writing

Returning to the Writing life

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Since last year I have abandoned my writing, my blog, my health, and much of my life. Not due to covid, though that has certainly made life more difficult. I’ve lost my mother and my two younger brothers in the last few months. It’s been a painful time. For me, pain does not inspire creative flow. For some writers it does. But not me.

I envy those writers who write through the storms of life, when I feel like all I can do is try to survive them. If you’re one of those writers, my hat is off to you, I curtsey, I bow, and I’ll even have a nip of scotch in your honor.

When life gets tough I tend not to write. I tend to binge on movies or Netflix and chill. Ozark was great, but while my brothers were sick in December and January, both passing 30 days apart, I binged Longmire, not just because I like the show, but it was their favorite also. We were in need of a hero like Walt Longmire.

Anyway, getting back to my writing life, rediscovering some creative energy is a life-saver. I, we are so lucky, so blessed to have writing as an outlet for our emotions, the good and the bad.

Since I hadn’t looked at my WIP (work in progress) in a good long time, I needed to review my notes and writing tools, to get back in the saddle, in Longmire speak.

After rereading my premise (a vital #writers tool) I started my rewrite. Below is from David Corbett’s book The Art of Character—another vital writer’s craft guide.

This premise example from The Hunger Games is great.

I’m back on track with my writing life now and it feels great. I still may watch the series, Longmire again, for the 4th time, just because it reminds me of my brothers. They’d like that. But meanwhile, I’m writing again, walking again, living again after holding my breath (so to speak) for over a year.

Wound, Fatal, or Tragic Flaw?

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Interesting fiction (and real) characters have flaws, big messy self-sabotaging flaws that make them fascinating. Perfect characters seldom hold a reader’s attention.

But what’s the difference between a wound, a fatal flaw and tragic flaw?

It’s your job as the author to identify the backstory event you can define as “the wound.”

Painful events change a person. Locating a single backstory moment can help you better understand the root of your character’s psychological damage, their WOUND and why, as a result, they question their self-worth, or the world around them. This will also help you pinpoint the lie they believe and that they must overcome in order to become healthy and whole, fortifying them so they can achieve their goals.

And contained in every wound is a toxic lie. Psychological wounds are more than just painful memories.
Buried deep Inside each wound is a kernel of doubt. For example; How many adult children of divorce have wondered, Was it somehow my fault? Was I culpable? Am I unlovable?
This doubt grows (as the child does), eroding their sense of self.

“The term FLAW refers to the character’s weakness,” “the deep-rooted center of a character that makes him vulnerable to emotional attacks and the story’s forces of antagonism,” says Jim Mercurio (screenwriter) . “If its severity will destroy the character, then it is considered a tragic flaw.” “A flaw or weakness that does not rise to the level of tragic will challenge a character, but she will ultimately overcome it . . . by what is called a character arc.”     http://www.jamespmercurio.com/

The last half of that quote says it all; if the character is ultimately destroyed by his flaw, then it’s tragic, like a Macbeth or The Talented Mr. Ripley–Mr. Ripley, the MOVIE, not the book. If not, then it’s a fatal flaw conquered so the character can move on and succeed at their goals, like Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games ). Major character flaws come from life-changing events that impacted the character. For example, Katniss Everdeen has a fatal flaw of valuing others (beginning with her sister) and putting herself last. She does this numerous times, especially with Peeta. This major flaw in her character nearly gets her killed several times. She must overcome it to survive. And so she does. Her character arc is in overcoming her fatal flaw and not letting it destroy her.

If you’re writing a character with a change arc (like Katniss), it’s vital to know their fatal flaw so you can get them to the point of dealing with it head on. This is equally as significant in a failed arc, but instead of overcoming the fatal flaw, the character will succumb to it, resigning themselves to a tragic ending, like Macbeth, or Tom Ripley (Talented Mr. Ripley).

Tom Ripley is afraid. He believes a lie, that he is a worthless nobody (likely a childhood wound). He desperately wants to belong. He wants to be hip, cultured, cool, and heterosexual. Everything he isn’t. 

As a man existing deep in the closet Tom’s entire life and identity is a lie. Like all homosexual men of the 1950s Tom takes on a dual life, one that is his day-to-day and the other another version of himself, one that he would like to be, and one that he’s willing to commit murder for in order to maintain.

Unlike the book, in the movie, when Tom kills Peter he kills himself, smothers the life out of his very soul. With Peter, the only one who ever loved him, tom had happiness, held it in his arms, touched its warmth against his skin … and then snuffed it out. Because he was afraid, afraid to be found out, to be found an impersonator, a liar, a manipulator, to be un-cool, un-hip, unworthy, totally worthless. All the things, the lies he believed. His tragic flaw won.

What is your character’s wound, or fatal flaw? Does that fatal flaw cross a boundary of no return and win?

If you like it, TWEET it out! Thanks, Mindy

The Timeless Poetry of Song

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We all have a song that when we hear the first notes, we either jump to the dance floor, or (if there’s no dance floor available) our eyes close, our pulse calms or races. Or we turn up the radio and dance in the kitchen because we recognize it like a long-lost lover who still tickles our fancy and sings poetry to our soul. Or maybe that’s just me ….

For me, that song that makes time stand still was, is and always will be, Marvin Marvin’s What’s Going On. This was a song of my youth. His questions and yearnings were mine and (I believed then) belonged to our generation. Sadly, it is still a relevant requiem to a blind world.

