Thursday, May 30, 2013

Writing Exercise: Story

I write my narrative in 5 different steps. Story, Plot, Character, Outline and Final First Draft (so named because the first draft has multitude of lives, usually around 20-30 rewrites). I start with a simple story idea:
Girl leaves law school to join the circus as a trapeze artist.
         I know and lived this story, so the narrative and descriptions are easy/peasy. But there is no plot; it is just what I know.  People are fascinated to hear my circus ramblings and what it is like to live with 6 elephants. To turn into a movie or novel, I must first interject story elements (and then a plot). 
These five elements are the building blocks of story:
1.  Action. What are your characters doing? How did she join the circus? How did the circus people react to her? What was it like training for the trapeze? What is it like to travel so much (typical circus travels 100 miles per day).
2. Dialogue. What are they saying? This is important to this story because within the circus there are multi languages and unique ways of communicating. Even with the circus animals, there is a specific language. The “town people” speak different from the “artists” and the individual acts, cultures and societies all have succinic infrastructures. The author must embody each as they write their dialogue.
3. Description. What are they seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling? With the circus story, this is a crucial element as the traveling with animals to a different city every day is a unique experience. Each venue is distinct and traveling can add a unique element to your story (and your life).
4. Inner Monologue. What are they thinking? We have our hero- who is not accepted in her native land, with the circus folks or the townies. How does this affect the plot, the moving of the story and the feeling of the narrative? How does other supporting characters feel about this interesting life choice? And the one everyone asks- what did her mother think?
5. Exposition / Narrative. What other information does the narrator want us to know? Because YOU write the narrative, this is the secret sub-story that you must use with extreme caution. Too much narrative can become trite and boring. Too little insight leaves the audience guessing. This is where you embody the sage advice, “Show don’t tell”.

Your exercise today is to write out a simple story. I mean simple. Joyce goes the hairdresser. Carla’s car breaks down. Sheila gets a new cat.
Take that simple premise and add the 5 elements of story. This is more of a left-brain exercise, than a creative one. But by getting that out, the narrative becomes easy as a triple summersault.

Now – go write- it only takes minutes a day and you owe it to your story!!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Writing Exercise- Character Arch

Yesterday marked the ending of an epic battle with my current nemeses.

Throughout my history, I have had a constant flow of these Machiavellian characters lurking in my peripheral vision. They tend to be bored housewives (who usually disapproved of my children and recycling skills) or bookkeepers. For some reason, I have never met a bookkeeper that I like.  My current ones are called Elphaba and Schemgal. Elphaba won her name when the song lyrics “Loathing, unadulterated loathing, for your face, your hair your clothing……every little thing no matter small, makes my very skin begin to crawl” played in my head with each conversation. Schemgal earned his name because even his emails dripped with slime and narcissism.

My story starts out with me as mild mannered computer geek with the ability to create large, profit-inducing occurrences that help and inspire societies. I did this task with a minimum of flare and effort shown, and made mountains of cash for them. They did not like that I refused to share credit with their pure-functional exertions. They did not like my accounting. I saw this and patted their small heads (encasing their reptilian size brains) and thought that was the end. But no, Schmegal and Elphaba wanted more. They wanted me substrate and sorry. They rallied the troops, wrote mountains of emails regarding my character and finally pushed me too far.

I got out the thesaurus and wrote prose of mortality as that is how I handle conflict. I was sure the large words and insults would sail nicely over their craniums. It backfired, and the entire populace thought I was insulting them. I was forced to return to my mild manner existence. I gained knowledge, a few compatriots, but I was defeated. I am now looking for new nemesis’s, so please apply if you posses superior skill in sarcasm and word smithing.

