Friday, July 25, 2014

Where Have You Been All My Life?

by Kelly Baugh

I’ve been to a handful of writer’s conferences in the last few years, and at every single one of them, I’ve heard someone say, “You should read Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder.  

“But it’s a book on screenwriting,” I usually think to myself. “Why would I waste my time reading a screenwriting book when there’s so many other writing books I need to read?”

After I’d heard the recommendation several years running, however, I decided to purchase the book and I’m so glad I did.  As I burned through the pages I found myself wondering, “Why didn’t I read this book years ago? Why did no one tell me about it?” Oh, wait …

The chapter I’ve dog-eared to death deals with the tight constraints of screenwriting and the structure a good story must have. As Snyder says, “Screenplays are structure. Precisely made Swiss clocks of emotion” (108). With my latest manuscript, I know I don’t have a Swiss clock; I have a failing-EU-country one. My story has a good plot, interesting characters, snappy dialogue, but weak structure.

Save the Cat! gives me a great springboard for the structure I need to weave my story around, and the approximate page number it should show up. Snyder breaks down a story into the following segments:
1. Opening Image (1)
2. Theme Stated (5)
3. Set-up (1-10)
4. Catalyst (12)
5. Debate (12-25)
6. Break into Two (25)
7. B Story (30)
8. Fun and Games (30-55)
9. Midpoint (55)
10. Bad Guys Close In (55-75)
11. All is Lost (75)
12. Dark Night of the Soul (75-85)
13. Break into Three (85)
14. Finale (85-110)
15. Final Image (110)

Obviously, my novel may march to a slightly different, less constrained beat, but I’m excited to use Snyder’s list to transform my work into a more Swiss-like manuscript. Also, Save the Cat! will now occupy the coveted nightstand position in my book hierarchy.

What books are your go-to resources on writing? (I don’t have to wait for another conference to get my next nightstand treasure).

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Settling In

by Sarah Sullivan
Coffee Cup and Book
The forest gabbles all around me. Western meadow larks and yellow-rumped warblers call out to one another then wait for a reply. A gentle wind rustles through the trees and scatters woodland debris playfully about. Even at this early morning hour the air is warm and rich with the sweet scent of pine and cedar. The only human sound is the crunch of pebbles under my feet as I meander away from the big house and down the grainy path flanked by moss and stone to the cottage which is really no more than a shed with a large window to take in the water view, a comfortable chair for reading and a slab of maple planed and sanded and stained then secured between two walls so one, who is I, can sit and write. I settle into my chair and begin my day free from the noisy world I have left behind. 

This peaceful scene happens to me exactly never! Between children, dogs, spouses (well, just the one) and an endless to do list, I admit, I find it difficult to hunker down and clear my addled brain long enough write anything of merit. Now mind you, I am not complaining, these are clearly first world problems that we should all be so lucky to have. Instead I am simply wondering if anyone out there has some great tips on how to perfect a piecemeal writing practice. 
Back in May, Dean Miller offered an excellent list of writing retreats from professional workshops to pitching a tent in a park. I loved his ideas because I have always been one who works best when I have large blocks of solitary time to work on one thing from start to finish. But now, in these summer months with children home from school, I simply don't have the luxury of long segments of time to dedicate to any one thing and certainly not to my own pursuits.

So how about it? Who has some great ideas for how to write in dribs and drabs rather than in protracted periods? 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Off to Adventure

By Rich

By the time some of you read this I will be on an aeroplane with a gaggle of 7th and 8th graders on an adventure of my and their lifetimes. Yes, you could say two dozen teenagers on an airplane is an adventure in itself, but what I'm talking about is a 10-day trip to Costa Rica. It will be a period of touring the luscious rain and cloud forests, swimming in an ocean, building a playground for underprivileged children, visiting sea turtles and sweating our butts off. I'm guessing we'll all be several pounds lighter by the time we return.

One would think this trip is a perfect opportunity to bring my laptop, flip it open on the veranda of the eco-lodge and type away as the story ideas flow around my cerebellum. However, it's not happening. For the first time in I can't remember, the laptop is not coming with me. In fact, the only electronic object I'm carrying on the trip is my smartphone, and that's because it has a camera.

