From Sarah, With Joy

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

New post every Monday

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Quick and Easy Rule for Writing Poetry

This comes from the lesson my co-teacher gave today in class. (It went super awesomely. The actual teaching will be a total blast. Jumping through the beurocratic hoops will not). So far the class has been discussing observing, and how truly observing something is different then just seeing it. ("Have you really seen the mountains today?" he says). Now we're working on getting from those more unique, personal observations into actual work. The rule we talked about is this:

Good poets say what something is, not what they think it means.


Our example was "Winter Ocean" by John Updike, which goes like this:

Many-maned scud-thumper, tub
of male whales, maker of worn wood, shrub-
ruster, sky-mocker, rave!
portly pusher of waves, wind-slave.


He doesn't try to say what he thinks a "winter ocean" means or symbolizes or anything. He just digs and digs to the heart of the thing itself, and puts out there what he discovers it actually IS in incredibly interesting words. Scud-thumper. How awesome is that?

Its when we try to be all poetical and expound on some deep meaning that we totally miss the meaning, and get cheesy and cliche and vague. To me this is a good rule to keep in mind from the outset. It can reign in the dumb and keep us on the effective, concrete path. What are your thoughts? Do you think this rule can help?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Difference Between Fiction and Lies

So, among other things, I'm pointing a little bit at Da Vinci Code here. See, it was a super fun story, very well researched and plotted. Not super well written, but that's another point. The problem I have is when Brown claims in the beginning that all the cult evidence and art clues are totally legit, when of course they're not. That all the clues mean what he's saying they mean. So is that just part of his fiction, or is he crossing some line?

This happens a lot in movies and documentaries too. People trying to pass off something as true. There's the other extreme, too, where people say reading any fiction is just a waste of time, because it isn't true. In my opinion, both sides have it wrong.

Trying to pass of fiction as "true" is just dumb. I mean, people find out. What, really, is the point? Its almost condescending, an insult to the readers intelligence. The real reason this subject came up is that I watched a movie with my roommates last night that did this very thing, and after we did some scant researched and figured out it was all fake, one roommate said it was just a waste of two hours. I guess they do it so that the story will have more impact. But in good fiction, we are being totally honest with ourselves and our understanding of human nature, and to me that is Truth with a capital T. That's why the people who say fiction is pointless are wrong. Their minds are closed to the reality that there are some Truths we learn better through fiction than anything else. That's how I see it, at least. I hope I'm making sense.

Lying is taking a story and trying to pass it off as truth. Fiction is an attempt at using story to reach Truth.

What do you think?

Sarah Allen

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Disneyland: 'Fantasmic' and My Short Story Collection Idea

So I don't really have anything in particular to say about Fantasmic except that its probably my favorite thing ever. If someone says imagine your happy place, I think sitting by the Rivers of America eating powder sugar drizzled funnel cake, and waiting for all the awesome moments like Mickey shooting sparks out of his hands, and all the Toy Story people on the back of the Mark Twain boat, and especially, perhaps the best moment ever in Disneyland, the end when sorcerer Mickey pops up at the top of the tower and directs the fireworks shooting off behind him. Whoever wrote the music to it is genius. The show is cheesy, sentimental, campy, and I love it. In the immortal words of Forrest Gump, that's all I have to say about that.

Now on to the more theriuth bithnith. While I've been here I've gotten an idea that I think is actually totally cool. Imagine a collection of short stories all set in Disneyland. All sorts of different points of view, everything from one of the original builders from the 50's to the rides themselves. The Matterhorn snow monster will come to life, but will be unable to fit in to normal life and so he's turned back into a robot. A couple on their honeymoon who get stuck on the Ferris wheel and decide they don't want to be married anymore. An old man waiting for his family who never shows up, sort of Waiting for Godot esque. Maybe he'll get a phone call that says his tumor is malignant. And it will be called 'The Happiest Place On Earth.' Mwa ha ha. You think they'd sell that on Mainstreet?

You're confused? Are my feelings towards Disneyland sincere or ironic, you ask? Yes. Which is why I love it. If that doesn't confuse you more.

Happy writing!

Sarah Allen

Friday, August 26, 2011

Disneyland: Writing on Pirates of the Caribbean

Here's the thing about Pirates of the Caribbean. Everywhere you look, no matter where you look, there are interesting and well-planned details. Every prop is made to look right, every corner is filled with gold or bones or spider webs, and every individual pirate robot has a distinct personality. There are no blank spaces when you float between scenes: there is always something happening, something to draw your attention forward. Tell me this doesn't speak directly to writing.

