Optimism is NOT Arrogance

Arrogance is the belief that you are BETTER than others. Optimism is the belief that you have the same CHANCE as others. We all have the chance to achieve our dreams. Don't ever let anyone tell you differently.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Story Review - Toy Story 3

Ok, I won't go into great lengths about the story, it's a fabulous movie and if you ever want to study the art of storytelling pick up ANY Pixar movie and you'll see how it's done.  They specialize in, focus on, and work towards the best story telling possible.

One thing that stood out for me that I'll talk about today:  drawing out the tension for maximum emotional effect.

In one particular scene the main characters are facing certain peril.  Now rather than show the peril they're facing, and their reaction, only to be saved, Pixar drew this out for a looooong time.  Slow shots of each character looking at each other, then grasping hands, one-by-one, then looking at the perilous fate awaiting them, then more looks, I mean, it was DRAMA.

Your stories can have that too.  I learned that when my hero was rescued at the last minute but in terms of description in a single paragraph.  Waaaay to short.  After all the reader has gone through with your hero, when they face that final, fateful decision, or all hope seems to be lost, there's no shame in dragging it out a bit.  Ramp up the suspense.  Make it seem truly impossible to avoid.  The reader will figure "holy cow, this may actually be it!" even if, in the back of their mind, their rational side thinks "of course they can't die, they're the hero".

Some famous tense moments like that?  The Empire Strikes Back with Luke having gotten his butt kicked by Vader.  Even when Holden Caufield watches his sister on the carousel in Central Park - it's not a paragraph, it's an emotional heart-tugger the way he describes it.  Not a dangerous moment, but an emotionally tense one.

Take a look at your favorite books, and pay attention to the last fifty pages or so.  See where the hero is in dire straits and how awful things seem for him.  See how long the author drags it out.  You'll see, it's not a quick look and a resolution - it's agonizingly, and especially satisfyingly drawn out.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Kids' Stuff

Hey ho, fellow writers.  Quick update - still waiting for feedback from Special Agent CB about the latest revisions, but I wanted to pass along something that I learned.

Keep kids' books geared towards kids.

Sounds basic, I know, you're all probably sitting there thinking "Wow, genius face, you figured that out yourself?"

Well, here's the deal.  I thought for my third book in The Timepiece Chronicles series, I'd have the kids follow Professor Ferguson to World War I, where a very important battle took place that could've altered history entirely.  Ferguson changes the outcome, and WWI ends early with a GERMAN victory.  Now what that would mean is that Britain wouldn't have lost so many soldiers (in fact the war would've only lasted until 1914) and Germany would've been at peace being whole again.  Basically, there's a good chance no WWII, at least not for a while.

But the kids foil that plan and so Ferguson moves to plan B - killing Hitler during one of the battles of WWI (yes, Hitler was a soldier in the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment and may have seen action).  So no Hitler, no WWII, BUT, no Isreali nation, no United Nations, no advancement in women's rights, and the next World War involves not just two bombs but entire nations of bombs, destroying the planet.  So, in order to create the 2009 the kids are used to, they have to decide to actually let Hitler live!

Great moral dilemma, right?  I mean, this is the crux of alternative history!  Would you go back in time and kill Hitler if you could?  Most people I know would say "yes", but I say "NO!"  Who the heck knows what kind of horrors we could've come up with for the next world war.  I know, there's a chance there wouldn't be a world war, and millions of people wouldn't have to die, but I say there's a chance there WOULD'VE been and we don't know for certain.  We should stick with what we know.

Anyway...kind of a lot for middle grade fiction, eh?  I mean, these are 11 year old kids (the readers, not the characters).  They don't want to deal with these deep moral dilemmas.  Nor do their parents want them to.  But the bottom line according to Special Agent CB?

Stay away from controversy in general in middle grade fiction.  Bad for sales.

So there ya go.  Now my third book will deal with Napolean and his thwarted attempts to invade North America.

