Thursday, May 29, 2014

Today, I'm going to cover some of the basics of expressing ownership in writing, because it's something I frequently see mangled in shop windows, on billboards, and in manuscripts.

These rules apply to NOUNS only. For the rules on possessive pronouns, see this post: It's your day to master tricky possessives.

photo by Jade, morguefile.com

Singular nouns

To indicate ownership, add an apostrophe and S to singular nouns (no matter what the ending consonant) Some examples are below.

John's box
Yeats's poems
Dickens's novels
Josh's guitar
Dax's leadership
Inez's marimba

Some style guides make an exception for certain Greek names ending in S: Jesus' life, Demosthenes' pebbles. If you chose to do this, be consistent. 

Plural nouns

First, correctly form the plural.
~Most simply take an S (including names that end with a Y)
~Words and names ending with a sibilant sound such as CH, S, SH, X or Z take an ES ending
~Many common nouns ending in Y take an IES ending
~Some semi-irregular nouns will change the final consonant and take an ES
~Certain Latin words will switch from IS to ES
~Irregular nouns will mutate, including some Latin, Greek, and French words.
When in doubt, look it up. Here's a useful list of oddball plural forms.

With plural nouns ending in s, indicate ownership by adding an apostrophe alone.
For irregular plurals that don't end in an S, indicate ownership by adding an apostrophe and an S (just like a singular noun).

Some examples are below.

With a simple ending:
girls' first win
games' culmination
magicians' secrets
Smiths' deck
Grants' party
boys' turn
turkeys' pen
O'Reillys' bar

With a sibilant ending:
boxes' contents
fezzes' tassels
churches' service times
Rosses' ranch
Collinses' house
Mirouxes' vineyard
Sanchezes' boat

Y ending common nouns:
babies' cribs
puppies' owners
categories' rules
deliveries' arrival

Semi-irregular nouns:
(loaf) loaves' ingredients
(wife) wives' opinions
(elf) elves' fortress
(matrix) matrices' origins

Latin end-vowel changers:
(crisis) crises' causes
(parenthesis) parentheses' color
(oasis) oases' merchants

Irregular nouns:
(mouse) mice's cages
(goose) geese's nests
(ox) oxen's stalls
(child) children's menu
(man) men's restroom
(medium) media's constraints
(curriculum) curricula's format
(fungus) fungi's characteristics
(beau) beaux's names and numbers

Note: If you struggle with apostrophes, avoid giving characters first names ending in s (like Alexis or Joss) or last names ending in s, sh, ch, x or z (like Robbins, Marsh, Koch, Leax, Lopez). You'll eliminate many headaches and confusion for yourself.

Mixed groups

Generally you want the same number of apostrophes as items possessed.

For shared ownership, one apostrophe:
Jane and Jordan's new apartment
Frost and Wright's collection

Similar items that are owned (or were created) by separate people or entities take multiple apostrophes:
Kimball's and Jones's books on the Civil War
Girls' and boys' locker rooms
Owen's and the Mosses' cars

With mixed combinations (like a single person and a couple), make the number of apostrophes match the number of items:
The tree fell on Tim's and Dave and Becky's houses.
Two houses, two apostrophes.


Probably the most common errors occur with names ending in S where it's unclear whether you're dealing with one person or a group. You can go to Ross's house or the Rosses' house, but please don't ever talk about Ross' house. It's just confusing.

Which of these things tend to trip you up? 
Thursday, May 29, 2014 Laurel Garver
Today, I'm going to cover some of the basics of expressing ownership in writing, because it's something I frequently see mangled in shop windows, on billboards, and in manuscripts.

These rules apply to NOUNS only. For the rules on possessive pronouns, see this post: It's your day to master tricky possessives.

photo by Jade, morguefile.com

Singular nouns

To indicate ownership, add an apostrophe and S to singular nouns (no matter what the ending consonant) Some examples are below.

John's box
Yeats's poems
Dickens's novels
Josh's guitar
Dax's leadership
Inez's marimba

Some style guides make an exception for certain Greek names ending in S: Jesus' life, Demosthenes' pebbles. If you chose to do this, be consistent. 

