Favorite Story Type

Write what you know. Standard advice to writers. Learn from the books and movies you love. Its good advice because the narrative form you love is almost part of your DNA. You can’t help but write stories in the same vein. Today my DIYMFA Book Club writing prompt is a question. What is my favorite story type?

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Whether it is the unassuming hero-to-be (“I’m not a wizard, I’m just Harry” – Harry Potter) or the flawed egotist (“I am Iron Man”) I love a story where the hero, whether reluctant or eager, evolves into a stronger, more noble person. Layer over that a fantasy or sci/fi element and I’m hooked.

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy has it all in one epic story. The overall plot is insane, and yet offers a philosophical and psychological analysis of the human race as.

  • Trillian, who leaves earth to find adventure
  • Ford Prefect, who wanders the universe writing guidebook descriptions, and is a hero to Arthur when he saves him from death
  • Arthur Dent, who just wants to be left alone and his house not destroyed by Vagons, but who ultimately comes to understand how the universe works and why earth was created and accepts that it will be destroyed. He does a fair share of hero actions along the waysuperhero

My favorite story type is the epic quest with a flawed hero that grows as we root for them.

Don’t Do That!

Today’s DIYMFA Book Club prompt is about being pointed toward a juicy writing project that I embraced or avoided because of fear.fear potatoesI certainly steered clear of writing itself as a career because of fear. So, in a way, I avoided ALL writing. Eventually my compulsive need to write things out – usually in long hand – overcame my resistance. After all, no one would see it – right?  Call writing a journal, and suddenly you are writing for an audience of one – a safe, known, reader who still judges, but not as harshly as I envisioned everyone else would.

I was discouraged from writing by an uncle who had visions of being an author himself. In fact, he had published several books on Michigan history that were used in classrooms, something I’d love to have. His fictional pursuits were quashed though, and so his bitter advice to me, the year I got a typewriter for Christmas, “Don’t be a writer unless you want to wallpaper your bathroom with rejections.” That settled fear deep in me. He’s already published, and he couldn’t break into fiction.

A teacher in high school eased some of the fear, but in my working life, the need to fend of actual predators (individuals who saw me as a threat to eliminate – thus harming my livelihood) amped up my fear of dong something so risky as writing fiction. It took the fear of losing my job to eventually push me to finish my first novel, to prove to myself I had it in me; and to self-publish and enter it in contests to prove that I could handle criticism. Now I’m searching for an agent to move onward and the inevitable rejections aren’t slowing me down. I think my uncle would be proud, even though I ultimately ignored him.

The Role of Supporting Characters

Today’s DIY MFA Book Club writing prompt centers around supporting characters. The question to ponder is, “What’s your favorite supporting character archetype, and why?” I thought about the novel I’m editing right now. It is rich in characters, and I really had to think about pile of rocks supporting characterswhat role they played. While I’d planned them in using the DIY MFA character archetypes, that was in 2014, and here I am in 2018, editing again. Many revisions later, I was curious if the characters were still true to form. I’m usually good about keeping my notes; but couldn’t find them to compare. That’s okay, if the characters have a role that makes sense, I will have accomplished my goal.

Some background from the DIY MFA program. I know some of my readers are in book clubs, and this information will be useful when discussing books with your groups. Main characters come in several flavors – aka Archetypes: Ordinary Boy/Girl, Larger-than-life, and Misunderstood (the anti-hero).

The novel is a young-adult, underdog, fantasy about an ordinary girl, who finds herself transported through time (I call it riding the chronowave) to a pirate ship in 1720. Prior to time-traveling (or chronowaving), she is a normal high-school student, worried about a history test and annoyed by a boy who is interested in her and doesn’t get the message to leave her alone. Once she’s in 1720, she finds herself thrown into a survival situation where the odds are against her.

characters game pieces

But this blog is about the supporting characters around her. They are: her mom, a tavern owner in 1720, three women she learns are relatives in 1720, a seaman on a submarine in 1720 and 1941, and the boy who likes her in her present time.

Supporting Characters also come in different flavors: Villain, Love Interest, BFF, Mentor, and Fool. The first four are self-explanatory. The Fool character tells it like it is. This character will be the one to keep the main character grounded in truth.  Let’s look then at my supporting cast.

Mom, the tavern owner, and the seaman on the submarine are mentors. They impart wisdom and information to my main character and to the reader. It is through them we learn how the chronowave works, and how it is that my main character finds herself on a German U-Boat in the Caribbean in 1720. Each of these characters imparts a piece of the puzzle which helps the main character navigate her adventure.

The three women are sidekicks. They embody qualities the main character wishes she had. Poise, determination, and an ability to see life clearly. They help her fight the villain and bad-guy (more on them later) and help her develop into the leader she is by the end of the story.

The boy who won’t leave her alone has two roles. First, he is the boy-next-door love interest. He’s there the whole time, but it isn’t until the adventure is complete that the main character realizes what a gem he is. Second, he is a co-conspirator. It is through the struggle to survive and his help to her throughout, that the love interest is fulfilled.

