From Sarah, With Joy

Writer querying two novels and some other word babies. I tend to effervesce.

New post every Monday

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top Fives of 2009

As a celebration of the end of another year, I thought I'd share some things that have brought me joy and inspiration in 2009. They're not necessarily new to this year, but I really discovered them this year and they have meant something to me. I look forward to another year of awesome artistic output and discovery. My list will definitely reveal my quirky taste in things, but use it however you want.

Top Singers/Songs

1. Billy Joel: And So It Goes/Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)
2. David Archuletta: Angels
3. Adam Lambert: Mad World/A Change is Gonna Come
4. Susan Boyle: I Had a Dream/Wild Horses
5. Mika: Love Today

Top Movies

1. Julie and Julia
2. Sense and Sensibility (New BBC version)
3. Last Chance Harvey
4. Dan in Real Life
5. North and South/Gone with the Wind (Not new movies, but both GREAT!)

Top TV

1. Glee
2. The Office
3. Monk
4. Big Bang Theory
5. Star Trek: Next Generation

Top Books

1. Bellwether by Connie Willis
2. Lost Boys by Orson Scott Card
3. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
4. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
5. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
6. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Top Websites

1. Facebook/Twitter
2. Blogger/GoogleReader/GoogleAnalytics
3. Flickr/Youtube
4. Duotrope
5. MyLifeIsAverage/MysteryGoogle

So there's my list. What are your Top Fives of 2009? What has been helpful or inspiring to you this year?

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Avatar vs. Sherlock Holmes

As the two big movies of this month, I thought it might be fun to compare the two and see what we can learn from them. So here goes.

Avatar: The most exciting thing in this movie was definitely the graphics. They did a good job with the spectacle aspect. Also, I thought the general premise was interesting, but I didn't quite feel like the film as a whole lived up to its premise. The story itself was pretty cool, but the actual writing wasn't anything special. Neither was the acting. It wasn't particularly awful, but it wasn't great either. Like I said, the graphics were definitely the most exciting thing, and I really didn't think it lived up to all the hype.

So what can writers learn from Avatar? An exciting premise is a wonderful starting point. Have the adventure and excitement and spectacle. But don't let those things get in the way of subtle plots and sub-plots and deep characters. You want characters that your readers can really relate to and that they will remember for years to come.

Sherlock Holmes: Really, really great character acting by both Robert Downey Junior and Jude Law. It is so awesome to see good looking guys willing to get crazy and dirty. The story itself was just as good as Avatar's, and I would say better, and the actual writing of it, the dialogue and everything, was much, much better. It was fantastic, in fact. I think both the story and the characters had the subtlety I was missing in Avatar. It was great visually as well, with wonderful cinematography. It ended with a very obvious cliffhanger, which makes me excited for the sure-to-come sequel.

What I learned from Sherlock Holmes is this: you've got to have characters that readers can really root for. RDJ played a wonderfully quirky Holmes that we can enjoy, and RDJ as a person is someone movie goers have come to admire and support. We love struggling yet somehow victorious characters, and both Holmes and RDJ give us that. Also, though spectacle is fun and exciting, more memorable and successful stories are created with subtlety and ambiguity. Subtle stories are also ones that you want to read over again, and when you do, you catch something new.

And the winner is: Sherlock Holmes, definitely. It has more intriguing subtlety and plain old good writing and acting then Avatar, and would be more exciting to see a second time. The story and characters are much more memorable, and not just because Holmes has been part of our culture for a long time. To me these movies show just how important character is; more important then setting or plot in terms of creating literature that will become part of the culture for years to come.

So create memorable, subtle characters. Happy writing!
Sarah Allen

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Naming Characters

This is a very individual process, but I think a few words on the subject might be helpful.

Dickens is the master of meaningful names. Names like M'Choakumchild instantly signify who the character is in the readers mind. Your names don't have to be Dickensian, but they should mean something. And just keep in mind that there are inherent differences between names like Kenneth Elsington III and Butch.

What I usually do is have a picture of my character in my head. I try and grasp them as a person, both their personality and how they look. Then I try and find a name that matches, even if there's no real logic behind it. I sometimes like to have a significant meaning behind the names I choose, too.

