#NaNoPrep 101 Week Three – Construct a Detailed Plot

finished scene cards

This third week of NaNo Prep 101 is titled Construct a Detailed Plot or Outline.

The exercise provided is a fun quiz to figure out what kind of plotter you are. I was not surprised to find that I am now equally 9-Step Plot Dot and Plot Rollercoaster.

How I’m Plotting this year

Last month while I participated in Writer-in-Motion, I wrote a post about how I approach plot: Playing with some plots. In that post I showed examples of how I plot with tarot, use the plot-o-matic, use Rory’s story cubes and other fun tools, I even stumbled upon the Virgin’s Promise plot for the first time while I was writing the post, so I won’t re-hash that here. Instead, I will follow the path I forged last week and start with a review of materials I’ve collected and then plan my actions for the week.

Review of Plot and Structure

Over the years I have collected many writing references and almost every one has a chapter or more on plot and structure. I thought this week would be a good time to review the materials I have and select exercises and ideas for this project.

Books

  • Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer states that a traditional plot includes Reversals – setbacks for characters
  • Discoveries – characters find things out about selves, others and world
  • Complications – the central problem is not easily solved and grows more complicated
  • Resolution – a conclusion that satisfies the reader and resolves story problems

Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass – The second section, chapters 13 through 24 are about Plot Development. The main idea is things can always get worse. Raise the stakes. Throw more problems at your main character. Think things are dire? Make them worse.

Wired For Story by Lisa Cron states that a story needs to follow a cause-and-effect trajectory starting on page one. She agrees with Mr. Maass that you need to make things worse going so far as asking “Does everything your protagonist does to make the situation better actually make it worse?”

Now Write! Screenwriting edited by Sherry Ellis and Laurie Lamson – Every sequence, scene or action moves the story from hope to fear or fear to hope. Make the story unpredictable with plot twists. Set up (at least) three major subgoals for the protagonist to achieve her main objective then describe what goes wrong, so these goals can’t be achieved.

Mapping the Hero’s Journey With Tarot by Arwen Lynch – There are exercises to explore each step of the hero’s journey uses the symbols of the cards. I like this method because it gets me thinking about the character’s emotional journey as well as external and internal events.

Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham includes A Scenic Master Plot that goes through possible scenes chapter by chapter.

Building Better Plots by Robert Kernen guides the reader through creating and organizing scene cards to create the story arc. It has some great “Quizes” to help you evaluate your scenes.

Youtube Videos

Pixar in a box collection has some good videos on story structure.

My Plan for this week

Listing my plans for the week is really working. Last week, I created my protagonist, a peer/possible love interest, a friend, and the antagonists.   Writing short stories exploring some of my ideas is helping me visualize how my characters will interact with technology and their environments in my future world. I’m so glad I started early. There’s so much more to think about.

I think narrowing my focus to specific elements of my story, so I can focus my research and extrapolations, is wise at this point.  Here’s my plan:

Brainstorm plot points and scenes: I’m going to set a timer for fifteen minutes and write as many ideas for scenes, events, actions and reactions as I can. Choose my favorites then put it away and read for a while. Then I’ll do it again. Once I have come up with lots of fun ideas, I’ll organize them into beginning, middle, and end.

Put scenes on index cards in Scrivener

Evaluate scenes with Kernen’s Quick Quizes

Explore plotting with Tarot: I will use Lynch’s exercises to flesh out my plot further.

Fill in Outlines in Scrivener

Put scenes into Bickham’s Scenic Master Plot and explore which outline or combination of outlines I want to use during NaNoWriMo.

Play around with structure: I’ll try re-ordering the scenes to find the most exciting way to tell my story.

Free-write raising the stakes: Once I’ve explored the stakes and conflicts, I’ll free-write about how to make them worse.

Interview characters: As I choose scenes and plot-points that I think should be included in my novel, I’ll ask my characters about them. Hopefully, this practice of involving my characters in the planning of the plot will keep me immersed in the story as I work.

How do you plot and outline?

Do you have specific resources and tools you like to use?

Happy Reading and Writing!

October Challenges: #Writober and #OctPoWriMo

October is right around the corner which means some fun daily challenges I participate in are coming up. I hope you’ll join me.

Writober

Writober is a daily flash story challenge with image prompts. I set up the daily prompts on a pinterest board, so you can see them all at once and jump around if you would like. This year is #Writober 5. Feel free to look through all the #Writober boards if you are looking for creepy and scary inspiration. Pinterest has changed and will not let me rename the pins by day, so my link here is how you will know which picture I’m writing to each day.

