fiction writing

What Inspires a Story?

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I often am asked what #inspired my #awardwinning #shortstory on #Writersdigest? It’s complicated, but the short answer is it was a neighbor from my childhood. Her son was mentally disabled: sometimes when he tried to play with us, he accidentally hurt us; a broken arm, a bruised rib cage, a bloodied nose. He was 16 with the mind of a 4 year old and the strength of a line-backer. We were all under 10 years old. It was the early 1960s, people used the ugly word “retard” and mocked and teased him. But he wanted so desperately to be friends, so we played with him. He reminded me of #BooRadley #tokillamockingbird…I’ve never forgotten him. You can #read my tragic #story here on #WritersDigest where it won a #fiction contest.

Sometimes inspiration comes from the littlest, most insignificant things, like an image or a smell. I saw a man sitting in a boat on a lake once, he was slumped, holding his hat in his hands. I knew instinctively he was grieving. I felt it in my bones. It inspired a scene in my novel, Return to Sender, where the protagonist, Theo, sees the father of a young girl who was found murdered, sitting in a boat in the middle of the river. I wrote him exactly as I saw that man in the boat.

Return to Sender was initially inspired by a box of letters, love letters from during the Korean War that I found in my attic sixty years after the war.

I take notes on everything that tugs at my heart, my curiosity, or my sense of justice, or injustice. I save them and use them as story world material. There’s something new everyday, either from my daily beach walk or something I saw on tv. I never know where inspiration will be found, but I do know where to go when in search of, and for me that’s an art museum—where one of my greatest joys in life is to sit on a bench in the presence of great art, and write, whether it’s the Portland Art Museum, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum or the Louvre’ in Paris, that’s as good as it gets when seeking inspiration.

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.  

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.

J.K. Rowlings Inspires Writers – 20 Bits of Writerly Advice

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“The wonderful thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting.
The terrifying thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting.” J.K. Rowling

I just returned from a whirlwind trip through Scotland. Our last stay was the Balmoral Hotel, one of Edinburgh’s most luxurious hotels, where J.K. Rowling finished her final book in the Harry Potter series. Devoted, and wealthy fans pay almost £1,000 a night to stay in the room, which contains the marble bust she signed after completing her last HP book.

All the doors on the 5th floor were white, except one. My room was 5 doors down from the now famous ‘purple door’ that is room 552, and has the famous ‘J.K. Rowling Suite’ brass plaque, and where just behind that enchanted door, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was completed.

One night, while heading downstairs to meet my brother for dinner I heard a group of people chuckling, shivering, and twittering while taking pictures. Though they were all in their 40s, they stood, posed, and giggled as if 12-years old on the precipice of the purple door with the JK Rowling brass plaque. I offered to take a group shot. They posed like they were excited teens on graduation day. Then, over the next few days I noticed groups getting off the elevator in search of the famous door. “Our tour guide told us where to go.” One man said. I pointed the way. He was kind enough to take this kid’s picture by the purple door. 🙂

Great, I thought, strangers are coming in to take pictures, and I’m just a couple doors down. That didn’t make me feel terrible safe, until I realized all these touristy HP fans were reduced to giggling children in the presence of that door. I smiled every time I saw a group of them exit the elevator, fresh out of the rain, down coats zipped, but cameras ready. What a gift JK Rowling’s novels have given to kids of all ages.

National Novel writing month (NANOWRIMO) is next month, November. Now back in the states, I’m due to give a talk next week in preparation for that upcoming 30-day writing challenge. I’ll talk about creating the habit of writing, possibly plugging into the NANOWRIMO community and how to overcome obstacles on the path to completing their writing projects. JK ROWLING is a great, if not the golden example of a person, a writer, who can make it through anything – single motherhood, depression, financial difficulties and rejection upon rejection from the publishing world – who persevered and went on to publish one of the most popular series of all time.

We all want to write a bestseller (right?), so – being fresh off a 10-hour flight home from Scotland – it seems an opportune time to review a bit of J.K. Rowling’s quotes and sage advice to writers.

