Category Archives: A to Z

Reflections on A to Z

A-to-Z Reflection [2014]

I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge for the first time this year and I can proudly say I completed the challenge! Shhh! We won’t mention those few posts that were a day or two late.

The challenge started in 2010 and is open to anyone who wants to take part. All you need to do is post about literally any topic in alphabetical order during the month of April with Sundays off for good behavior. Okay, maybe that’s not all you need. If you failed to pre-schedule all 26 posts as I did, you should toss in mega doses of caffeine for the sleep deprivation you’ll suffer from trying to compose a post worthy of the challenge and visiting the blogs of all 2,000 plus participants. Whew! It was challenging indeed.

The good team at A to Z knew we’d need some time to recuperate so they didn’t schedule the reflection posts until the week of May 5th. I think I’m still recuperating, though. I can’t seem to compose an intelligible thought and the deadline for posting is almost here.

First, let’s talk about what I didn’t like or what didn’t work for me. These issues are no fault of the hosts. I only mention them in the hopes that others might share possible solutions. Here they are (it’s actually quite boring so feel free to skip this part):

  • I can no longer access my blog through Internet Explorer. One day {poof!} my login just stopped working. I contacted WP Support and after trying several possible fixes was told to use Firefox.
  • In the past, I had WP notify me of blog posts via e-mail, but clicking on the link in the e-mail directed me to IE. Since I can’t login to WP via IE, I can’t comment directly from the e-mail. I had to click on the link which would open IE and then copy the blog’s URL into Firefox and comment from there. Pain in the arse! I tried to change the default browser to Firefox to resolve the issue, but couldn’t get it to work.
  • Due to the issues above, the easiest way to read posts of another A to Z’r was via the WP reader and it didn’t seem like all participants tagged their posts with A to Z, so I know I still have a lot of catching up to do. I’ll be revisiting the sign-up lists over the coming weeks to see which ones I missed.
  • The disconnect between blogging platforms (e.g., Blogger vs. WordPress) is annoying, but this has already been mentioned by several other participants so I won’t belabor the point here.

Skipped it, didn’t ya? I don’t blame you, considering the glowing introduction I gave it. So, on to the good stuff!

Overall, I enjoyed participating in the A to Z Challenge and will definitely participate next year. It’s good to step away from the routine (in my case, the novel) and write about something different. It’s even better when you know you must publish something even when you’re not feeling inspired. It forces you to sit down and get to work. Before you know it, inspiration hits.

Participating in a challenge like A to Z gives us the opportunity to visit blogs we may not come across otherwise. I mean, there’s only like 152 million blogs on the internet. Over forty million posts are published every month on WordPress alone! I’m not kidding. Click here to check the stats. See that blinking light in central Texas? That’s me! Okay, most likely not, but we can pretend I’m a prolific blogger.

The most beneficial aspect of the challenge is the connections you make. There is so much wisdom to be gained from visiting other blogs. You get to view life from a different perspective. It’s something I’ve been blogging about lately: feeding the muse. Here are just a few of the things that I did during my A to Z journey. I:

• Searched for truth
• Re-imagined beauty
• Learned how to meditate
• Acquired new writing tips
• Explored beautiful and exotic gardens
• Marveled at wisdom on aging gracefully
• Uncovered new ways to release my creativity
• Read about other writer’s novels, published and unpublished
• Encountered some amazing writers with wonderfully unique voices
• Discovered faraway places that have cool things like Green Dragon pubs
• Reminisced about favorite characters, authors, quotes, movies, books, poems, and more.

I expanded my mind. I fed the muse. I made new friends.

Thank you to the A to Z team for hosting an event that allowed me to connect with so many brilliant bloggers. To see what other A to Z participants blogged about, please click here to link to their blogs.

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Finding Your Writing Zen

ZZ is for Zen

What is Zen?

According to urbandictionary.com, Zen is “a total state of focus that incorporates a togetherness of body and mind. Zen is a way of being. It also is a state of mind. Zen involves dropping illusion and seeing things without distortion created by your own thoughts.”

In his book, Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury tells us the following are necessary to achieve Zen as a writer: Continue reading Finding Your Writing Zen

You Are the Hero of Your Own Story

YY is for YOU

During this A to Z Blogging event, I spent some time on the central character of the story: the hero. I discussed the four main roles of the hero and how his progression from one role to the next is necessary for character growth. I discussed Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth (i.e., the hero’s journey): a story that repeats throughout history and deeply resonates within each of us. Now, I want to remind you of something so elemental, it’s often overlooked.

“You are the hero of your own story.” ~ Joseph Campbell

What role are you playing?

