From Sarah, With Joy

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

New post every Monday

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Story Beginning: What Happens in the Rain

Here's another story beginning that I have in the deep recesses of my computer. Hope it helps!


***

For once the weatherman was right. Rachel knelt on the leather couch, her face poked through the curtains, listening to the drum-roll of the rain on her roof, and watching the lightning illuminate the entire street. She had given up reading a while ago, and just enjoyed the feeling of foreshadowing that thunderstorms always gave her.
As she stood up to get a glass of water, the house became pitch black. She knelt back down on the couch and looked out the window. The other houses were all dark too. In a flash of lightning she thought she saw someone standing in the yard across the street. Whoever was out there turned on a flashlight. It was Deb.
Rachel reached her way to the door, and the sound of the rain doubled when she opened it.
“What are you doing out here?” she yelled, trying to be louder than the weather. She had to yell again before Deb heard her, but when she did, she motioned for her to come across the street. Rachel ran across the road, feeling girlishly thrilled at being soaked through.
“What’s going on?” She asked, still straining to talk over the rain.
Deb pulled her onto the porch under the overhang. “I just went grocery shopping and I’m worried everything will go bad if the power stays out,” she said. “Want to join me for a late night snack?”
Rachel grinned, pulling her jacket tight across her chest. “Why not?” she said.
Before they walked inside another flashlight flickered on from next door. Deb cupped her hands around her mouth. “Mandy,” she yelled. “Come help us finish the food before it goes bad.”
Mandy’s flashlight bobbed up and down as she ran towards them. She walked onto the porch soaking and grinning too. “What’s up?” she said.
“Come on,” said Deb, opening the door. “Can’t let all that food go to waste.”
The first thing they got out was the Rocky Road. It hadn’t had too much time to melt, so it was at the perfect consistency. They set the carton in the middle of the table and didn’t bother with bowls.
“So,” said Deb, “How’s life? We haven’t talked in a while.”
“No kidding,” said Mandy. “We’re all just so busy I guess.”
“Yeah,” said Rachel. “But just pull out the Rocky Road and I’m there.”
“Here, here,” said Deb, and they all scooped out a spoonful of ice cream.
The power still hadn’t come on half an hour later, and they had moved on to the strawberries.
“So you’re really not seeing anyone?” asked Deb again.
“Not even sort of,” said Rachel.
“We’ll have to fix that,” said Mandy.
Rachel threw a strawberry tip into the garbage. “I don’t know about that,” she said. “I don’t…I’m just not up for that right now.”
“Still not over Brad?” asked Mandy.
“Kind of. In a way,” said Rachel.
“Girl, if you ain’t over your ex then you definitely need to be seeing somebody,” said Deb.
“I know I am,” said Mandy.
“You are what?” said Deb. “Over your ex or seeing somebody?”
Mandy twirled a finger in her hair. “Both,” she said.
Rachel and Deb elbowed her and laughed.
“Who is he?” asked Rachel.
Mandy grinned. “Oh, just someone I met at the office.”
“Just don’t let the boss catch you,” said Deb.
“Actually,” said Mandy, her grin widening, “it is the boss.”
Rachel and Deb busted up in giggles. “Bad girl,” said Deb.
“It is weird to be on the dating scene again,” said Mandy after the giggling had subsided.
“No kidding,” said Deb. The strawberries were almost gone.
“Wait,” said Mandy, “did all three of us marry louses who cheated on us? I know I did.”
“Unfortunately, yes,” said Deb. “And the bastard still gets Penny every Christmas.”
“Did Brad cheat on you?” said Mandy.
“No,” said Rachel. Her finger was tracing a knot in the grain. “I cheated on him.”

Monday, April 26, 2010

Filling Out A Plot

The past few days I have really been working on a budding story idea. I had the germ of an idea but I've been doing a few different things to help me expand it into a novel-length idea.

One thing I've been doing is skimming through my writing books and making sure my basic idea has all the necessary elements of a good story. I've been using Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell and Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. These have really helped me fill out my idea.

I've also tried going through the plotlines of other books or movies and seeing if there is anything in that story that strikes me or inspires me to add something to mine. A while ago I wrote about a game called Liebrary, and I've been using the plot summaries on those cards especially to get some ideas.

