#NaNoWriMo : Futurism & NaNo Prep 101

This year, I started thinking about my National Novel Writing Month novel early, so I’m participating in NaNo Prep 101. This will be my sixth NaNoWriMo and I’m going to attempt my first sci-fi novel.

This is the first week of NaNo Prep 101 “Develop a Story Idea You Are Passionate About.” My idea was inspired by something in the news which is the third suggestion in the week one exercise.

How I’m Prepping

Declaring

I focused my intention by heading over to my NaNoWriMo site and declaring my project. I came up with a name and they gave me a pretty cool basic cover. I’ll probably collage something later, but I’m happy for now.

Coursera

Because I want to create a realistic version of Earth in the future, I decided to take a look at what contemporary futurists are up to and I found a Coursera course to get me started. “Ready, Set, Future! Introduction to Futures Thinking” is part of a Futures Thinking Specialization offered by Institute For The Future. I’m already finding the resources helpful.

Scrivener

Last year I read some books on Scrivener to finally figure out more of its functions. I’ve been creating my own templates and think I have a pretty nice set up for this year’s novel.

In my Research section, I’m collecting articles and a list of books I would like to read before November. I created an idea section for my logline and dramatic question. I have my own character and settings templates and pages for different types of outlines: Hero’s Journey, Heroine’s Journey, Save the Cat, Three Act Structure, James Scott Bell’s Super Structure, and The Virgin’s Promise. As I figure out my main necessary scenes, I can see where they would fit in these different structures and play around with plot and structure at the same time.

Pinterest

I like to use Pinterest to create a mood board for my novel. I keep the board private and collect everything I think fits my aesthetic for setting, characters, tech and objects, any images that give me ideas for my novel.

Booklist

Today, I’m going to spend some time looking for comparable sci-fi novels, short-stories, films, podcasts, radio shows, etc. It will be nice to immerse myself in both genre and specific concepts before I start writing. I like Neil Gaiman’s concept of creating a compost heap of ideas and giving it time to break down into good soil to grow my novel.

Calendars and Planner

I like the cute Sticker calendar in the NaNo Flair. I’ve collected stickers since I was a little girl. Putting stickers on a calendar over my desk is a good idea for me, but that won’t leave room on the calendar for goals. Last year I created a daily planner for writers focused on submitting stories to literary journals. I’ll be re-vamping my fourth quarter pages to fit my goals for this year. I’ll try to predict which prompts will help me get the most words on the page each day. My planner pages also bring attention to eating well and exercise which is important during NaNoWriMo as well as evaluating what works and what doesn’t each day.

Timeline

I like to create a physical timeline for my story and put it up on the wall over my desk. Because I’m writing science-fiction this time, I might want two timelines: One for the major events between now and when the story events occur to explore what will be my characters’ history, and another that is the timeline of the novel. Once I have decided on the amount of time that the novel will encompass, I can start putting my scenes on post-its and play around with where they fit on the timeline and start exploring story arcs.

Write-Ins

Tomorrow is the first NaNo Prep Write-In (9-16-2020 1pm PDT). I’ve always enjoyed the NaNoWriMo Write-Ins and find that the prompts help me think of new ideas and get a lot of writing done.

So that’s where I’m at right now. I’m excited to be ahead of the game for once and spending quality time developing my idea before the writing begins. Who else is preparing for NaNoWriMo 2020? What tools and tricks do you like to use?

#WriterInMotion ~ Final Thoughts

WIM A Storys Journey Banner

I entered the Writer-In-Motion Challenge hoping to get some big break-through information from a professional editor. I wanted that sword that would cut down rejection and get me to YES!

Truth is, I got more than that. I got, “Wow, Maria, the voice in this is amazing!”

Voice. That magical, unteachable thing. That how do I get it, thing!

And then I got– Now take out a lot of it. You have to choose.

The fun part is, it made sense. It was not that hard to choose what to keep. I even asked my mom who never reads my blog and she and I agreed on the way to cut, but she still wanted the first one (blockade).

This story was huge. It could be a novel. I over-wrote, over-double-wrote, for the first time. I am usually concise in my writing, like the lyricist I am, but for some reason this image created a real idea on so many levels that I care about.

The original word-count cut wasn’t easy, but it was a great exercise and I think the final cuts I made, were personal experiments to see how people would react. I chopped in unnatural ways and my readers did not find them interesting or experimental. They were awkward. Something to think about for future awkward characters. I know how to make a reader uncomfortable.

Overall, I think I learned that having to prune so many words, I was able to get to what was necessary to the story.

Thank you again to my critique partners and editor for their time. And thank you Writer-in-Motion for the experience.

 

 

 

#WriterInMotion : The final draft

Writer in Motion Week Four

This week I received feedback from professional editor Jeni Chappelle of Jeni Chappelle Editorial. Jeni is the co-creator of this challenge as well as #RevPit on Twitter. I want to thank her for her time, encouragement and suggestions.

Here it is. The final draft!

The Bear’s Breeches Smell Slightly Sweet As They Rot

I had never seen a man’s face change so fast. He stepped through the door, blocking our view, still laughing with his son. Then he saw me.

You,” he said, then closed the door on Josette and me.

Who is it, Daddy?” the child said from inside.

That rude trespasser from the other day,” the man said.

Josette scowled up at me. “Rude trespasser?”

Not as confident as I had been when I called her office, I stammered, “I t-told you. I discovered them while collecting herbs for my shop.”

Mm-hm.” Josette could condescend without saying a word.

It’s true. I spotted those white flowers from the trail. Acanthis mollus, people call it bear’s breeches. And that’s green ash. You can make a tea from the leaves, also medicinal.”

And you cure with these medicines?”

Josette sounded mad at me. Something had changed since coffee in town.

My remedies help aches and pains, fatigue, swelling. Lots of things,” I said.

Well, now I have a job to do.” She balled her wide hand and hammered the fragile door.

What?” he yelled.