Plural nouns

First, correctly form the plural.
~Most simply take an S (including names that end with a Y)
~Words and names ending with a sibilant sound such as CH, S, SH, X or Z take an ES ending
~Many common nouns ending in Y take an IES ending
~Some semi-irregular nouns will change the final consonant and take an ES
~Certain Latin words will switch from IS to ES
~Irregular nouns will mutate, including some Latin, Greek, and French words.
When in doubt, look it up. Here's a useful list of oddball plural forms.

With plural nouns ending in s, indicate ownership by adding an apostrophe alone.
For irregular plurals that don't end in an S, indicate ownership by adding an apostrophe and an S (just like a singular noun).

Some examples are below.

With a simple ending:
girls' first win
games' culmination
magicians' secrets
Smiths' deck
Grants' party
boys' turn
turkeys' pen
O'Reillys' bar

With a sibilant ending:
boxes' contents
fezzes' tassels
churches' service times
Rosses' ranch
Collinses' house
Mirouxes' vineyard
Sanchezes' boat

Y ending common nouns:
babies' cribs
puppies' owners
categories' rules
deliveries' arrival

Semi-irregular nouns:
(loaf) loaves' ingredients
(wife) wives' opinions
(elf) elves' fortress
(matrix) matrices' origins

Latin end-vowel changers:
(crisis) crises' causes
(parenthesis) parentheses' color
(oasis) oases' merchants

Irregular nouns:
(mouse) mice's cages
(goose) geese's nests
(ox) oxen's stalls
(child) children's menu
(man) men's restroom
(medium) media's constraints
(curriculum) curricula's format
(fungus) fungi's characteristics
(beau) beaux's names and numbers

Note: If you struggle with apostrophes, avoid giving characters first names ending in s (like Alexis or Joss) or last names ending in s, sh, ch, x or z (like Robbins, Marsh, Koch, Leax, Lopez). You'll eliminate many headaches and confusion for yourself.

Mixed groups

Generally you want the same number of apostrophes as items possessed.

For shared ownership, one apostrophe:
Jane and Jordan's new apartment
Frost and Wright's collection

Similar items that are owned (or were created) by separate people or entities take multiple apostrophes:
Kimball's and Jones's books on the Civil War
Girls' and boys' locker rooms
Owen's and the Mosses' cars

With mixed combinations (like a single person and a couple), make the number of apostrophes match the number of items:
The tree fell on Tim's and Dave and Becky's houses.
Two houses, two apostrophes.


Probably the most common errors occur with names ending in S where it's unclear whether you're dealing with one person or a group. You can go to Ross's house or the Rosses' house, but please don't ever talk about Ross' house. It's just confusing.

Which of these things tend to trip you up? 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

image by penywise at morguefile.com
What happens to your writing projects when you just can't write? Maybe your day job is suddenly demanding 80-hour weeks, or a family member is in crisis, or this week is the charity fund raiser, or you've been hit hard with an illness (that's me--bronchitis, very slow recovery). Most of the time, one abruptly drops the projects and runs to the crisis du jour. That's natural and sane. Running yourself into the ground does no one any good.

Yet, your writing project can stall. And when you come back to it, you don't know where to pick up.

When this happens, it can take weeks to get back on track--weeks of deep doubt and fear. You worry your inertia is because the story idea is stupid; you can't remember why you ever liked your characters. You write 1,000 words and delete 780 of them, day after day.

Don't let this happen to you. There are some simple ways to stay connected with your project, even when you can't dedicate hours (or even half hours) to writing.

My friend, author Heidi Willis shared this powerful idea on her blog a few months ago, and I've found it encouraging, because it's both strict and permissive: Touch it every day. (I can hear you all sniggering like middle schoolers. Grow up and let's move on.)

"Touch it every day" means find some way, daily, to keep checking in on your project, whether or not you're able to add pages. Here are some things I've done and some additional things I plan to try:

"Reel it" 

Imagine possible permutations of a future scene, playing them through in your mind like a film. This is especially good for when you are sick or stuck driving people all over town. More on this technique HERE.