Checking the news can also help you discover the elements of your story that are missing. You may find interesting characters and plot points in your local newspaper.

What do you do to help expand your beginning idea?

Sarah Allen

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sarah Allen's Top Romance Movies

Ok, so as long as we're being girly and sentimental, I thought I'd give a list of what I think are well-written, well-done, happiness-inducing romance movies. In my opinion, these movies give good artistic lessons, as well as pure enjoyment.

-Sabrina (1995): This is one remake thats better then the original. Harrison Ford's Linus Larrabee seems suave, collected and calculating until we see how lonely and vulnerable he actually is. These secretly vulnerable characters are my favorite, which is one reason I adore this movie. Harrison Ford plays the balance of power and vulnerability perfectly, and may I add that he is incredibly appealing to look at, even as an aging business man. Julia Ormond is also fantastic, completely adorable, and her physical transformation in Paris always stuns me. She is beautiful and absolutely sweet. Greg Kinnear is also very charming and fun. All in all, a very well-done film.

-Moonstruck: I know, I know, it's Nicolas Cage, but don't let that dissuade you. I'd been reading about this movie in a screenwriting book, and then I found out Cher won the Oscar for best actress, and it was also nominated for best picture. Those factors outweighed the Nicolas Cage issue so I decided to watch it, and I was pleasantly blown away. Even Nicolas Cage gets it right in this movie. His "We're here to love the wrong people" monologue is so well-written, and Cage does a great job with it. Cher and Cage are wonderful together and the family is absolutely hilarious and heartwarming. This movie is very Italian and utterly delightful, which in this case may be the same thing. After you watch this movie, you won't be able to stop smiling. I'm smiling just thinking about it.

-Terms of Endearment: This movie comes with a warning--only watch it if you are prepared for heartbreaking, poignant, real life, exhilarating, stirring, Academy Award for Best Picture winning awesomeness. This is not a light movie. Hollywood doesn't come out with movies like this anymore, and it is an incredibly rewarding watch, but just be ready. The entire cast is phenomenal, Shirley MacLaine in particular. Her character is so incredibly real-life, and despite her crusty exterior, you can't help but love and feel for her. She has some wonderful scenes with Jack Nicholson, and the whole movie is incredibly well-written. Watch this movie. With a box of Kleenex.

-Much Ado About Nothing: This is a classic. Obviously a Shakespeare film is going to be well-written, but in this movie it almost feels like Kenneth Branagh shows you exactly how well-written it actually is. From the humorous to the poignant, he seems to show you exactly what Shakespeare was trying to say. His speech about what he is looking for in a woman is perfectly delivered, and shows how absolutely "guy" Benedick really is. His delivery shows the beauty and profundity in lines like "Serve God, love me, and mend." And then of course there is Emma Thompson, who is in no way outdone by Branagh. She is smart, beautiful, clever, and passionate. Like the movie itself.

-As Good As It Gets: This movie is utterly sweet. It is the story of two people with messed up lives who are finally able to accept solace in another person. Jack Nicholson's character is like many of us--someone who keeps messing things up for himself. He starts off on the right track, but then says something that ruins everything. But he keeps trying, and Helen Hunt keeps forgiving, and in the end they find out how much help, happiness, even love, they can get from each other. This movie has several classic lines, like "you make me want to be a better man." Enjoy the progress the characters go through, and let it progress you in your own screenwriting.

-Sense and Sensibility: Another classic. Emma Thompson shows her true brilliance in being able to not only act fabulously, but in also writing such a well-done adaptation of a Jane Austen classic. Every person in this movie does a fantastic job. What I love about Jane Austen movies, and this one in particular, is the characters who try so hard to be rational, logical and proper, and then have moments when they totally lose it. Emma Thompson has some great "losing it" moments. If you plan on or have seen this movie, don't miss this deleted scene.

Honorable Mentions:

Any other Jane Austen movie: Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion especially.
What Women Want
Somethings Gotta Give
The First Wives Club

What do you all think? What have you learned artistically from these movies or any others? What movies would you add to this list?

Sarah Allen

p.s. For those of you who, like me, don't have a large video library, here is my movie watching secret. Hope it helps.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Book Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen

If you have not read this book, you are missing out more then I can say. This book makes me as giddy as any chick-flick does, and also comes with literary merit.

