Look Back to Plan Ahead

January 30, 2008 at 7:47 pm | Posted in Writers Write | Leave a comment
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Have you ever heard the saying about the definition of insanity?  Insanity is doing the same over and expecting different results.  I have many times, usually from well meaning motivational gurus who encourage change. We can become so focused on what doesn’t work we may overlook what does.

Just for the sake of this dialogue, let’s assume that everyone has succeeded at some time in their life, at least once. There may be a thousand failures, but there is at least one success.  If the past is the best predicator of the future, rather than looking back on a thousand failures (that’s depressing!) look back on that one success   

What worked?    

I was successful in landing a job.  How did I do that?             

 – I prepared for the interview.  The interviewer told me the interview would be a conducted as an informational interview. These are especially stressful because you’re put on the spot to answer questions that exhibit your skills, like “Tell me about a time you successfully dealt with an irate customer.”  Knowing I’d be faced with these types of questions I wrote a list of accomplishments that I could use for my real world examples.  I then prepared several questions which I thought might be asked, such as “Give me an example of when you were able to lead a difficult individual.” I wrote the questions on index cards and had my husband and kids “interview” me.               

 – I imagined a positive outcome.  I added my new job title and start date to my resume. They didn’t know it yet, but the job was already mine! I visualized the interview; my relaxed demeanor, professional appearance, ready answers and witty banter.  My hands may not have been as steady or my wit as witty as I imagined; but I was much more relaxed having a positive expectation of the interview.             

  – I presented myself to make a good impression, but I was also authentic.  I didn’t try to hide my nerves, but acknowledged them.  I paused to give myself time to think of my answers.  I thanked them for their time and maybe even gushed in my enthusiasm to make a good impression.  No matter how much I want to appear cool, collected and in complete control; my façade would crumble after a few days on the new job.  It’s better they know I’m human right from the start.  In this one example of success in my life, I can see what works for me:  

            Preparation

            Practice

            Positive Visualization

            Presentation

Once you define what works for you, think of how you’ll apply the same strategies in areas where you may have failed in the past.   For example, I was unsuccessful at selling a manuscript.             

 – I wasn’t fully prepared.  When an agent asked what made my book different, I couldn’t think of an answer.  If I couldn’t sell my book, how could I expect someone else to?  I vowed to be prepared in the future.  I read dozens of books on the subject of finding an agent or publisher. I researched the market, identified my audience and my competition.  Why would someone choose my book over Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwell or Jonathon Kellerman? I had to know the answer to this question and believe it!           

   – Next, I practiced the fine art of convincing others.  You guessed it, my hubby and kids again. While they’re not the toughest judges in the world, I found that the more times I said “My book features a strong heroine unlike any other in the mystery genre. She is a working mother, conflicted with the demands of work and family, yet dedicated to both.” the stronger I felt about it.              

 – It was easy for me to imagine a big fat advance for my manuscript. I imagined what it would be like to be a best selling writer.   I posted a list of the NY Times Bestsellers and replaced the #1 selection with my book’s title.  I wrote a million dollar check to myself so I could get used to seeing that many zeros in my bank account.              

 – Presentation was absolutely critical to my success. I hired an outside editing firm to ensure my manuscript was in tip top shape before I sent one query letter.  I had my query letter, story synopsis, chapter synopsis, sample chapters and resume ready to mail at a moment’s notice.  

There’s no “one size fits all” formula of success. Take the time to look back in order to succeed in the future.

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Hearing Your Voice

January 27, 2008 at 7:31 pm | Posted in Writers Write | Leave a comment
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Having your own voice in your writing is critical to your future success. Writers who are able to express their unique view of the world carve a niche for themselves in a crowded marketplace. To find your voice, begin by asking yourself what it is you wish to say.

Writing is about communication.  You are delivering a message regardless of the manner in which you choose to present it.  You may want to write an article on National Health Care; a personal essay about a special relationship; or a short story about cloning in the future.   After you have identified the message you want to communicate, you need to know the audience for whom the message is intended. The best way to understand your audience is to be a member of it.  In other words, if you read horror novels, you should write in the same genre, since you already know your audience. 

Genre is a category of book, whether mystery & crime, suspense & horror, romance, or Sci Fi & Fantasy, the lines may blur, but there are unique characteristics of each.   

Mystery & Crime includes stories of police, private detective or forensic investigations. The stories may be fictional or true crime. As defined by Genrelist “Fictional stories, usually realistic, about a mysterious event which is not explained or a crime that is not solved until the end of the story to keep the reader in suspense.” 