  1. J.K. Rowling said: “What you write becomes who you are… So make sure you love what you write!” One of the reasons the Harry Potter books are so infectious is because the reader absorbs and is transported by her sheer delight and love of the world she created – and all the characters in them. If you’re passionate about how and what you write, you’ll entice readers into your fantasy world. So write your passion. Readers will follow.
  2. “Be ruthless about protecting writing days. Do not cave in to endless requests to have “essential” and “long overdue” meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance. I must therefore guard the time allotted to writing as a Hungarian Horntail guards its firstborn egg.”
  3. “You’ve got to work. It’s about structure. It’s about discipline. It’s all these deadly things that your school teacher told you you needed… You need it.”
  4. “I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.”
  5. “Write what you know: your own interests, feelings, beliefs, friends, family and even pets will be your raw materials when you start writing. Develop a fondness for solitude if you can, because writing is one of the loneliest professions in the world!”
  6. “Write something that a publisher would want to publish (it only takes one, but it might take a while to find them. If you are turned down by every single publisher in existence, you will have to consider the possibility that what you have written is not publishable). Next, you need to approach the publisher, either directly, or (which is advisable if you can manage it) by securing an agent who will act on your behalf. The best way to find agents’ and publishers’ addresses is to consult ‘The Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook’, which is updated every year (Double-check that you are writing to the right person/people; don’t, for example, send science fiction to a publisher of medical textbooks). Wait. Pray. This is the way Harry Potter got published.”
  7. “Sometimes you have to get your writing done in spare moments here and there.”
  8. “I always advise children who ask me for tips on being a writer to read as much as they possibly can. Jane Austen gave a young friend the same advice, so I’m in good company there.”
  9. “Perseverance is absolutely essential, not just to produce all those words, but to survive rejection and criticism.”
  10. “What you write becomes who you are… So make sure you love what you write!”
  11. “All a writer needs is talent & ink.”
  12. “Failure is inevitable — make it a strength.”
  13. “You have to resign yourself to the fact that you waste a lot of trees before you write anything you really like, and that’s just the way it is. It’s like learning an instrument, you’ve got to be prepared for hitting wrong notes occasionally, or quite a lot, cause I wrote an awful lot before I wrote anything I was really happy with.”
  14. “I just write what I wanted to write. I write what amuses me. It’s totally for myself.”
  15. “Moments of pure inspiration are glorious, but most of a writer’s life is, to adapt the old cliché, about perspiration rather than inspiration. Sometimes you have to write even when the muse isn’t cooperating.”
  16. From JK Rowling’s twitter; “I plan a lot. This particular novel’s plan comprises a vast, complicated, colour-coded table showing all the suspects, with blue ink for clues and red ink for red herrings.” After J.K. Rowling finished the first book in the Harry Potter series, she realised she’d given away the whole plot of the series. So she had to rewrite it, and hold back a number of integral plot points.

Planning and plotting are essential. It took five years for her to create and develop every last detail of the Harry Potter world. Every part of Rowling’s books was planned, right down to how the Wizards and Muggles interacted, what the education was like, how magic helped in life and how the wizarding world was governed. She also plotted out all the events of the seven books before she wrote the first.

  1. Rewriting is equally essential. She rewrote the opening chapter of her first book a total of fifteen times.
  2. “Fear of failure is the saddest reason on earth not to do what you were meant to do. I finally found the courage to start submitting my first book to agents and publishers at a time when I felt a conspicuous failure. Only then did I decide that I was going to try this one thing that I always suspected I could do, and, if it didn’t work out, well, I’d faced worse and survived.

Ultimately, wouldn’t you rather be the person who actually finished the project you’re dreaming about, rather than the one who talks about ‘always having wanted to’?” J.K. Rowling’s website.

  1. “Resisting the pressure to think you have to follow all the Top Ten Tips religiously, which these days take the form not just of online lists, but of entire books promising to tell you how to write a bestseller/what you MUST do to be published/how to make a million dollars from writing.

I often recommend a website called Writer Beware (https://accrispin.blogspot.com) to new and aspiring writers. It’s a fantastic resource for anyone who’s trying to decide what might be useful, what’s worth paying for and what should be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately, there are all kinds of scams out there that didn’t exist when I started out, especially online.” J.K. Rowling’s website.

  1. And finally, from J.K. Rowling’s website; “Ultimately, in writing as in life, your job is to do the best you can, improving your own inherent limitations where possible, learning as much as you can and accepting that perfect works of art are only slightly less rare than perfect human beings. I’ve often taken comfort from Robert Benchley’s words: ‘It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up, because by that time I was too famous.’”

Keep writing, aim high no matter the odds, and if you need a nudge check out the NANOWRIMO community.  Cheers, Mindy

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