Marvin Gaye wrote, fought for, and performed his now legendary song, What’s Going On, as a protest song. He was warned by Motown to not address social issues in his music. And every other music professional told him that he might ruin his career by doing such a song. Thankfully (for all of us) he persisted, because to Marvin it was personal.

1970 was a difficult, and emotional time for Marvin. His brother Frankie returned from Vietnam with teary-eyed tales of horror that moved Marvin to want to act. And in the spring, his much-loved duet collaborator Tammi Terrell died after struggling with a brain tumor.

While he was contemplating his loss and how to move forward, a song dropped into his lap that presented a conduit for all his sorrow and frustration.

Originally, the concept for What’s Going On came from Obie Benson, of the Four Tops, when he was in San Francisco in 1969. Marvin added the emotive lyrics, some ghetto spice, his sorrow, and pain born of his recent experiences and his concern for the war and the world, culminating in a poignant ode to his times.

Marvin continued to run into roadblocks trying to get his song to the airwaves, being turned down by all the singers and bands he knew because they didn’t want to take the risk with such a song. Finally, he had to sing it himself. Again, lucky us.

Marvin once said, “To be truly righteous, you offer love with a pure heart, without regard for what you’ll get in return. I had myself in that frame of mind. People were confused and needed reassurance. God was offering that reassurance through his music. I was privileged to be the instrument.”

I think of his words as poetry, and since it’s Marvin’s birthday month and poetry month, I offer them up. And please give his song a listen on You Tube.

What song tickles your spirit? Share it with me.

Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, yeah Father, father
We don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me
So you can see
Oh, what’s going on (What’s going on)
What’s going on (What’s going on)
What’s going on (What’s going on)
What’s going on (What’s going on)Right on, baby
Right on, baby
Right on Mother, mother
Everybody thinks we’re wrong
Oh, but who are they to judge us
Simply ’cause our hair is long
Oh, you know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some understanding here today Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Come on talk to me
So you can see
What’s going on (What’s going on)
Yeah, what’s going on (What’s going on)
Tell me what’s going on (What’s going on)
I’ll tell you, what’s going on (What’s going on) Right on, baby, right on
Right on, baby
Right on, baby, right on

Songwriters: Gaye Marvin P / Benson Renaldo Obie / Cleveland Alfred W

Ode to #Marvingaye

The Times They Are A Changin’

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Words are powerful.

Bob Dylan, and other folk music prophets wrote/write what the eye of a seeker sees and what a hungry soul feels. Songs, poetry and all great stories are prophetic and deeply moving when they echo the past or are in tune with the times. It just feels like a great day to share Bob Dylan’s words in the midst of these changing times….

The Times They Are A Changing

Song by Bob Dylan & The Band Lyrics (you can read, and then listen below)

Come gather ’round, people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
And you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
The battle outside ragin’
Will soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

Source: LyricFindSongwriters: Bob Dylan

The FIVE Senses Bring Stories to Life

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I can feel my writing student’s collective eye roll as I write this; “Show don’t’ tell, do a run through for passive writing. Mind your ‘ing and ly’ words. Where’s the smell, there are no smells in this scene.” And so on….

No matter what kind of story you are writing, memoir, short story, or novel, it’s vital to engage a reader’s senses. Precise and concrete details are essential to effective storytelling. The best way to achieve this is by appealing to the reader’s FIVE senses—smell, sight, sound, touch and taste—to FULLY illustrate a scene.

Trust me, if your character walks into a bar, takes the garbage out, goes fishing, is out nightclubbing or stumbles upon a dead body at sunrise, there is a provocative smell. That smell will bring the scene to life (or death) whichever….

A dead body at sunrise might have a sight that would be more seductive than a smell; it’s up to you the author to decide which of the senses best suits the suggestive nature of your scene.  Use the strongest description sense for your specific scene. In one scene, smell might be the most evocative sense to go with, in another, sound, or sight, or touch.

I have a heightened sense of smell, so for me smells are powerful. I still recall my pinched face when I read author of Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk’s description of someone’s breath, “smelled like a burp after you’ve ate pork sausage for breakfast.” That still grosses me out. Palahniuk’s common use of words that summon olfactory responses is a perfect example of showing and not telling.

And if you’re story takes place prior to modern sewer systems you have all the many stenches of humanity—before regular bathing and with piss buckets on every corner—from which to draw. If your story is in New York or Beverly Hills, the smell of perfume can help a character sum up the financial worth of a woman—or a man—or lack thereof.

And who can forget, Apocalypse Now, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

Smells can be story gateways; the smell of coffee may take them back to a fond memory, or the taste of ice cream may take them back to a nightmare.

Revealing your story through the senses helps the reader to not just read, but to experience your story on multiple levels. Can you recall a particular story for it’s use of the senses?

Take a pen and paper and (if you’re not on quarantine) go sit in a coffee shop or café (wear a mask) and write down the smells, sights, sounds, touch and taste of that environment. No story, just details. Do any details, like the above-mentioned smell of coffee, take you back to a memory. Write that memory. Keep that list of details for when you write scenes that may need to be brought to life.  

For a complete list of words to use to describe smell, visit this site, https://www.writerswrite.co.za/75-words-that-describe-smells/

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