It just goes to show how geniusly thorough a person Walt Disney was. All of his own stuff--Pirates, Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise, even the Tiki Room--has way more personality in its outdated robotics then any of the new high-tech stuff like the Finding Nemo ride or Ariel's Grotto. Cute, but meh. I'll take original Walt any day. And its because you can tell he cares. He fills everything with his own unique quirk, and no detail is below his careful attention, and it more than pays off.

So for writing? Don't skimp. You don't need to overload either, but make sure everything that needs taken care of gets taken care of. Don't settle for mere spectacle, when the underlying details aren't holding up. I think in some ways Disney does a good job at this, but this is where I think they weakened with the loss of Walt. I also think this is one reason why Harry Potter was so successful; Rowling gave us as close to a complete world as you can get, down to the last detail. So basically, the lesson here is put yourself in every nook and cranny and don't settle for cheap tricks.

Thoughts? Are there books that you think do a good or bad job of this? How do we make sure we're not skimping?

Sarah Allen

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Disneyland: Writing on Soarin' Over California


First of all, thanks for letting me interrupt our normal (has this blog ever been normal?) program for this Disneyland thing. As sentimental, cheesy, and kitschy as Disneyland can be, I'm having so much fun trying to get legitimate writing lessons out of everything. So on to our Disneyland writing lesson, which, today, is from Soarin' Over California. (Ok, so technically that's in California Adventure, but lets move on.)

The lesson from Soarin' is this: Our work as writers is to give people an experience they could never have in their own life.

I won't go into too many details on ride specifics, but suffice it to say that Soarin' is a kind of flight simulation ride, where you fly over tons of different parts of California, and to get the point across about how awesome it is, when we get done my mom always says it comes close to a spiritual experience. Anyway, this type of flying is something everyone dreams about, but can't actually do in real life. I think this is why fiction can be so enriching and emotionally expanding. I've never been shot in the hip by my foster mother, let alone been in foster care, but the girl in the book I'm reading has. I've never fallen in love with my boss or walked my only son down an ash covered post-apocalyptic road or defeated the most powerful dark wizard of all time. But reading about these things gives us vicarious experience, especially when the book is well-written, and it expands our emotional understanding. And in my mind, human understanding is the point of all art and literature.

This also applies to the act of writing. Why not set a story in a place you'll probably never go? Why not take that certain kind of personality that you just can't seem to get along with and model a main character off of it? This probably takes a lot more research and careful thinking, but you may end up producing something special, and at the very least it could provide a wonderful exercise in empathy. Its a good thing, getting out of your comfort zone, right?

So what are your thoughts? What books do you think have really expanded your view of the world? What kinds of people are just so opposite of you, and do you think casting one of them as your protagonist will help you to be more sympathetic?

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Disneyland: Writing on Star Tours


So we finally got a chance to go on the new Star Tours, and it was AWESOME!! They kept the classic cheesy robot atmosphere, but added new stories and updated the humor. Here's my lesson from the modernized Star Tours:

Taking classic stories and structures and giving them your own unique twist or personalized take is a good idea.

In fact, if your starting from blank, this is a good way to go. Star Wars itself is infamously based on the very formulaic 'Archetypal Journey'. Obviously we don't want our writing to be formulaic, but certain structures and archetypes are classic for a reason.

Take a fairytale or classic story and give it a personalized what if. What if the genie had been a different genie, and had fallen in love with Jasmine too? What if Captain Hook and the Beast were really the same person, but in different dimensions? What if Elizabeth Bennett and her sisters were really highly trained zombie killers? (Oh wait, that ones taken). See what I mean? Lots of options when you start from a time-tested structure, and you can be as imaginative and creative as you want with it, and end up with something totally original.

Now I'm curious: what twists on classic stories can you guys come up with?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Disneyland: Writing on Splash Mountain

I apologize for yesterdays miss, but lets get right to it. Here's what I love about Splash Mountain: it does a super awesome job of eerie, not quite right cheerfulness. The characters are grinning and singing zippidy doo da, but you know what's coming and that makes everything a little freaky. It's designed so the movement of the characters and the shadows and the soundtrack all add to the feeling.

Its such an awesome feeling when writers pull this off. There's this seemingly cheery exterior, but you know there's something not quite right, something freaky boiling beneath the surface. Honestly, this is so much more terrifying then outright monsters. I mean, why was the jaws shark so freaky? Because you hardly ever saw him: you saw a yellow barrel that signaled the approach of an unknown terror.