This year, I’m planning my first science fiction novel for NaNoWriMo. In hope of truly understanding the future I’m creating for this novel, I am completely immersing myself in science fiction, so each of my flash fiction stories this month will hopefully have something to do with my future world (though a pretty scary and dark side of it). Thus, you may notice the images I have chosen somewhat more future horror than paranormal horror, or so I plan to interpret them.

OctPoWriMo

October Poetry Writing Month is a poetry writing challenge to write a poem each day in October. Prompts are provided each day at http://www.octpowrimo.com/

I will also still be working on NaNo Prep 101 which will continue up until Nov. 1.

NaNo Prep 101

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) usually starts on Nov. 1st for me, but this year I got my idea early, so I’m participating in NaNo Prep 101 Workshop. Each week has a specific writing focus. So far, we’ve looked at the story idea, and character. October, we will explore Plot/Outline, World Building, Organizing life for writing, and Time Management.

There is a Webcast: Writing with Abby Sher and Paola Mendoza on October 1st. I really enjoy NaNoWriMo write-ins. They always inspire me to write something interesting that works with my draft.

And two more weeks of the Writer’s Games.

October’s going to be busy, but it should be a lot of fun. I’ll be in the future. I hope you’ll join me.

What October challenges do you enjoy?

#NaNoPrep 101 Week Two – Creating Characters

Four characters sitting around a table: a teddy bear, a blue-faced woman, a woman in a wrestling mask and wood-sculpture faced man

This second week of NaNo Prep 101 is titled Create Complex, Believable Characters .

The exercise provided includes character questionnaires that you may find useful, but the final three questions are the most important:

  • Want
  • Need
  • Internal/External obstacles

Where I begin my characters

Weeks ago when I began the Writer In Motion Challenge, I talked about the Character Creation Spreadsheet I’ve created as a tool to spark my stories. Through my experience with quick-deadline short stories, especially participating in The Writer’s Games, I’ve learned that creating well-rounded, interesting characters inspires an interesting plot with conflict and purpose.

I am reading Mastering the Process by Elizabeth George and in Chapter 3 “Digging Deeper into Character” she gave me some ideas for new columns to my spreadsheet.

1. Core Need: This is the underlying motivation for everything the character does. The character may not be self-aware enough to know their core need, however, they will be by the end of the story. Elizabeth George gives some example of core needs as: approval, perfection, to be right, attention, etc.

I put the core need column right after the name columns in my spreadsheet and went searching for more (which reminds me, I need to add to my names columns. It may be time to weed out some over-used names as well). My search led to many articles of 6 core needs, 7 core needs, up to 10 (of course) human needs, but   I wasn’t attempting to dilute the idea to an easy list, so I have 31 so far and will keep adding.

2. Psychopathology or “Pathological maneuver”: Here’s where it gets fun. We all have moments where we are stunned by our own words and actions. We sit there asking ourselves, “Why did I do that?” Our actions are contrary to our needs and desires. Sometimes we even self-sabotage.

Elizabeth George calls these actions “pathological maneuvers.” In her list of these behaviors she includes: showering for hours, kleptomania, hoarding, and bullying. She also includes all manias and phobias, obsessions, and compulsions. In my column, which I put directly after the core needs column, I looked up lists of manias and phobias and will keep adding.

I already have a core fear and secondary fear column on my spreadsheet, but they are more about the underlying beliefs than the manifestations in actions. It will be interesting to see what comes to mind when the fears and behaviors collide.

With these two aspects of the character influencing thoughts and behaviors every scene will have an agenda and tension. I’m excited to try out these new additions to my Character Creation tool and see who is coming to play in my next story.

The Future and My Character Creation Spreadsheet

I started thinking about specific characters for my NaNoWriMo Novel and realized I needed a new Character Creation Spreadsheet. Naming trends will be different, as will occupations, hobbies, causes, maybe even fears. With those thoughts in mind, I decided to create a science-fiction-specific character creation spreadsheet.

Review of Character creation and development

Over the years I have collected many writing references and almost every one has a chapter or more on character creation and development. I thought this week would be a good time to review the materials I have and select exercises and ideas for this project.

Masterclass

I got myself a full-access pass to Masterclass.com in 2019 and really enjoy it. Each class comes with a workbook. I thought I would take a look through some of my favorites and see what they have to say about character.