Are you the orphan? Do you feel abandoned? Outcast? Alone? Or are you the wanderer, unsure of your path? Are you searching for answers? Seeking help from others? Learning new skills? Facing obstacles? Reacting to the opposition? Have you transitioned to the warrior? You’ve acquired the necessary knowledge, skills, and aid to achieve your goal. Now you’re proactively pursuing it. Maybe you’ve matured to the martyr where you’re willing to make sacrifices to achieve what is most important to you.

Chances are you’ve played all of these roles at one time or another as you live out the mini-plots and subplots of your life. But…what role have you taken in the central plot of your life? Continue reading You Are the Hero of Your Own Story

Words to “X” from Your Writing

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know I’m a day behind on my A to Z posts. Shoot me. Go ahead. Put me out of my misery because I’ve hit a wall with three posts left.

 X
X is for…well, “X”

Let’s discuss words you should “X” from your writing. If you’re like me, you may have occasionally padded your writing in school to meet minimum word or page counts. No? Does this scenario sound familiar?

It’s 2 a.m. Your history essay is due in a few hours, but you’ve fallen short of the page requirement. You’ve racked your brain and can’t think of anything else to write. What do you do? Continue reading Words to “X” from Your Writing

What a Wonderful World

I stumbled upon a review of The Lord of the Rings several months ago where the reviewer gave the book one star. {GASP!} What? Who doesn’t like The Lord of the Rings? Down, Tolkienites. We’re all entitled to an opinion. This reviewer didn’t appreciate the detail, the lengthy descriptions of the settings, and on and on…

Okay, okay, I get that. I don’t particularly like it either—in contemporary fiction, but it’s expected in fantasy and science fiction genres because the story takes place in a world unlike the one we live in. The description of that world is integral to the story. It’s referred to as world building and The Lord of the Rings is a fine example of it. Some would say it’s the best example, like…evah.

WW is for World Building

What is World Building?

World building is the process of creating an imaginary world that differs from our reality by modifying elements such as climate, geography, history, races, beliefs, government, architecture, languages, and so on.

In his book, J.R.R. Tolkien fashioned an imaginary period in our world’s history where races of hobbits, elves, dwarves, orcs, trolls, and wizards existed beside men. He created a rich back story for the relations of these races and drew detailed maps of the realms each occupied. He invented grand cities and quaint villages with distinct architecture, governments, customs, etc. He blended mythical elements with the real world so seamlessly that you almost wonder if this period in time actually existed. He went so far as to invent languages. He did this last part so well that you can translate your name into Elvish at this site (my Elven name is Ireth Faelivrin, by the way).

Despite his attention to detail, some readers would’ve preferred if Tolkien had allowed them to use their imagination. So this got me to thinking. What if the world building was absent in The Lord of the Rings? What if it was left up to the imagination of the reader? How could the story vary from the original?

If the Prancing Pony had been referred to simply as an inn, where would Frodo meet Aragorn for the first time? Howard Johnson’s? The Holiday Inn?

howardjohnsons
hojo.com

 

 

 

 

 

tripadvisor.com

Please, no.

And Merry and Pippin: would they make frequent pit stops for second breakfast and “elevenses” at iHop? Jack in the Box? McDonalds? Taco Bell?

What about the Mines of Moria? What would they look like? A primitive mine from the California Gold Rush?

mines
commons.wikimedia.org

Gollum’s role as a guide would be obsolete with modern technology.  Frodo would just whip out his iPhone, type in “Mount Doom” and view a map of Middle-earth.  Done!

When Frodo and Sam are exhausted from traveling and weak from days without food or sleep, they would just pop the top on a 5-hour energy drink, chug it, and charge up the mountain.

5hourenergy.com
5hourenergy.com

Heh. Heh. So I’m exaggerating,  but Tolkien created such a wonderful world, I can’t imagine it without the elements he so painstakingly planned.

What do you think about world building? Do you appreciate the details in Tolkien’s work or would you have preferred it be left to the imagination?

To learn more about world building watch the video How to Build a Fictional World by Kate Messner

To see what other A to Z participants are blogging about this month, please click here to link to their blogs.

Creating a Credible Villain

Today’s post is all about that character we love to hate: the antagonist, also known as the villain.

VV is for Villain

an•tag•o•nist noun \an-ˈta-gə-nist\: a person who opposes another person. Synonyms: adversary, enemy, foe, archenemy, nemesis, bane, competitor, rival, villain.

The antagonist can also be a group of characters (e.g., an institution) or a force (e.g., the weather), but for purposes of this discussion it will focus on the individual as the villain. Before we begin concocting our villain, we must understand the role the antagonist plays in the story.

What is the role of the antagonist?

The antagonist should serve as:
• An opposing force
• An obstacle for the hero’s goal
• A worthy opponent

The villain is one of the two most important characters in the story. Some believe it is more important than the hero. Without the villain, there is no opposing force to create conflict and tension, and no obstacle for the hero to overcome. It’s important to note that the villain should be more powerful than the hero. This is necessary for the hero to grow (character arc) in order to win and be truly heroic.