Much safer...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Order is Required

Ahhh...now the desk, which had been in disarray the past couple of weeks, is back in order.  Things are neatly stacked or put  away, and I have space.

Kind of representative of the mind, no?

I don't know about the rest of you, but I have to have some sense of order in my work area before I write, otherwise thoughts get cluttered like the papers scattered in the whirlwind of my desk.

Now I can focus on the writing - I'm going to try a series synopsis at a higher level - see if I can't figure out what each character wants throughout the stories and how they evolve.

Hopefully that'll answer the question of whether or not the children should age (a la Harry Potter) or stay the same with the five books taking place over a matter of months.   We'll see.

Happy writing, and remember - less clutter!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Doing Double Duty

I feel like I'm in a fog - my characters are on a park bench somewhere lounging about waiting to know what happens next.  Or rather, dying to TELL me what happened next but I won't give them the time of day.

Thus is the challenge of looking for a job while trying to write.

When I'm in JOB MODE, I'm thinking project management, risk management, strategic benefit realization, process optimization, and power point slides.

Try putting THAT to use while thinking of how Jeff & Ben ward off the evil Professor Ferguson in the midst of the Civil War.

Anyone else get that way?  If so, leave a comment as to what you do to focus one way or another.  I'd love to get some insights - anything that would help me go from one life to another.  Oh and installation of a toggle switch isn't really an option...unless they've already invented something like that.

Well, I must press on, I guess.  Three more applications for jobs out today, bringing the total to 42.  The second book is partially outlined, but not to a level that makes any sense.  And no word from Special Agent CB about the latest draft.

I'm OPTIMISTIC though that she'll like the changes...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Optimism DOES Abound!

Ah-ha!  Ok, so how many people believe in Quantum Physics, Noetics, Laws of Attraction, etc.?  Anyone?  Anyone?

Well, I do.  But I also realize its two main faults:
1)  it's EXTREMELY hard to do consistently.  I think we're programmed as a race, and supported by our multitude of media, to think that we cannot have anything we want.
2)  Failure to get what you want instantly leads to self-blame - I didn't win the Lottery so I must be doing something wrong.

Well, regardless, I decided I needed to get serious about getting a job.  See, I don't know how many of you out there are the sole bread-winner of the family, but being that AND trying to be a writer is very challenging, especially when you know in your heart you WANT to be a writer.  So I was avoiding the inevitable - UNREALISTICALLY optimistic.  I'm optimistic that my book will sell and will make a great movie, but not in the next three weeks.

So - I created a spreadsheet to track all the companies I've applied to.  I've written up a cover letter.  I'm following up with companies I haven't heard from.

Sound a little like getting an agent?  It is.

You just have to be serious about it.

SO.  THE DAY AFTER I get two phone calls out of the blue, one recruiter taking me on to help me with another company, and a phone call set up with another company that I forced in.

Now, some may say "That's not the laws of attraction, Doofus.  That's just you working harder."  True.  But the random calls out of the blue?  Coincidence?

I don't believe in it.

So - the OPTIMISM is back in OPTIMISM ABOUNDS.  Take your goal, dream, desire, need or wish seriously.  Put everything you have into it.

It'll happen.  Trust me!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Query Letters are so much easier!

Ick.  I hate looking for jobs.  I hate writing cover letters and filling in the minutia about where I worked fifteen years ago and the phone numbers etc. etc.  Query letters were so much more fun - instant feedback (relatively - 12 days as opposed to NEVER), plenty of good sites to help, plenty of opportunities.

Looking for a job sucks.

Ok.  Back to optimistic.  Um...optimism.  optimism, optimism, optimism.  Lemme think.

hmmm...ok, I'm sure something will come to mind.

So - writing wise, I've got to do more research for the further out books, but I had some good ideas about books 1-3, so I've got to get those down.

Sorry for a not-so optimistic or educational post today.  Job hunting takes a lot outta ya!