Here are my favorite baby name sites to help you pick names:
BabyNames.com
BabyCenter.com

Happy writing!
Sarah Allen

Monday, December 28, 2009

Video Games and Creative Writing

As an oldest child with many younger siblings, the last few days have been very full of video games. I've been wondering if there is anything writers can learn from video games, and here are some ideas.

Memorable characters: Mario, Donkey Kong, Yoshi, etc. Everyone knows them. They've become iconic. Its not like they are deeply developed characters, but they have specific characteristics that make them memorable and meaningful. Try to do that with your characters.

Sense of Accomplishment: With reading a book it may be harder to apply this, but be creative. I mean, reading a book is an accomplishment in and of itself, but by making what your characters go through a big deal at least to them, then the reader can feel a sense of accomplishment through your characters.

Unique: The worlds and characters in video games have places and powers and stories that are different from real life, and that makes them exciting. This can apply even if you mostly write literary fiction, like I do. No matter the genre you write in, your world and characters have to be unique.

Filled out: Good video games have complete worlds, characters and stories that form a filled out whole. Things have meaning and purpose and are there for a reason. Apply this to your work, and make sure you don't leave any gaps.

Direct: When you play a video game, even when its difficult, you know who you are, what side your on and what your ultimate goal is. There isn't confusion. Often in literature we appreciate subtlety and ambiguity, but the story should be ambiguous because there is more then one legitimate option, not because the writer couldn't decide how it should end. The story can be subtle and complex, but the reader must be able to follow along.

Happy gaming!
Sarah Allen

Sunday, December 27, 2009

New Years Resolutions for Creative Writers

Its that time of year again, when we attempt to remotivate ourselves to do the things we should have done last year. I encourage you to make New Years resolutions for your personal life, because I believe you need to be your best self to create your best work. You know for yourself what personal things you need to work on, but in terms of creative writing, there are definitely ways to use New Years resolutions to enhance your writing and your writing career. Here are some ideas of New Years resolutions that you writers out there may be able to use.

Finish. Finish that novel or poetry collection that you've been working on. Set a word goal for yourself and write every day until your done.

Re-edit. Take some old pieces that haven't been doing as well as you wanted them to and revitalize them.

Expand. Try a form, style or genre that you've never tried before. Try writing a script, and practice your dialogue. If you never have, try poetry or speculative fiction. You may find you enjoy it, and it will no doubt help you in your normal writing.

Expand even more. If you're really ambitious, try a completely new art form: painting, photography, musical composition, acting, etc. If you stick with it your general creativity will be expanded, and you may meet some awesome new people who share your love of artistic expression.

Submit. Make a goal that you won't let a piece sit for more then 24 hours before you re-submit it (unless you're re-editing, of course). Get your work out there. Research some writing competitions, make a list of them, and then make a goal to enter every single one. You never know what great things will come of it, even if its just some more good writing on your part.

Marketing. Find 3-5 new marketing outlets or tactics and make a goal to use them this year. If you don't have a blog, start one. Use social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace and LinkedIn. Use your newly discovered artistic talents and reach new people with sites like Flickr and YouTube. Join an online article community like eZine and meet new people through your articles. Then once you get your book finished and published, you'll have a whole entourage of people who can help spread the news.

Hope those help. Good luck getting ready for a new year!
Sarah Allen

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Day After: Christmas Presents

Well, we've made it. It's now the day after Christmas, time for picking up broken presents, wrapping paper, and finishing off all the random chocolate around the house.

If you have a diary, make sure to write down all the memories, happy and sad. If you don't have a diary, start one. Christmas memories are great creative fodder. Write down the crazy things your family said, did, and gave.

Use the presents you received. I for one got amazing presents that I can definitely use for inspiration, organization, and pure enjoyment. But even if you got something you don't think you could ever use it, then be creative and use it as a marketing gimmick. Make a funny youtube video or something with it. Start a giant White Elephant party and meet new people.

Also, use the holidays to renew old friendships and acquaintances. This will help you keep your social network strong, but more then that, its just good to be kind and keep relationships strong. I can do better at this personally, but the holidays are a good reminder.