Josette’s voice changed: deeper, formal. “Mr. Palmberg? My name is Josette Luckman. From Child Protective Services. To evaluate this dwelling for the safety of your child. Could I please come in?”

Are you kidding me, lady? You sicced Social Services on me? You were trespassing. Of course I got mad. What the hell?” His voice was like a pulled rubber-band.

Mr. Palmberg, take a deep breath and open the door.”

My pulse thumped. She had brass, telling him to take a breath. I imagined him roaring out, axe raised, or poking a shotgun through a gap. I jumped an inch off the dirt when he undid the latch.

I followed Josette into the dark room, steadying myself with the wall, cool and clammy like entering a cave. Hearing scratching and clawing, I imagined a bear or a mountain lion den. A sudden square of light on the floor in front of me brought lines and shapes out of the darkness.

That’s Horace,” the man was saying. “He’s a sweet, old thing. Not much of a hunter or guard dog, but Ely adores him.”

Shutters now open, light blared through a hole in the wall. Josette looked at home on a carved settee with pumpernickel-and-coffee-striped upholstery. She already had a cup of tea.

Alyssum, are you okay?” she said. “You look faint. Come sit down.”

The man addressed me cautiously, “Alyssum? I’m Eugene. Green ash tea?”

“Yeah, Alyssum Grabner. Uh, tea. Thank you,” I said, sitting next to Josette. The settee shifted on its thin legs.

He handed me a toile china tea cup. I admired the indigo children fishing on the white background. I looked up. He watched me, sad eyes searching.

Did you hear that, Alyssum? Eugene’s been toiling here on his grandfather’s property since his bitter divorce,” said Josette as if revealing a truth I should have already known.

To Eugene she said, “Because this situation was brought to my attention, paperwork filed, you’re in the system. As long as Ely stays healthy and happy, enrolls in school, gets regular check-ups. . . I’ll provide the lists of expectations—”

Eugene tried to interject. “But–”

And we’ll be contacting your character references, living relatives . . . As long as you prove you can provide a stable home and—”

Josette, stop. No system. Ely and I are finally making this work.”

You think this works for Ely? No plumbing or electricity? How will he socialize with no children his own age? There will be hygiene expectations when school starts.”

I’ll home-school. He’ll learn from nature, have a more traditional upbringing.”

Josette’s face twisted like half of it was fighting the other half. “Traditional? You think shitting in the woods is his tradition?”

She jumped off the settee, startling the dog and me. The dog ran over to Eugene. I took my tea cup to the bucket-sink.

What could you mean? You go from suburbs to hut, and suddenly you are Native American? Or are you, Jesus help me, trying to relate to my traditions? Is that what you’re trying to say?”

I felt sick. I watched Josette’s chest heaving and the shock on that man’s face and thought, The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I felt as small as those children on my tea cup.

Josette, I made a mistake,” I said as calmly as I could. “I judged the situation by the paint on his house and the overgrowth. His son is healthy and happy. You said so yourself. Let’s go.”

Josette turned to me. “You know what it took me to get to where I am? I have too much to prove.”

She spun on Eugene. “Here’s a tradition. Weekly check-ins. Living up to standards. Your—”

Horace barked.

Stop it! Leave my daddy alone! You sound like Mommy.”

The boy in the doorway cast a shadow across Josette’s face.

Josette’s new voice was sweet with an undertone of rot like the bear’s breeches outside. “You must be Ely. I was talking to your daddy about how happy you are here.”

Ely stomped. “You’re a liar. Go away!” He ran back outside.

Josette whirled on Eugene. “Do you see what you are doing to that child?”

Eugene breathed and smiled. His warm voice resonated. “Yes. Beautiful. He grew up too fast. All I wanted for him was to finally get to be a kid. To play and feel loved and protected.”

He approached me, palms open.

I backed away.

Don’t be scared. I was frustrated and took it out on the first person who arrived. I want to forgive you. Actually, I want to thank you. Until you brought Josette, I couldn’t see my path. I kept stabbing the unrelenting dirt, battling the undergrowth as if I could tame nature, but I was rage-blind. So, thank you.”

Josette said, “We’re leaving.”

She pushed me out the door.

I stared after him. He emitted peace. I wish I had understood.

 

Fun news!

While I was writing this post I received an email informing me that Writer Shed Stories: Vol. 1 which includes my story “More Than He Could Chew” is now available in paperback.

#WriterInMotion: Critique Partners’ Feedback Revision

WIM A Storys Journey Banner Week Three

This week was exciting. I sent my story to two people and received their stories to critique. Based on their feedback I made revisions, creating this new draft of my story that will now go to a professional editor.

Before talking about the changes, I want to thank Neta of NetaQBlog and Nicole of The Usual Bookspects for the time and consideration they put into critiquing my story.

Because I had to cut so many words out of my original draft, I experimented with some cuts that I thought might be interesting. Turns out they were just awkward. Luckily, my critique partners suggested some other lines I could cut, so I could reword the awkward places and smooth them out. They also pointed out some areas that needed rewording for clarity.

Now the newly revised draft:

The Bear’s Breeches Smell Slightly Sweet As They Rot

I had never seen a man’s face change so fast. He stepped through the door, blocking our view, still laughing with his son. Then he saw me.

You,” he said, then closed the door on us.

Who is it, Daddy?” we heard from inside.

That rude trespasser from the other day.”

Josette scowled up at me. “Rude trespasser?”

Not as confident as I had been when I called her office, I stammered, “I t-told you, I discovered them while collecting herbs for my shop.”

Mm-hm.” Josette could condescend without saying a word.

It’s true. I spotted those white flowers from the trail. Acanthis mollus, people call it bear’s breeches. And that’s green ash. You can make a tea from the leaves, also medicinal.”

And you cure with these medicines?”

Josette sounded mad at me. Something had changed since coffee in town.

My remedies help aches and pains, fatigue, swelling. Lots of things,” I said.

Well, now I have a job to do.” She balled her wide hand and hammered the fragile blockade.

What?” he yelled like an axe hitting a trunk.