Research 

In Story, Robert McKee says, "No matter how talented, the ignorant cannot write. Talent must be stimulated by facts and ideas. Do research. Feed your talent. Research not only wins the war on cliche, it's the key to victory over fear and its cousin, depression."

Research is often more portable than creative work. You can read books and articles while sitting in a hospital room with an ill loved one, or while the kids are at soccer practice, or while standing in line at the grocery store. Smart phone owners have an advantage, but even those without portable Internet can have research materials on hand--articles you print and set aside, books you download onto your ereader.

The key here is to stay curious about everything that touches your story world. Read about birth order and regional food traditions and interior design and pop culture and your characters' hobbies. Read about politics and economics and history and scientific discoveries. Never stop learning, never stop feeding your mind: STAY CURIOUS.

Interview

Keep your radar attuned to people you meet who might know something about your story world and bravely ask questions. I once got some amazing research done while at a church luncheon. I was seated by a friend who is a speech-language pathologist, and realized she might know something about speech problems in stroke patients, an element in my story. So I said, "I'm working on a story in which a grandparent has a stroke. What kind of speech problems might he possibly have?" That short chat was more focused and helpful than hours of reading. She knew in practice, not just theory, how patients behave and what the stages of recovery look like. That kind of information is pure gold.

This technique is great for those socially-demanding seasons when you shuttle from wedding to graduation to baby shower. Think about how your story might connect to every person you meet. Tap their knowledge and expertise as a family member, volunteer or professional. People love to be considered experts.

Observe

You can also take advantage of socially demanding times to people watch. Look for interesting gestures, ways of moving through space, fashion sense. Listen for opinions, attitudes, great catchphrases and slang. Always have a few index cards stuffed in your pockets or handbag, or use my guided journal Emotions in the Wild to jot down your observations. You never know when the embodiment of one of your characters will suddenly wander onto the train platform, sit at your table at the reception, or pass you on the convention floor.

Brainstorm

Think through any and every part of the story yet to be written, or parts you want to revise. Brainstorming is a great umbrella term for all kinds of creative thought processes that can fit any writer's style.

  • Make big, sprawling, messy mind maps
  • Neatly write notecards with individual plot points you can later sort and order. 
  • Interview your characters. 
  • Write journal entries in a character's voice.
  • Write out discussions with your characters about your revision ideas. 
  • Jot ideas to research.
  • Develop backstories for everyone, even if only slivers or hints will be used in the story.
  • Preplan scenes and what will change in each one.
  • Doodle maps of your locations, including home interior layouts.

Brainstorming can be very portable and you can do it even when you're too feverish to hold a pen. Those fitful hours in bed can be rich with imagined conversations with characters and imagined walks through your fictional spaces. Love and inhabit your story world every day.

How do you stay connected to your story when you can't write? Which of these techniques might you try?
Tuesday, May 20, 2014 Laurel Garver
image by penywise at morguefile.com
What happens to your writing projects when you just can't write? Maybe your day job is suddenly demanding 80-hour weeks, or a family member is in crisis, or this week is the charity fund raiser, or you've been hit hard with an illness (that's me--bronchitis, very slow recovery). Most of the time, one abruptly drops the projects and runs to the crisis du jour. That's natural and sane. Running yourself into the ground does no one any good.

Yet, your writing project can stall. And when you come back to it, you don't know where to pick up.

When this happens, it can take weeks to get back on track--weeks of deep doubt and fear. You worry your inertia is because the story idea is stupid; you can't remember why you ever liked your characters. You write 1,000 words and delete 780 of them, day after day.

Don't let this happen to you. There are some simple ways to stay connected with your project, even when you can't dedicate hours (or even half hours) to writing.

My friend, author Heidi Willis shared this powerful idea on her blog a few months ago, and I've found it encouraging, because it's both strict and permissive: Touch it every day. (I can hear you all sniggering like middle schoolers. Grow up and let's move on.)