That leaves me with the bad guys. Not content with one bad guy, this story has a scheming villain who wants ultimate power and will destroy our main character hero to get his way.  It also has a more garden variety, day-to-day bad guy, who helps the villain. If you want to get all philosophical about it, the scheming villain represents forces of evil in our world today that work against the better good with an intent that they alone benefit. The day-to-day bad guy represents the apathy, greed, and lack of consideration that pervades much of the world’s society. It isn’t intentional, but in its disinterest, it results in a similar evil.

Do I have a favorite supporting character type? I don’t think so. They each fulfill a role to support the main character. If the story has intrigued you, keep an eye on this blog for news of its publication. But first I must finish editing! Reapplying nose to grindstone………

Your Best Practice is my Worst Nightmare

best practice

As a working engineer, nothing set my teeth on edge more than a huge meeting where best practices were shared. The unstated understanding was that whatever one person shared was a holy grail that would transform the way others managed their project or tasks, and equally implicit was that the rest of the room were dullards for not having thought up the best practice to start with.

Just as every snowflake is different, and every grain of sand unique, each person’s best practice is applicable to them alone. Yes, there is benefit in learning how others approach a similar problem but in the end, each situation calls for a tailored solution.

I rebelled against the best-practice religion in my engineering career, but followed it blindly when I dedicated my time to writing. I listened to those that said — ‘Just write it, you can fix whatever is wrong in the re-write.’ Having come from an industry that values doing it right the first time – the whole notion of a built-in rewrite cycle seemed flawed. But I wrote. I penned a messy, confusing story that four rewrites later is still going through major revision.

While still pecking away at that novel, I wrote a shorter, middle-grade novel, trying a more structured – dare I say engineering-based – approach. True to form, I altered the recommended spreadsheet, but the story came together faster, with less work to do in the rewrite.

I realized that I have an engineers analytical brain, and when I try to deny that, my writing suffered. Once I honored this fact, I felt my writing elevate and storytelling became easier. Best Practice should be re-framed to “here – this worked for me — see if it works for you” — and that I embrace wholeheartedly.

Feeding My Creativity

Today’s DIY MFA book writing prompt is about what feeds creativity. As a “graduate” of the DIYMFA program, and by that, I mean I went through the whole program and keep inspiration boxin the loop through the various Facebook pages and Gabriel’s emails; I have several of the tools she suggested. These include a box with special rocks (rocks talk to me – don’t laugh – I know there are others out there with the same talent), colored paint chips from the hardware store, an envelope full of words randomly cut, and some dice.

My office is also a source of inspiration. I have two quilts my mom made, a stained glass my dad made, photos of friends, photos green soap box licenseI’ve taken, ribbons from my wine making and writing endeavors, my guitar and a music stand, a sip-and-paint picture of flowers that isn’t half-bad, my father’s soap-box, and stacks of books to read.

And with all that, my most creative time is right after I get up. When the sun is just starting to tinge the horizon and the birds are ruffling their feathers after a night of silence. In the stillness of my mind I find heroines, plots, and questions that linger only if I can get them down on paper. Later in the dsunrise san miguelay I’m better at organizing my thoughts, exploring the ideas I’ve scribbled down in my journal. The creative window for new thoughts lasts only about an hour. But the opening they make into my whole creative process is enough to fuel the rest of the day.

Introducing – The Protector! Faster than a misplaced comma…….

Today I took an online quiz to determine my storytelling superpower.

superhero woman

I’m a Protector – my superpower is writing superheroes. My favorite characters see their world in danger and will do whatever it takes to protect it and those they love in it. These characters may not wear spandex and capes, but they show almost superhuman fortitude in their quest to prevent disaster, whatever the cost to themselves. I’m drawn to characters who stand up to the forces of evil and protect what they believe in.

This makes sense, as the book I’m currently editing is about a fifteen-year-old girl who battles pirates and a Nazi U-Boat captain to save the world from evil. She doesn’t wear a cape, she’s a typical freshman in high-school, with a strong sense of adventure and the difference between right and wrong.

So, of course, I dug further to decide what my superhero name would be. There are several websites that will generate a superhero persona for you after answering a few questions. In the interest of science (because as anyone who knows me will tell you – I’m a nerd of several types), I visited several sites. Mashing them all together, I’m Dr. Polygraph/Jupiter Moon/Ghost Surfer.

I had a close encounter with a meteor which left me with the superpower of being a human lie detector. I can instantly tell whether someone is telling me the truth or lying. This way of saying it is politer than how I think of it – bullshit detector.

I am also able to channel and summon the natural forces of any planet or moon. The volcanos of IO, the acid rain of Venus, the sands of Mars are mine to command.

Oh, and I can fly.

Can’t wait to see what my imagination comes up with for a character and plot using this!  What is your superhero – whether it’s a storytelling hero or other?  Take the quiz and share the result here in the comments.

Up, up and awayyyyyy!