What are your reactions to the holidays? What have you learned? What about Christmas will make the future better for you?

Sarah Allen

P.S. If you haven't already, start thinking of New Years Resolutions you're going to make for both your personal life and your writing career. More on this later.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What to do with mini writers block

There are times when something is really wrong, and you just absolutely cannot write for weeks or months at a time. I'm not talking about those moments today. I think something more common is moments of mini writers block, and those happen several times a week, at least for me. These are more just bumps in the road that you are constantly having to drive over, and here are some things that may help when you hit one of them.

Revel: After I've watched an incredible movie or show, or something exciting is happening, I usually can't make myself focus enough to write. If this happens to you too, just let it happen! Get your writing done before exciting stuff happens, and then just enjoy life as it comes. Its ok if you can't write for a few hours, or until you've slept it off, because it will wear off and then you can get back to serious writing. But in the meantime, revel in the excitement. Learn from it. Your writing will benefit from it.

Think Positive: Often it can go the opposite way, and something so frustrating and negative can happen that you just are too upset to write. I'm not talking huge, life-changing crisis, I'm thinking about all the little annoying, depressing things that happen all the time. When this happens, give yourself a bit to cool down. Talk to someone who always makes you feel better. Listen to some great music. Read, and let yourself forget about it for a while. Eat some chocolate. Then go back and see if you're ready to write.

Revise: Sometimes a project just isn't going the way you want it to go. You just get stuck. Try going back and pin-pointing the spot where you got off track. Go from there, and see if things flow more easily.

Relax: Yes, there are genius writers out there. No, you may not feel like one of them. But so what? Everything can't be written by Shakespeare. There are stories only you can tell. Don't let yourself be overly intimidated by genius writers, because they will always be there, and you will probably always feel intimidated by them. Don't let it keep you from writing. Learn from them, enjoy them, envy them, but write!

Write: Sometimes it just takes sitting your butt down in the chair and writing the next sentence. It may not be great, but thats what revision is for. Just do it, just get the words out there. You may only need one sentence to get you back to your old writing self. So just write!

Sarah Allen

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Traditions and Creative Writing

Everyone has traditions that shape their memories and feelings of Christmas. In terms of creative writing, this fact in and of itself can help you shape character, theme, and plot in your work.

For example, for the past few years my family has given a dinner for all the widows in our neighborhood. We just did the dinner tonight, and sixteen of them came. We served them dinner and then they each went around and talked about their childhood, and their life, and which decisions have been good and which bad. One of them is a woman who grew up in England next to Sherwood forest. Another grew up Mississippi, has the accent and everything, and is getting over cancer. Some had unhappy first marriages and found happiness later, some are still madly in love with the man they married decades ago. All the different stories and the different ways they were told make these women who they are.

Whatever your traditions are, learn from them. Learn what they say about you and what matters to you. You have to know yourself to create meaningful, passionate writing, and Christmas is a good time to find out what you care about.

What are your traditions? What about those traditions makes you who you are?

Sarah Allen

Saturday, December 19, 2009

25 Days of Christmas Stories: Creative Writing Prompt

A while ago I wrote about 25 Days of Christmas Stories, about how one of my family traditions is to read a Christmas story every night as a countdown towards Christmas. I think writing my own 25 Christmas Story Countdown would be fun, and suggested it as an idea for you writers out there. If you have written something towards this idea, I hope you had fun and hope it worked out for you. If you're stuck, here is a beginning that I wrote a few weeks ago. I may want to keep going with it later, but for now you guys can use it as a prompt for your own stories. I hope you like it, and I hope it helps:

*******************
Blitzen

My middle name is Blitzen. I would tell you my first name, but if I did there’s no way you’d stick around. Besides, it doesn’t matter, because all my real friends call me Blitzen anyway.

You’d think having a name like Blitzen, that I’d like Christmas a whole lot or something. To tell you the truth, I do like Christmas. Kind of. But when it’s come and gone, I’m always left feeling sort of disappointed. To tell you the real truth, in all honest to goodness truth, I’d have to say my favorite holiday is Valentines. But don’t tell my friends that. They’d never stick around.

