From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

EVERYTHING is research. Everything.

Right now I'm sitting in a motel in Fillmore, Utah, because their was a blizzard so bad they shut down the freeway, not that we could see anything in front of us anyway. I have never seen winds and snow like that. It was INSANE! My mom and sister were totally freaking out, but I have to admit, I thought it was kind of awesome. We were on our way home from a trip to Vegas, which was also awesome. Anyway, the point of this is that while my mom was praying that we would survive and my sister was stressing about not getting home, I was thinking, I could use this in a story. Not that my experience is unusual or would make the most interesting part of a story. But every experience we have counts as writerly research, at least I think so. You can go anywhere, meet anyone, and it counts as research. That is one of my favorite things about being a writer. That is also one of the reasons to have a notebook with you at all times. Jot down everything. It will come back to help you later. Dreams, names, interesting logos, things you see while your people watching, places you get stuck in the middle of blizzards, and who you get stuck with. Talk to people. I need to do better at this one. My mom is a pro at it, and sometimes I just like to sit and admire the ease with which she can relate to and communicate with complete strangers. That is a good skill to have. Talk to people, get their stories. Live your own stories and write them down. You will be glad you did.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Why-am-I-not-on-the-New-Yorker-twenty-under-forty-list-and-oh-my-gosh-I-only-have-three-years-to-catch-up-to-Tea-Obreht Syndrome

Do you have it? I know I do. Unfortunately. Let me explain. A while ago the New Yorker put out a list of the best or most promising twenty writers under forty years of age (check the list out here). Almost all of those on the list have MFA's, many from the Iowa Writers Workshop, of course, and many of them have not only been published in the New Yorker but have been anthologized in Best American Short Stories. Tea Obreht is one of these, and she's the youngest. She was born in 1985 (meaning she is barely 25 years old) in Yugoslavia. An excerpt of her novel that is coming out next year was published in the New Yorker and then anthologized in Best American non-required reading in 2009 (so she was even younger), and she has been anthologized in Best American Short Stories 2010 and 2011. Did I mention she is only twenty-five?

I gave this spiel to my roommates and one said that Tea had a head-start on me because she was born in Yugoslavia. I think she has a point, which begs the question, how does one catch up to the experience level of someone born in Yugoslavia? Then again, Tea doesn't have the experience of growing up in the incredibly exotic town of Provo, Utah, now does she? I say that with sincere sarcasm, hoping I'm not deluding myself into thinking my life experiences could be as literarily worthy as hers, and knowing that they are because everyones is. To sum up that incredibly convoluted sentence, Provo, Yugoslavia, doesn't make a difference as long as one can write what they've got, and everyone's got something, right?

In case you couldn't tell, I'm partially writing this blog to work through my own syndrome, but hopefully it will help you all as well. See, it really doesn't matter that I'm not on the New Yorker Twenty under Forty list, or that I haven't been published in the New Yorker or anthologized in Best American Short Stories. Neither were Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte, and they're pretty much awesomer than all of those twenty under forty combined (no offense, Tea, I do genuinely like your writing). I do hope that the New Yorker type people of the literary world will one day love, award, veneer, respect, study, analyze and publish me, but even if they never do you will still find me sitting at my computer writing until my fingers are too arthritic to move, which just means its time to hire a typist.

But still. Look for me on the next list.

Sarah Allen

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Creative Writing Submissions Strategies

The process of finding magazines to submit to, determining what magazines are better than which others, analyzing what magazines would your work fit in, and fussing over submission guidelines can be almost as daunting a task as writing the piece your submitting. There are several strategies as to how to go about doing this, and as I'm sort of in the middle of a paradigm shift as far as my own submission strategies, I thought it might be something useful to bring up.

I'm always intimidated by the big-name magazines, and have next to no faith that I'll be accepted. I think most writers are that way. But I'm starting to think that its not a good idea to let your intimidation keep you from submitting to these magazines. In the past I've thought that maybe it would be a better idea to work from the bottom up, and build up a resume of lesser literary magazines before I start really trying for the big ones. I've changed my mind. I say, if you are really serious about this literary game, and producing the absolute best stuff you know how, then get out the big guns. Submit to the dang New Yorker. Look in the index of Best American and see what magazines those stories were pulled from and submit to those. Yes, it will take a lot of time and rejection, especially at first, but the sooner you start pounding at that brick wall the sooner it will start to crack.