Whats cool about Splash Mountain, though, is that there ends up being no monster, the hill isn't as bad as you think its going to be. But in writing, you can make that worse than actually discovering a monster: if you leave it hanging in this not-quite-right limbo that the protagonist now senses, that's about as haunting as you can get.

Anyone else have thoughts on Splash Mountain and writing?

Sarah Allen

p.s. Don't you love my punny title?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Disneyland!!!


Ok all. Here's the deal. Today I am on the road to Anaheim. Stoked is putting it ridiculously lightly. So I was thinking how to manage the blog thing while I'm there, and I came up with a super fun idea. Fun for me, at least. Every day I'm going to pick my favorite Disneyland feature of the day, a ride or show or something like that, and see what writing lessons we can glean. That way I can incorporate my trip and still keep in contact with you awesome people. And it's kind of my favorite thing, picking something of great awesomeness and teaching oneself writing lessons through that thing of awesome. I've done it before on this blog with awesomeness like Chandler Bing and David Bowie. Now its Disneyland's turn.

So until Saturday, the blog schedule is writing ideas from Disneyland highlights. Maybe a beach day thrown in to shake things up. Sound good? Oh yes.

Sarah Allen

Friday, August 19, 2011

We Read To Know We're Not Alone

C.S. Lewis said that. He's brilliant. And right, of course. That's one of the things I love most about books, reading or writing. When we read, our consciousness connects with that of the author, and we realize that other people out there think like we do and feel like we do. We write as a means of reaching out to other people, to share a bit of ourselves.

I don't know if this is going to happen with every book or every writer. And it happens to varying degrees, too. But that's one reason why I personally like Lewis so much; because I read some of his stuff and it feels like he's expressing what I've been feeling all along, only he knew how to say it. I had that kind of experience when I read his quote that I've got up on my header. But obviously not everyone is going connect with everyone I connect with, perhaps Lewis in particular. George Elliot and Wallace Stegner are other authors that really hit home for me.

Anyone who reads has writers like that, authors who feel more like soul mates than people you've never actually met. Now I want to know you're experience. Who are your literary soul mates? Which books have you read that when you're done, you feel like the writer knew you better than you knew yourself?

Sarah Allen

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Writing Lessons from Melanie and Sasha: The SYTYCD Finale

So, in case you didn't already know, I'm a little bit (meaning a lot) into So You Think You Can Dance. While last nights finale wasn't as stellar as it could have been, Sasha and Melanie are still incredible, brilliant and inspiring. And therefore, I think worthy of learning from.

I watch these girls and can't help but wish I could do what they're doing, and want to be able to develop the dances like some of the ones these incredible choreographers create. However else you want to put it, they are telling stories. Since I'm obviously not a dancer or choreographer, I have to take that spark and put it in another direction. Like writing. Both of them are so emotionally invested in every move they make that I don't think the audience can help but feel inspired.

Last week Christina Applegate said of Sasha that while many dancers are technically perfect, she doesn't care, whereas Sasha puts a hand against a wall and it breaks our hearts. Doesn't that apply to writing? We can know all the stylistic rules, have perfect grammar, and still leave our reader feeling cold. There's a reason we have the expression "bleeding onto the page." If we don't put our whole selves into every word, the reader can tell. Even if the words are picked perfectly, if they can tell that we don't care, they won't either. Both Melanie and Sasha care. Boy do they care.

Both girls talk a lot about drawing on experience to really reach that emotional connection too. Even if you haven't gone through anything close to what your characters have or are going through, we still all have experience with a huge range of emotions that enables us to understand. And we have to be willing to draw on that, even if it's painful and we feel vulnerable.

I talk about being vulnerable a lot on this blog, but these girls prove that it is key. Not only does it allow the emotional connection any good art requires, but I think it helps us increase in variety as well. Because both Melanie and Sasha are willing to reach into their deepest selves and hide nothing, they are able to create everything from vultures and moving statues to fifties housewives. We can do that in our writing too, if we're willing to dig and be honest.

So I'm going to leave you with my favorite Sasha dance and favorite Melanie dance. The one from Sasha I posted here not too long ago, but it's more than worth posting again (and the old video got removed anyway). The Melanie one is about a friend coming to the support of another friend who got abandoned at the altar and is finally realizing that the person they love has been there for them the whole time. And it is...well, just watch.