I’m not quite sure why my favorite is Valentines. I mean I’ve never gotten a card or even those disgusting chalk heart things that say fruitcake things on them, and taste even worse. Except once I saw one that said ‘I thee jilt.’ It made me laugh, but I couldn’t think of anyone to give it to.
*******************

Hope this helps! Happy Holidays!
Sarah Allen

Friday, December 18, 2009

Dialogue and Screenwriting

Dialogue is one of the hardest, yet most necessary aspects of creative writing. Whether your writing fiction or script, I think reading dialogue is a good idea. So here are a couple links to a database of movie and tv scripts. Take a look, read some of your favorites and it may turn out to be very helpful for the dialogue in your own creative writing.

Internet Movie Script Database
Script-o-Rama

Hope this helps, and enjoy!

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Movie Spotlight and Creative Writing Lessons: Julie and Julia

I'm going to try to keep this from becoming just a Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci love fest, and actually take some good writing lessons from the movie, but I want to just start out by saying how incredibly talented and stunningly superb both Streep and Tucci are. They are both so believable and, in this movie, utterly adorable. I could very easily go on, but let's look at some specifics and see what we can learn.

Adaptability: If you look at the last movie Streep and Tucci did together (Devil Wears Prada, another amazing movie), you see the stunning adaptability both of them show in going from the characters in that movie to the new ones. Particularly Streep. She went from being one of the most believable snarky witch bosses ever on screen to a very successful portrayal of a sweet, vulnerable, real life woman. Within a book, you've got characters as diverse as those ones that have to come from your own head. Look to Streep's performances as a brilliant example of how its done. And this is applicable not only for character, but genre. If you've never written speculative fiction, get out of your comfort zone and try some. Maybe try a screenplay or poetry, if that's something you haven't tried before. It may turn out to be fun, and will most likely improve your writing in whatever genre you typically write in.

Vulnerability: The lesson from this is that there absolutely must be conflict. In this movie, the Childs' marriage is practically perfect, and provides some wonderfully poignant and passionate moments. The conflict is not between the two of them. But then we get these scenes of vulnerability, where we see how unsatisfied he is with is job, and how she wants a baby so badly she sometimes just can't take it. These moments show how much the two rely on each other for emotional strength and support, and makes the happy moments in their marriage mean so much more. So if you want a sweet, poignant romance in your book, that is wonderful and will touch many readers. But the trick is to make the characters vulnerable in other ways, to show how much the happy relationship is needed. Every character must be vulnerable in some way so we can relate to them.

Balance: Streep way out-performed Amy Adams, not just in talent but in story. Make sure that if you have two leads you either deliberately make one better then the other, or make them equal. Even with antagonist and protagonist, you can't make one less powerful or interesting then the other. They need to be deliberately matched, or else its unbalanced, which, if thats what you're going for, then great. I think this is just something to be aware of so we don't misuse it.

Hope this helps! I highly recommend this movie/Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci. Learn from it, but also, just enjoy it!

In the words of Julia Childs, Bon Appetit!

Sarah Allen

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Writer's Social Life

Pretty non-existent, right? Wrong! I am naturally an introverted home-body as most writers are, but having some sort of social life is beneficial for your mental and emotional well-being, and may even be helpful creatively. Being social doesn't necessarily mean being the life of every party, or even going to every party. But I still think its healthy to get a little outside your comfort zone and meet a few new people.

Don't be afraid to talk about the things your interested in, even if you think it's nerdy. Recently I met a really nice girl when we discovered we both are really into Victorian romance novels and movies, like Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice. (Ok, Austen isn't within the Victorian periods time frame, but her style is arguably 'Victorian'...but thats another post.) If you're a Trekkie, use it to meet people who share your interests, whether dorky or not.

Be willing to just talk to people. Join conversations. My biggest fear is usually that it will be awkward and whoever I'm talking to will think I'm weird, but you know what, I am weird, and so what. Just be yourself, and if someone has an issue with that then they're not worth worrying about anyway.