This strategy brings up two questions for me:

Because I can expect to get tons of rejection from these magazines, how do I know when to give up on a piece? I asked my professor about this, and he said 40 rejections is a good rule of thumb. Personally, I feel like if you like a piece you should never give up on it, but if its rejected forty times, maybe its time to take it back in for some renovations.

What do I do with what I call my second string work? Pieces that I still feel good about and stand behind, but that I recognize maybe aren't as good as my best. I'm still unsure about this one. One possibility is to work it and work it until its first string ready. Another is to submit it to the top tier magazines anyway, because you never know, maybe those magazines would think it is your best. It's impossible to be objective about your own work. And the last possibility is to submit it to second-string magazines, and maybe build up your resume that way.

But have confidence. Don't be scared to get your work to the top people in the literary world. Thats how you become a member of it. Another tip my professor gave is to make sure you simultaneously submit where appropriate, because just think of the math--if you get rejected 27 times before your piece gets accepted, with a minimum of three months (which is very minimum minimum), thats a lot of time. So get your stuff out there, keep it out there, get it to as many people as you can and get it to the best people you can.

Happy writing!
Sarah Allen

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Advice from Ron Carlson

The English department at Brigham Young University does a reading series every Friday and this weekend we were lucky enough to have the one and only Ron Carlson come and read to us. If you don't know who he is, you should. In person he is hilarious, witty, intelligent, and gives wonderful writing advice. I bought a book that he signed and then went to a Q&A where he gave even more wonderful advice. He is such a great talker. I think we were all sitting there with our mouths open trying to make sure we took in everything he was saying. Basically this post is a transcription of my notes. I hope you find it useful.

-Writing is about tolerating being in the dark.
-Pay attention to your life. Don't let yourself get off track and distracted by things like the internet and cell phones.
-Once you know where your story is going, take your time. Slow down.
-Get to the point where you want to leave the room (when you've got everything set up/built up and its time for the payoff) then STAY and SLOW DOWN.
-When you're writing, remember that you're in the room alone. No one else is there. Not your editor, publisher, mother, grandmother, sister, mother-in-law, grocer, dentist, no one. While the piece is in the room don't worry about anyone else's opinion.
-Book/Author recommendations: Cheever, Anne Beady, Graham Greene, Katherine Mansfield, Faulkner, James Joyce, Richard Brodigan, Deliverance by James Dicky.
-Read to write. Airport books won't really help.
-Write from the evidence up. Put the story and the detail down, see where it takes you and then look for meaning.
-Put down at least 600 words of a scene, then you may have something to go on.
-Let your hands guide you. They are often smarter then your head.
-Good writing requires attention.
-If you get what you expect its probably not good enough.
-In the morning reduce the steps between you and the keyboard. Don't let email, facebook, other stuff like that get in the way first.
-Keep your own counsel.
-If you're afraid of doubt your not going to be able to write. Doubt makes what you're certain about more valuable.
-Whenever you're challenging your comfort something good is happening to you.
-Dialogue is a good way to slow down.
-Recognize and avoid "small clue syndrome". Subtlety is overrated.
-Trust the outer story. If the outer story isn't strong enough the inner story won't be either.
-Survive the draft. Be ok in the dark.

There you have it. Take the advice for what its worth. I personally found everything he said to be very beneficial and helpful to me.

Happy writing!
Sarah Allen

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Spot-of-white-in-black Stories

Ok, so I think there a quite a few stories that follow this formula, and I kind of really like it. Here's what I'm talking about: those stories where things just keep getting worse, and nothings really going right, and then something good happens, and it probably doesn't undo all the bad stuff, but its something good to hold on too, and then the story ends. As an example: a chubby, freckled seventh grade boy whose mom is spacey and whose dad is on a business trip wants to try out for the basketball team. He goes to try-outs, doesn't do well, and gets mocked by the other boys. Cute girl in his class sees him not do well. One of them even hip-checks him into a locker afterwards. Cute girl sees this too. At lunch he sits by himself because his friend isn't there that day, and takes out his sketchbook and starts drawing dragons. After a few minutes he realizes someone is looking over his shoulder. It's cute girl, holding her lunch tray. She smiles and says, you're a really good drawer, and then goes to have lunch with her friends.

Make sense? I love these kinds of stories because I feel like they're emotionally powerful. Our lives are full of good and bad things, and some days the bad is pretty concentrated, but these stories show us how meaningful are all the little good things.

