Stepping into the forest of my mind

Stepping into the forest of my mind
Just as every journey begins with a first step, every story begins with the first word.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Going Beneath the Surface in Story #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

To go beneath the surface in your story, or shall we say beneath the plot, the writer needs to ask why what happens in the plot matters to the protagonist or the characters in the story. As Lisa Cron of Story Genuis fame says, the plot gets its emotional weight based on how it affects your protagonist who is in pursuit of a goal.

Let’s see how it works in two books I enjoyed.

The Boys in the Boat, Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown is an historical non-fiction book told as a riveting story. The plot is about how these nine disparate, poor American college boys finally come together as a team to win the eight-oared crew race in the 1936 Olympic Games in Germany. [Eight oarsmen, 1 coxswain = nine American boys in the boat]
That’s what happens.
But who would really care if not for the why it matters to one particular boy in the boat, Joe Rantz. This book is mostly his story. Of course, Brown brings to life all of the crew members, the coaches, the boat builder, Joe’s family and girlfriend, the Depression, the Dust Bowl, and Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
What Joe has always wanted is a family who cares about him. The reader watches Joe’s attempts to get his father and step-mother to care about him, to be proud of him. And we feel Joe’s pain as he is abandoned again and again by his family.
We see his misbelief become a reality, that he can’t trust anyone to be there for him. The reader is part of his search for family and connection. And he finds it in rowing and realizing that he can trust his fellow crew members.

In fiction, John Grisham’s The Client works the same way. The plot is about the suicide of a mafia lawyer who knows about the mafia cover-up of a murdered Louisiana senator.
Okay, it’s about the mafia’s dirty works. Why should it matter to regular folks?
It matters because the protagonist, an eleven-year-old, street-wise but poor boy named Mark Sway, tries to prevent the lawyer from committing suicide.

Okay, so what?
It’s the backstory in any story that helps the reader understand why the plot matters to the characters.
Mark’s always wanted security for him and his mother and younger brother. He’s been taking care of them since before his abusive father left.
What happens in the plot matters to the Mark because he feels responsible for bringing a mafia threat into his family. A heavy load for an eleven-year-old to bear. Like any good story, problems escalate. Not knowing who to turn to, Mark retains a lawyer for his family with a dollar. Together Mark and his lawyer Reggie Love, a woman with her own complicated backstory, end up in a race to discover the body before the mafia moves the body.  
Again, this all matters to Mark because he doesn’t want his family to live in fear of the mafia killing them.

            I’ve only given a basic outline of what I’m trying to show here with the above two titles. It’s easier to show how the questioning system works with finished stories. It’s much harder to do this in your own work of creation.

In each scene, the writer needs to know:
What the characters go into the scene believing,
What they want, and
Why what is happening in the scene matters to them.

By the end of each scene, the characters need to change; their outlooks on the situation, their feelings, or their next moves, even if it is just slightly. Writers need to let the reader into the character’s head.

In the first scene of my memoir about attending college as a mother of five, Victoria is at school with her special needs’ daughter Marie. They are meeting with the guidance counselor from the high school to choose a curriculum for Marie.

Victoria enters the scene believing that she’s inferior to college-educated professionals, but if she can only get the counselor to understand Marie’s needs and what Marie wants to do in life [attend college to become a teacher], choosing the curriculum will be easy.

What Victoria wants in this scene is for the counselor to listen to Victoria. [Counselor ignores Victoria.]

Why what is happening in this scene matters to Victoria is because she is reliving her own struggle of trying to convince her parents that she desired to attend college, and Victoria, too, was told that she was not college material.

Victoria changes by the end of the scene [only slightly] by deciding, as a mother, to give her daughter the opportunity that Victoria was denied so long ago. Victoria allows her daughter the opportunity to at least try to attend college. [Counselor makes Victoria sign paper stating that if Marie fails high school it’s Victoria’s fault because Victoria wouldn’t follow recommendations made by teachers and the Special Education Department, people who are more educated than Victoria, who wanted Marie to stay in Special Ed classes.]

Writers of fiction as well as memoir need to remember that we never just give us the what in the story. We need to always dive into the why. In other words, when creating story, writers need to know the questions to ask of every scene, every character:
What happened?
Why did that happen?
What did the character do as a result?