Suspense & horror includes supernatural thrillers, paranormal and the occult.  According to Wikipedia, “Historically, the cause of the “horror” experience has often been the intrusion of an evil —- or, occasionally, misunderstood —- supernatural element into everyday human experience. Since the 1960s, any work of fiction with a morbid, gruesome, surreal, or exceptionally suspenseful or frightening theme has come to be called “horror”. Horror fiction often overlaps science fiction or fantasy, all three of which categories are sometimes placed under the umbrella classification speculative fiction. See also supernatural fiction.” (2) 

Romance can cross any genre, it may be historical, present day or futuristic, but at its core it is a love story. Sci Fi contains “futuristic technology; a blend of scientific fact and fictional elements” whereas Fantasy “contains elements that are NOT realistic, such as talking animals, magical powers, etc. Make-believe is what this genre is all about.” (1)  

There is another voice to consider before you begin; to voice telling the story or Point of View.  Point of View may be first person, second person or third person. First person is the most intimate and limiting POV.Second person is the least common POV usually reserved for non fiction works.Third person may be less intimate, but it allows more flexibility to the author. The person telling the story is a character of the story. Their perspective will influence the reader’s perception of the story, so you should choose wisely. The character’s voice, traits and opinions are not your own, so resist inserting too much of your own      

1. Genrelist: What in the world is Realistic Fiction?

Show AND Tell

January 25, 2008 at 12:33 am | Posted in Writers Write | 4 Comments
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As a writer, I’m sure you’ve heard the mantra “Show Don’t Tell.”  I’ve struggled with this for years: after all, a writer’s medium is words, their canvas a blank page and their art a story worth telling. Last year I took a creative writing class and it finally “clicked” for me.  A writer must “Show and Tell” combining descriptive language to convey emotion and develop character, as well as, action to move the story forward. 

You can not reasonably “Show” everything or the narrative will be bogged down with minutia.  You can not “Tell” everything or the narrative may be detached and read like a textbook.  Only you can decide how much is enough and where the story or characters benefit from showing or telling. The mix is where the magic happens.  I can’t give you a recipe with precise measures of showing and telling.  A great deal depends on what you’re  planning to dish up, a gory horror story ala Stephen King will probably have more showing whereas a tough talking PI will tell it like is. 

Here are a few examples that may help you find the right mix for you.

Telling Showing
He was mad. His mouth clamped shut, lips drawn in a bloodless gash.
She was a shy girl, who blushed whenever Charlie passed by.  She could feel her cheeks burning with embarrassment.  She ducked her head so Charlie wouldn’t notice the affect he had on her.
He was out of shape. He heaved and puffed climbing a single flight of stairs.  His face was covered with white blossoms of oxygen deprived cells.
Mary was sad when her father died. Tears swelled and rolled from her eyes unchecked. She couldn’t breathe for the weight of grief sitting on her chest.  The world disappeared for a moment as she realized she was truly and forever alone.
He said quietly. He whispered.  He muttered.
The door squeaked. The sound was at once familiar and frightening; an un-oiled hinge that betrayed those who entered. Someone else was in the room with her.
She was nervous. Her fingers tapped a steady rhythm.

Do the following exercise to reinforce your habit of showing.

1.  Did you know that only 7% of communication occurs through words?  55% of the communication consists of body language and 38% is expressed through tone of voice. As a writer, you’re limited to how much you can convey, but your characters AREN’T.  Your characters are still interacting (presumably) and communication through body language and tone of voice. Let those “clues” guide your audience.   It will be more satisfying if they can discover a character for themselves.

            – How does a person look if they’re happy? 

 

            – How does a person look when they’re annoyed? Angry? Disappointed?

 

            – How does a person act when they are ashamed? Guilty? Regretful?

 

            – How does a person act when they are confident? Shy? Outgoing?

 

            – How does a dumb person look? What about a smart person?

 

 

 

 

 Ok, this is a bit of a trick question but you need to challenge your stereotypes. You may not even know you have them but they’ll show up wherever you’ve copped out on character development.  Do you recognize any of these characters in your work?

A. A Country Bumpkin – Also shows up as a good ole’ boy; a hillbilly; a hayseed or a redneck

B. The Gold Digger

C. Hooker with a heart of gold – Really anyone with a heart of gold should be avoided – bad boys included.

D.  The Workaholic – Also shows up as the Type A, anal retentive; an ambitious corporate climber; the slimy “Yes” man or the greedy Banker/CEO/Executive.

2.  What do emotions feel like in your body?  Avoid clichés, those overused phrases that don’t describe how YOU feel.  Think about a time when you really felt the emotion and remember the physiological symptoms that occurred. 