"Touch it every day" means find some way, daily, to keep checking in on your project, whether or not you're able to add pages. Here are some things I've done and some additional things I plan to try:

"Reel it" 

Imagine possible permutations of a future scene, playing them through in your mind like a film. This is especially good for when you are sick or stuck driving people all over town. More on this technique HERE.

Research 

In Story, Robert McKee says, "No matter how talented, the ignorant cannot write. Talent must be stimulated by facts and ideas. Do research. Feed your talent. Research not only wins the war on cliche, it's the key to victory over fear and its cousin, depression."

Research is often more portable than creative work. You can read books and articles while sitting in a hospital room with an ill loved one, or while the kids are at soccer practice, or while standing in line at the grocery store. Smart phone owners have an advantage, but even those without portable Internet can have research materials on hand--articles you print and set aside, books you download onto your ereader.

The key here is to stay curious about everything that touches your story world. Read about birth order and regional food traditions and interior design and pop culture and your characters' hobbies. Read about politics and economics and history and scientific discoveries. Never stop learning, never stop feeding your mind: STAY CURIOUS.

Interview

Keep your radar attuned to people you meet who might know something about your story world and bravely ask questions. I once got some amazing research done while at a church luncheon. I was seated by a friend who is a speech-language pathologist, and realized she might know something about speech problems in stroke patients, an element in my story. So I said, "I'm working on a story in which a grandparent has a stroke. What kind of speech problems might he possibly have?" That short chat was more focused and helpful than hours of reading. She knew in practice, not just theory, how patients behave and what the stages of recovery look like. That kind of information is pure gold.

This technique is great for those socially-demanding seasons when you shuttle from wedding to graduation to baby shower. Think about how your story might connect to every person you meet. Tap their knowledge and expertise as a family member, volunteer or professional. People love to be considered experts.

Observe

You can also take advantage of socially demanding times to people watch. Look for interesting gestures, ways of moving through space, fashion sense. Listen for opinions, attitudes, great catchphrases and slang. Always have a few index cards stuffed in your pockets or handbag, or use my guided journal Emotions in the Wild to jot down your observations. You never know when the embodiment of one of your characters will suddenly wander onto the train platform, sit at your table at the reception, or pass you on the convention floor.

Brainstorm

Think through any and every part of the story yet to be written, or parts you want to revise. Brainstorming is a great umbrella term for all kinds of creative thought processes that can fit any writer's style.

  • Make big, sprawling, messy mind maps
  • Neatly write notecards with individual plot points you can later sort and order. 
  • Interview your characters. 
  • Write journal entries in a character's voice.
  • Write out discussions with your characters about your revision ideas. 
  • Jot ideas to research.
  • Develop backstories for everyone, even if only slivers or hints will be used in the story.
  • Preplan scenes and what will change in each one.
  • Doodle maps of your locations, including home interior layouts.

Brainstorming can be very portable and you can do it even when you're too feverish to hold a pen. Those fitful hours in bed can be rich with imagined conversations with characters and imagined walks through your fictional spaces. Love and inhabit your story world every day.

How do you stay connected to your story when you can't write? Which of these techniques might you try?

Friday, May 16, 2014

It seemed high time for another Phonics Friday post. Today we'll tackle a set of fraternal triplets of language, the homophones meat, meet and mete. Once again, I'll provide a definition, examples and mnemonic tricks to help you keep them straight.

meat


Photo credit: mconnors from morguefile.com
meat (n.) flesh; the flesh of an animal used as food; the edible part or kernel of certain plant fruits (such as a walnut or coconut).

(n.) at the core of something; the most important part of something.

Examples

  • The chef's knife slipped, slicing the meat of his palm.
  • Rudy is vegan; the only meat he eats is coconut meat and other nut meats.
  • The meat of the issue is fairness and equality.
  • Your topic is very meaty. Can you keep the paper under ten pages?