Josette’s voice changed: deeper, formal. “Mr. Palmberg? My name is Josette Luckman. From Child Protective Services. To evaluate this dwelling for the safety of your child. Could I please come in?”

Are you kidding me, lady? You sicced social services on me? You were trespassing. Of course I got mad. What the hell?” His voice was like a pulled rubber-band.

Mr. Palmberg, take a deep breath and open the door.”

My pulse thumped. She had brass telling him to take a breath. I imagined him roaring out axe raised, or poking a shotgun through a gap. I jumped an inch off the dirt when he undid the latch.

I followed Josette into the dark room, steadying myself with the wall, cool and clammy like entering a cave. Hearing scratching and clawing, I imagined a bear or a mountain lion den. Suddenly, a square of light on the floor in front of me brought lines and shapes out of the darkness.

That’s Horace. He’s a sweet, old thing. Not much of a hunter or guard dog, but Ely adores him.”

Shutters now open, light blared through a hole in the wall. Josette looked at home on a carved settee with pumpernickel and coffee-striped upholstery. She already had a cup of tea.

Alyssum, are you okay?” she said. “You look faint. Come sit down.”

Alyssum? I’m Eugene. Green ash tea?”

“Yeah, Alyssum Grabner. Uh, tea. Thank you,” I said, sitting next to Josette. The settee shifted on its thin legs.

He handed me a Toile china tea cup. I admired the indigo children fishing on the white background. I looked up. He watched me, sad eyes searching.

“Did you hear that Alyssum? Eugene’s been toiling here on his grandfather’s property since his bitter divorce,” said Josette as if revealing a truth I should have already known.

To Eugene she said, “Because this situation was brought to my attention, paperwork filed, you’re in the system. As long as Ely stays healthy and happy, enrolls in school, gets regular check-ups. . . I’ll provide the lists of expectations—”

“But,” Eugene tried to interject.

“And we’ll be contacting your character references, living relatives . . . As long as you prove you can provide a stable home and—”

“Josette, stop. No system. Ely and I are finally making this work.”

You think this works for Ely? No plumbing or electricity? How will he socialize with no children his own age? There will be hygiene expectations when school starts.”

I’ll home-school. He’ll learn from nature, have a more traditional upbringing.”

Josette’s face twisted like half of it was fighting the other half. “Traditional? You think shitting in the woods is his tradition?”

Josette jumped off the settee, startling the dog, and me. The dog ran over to Eugene. I took my tea cup to the bucket-sink.

What could you mean? You go from suburbs to hut and suddenly you are Native American? Or are you, Jesus help me, trying to relate to my traditions? Is that what you’re trying to say?”

I felt sick. I watched Josette’s chest heaving and the shock on that man’s face and thought, The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I felt as small as those children on my tea cup.

Josette, I made a mistake,” I said as calmly as I could. “I judged the situation by the paint on his house and the overgrowth. His son is healthy and happy. You said so yourself. Let’s go.”

Josette turned on me. “You know what it took me to get to where I am? I have too much to prove.”

She spun on Eugene. “Here’s a tradition. Weekly check-ins. Living up to standards. Your—”

Horace barked.

Stop it! Leave my daddy alone! You sound like Mommy.”

The boy in the doorway cast a shadow across Josette’s face.

Josette’s new voice was sweet with an undertone of rot like the bear’s breeches outside. “You must be Ely. I was talking to your daddy about how happy you are here.”

Ely stomped. “You’re a liar. Go away!” He ran.

Josette whirled on Eugene. “Do you see what you are doing to that child?”

Eugene breathed and smiled. His warm voice resonated. “Yes. Beautiful. He grew up too fast. All I wanted for him was to finally get to be a kid. To play and feel loved and protected.”

He approached me, palms open. I backed away.

Don’t be scared. I was frustrated and took it out on the first person who arrived. I want to forgive you. Actually, I want to thank you. Until you brought Josette, I couldn’t see my path. I kept stabbing the unrelenting dirt, battling the undergrowth as if I could tame nature, but I was rage-blind. So, thank you.”

Josette said, “We’re leaving.” She pushed me out the door.

I stared after him. He emitted peace. I wish I had understood.

#WriterinMotion: The Second Draft

the bear's breeches

                                                                                                                   photo by Maria L. Berg 2020

The Bear’s Breeches Smell Slightly Sweet As They Rot

I never saw a man’s face change so fast. He stepped through the door, blocking our view, still laughing with his son. Then he saw me.

You,” he said, then door.

Who is it, Daddy?” from inside.

That rude trespasser from the other day.”

Josette scowled up at me. “Rude trespasser?”

Not as confident as I had been last week when I called her office, I stammered, “I t-told you, I discovered the situation while collecting herbs for my shop. I was surprised someone was living here.”

Mm-hm.” Josette could condescend.

It’s true. I spotted those white flowers from the trail. Acanthis mollus, people call it bear’s breeches. And that’s green ash. You can make a tea from the leaves, also medicinal.”

And you cure with these medicines?”

Josette seemed mad at me. Something had changed since coffee in town. “My remedies help aches and pains, fatigue, swelling. Lots of things.”

Well, now I have a job to do.” She balled her wide hand and hammered the fragile blockade.

What?” he yelled like an axe hitting a trunk.

Josette’s voice changed: deeper, formal. “Mr. Palmberg? My name is Josette Luckman. From Child Protective Services. To evaluate this dwelling for the safety of your child. Could I please come in?”

Are you kidding me, lady? You sicced social services on me? You were trespassing. Of course I got mad. What the hell?” His voice was like a pulled rubber-band.

Mr. Palmberg, take a deep breath and open the door.”

My pulse thumped. She had brass telling him to take a breath. I imagined him roaring out axe raised, or poking a shotgun through a gap. I jumped an inch off the dirt when he undid the latch.

I followed Josette into the dark room, steadying myself with the wall, cool and clammy like entering a cave. Hearing scratching and clawing, I imagined a bear or a mountain lion den. Suddenly, a square of light on the floor in front of me brought lines and shapes out of the darkness.