For example, if I think about anxiety, I would remember my palms were sweaty; my heart was beating so hard I could see it thumping in my chest and hear it inside my head, dun-da, dun-da, dun-da;  I felt disassociated from my body and everything was happening in slow motion….

            – What does sad feel like? 

            – What does fear feel like?

            – What does love feel like?

 

3.  Assume your reader doesn’t know the meaning of an adjective; how would you convey your meaning?   Try to describe the following with the underlined adjective, without inserting another adjective.

            – The pillow was fluffy.

            – She smiled sadly.

            – He greeted her warmly.

 

 

 

I hope this has helped you. Remember you don’t have to show everything, just enough to take your audience on a journey with you, rather then dragging them along.  

 

(1) Dick Mooney, Often, actions really do speak louder than words. Knoxville, TN: ACA Communicator, 2002 

Asylum

January 6, 2008 at 10:41 pm | Posted in Ideas | Leave a comment
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Patton State Hospital is a maximum security facility for the criminally insane. The patients have committed heinous crimes, but were found “Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity.”  According to How Stuff Works (January 2008) 

“Mental illness at the time of the offense is a prerequisite for a not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity ruling, but legal insanity is not simply a judgment of whether or not a person has a mental illness…someone is found to be legally insane if he or she meets one of three conditions:

1.       Because of a mental disorder, the defendant did not understand that what he or she was doing was illegal.

2.       Because of a mental disorder, the defendant did not know what he or she was doing.

3.       Because of a mental disorder, the defendant was compelled to commit the crime by an irresistible force.” 

Patients are treated with anti psychotic drugs and psychotherapy, so one day they may return to society. With medication, patients usually improve immediately.  Mental illness is a disease and it must be consistently treated or relapse can occur.  Unfortunately, patients often go off of their medications when left on their own, because they don’t think they are necessary, or they don’t like the side effects. 

Nearly 90% of those released from Patten will commit another crime. Many of the inmates suffer from Paranoid Schizophrenia and their crimes usually occur because they are immersed in delusions.  They attack others to protect themselves from imagined dangers. Usually family members or friends are in the greatest danger, however, anyone they meet can be perceived as a threat, no matter how innocent or brief the encounter. 

Multiple Personality Disorder

January 5, 2008 at 1:13 am | Posted in Ideas | 1 Comment
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Writers have frequently employed the concept of Multiple Personality Disorder into their fiction.  According to experts, the disorder is not as common place as you might believe. The following notes were taken from BIO Channel documentary series: The Unexplained (Jan 2008).   

Those who suffer from Multiple Personality Disorder experience depression, memory loss and noticeable personality changes. The onset of Multiple Personalities usually occurs in childhood, but the expression of different personalities will happen later in life.  Personalities may emerge after years, frightening those who have known them as one person suddenly see a stranger. 

Gary awoke one morning and didn’t know his wife of six children.  Gary believed he was woman named Mary.  Gary was a hardworking husband and devoted father. When his daughter Chrissie died of pneumonia, his personality seemed to split. A second crisis, this time with his wife Kathryn, lost his precarious grip on his sanity.  Kathryn had no idea what to do to help and Gary left the family to live life as a woman. Left undiagnosed, Gary was known to his new friends as Mary.  Kathryn was ostricized by the small town community.  Gary retained a connection to the family, but he didn’t understand his place in the family, so he believed Kathryn was his sister. The family reunited as a fractured, dysfunctional unit, as Gary continued to live as a woman.  The arrangement, while devastating, probably would have continued indefinitely.  One morning Mary was knocked unconscious by a freak electrical accident, and when he awoke, Mary was gone.  Gary was acting as an infant.      

Gary sought help from a psychotherapist and presented as having Gender Identity Disorder.  Further examination showed memory gaps.  A person must have at least two distinct personalities to be diagnosed, so when the infant personality appeared, there was at least an answer. Gary was lost for 6 years, but one morning he woke up and was found.  His last memory as Gary was of the night Chrissie died. His children were grown and strangers to him.  He continues to switch between personalities with little warning.   

Multiple Personality Disorder occurs through disassociation, a protective response to traumatic experience.  All multiples have suffered repetitive childhood trauma.  Their lives are filled with fear, torment and despair.   Many people who suffer turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with the conflict.   

Valerie Durkin started experiencing blackouts and memory loss. Without notice a personality appeared and attempted suicide, taking an overdose of pills. She was diagnosed as a manic depressive and medicated. She was able to function in school, thriving in the structured environment, until her senor year, when her personality changed again.  She became suicidal again and told a friend she wanted to cut her stomach open. Her friend rushed her to the emergency room. Soon after she was diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder.  Valerie didn’t believe she had a disorder, so she insisted her sessions be taped as proof of what occurred.  Over the next year, fifty people came forward and described a horrific past of satanic rituals and torture. The memories were false, planted during hypnosis.  Once her therapist was able to uncover the true reasons for her disassociation, recovery was possible.    