Mnemonic
Andy ate meat at all meals.

meet


Photo credit: diggerdanno from morguefile.com
meet (v., trans.) met, meeting -  to encounter or come into contact; to become acquainted;  to gather with others, especially at a particular place and time; to come together for a common purpose

 - to provide for or pay fully; to cope with

- to conform precisely; to form a junction

- to have or receive a particular reaction

 meet (n.) - a gathering of athletes for a sports competition; a gathering to hunt foxes

meet (adj., archaic) - suitable; made to fit

Examples

  • I can't wait to meet Jane's twin brother.
  • Lois met us at noon to carpool to the swim meet.
  • His higher salary will meet all the family's financial needs.
  • Carlos thinks his candidate meets all the requirements best.
  • Thorn Road meets Blueberry Lane just past the post office.
  • His proposal was met with applause and cheers.
  • Phua placed third in 500 meter hurdles at the track meet.
  • Count Roderigo felt it meet that she should attend the coronation.

Mnemonic
Bree is free to meet new people

mete

Photo credit: cohdra from morguefile.com
mete (v., trans.) meted, meting -  to allot or dole out justice or punishment (usually with out)
- (archaic) to measure

Examples

  • The queen will mete out justice to the highwaymen terrorizing her land.
  • Harken the ways of yon fishmonger who metes not fair portions of his trout.

Mnemonic
Pete theatened to mete out concrete shoes for any athlete who dares to compete.


The handful of archaic forms are where troubles arise most. "It is meet that I should thus mete your portion of the meat from our meet" is not a sentence you're likely to see outside historical fiction or fantasy.

Which of these new definitions were new to you? What other homophones tend to trip you up?
Friday, May 16, 2014 Laurel Garver
It seemed high time for another Phonics Friday post. Today we'll tackle a set of fraternal triplets of language, the homophones meat, meet and mete. Once again, I'll provide a definition, examples and mnemonic tricks to help you keep them straight.

meat


Photo credit: mconnors from morguefile.com
meat (n.) flesh; the flesh of an animal used as food; the edible part or kernel of certain plant fruits (such as a walnut or coconut).

(n.) at the core of something; the most important part of something.

Examples

  • The chef's knife slipped, slicing the meat of his palm.
  • Rudy is vegan; the only meat he eats is coconut meat and other nut meats.
  • The meat of the issue is fairness and equality.
  • Your topic is very meaty. Can you keep the paper under ten pages?

Mnemonic
Andy ate meat at all meals.

meet


Photo credit: diggerdanno from morguefile.com
meet (v., trans.) met, meeting -  to encounter or come into contact; to become acquainted;  to gather with others, especially at a particular place and time; to come together for a common purpose

 - to provide for or pay fully; to cope with

- to conform precisely; to form a junction

- to have or receive a particular reaction

 meet (n.) - a gathering of athletes for a sports competition; a gathering to hunt foxes

meet (adj., archaic) - suitable; made to fit

Examples

  • I can't wait to meet Jane's twin brother.
  • Lois met us at noon to carpool to the swim meet.
  • His higher salary will meet all the family's financial needs.
  • Carlos thinks his candidate meets all the requirements best.
  • Thorn Road meets Blueberry Lane just past the post office.
  • His proposal was met with applause and cheers.
  • Phua placed third in 500 meter hurdles at the track meet.
  • Count Roderigo felt it meet that she should attend the coronation.

Mnemonic
Bree is free to meet new people

mete

Photo credit: cohdra from morguefile.com
mete (v., trans.) meted, meting -  to allot or dole out justice or punishment (usually with out)
- (archaic) to measure

Examples

  • The queen will mete out justice to the highwaymen terrorizing her land.
  • Harken the ways of yon fishmonger who metes not fair portions of his trout.

Mnemonic
Pete theatened to mete out concrete shoes for any athlete who dares to compete.


The handful of archaic forms are where troubles arise most. "It is meet that I should thus mete your portion of the meat from our meet" is not a sentence you're likely to see outside historical fiction or fantasy.

Which of these new definitions were new to you? What other homophones tend to trip you up?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug has such a mockable title, it's not much of a surprise Tolkien fans and film critics largely panned it. I'd honestly had no intention of seeing it, but when there was a free screening on the campus where my hubby teaches, curiosity got the better of me. Sure, this was the most non-canonical Tolkien film in Jackson's oeuvre so far, but did that aspect lead to the negative reviews?