That’s Horace. He’s a sweet, old thing. Not much of a hunter or guard dog, but Ely adores him.”

Shutters now open, light blared through a hole in the wall. Josette looked at home on a carved settee with pumpernickel and coffee striped upholstery. She already had a cup of tea.

Alyssum, are you okay?” she said. “You look faint. Come sit down.”

Alyssum? I’m Eugene. Green ash tea?”

“Yeah, Alyssum Grabner. Uh, tea. Thank you,” I said, sitting next to Josette. The settee shifted on its thin legs.

He handed me a Toile china tea cup. I admired the indigo children fishing on the white background. I looked up. He watched me, sad eyes searching.

“Eugene was telling me about the work he’s been doing on his grandfather’s property since his bitter divorce,” said Josette as if revealing a truth I should have already known.

“Because this situation was brought to my attention, paperwork filed, you’re in the system. As long as Ely stays healthy and happy, enrolls in school, gets regular check-ups. . . I’ll provide the lists of expectations—”

“But,” Eugene tried to interject.

“And we’ll be contacting your character references, living relatives . . . As long as you prove you can provide a stable home and—”

“Josette, stop. No system. Ely and I are finally making this work.”

You think this works for Ely? No plumbing or electricity? How will he socialize with no children his own age? There will be hygiene expectations when school starts.”

I’ll home-school. He’ll learn from nature, have a more traditional upbringing.”

Josette’s face twisted like half of it was fighting the other half. “Traditional? You think shitting in the woods is his tradition?”

Josette jumped off the settee, startling the dog, and me. The dog ran over to Eugene. I took my tea cup to the bucket-sink.

What could you mean? You go from suburbs to hut and suddenly you are Native American? Or are you, Jesus help me, trying to relate to my traditions? Is that what you’re trying to say?”

I felt sick. I watched Josette’s chest heaving and the shock on that man’s face and thought, The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I felt as small as those children on my tea cup.

Josette, I made a mistake,” I said as calmly as I could. “I judged the situation by the paint on his house and the overgrowth. His son is healthy and happy. You said so yourself. Let’s go.”

Josette turned on me. “You know what it took me to get to where I am? I have too much to prove.”

She spun on Eugene. “Here’s a tradition. Reporting to me. Weekly check-ins. Living up to standards. Your—”

Horace barked.

Stop it! Leave my daddy alone! You sound like Mommy.”

The body in the doorway cast a shadow across Josette’s face.

Josette’s new voice was sweet with an undertone of rot like the bear’s breeches outside. “You must be Ely. I was talking to your dad about how happy you are here.”

Ely stomped. “You’re a liar. Go away!” He ran.

Josette whirled on Eugene. “Do you see what you are doing to that child?”

Eugene breathed and smiled. His warm voice resonated. “Yes. Beautiful. He grew up too fast. All I wanted for him was to finally get to be a kid. To play and feel loved and protected.”

He approached me, palms open. I backed away.

Don’t be scared. I was frustrated and took it out on the first person who arrived. I want to forgive you. Actually, I want to thank you. Until you brought Josette, I couldn’t see my path. I kept stabbing the unrelenting dirt, battling the undergrowth as if I could tame nature, but I was rage-blind. So, thank you.”

Josette said, “We’re leaving.” She pushed me out the door.

I stared after him. He emitted peace. I wish I had understood.

This is my consciousness now: #dVerse poets stream of consciousness poem

I enjoy the prompts at dVerse poets pub. They are often timely for my poetry needs and today is no exception. Today’s prompt is some stream of consciousness. Warning: I learned something today that cannot be unlearned.

The thorn gashes are worth the distraction

Look at the happy face. Bleed from the thorn. Anything to not look up. And that old bug spray smells so bad. I’m probably dying from more than mud dauber wasp nest shock.

This is my consciousness now

I did this. Now I will never be the same me. I will never sit at my old picnic table on the old porch under that light fixture and write the same way again. I watched the huge wasp or hornet, was it a murder hornet? I grabbed my camera. It flew back and forth from the light fixture over my head here on the porch, where I write, to keep active, to keep cool. The hornet flew back over my head, threatening in its hugeness, in its possible murdery newness. I wanted a picture of its crazy transformers bumblebee face, but I wanted it to go away. I would need a ladder to get its face when it was on top of my porch light.

When it flew again, I walked to the other side and saw, a nest. A grey, papery-looking nest. It came back. I put down the camera and went back in the house, to the shop, to the broomless, metal broom-handle that I had always known had a purpose. Back on the porch, I watched the hornet-wasp fly away and jabbed at that nest, only fearing more bee-like horrors, but my imagination got a full on sting because what came out of that little gray bungalow was a mass of petrified spiders and one large, white maggot-looking larva. I was so confused. Nothing was right. Bees make bees, not spiders. Wasps make wasps, not big, orange spiders with curled legs.

As I whirled, the big  murdery hornet, came back to the top of the light-fixture, its now ruined nest, grabbed a spider, took it to my herb planter, next to my rosemary and thyme, and ate the spider. I watched a wasp eat a spider and I’m not okay. I run into the shop again looking for the horrible bug spray in the green can. The horrible one that might contain DDT or something because my dad pulled it from my great-uncle’s garage. I felt like the moment needed that response. I finally found the can in the cupboard, in the kitchen. The monster was still flying to the non-existent nest. I tried to spray. The can hissed but barely made droplets. I moved around shaking the can, I knew I hated this, but what choice did I have? This was my space and it’s covered in vampired spiders, I sprayed again. It smelled so bad. Like toxic death for everyone.

My mom was giving directions to Dad along the 101 when I called to share nature’s grotesque horrors, after I had read all of the responses to my queries on the internet. She had never heard of the mud dauber, but wanted to make sure I had killed that larva. I admitted my response to spiders falling from my sky was not logical or observational and I assumed that the larva died as I swept all of the spiders away from me with a metal-brushed broom, but to tell the truth, that was a fat maggot that probably wandered off before I had gotten one second of sanity away from zombie spiders. One white worm in a field of dead, or undead spiders is just a worm until you do your research and find out it’s The Worm.