I promise to be better tomorrow!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Next Steps - Plotting Out the Series

Ok, my book is one of five in a series, I think.  I have a pretty good idea where it's going, but Special Agent CB wants a summary of the next two or three books so that editors can see my ideas.  This is gonna be tricky:  I need to keep it high enough level to convey the character and story arcs, but without having all the detail that requires hours upon hours of study and research.

Here's what I did.  On my bulletin board (what?  You don't have a bulletin board for plotting out stories?  GET ONE!  Ok, sorry, didn't mean to shout - but a visualization of your story can be VERY helpful.  Sorry, where was I?)

Oh, ok, so on my bulletin board I have across the top index cards marking columns for BOOK 1 through BOOK 5.  Then down the left side I have a card for each major character, the time the book is centered around (remember, I'm writing a time travel series, so I need to know that), and the alternative history or the change that occurs in that time period.  That's kind of the recurring theme in my series.

Now, what I can do, is plot out across the row what happens at a high level to each character - their arc.

For Harry Potter, if you've read the series, you can start to see how he changes in each book at a very high level:  young wide-eyed naive kid in book one to army leader and growing young man in book seven.  J.K. Rowlings has said that she knew the complete story before she wrote the first book, and I believe her.  You have to begin with the end in mind.

So, that's where I'm at now.  My goal?  By end of next week I'll have the second book summary written, and the week after that the third book summary.  The third book takes place in WWI, which is something I need to learn A LOT about, so I'm giving myself some time.

Hopefully by then I'll have an editor wanting to see the summaries along with the manuscript!  :)

At least, I'm OPTIMISTIC I will!  Later!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Story Review - The Prince of Persia

Happy Memorial Day!  I hope everyone had a great weekend and a chance to reflect on the service our armed forces are providing us - keeping us free.

For this week's Story Review, I picked Prince of Persia, now out starring Jake Gyllenhal and Ben Kingsley.  

First of all, I liked the movie.  Not as much as Robin Hood, which I haven't reviewed yet, but still, it was enjoyable.  The acting was good, but the storyline is what I want to touch on today, specifically, throwing up ROADBLOCKS.

In my story (which I just finished editing and sent back to Special Agent CB - YIPPEE), one of the notes I got from CB was that the "suspense" wasn't there in certain parts.  What did she mean by "suspense"?  I think she meant that the journey was too easy.

No one wants to read about an easy journey.  Case in point - my fire scene, when the two escape a burning down barn and race off to their next destination.  Not bad, but as soon as they get out, they're at the next destination.  That's not fun!  So I threw in a horse chase (I'd say car chase, but this is the 18th century).  An obstacle to getting to their next destination.

PRINCE OF PERSIA, I thought, did this incredibly well.  Just when you thought all would be right, something else happens.  The hero has to go through a number of obstacles to get what he wants, and at every point that you think he's got something licked, something else comes along.  I won't give it all away, because there are some good twists, but overall these obstacles gave the film a good Saturday Afternoon at the Movies feel - ya know, the kind you used to experience as a kid, when you're never quite sure (even though you are) if the good guy's gonna make it?

I recommend the film, just to count how many times the good guy makes it through another hurdle.

Now, for the CAUTIONARY part.  Too many obstacles with obscenely impossible resolutions will turn the audience off entirely.  Believability, especially as it relates to the story, must be maintained.  Case in point is the film 2012.  Watch it if you dare.  In it, you'll see John Cusak's character overcome impossible obstacles time and time again.  Leaving you with a feeling of "no way could that happen."  Obstacles must be logical, believable, and resolvable.

So review your script - are there enough obstacles for your hero to overcome?  Does the bad guy actually look like he MIGHT WIN!?  Am I holding my breath waiting for a resolution?  If not, kick it up.  Set a goal for your hero, and then throw everything you can at him to keep him from reaching it.  When he does, the reader (and you!) will be very relieved, and quite satisfied.

Until next time - Stay positive!

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