If we keep asking why and where the feeling is coming from and what does it mean to that person, we can discover the true meaning of our story.

I want to thank JennieNash of Author Accelerator and Lisa Cron for helping me to understand which questions to ask for each scene in my memoir.
*As before, please offer any insight or comments you may have about my college memoir. Thank you! * 

Thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in the comment so I can be sure to do the same for you. To continue hopping through more amazing blogs or to join our Author Toolbox blog hop, click here

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Insecure Writers Want to Know: Does Spring Inspire You to Write More Than in Other Seasons?

            Ah spring, the awakening of nature! Or is it more a rebirth of creation? Writers, as well as other artists, create. If we think in terms of creation, writers create new worlds, whether they’re alien, paranormal, magical, historical, or contemporary. These worlds must be logical and the writer needs to understand them explicitly. Writers also need to populate any new world with realistic characters and create believable struggles and offer new insights. If writers consider the spring season as a time of new creation, then yes, it can be a great inspiration to begin something new.

Do I, personally, write more in springtime than in other seasons? I don’t think so. I try to write the same amount in all seasons—as much as possible. Notice the important verb in that sentence: try. My writing comes in many forms; i.e., blog posts, comments, and social media and e-mails, writing workshop presentations, fiction works in progress, and of course, my memoir about attending college as a mother of five.

I fret over each word, which is a real problem for me. In any one of those writing endeavors, I can run short on “what comes next.” The family can intrude in my space. And my personal realm as a writer can come crashing down without warning. Since this can happen at any time, I try to write as much as possible whenever I can.

The key for me is to ignore the internet, pray the family don’t find me, and not look out the window, not until I’ve finished at least some of the writing I have scheduled for the day.

Uh oh! My eyes just glanced out the window. The sunshine is kissing the flowers. You’ll have to excuse me. My lilacs are in full bloom. The Lily of the Valley needs plucking. Birds and bunnies call attention to themselves in blossoming apple and cherry trees and on sharp green lawns. Suddenly, my senses need filling. I’ll get back to my writing creations after a cleansing of my mind on a walk in springtime.  

Thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in the comment so I can be sure to do the same for you.

This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s SupportGroup. We post on the first Wednesday of every month.  To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

What is the Aha Moment in Fiction or Memoir #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Lisa Cron, in her Story Genius course, states that your protagonist’s “aha moment” near the end of your novel is when the protagonist finally overcomes her misbelief. This is where your novel makes its point. A writer needs to know the point she is trying to make in her story to be sure each scene is focused on that point.

If I analyze my college journey experience, I notice that throughout my experience I am the mother of five children first and a college student second. My life has always been about the parenting of my children.

            This brought me back to how my parents raised me and my brother and sisters. It made me reconsider deeply my father’s words in the origin scene. You can find my post on origin scene here.   
“What makes you think you’re smart enough for college, Vic?”

Because Victoria struggled in her early education, her father felt he was saving his daughter from possible failure in life. Perhaps he thought he could save all his children from failure by choosing an easier path for them; a path, he thought, without unnecessary struggle; a path, it seemed, without a college education in it.

Victoria’s initial interpretation of the origin scene was that those who struggle in school should not go to college because they’d have a higher risk for failure.

But what if Victoria realizes near the end of her college journey that success in college doesn’t depend only on how quickly you learn but rather on your determination to succeed? Doubt and fear of failure are a part of life. Many people struggle to better themselves. Parents shouldn’t keep their children from attempting new and difficult goals solely to keep them safe from the risk of failure. We must realize our full potential, and to do this, many need to struggle; like Victoria does in her quest for a college diploma.  

Maybe becoming a parent myself solidified my work ethic. Perseverance matters in life. Those who struggle early in their education learn this as they move through life. Perseverance can overcome obstacles. Victoria learns this through her college journey. She learns differently. Others may learn faster, but Victoria keeps chipping away at education and understanding of course material to receive her Bachelor of Arts degree from an Ivy League university.

The takeaway message to readers could be:
Effort counts in life as in college.
Perseverance matters.
Don’t let fear and doubt keep you from your goals.

*In your opinion, which sentence encapsulates what Victoria has learned from the info I provided above?*  

While researching concrete evidence about what Victoria learned during her ten-year college journey, I came across two great TED talks:
Angela Lee Duckworth defines “grit” as passion and perseverance for long-term goals.
And Dr. Carol Dweck speaks of a belief called the “growth mindset” and how we can improve in learning.

