flatter
joke
reason
reassure
remind of goal or dream
remind of past triumph
request help
share
truth-tell

What are your common approaches to conflict? Which type of relationship in conflict do you most enjoy writing? Least enjoy or struggle with?
Wednesday, September 04, 2013 Laurel Garver
The prevailing wisdom is that conflict is the core of every story, advice that can be a bit perplexing. Not every character is prone to fist-fights or verbal sparring. Some people, when at cross-purposes with others, use soft, more positive tools to achieve their aims--they  might flatter, beg or joke. This, too, is dramatic. Story-moving.

In The Scene Book, Sandra Scofield outlines a new way of thinking about conflict that helpfully addresses this range of real human approaches, from violent to passive.

She uses the term "negotiation" to describe how most characters experience conflict. She defines 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.

I find this a helpful concept, because "conflict" is a pretty wholly negative term, whereas negotiations are often a mixed bag, and frankly, mixed bags offer more interest and diversity. Instead of one-note characters in one-note plots, negotiation helps you build character complexity and plots with organic twists and turns.

The power plays of negotiation depend first on the kind of relationship characters have, and second, with the way each character tends to relate to and use power.

How characters relate

Power in relationships can be about hierarchy. Private to sergeant. Novice to expert. Citizen to leader. Subject to king. Within hierarchical relationships, certain rules govern how the more powerful can exert his power. Power plays in these relationships will often revolve around these rules to uphold what is just and good.

Other relationships are based on equity and intimacy--friends, colleagues, partners, lovers. These, too, will at times become out of balance because of something internal or external to the relationship. A lover grows bored. A friend becomes popular and hip. A colleague cheats. A partner gets lazy. One party will often try to take the upper hand and exert power temporarily in order to restore or create balance and intimacy in the relationship.

Somewhere in between are relationships that are both hierarchical and intimate: parent and child, mentor and protege, teacher and student, older and younger sibling. In these relationships, restoring intimacy will at times trump restoring justice, or vice versa.

Keep this in mind as you build character conflict: is the relationship hierarchical, equitable, or mixed? It will make all the difference in how the characters will wield power.

How one wields power

The tools of exchange in a negotiation will vary among relationships and temperaments. Some exchanges will use mostly negative tools, others mostly positive. The most compelling exchanges will use a mix of both.

Negative tools

En garde, scoundrel! (Photo: Grafixar from morguefile.com)
accuse
attack
badger
blame-shift
clam up
compare to enemy
complain
defy
exert authority
indebt
intimidate
lie
name-call
outwit
refuse
remind of past failure
shame
taunt
threaten
twist truth


Positive tools

Pretty please?? (photo: morguefile.com)

apologize
beg
call in a favor
compliment
compare to hero
distract
downplay
expose inner self
flatter
joke
reason
reassure
remind of goal or dream
remind of past triumph
request help
share
truth-tell

What are your common approaches to conflict? Which type of relationship in conflict do you most enjoy writing? Least enjoy or struggle with?

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Scene from Never Gone, chapter 12 

EXCERPT REMOVED

Today's rough and tumble independent publishing world made it necessary to remove all snippets and previous versions of my work from the blog. The existence of such a "publishing trail" can be used to file false DMCA notices about my novels.
Sunday, September 01, 2013 Laurel Garver
Scene from Never Gone, chapter 12 

EXCERPT REMOVED

Today's rough and tumble independent publishing world made it necessary to remove all snippets and previous versions of my work from the blog. The existence of such a "publishing trail" can be used to file false DMCA notices about my novels.