Actually, no. I'd argue that poor storytelling is what killed the film--at least for me and many critics. (There's no accounting for the ticket-buying public, which seems to love nonsensical, overwrought action flicks--witness the box office power of the Transformers films.)

The beauty of being a writer is that scriptwriting failures are educational gold. Below are a few storytelling lessons I gleaned from DoS. (Sorry to resort to a goofy abbreviation, but it's taking all my self control to not make three dozen bad puns on the terrible title).

1. Whose story is it anyway?


I honestly could never quite sort out who the film's protagonist is supposed to be.

It might be Thorin Oakenshield, whose backstory opens the film. He's kingly, tormented, and kind of hot in a hipster-meets-80s-hair-band way. We learn in this backstory that Thorin has not only a quest--to regain the lost assets of his kingdom--but a new enemy, the Necromancer, who's keen to stop him, though we have no clue why. With both a quest and an enemy, Thorin seems like he ought to be the story's hero. However, the climax of the film focuses on Bilbo Baggins, who goes into the dragon's lair to face this fierce enemy, while Thorin and his entourage hang back in safety.

Yet if Bilbo is the hero, what exactly is his quest? What does he set out to achieve? We're never given much information about what motivates him, other than that Gandalf told him to go along with this weird assortment of dwarves. He might be hungry to prove himself valiant, or greedy for gain, or simply sick to death of his boring life in Hobbiton and itching for thrills. We just don't know, because we rarely get very close to him, just like we don't get close to Thorin.

Takeaway: Have a clear protagonist with a goal and motivations to meet that goal, both surface drives and deeper inner drives. Take the time to show why the protagonist is motivated. Make sure the protagonist is intimately involved in the climax moment.

2. Why are you chasing me?


Apparently the scriptwriters thought it wasn't going to be an exciting enough quest for a party of thirteen somewhat silly and unskilled little dudes to make it through the treacherous depths of Mirkwood, past Shelob's redneck cousins, in order to face a fire-breathing enemy that wiped out an entire city single-handed. No, they clearly needed to be chased the entire time by bloodthirsty, gholish orcs who are pursuing for no obvious reason.

The orc chase not only adds nothing, it actually takes away from the story because it feels to darned random. There's no solid reason that the Necromancer opposes Thorin. He supposedly doesn't want the dwarves to become strong again, but WHY? Does he want to get to the gold first so that he can be rich beyond dreams and powerful beyond dreams? The film would make a heck of a lot more sense if he did. But we're never given that much information about the Necromancer's nefarious plot. As the film drags on, it seems he doesn't really have one. And nothing is more of a waste of time than an enemy with no real goals.

Takeaway: Adding random enemies subtracts from the story's core tension, so don't dilute your main plotline with characters who have too little reason to be there. Invest in showing your hero/es unequal to the task being attempted (injuries or hardships work nicely here) or raise the stakes of what they'll lose if they fail.

Antagonists must have a goal. Vague malevolence is about as scary as flatulence--it stinks at first, but dissipates quickly with no lasting effects. 

What are your thoughts about creating a clear protagonist and a goal-driven antagonist? Can you think of other examples of films that fail to create solid characters for these two key roles?
Tuesday, May 13, 2014 Laurel Garver
The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug has such a mockable title, it's not much of a surprise Tolkien fans and film critics largely panned it. I'd honestly had no intention of seeing it, but when there was a free screening on the campus where my hubby teaches, curiosity got the better of me. Sure, this was the most non-canonical Tolkien film in Jackson's oeuvre so far, but did that aspect lead to the negative reviews?

Actually, no. I'd argue that poor storytelling is what killed the film--at least for me and many critics. (There's no accounting for the ticket-buying public, which seems to love nonsensical, overwrought action flicks--witness the box office power of the Transformers films.)