 

#WriterinMotion Week Two: revision plan

WIM A Storys Journey Banner Week Two

For once, I overwrote. I have a story that needs to be told in less than half as many words, so I thought I’d spend a little time and create a plan for this first revision.

This Week’s Revision Plan

First steps:

  1. print out the story
  2. read aloud
  3. highlight best lines/parts
  4. cross out parts I don’t like
  5. ask questions to get to the core of the story
  6. write logline/ elevator pitch/ summary
  7. increase conflict
  8. explore possibilities
  9. re-write

Questions to get to core of story:

  • Who is this story really about?
  • What does that person want more than anything?
  • What is in the way of getting that desire?
  • How will she overcome the conflict?
  • Was the desire, once achieved, really what she needed?
  • How has the ordeal changed her?
  • Why is this story important?
  • Why do I want to tell it?

Next steps:

  1. Repeat first steps 1-4
  2. focus on opening line: try at least ten other possibilities. Have I drawn the reader in with a whisper of everything to come?
  3. focus on ending: try cutting last line, last paragraph, try adding a paragraph or two to find real ending. Have I left the reader wanting more; feeling something, thinking?
  4. focus on dialogue: are the voices unique? dialogue as tight as possible?
  5. focus on setting: does every description do double duty (mood, symbolism, character development)? Is every object there for a reason? Have I described for the reader what I see in my head, really put it on the page?
  6. focus on characters: play with unique, concise descriptors (think pessimistic moustache). Does each character jump off the page? Can the reader relate to them, empathize with them?
  7. focus on the senses: have I created vivid experiences using all five senses? Are there sounds, smells, textures, tastes as well as sights? What associations am I trying to elicit in the reader with these choices?
  8. focus on sentence variance, sound and rhythm
  9. focus on sentence clarity: am I really saying what I mean to say?
  10. focus on word choice: strong verbs, specific nouns
  11. hunt for and remove over-used words
  12. hunt for and remove clichés
  13. print out and read aloud as a final spell-check, specifically for homonyms and other small errors computers don’t catch.

 

Looks like an overwhelming amount of work, but I have a week and many of the next steps will be revisited over the next few weeks of revisions as well. I’ll probably add to this list as I work. I hope you find it helpful. If you have revision checklists or processes that you would like to share, feel free to add a link in the comments.

Happy Reading and Writing!

#WriterinMotion: The Bear’s Breeches Smell Slightly Sweet As They Rot

rahul-pandit-CDrP01O2n-w-unsplash resized

I thought I would keep writing about process and tools for the rest of the week, but once I let my character’s speak, the draft consumed. It’s long and could be much longer. I see this idea like a House of Sand and Fog meets child services and the now of crazy, but it’s just a tiny draft of a story that I will need to find a pearl in if I will get it down to 1,000 words next week. Some strange and unexpected things happened during the draft and I look forward to hearing what people think. This is a very rough draft. Please keep that in mind. Here it is:

The Bear’s Breeches Smell Slightly Sweet As They Rot (first draft)

