Dedicated to My Writers Group

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Did you know the first writer’s group was started in 400 BC. Yeppers, The Socrates School was a group of thinkers; Socrates and his students who pondered the weighty questions of life and contributed vastly to Western philosophy and ethics through their writings. It’s nice to know we writer’s groups have such deep, inspirational roots.

However, today’s writing groups need to rethink and reimagine how to function in the face of the CoronaVirus2020 outbreak. I‘ve had to re-examine why, and IF I want to continue to facilitate a writer’s group in a new format, online. I’ve never been a fan of online classes and workshops for myself, but necessity requires change; must move with the times, and all that.

Initially, I felt a loss for the social interaction of my weekly meeting. As I’m sure many do. I enjoyed seeing my group (20 plus writers) as they entered the classroom, talking about their projects, their personal journeys and just chatting with like minded creatives. I loved the energy in the room. I also observed on their faces that often, those two hours on Thursdays were a reprieve from everyday life. There is great power in being part of a group, finding your tribe so to speak, and I miss that. It’s hard to grasp that our safe place is now a potentially dangerous one, but it is what it is. Grandma always said, “This too shall pass” and it’s true.  At some point we’ll meet in groups again. For now, and the next 60-90 days, we need to return to why we sought and or belong to a writing group in the first place.

Afterall, what is a writing group? A writing group is a tribe of like-minded people who come together in pursuit of the art or craft of writing. Or, in Socrates case, to provide the foundation of Western civilization.

In moving our group online (as I’m certain Socrates would have done) I’ve reexamined what I can provide, or not, in that new setting. For me, what I can bring to the table (or the microphone) is craft and critique. Those are my focuses, because these two subjects/practices have always improved my own writing. So, on with it then.

The first rule of a writer’s group is like that famous line author, Chuck Palahniuk introduced in his novel Fight Club, “The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.”   That line is a wonderful chorus throughout the book, as well as a plot/structural device for the story. But no words in recent history have been parroted more often. That refrain was so powerful and ultimately popular that it’s now considered cliché. But clichés get a bad rap. Despite the golden rule in writing, of avoiding clichés (like the plague, HA!), it’s important to remember that popular phrases become cliché because they work. They are powerful, become popular, and are oft repeated. So, the challenge to writers is to create our own compelling phrases so we too, can write what ultimately becomes a cliché.

I know, I know, that was a writing lesson buried in a seemingly unrelated article. But hey, it’s all relative. Back to writing groups: EVERYTHING that is read, said, or critiqued in writing group, stays in writing group. TRUST is the first pillar of any successful joint endeavor.

Additionally a successful group starts with a shared vision. For example;

  • To focus on the craft of writing, irrespective of genre.
  • To offer one another thoughtful critiques and support.
  • To encourage each other to share stories.
  • To provide a weekly deadline so members will be inspired to put pen to paper (or fingers to pad) and write
  • To become stronger writers through becoming better editors.
  • To give feedback as we work on rough drafts of our memoirs, short stories, and novels.

While awaiting our live regrouping, we can do all these things online. And maybe right now, with all the stress we’re facing we can again provide a reprieve from everyday life.

However, if your reasons for being in a writing group are more social than educational–which is totally fine–online may not be satisfying for you as it is near impossible to have much socializing going on while reviewing work. So, in addition to what can be addressed in a writers’ group, it’s important to look at your reasons/goals for being there.

What are your writing goals? What do you hope to achieve? Given your objectives, reflect on why you want to participate in a writing group. Most people have several reasons for seeking a group. Here are some examples:

  • Learn writing tips and enhance craft skills
  • Get more feedback on work
  • Desire for deadlines (forces them to write)
  • Become a better writer/editor
  • Belong to a group of writing contemporaries
  • Share support, motivation, and encouragement to share stories
  • Share a passion for writing
  • And so on . . . .

