Monday, April 25, 2011

Pointing Out Character Relationships--Archery Anatomy

  I love it when a respected author gives me a suggestion that they personally use. This gives the idea credibility. Add the book I'm currently reading into the mix and it all comes to life. Okay, let me explain.
  Lisa Mangum visited my area on a Utah Humanities Council sponsered presentation, speaking on "Finding Your Voice", or using your imagination in writing. She shared many good tips but today I will focus on a visual aid she used where she mapped out character relationships with two-way arrows. Starting with the main character (Abby) after getting her idea for The Hourglass Door, Lisa looked for a love-triangle relationship. Visualize the MC's name at the top pointing to her ho-hum boyfriend's name at one bottom corner and the exciting, new love interest that enters her life in the other corner. Got it?
  Now the story needs more players. The MC needs a couple of girlfriends. two-way arrows connect these named characters. She also has family. More arrows. Perhaps a sister will have dialogue with a friend to whom the MC knows but never deals with. In this case, the arrow only goes from the sister to this friend, but not to the MC. The boyfriends also have companions or family that my enter into the story. As this happens, add them to the relationship storyboard. It is a way of visually seeing who connects with whom and the weight of each character. In Mangum's story, she didn't expect that one of Abby's girlfriends would connect with Dante's antagonist. When it happened, she drew another arrow. This led to Valerie having a greater part in the story than originally planned.
  Good stories have complex relationships where characters feel strong emotions. Mappin it out is an aid to accomplish this.
  This was fresh on my mind as I picked up my next reading choice. The story started with a couple on a date. Two names, one arrow. He takes her home and gets abducted. Arrow shoots off from the boy's name only toward an unnamed villian. Finding the villian takes a good chunk of the story. Little by little, we learn of the people the boy knew (more arrows) and the climate of those relationships. Police get involved. There are people the boy's father knew that could affect their involvement with this son. Arrows offshoot in various places and I could visualize it happening as each character was introduced. What makes the story interesting is the complexity of these relationships as they tie in with other people. Indirect arrows lead back to the kidnapped boy from four or five main contacts, some of which the boy didn't personally know. These relationships repeatedly focus on two or three main suspects before a new one comes to light. Complexity, you know? All to keep the reader guessing.
  Whether or not you are a visual person like me, I think many writers can benefit from some type of storyboard showing character relationships. I'm going to try it. What do you like to use?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Giving Hope

I've been listening to an audio-book, Before My Heart Stops by Paul Cardall, and can't help but feel his passion to give hope and encouragement to others, whatever their trials may be, through his words. It's an inspiring story for anyone but I picked it up especially because I have a prenatal grandson that will be born this summer with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. He will have heart surgery within the first week of his life on earth.
Cardall's story is mostly told through blog entries. I don't know if he ever intended them to be compiled into a book, but he certainly wanted to let others know of his gratitude for every day of his life, the good and the bad, and of his faith in a God who is in charge of his destiny. Wouldn't it be great if I could inspire such goodness and hope to readers? Okay, so I don't have an extraordinary cause for my blog, or perhaps even my manuscript. But if I could touch one person for good--make them laugh or cry or feel something--then my efforts have not been wasted. If I could touch a thousand people. . .
May you find joy and inspiration in something you write or read today is my hope.
What kind of things inspire you?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Killer Story Ideas

  Okay, so first off I gotta mention that my top American Idol woman got kicked off. Pia's voice was amazing. I've seen some real growth from Alana and I like that Hailey takes chances. Both are good. It's time for a guy to go next. Maybe Casey or Jacob. I love that Casey plays the double bass, but while his singing is on key, it isn't melodious and his screeching is only cool so often. I wouldn't want to hear a whole record in one sitting. Stefano is a one-style man but with a more pleasing voice, so I like him better. Last week was the first week that I truly enjoyed Paul. Scotty put out something a little different too but not by much. He's mainly a one-trick pony so far but I still enjoyed the trick. In the end, it's going to be James who takes it to the top. He can do it mellow or screamin' with consistently good vocals. Just saying.
And now for our regularly scheduled program--
  All writer's need creativity. John Brown gave 7 ways to prime yourself toward that end. Here's my notes:
1. Ask Questions. Maybe you've already tried What if . . .? or What can go wrong? But have you focused it specifically to Character, Setting, Problem, Plot?
2. Feed Your Mind through pictures, headlines, anything you see or hear.
3. Turn On Your Zing Sensors. Be alert to things that can zing or zap you. Write these down and review later to spark further ideas. (This is the part that impressed me:) Trust your own sensor, not someone else's. The ideas have to be your own passion. You can't write someone else's story that you doesn't move you.
4. Generate Answers through various methods, i.e. outlines, exploratory drafts, interviews, maps, research, etc. Make a decision and run with it.
5. Practice Farmer's Faith. Manure can grow things. A crappy idea can blossom into something useable if we are patient and have put in the work.
6. Listen to your Spideysense. (This one is harder to explain unless the movie tips you off.) Don't deny your inner self. Writer's block is a gift. You just need to feed and generate as above. If your expectations are too high, break down your project into steps.
7. Relax and have fun. Stress is not creative. Some people do their best thinking in a relaxing shower.
Have you used any of these and which ones work best for you? Idol comments are also welcome.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Will It Fly?

  John Brown showed some funny photos of early-flight inventions at the LUW workshop last weekend to illustrate a point. Structure is critical. If an apparatus doesn’t get lift, it won’t fly.
  Story structure needs certain elements as well, but it might not be as complicated or such a fixed formula as you thought. John says there is no Voodoo—no exact midpoint where such and such is supposed to happen, etc. All the story structure ideas out there are simply options. The main thing is to look for commonalities or patterns that go with function. These can be studied in the books we read and movies we watch. I found it freeing to realize this.
  Are you ready for the common core that John has discovered? Before you salivate all over your chin, let me warn you. You probably already know the secret, but don’t feel let down because it is vital or your story won’t fly. Story structure is merely Problem Solving. That’s right. All the lists and types for story structure deal with this, no matter how it is stated. A problem is presented, the character struggles to solve it and runs into trouble along the way, and finally resolves the problem. Each of these three phases can take differing amounts of time depending on the story.
  To enjoy a story a reader must: 1) Understand the problem of a character to which they can be sympathetic, like, or find interesting, 2) Believe in the reason(s) this character can’t just walk away from the problem, and 3) Be surprised or wonder what might happen next and worry about the possibilities (vs. knowing what will happen). Ultimately, we want to hope and fear for the MC.
  Simple enough to understand, harder to implement. Understanding is a major first step. Now, let’s see if I can get my WIP off the ground.