I had never seen a man’s face change so quickly. When he finally opened the door, only wide enough to step one foot over the threshold, completely blocking our view inside, the turquoise hills reflected in his bright eyes and the morning sun glistened playfully on his lips. He was still laughing at something his son had said. I could smell fresh herbs and fried oil. I imagined his son at a small roughly-hewn table, his small hand still not completely in command of the fork, dropping bits of wilted greens and chips of roots and bark as he tried to shovel them to his mouth inside that one gray room.
The man stopped laughing when he saw Josette with her clipboard held like a shield, large soft-sided briefcase on a long strap slung across her chest. Then he saw me and the sun on his face was blocked by cloud-shadow, darkening with a raging storm.
“You he said,” pointing a grimy finger at me. “I thought I told you to stay off my land. What are you doing back here? These are not the herbs you’re looking for,” he said making an odd gesture with his hand. Then, he slammed the door.
I could hear him banging pots and talking softly with his son.
“Who is it, Daddy?”
“Just that rude trespasser from the other day. Let’s tidy up. Then we’ll go play outside.”
Josette turned and looked up at me. She scowled. “Rude trespasser?”
I must have flushed. I wasn’t feeling as sure of myself as I had been last week when I called her office. “I t-told you,” I stammered. “I discovered the situation while I was out collecting herbs for my shop. I didn’t know anyone was living here. I was quite surprised.”
“Mm-hm.”
Josette had a way of sounding very condescending without even saying a word. “No, really. I saw those white flowers from the trail, back there.” I turned and pointed, but Josette didn’t turn. “Anyway, they are actually a flat blade fern, acanthis mollus, people call it bear’s breeches. It has medicinal properties. The trees over there, green ash, you can make a tea from the leaves that are also medicinal.”
“Yeah, what do you cure with these ‘medicines’?”
I got the feeling Josette was mad at me. Something had changed since we had a nice coffee in town this morning. “Me? I’m not a physician. But my remedies do help with all sorts of aches and pains, fatigue, swelling, infections. Lots of things.”
“Right. Well, now I have a job to do.”
Josette had appeared plenty glad she had brought me along when I showed her the tiny dirt road her small SUV bumped and swerved along, windows slapped by brush and branches. “How far out here is this place?” she had said. She seemed delighted when I pointed out a good shady spot to leave the car where it wouldn’t be seen. “Wow, this place is even more wild than I imagined,” she said, “How can someone live out here?” She also acted quite pleased when I directed her past the red shutters–paint peeling, and seeping into the once lemon-yellow walls along with the black sill paint, running along the mold and moss covered walls creating deep orange hues as well as if that hole meant for seeing out had become a festering sore of blood and rot—around the short side of the small rectangle to the steep side with the view of the turquoise mountains and the small, wood-slat door, its gapes showing a tapestry or old carpet hanging behind it. “This is no place for a child. You were right to call me,” she said. But now, since she saw the man and heard the child, I got the distinct feeling she wished she hadn’t brought me along.
She balled her wide, dark hand and hammered the fragile blockade, but it barely made any noise as it was not secured firmly and did not resist her touch.
“What?” the man yelled like an axe hitting a tree trunk.
Josette used a voice I hadn’t heard before, deeper, very formal, calm. “Mr. Palmberg? Mr. Eugene Palmberg? My name is Josette Luckman. I’m here on official business from child protective services. I am here to evaluate this dwelling for the safety of your child. Could I please come in?”
“Are you kidding me, lady? You sicked social services on me? You were trespassing. Of course I got mad. What the hell?” Eugene’s voice had changed as well. His was higher, tight like a rubber-band pulled to its limit.
I started to say I only want what’s best for the child, but Josette raised her creamy, deeply-lined palm in front of my face.
“Mr. Palmberg, it will be best for everyone if you take a deep breath and open the door.”
My pulse began racing. She had some brass telling that man to take a breath. I half expected him to roar out of there with a raised axe, or to just poke the barrel of a shotgun through one of the gaps in the door. The curse of a vivid imagination, I jumped an inch off the dirt when I heard him undo the latch.
He pulled the door in slowly. The worn carpet draped over the top of the wood creating a canopy over the dew on Josette’s bald head. I had to duck into the dark room. I reached out to the wall to steady myself, cool and clammy like entering a cave. I couldn’t see anything, but heard scratching, scuttling, clawing sounds. I imagined a bear or a mountain lion at the back of this cave. Suddenly, I saw a square of light on the floor in front of me and lines and shapes grew out of the darkness.
“That’s Horace,” he was saying. He’s a sweet, old things. Not much of a hunter or guard dog, apparently, but Ely adores him.”
He had opened the shutters letting lots of light into the room and the sound I had heard was a dog, just a dog. Josette was seated on a cute carved settee with pumpernickel and coffee striped upholstery. Somehow she already had a cup of tea in what looked like a toile china pattern.
“Alyssum, are you okay?” she said. “You look faint. Come sit down.”
“Alyssum? Hi, I’m Eugene. We’ve never properly met. Can I get you some water? It’s stream water, I boil it and let it cool. It’s really tasty. Or I have green ash tea. That should make you feel better.”
The man suddenly sounded like some sort of gentleman out of the historical fictions I like to read. Okay, I wasn’t thinking historical fiction, I was thinking about the romance novel and noticed how tanned and muscular his arms were.
“Yeah, Alyssum Grabner. Nice to meet you. Uh, tea. Thank you,” I said. I don’t know why I thought to tell him my last name, like he would know my family or people I knew, like somehow that explained me; I guess I wanted to sound professional too. I sat heavily next to Josette.
This whole trip I hadn’t noticed how nice Josette smelled, like baby powder and jasmine, fresh like lemongrass but with the lovely calming sweetness of orange blossoms. You would think, with my nose for herbs, I would have noticed it right away, but coffee is pungent and then I was so focused on getting here and making sure the man got what he deserved for being so ferocious and mean, I mean making sure the boy was safe.
He handed me a lovely tea cup. I admired the indigo images of children fishing and playing on white, white china background. It looked so ordered, so clean and somehow, by some twisted juxtaposition of fate and devastation, it was here, at home here in this hovel. I looked up. He was watching me, seated across from me. He didn’t look angry; he looked sad, searching.
“Eugene was just telling me about all the work he’s been doing on his grandfather’s property, since his bitter divorce,” said Josette as if revealing a truth I should have already known. “His wife was wealthy. He signed a pre-nup. She ran off with an even richer lover who didn’t want his son. This is all he has left.”
The dog put its head in my crotch. It made me think of how I smelled when I was sweaty, and made me incredibly uncomfortable when Eugene smiled.
“He likes you,” he said.
I tried to make it look like I was petting him as I pushed him toward Josette. “Nice doggy,” I said.
Josette, legs closed, pet Horace who pushed me aside to place his head on her thigh. I sat pinched against the arm of the chair as she said, “I wish this had never happened, but since this situation was brought to my attention and paperwork has been filed, I’m afraid you’re in the system. I’ll make sure I’m assigned to your case for all future visits and we’ll make sure to check all the boxes as we go. As long as you keep up improvements and Ely stays healthy and happy, enrolls in school and gets regular check-ups—I’ll make sure you have all the lists of expectations—
“But,” Eugene tried to interject.
“And we’ll be contacting all of your character references and other living relatives—”
“But—”
“I’m sure there won’t be any problems, as long as you can prove that you can provide a stable home, which—”
“Josette, stop. I don’t want to be in the system. I don’t want to be checked on and mandated and commanded and timetabled. Can’t you see that Ely and I are finally making our own system that works. I thought I would home school him for a while, let him learn from nature, from the land, have a more traditional upbringing.”
I didn’t think Josette could turn red, but she definitely flushed. “Traditional? You think living away from everyone but you and having to eat weeds and bark is his tradition?”
“Bark? I mean—”
Josette jumped off the settee, startling the dog and me. The dog ran over to Eugene who had pushed back in his chair. I got up and took my tea cup to the plastic basin that served as a sink and watched from a still uncomfortable distance. Her voice had changed again, higher, faster; I could see her diaphragm pumping. Her words clicked against her teeth making me wonder if she had a tongue ring like my girlfriend in college, making we wonder about her in a way I hadn’t before.
“You mean? What could you mean? You go from mansion to hut and suddenly you are Native American? You’re a share cropper? Or are you, Jesus help me, trying to relate to my traditions? Is that what you’re trying to say?”
I felt sick. I watched Josette’s chest heaving and the shock on that man’s face and I felt the smallest, the most worthless I had ever felt. How did my good intentions turn so ugly. I had heard that saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions, but I thought that was only for corrupt politicians, not me, not these good intentioned people.
“Uh, Josette, I think I made a mistake,” I said as calmly as I could. “I judged this man and his situation mostly on the paint on his house and the nature of his land. That’s my fault. He’s not causing any harm and his son is healthy and happy. You said so yourself. Let’s go.”
Josette turned on me, a rage in her eyes. “This is my job. You know what it took me to get to where I am? I have too much to prove to let you yellow and turn me into a failure. You started this, but it is so far from your hands now, you will never see it end. “
She spun back on Eugene. “You are now, and will always be under my thumb. I’ll teach you tradition. Your tradition is reporting to me. Your tradition is having supervised visits. Your tradition is visiting your lawyer. Your—”
Horace barked.
“Stop it! Leave my daddy alone! You sound just like Mommy.”
The tiny body in the doorway cast a shadow across Josette’s face. I had wondered where he was. How did he get outside? I wondered if he crawled out the window when the shutters opened, or if there was another entrance to his cave. Josette used a new voice. This woman had many voices. I thought about the time my mom told me I had many voices when I talked to her. It scared me, like I might not be who I thought I was. Josette’s new voice was strangely sweet, subtle, but with an undertone of rot like the bear’s breeches outside.
“Hello, you must be Ely,” she said. “Nice to meet you. I was just having a nice conversation with your dad about how happy you are here. Are you happy here?”
Ely stomped his foot. “You’re a liar. I don’t like liars. Quit lying to me. Dad tells me the truth. He didn’t choose this, but he loves me. Go away!” Ely turned around and ran back outside.
Josette whirled back on Eugene. “There. Do you see what your idea of tradition has done to that child?”
Eugene took a big breath and smiled. His voice changed. It was deeper. It resonated. It was warm and full. “Yes. He’s so beautiful. We had to go through a lot of rejection and neglect to get where we are. Part of that beautiful boy had to grow up quickly facing the hurt his own mother poured on us, but that little brilliant soul is finding peace here and is going to get to be a kid. He’s going to play and feel loved and appreciated and protected.”
He turned, stepped toward me and I backed toward the door. He opened his palms to me. “Don’t be scared. I’m not mad. I want to thank you. I was so frustrated and full of anger, I took it out on the first person I thought had crossed a boundary, but I get the whole “forgive me my tresspasses thing.” I want to forgive you. You helped me see how important making this a home is for me and Ely. I was so involved with my own hurt, I stopped believing I could trust anyone to help us, but I had blinders on. So thank you.
Josette was on me. She pushed my shoulder. “We’re leaving.” She pushed me out the door.
I couldn’t stop staring at him. He had such a peaceful look on his face. I wish I had understood.