If the online group you are considering has goals that are in alignment with yours, then go for it. If they do not, then take the next couple months to write. Who knows, you may birth a manuscript if you embrace this as a time of seclusion and self-reflection. What’s most important is that you keep your writing life alive during this challenging time and that you do that in whatever way suits you best. Just keep writing and look forward to the sunny days when we can get together in person and talk about writing and the writer’s life.

The New Normal—-UGH! Social Distancing

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I made my husband strip down on the back porch. That’s right, I greeted him after a grocery store run and made him change clothes right there in the carport. While he did that, I disinfected the groceries on the back porch (in rubber gloves, of course). . . As a person with a challenged immune system, I am as stressed out (angry, frustrated, scared) as the next person about this coronavirus situation. I’m doing EVERYTHING possible to socially distance myself to the point of self quarantining since it all started and denying my poor puppy her fun days at her camp—she’s SO bored.

I haven’t left my house in since last Monday. And I sterilize, wash my hands until my skin is raw, and sneeze into my elbow. The last 2 weeks I have had a cold and probably a sinus infection, which is not uncommon for me, but it’s been scary. With every sneeze, ache, or pain I’ve wondered, is it the coronavirus?

As a writer, I don’t respond well to stress; I shut down. I can’t create when stressed, and I tend to not want to write about what’s stressing me out, so instead I binge. Not just on potato chips, but also on tv series; this week it’s The Indian Doctor and The Witcher (for the 2nd time). I take notes on stories or characters to be used later when I do feel like writing. I watch with a tablet and a pen, and frequently pause the program so I can make notes. That’s as good as it gets when I’m stressed. Otherwise, I’m looking forward to feeling good enough to go walk my dog, do some yoga, start destressing and figuring out what the new normal is going to be. I can’t imagine what the retirement account I worked, saved and invested in all my life, looks like right now. But, I can’t do anything about that right now; it is what it is.

Folks, we’re in this coronavirus chaos for a long time. The new normal will be very different from what normal was 10 days ago and everyone needs to grasp that FACT.

I liken it to the first time I was diagnosed with cancer; everything that came after a short 15 minutes in my doctor’s office, looked, felt, and would always be different, because I was different. I was awakened and transformed. Awakened to the possibilities of the life I still had, and whatever time was left, and transformed in the way one is when they’ve seen something they can’t unsee, or experienced something—a death, a broken heart, a tragic car accident, an illness—and now at the edge of that knowledge, they are a different person, awakened and transformed–there’s no going back.

Therefore, as a country, it’s time for the US (and the global community) to wake up, take care of one another, and be prepared for next time; be smarter, awakened to the possibility of new viruses, the need for supplies, cooperation, and humanity.

WE WILL BE DIFFERENT NOW. Nothing will go back to normal. For those of you who are saying things like, “it’s not my problem,” or “it’s not fair” or “it doesn’t affect me”, it’s time for you to grow up. YOU and everything you know is already changed; the only real question is, who will you be in the face of this transformation; your worst, or your best self? Let’s hope for the latter.

If you are a writer you can choose to use your voice to spread the word that this is real, this is DANGEROUS and we are all in it together. If you can, help the elderly get the supplies they need, if you have a sewing machine then make hospital masks, if you can give blood give blood. If you have a platform on twitter, Instagram and Facebook then encourage social distancing.

Lastly, vote for politicians who have the ability and can and will take care of us. And either demand resignation or vote OUT the morally bankrupt senators profiting from the coronavirus.

Otherwise, STAY HOME, STAY HOME STAY HOME, STAY HOME STAY HOME, STAY HOME STAY HOME, STAY HOME STAY HOME, STAY HOME STAY HOME, STAY HOME STAY HOME, STAY HOME STAY HOME, STAY HOME

What Is a Call to Adventure/Action?

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A hero (protagonist) is presented with a problem, challenge, or adventure to undertake. Once this happens, there’s no returning to normal, no lounging in her ordinary world, because the CTA (call to adventure/action) has upset that applecart…she must act. Remember, a story is about a character doing something.