Happy writing! Hope this helps. Do you like stories like this? What other "forumulas" have you become fond of?

Sarah Allen

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Crazy Writing Life

Ok, I know things have been sparse here at the blog of joy, but I promise 1)its for good reason, and 2) things are going to pick up eventually. I'm in two creative writing classes this semester, which means my writing has been pretty much commandeered, but it also means I should be doing a better job at sharing what I learn in classes with all y'all. Which I'm going to try to do.

Another bad excuse is that my computer has been having issues for the past two weeks at least, so thats been a fun adventure.

Isn't life great? There's just so much to do and see and hear and touch and smell. I've been thinking a lot lately about lived experience versus what we learn from reading, and I think both are a good thing to have, and I think us writerly people have to make a concerted effort to get out and do stuff, but I think its worth it. I had a writing professor who said that the best thing to major in if you want to be a writer is geology.

Something I've heard from a couple different writerly/professorial type people lately is that if you write 1000 words every day for ten years you will be famous. Guaranteed. I don't know about you, but I think thats a pretty awesome guarantee and I want to try it. Maybe I won't be able to reach 1000 words a day while I'm in school, but everyone has excuses and its the people who keep their butt in the chair and don't listen to those excuses that get the 1000 words, the fame and glory.

So lets all keep living and keep writing, ok?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Writing Prompts/Assignments

In one of my creative writing classes this semester, we've been given specific creative writing assignments. Regardless of what you turn out, I think its a useful exercise for stretching yourself and your writing, so I thought I'd post some of the assignments here, full credit given to Dr. Lance Larsen.

-How To: Write a piece in a second person following these guidelines. First, give specific instruction or advice on a recognizable subject, such as how to see a ghost at night, change a car tire, get over a breakup, etc. Second, be sure that your piece violates its own purpose or otherwise wanders far afield. A piece on shooting free throws might end up rhapsodizing about interior weather patterns or complaining about love. The piece should be paradoxical and enticing and arrive at wisdom. Example: "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid.

My piece was called How to Eat Cold Cereal, and ended up being about how cold cereal will always be there even when you have no one and nothing else to turn to. Still heavily in need of revision, but once thats done I'll send it out or maybe post it here.

-Ekphrastic: Write a piece (probably a poem) that describes a black-and-white photograph, detail by detail, and in the process discovers a conflict not apparent at first glance. This might include proposing a narrative of your own devising. Your poem should be clear enough that it doesn't require the original photograph to make sense. Almost any kind of picture will do: documentary, family snapshot, postcard, artistic masterpiece. Why does a given photograph disturb, intrigue, or entertain you? A good ekphrastic poem will set up a problem or spring a trap.

My piece was on Fox Terrier on the Pont D'art by Robert Doisneau. His photographs provide wonderful inspiration for ekphrastic pieces, actually.

-Dialogue: Write a piece that relies predominantly on dialogue. The language must be concrete and lyrical. You might construct some kind if Q & A. The key here is that you strategically use the gaps between voices.

My piece was called Cross-Eyed and was about two sisters on a drive to the airport arguing over what to do with their senile father.

Hope that helps! I'd love to hear about how you've used these assignments and what you've come up with.

Sarah Allen

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Personal Editing List

Ever writer has their own unique method, style, and voice, and with this comes unique issues. There are certain quirks, turns of phrase, and specific cliches that they tend towards in there writing. Recognizing these is the first step in avoiding them. It can be hard to figure out what they are, but having others read your writing is one way. Don't get so emotionally involved that you can't change up a few things, and make your writing fresh and intriguing.

My suggestion is to make a list of your own personal writing cliches, make a "personal editing list", and keep it up by your writing area. If you know that you have certain bad habits, you can consciously keep from falling into them.

Here are some things from my own personal editing list. Some of them are specific, sentence level things, and some have to do with the overall, general idea.

-Struggle vs. slump: I have the bad habit of setting my characters in emotionally hard situations that they can't really do much about except passively accept it and try to be happy despite the problem. This can turn into simple "portrait of a saint" stories, which may show kind, generous characters, but they are passive and not interesting as characters. Every story needs active, immediate and relatable conflict, and this is something I have to consciously remember as I come up with my story ideas.

-Words that don't do enough: I have a list of words that I have a habit of overusing, which don't do as much as I want them too. Some of those words are smiled, laughed, sighed, cried and looked. Words like this are so generic that they don't really show whats going on.