 

#WriterinMotion: Outlines and other pre-drafting thoughts

Outlining

Last year, as I was reading a couple books to help me finally get a handle on how to use all the bells and whistles of Scrivener, I set up a template with the Save the Cat beats as my chapter sections and created an idea section that includes all of the different plots and outlines I like to use. So I’m going to use my template (for the first time) and outline directly in Scrivener. Here’s a screenshot of my template:

Scrivener template

I started filling in an outline, but then I wanted to type in some of the opening image of the women at the doorstep and a snippet of  what my character mentioned yesterday, and now I have a draft, so this post won’t get finished at the moment because now I have the crazy dilemma of too interesting of a story and now I’ll have to spend a month making it smaller instead of bigger. But that’s okay. I love this idea and my characters, so this project may only be the beginning of something bigger.

 

 

#WriterinMotion – Playing with some plots

There are many different ways to approach plotting and I have studied and tried a bunch. Most plots, and thus outlines, follow a form of Three Act Structure and I have found that this is true for short form as well as long form.

I’ll start with The Hero’s Journey. Using ideas from Arwen Lynch’s book Mapping the Hero’s Journey With Tarot: 33 Days To Finish Your Book, I’m going to continue plotting with tarot to see what fresh ideas come to mind.

Hero's Journey

The Hero’s Journey

  1. The Ordinary World:Three of Coins
  2. Call to adventure:Five of Coins
  3. Refusal of the call:The Moon
  4. Meeting the mentor:Ten of Swords
  5. Crossing the Threshold:Judgement
  6. Test, Allies & Enemies: Four of Wands
  7. Approach the Inmost Cave:The Hermit
  8. The Ordeal:Five of Wands
  9. Reward: Nine of Wands
  10. Road Back:Ten of Coins
  11. Resurrection:King of Cups
  12. Return with Elixer:The Fool

My interpretation: My MC (main character) is finally seeing some reward for his gritty determination. He has been through really hard times and feels the extra pressure of trying to raise a child alone now that he’s lost his job and his wife took the house. But he’s making the best the small house and property he inherited from his grandfather and his child is happy and healthy, so he finally feels that there’s hope until he gets in a spat with an herbalist who trespasses on his land which leads to child protective services at his door.

The judgement he sees in her eyes in the last straw. Shattered, he feels he’s come to the end of the road, but when he thinks further about the meeting, he has clearer judgement and can see the positive decisions he has made for himself and his son. He sees what is wrong with how they see him, that their judgements are biased. He prepares for the next visit feeling he has the power to liberate himself from the situation. He feels that the time alone, away from society and social norms is very important as he reflects on his life journey so far. When the women return, his hope is shattered again by proposed unsettling changes, and opposition. Top-heavy egos lead to a lack of coordination and team spirit, but plenty of adrenaline and racing pulses. Everyone has their own idea of how things should be done.

After the meeting goes badly, my MC expects trouble on the horizon, his biggest fear: separation from his son, so he debates his next moves, trying to be honest with himself about what is best for his child. He doesn’t want his son to ever be hurt like he has been hurt, he doesn’t want him to feel abandoned, but he doesn’t want him to feel hunger, or thirst, or cold, or have limited opportunities due to his own selfishness. My MC doesn’t want to face his fear, but he feels weary of a constant cycle of conflict in his life. While he awaits next steps with social services, he works the land. He wants to have a sustainable garden, to provide enough food. While working, he rests under the green ash and notices a carving in the bark that leads to a remarkable discovery. Though he no longer has to stay at the property, he and his son decide to stay, happy to be different and unique. He finds compassion and kindness deep inside himself and hires the herbalist, the person whose snap judgement started this trouble to help him create a beautiful garden of his land.