Writers can use social experiences as inspiration for characters, plot, dialogue, marketing, and lots of other things. You never know what opportunities you're missing out on when you shrink from social situations. Even getting some friends and going to a play or a movie will be both fun and creatively inspiring.

Take advantage of all the Christmas parties going on about now. This is a good time to start putting yourself out there, because people are more charitable and understanding during the holidays. So just do it and have fun!

Sarah Allen

Friday, December 11, 2009

Chistmas Gift Ideas for Writers

For the writer in your life, here is a quick list of some Christmas gift ideas:

-Notebooks: an obvious one, but for a small nice gift or stocking stuffer, notebooks are something writers can always use.

-Books: Be careful with this one, because writers often have more books on their to-read list then they can get to. But books are always wonderful anyway, and it might end up being just the one they wanted.

-Audiobooks: These are more expensive then regular books, and writers may actually need them more. They can upload them onto their iPods and have them in their car for long drives. For me, listening to writing out loud helps me with my own voice, and your writer may find it helpful too.

-Classical music: I used to think I couldn't write and listen to music, but lately I've been listening to classical while I write and it actually seems to make me write faster. At least it feels that way. And its nice to not be sitting in silence for hours on end. So for someone who may be interested in that kind of stuff, it may help.

-Printers: I always like having a hard copy of my piece when I'm editing, and if the writer in your life does too, then a good printer may be a good gift idea. That way they can have their pieces with them to work on wherever they go. Binders and folders to carry the pieces in would be a good idea as well.

-Trinkets: This stuff can be used to market your writers' book. Get them custom bookmarks, t-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, business cards, etc. They can distribute them to get the word out about their book.

-Subscription to a literary journal: Its always helpful for writers to see what kind of stuff is being published. It gives inspiration and helps see the competition. If there is a particular magazine your writer wants to be published in, get that one. If you don't know where to start, I suggest the New Yorker, Harpers, and Atlantic Monthly.

Anyway, those are my suggestions. What other Christmas gift ideas do you writers have?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Act of Christmas Kindness Challenge for Writers

In honor of the season of kindness, I have a challenge for you writers out there: use your writing ability to serve someone around you, whether family, friend, or someone you barely know. Use your talent to make someones Christmas season a little brighter. Here's a list of some ideas of what you could do:

-Help a student with an essay or English exam.
-Write your significant other a love poem.
-Write a stranger a love poem and leave it somewhere to be found.
-Write a Christmas story and read it to a kid as a bedtime story.
-Help a kid read a more difficult Christmas story, like Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"
-Start a family Christmas tradition of writing stories, poems, songs, or plays together.

Be creative with this, but use your writing skills to bless someones life. If you have any other ideas, please post them. Also, I'd love to hear about any experiences you have in doing this. I hope you do it, and I hope it turns out to be a good experience.

Sarah Allen

Monday, December 7, 2009

Meeting your local booksellers

One idea I've heard lately, and I think its a good one, is that writers should meet the employees at local bookstores. To me this makes total sense. If these people are going to be responsible for selling or not selling your book, you want them on your team, right? This is especially true for independent book stores.

So go to all the bookstores in your area and introduce yourself. Come frequently, and buying a book every once in a while couldn't hurt. Make friends with the people behind the register. Talk to them, ask them what there favorite books are. You may even consider giving them a copy of your book for free. It may be well worth it.

You can use sites like Facebook and LinkedIn to see if you already know anyone who works at a bookstore. That may be incredibly useful, by giving you an extra in. Take your bookseller friends and their coworkers out to lunch, and invite them to a release party of your book. Be creative in how you do it, but the more bookseller friends you have the more people you'll have on your team, pushing your product. That could end up being the biggest support you have.

Sarah Allen

Sunday, December 6, 2009

What every writer should have in their car

In todays crazy busy world, we spend a huge amount of time on the road. To help make the most of that time, here are some ideas of what creative writers and other artists should always keep in their car:

-Notebook. You should have this with you wherever you are.

-Audiobook. Keep a couple in the car for those times when you'll be in there for a while.

-Cigarette lighter adapter for your laptop. For those times when your stuck in the car for a while and someone else is driving. Then you don't have to worry about your laptop battery running out.