First Sasha and Twitch:


And Melanie and Marko:


I'm just now realizing that these are both lyrical hip-hop from Napoleon and Tabitha...probably not a coincidence. Now that we've lost Mia Michaels (grrrrr), they and Travis Wall are becoming my favorites. Anyway, I hope you'll forgive the dance talk and I hope you will soak in the emotional lessons these girls are giving. Thoughts?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

How Movies Changed the Way We Write


So yesterday I finished Middlemarch. First of all, OH MY GOSH. Seriously, the word novel doesn't seem to do it justice. It's like a novel plus an in-depth study of human nature. I think if it was required reading for anyone who wanted to get married the divorce rate would be much lower.

Anyway, I was thinking about how different today's writing style is from Victorian England. I adore Victorian novels, obviously, but they can be very authorial, long-winded and expository, and no one can really get away with writing like that anymore. Today's writing is much faster paced, visual, and anti-explanatory. In a word, cinematic.

We don't want long internal character descriptions anymore. We don't want political or authorial intrusion. We want to watch an interesting character go through interesting struggles, perhaps a bit of back-story mixed in as we go, and we never want to be told what something means. We want to just be given the facts and figure out the meaning for ourselves, or find our own meaning. Because that's how movies work, and now it's what we're used to.

Think of Pirates of the Carribean. We don't get an in-depth psychological analysis of Jack Sparrow, or even any back story. Instead we just see a very interesting (and sexy) looking man making an unusual entrance on a sinking ship, and we wonder why he's here and what he'll do next. Later on we figure out his history; that he's a pirate whose ship was mutineered away from him--meaning that pirates and non-pirates don't like him much--and he wants his ship back. Very interesting premise. We don't begin with a character sketch, like we do in Middlemarch.

I think these changes are in general good ones. Presenting raw life and letting readers make their own interpretations is healthy. But there are two things I miss. The first is the one-liner pearls of wisdom. The character sketches may be slow and occasionally complex, but they make me feel like I understand myself better, as well as other people. They're the kind of thing I want to hang on a plaque on the wall. As visceral and gripping as today's writing is, you don't get as much of that anymore.

I also miss the fact that Victorian writers were not afraid to write from a specific view point or specific set of values. Perhaps in our modern quest for ambiguity and fear of alienating or offending anyone who doesn't agree with us, we become overly neutral and afraid to stand for anything. It is not bad to have values or ideals, and I think Victorian writers would be surprised at how taboo those things have become. Of course we don't want to be at all close-minded or didactic, but we don't want to be vague or wimpy either. The desire to discover meaning for ourselves rather than be preached at doesn't equal a desire for no meaning at all.

What do you think? Do you agree? And how else do you think movies have changed the way we write in general? Which movies have changed the way you write?

Sarah Allen

Monday, August 8, 2011

To Not Feel Worthless


I had a different plan for today, but I changed my mind and decided to write something I kind of need to hear.

The further I get into a writing career, the more I come up against interesting and unexpected challenges. One that I didn't expect to hit me as hard as it has is the perspective of other people on a writing career. There are certain careers or paths that are automatically seen as admirable or successful--doctors and lawyers, for instance. A beginning writer, working on no one else knows what, as yet unpublished, working at any kind of day job to make ends meet while they write, does not fit in to this category. The romance and excitement of that kind of life is shared by those in the same situation, but not by many others.

Even if no one says anything directly, there still seems to be this sense that they don't have the confidence in your hiding away in front of your computer that you do, that they don't understand why you're not more independent or working towards a more obviously stable job, and an occasionally hurtful general air of disappointment. They seem to expect more of you, and what they don't understand is that you expect much much more from yourself too--it's just going to take a while. When others around you are taking noticeably quicker paths to success, comparisons are unavoidable. It can't help but deflate or even invalidate the fact that you're working hard and doing the best you can.

So here's what I want to say to the world, myself, and anyone else who sometimes feels this way:

We ARE working hard, and what we're doing is just as legitimate as other work. Yes, that includes the blog posts about Harry Potter and random YouTube videos. It all serves a purpose. Just give us time.

And besides. Who's place is it to judge?

Don't flatter yourself that no one else feels this way. Probably everyone does at some point. That's why writing groups and blog communities are great, because you meet people who do see the value in what you're doing, even if it hasn't fully paid off yet.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and J.K. Rowling didn't become J.K. Rowling overnight. Give yourself time.