A CTA can be as subtle as a letter arriving, or the death or illness of a family member that forces the protag to return home. How many stories have we read/seen about a reluctant protag turning home? Why, because they tap into universal themes that resonate with audiences of all genres and all demographics.

Examples of over the top, life altering death defying CTA’s are;

In the Hunger Games when Katniss Everdeen volunteers for the 74th Hunger Games in place of her 12-year-old sister. It’s the call to action that sets the story in motion. Primary Theme; Survival.

In Breaking Bad it’s when Walter White gets the news that he’s dying. He doesn’t tell his family, but instead goes on a unique journey to ensure his family’s financial security. Themes; Begins on Survival, and the importance of family themes, then graduates to sin, regret and envy, and the corrupting influence of greed and power.

Count of Monte Cristo, when Edmond Dante is unjustly imprisoned and his desire for revenge drives him to escape and retaliate. Themes are a delicate balance between, vengeance and forgiveness, power and powerlessness. These universal themes are why that story has been told and retold since Alexandre Dumas wrote it in 1844.

So, in your story, can you identify your call to action? Does a letter arrive? Does your protagonist have to return home? Does your protagonist have to volunteer for something in order to save someone else? Was your protagonist just given a death sentence? How can you use that CTA to develop character and set your plot in motion?….Without a call to action, what’s the point?

REMEMBER, there are twelve stages to the Hero’s Journey, The Call to Adventure is only one.

There are twelve steps to the hero’s journey. According to the Oracle Education Foundation Library, those steps are as follows.

  1. Ordinary World: This step refers to the hero’s normal life at the start of the story, before the adventure begins.
  2. Call to Adventure: The hero is faced with something that makes him begin his adventure. This might be a problem or a challenge he needs to overcome.
  3. Refusal of the Call: The hero attempts to refuse the adventure because he is afraid.
  4. Meeting with the Mentor: The hero encounters someone who can give him advice and ready him for the journey ahead.
  5. Crossing the First Threshold: The hero leaves his ordinary world for the first time and crosses the threshold into adventure.
  6. Tests, Allies, Enemies: The hero learns the rules of his new world. During this time, he endures tests of strength of will, meets friends, and comes face to face with foes.
  7. Approach: Setbacks occur, sometimes causing the hero to try a new approach or adopt new ideas.
  8. Ordeal: The hero experiences a major hurdle or obstacle, such as a life or death crisis.
  9. Reward: After surviving death, the hero earns his reward or accomplishes his goal.
  10. The Road Back: The hero begins his journey back to his ordinary life.
  11. Resurrection Hero – The hero faces a final test where everything is at stake and he must use everything he has learned.
  12. Return with Elixir: The hero brings his knowledge or the “elixir” back to the ordinary world, where he applies it to help all who remain there. 


Consider writing a 500 word narrative of the scene where your character receives their call to action/adventure.  

Structuring Short Stories

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Regardless whether you’re a Plantser (an Outliner) or a Pantser (one who writes by the seat of their pants)—I’m a combo, a PLAN-ANTSER…HA! Did I just coin a term?—Anyway, no matter how you approach your short (or long) story, I recommend a basic story structure, like the classic, 3-Act. Aristotle wrote that a tragedy, (a type of plot) should be divided into parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. He also believed that the events of the 3-part-plot must somehow relate to one another as being either necessary or credible. And so, we have the 3-Act-Structure.

Click this image to see it on the original site at NowNovel.

The 3-Act Story Structure (Thank you Aristotle)

TIP: Before you design your structure consider first, what is the profound change you want your character to experience by the end? Why? Because the answer to that question should fuel your story through all 3-acts, delivering theme, character arc, and a satisfying resolution.