-A story isn't poignant/meaningful/significant just because its about infidelity/abandonment/abuse. These things are poignant and important, of course, but they are often such huge topics that they overwhelm the piece. An incredibly meaningful, successful piece can be about things as simple as sister jealousy, unmet expectations, or just the small things that make meaning in our every day life. I have a habit of picking topics like infidelity just because I assume that if its about something significant like that, the piece itself will be significant. That is not necessarily the case, and remembering that helps me steer away from sentimentalism.

Anyway, I hope this helps! What are your bad writing habits, and what are some good ways for getting over them?

Sarah Allen

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Using YouTube to Market Your Creative Writing Part II: Examples

A while ago I posted about using youtube to market your creative writing. Today I want to continue that with a couple examples of videos that are themselves works of art that can help you expand your audience. The thing about youtube videos like this is that you can add them to your list of beautiful creations, and then link from the videos to your blog or website and get more attention for your books and other work. Win-win.

Anywhere, here are two videos that I think are beautiful examples of what writers and artists can create in video format.


I hope you both enjoy these videos and learn from them.

Sarah Allen

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fashion for Writers

I feel a little superficial for writing this, but honestly I think its something fairly important that no one really talks about. I mean the whole dress for success thing. Writers are notorious for being unsociable basement dwellers, but it doesn't have to be that way, and the way you dress can play a part.

If you want to be a celebrity novelist, dress that way. If for you that means pencil skirt suits, great. If for you it means black skinny jeans and vests, awesome. If it means shorts, flip-flops and t-shirts, wonderful. The key is to dress nice in whatever style it is you like. I kind of like attention, so I like the idea of dressing to get that attention. You are an interesting person who deserves to be known, and your attire can help make that known to the world.

Also, the right clothes can do awesome things for your confidence. I have huge self-confidence issues, but when I feel like I'm dressed nice and look pretty good, it's a lot easier for me to put myself out there. It makes me feel stronger, and more willing to take risks. There are lots of ways to learn how to dress your body type. Take advantage of what God gave you, both your mind and your body.

I know this is kind of a weird subject for a writing blog, but like I said, I'm thinking along the dress for success lines. Even if you're a shy, like many writers are, you can't get away from the need for attention just to sell your work. This includes stuff like signings, television interviews, writers conferences, book tours, etc, and in these situations you're selling yourself almost as much as your work. Obviously fashion is not one of the important things about being a writer, but I think its something that can be used to your advantage in your writing career.

Hope this helps. Let your clothes work for you!

Sarah Allen

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Enter Man with a Gun

In one of the writing books I've read it talked about a writer who, whenever things were dragging or getting boring, he would send in a man with a gun. Metaphorically or literally, both work. I really like this idea and it's helped me get through important but perhaps boring scenes, and create a more overall exciting story.

This idea has helped me as I'm writing my way through my novel. Just think, how can things get worse? Who is the last person she would want to see right now? And then make that worst thing happen or bring that undesired person in.

'Man with a Gun' could be something like a haunting dream, a letter from a relative, someone in the hospital, something found in Grandma's attic, a natural disaster warning, an unexpected pregnancy, anything that can jolt your characters into passionate action. A plain old man with a gun works too.

I'd love to hear your ideas about keeping things going and going interestingly. I hope this helps, and best of luck in all your writing!

Sarah Allen

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Personal Artistic Quirks and Kinks: Break Down Scenes

Ok, so this is kind of a weird subject, but its something I've been thinking about lately. What I mean by "personal artistic quirks and kinks" is this: what are the things you look for or watch for? What specific something will automatically make you list a book/movie/show as one of your favorites?

I'll use myself as an example. My personal kink is break down scenes. A well done break down will make me love the book/movie/show. House is a good example of this. I love House not because of the medical mysteries but because of Hugh Laurie's awesomeness at break down scenes. (See season 6 finale, among others). Monk was awesome for the same reason. I'm not sure why I feel this way, or what it says about me, but it is what it is.

So what are your kinks? I'm curious. I feel like having those kinks in your own writing is inevitable. Is that the case for you? What I mean is, everything I write has some form of a break down scene. For me, that's what art is: breaking down a character, pushing them to the extreme until you see who they are and what they really want.

Anyway, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

Sarah Allen

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The First Draft as Outline Theory

If you're anything like me, it takes hours to bleed out a thousand words of writing. I can't help it, I analyze and stress over every word and every sentence, and that is so not helpful for cranking out a first draft. So this past week I have come up with an idea that has actually helped me quite a bit. I call it the first draft-as-outline theory.