            In memoir as in fiction, the protagonist needs to deal with her misbelief scene by scene by scene in order to earn her “aha moment,” that point in the story where the protagonist discovers that her misbelief is in fact a misbelief. This is usually an “internal realization” according to Lisa Cron in Story Genius, an internal realization that is prompted by an event in a fiction story or memoir. Thanks for reading.

And thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in the comment so I can be sure to do the same for you. To continue hopping through more amazing blogs or to join our Author Toolbox blog hop, click here.            

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Insecure Writers Want to Know: When your writing life is filled with rain, What do you do to dig down and keep writing?

Please understand that any time I’m struggling with my writing, it pours. Thunder and lightning included. Hail, many times. I mean the storm clouds just won’t leave me alone. My children and husband even scatter! It isn’t pretty. Eeyore has nothing on me.

But I try to convince myself that I’m not alone. Drenched souls don’t mind sharing umbrellas or fluffy beach towels. That’s why I treasure IWSG. I’d be lost without you guys!

The first thing I try to do is remain at my desk, fingers at the ready on the keyboard, eyes focused on the computer screen. I turn off any outside noise. If only I could find that hidden off switch on the children!
Then I attempt to inhabit the story or memoir situation, asking myself:
If I were the protagonist, what would I do?
How would I feel?
What would I remember to help me cope with the present day action of the story?
What meaning would the story action have for me?

However when the rain is really pelting me, it’s time to save my work and close the document. Then turn to other writers to learn. Mostly this means reading stories and blog posts, essays and how-to books, and listening to the writing gurus’ podcasts.
But in so doing, I try to remind myself that they, too, might have struggled to write their stories or posts or essays or memoirs or podcasts.

When I can’t see where to go in my story or memoir, I turn off the computer and take my brain outside. The weather doesn’t matter. I’m really just thinking and walking; looking at the real world to be able to make sense of my fictitious world or the past memoir world that I’ve lived. I’m taking my eyes away from the page; noticing the sky and the trees; smelling the flowers and the earth; listening to the song of the birds and my thoughts. I’m a concrete thinker. I need to understand the logic of what’s happening before I can transcribe it into story or memoir.

 As I return to my work and my computer, I consider any knowledge that I might need in order to move forward in the story or memoir. I’m talking about research here. And while I believe in the power of the library or any expert interviews you may be able to acquire, the internet is a fine place to begin a research campaign.
Now I don’t know about you, but I need to remind myself that I’m working here and not get interested in what’s happening on social media or suddenly want to discover what my favorite movie star is up to or the royals. I try to console myself saying it’s only because I don’t know where to go in my WIP. Yet, I’m a writer. There’s a time to play and a time to work.

Writers work incredibly hard to make their creation a reality. How do you climb out of the mud puddles of your WIP when you don’t know how to proceed? Humor me please. I’ve moved to higher ground and still I’m drowning trying to make sense of my college memoir.

Thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in the comment so I can be sure to do the same for you.

This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s SupportGroup. We post on the first Wednesday of every month.  To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.  

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Transformational Arc of the Protagonist in Fiction or Memoir #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

In fiction or memoir, the story needs to be about the protagonist taking the reader through an arc of change and letting the reader feel that experience, feel that change within the protagonist. Writers need to remember that the internal story arc of change for the protagonist, the transformational arc, needs to unfold slowly, scene by scene, and it needs to be interpreted for the reader through the protagonist’s thoughts.

But in order for the writer to construct a story to change the protagonist, the writer needs to understand how the protagonist interprets her story world. That’s where the origin scene comes in. Remember the origin scene from a prior blog post? The origin scene is where the protagonist’s misbelief about the world is born. This is a misbelief about how the world works according to the protagonist. This guides the protagonist’s life from the moment it happens—the actual origin scene—according to Lisa Cron in her Story Genius course.

In memoir, the protagonist is you the writer. You need to think:
How am I going to show one explicit arc of change in the protagonist’s memoir story?
Think what particularly is Victoria’s arc of change in her college memoir?

            Victoria begins the memoir believing that if you struggled in school, you’re not smart enough for college because her father said as much in the origin scene when she attempted to sign up for college prep courses in high school.

