Friday, October 26, 2012

NaNoWriMo Prep: Using a Throughline

NaNoWriMo starts in six days. Of course none of you would cheat and start writing, but you can and should think about the plot you'd like to write.

I don’t love plot. Yes, I can get to the end of a book and easily pick apart flaws in another author’s rising action and denouement, but keeping my work moving forward with a clear goal is much harder.

Author Nancy Lamb wrote THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO CRAFTING STORIES FOR YOUNG CHILDREN. In an excerpt from this book published in Writer's Digest, she talks about the concept of Throughline. It’s another way of asking what the character wants, but I like this label, especially when she describes it as “a forward-moving trajectory.” Whatever happens in the book, the momentum must always move the reader in a line (not necessarily a straight line) toward the conclusion. She gave five questions to ask as you get ready for NaNo or as you revise:
 What is the primary throughline?
What are the secondary throughlines?
How do the threads intersect?
How does each contribute to the story’s forward momentum?
How does each pull the reader through the story?

Another way to describe a throughline might be to call it the character's driving motivation. Lamb says somewhere near the end of the book’s middle, the character faces not getting what s/he desires most. Either because s/he can’t have it, or chooses not to have it. This roadblock makes the character discover a secondary throughline, the motivation the character wants more, or was originally unaware of desiring.

The introduction of the secondary throughline should not intersect, but not replace, the original motivation. As an example, in WRINGER by Jerry Spinelli, the main character, wants to avoid having to participate in the annual pigeon shoot. As the book progresses, he gains his own pet pigeon, which changes and deepens the throughline.

I've heard Wringer described as a perfectly plotted book. I've used the throughlines to BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, as described by Lamb in her article, to help me analyze my WIPs.

As November ends and you begin revising, consider using a strongly-plotted book as a yardstick. A solid throughline is what keeps even the pickiest reader turning pages.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dance before the Song Ends

Someday maybe I'll have one of those fancy ipod alarm clocks. For now, I have one of those clock radios that gets lousy reception and is set to any random station that works. This morning I woke up listening to these lyrics: "I Hope You Dance."

Ironic, because this was the third time I'd pushed snooze, and I rarely do that. But I didn't sleep well, and had a nice pity party, refreshments included, at 1 a.m. Today is the third anniversary of my twin sister's death from breast cancer. Please forgive a personal and somewhat religious aside (I am Mormon, and yes, I am Christian) but I felt it when my sister left this earth. I believe her spirit still exists, and I will see Rosalie again. Because of my beliefs, I an fine today. I have hope. I am, however, in a pondering mood.

Last night my husband told our family about a nurse who talked to patients about to die. Many had regrets, such as wishing they'd spent more time with loved ones. One regret frequently expressed was, "I wish I'd let myself be happier."

Life is fleeting. Our circumstances can change at any moment. So my challenge to myself, and to you, is to not let the happy moments pass us by. So what if the dishes aren't done or you have a writing deadline you haven't met? Don't let little things derail you. Go hug that person you love. Frost those Halloween sugar cookies and share them.

It's easy to give advice and hard to follow it. Although I know we can never be sure how much time we have left, I still struggle to" let myself be happy." However, I believe one way we learn to dance through our lives, rather than drag long-faced across the desert we create from our worries, is through little acts of kindness and love. One phone call, one hug, one remembrance.

Thank you, Rosalie, for being my sister and best friend for so many years.

And all of you who are women, it's breast cancer awareness month, and always strikes me as ironic that she died from that disease in October. Her diagnosis came too late for treatment. I believe many places still offer free mammograms all month. If you're forty, go get one.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Starving Creativity

My day went from wonderful to bad in the time it took to see my daughter.

 I came home from a terrific writing discussion recharged and happy. But then I found my daughter on the stairs, holding her stomach like she’d been punched. She hadn't, at least not in the fist-meets-gut sense. She said, “It happened again, Mom.”

Lately we’ve had a series of tragic pet rodent deaths. It may be close to Halloween, but I’ll skip all details except to say we’ve had three miniature hamsters and one pet rat expire in ways that left both my daughters crying.

 I know this isn’t a pet column, and good thing, because if this was titled, “The Proper Care and Feeding of Pet Rodents,” no one would trust me as an expert.

 I mention this because pets and houseplants don’t thrive without the necessary nutrients. (Oops, I said I wasn’t going to say what happened to that poor rat.)

Lately my writing hasn’t thrived much, either. Here are two things I hope will fuel your writing as well a mine.   

Yesterday a writer friend commented that her writing had felt flat. Then, after a huge life change relieved her stress, her creativity came bouncing back. 

I’ve mentioned my hammock in a previous post. For other people it may be yoga, a walk outside, a day of shopping, a comfy pillow and a good book (preferably one you can read without analyzing every bit of it.) For me, one half hour gazing at a blue sky might help, but I think I need more serious stress-fighting tools. 
  1. 1.       Taking the pressure off: It’s the times the writing worries come at me hard and fast as the aliens in that old game of Space Invaders (if you don’t know what that game is, you’re young and I’m jealous. Google it.) I’m too old. The e-book market is going to make it impossible for me to publish traditionally. I have no talent, or, any talent I once had is now shriveled up like the um . . . houseplant. I have to publish soon, or I never will. I can’t be happy until I publish. You get the idea. These kinds of thoughts don't help anything. It's all based on unrealistic and overly-harsh expectations, not to mention a sprinkling of hyperbole.

    In the writing group I mentioned, one member said writers tend to be a little OCD. While I may or may not agree (look at my messy house, then form your own opinion) we are, at least, very hard on ourselves. Being hard on ourselves in what is already a very difficult profession is, well, hard.

    2.       A Writing Vacation: While a break from writing might be good from time to time, I don’t mean that in this case.. I'm suggesting we find ways to make writing our break instead of a source of pressure.

    A Remember we write because we love it: Why make ourselves miserable? I was recently talking to my critique partner about authors who have very good first books followed by not-so-great sequels. We wondered if this is partly caused by the pressure these authors feel to produce those subsequent books. We can’t always eliminate the stress from our lives, but we can find ways to make writing something we want to do each day. Write something that makes you laugh. Take a notebook and go write someplace you love, maybe while eating your favorite dessert. 

    B Write something different. I credit my critique partner, Alison Randall, for this idea: She suggests taking time off from novel writing to create a short story, a poem, even a puzzle or game. Alison said magazines are always on the lookout for games and puzzles. Submit to a magazine or a contest. Writers need a little positive reinforcement to keep us from feeling as dead as that . . . houseplant, and an article or short story in a magazine can provide not only a morale boost, but also a publication credit.

    For almost a year now, I’ve wanted to write a short story from an idea I had. But I felt guilty because my novels aren’t thriving, and this has kept me from taking time off to draft the story. Now I’m thinking that may be just the nourishment I, and my writing, need. So I’m off to write that short story. It’s a little cold for the hammock now, but maybe I’ll write sitting on my window seat, looking at the red leaves outside, and a little fro yo might be nice too.