Sunday, August 21, 2011

Stuff Needs to Be Happening (notes)

This was the most recent piece of advice I received from an agent:

"Stuff needs to be happening."
It was in response to my first 100 pages, where I thought things were happening even though to an outside reader, they weren't.
So on Friday, I went through some novels and took notes.

How to Make Stuff Happen:

-This tip came from Laura: make scene cards (one card per scene) that lists a quick summary of the scene, the characters in it, and how it's moving the plot forward.

-In one of the books I went through, exposition didn't begin until the second or third chapter. When it did, it always related back to what was happening in the present.

-A character's subplots can be woven in through a single event (ex. She is having trouble with a co-worker and her marriage and deals with both at a work party)

-Conflict also comes in levels. There are overarching conflicts but each scene should have a mini conflict related to that larger one.

-Alluding to a secret keeps a reader interest

-Society can be as big of a character as anyone. It can provide pressure, expectations, and development.

How do you make sure things are happening in your work?

4 thoughts to finish up the week

1. Did you know that Starbucks has drinks not listed on the menu? Samir sent me this article about them. (There's a "short" size, a zebra drink that is a mix of white and regular mocha, and a "dirty" chai, to name a few.)

2. Contentment, in its truest sense, seems to be independent of any other factors. There may be piles of work (and laundry), disappointments of all sorts but somehow, I still can be okay. It has a way of doing that; settling and refusing to leave.

3. Some dreams are there to be...well, to just be. They're allowed to have a resting place and not much else.

4. This one comes from my cousin. After I came back from Africa, I was determined to start another project, some way of trying to save the world. We ended up having to work on a final article in New York. For a week, I spent all of my time not writing with Samir. Then I met with my cousin and told him I was ashamed of being "that girl", the one who is always hanging out with her man.

"Why?" He asked.
"I don't know...just...because," I said.
"Because you were drawn to what made you happy for a week of your life? What's wrong with that again?"
It was such a simple question but it put me in my place. What is wrong with that?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Picture from

Loneliness has always been one of the most fascinating emotions to me.
Maybe because I've rarely ever felt it. That painful tug and frightening silence. It tends to creep out when loved ones leave after a visit or a friend moves away. If it had a smell, I'd imagine it would be akin to stale coffee or neglected flowers.

People discuss wanting to visit certain places but I often feel that way about certain emotions, especially loneliness. Okay, that's probably not credible coming from who a.) is a serial monogamist and b.) becomes friends with characters in books.

But maybe it does have something to do with reading. Maybe I haven't put myself to the "real test" even though I live by myself. You know, stretches of time without any technology a.k.a. connection to others, books, or piles of work. Writing is a solitary process yet it somehow occupies all of my voids, so nothing seems to be missing. Does that even make sense?

Later next year, I'll be going to a silent meditation camp. Ten days of complete isolation and NO speaking. Crazy? Yes. Perhaps the only way of going truly inside is by eliminating any roads that lead outside.

Have you ever wanted more of a certain emotion?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

how to add tension to our work (4 points)

Tension: an often unpleasant thing in our daily lives but a necessary ingredient in our writing (funny how that works, right?)

Tension is the one thing that I need more of in my work. I get that suggestion from the wonderful Laura and from anyone else who has read fragments of my recently completed novel.

I've been hunting the Internet for help on tension and also took some notes from a recent (and extremely helpful) phone conversation. So, here it goes:

1. In a nutshell, a storyteller creates a character who can't refuse to act because of the cost of inaction, but there's also a price to pay for acting.

2. Obstacles create tension. Ask: What does my main character want? What is preventing he or she from getting it?

3. Another way to generate tension is to begin a story with a character wrestling with a dilemma (which can be mainly internal or external). If a plot event forces that character to act to resolve their dilemma, the story begins with a question -- what will the character do -- and moves toward an answer to that question.

If that step resolves the original dilemma, but creates a new, larger problem that requires another step forward, the story continues to advance.

4. Romeo, in Romeo and Juliet, is a great example of narrative tension. To act on his love for Juliet is to turn against his clan and family; to not act on his feelings for Juliet is to violate his sense of what's important to him. But any action he takes increases his pain.


How do you add tension to your work?

Brian Andreas quotes

"He discovered his reset button early on and there were not many things that bothered him all the rest of his days just because of that."

"Most people don't know
there are angels
whose only job is to make sure
you don't get too comfortable
and fall asleep and miss your life."

"Everything changed
the day he figured out
there was exactly enough time
for the important things in his life."

"Anyone can slay a dragon, he told me, but try waking up every morning and loving the world all over again. That's what takes a real hero."

- Brian Andreas

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Top 5 Plot Principles

If anyone needs a quick review on plotting, I found this one a few days ago and enjoyed it!

Source: Copyright 2000 by Alicia Rasley

1. Plausible plotting starts with cause and effect. Make sure each step in your plot has a causative event, and one or more effects. Character actions should be caused by some motivation, and should have some effect on the plot.

2. Your protagonist should save the day (or destroy it). Protagonist is the “first actor”, the character most active in the story. Most importantly, he should be the one who resolves the conflict in the climactic scene. No one else should solve the mystery, or discover the secret, or arrive just in time to save the day. The plot should force the protagonist to make choices and take actions, and the course of plot events should change in response to those choices and actions.

3. Give the protagonist a goal, then take it away. The goal-driven protagonist is an active protagonist, but if you just let the protagonist achieve his goal, you’ll have a linear or two-dimensional plot. Have him lose the goal, or sacrifice it, or achieve it and realize he doesn’t really want it, and you’ll add the complication that makes this a real story.

4. The point of plot is change. The events should cause a change in the protagonist’s inner life, to trade her original goal for a more worthy one, to face a personal issue she’s ignored before, or to resolve a longstanding internal conflict.

5. Lead readers to the story, but don't drag them. Set up your opening scenes so readers are led to ask story questions like “Who killed the film director?” or “What will happen to John and Sue’s love when Sue learns that John has been lying to her?”