As a writer, I need to show the protagonist’s change from someone who doesn’t believe that she can handle college—because she’s unprepared and inadequate—to someone who does in fact graduate from an Ivy League university. I need to show the daily struggles with fear and doubt—and what they mean to the protagonist—through scenes in the memoir.

In order to do this, writers need to set the place, the time, and the context of each scene moving forward. Scenes need to be specific. Writers can’t simply focus on what happens externally in the story. We’ve got to let the reader know what our protagonist is thinking as she reacts, internally, to everything that happens in the story according to Cron. And we need to help the reader understand why our characters are thinking and believing what they do. We need to put the character’s inner struggle right on the page so readers can experience her internal conflict themselves.

The misbelief needs to be at the forefront of the internal struggle in the story. Backstory scenes need to reinforce Victoria’s misbelief; scenes that show her feelings of fear and doubt and inadequacy that if she went to college she would surely fail. My blogpost about backstory can be found here

            A few backstory scenes to reinforce Victoria’s misbelief could be:

A scene with a college-bound high school friend where the friend tries to explain her science classwork to Victoria and Victoria is completely lost, believing her father correct. She could never understand the subject material.
Note: Victoria comes to realize, as she struggles through college herself, that she needs to be taught the subject matter visually to be able to understand.

After the birth of her first baby, Victoria discovers that a fellow secretarial student friend from high school graduates from community college. Victoria interprets this as her friend probably didn’t struggle in school. She was simply smarter than Victoria.

Victoria fails the math portion of the College Entrance Exam.

However, to chip away at her struggle to believe she can succeed at college, Victoria learns that the college offers basic skills math courses to help her build a math foundation.  
            Another scene that chips away at Victoria’s misbelief is when the Phi Theta Kappa advisor informs her that she should apply for All U.S.A. and All New Jersey Community and Junior College Academic Team awards. The professor believes in Victoria, but Victoria is more worried about what would happen if she won the awards.

Fear, doubt, and inadequacy in my particular memoir story can manifest themselves as inferiority or even feeling like an imposter. When I attended the University of Pennsylvania, I didn’t feel like a real Ivy Leaguer. I felt like I didn’t belong.

*As before, please offer any insight or comments you may have about my college memoir. Thank you! * 

Lisa Cron states that the protagonist’s “aha moment” comes near the end of the novel. It is when she finally overcomes her misbelief. This is where your novel makes its point. I’ll talk about the “aha moment” in the next post.

Thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in the comment so I can be sure to do the same for you. To continue hopping through more amazing blogs or to join our Author Toolbox blog hop, click here.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Insecure Writers want to know: How Do You Celebrate When You Achieve a Writing Goal or Finish a Story?

            Celebrating at each juncture in our writing journey is important for self-esteem. I do this in degrees like when I celebrate my children’s accomplishments.

If I’ve had a great writing session; you know, not too much staring at the computer screen, I go out for a walk by myself. Ahh…peace and quiet! This only works when the kids aren’t home. And the weather doesn’t matter. I’ve hiked in the snow and rain. You just dress appropriately.

If I finish revising a story to the best of my ability and send it for critique, I brew a fresh pot of tea and pick up a book I’ve been planning to read. Again, this only works when my husband and the kids aren’t home. Otherwise, I can’t hear the words I’m reading. You need to have kids to understand this.

If I submit a story to a publisher—once I start breathing again—I become the nice Mom the children knew before I started writing and submitting stories. There is a difference between the stressed Writer Mom and the “So, how was your day?” Mom. We prepare favorite foods together and play board games, remember them? We like Clue and Scotland Yard best. They’re mystery games. We plan our next camping adventure as a family and I truly listen and participate in the discussion.   

If a publisher accepts one of my stories, once I get up off the floor, I celebrate with the whole family. That’s right! It’s pizza all around. Well, I don’t want to spend all the money I make selling my stories on dinner for 7 at a restaurant. We usually watch a movie, too. And yes, I analyze the plot, seeing how the writer created the plausibility of the story. And, unfortunately, I discuss it with the family. One of the twins told me I was more fun to watch movies with before I started writing so many stories. She’s probably right!