There are so many things Jane Austen does right. In all of her books, but in Persuasion in particular, she is the master of subtext, and everything her characters say or do, every line, glance, and expression means infinitely more then it seems to. Watching people movie in this incredibly intricate society using only these subtextual words and glances is, to me, fascinating.

She captures feelings so well. In reading her books I often find myself wishing I could express how I felt as eloquently as her. In Persuasion, the tension starts on page one, so the complicated, passionate and intense emotions fill the entire book. There is not a moment between Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth that doesn't leave the reader as quivering with emotion as it does Anne.

And speaking of Anne Elliot, let me just say that the list of literary heroines on her level is incredibly small. Her goodness, intelligence, and particularly her affection make her an absolutely adorable character. I don't know anyone who couldn't use a little Anne Elliot in them. Captain Wentworth is almost deserving of her. But, as he so sweetly and sincerely states, "I must learn to brook being happier than I deserve."

Any of you who have read Persuasion, what are your thoughts? Did you find it as brilliant as I did?

Sarah Allen

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Be dedicated, be yourself, and always say yes

This post stems from a few experiences that have happened to me in the past little while. From what I've seen, being dedicated, natural and willing can get you far in life, and this is directly applicable to creative writers and other artists.

Be dedicated: For a while now I have been part of a production of Shakespeare's 'Much Ado About Nothing' in Spanish Fork. Things have been a little complicated and dramatic, but I've always tried to do my best, and show up on time and work hard. Because of this, I am being considered for being recast as Beatrice, and will at the least be understudying for that role. I am super excited about this, but these opportunities are readily available to people who are simply dedicated and ready to work. Those are characteristics that really do set you apart.

Be yourself: A couple weeks ago I auditioned for the Princess Festival in Lindon, Utah. I auditioned with my roommates, and one of them is a theater major. We went through the roles, and my first thoughts were that the role of a stepsister would not only be the most fun, but also would be the part I could probably do best. I've never been very "princessesque". Her advice to me whenever we go audition is that I should just give them what I've got, and not worry about trying to fit a specific role. So thats what I did. When we got to the auditions, they gave us both a character side and a princess side. When it was my turn, I went to go up to the big audition room and tripped up the stairs. Yes, tripped up the stairs. I then sang 'I'm a Woman' from Smokey Joe's Cafe. After my song, with somewhere between amused and bemused looks on their faces, they said, "We'll just have you read the character one." So I did. I went all out, and just gave them my best character self. And guess what? I'm a stepsister! It's like the story behind Anne Hathaway and Princess Diaries: I've heard that she was cast because she fell off the chair during auditions. So no matter who you are, don't be afraid of it, and give it your all. Good things will come of it.

Always Say Yes: Ok, ok, so having just recently seen 'Yes Man' for the first time only has slight bearing on this post. Ok, so more then slight. But the movie has a good point. Good things come when you're not afraid to take opportunities. I would not have any of those theater opportunities if I had not said yes to auditions, and at least for the princess ones I almost didn't. I have honestly been trying this the past little while, and I'm discovering that saying yes really isn't as scary as it seems. You don't have to say yes to throwing rocks at bank windows or giving a stranger all your money, but get over the fear/inconvenience factor and say yes to things that you maybe typically wouldn't. This may actually be one of the best ways to enhance both your personal life and your artistic career.

What do you think? Do you find these traits helping you in your life?

Sarah Allen

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Using YouTube to Market Your Creative Writing

This post is more of a question then an answer. YouTube is one of the most popular sites in the world, and quite a few of the videos get millions of viewers. Reaching millions of people is exactly what writers want to do. But writing is not a visual art form, so how can we use video to market it?

Home Videos: These don't directly relate to your writing career, but these kind of videos can get hugely popular, and getting people to your youtube site will help introduce them to you. People will start knowing who you are. A link to your blog from a popular youtube video could help you get huge blog traffic. An example of an enormously popular home video is David After Dentist.

Comedy Series: These can get a lot of hits too, and when its a series people keep coming back. Write up some funny characters or do something creative to make a video series that people will tell their friends about. Again, this will just help people become familiar with your name and hopefully direct people to your official website or blog. An example of this kind of series is Miranda Sings.

