Thursday, December 30, 2010

Be It Resolved That . . .

I make New Year’s resolutions every year. Not many. Usually two or three—things like: read more, walk more, give back more. I usually do well with my resolutions. I don’t make them too big, or too dependent on money. I make what I call “gentle resolutions.” The success I have with them feels good and compels me to make new resolutions each year.

But this post isn’t about my resolutions or yours either; it’s about the writing. More specifically, it’s about our characters and what they’ve resolved to do or not do.

I looked up the word resolution and found the meaning: a firm determination. I believe that it’s the firm determinations of our characters, and the challenges to those determinations, that create the most compelling fiction. For an illustrative example, I offer Pookie, a character from the movie New Jack City. (Spoiler alert) Pookie, played by Chris Rock, is a recovering crack addict working undercover in, of all places, a crack house. IMO, the most well-played, dramatic moment in the film is when Pookie sits sweating and shaking in a dimly lit bedroom “staring down” the crack pipe in front of him. By this time in the movie, I’m rooting for Pookie’s recovery. I’d been with him through the tweeks and pukes and misery of his withdrawal and sighed relief at his proud return to being drug free. And then . . . a break in his resolve challenges his firm determination.

The struggle between his strength and weakness could have landed on the cutting room floor. Mario Van Peebles, the director, could have cut to the scene where Pookie is high as a kite, and the audience would have understood exactly what happened. But witnessing the battle is what brings the emotional investment from the audience. Like me, I’m sure other viewers were shouting “Don’t do it, Pookie!” in their minds. And when his addiction won, I’ll bet most of us were sourly disappointed in him and highly concerned for the success of the undercover operation. In fiction, a character’s struggle with his/her firm determination engages readers in much the same way.

What are your main characters resolved to do or not do? What scene will show them at cross purposes with their own determination? My current WIP is a short story about a doctor (sworn to do no harm) who finds herself faced with the dilemma of having to kill for the greater good. I haven’t gotten to that part yet, so I still don’t know if she’ll go through with it. But I can’t wait to write that scene to find out.

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope that in 2011, you find success with all of your firm determinations.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Maximise the Power of Your Brain - Tony Buzan MIND MAPPING

I've used mindmaps for years--mostly to manage projects at work. I've also used them to plot scenes or to jumpstart an idea for a new novel.

Want to unlock the magnificent creativity of your brain? Get some colored pens, a sheet of white paper, and create a mindmap of your character. This process will free your imagination to go places in your story that you probably wouldn't have thought of otherwise. (I can almost guarantee that.)

Have fun! Mindmapping is playtime with remarkable results. There is no right or wrong way. Only your way.

Explore your genius!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Hitting on Readers: The First Line | Ann Stephens Romance

I have a passion for great first lines in fiction. I must confess, if a book doesn't have a first line that knocks me out, I usually leave it on the shelf at the bookstore.

I have a collection of my favorite first lines and often use that collection in a class I teach called "Great Beginnings." A few of my favorites are:

"I'm naked." Between Lovers. Eric Jerome Dickey

"You better not never tell nobody but God." The Color Purple. Alice Walker

"Everybody cheated, at least everybody Tony Valentine had ever known." Grift Sense. James Swain

"They shoot the white girl first." Paradise. Tony Morrison

Ann sums up the importance of first lines brilliantly on her blog.

Hitting on Readers: The First Line Ann Stephens Romance


Sunday, December 5, 2010

My Artist Date: Hot Shops

Those of you familiar with The Artist’s Way will know what I mean when I say I went on my Artist Date

"The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly "artistic"-- think mischief more than mastery."

This weekend was the Holiday Open House for Hot Shops. Hot Shops is a big warehouse that is home to over 80 artists who have studios there. On the first floor of the warehouse, there are gallery spaces, as well as other display areas where artists exhibit their work. The other two floors hold the studios which range in size from small dens to medium stores.

During the open house, the artists are there and their studios are open. Visitors can go in, see the work, talk to the artists about their work and, of course, purchase the art. This year was the best Hot Shops open house I’ve been to. There was no parking for blocks and the hallways were snug with art and art lovers.

The event featured the expected art types: paintings, sculpture, photography, jewelry, mixed media, ceramics. I was very impressed with the less expected arts like glass blowing, bronze casting, and blacksmithing.

Many of the artists were not only in their studios, but they were working. It was refreshing to be present during the design and birth of someone else’s vision. I kept staring at their faces wondering if my features look that intense when I write.

I’m selfish when it comes to galleries and museums. I go to them for “art appreciation” certainly, but more importantly, I go to them for art inspiration. Art informs my writing. When I see all the ways in which others are creative, it affirms my own creativity and reminds me that there are no boundaries. I’m able to think and write in new ways.

When I left, my head was filled with the images of faces I’d seen in the art pieces, faces I’d love to put into stories. I jotted notes about them in my notebook. I especially like Kesha—the little girl whose braids were made of puzzle pieces painted over by the artist. Those with dreds know there’s more than hair locked into those thick, knotted chords. There are lifetimes: passions, sorrows, prayers, tears, devotions, breaths . . . Shoot . . . Where’s my pen?

Paper Fondling

Yesterday my writers group held our Christmas party. We had a potluck and a gift exchange—the kind where everyone picks a gift or “steals” a gift that someone else has. Our theme was to bring something that inspires us. Not surprisingly, several of the gifts were wine, chocolate, or wine & chocolate. There were also several writing journals. One of the journals had a pretty, fern-green, viney print on the cover. But the most interesting part of the journal was the paper inside. The woman who brought it said she picked it because the paper was so smooth.

Of course, the woman who’d chosen the journal opened it and felt the paper. That led to the first, “Oh my gosh . . . “ She slid her fingers across the paper for a few more seconds while the rest of us watched intrigued. This is how it started.

Well, I’m sure you can guess the person next to her had to have a feel. That reaction might have been, “Oh!” but after a while, the responses ran over each other. The proud owner of the smooth paper walked the journal around to each of us so we all could cop a feel.

“Whoo.” “Oh my gosh.” “Wow.” “Oh . . . ”

I’m telling you that paper was like silk. My hand melted against it. The rubbin’ was good.

The perfect word on the right paper is magical. For writers, paper is another tool that we sometimes use to get the story right. I’ve been imagining the kinds of stories I could get right on that smooth paper ever since I felt it. I may have to get one of those journals.

Our paper lust yesterday reminded me that there’s nothing like the validation of like minds. People who understand the unique strangeness of that thing you’re really in to. There’s a special kinship and connectedness that comes from that. It can make your conviction strong and your determination stronger.

Just when you think you’re the weird one, you discover there are others out there just like you.