Margaret Atwood had an interesting chart that she uses to reference her characters in time. The chart has the months on the left and blanks along the top for years. She begins by charting the character’s birthday. Then she charts dates of major events that influence that character.

Neil Gaiman likes to find his characters through listening, so his character development is about condensing speech and interviewing your characters.

David Mamet says there is no character, only actions. This idea correlates well with this video from Pixar in a box:

Joyce Carol Oates encourages getting to know your characters as if they are people you have met in real life. She says it’s important to choose characters who fascinate you. Write an exploration into why exactly they are so important / unique to your perspective.

Books

Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer explores four main approaches to characterization:

  1. Obsessive Immersive – includes stream of consciousness to be fully inside the character as if living inside a brain
  2. Full (rounded) – interior thoughts and emotions, but the thoughts of the character do not define everything
  3. Partial – characters remain mysterious to some extent. Idiosyncratic/ Type driven.
  4. Flat – folk tales/ fairy tales. Archetypes existing on symbolic and literal level.

Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass – The first twelve chapters are Character Development. Almost all of the exercises are about increasing stakes and conflict. Once I have created some characters to play with, exploring these exercises will definitely help me come up with some plot points.

Wired For Story by Lisa Cron focuses on the importance of the reader relating to the protagonist to have a visceral, emotional reaction to the story. What moves a story forward is the protagonist’s actions, reactions and decisions (agreeing with Mamet?). Character bios should concentrate on information relevant to your story.

Now Write! Screenwriting edited by Sherry Ellis and Laurie Lamson – Anything that makes it easier for you to create your characters is a good tool. Explore the public, personal and private lives of your character. Find your character’s dramatic truth. Characters’ actions under duress demonstrate who they really are (this is sounding familiar).

To produce active characters ask:

  1. What does my character want?
  2. Why does s/he want it?
  3. Why can’t s/he get it?
  4. What does s/he need?

Identify protagonist’s inherent weakness that creates a psychological need. The inciting incident causes the protagonist to want something and take steps to get it. The action of the inciting incident reveals the protagonist’s weakness.

List physical, psychological and sociological aspects of your character. Use these aspects to create contradictions through contrasting details.

Mapping the Hero’s Journey With Tarot by Arwen Lynch – The first chapter of the book is about using the court cards to answer some questions about your character. Chapter two explores your character in his/her ordinary world.

Youtube Videos

I made a creating characters collection of some videos I found on youtube

Pixar in a box collection has some videos on character

My Plan for this week

Last week I noticed that listing my plans for the week helped me see clear, actionable goals and get things done. I started reading comps, immersing myself in related, movies and shows, collecting futurist signals specific to my project and more.  This week I hope to create a cast of characters to start getting to know.  Here’s my plan:

Random Number Character Creation Spreadsheet: Once I have created my new sci-fi specific spreadsheet, I will use a random number generator to create characters to populate my future world.

Explore my characters with Tarot: I will use Lynch’s exercises to flesh out my characters further.

Fill in Character sheets in Scrivener including images: From my randomly generated characters, I will select my protagonist, antagonist and other main characters and fill in the rest of their Character sketch sheets. Once I have solidified some ideas about my characters, I’ll head over to my Pinterest board of possible characters and find images of how they look.

Free-write about characters: After I have a fuller picture of who my characters are, I’ll do some timed free-writes. First from my perspective. Then in their own voices.

Interview characters: I will look through my resources and collect questions that I think will help me get to know my characters better, trying to make them as story-specific as I can. Then I will imagine that I am having a conversation with my character, asking them the questions I’ve collected and writing down their answers, noting their physical reactions and body language.

During NaNoWriMo 2017 I wrote a blog post every day. One of the things I included was a section with questions to ask your character. Many of those questions came from the Great Questions List that is part of StoryCorps.org ‘s project to record humanity’s stories.

Physically act out walk, body movements, and voice of main characters: While reading Voice Acting by , I recorded myself reading the script to put yourself into your character. Like a meditation, it guides me into putting myself into my character and becoming them to explore how they sound, how they hold themselves as they speak because that influences how the voice sounds. Yesterday, while I was collecting Youtube videos about character, I found this video with a similar technique. (starting 14:40)

Start thinking about my characters’ actions and reactions in possible story scenarios and writing exercises from the Breakout Novel Workbook.

How do you create and develop your characters?

Do you have specific resources and tools you like to use?

Happy Reading and Writing!

#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: 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.