Video Podcast: One way is to make sort of a video blog and just film yourself talking about writing and whats going on in your writing career. This is simple, and may not be as easy to get popular as some other kinds of videos, but the people who will be watching videos like this are kinds of people who are already interested in books, and could potentially become very loyal readers. There are a lot of these out there, so I'll let you find which ones work best for you.

But most of all, what are your ideas about this? YouTube's popularity makes it a marketing tool that any artist cannot afford to miss out on, so how do we writers use it to the fullest advantage?

Sarah Allen

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Opening Short Story Lines: The Teacher

Here is another beginning that I left off awhile ago. See what you can do with it.

The Teacher

The day my wife found the manuscript was the day I told my class that Pride and Prejudice was one of my favorite books. I didn’t mean to tell them. We were discussing intriguing female characters and it just kind of slipped out, like the first time I told Abby I loved her. When I realized what I’d said, I nudged my glasses farther up my nose, and wondered why confessing my love for Jane Austen in front of my class was making my ears feel so hot. As I expected, Patrick started cracking jokes from the back row of desks: “Mr. Willis reads romance novels,” he said. The throng of thick skulled, broad shouldered boys that surrounded him snickered their support. In the front row, Faye rolled her eyes. “At least he can read,” she said. I think I failed to suppress a grin.
Because I taught at a small boarding school, I got to know my students pretty well. Faye Guthrie had been my student since she was a freshman, and she always sat in the front row. She was one of my quietest students, and only in her senior year would she have been confident enough to get after the class dorks like that. She was the tiniest girl I’d ever seen. I’m no heavyweight, but even I felt like I’d snap her in half if I wasn’t careful. She had wispy, light blond hair, which, combined with her blue eyes and tiny figure, made me think of fairies. It gave me a kind of satisfaction to have a tiny blond girl as the smartest in the class.
The drive home felt normal, except that I was stuck behind a big moving van the whole way, whose driver must have been taking time for last goodbyes. My mom used to call them “not-moving” vans.
I turned on the radio, and “Always” by Atlantic Star came on. It’s mine and Abby’s wedding song, and it made me smile. I was going to tell her it had played, maybe twirl her around the kitchen as I sang a sincere, if botched up version of the song, but I did neither when I saw the look on her face.
“When were you going to tell me?” she said.
Crap, I thought, trying to figure out what I’d done. Out loud I said, “Huh?”
Abby pointed to a manila envelope lying on the kitchen counter next to a half eaten Yoplait. The covering was blank, but I knew what was inside. I scratched the back of my neck. “Oh,” I said.
Steam seeped from the rumbling dishwasher. “Yeah,” Abby said. Her sandy blond braids draped over her shoulders, and her eyebrow was cocked. The sprinkle of freckles across her nose stood out when she was angry, making her even more adorable then usual, but I did nothing. Smiling would not have helped at a time like this.
“I didn’t think it was a big deal,” I said, and shrugged.
“Why wouldn’t you tell me?” she asked. “Did you think I wouldn’t be supportive? You’ve always wanted to write, I would love for you to be able to do that. Of course I would. In fact, I’ve wondered why you haven’t been writing; now I know you’ve just been hiding it from me.”
I couldn’t even explain to myself why I’d kept the book a secret. The manuscript seemed such an indispensable part of me, yet at the same time, something from another life. “It’s just a start,” I said. “Of course I would tell you if it turned in to anything serious.”
Abby breathed deeply. “I read it,” she said. I looked at her. “It seems serious to me.” My ears started getting hot again, and I looked away. I needed a drink.
Abby moved closer to me. She smelled like vanilla and brown sugar. She looked up at me, and her voice was low and steady. “Todd,” she said, “it’s good.” Her hazel eyes glowed. “It’s really good.”
I shifted my weight. I didn’t know what to say except, “Really?”
Abby grinned and nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “You’re going to finish it, right? And get it published?”
I wiggled my toes inside my shoes and cleared my throat. “I don’t know,” I said.
“What do you mean?” said Abby.
“It’s not that simple,” I said. “I mean, getting something published takes a lot of work. It’s really hard.”
“I know,” Abby said. “I’ll help you. I can look for agents or whatever. You really should do this.”
I pushed my glasses up the bridge of my nose and shrugged.
***

Hope this helps!
Sarah Allen
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