 

 

 

 

 

Honoring My Reality

Today’s writing prompt, from Gabriela Pereira and her amazing DIYMFA Book Club, is about balance and honoring reality. Realizing that there is room enough for both things (writing and living) in your life.

balance

True to form, my schedule didn’t allow me time to think or write on this topic until this morning. And I’m allocating an hour to do so, because it’s a beautiful day, there is pruning to do, and I can’t sit in a chair for more than an hour anyway.

As with all difficult topics, I start with the dictionary. My handy, American Heritage Dictionary, which I won in 1975 in a writing contest, has fifteen entries for balance, which include: “3. A stable state characterized by cancellation of all forces by equal opposing forces.  4. A state of bodily equilibrium. 5. A stable mental or psychological state; emotional equilibrium.” And possibly my favorite – “6. A harmonious or satisfying arrangement or proportion of parts or elements, as in a design or composition.”

All the dictionary definitions address the give and take of opposing forces. I’ve found that all forces are not equal, and rarely do they cancel each other out in any reasonable timeframe. Rather, a broader horizon is needed to evaluate balance. In my earlier years, I put writing on the back burner (I had an uncle that actively discouraged me to write, but that’s another blog post), and engage in a financially appropriate career. The scales of my balance beam tipped way to one side and I threw myself into several fields looking for the creative outlet that writing would have provided. All the while I journaled, wrote non-fiction articles, and picked away at a novel. I honored my reality of the time by working hard, dabbling in writing, and dreaming of a time when I could focus on it full time.

Flash forward (although the actual time didn’t flash at all – at times it seemed to crawl as slow as a worm across the sidewalk after a rain). I’m able to focus on writing, but other things have popped up to challenge me. Things I didn’t have while working, like friends, time to exercise, ten acres to take care of, a fledgling agri-business to run. Sometimes I think that I purposely throw barriers in front of myself to draw me away from writing. The truth is far more interesting. Life is what you make of it. I love my friends, learn through my business, and feel better than I ever have. Writing is how I think through things, analyze my actions, dive into my imagination. Everything else I do feeds that beast; gives me ideas, distance, and enthusiasm to write when I do spend the hours in front of my computer.

So, in a way, I can’t relate one incidence of a time when I “honored my reality,” because I do it every day. I call it life.

DIYMFA Book CLub

 

 

Thank You Campbell’s Soup

As much as it feels like I’ve been writing all my life, I didn’t come out of the womb demanding paper and pen to write down a sentence before I lost it. The writing bug didn’t hit until sixth grade, by my memory. My family lived in West Bloomfield, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. At this point I attended Abbott Middle School, notable in the late sixties for not enough class rooms to educate the baby-boom kids. Not so important here in California, where I now live, but in Michigan a trek out to a mobile classroom unit in the winter was miserable.

My teacher, whose name I’ve unfortunately lost, had us cut pictures out of magazines for several months. She’d bring in a wide selection of periodicals and hand them out. We’d page through and cut out any pictures that caught our eye. Without a purpose in sight, we were free to pick anything. The cuttings were carefully stored in a manila folder with our name on the top. It seemed the most pointless thing I’d done in school. Between math, science, and history, cutting out pictures seemed soooo kindergarten.

Warhol Campbell Soup Can

Then one day she handed back our manila folders and told us to pick out one or more of the cuttings, and write a story about it. Now with a defined purpose, my structured mind wished I’d cut out different things. Interesting things, I could clearly see a story inside.

This was 1969. Andy Warhol had been painting Campbell’s soup cans for seven years, and in 1968 the tomato soup can screen print was released, among others. In my cuttings was a large Campbell soup can, whether it was from an ad for Campbell’s or his art I can’t remember. Of all the images, it is the one that struck me the hardest, and the only one I remember now, many years later.

I remember the empty hole in my thoughts that soup can picture created. What kind of story could I come up with that would get me an A? My academic career at that point (and for all of it really) was about getting good grades. The other kids were writing away, and I just sat staring at a picture of a can of soup. I put my pencil on the paper and hoped. As a rule, hope isn’t a strategy, but it worked. Words started to flow out of the pencil. Okay, I know that is a cliché, but that’s how it felt. It still feels that way sometimes when I’m writing and I’m not sure where it’s going. I can close my eyes and let something flow through, call it my muse, the creative force, or good luck. Yes, I edit heavily afterwards, because not all the words are needed, or eloquently state, but at least the idea is there.

In this case, the story that came out would foretell my interest in fantasy and science fiction. I wish I could say I have the story now, but it has been lost to time. What I do remember is that it was a tale of a society of very small people, who lived in a used tomato soup can, in the middle of a field. They rarely ventured out of the soup can because that was “out there” where danger lurked. I can’t walk a modern shopping mall without thinking about this story, as each store looks like a home. Come to think of it, old shopping malls might make great homeless housing. As I grew up, this story became an allegory for me of the narrow ways we tend as humans to view the world. Not realizing that there is a big “there” outside our view, whether it’s another county, country, planet, or metaphysical dimension.

So, I’ve been writing intentionally since eleven. I won’t do the math for you, but that is quite a few years, and I still find joy and frustration in the act. I know that’s what keeps me coming back to it.

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