A New Plot!!

This Morning, I stumbled on a new (to me) plotting approach “The Virgin’s Promise.” Unlike the Hero’s Journey in which the main character leaves the comfort of home to learn and change, the main character of the Virgin’s Promise goes on an internal journey of discovery, finding her authentic self, breaking with tradition and sharing a new way of thinking. Let’s see what the cards have to say about my story as a Virgin’s Promise. My understanding of this plot form is from diyMFA.

The original work to research the structure can be found in Kate Hudson’s book The Virgin’s Promise: Writing Stories of Feminine Creative, Spiritual and Sexual Awakening

Virgin's path with Levi

  1. Dependent World:  Six of Coins
  2. Price of Conformity: Two of Swords
  3. Opportunity to Shine: Queen of Swords
  4. Dresses the Part: The Tower
  5. Secret World: The Magician
  6. No Longer Fits Her World: The Fool
  7. Caught Shining: The Hermit
  8. Gives Up What Kept Her stuck: Ace of Pentacles
  9. Kingdom in Chaos: Eight of Swords
  10. Wanders in the Wilderness: The Moon
  11. Chooses Her Light: Three of Wands
  12. Re-order (Rescue): Temperance
  13. Kingdom is Brighter: Five of Swords

My interpretation: After a very tough time my MC is offered a lifeline. He knows that there are expectations for his son’s living situation and is doing his best. He finds that being honest with his son is proving him a good parent. He also discovers that he is good at living off the land, and building/carpentry, things he never expected and that nature provides a learning experience for his son. My MC begins to let go of all the hurt and anger of his hateful divorce and see the potential of what he has been given.

But then there’s a knock at the door and the trespasser from last week is there with another woman, a woman who is there to check on his son’s welfare and he is shaken to the core. This sudden wake-up call of the world he feels happy in versus expectations of society leaves him confused and worried about whether this really is best for his son. Everything suddenly feels immediate when before he felt like he had time to figure things out. He knows he has everything he needs to succeed, but how will he showcase those talents under CPS guidelines?

The judgement of the people who arrived at his door makes him doubt himself and whether he is doing the best he can for his son.  He finds a way to invest in the future that he never would have done before, giving up a belief that kept him stuck. He refuses to go along with the social worker and herbalist’s wants and demands escalating the conflict with “the system,” leading to threats of removing his son from the home. After bucking the system, he feels unsure. He starts wondering if he and his son should run, but where would they go. He feels his greatest fear, their separation, but he knows he has to face it.

Once he decides that he has made the right decisions for his son and will continue to work his land and create a home, he builds momentum and feels self-confidence and enthusiasm though he risks separation and failure. When the herbalist sneaks back on the property, she is shocked by the change. She completely changes her mind about the father and son living there and brings the community to his side, working to take back the damage she has done. My MC wins his battle with CPS and with the help of the herbalist, the social worker and other neighbors creates a lively, nurturing environment for his son.

Notes:

That was fun. I’m glad I found the Virgin’s Promise. I found it interesting that even though I shuffled and cut the cards three times before and after the first layout, some of the same cards and some of the cards from the celtic cross from the other day came up in the second. Though the over-all ideas stayed mostly the same, the conflict started later in the Virgin’s Promise and the ending completely changed. It’ll be interesting to see how the story plays out once the characters start interacting. Plus, it gives me another way to go if the ending needs to change during revision.

Other fun plotting tools:

Even though my plot is pretty clear, I did a few of these just for fun.

The plot-o-matic inspired by John Dufresne’s Is Life Like This?

  • A florist, who wants to be a hermit, irons clothes at 2 am.
  • A tollbooth attendant, who wants to make a discovery, saves someone’s life then dies in a freak accident. (That was the first time I drew more than one card from a stack. I liked the result, so I tried it some more)
  • An exterminator and a butterfly collector want to be in the news. They go to a medium then fin baby bunnies in a nest and meet a woman who wants to die.
  • A conspiracy junky sasquatch hunter, who wants to be happy again, pretends to be blind.

Rory’s story cubes

  • A left-handed drama teacher tries to fix the set of a castle using a flashlight because the power went out. S/he disturbs a sleeping bee that doesn’t die after stinging and then seems magnetically attached and won’t leave him/her alone.
  • A child with a monster shadow sees shadow footprints that s/he follows to a small house. S/he finds a phone number written on the wall inside and calls it. The CEO of a huge company answers and after speaking with the child parachutes to the house in the moonlight and has a key to free the child from the shadow monster.
  • A detective meets an alien in the forest at 4 am. The alien apologizes for accidentally crashing a plane which solves the detective’s case, but that causes drama for the detective because s/he can’t tell anyone. The detective is so conflicted that the alien locks his/her mind with magic.

The Writer’s Emergency Pack
Both cards I randomly drew were “Zombie attack (there are two cards that go with each prompt),” so I’ll think on that. Is doesn’t have to be literal zombies. The prompt question is: What would my hero do if confronted by a mindless, unstoppable horde? He may see the women who come to his door as just that since they represent a government agency and the larger community. The other prompts are:

  • Does the horde have a leader? Will my hero try to confront, take over as leader?
  • What does the horde want? If they get it will they go away or grow stronger and refuse to leave?

These are good questions to ask Eugene as I journal today.

Oblique Strategies  (the cards created by Brian Eno)

  • Listen to the quiet voices
  • Turn it upside down
  • Remove specifics and convert to ambiguities
  • Question the heroic approach

I love that last one. Serendipity of finding The Virgin’s Promise.

Each of the plots I came up with today were in a mostly linear order of events. I’ll want to play around with the plot points and think about non-linear story possibilities. Next, I’ll use everything I’ve done so far to fill in some quick outlines, then start the draft.