And whose to say J.K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyer still don't feel this way sometimes? I doubt anyone is safe from sometimes feeling like a disappointment to someone.

So really, we should just get over it, right? The only people we need to prove ourselves to is ourselves. Much easier said than done, though. It makes the work a little harder when the validation is mostly internal. But keep going. We know that what we're doing is worthwhile, and eventually more and more people will see it that way too.

And I'll leave you with an amazing song that I think makes this point beautifully. It's called 'Wanted' by the stunningly talented Rachel Diggs.

Happy writing! What you're doing is important. By you I mean YOU.

Sarah Allen

Friday, August 5, 2011

Weekend Marketing for Writers


So its Friday again. That wonderful day when we get off work and have a couple days before we have to go back. We get to rest and hopefully have a bit of fun. But here's the thing: statistics make it pretty clear that social media takes a dip on the weekends. The best days for blog visitors and YouTube views are Tuesday and Wednesday. I'm assuming this is because (normal) people take a break from their computers and get out and do stuff.

So for obsessive people like me who read way too much into one days statistics, how can we make weekends valuable marketing-wise? Of course weekends are for fun, but I figure why not be as productive with our marketing as we can?

Where do people spend their weekends, and how do we spread the word to those places? I figure we'll have to get away from more online marketing and into guerilla or street marketing. To places like theaters or restaurants or clubs. Probably very unconventional to try these places and the pay-off probably isn't as big, but why not give it a try? I'm not sure how one would exactly go about this street marketing type thing, but it might be fun to get creative and try. Maybe try organizing a weekend event that could potentially get local news coverage. Use your connections, like your cousin who manages a franchise or roommate who works at a local used bookstore. I think just talking to people might spark some cool things.

Or maybe people are still online on weekends, they're just spending more time on different sites. I would imagine gaming sites are one of those. Interactive gaming sites might be a fun way to do some marketing/networking.

Think about it this way: there really isn't anything more effective for getting a book out there than simple word of mouth, and people do most of their hanging out and chatting during the weekends. That's when they go on dates and chill with friends and talk about that awesome book they heard about and downloaded the preview on their kindle and thought it was so good they want to go buy the full book. If we can become a weekend conversation, that's a good sign, right?

What are your ideas? What do you do on weekends that might suggest ways to keep being productive on those days?

Sarah Allen

Thursday, August 4, 2011

What Inspires You?


My aunt and I went to a production of Les Miserables the other night, and it was...mind-blowing. Soul shaking. I am ridiculously in awe of J. Mark Mcvey, who played Jean Valjean. His voice is unearthly good.

And the story itself is incredible. Valjean is one of my favorite characters of all time, and so is Javert. They make me want to write characters like them.

Its refreshing to be shaken like that. Don't you think? I wish there was some way to bottle up that kind of experience, but there isn't, and you can't go back to it and there are no guarantees when it might happen again.

So in the interim, what are the things that can keep you going every day? Both creatively and professionally? How do you keep the WIP fresh, and how to do find relevant, interesting blog topics every day?

I think being observant and involved helps. You may not get the shattering beauty of a Les Mis everyday, but the grass and cat and even the dishes have something meaningful and beautiful in them if you look close enough, right? And I think trying to fill your day with as much as you can is a good idea. Go for walks, listen to music, watch movies, talk to people. And of course, read.

What do you think? Am I crazy for being so impressionable? What do you do to keep yourself inspired and enchanted when life is just regular?

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Odd Couple Story Technique


One of my favorite ways to generate ideas is by pairing two things you wouldn't typically expect to be paired. This can help get story ideas going when your starting off on a new project, help develop characters, or get the twist you're looking for when you're plot is stuck. Take a character you've already got and put them in a place they wouldn't usually be, or with someone they wouldn't usually be with.

Try odd character pairings: Take a farm girl and make her fall in love with a lost circus clown, or pair a gymnast and a calculus professor. Or shake up the setting: Put Zeus in the bayou or take an opera singer and put him in a third grade classroom. Or put that third grade teacher on tour with that opera singer, or give a cajun man the task of taking Zeus back to olympus--give them a task they don't feel right for.

You can mix things up for yourself too. If you're a mainstream writer, try horror or even steampunk. If you typically write YA, try a 72 year old widow as your main character. If you write fantasy, try historical fiction. To me, stretching yourself is always a good idea. You may find something new to love, as well as revitalize the stuff you do normally.