“The hero and the bad guy are a matched set and should be of equal skill and strength, with the bad guy being just slightly more powerful than the hero because he is willing to go to any lengths to win.” ~ Blake Snyder

What are the ingredients for a credible villain? Continue reading Creating a Credible Villain

U is for Uhh….

Yeah. I was at a loss again. What was I going to write about for U? I didn’t have a clue (hey that rhymes) what to do, but then I knew (okay I’ll stop). This A to Z Challenge is starting to have an effect on me. I’ll let you decide what kind.

Anyway, let’s talk about unreliable narrative.

UU is for Unreliable Narrative

What is unreliable narrative?

Unreliable narrative occurs when a character describes his experiences, but misinterprets the true nature of events. It’s accurate from his perspective, but distorted for reasons such as the following:

• Naivety
• Ignorance
• Prejudice

The author will often provide clues, if it’s not already obvious, that the narrator’s viewpoint is off.

Why use unreliable narrative?

Unreliable narrative can make your character more believable. A good example of this is a story told from a child’s point of view (naivety). If the child sounds like an adult, then the character doesn’t ring true to the audience.

Unreliable narrative can reveal the true nature of a character, be it the twisted mindset of a villain or the naive benevolence of a mentally challenged protagonist like Forest Gump.

In fact, let’s look at Forest Gump as an example of unreliable narrative. He is one of my favorite characters played by one of my favorite actors (I don’t know any actor except Tom Hanks who could pull off this role).

Here is Forest Gump’s perception of the following events:

On being named Forest:

“Now, when I was a baby, Momma named me after the great Civil War hero, General Nathan Bedford Forrest. She said we was related to him in some way. And what he did was, he started up this club called the Ku Klux Klan. They’d all dress up in their robes and their bedsheets and act like a bunch of ghosts or spooks or something. They’d even put bedsheets on their horses and ride around. And anyway, that’s how I got my name, Forrest Gump. Momma said that the Forrest part was to remind me that sometimes we all do things that, well, just don’t make no sense.”

On Jenny’s father:

“Was some kind of a farmer. He was a very loving man – he was always kissing and touching her and her sisters.”

On Jenny hiding from her father:

“Mama always said God is mysterious. He didn’t turn Jenny into a bird that day. Instead, he had the po-lice say Jenny didn’t have to stay in that house no more. She was to live with her grandma, just over on Creekmore Avenue, which made me happy, ’cause she was so close. Some nights, Jenny’d sneak out and come on over to my house, just ’cause she said she was scared. Scared of what, I don’t know. But I think it was her grandma’s dog. He was a mean dog. Anyway, Jenny and me was best friends all the way up through high school.”

On serving in Vietnam:

“Now, they told us that Vietnam was going to be very different from the United States of America. Except for all the beer cans and the barbecues, it was.”

“I got to see a lot of countryside. We would take these real long walks. And we were always lookin’ for this guy named Charlie.”

On being shot in the buttocks (you must pronounce that but-tocks):

“They said it was a million dollar wound. But, the army must keep that money, cause I still ain’t seen a nickel of that million dollars.”

On John Lennon’s assassination:

“Some years later that nice young man from England was on his way to see his little boy and was signing autographs – FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON AT ALL – somebody shot him.”

On John F. Kennedy’s assassination:

“Sometime later – FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON – somebody shot that nice young president when he was riding in his car and a few years after that, somebody shot his little brother too – only he was in the hotel kitchen. Must be hard being brothers.”

On purchasing IPO shares of Apple stock:

“So I never went back to work for Lieutenant Dan, though he did take care of my Bubba-Gump money. He got me invested in some kind of fruit company. And so then I got a call from him saying we don’t have to worry about money no more.”

On Jenny angrily heaving rocks at her father’s abandoned house:

“Sometimes I guess there just aren’t enough rocks.”

Do you see how unreliable narrative shows the true nature of Forest Gump?  Can you think of other examples of unreliable narrative? Have you written a story from that perspective? If not, would you consider writing a story using unreliable narrative?

Now, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite scenes from the movie. Actually, they’re all good. Maybe I’ll go watch it again.  🙂

 

 

To see what other A to Z participants are blogging about this month, please click here to link to their blogs.

The Three Dimensions of Character

In his book Story Engineering, Larry Brooks says you should “imbue your characters with three very separate and compelling layers—dimensions, in this context—that are carefully crafted to bring your story alive with resonant emotional depth.” If you choose to wing it, you most likely will end up with characters who are as flat as cardboard cutouts.

 TT is for Three Dimensions of Character

What are the three dimensions of character?