Recovery depends on the therapist’s ability to distinguish between delusions and real traumatic events. Failure to do so will only worsen a patient’s condition.  There is hope for recovery, as demonstrated in the case of Chris Sizemore. Sizemore’s early childhood was marred with graphic, violent events that led to her disorder. Her personalities were organized in groups of three, the good, the bad and indifferent. The case is one of the most well known, inspiring the movie, The Three Faces of Eve.  Chris and her family lived with the constantly changing personalities until 1974, when Chris had a breakthrough.  She realized that be whole she had to take experience all the elements of herself and integrated the three personalities into one cohesive life.  Psychiatrists say the merging of several personalities into one is the most difficult part of recovery.  Some of the personalities may resist the process of integration, viewing it as death.  

The publication of Sybil in 1973 linked the condition to child abuse.  Sybil, a fictionalized character was based on the true case of Shirley Mason. However, critics believe she only expressed Multiple Personalities while in therapy.  Dr Herbert Spiegel felt Mason was highly suggestible and developed over 16 personalities at the urging of her therapist, Dr Cornelia Wilbur.   In 1980, Multiple Personality Disorder appeared in the Diagnostic Manual for American Psychiatric Association. Since 1973, nearly 40,000 Americans have been diagnosed.  There are still unanswered questions as to why some will develop the disorder and others will not.        

Witches

January 5, 2008 at 12:57 am | Posted in Ideas | Leave a comment
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Witches have haunted myths and legends throughout history.  The witch represents the dark side of woman, powerful, vindictive and frightening.   

Greek Mythology has sorceresses as beautiful as they are deadly. Circe detained Odysseus on her island and turned his men into swine; Medea helped Jason win the Golden Fleece but then spitefully murdered his second wife and her own children Hebrew tradition tells of Lilith, Adam’s first wife, cast from the Garden of Eden she became a vampires who would kill children and rob men of their seed while they slept. Early goddess cults had very different views of witches.  Goddess figures were revered for their magical ability to enhance fertility and nurture the land.  The Creation Goddess was recognized as supreme ruler of life and death and she was called by many names: Thesis, Isis, Asura or Yemaya,   

Throughout the Middle East, priestesses trained in the holy arts- Wise Women – were the predecessor to the Witch. Their ritual objects were believed to possess powers for healing and abundance.  The transition from benevolence to wickedness occurred when male dominated religions spread through the worlds. Eve bears responsibility for the fall of humanity according to Hebrew and Christian bibles.   Witchcraft was expressly prohibited and considered the most heinous form of heresy, because it was believed that in order to possess magic, witches must give their soul to the devil.  It was also believed that witches could fly and they would gather for a nighttime “Black” Sabbath. Rumors of cannibalistic rituals and orgies with the devil had a fascinating appeal to the public.   

In 1486, an instruction book for witch hunters, linked lust and demonology to witch craft.  It described women as sexually vulnerable beings, vessels for the devil’s evil doings.  Women who were proficient healing with herbs, such as midwives or caregivers, were accused of evil deeds.  A frenzy of judgments and presumed guilt led to thousands of deaths during The Inquisition. The accused were prodded with needles and tortured until a confession could be extracted.  The Third Degree was the degree of torture that killed the victim.  Even under torture the witch was considered dangerous, because compassion for the victim was viewed as a spell.   

Swimming the Witch was a term used to determine if a woman was a witch: if she floated, she was a witch, if she sank and drowned, she was innocent.  The Burning Times was a period when suspects were burned at the stake. Victims were tortured until they turned on neighbors and friends. Women would confess to anything to stop the pain. Records show that on one signal day 139 women were burned to death at the stake in a small village in Germany.  There were towns that had no women or girls left.  The frenzy spread to the new world.

In 1692, The Salem Witch Trails condemned 200 people as witches; 14 women and 9 men were hung.   Sara Good, Sarah Osborne and a household slave, Tituba, were accused by young girls, striking the first flame to the religiously divided community.  The parents and relatives of the girls used the accusations to attack their political enemies. The hysteria spread to other communities and more innocent women were hanged, their bodies left to rot.   A better understanding of the scientific causes for unexplained phenomena previously attributed to the supernatural, helped end the hunt for and prosecution of witches.   

Wicca is a growing religious movement for modern day witches.  They rely on simple earthy elements to harness the forces of nature to direct positive, healing energy. Midsummer night Sabbath is a celebration of seasons. They live according to the creed:  “Do what you will, but harm no one.”

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