The beauty of being a writer is that scriptwriting failures are educational gold. Below are a few storytelling lessons I gleaned from DoS. (Sorry to resort to a goofy abbreviation, but it's taking all my self control to not make three dozen bad puns on the terrible title).

1. Whose story is it anyway?


I honestly could never quite sort out who the film's protagonist is supposed to be.

It might be Thorin Oakenshield, whose backstory opens the film. He's kingly, tormented, and kind of hot in a hipster-meets-80s-hair-band way. We learn in this backstory that Thorin has not only a quest--to regain the lost assets of his kingdom--but a new enemy, the Necromancer, who's keen to stop him, though we have no clue why. With both a quest and an enemy, Thorin seems like he ought to be the story's hero. However, the climax of the film focuses on Bilbo Baggins, who goes into the dragon's lair to face this fierce enemy, while Thorin and his entourage hang back in safety.

Yet if Bilbo is the hero, what exactly is his quest? What does he set out to achieve? We're never given much information about what motivates him, other than that Gandalf told him to go along with this weird assortment of dwarves. He might be hungry to prove himself valiant, or greedy for gain, or simply sick to death of his boring life in Hobbiton and itching for thrills. We just don't know, because we rarely get very close to him, just like we don't get close to Thorin.

Takeaway: Have a clear protagonist with a goal and motivations to meet that goal, both surface drives and deeper inner drives. Take the time to show why the protagonist is motivated. Make sure the protagonist is intimately involved in the climax moment.

2. Why are you chasing me?


Apparently the scriptwriters thought it wasn't going to be an exciting enough quest for a party of thirteen somewhat silly and unskilled little dudes to make it through the treacherous depths of Mirkwood, past Shelob's redneck cousins, in order to face a fire-breathing enemy that wiped out an entire city single-handed. No, they clearly needed to be chased the entire time by bloodthirsty, gholish orcs who are pursuing for no obvious reason.

The orc chase not only adds nothing, it actually takes away from the story because it feels to darned random. There's no solid reason that the Necromancer opposes Thorin. He supposedly doesn't want the dwarves to become strong again, but WHY? Does he want to get to the gold first so that he can be rich beyond dreams and powerful beyond dreams? The film would make a heck of a lot more sense if he did. But we're never given that much information about the Necromancer's nefarious plot. As the film drags on, it seems he doesn't really have one. And nothing is more of a waste of time than an enemy with no real goals.

Takeaway: Adding random enemies subtracts from the story's core tension, so don't dilute your main plotline with characters who have too little reason to be there. Invest in showing your hero/es unequal to the task being attempted (injuries or hardships work nicely here) or raise the stakes of what they'll lose if they fail.

Antagonists must have a goal. Vague malevolence is about as scary as flatulence--it stinks at first, but dissipates quickly with no lasting effects. 

What are your thoughts about creating a clear protagonist and a goal-driven antagonist? Can you think of other examples of films that fail to create solid characters for these two key roles?

Monday, May 05, 2014

I've never taken a physics course, but I know all too well the concept of inertia. One must exert force to overcome it. Those of us who have been blogging for any length of time will hit phases of either burn-out or simply lethargy in which we struggle to generate new content. In the former situation, my strategies have been to take a brief hiatus, reuse old posts, or solicit guest posts. In the latter situation, I've usually solicited topics from readers, experimented with not-my-usual approach (film reviews, memoir shorts, lists), or sought a blogfest with a topic that interested me.

What attracted me to the A to Z Blogging Challenge this year was the camaraderie I'd seen develop among participants in past years. With many other blogfests, you get a lot of drive-bys, but often very little sustained interaction. And it's the friendships that makes blogging so rewarding. At the beginning of the year, I'd culled more than 70 inactive blogs off my reading list (haven't posted in two to three years). Realizing that so many blogging buddies have drifted away was pretty sobering. Some of my lethargy with blogging was clearly due to grieving the loss of relationships I'd once had. Coming to acceptance would, of course, involve moving on and building new relationships.