A week and a half without a laptop. Yes, I'm sure there are going to be a few nights at the start where I wake up in a cold sweat screaming "Ctrl-Z," but I'm okay with that. Save for a few days in Canada or a few hours in Mexico during a cruise, this is my first long-term trip to another country. I don't want to spend it staring at a laptop screen trying to find a wireless signal so I can watch Orange is the New Black. I want to look out the windows of the bus or the boat or the room and admire a totally different universe than I'm used to.

Now, lack of a laptop doesn't mean I won't have story-writing materials available. Pens and pads will be at the ready. And as long as they don't get moldy with rain or melted by heat, I hope to get some story ideas out of my time there. I mean there has to be a young adult angst tale or giant insect horror story in it all. See you in two weeks.

Has there been a time when you didn't bring your laptop on a trip?

Friday, July 18, 2014

No Regrets

By Sarah Reichert

Recently, my daughters began training at the International Black Belt Academy.  I started itching to get back on the mats myself.  I am a completely different woman (mainly older and less spry) than I was the last time I bowed in a dojo, but I had always regretted stopping my training.  Watching them practice, brought up that ugly face of regret.  Where would I be now if I hadn’t stopped?

Regrets are festering things.  They are weights that drag us down into the past, where we lose our power to do much else, but sit alone with them.  We find ourselves looking back over our shoulders, and kicking ourselves for the things we did or did not do.  Sometimes, we’re so busy looking back at these irreparable choices, that we trip on obstacles before our feet, or miss the doors of opportunity that open while our gaze is away.  But how do we let them go?

Overcoming regret can be as easy as saying ‘I made the best choice that I could at the time’.  But sometimes the facets of our intricate minds are not always so easily placated.  Sometimes you know that you didn’t.  Sometimes, you took the easy road. Maybe you were scared or unsure.

One way to deal with the nagging “should-haves” is to pull the decision out from the past and into the light of the present.  If the situation and the desire exist, you could have the opportunity to take a second chance.

Writing can be this way as well.  My good friend and sister is a perfect example.  In her youth she could turn a sentence into a whole, vibrant world.  We knew that writing would be her livelihood.  Only, it didn't turn out that way.  Life does that to you.  It interjects.  It changes the rules and your priorities.  It builds walls too high and trenches too deep.

But one day, when you're wondering how to begin again, you pass by a rope hanging over that wall.  Sometimes there’s a hand waving ecstatically and a voice saying “Come on!  You can do this!”  Life changes just enough to afford you the time and the space to start over.

So take the rope.  Grab on to the hand.  Find the person or reason that inspires you to begin again.  Find that opening, that chance, to reinvest in your passion.  At the worst, you will learn that it wasn’t really yours after all, and you’ll be paid in knowing.  At the best, you will rediscover yourself and come to your old flame a new and stronger person.  You will wipe the regret away like dusty chalk on a board, and the question will cease to be “Where would I be?” and become  “Where will I be?”

Is there something in your life that you’ve given up and always regretted?  Will you revisit it?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Small Steps, Giant Leaps

by Shirley Drew

That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind
~Neil Armstrong 

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto on the surface of the moon for the first time. Michael Collins, the third astronaut, stayed behind to pilot the spacecraft. I was just 12 years old as I sat on the floor in front of a black and white television at the house of my friend, Julie. Her parents sat on the sofa behind us watching in awe; we were all mesmerized. Watching this event fueled my keen interest in stories of space travel.

I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey the year before—and loved it, though I didn’t really understand much of it. But after the moon walk I saw every movie about “outer space” that I could, both at the theaters and on television. Some of my favorites include, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), The Thing from Another World (also 1951), Alien (1979) with Sigourney Weaver, and the great tag line, “In space, no one can hear you scream.” Yikes. By the time I got to college I became interested in the Star Trek series, and later on in its many permutations. Then of course, there was Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope, released in 1977, easily my favorite. While these films were different in several ways—some painting aliens as invaders and others as friends (and of course Star Wars was in a class by itself), they all had one thing in common. They portrayed the idea of space travel as something that required not only great bravery but also a willingness to take great risks.