Act 1: BEGINNING – Set up. Introduce your characters; establish the story world, theme and tone. Here, your protagonist should be called to action, due to some sort of crisis point (inciting incident) that shakes up their ordinary world and launches them into a new one.

Act 2: MIDDLE – Conflict. Avoid saggy middles by plunging the protagonist and allies deeper into even more difficulties and obstacles. Often things get worse and they need to re-group and get back on their feet, before things can get better.

Act 3: END – Resolution. This is where your main character(s) figures things out, and actually develops the courage, or a plan to face their demons, slay their dragons, and solve their problems. As a writer, you should always write towards a satisfying ending. That’s why I started with the TIP of knowing what you want your character to experience, their ARC, by the story’s end.

This is a typical story structure is a good starting point if you want to write short stories. I also do this for novel length stories as well. Smart guy, that Aristotle, he sure knew what he was talking about.

And here’s a little you tube (6 minutes) with additional ideas on structuring short stories, starting with Anne Lamont’s acronym ABDCE 

Short Stories and the CoronaVirus

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Hey Scribes! This video is for you. So sorry we had to cancel our weekly Edmonds writing group today, but we don’t have any protocol or real understanding of the Coronavirus just yet, so, an abundance of caution seemed to be wise. ANYWAY, on to what we were going to cover today; #Shortstories. In this clip that I made in my cozy nook at home, I’ve read a couple examples of the beginning of short stories for things to ponder as you imagine your own. We’ll dig in next week. Meanwhile the stories I’ve chosen as my examples today are Lauren Groff’s Delicate Edible Birds, and Jo Ann Beard’s, The Tomb of Wrestling. I love them both.

SO, hopefully my short message will keep you in the writing groove because next week we’re going to start looking at short stories. And in case you are wondering, a short story is; Traditional, 1500-5000 wds — Flash Fiction, 500-1000 wds — Micro Fiction, 5-350 wds                                                                                                                                                        Remember,

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Maybe by Hemingway, but nobody is sure. 

Anyway, here’s my video, it’s about 10 minutes.

 

 

Rebellious Female Characters

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Harvey Weinstein is GUILTY!!! Duh! But YEY!

Beyond the Hero’s Journey, there’s no denying it, rebellious female characters—from Katniss Everdeen to Olive Kitteridge—dominate literary fiction.

Following the countless cases of male victimization and sexual harassment in the headlines lately, it seems that fictional heroines reflect a mood of defiance with the world that men have programmed and ruled. There’s a new movement of modern-day heroines who are damaged, flawed or even unapologetically ridiculous. Some who still seek romance, sure, but others who just as self-assuredly seek a one-night stand with or without a man.  And while she may change in the progression of the story, divulging strengths and tactics that astonish us, a woman’s conformity is no longer required.

Carl Jung’s archetypes are the building blocks of the story world. In Chris Vogler’s book, The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, he teaches about the vital use of archetypes in storytelling; the hero, the mentor, the threshold guardian and so on….

Beyond those central standards are the 8 FEMALE ARCHETYPES writers should be paying close attention to.

According to Jungian psychologists, there are 7 feminine archetypes prevailing in modern society—the Mother, the Maiden, the Queen, the Huntress, the Wise Woman, the Mystic and the Lover, to which I add, the emergent, Mermaid.

The Mermaid Archetype is emerging in today’s troubled world. This seductive, wild, Mermaid represents the feminine power of water—strong, loving, nurturing, self-indulgent and gorgeous, yet at the same time untamable, belligerent and outrageously independent—picture Aquaman’s mermaid mother, played by Nicole Kidman. She is a shapeshifter, a turbulent temptress, representative of both the loving abundant features of the ocean and the raw immense power of the seas and its undercurrents. Love and adore her, yes, but don’t piss her off!

These newly resurrected and empowered archetypes are used in modern day literature, on screen, and they now permeate society far beyond the secret whisperings of Jane Austen, to the anger of Lizbeth Salander, to the controlled madness of Gone Girl, and the literal Mermaid in Aquaman.