Another appeal for me was to test my ability to be radically productive. I challenged myself to write and format all the posts ahead and largely succeeded. All but one were completely written, illustrated, and formatted before April 1. The outlier was my G post, in which I'd selected a piece that was a bit of an interpretive struggle for me. Rather than ditch it, I leaned into my struggle and wrote about that, finishing the post only a day ahead. It turned out to be a good approach, because the poet I'd featured contacted me to say thanks for featuring her work and for helping others be less intimidated by poetry. So I definitely learned an important lesson there: your learning process is as important as any perceived expertise you have. Share it!

As to my topic, poetry. Well, I've always wanted to do a consistent National Poetry Month Series. The reason NPM exists is to stir up enthusiasm for a genre that's too often pushed to the margins. I had no illusions going in that talking poetry would make my blog super popular. Dislike of the genre runs deep in contemporary life, where "thinking slow" isn't valued, and depth is for nerdy, uncool people. I choose to be countercultural. Give me Hughes or Heaney over Honey Boo Boo any day. My goal was simply to provide for those brave enough to visit an opportunity to see what poetry might have to offer.

Did I come out of my turtle shell of grieving lost blogging buddies and make new ones? Yes.

Did I generate a large volume of content and meet deadlines? Yes.

Did I share my enthusiasm for an under-appreciated genre and help others see its diverse merits? Yes.

Has my faith been restored in blogging as a medium worth my time? Yes and double yes.

How about you? 
A to Z participants, what were your goals? Did you meet them?
A to Z observers, might you ever participate? Why or why not?
Monday, May 05, 2014 Laurel Garver
I've never taken a physics course, but I know all too well the concept of inertia. One must exert force to overcome it. Those of us who have been blogging for any length of time will hit phases of either burn-out or simply lethargy in which we struggle to generate new content. In the former situation, my strategies have been to take a brief hiatus, reuse old posts, or solicit guest posts. In the latter situation, I've usually solicited topics from readers, experimented with not-my-usual approach (film reviews, memoir shorts, lists), or sought a blogfest with a topic that interested me.

What attracted me to the A to Z Blogging Challenge this year was the camaraderie I'd seen develop among participants in past years. With many other blogfests, you get a lot of drive-bys, but often very little sustained interaction. And it's the friendships that makes blogging so rewarding. At the beginning of the year, I'd culled more than 70 inactive blogs off my reading list (haven't posted in two to three years). Realizing that so many blogging buddies have drifted away was pretty sobering. Some of my lethargy with blogging was clearly due to grieving the loss of relationships I'd once had. Coming to acceptance would, of course, involve moving on and building new relationships.

Another appeal for me was to test my ability to be radically productive. I challenged myself to write and format all the posts ahead and largely succeeded. All but one were completely written, illustrated, and formatted before April 1. The outlier was my G post, in which I'd selected a piece that was a bit of an interpretive struggle for me. Rather than ditch it, I leaned into my struggle and wrote about that, finishing the post only a day ahead. It turned out to be a good approach, because the poet I'd featured contacted me to say thanks for featuring her work and for helping others be less intimidated by poetry. So I definitely learned an important lesson there: your learning process is as important as any perceived expertise you have. Share it!

As to my topic, poetry. Well, I've always wanted to do a consistent National Poetry Month Series. The reason NPM exists is to stir up enthusiasm for a genre that's too often pushed to the margins. I had no illusions going in that talking poetry would make my blog super popular. Dislike of the genre runs deep in contemporary life, where "thinking slow" isn't valued, and depth is for nerdy, uncool people. I choose to be countercultural. Give me Hughes or Heaney over Honey Boo Boo any day. My goal was simply to provide for those brave enough to visit an opportunity to see what poetry might have to offer.

Did I come out of my turtle shell of grieving lost blogging buddies and make new ones? Yes.

Did I generate a large volume of content and meet deadlines? Yes.

Did I share my enthusiasm for an under-appreciated genre and help others see its diverse merits? Yes.

Has my faith been restored in blogging as a medium worth my time? Yes and double yes.

How about you? 
A to Z participants, what were your goals? Did you meet them?
A to Z observers, might you ever participate? Why or why not?