What other odd pairings can you think of?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Four Dimensional Characters: Guest Post by Samantha May

Samantha May currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee; however, she will be moving to Chattanooga in the fall to start her freshman year of college. She is a writer, runner, and an avid reader who is slightly obsessed with Harry Potter. She is currently working on her first novel, a historical piece set during the time of Adolf Hitler's rise to power. You can follow her on Twitter and on her blog.

***
Four Dimensional Characters


What does To Kill a Mockingbird have in common with The Great Gatsby? Aside from being two of my favorite novels as well as two classics, they both have extremely memorable characters. To Kill a Mockingbird has Scout, the innocent child among a racist community, and Atticus Finch, the model parent and the lawyer that defends the black man accused of rape. The Great Gatsby has Nick Carraway, Gatsby’s neighbor as well as the narrator, and Jay Gatsby, a man who willingly changes everything about himself in an effort to win the love of his life back. The novels were successful because of not only their great stories, but because of the believable characters that have managed to remain relevant years after their original publication.

For many writers creating these kinds of characters is the most difficult part of the entire writing process; however, the task can be made much easier if you know what kinds of questions you need to ask of your characters. Whether you are a beginner or an old pro, this particular method of creating four-dimensional people will definitely provide you with a massive amount of information about your characters that you may not have known before.

1st Dimension: The Photograph

The first dimension focuses on the general appearance of your character, as if you were seeing them for the first time. Questions you might ask yourself would involve their skin, hair, and eye color. What about their clothes? Do they have an eclectic style or do they dress in a preppy manner? What about his nose? Is it slender? Perhaps his nose is too large for his face and crooked, too. Does she have tattoos, scars or birthmarks? Does he have a toothy smile or is it just a twitch of the mouth? Is his hair greasy? Does she have a mountain of curls?

2nd Dimension: The Video

The second dimension allows you to see your character’s movements. You might ask about the way they walk. Do they have a bounce in their step? Does she lumber from place to place? What about his posture? Does he stand tall and proud, or hunched over? What about her voice? Is it high pitched and sweet? Does she have an unusually deep voice for a woman? Does he have an accent? Does she speak quickly? Does he take his time with his words? Does he use impressive vocabulary?

3rd Dimension: The Play

The third dimension puts your character into action. You see how the character interacts with others as well as how they react to any given situation. Is he quite tactful? Is she blissfully unaware of her surroundings? Is she an extrovert or introvert? Perhaps she is a bit of both. Is he a natural leader, or does he allow others to take the reins? Is she a responsible person? What are her political and religious views? Do they ever conflict? Is he independent? Does he still live with his parents? What about their educational background?

4th Dimension: Participatory Theatre

The fourth dimension deals with the inner workings of a character’s mind, or what they are really like. Through this dimension, you are able to explore your characters’ thoughts. Why does he act a certain way? Why is she cruel to children, but not to dogs? What is her reason for being afraid of ladybugs? What secrets do your characters harbor? What are his deepest fantasies? Does he want to be a doctor, even though he runs an auto shop? Does she want to win her high school boyfriend back, even though she has been married for twenty-five years? What are his goals and dreams? What does she wish she could tell her family more than anything?

I will leave you with the words of Stephanie Kay Bendel, to whom I give full credit for this method.

“The difference between a good story and a great one is often the depth to which the author examines the characters who people the pages.”

Now, go and create the characters that will stay with us long after we finish your novel!

Until next time, happy writing!

Samantha
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Monday, August 1, 2011

Shark Week and other ways to learn



I don't know about you, but I get pretty excited by shark week. I've been watching a little with my brothers, notebook in hand to jot down any story or character ideas, and wondering, because I'm a nerd, how to make stuff like Shark Week even more writerly applicable.

The main thing is getting story and character ideas, right? Whether that's from a victims view, a scientists view, the sharks view, whatever. And then you flip back and forth to the Travel Channel and hear the story about the train trapped in the Cascade Mountains that got obliterated by an avalanche. A good page or two of my notebook filled just from tonight.

The other main thing is to not let TV or anything else take over the writing, of course. But learning and seeing new things is a good thing, in my opinion, and I think Discovery, Travel, History and other channels like that are one easy way of imbibing knowledge. I think its sometimes fun to flip it on while I make dinner or something like that.

Then if you hear or see something you think is interesting and want to learn more about, then you can do more reading and research. Cool, right? It's summer, and I just thought I'd bring up some fun and easy ideas for keeping our minds fed that we probably do more often in the summer anyway.

Any other ideas for self-teaching?

Sarah Allen
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