-Business cards/bookmarks. Make a goal to give out five a day. I've even heard of people sticking them inside books at the bookstore.

-Copy of your portfolio/book. Letting someone hold in their hands a book with your name on it has a much bigger impact then just saying your a writer. Keep copies of your book with you to sell, market, or occasionally give away. And keep copies of your short work too, poetry and short stories. You never know when you'll meet a magazine editor or publisher who wants to take a look at it.

-Bumper sticker. Ok, so this is to keep on your car, but you may as well use your vehicle as a marketing device.

Hope this helps. What other things do you writers keep in your car as a useful tool?

Sarah Allen

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sarah Allen's TV Guide for Writers

I wanted to do this for two reasons. First, whether you're specifically writing in the TV script genre or doing other stuff, I think all writers can learn a few things from what works in certain shows and what doesn't. One of my goals here is to look at my favorite shows and see what makes them work. Second, there are just some delightful and awesome shows out there, and talking about them makes me happy.

So here is Sarah Allen's TV Guide for Writers. Hope it helps:

-Frasier-

For me, I can sum up the best thing about this show in three words--David Hyde Pierce. His portrayal of Niles Crane is honest, poignant and frankly adorable. Mostly I am referring to his infatuation with Daphne. One lesson I take from Niles is that quirky characters who are madly in love with someone they don't feel they could ever get are pretty much always totally loveable. The best parts of Frasier are the moments when Niles' love for Daphne becomes uncontainable and he almost spills the beans. So lesson from Niles is: quirky lovesick characters=good.

Another lesson from this show came from the fact that I actually don't really like Frasier himself. I don't know if this is the character himself or Kelsey Grammar, but I just think Frasier himself can be conceited and annoying. What is interesting about this is that I still adore the show, even though I don't quite connect with the main character. This makes me think of Harry Potter in some ways, particularly book five, when Harry himself becomes particularly obnoxious. Its all the characters around Harry (Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, Dumbledore, Neville, Lupin, Snape) that make the books particularly worth reading. This seems to say to me that your main character can be almost dislikable as long as there is at least one other character thats worth rooting for.

-The Big Bang Theory-

This show is simply delightfully written, and all the cast does such a great job. Again, the arguably main character, Leonard, is whiny and one of the more annoying characters, yet he is also a quirky character in love with someone he thinks is out of reach, which makes him likable. What is awesome about this show is watching a group of guys who don't fit in try and fit in. You see the characters struggle through awkwardness, waiting for moments when they get what they want. What I think we can learn from this show is that even characters that you may not think you can relate to (i.e., genius scientists with doctorates working at a university) can be made very accessible through real life, very human emotions like wanting the beautiful girl next door, and the struggle between wanting to be yourself and wanting to fit in.

-The Office-

In many ways this show is like Big Bang Theory in what it can teach us writers; most of these characters are awkward, average or just plain weird, and yet they have very human wants and hopes that help us relate to them. We watch the show, waiting for these very awkward, quirky characters to have moments of poignancy when they get what they've been wanting for a long time. At points this show is almost too awkward to bear, but those poignant moments when things work out are so satisfying, and are thrown into relief by the surrounding awkwardness. For example, Steve Carrell's portrayal of Michael Scott is brilliant; he is one of the most awkward yet lovable characters on TV. Most of the time he is being ridiculous, making the audience shake their heads and say, "Oh, Michael." But then he gets emotionally beat up and abandoned, and then we cut to a downtrodden and lonely Michael handing out Halloween candy to a bunch of kids, and then we feel deeply for him, and say "Oh, Michael" in a very different way. Those moments make us love him, and want him to be loved, even though most of the time he can be really frustrating.

Those moments are one thing that work for The Office, but look at it this way too; what if we related to those characters not because of their moments of niceness and poignancy, but because of their awkward loneliness? Which one is it? I think its probably both.