Which reminds me of what we do as writers. While we may not risk our lives as the astronauts do, we still must be brave in order to pursue our passion. We start with small steps—trying our hand, if you will, at writing something. It might be a short story, a personal essay, or even a blog post. We take bigger steps when we alter our lives in some way to make a commitment  to write—to call ourselves “writers.” At some point, we take that giant leap by sending our work out to a publisher or editor, or even to publish our work independently. Risking rejection is tough, but we all have to do it to become “authors.”

On July 20, 2014, it will have been 45 years since the historic moon walk. As we commemorate this achievement of those brave men, we should also celebrate the steps and leaps we take in our pursuit to be writers and authors.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Eat, Drink, and Be Literary

Post by Jenny

It was nice to see the many NCW members who attended Wine and Words on Saturday! The rain stayed away, and we enjoyed good food, good wine, and good company. It made me wish I had another summer writer’s party coming up on the calendar. If I were to suddenly and uncharacteristically go all Pinterest/Food Network/Martha Stewart about it and plan my own, I’d find plenty of inspiration in two fun books that put a great literary spin on food and drink.

The first is Fictitious Dishes, in which author/photographer Dinah Fried sets the tables for fifty of “literature's most memorable meals.” Take this one: “It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazelnuts…” The ‘it’ in question is the chowder from Moby Dick, shown with a pewter tankard and a hunk of crusty bread. Rose-patterned china makes a very proper setting for Alice’s tea party, and the buffet from The Great Gatsby is a complicated spread worthy of the Jazz Age excesses.

Not all of the meals are so appetizing, however. I might make it through Oliver Twist’s gruel, but I’d have to pass on the pile of rotting scraps from The Metamorphosis. Ditto for the scattering of pills next to the bathroom sink a la Valley of the Dolls.

Now, for the drinks. It doesn’t get much better than Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist, by Tim Federle. I didn’t have to read any farther than the Table of Contents to be totally charmed by this book (but of course I did). One Flew Over the Cosmo’s Nest, Ethan Pom, Rye and Prejudice. You’re chuckling already, right? (Unless you’re one of those people who is allergic to puns, and for that, I pity you immensely.) And those are only the first three of Section I: Drinks for Dames. (I think my favorite might be Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margarita.)

Gents, Federle has your back, too, with Section II: Gulps for Guys. The Last of the Mojitos, The Lime of the Ancient Mariner, One Hundred Beers of Solitude… With the inclusion of a few pages of non-alcoholic drinks (Cherry Poppins) and some recipes (The Deviled Egg Wears Prada), this book is a bibliophile's party just waiting to happen.

Do you have a favorite literary food or drink to share?

Friday, July 11, 2014

On Not Writing

By Kelly

I’m not writing these days.

It’s hard to focus when the kids are home from school and the door to the office in my 100+ year old house neither closes nor locks. When I do get a few minutes alone the computer crashes (I’m looking at you, Windows 8). The roof/ceiling/shower and basement have all developed simultaneous leaks. The air pressure valves in the car are acting up. And dang it, we have to go see the dentist/optometrist/doctor for our grossly overdue check-ups before school starts in (wait, already?!) a little over month.

“I don’t see how you can write during the summer,” one of my friends said when I told her of our drama. “I can barely keep up with all the activities and camps and parties without adding work to the mix.”

But here’s the thing she doesn’t understand. My brain NEEDS to write. It turns into a drama queen basket-case if it doesn’t. It hangs on by a tenuous thread of sanity. If I can’t write, I’d better be reading something really good, especially when life gets crazy. Right now Joe Leaphorn’s crime solving prowess at the Navajo nation (thank you, Tony Hillerman) is so much more engaging than leaky roofs, judgmental dental hygienists and blocking the office door with my sweater basket.

Do you use writing or reading to deal with life? What are your favorite literary escapes?

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