Archetypes have a language all their own. In the DNA of that unspoken language we often find the words and images essential for communicating our (personal and fictional) otherwise indescribable inner worlds (thoughts and feelings). Inner and outer continuously seek one another, and it is the sacred labor of the writer (or artist) to bring the two into artistic relationship; to reach deep into the hearts and minds of readers and provoke a rich and enlightening story experience.

Writers should be having fun with these emerging archetypes and should be delving DEEP into their imaginations to tap these mythic like women, Amazons or Mystics, for the multi-layered storytelling of which the world hungers.

Oh, and did I mention, Harvey Weinstein is GUILTY!!!

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The Seven Dwarves of Writing – Silencing The Shadow-Self

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Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, suggests that when we write our morning (or mourning) pages we should think of it as taking our shadow-self out for coffee. I love that!

 

We must get all the cantankerous, crabby, complaining stuff out in order to clear the path for what’s to come.

As a fiction writer, I find this to be an invaluable tool. Often it’s tough to get my brain to stop obsessing about the day; my grocery list, meetings, phone calls, arguments, what time does my husband get home, and for goodness sakes I need to call my mom, and etc.…the day at hand. I need to get through those twenty-foot reeds to get to the creative side of my brain, and sometimes I just can’t get through them on my own.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                That’s where the morning pages come in. Writing LONGHAND, which means no typing, gives you access to your subconscious mind in a way that does not happen when using a computer. In addition, it’s good for your brain, science says so. Don’t believe me, read this Forbes article.

I like to think of my shadow self as the seven dwarfs; Grumpy, Dopey, Doc, Happy, Bashful, Sneezy and Sleepy.

The seven dwarfs symbolize different aspects of our self (dark and light sides).

Happy embraces the universe from a delighted state of mind and emotions.

Sneezy repels or banishes anything unwholesome that comes from the world.

Bashful helps us return to our secluded cosmos, giving us respite from the world.

Grumpy is the part of us that struggles against light.

Doc leads the parade in whining and complaining. Doc is the intellectual side that keeps us in touch with spiteful reality.

Sleepy is the turn-the-power-off apparatus within us, enabling us to take a break from chaos, to shut down when we need time alone.

Then there’s Dopey who embodies our naïve, innocent nature wonderfully unaware of the perils whirling around us.

Once I’ve written my way through those disruptive dwarfs, and they are all down for their nap, I start my writing journey and when I’m lucky I often arrive on Snow White’s doorstep—my inner writer.

Snow White symbolizes the purity and innocence that exists within us all. She beautifies the scenery of our mind, our thoughts, and feelings. She echoes our innermost radiance and reveals our most imaginative intelligence.

From this safe creative space—dwarves hushed—I can create.

And once I’ve started creating, I delve deeper into the stories I’m trying to tell. It’s only then, when the dwarfs are quiet, and Snow White is safe, that I can access my even darker self and craft an antagonist, aspiring to one like Snow White’s Queen.

The Queen—Snow White’s antagonist—represents our inner demons, the untamed ego, greed and the desire of self-gratifying pursuits. The Queen is the false (image) of self—the truest representation of a shadow-self.

Anyway, for me to arrive at a place where I can write a protagonist and an antagonist worth exploring, I need to silence the voices inside my head—That’s tongue-in-cheek, people. I do not really hear voices in my head. Just workin’ an analogy here—That means those annoying dwarves must take a nap. They have to behave, be quiet, and let me write.

 

Therefore, I allow them to have their say first, like toddlers; once I’ve listened to their wants, needs and complaints, they can go down for nap. QUIET TIME!

 

Moreover, for me, one way to achieve that goal is through morning pages, afternoon pages, writing in my car, or maybe sitting in a cafe in Florence writing my morning pages while my husband climbs the Duomo.

Keep writing everyone. Silence those dwarves, but let them play on occasion.