This little exercise is a shortened version of the hero’s journey that each character must experience to connect with your audience. Follow this procedure for your main characters; make sure you do the following when creating them:

1.     Introduction before 10 minutes or 10 pages.
No one keeps reading or watching after that period unless they have invested emotionally in the character. Love them or hate them, you got to have your audience captivated in intentional outcomes and what comes next. 
2.     Show them in an ordinary existence.
Every hero starts of as a normal Joe. We want to see them in all their flawed brilliance so we can relate. Make sure the first peek at your main character is one of an every day reality.
3.     Set up a personal growth journey.
She may look like a mild manner writer, but give her a thesaurus’s and she simply jumps off the page.
4.     Give them an occasion to rise.
During the showing of talent and power, make sure they achieve goals that delight them and inflame their sense of achievement, the audience is right there with you.
5.     Come to a new understanding.
Through this ahhhaaaa moment, we see your character grow and become more flushed.
6.     Set up a wall for your character to smash into.
Make it a big wall, draw metaphorical blood.
7.     Do not drop a happy ending into their lap.
Your audience likes to see them struggle, beg, be humbled and ultimately win on their own accord.
8.     Never rescue
No one likes to be rescued, expect Disney Princesses and even those stories do not end well.

Write a character arch using the 8 points. Make is simple, like thwarted by the grocery store bagger or trying to talk your way out of a ticket, or convincing your children to clean there room.
500 words- get out your pens and write!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Writing Exercise- Character

While we are working on character, I think it is important to point out that places and things have character too.
Yesterday, I was on assignment covering all the “dive bars” in the North Center Coast area. It seems they proliferate where the sea touches the sand. Each bar had a very distinct look and feel, otherwise known as its character. All had the requisite torn up bar stools and ancient bar flies dressed in spandex and blue eye shadow (whom all seem to gravitate to my husband as he is a definite Skank Magnet) but beyond the obvious, they all had clear characteristics that made them stand out.

My favorite was in Morro Bay that featured a Drink It Forward board (as it is home to famous author Catherine Ryan Hyde) that was a 200 square board where the patrons purchased their drinks ahead of time, like a reverse tab. This way, they always had the ability to drink, as the regulars would gift squares to the poor souls whose money ran out before the next social security check arrived. This bar also had heated toilets with multiple bidet settings. I don’t even want to guess what made the owner invest in $3000 toilets for his patrons. There were comical tavern signs pointing out the obvious and ones telling everyone to be quiet on their way home so as not to wake up the tee-totaling neighbors. It’s food menu consisted of Corn dogs, frozen pizza and beef jerky from a plastic jar. The featured shot was a sweet tea infused whiskey. Most patrons were missing their front teeth. The bartender’s neck tattoos were of lesbian mermaids. I could easily spend a whole paragraph illuminating this bar as it had character to spare.

Next exercise; describe a bar that you have stumbled into while on a road trip. This is a place you stopped for a soda and a pee.  Point out the décor, atmosphere, employees and items that made it unique. 500 words people- get a move on! 
As always, send it to me if you want me to remark on your writing. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Writing Exercises- Day 5

Character. The first, most important step in writing is a character building experience. This is going to take the next 2 weeks, but when you are done, you will be a master at writing personality. The beauty of that is, once the characters a fully flushed, the rest of the narrative writes its self. With strong eccentrics and plot line, you can create a timeless master piece. Lets start small.

You are at the beach at sunset. You approach a bench and sit down. There is a young girl sitting on the bench and when she turns to smile and acknowledge you, you see her eye is black.

Now write 500 words from there. Make up her story and yours. Have them intertwine and have fun!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Writing Exercise Day 4

Let's write a short story

First we outline with a few details. Just make this up with the first thing that comes to your mind.

1.     Start with a character that you give 3 regular traits and one unusual trait. 
2.     Give him a goal.
3.     Make up his nemesis and how he will work to stop the hero.
4.     Decide what message you want this story to convey
5.     Now describe the plot in 3 easy segments:
-           The introduction
-           The inciting event
-           The resolution

Now go back and write your story (500 words).  The story should write itself with all these elements already decided, but you will be surprised at the twists and turns that will come to fruition while writing it. Have fun and keep creating.

Email me with questions or your story if you want me to read it and give feedback.