-Star Trek: The Next Generation-

Ok, I'm admitting my geekiness on this one, but I had to get something scifi out there, didn't I? And this show actually does have some great creative lessons. This show has a sense of awe for the universe and humanity that gives it scope and makes the viewer feel somehow grand. What I take as the best lesson from this show, (spec fiction writers take note), is that they use non-human characters to explore humanity. The best example of this is Data, brilliantly portrayed by Brent Spiner. Data is an android intrigued by humanity, and he explores human characteristics and what makes someone truly human. Again, this gives the characters and show scope. But it doesn't have to be speculative fiction in order for this principle to work. Think of Ebenezer Scrooge in Christmas Carol; he's an "inhuman" character who finds his humanity. This is what Star Trek does best.

-Lost-

There are so many things to learn from this show. Obviously action/adventure shows like this rely more on plot then on character, but I think I want to start with the latter. Like Frasier and Harry Potter, the main characters like Jack and Kate can often be frustrating and annoying. There are a couple awesome characters (Hurley) but actually, most of the characters on this show are not that memorable, and in all honesty a lot of the acting is just ok. With one ginourmous, incredible exception: Michael Emerson, i.e. Benjamin Linus. Every time he opens his mouth I am blown away. His line delivery and intensity are stunning. But despite my bias towards his superior acting, there are other reasons why I think Benjamin Linus is the best character on the show. It goes back to the moments of poignant humanity thing. As a character, Ben does some awful things, like killing his father and an entire town of people. He is manipulative, dishonest and makes things hard on everyone around him. But here's the thing; he is also very conflicted and confused, emotionally and physically beaten up and tossed aside, desperately lonely and in love. All this, brilliantly portrayed by Michael Emerson, creates one of the richest somewhere-between-villain-and-anti-heroes ever seen on television.

As for plot, the obvious lesson comes from the season three mistake; because the directors and writers had so much time to stretch out this story, it was stretched out too far. Questions weren't being answered and things weren't moving along. Once they got a deadline and started making things happen again, the show got back to its awesome old self. So never let your story lapse, always keep it clipping along. On a more positive note, the complications and story and intertwining of characters on the show is frankly genius, and just plain awesome. Any book would be made more intriguing with the complex, involved kind of plot that Lost has.

Anyway, there's some of my favorite shows and what creative writers can learn from them. I'm sure I'll be writing about them in the future, but this is a good start.

Hope it helps!
Sarah Allen

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Quick Meals for Busy Days

Today was one of those days when I could hardly find time even to eat. I'm sure everyone has days like that, or even days when you're in the creative zone and don't want to take too much time away from working even to eat. So for days like that, here's just some quick things I love to eat when I don't have time to make something more substantial.

-Spinach sandwich-drizzle italian dressing on bread, slap on spinach and tomatoes

-Cold cereal

-Yogurt and berries-my favorite is the Light 'n Fit vanilla yogurt. Sometimes I crunch up chex into it too.

-Toast with sugar free blackberry jam

-Bananas and peanut butter

Sort of a random post, but on your crazy days of writing or just plain old business it may help. Have fun with the writing!
Sarah Allen

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

25 Days of Christmas Stories

For as long as I can remember my family has owned this tattered blue folder with 25 Christmas stories and poems inside. The aim is to read one a day until Christmas, as a sort of countdown. It's one of my favorite Christmas traditions.

Now, I can't give you the folder, but here are some sites that have lists of Christmas stories and poems that you can start with, if you're interested:

The Gift of the Magi
Christmas Story List1
Christmas Story List2

Lately, in thinking of this tradition, I have been thinking how fun it would be to write my own 25 Christmas Story anthology. If you like the idea, feel free to steal it and start working on some Christmas tales this month. Here are three ideas that I've come up with so far that you can use as a starting point for your own ideas:

-The Other Reindeer: write a story from one of the non-Rudolph reindeer's perspective. Give all of the reindeer characteristics and challenges and turn them into a story. Its basically reindeer fanfiction :-)

-A Christmas Tragedy: Create a character and show how their Christmas goes terribly wrong. I.e., a single mother of two loses her job and can't afford to buy presents.

-Cross holiday: Take a leaf from Tim Burton's book and combine a couple holidays. I've always wanted to know what Cupid does for Christmas.

Anyway, there are some new ideas for a new month. Enjoy, and good luck!
Sarah Allen
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