Let’s take a look at the three dimensions of characterization as defined by Larry Brooks, using a character from Harry Potter—Severus Snape–to illustrate them. Continue reading The Three Dimensions of Character

Building Your Story on a Solid Foundation

According to Larry Brooks, author of Story Engineering, there are Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling. I named them in the post, The Writing Book that Helped Me Win NaNoWriMo. Today I’m focusing on the fourth competency: Story Structure.

S

S is for Story Structure

Brooks says, “it doesn’t matter if you outline your stories or not, or if your words make the angels weep or not, because if what you’re writing isn’t hitting the page in context to solid and accepted—key word there—story structure, it’s doomed until it does.”

Brooks defines story structure as “what comes first, what comes next, and so forth…and why. And no, you can’t just make it up for yourself. There are expectations and standards here. Knowing what they are is the first step toward getting published.”

This doesn’t mean you’re artistically boxed-in by the structure. Brooks uses the analogy of constructing a building to explain the concept of story structure. You must have a solid foundation (story structure) upon which you place your artfully designed building (your unique story).

solid foundation building Brooks says, “Story structure is the sequence of scenes that results in a story well told. Story architecture is the empowerment of those scenes through compelling characterizations, powerful thematic intentions, a fresh and intriguing conceptual engine, and a writing voice that brings it all to life with personality and energy.”

In his book, Brooks names the four integral parts of story structure. I hinted at this four-part story structure in the post Late at Night I Toss and Turn and Dream of What I Need, when I discussed the four stages of the hero.

Four-Part Story Structure:

Part 1: Setup. The purpose of Part 1 is to set up the story. We learn about the hero; the world he lives in, his back story, and what he wants. At the end of Part 1 an obstacle to what the hero wants surfaces and the hero must go on a quest to overcome it.
Hero role: orphan.

• Part 2: Response. The purpose of Part 2 is to show the hero’s response to the obstacle that surfaced at the end of Part 1. He’s not heroic yet. He’s hesitant, fearful, and fumbles his way through a myriad of options, unsure how, even unwilling, to confront the antagonistic force.
Hero role: wanderer.

• Part 3: Attack. The purpose of Part 3 is to show the hero beginning to figure it out. He draws on what he learned in the wanderer phase and begins to apply it. He’s no longer reactive. He’s heroic and attacks the antagonistic force head on. Only the antagonistic force has become stronger and the hero must revise his plans.
Hero role: warrior.

• Part 4: Resolution. The purpose of Part 4 is to show the hero call upon all the knowledge, skills, and courage gained over the course of the story and use it to defeat the antagonistic force. He may even die in the process.
Hero role: martyr.

To learn more about story structure, read the post, Introducing the Four Parts of Story on Larry Brooks’ website, Storyfix.

Have You Met Captain Obvious? Master of Superfluous Redundancy

captain obvious

Fellow colleagues, if you’re not careful, Captain Obvious can make a cameo appearance in your own work. This unanticipated surprise visit can occur at the present time or at three a.m. in the morning. Captain Obvious causes words to blend together so you make unexpected mistakes in what you’ve written down by repeating words with the same exact meaning or adding an additional word  that is extraneous. Redundant phrases cause a cacophony of sound to circulate around your work. If, after careful scrutiny of your work, you’re absolutely certain redundant phrases are nonexistent or too few in number to worry about, reconsider. Your story can be completely filled with words you’ve repeated again during the course of storytelling. Don’t let your story depreciate in value. Learn about unnecessarily redundant phrases so you can positively identify them for complete annihilation. Pick and choose your words carefully so you won’t receive an unexpected surprise visit from the Master of Superfluous Redundancy.

RR is for Redundant Phrases

Did you find all the redundant phrases in the paragraph above? Let’s look at it again:

Fellow Colleagues, if you’re not careful, Captain Obvious can make a cameo appearance in your own work. This unanticipated surprise visit can occur at the present time or at three a.m. in the morning. Captain Obvious causes words to blend together so you make unexpected mistakes in what you’ve written down by repeating words with the same exact meaning  or adding an additional a word that is extraneous. Redundant phrases cause a cacophony of sound to circulate around your work. If, after careful scrutiny of your work, you’re absolutely certain redundant phrases are nonexistent or too few in number to worry about, reconsider. Your story can be completely filled with words you’ve repeated again during the course of storytelling. Don’t let your story depreciate in value. Learn about unnecessarily redundant phrases so you can positively identify them for complete annihilation. Pick and choose your words carefully so you won’t receive an unexpected surprise visit from the Master of Superfluous Redundancy.

captain_obvious rain

Click on the following links for more examples of redundant phrases and how to avoid them:

http://www.dailywritingtips.com/50-redundant-phrases-to-avoid/

http://grammar.about.com/od/words/a/redundancies.htm