Wow! Did you notice how each celebration benefits me physically somehow? I just noticed it. I exercise. I rest my eyes from the computer screen. I learn about story from other writers while analyzing their books or movies. I spend quality time with the family, giving my mind a rest, focusing on fun games and cooking.

Hmm… when I consider my degrees of celebration for the children’s accomplishments, I find benefits as well. It just proves that celebrating accomplishments is good for you. So…how do you celebrate writing goals?

Thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in the comment so I can be sure to do the same for you.

This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s SupportGroup. We post on the first Wednesday of every month.  To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.  

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

What’s your point in fiction or memoir? #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

What’s your point? How often do we find ourselves asking this of a show we are watching, a lecture we’re listening to, or even of a friend’s anecdote?

The point of a piece of writing could be considered a theme or an idea you are trying to put forward. All writing needs a focused point to help guide the reader, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction.

I recently read a wonderful guest post on Writers Helping Writers by Daeus Lamb in which he offers a distinction between theme and the point of your story. Lamb posits that theme is the “moral topic” of your story and a “message is the point” you are trying to “make about that theme.”

I don’t think it really matters what you call it so long as you do in fact have a point to your story or essay. And nowhere is this more important than in memoir. 

Remember that memoir is told as a story. It’s one thin slice of life, one arc of transformation for the protagonist—the person writing the memoir story—as Jennie Nash ofAuthor Accelerator likes to say. The writer needs to step back and look at herself as a character and actually put herself through that arc of change for the reader.

How does she do this? By carefully selecting specific events from this certain time in her life and making sure the change is shown on the page through these experiences for the reader to understand. Readers need to be in the socks of the protagonist, experiencing this specific arc of change along with the protagonist.  

But which events from that specific time in life do you choose to include in the memoir? This is where the point of your story comes into play. The memoirist chooses the real events that prove the point of the memoir story.

Make no mistake. Finding the point of a story in the beginning when you are trying to write forward is extremely difficult. I’ve been playing with the point of my memoir about attending college as a mother of five for about two years now.  

I believe the point of my memoir is not to allow my world to be colored by how others see me. We shouldn’t give those around us permission to influence our feelings about ourselves. We need to dream. And then go after that dream and learn from our failures.

            My father said I was not college material when I tried to sign up for the college prep track in high school.
            My children’s school teachers/counselors/special education department said they knew more than I did and therefore I should listen to their instructions on how to raise and educate my children when they faltered academically; specifically, my special needs daughter.
            The doctor and the neurologist knew what I should do to deal with my special needs daughter’s ADHD and her social and learning problems.
            A few community college profs seemed to talk down to me, a mother who didn’t know higher level math or science, didn’t know literature, didn’t know psychology. [As I said, no college prep foundation.]
            A few Ivy League profs decided they were wholly better than I and told me I was wrong in my views—again and again.
            Even some of the Ivy League students thought they were better than I, especially in the higher level courses. After all, I was an older college student, not someone who earned the right to be at the Ivy League right out of high school.

            The events once I began my college journey furthered my inferiority complex, making me feel like an imposter. My misbelief was that college was not for people like me; someone from a blue collar family who struggled in school. I was a nontraditional college student, one who didn’t attend college right out of high school.

The point is I gave these people permission to influence how I felt about myself. I didn’t have the needed confidence to understand that anyone could have a “know-it-all” prof or come across students who felt they were better than others. I did this because I felt they were all smarter than I was. After all, they went to college right out of high school.

*Please offer any insight or comments you may have about this. Thank you!*

Memoir is a specific story about a specific person’s life and a specific arc of change that person goes through. But the writer needs to elevate that personal story beyond one person’s experience. She needs to elevate the story to become a universal story about how someone can overcome the circumstances she finds herself in; in other words, make the point of the memoir universal in scope. The writer needs to think of the protagonist’s situation with her eye on the horizon, looking ahead for what it all means.

I’d like to thank Jennie Nash for helping me understand this concept. Nash has an “Ask Me Anything” [AMA] on one Tuesday morning [Pacific Time] a month. At that time, participants may literally ask Nash anything about publishing and writing and she answers them live. It’s free. Her calendar may be found here. It’s definitely worth your time.

Thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in the comment so I can be sure to do the same for you. To continue hopping through more amazing blogs or to join our Author Toolbox blog hop, click here.