Basically, you just write through your first draft with a mindset that its not actually a first draft, but just an outline. A very detailed, sentence by sentence outline. It is basically to tell you what information needs to be in which sentence where. Tell yourself that yes, these aren't the exact right words, but your just getting it out there and you can come back later and rewrite the entire thing as your real first draft. Don't look back. As much as possible, let the words just come and remind yourself that this is just an outline, you'll write it better later. Put it on a sticky note on your desk if you have to.

Following this pattern I've come up with the first 2500 words of my novel in the past few days, which for me is a ton. I will never fully get over my bleeding habits, I don't think, so its still a slow process, but its definitely faster thinking of things this way then it was before. I hope it helps you guys too.

Sarah Allen

Friday, July 23, 2010

Movie Review: Despicable Me

Here is another brilliant family movie that has come out this summer. Incomparable to Toy Story 3 just because they are such different films, but equally as enjoyable.

It is hard to be as heavy-handed with the sweetness as Despicable Me was and get away with it, but they most definitely did. For example, the type of ending they went for could have been kitschy and eye-roll inducing, but I think the combination of context, good writing and the wonderful voice talent of Mr. Steve Carrell allowed for the ending to be a success.

As the oldest of eight, I can say that their portrayal of children, particularly the young Agnes, was incredibly and joyfully accurate. "It's so fluffy I'm gonna die!" Yeah, thats a true child. Having such wonderfully drawn child characters was probably my favorite aspect of the movie.

So if you're looking for something to do this weekend and haven't yet seen Despicable Me, take your kids/sisters/nieces/cousins and go see it. You won't regret it.

Sarah Allen

Monday, July 19, 2010

My poem is being published in the Boston Literary Magazine!

Good news! Yesterday I got an email from Robin Stratton, the editor at the Boston Literary Magazine, and they are publishing my poem! I think the online edition comes out sometime mid-September, and then the print edition comes out a while later.

My poem is called Soft Pedal, and I wrote it when I was about 15. Its very short. I'm super excited that it's getting published, and I'll let you guys know when it comes out online.

Sarah Allen

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The 6 Types of Heroes

I've been talking literary theory with a friend of mine. I don't know about you guys, but for me seeing how other people categorize and analyze literature is helpful to me in my own writing. Part of what we've been discussing is the six types of heroes.

1-Traditional Hero. Saves himself and us. This is what we're thinking of with characters like Superman and Hercules.

2-Rogue Hero. Saves his own day, but not ours. Personally, I think these can be very interesting and intriguing.

3-Anti-Hero. Saves the day without trying. Again, I prefer these to traditional heroes. I think anti-heroes can be very sweet and sympathetic.

4-Comic Hero. Saves our day, but not his own, with comical consequences. I can see this one as a little harder to pull off.

5-Tragic Hero. Similar to Comic hero. Saves our day, but not his own, with tragic results.

6-No hero. A lot of modern literature has no hero. Think Catcher in the Rye. Its a lot more about people exploring themselves and their world, without someone necessarily trying or not trying to save anything.

Hope this helps!

Sarah Allen

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Re-post: Extra-curricular Activities for Creative Writers

ne of the things I love best about calling myself a writer is that absolutely anything can qualify as "research." People watching, movie watching, book reading, game playing, music listening, grocery shopping, etc. It all counts, because it can all inspire and generate creativity. In fact, I think ever writer kind of needs something extra to keep the juices flowing and the blocks from staying.

Think of 'Julie and Julia.' Julia Powell accomplished her goal of becoming a published writer through the extra-curricular activity of cooking. J. R. R. Tolkien developed Lord of the Rings out of his love for studying languages. Shakespeare was both a writer and an actor, and I bet both activities fed into and inspired each other.

In my case, as an example, I'd say my primary "extra-curricular activity" is theater and film. This is a little easier to tie in to writing because both theater and writing are creative, artistic fields, but it works well as an example. You can meet people who inspire certain characters. You can practice inhabiting a character, which is essential for both actors and writers. You get to practice being rejected over and over again until you finally get a yes. You experience stories in a new and exciting way. All of this can apply to theater and writing.

But there are lots of other activities with more lessons to teach. Extra activities can help you heighten your emotional sensibilities, connect with other people, relax and expand your mind, refresh your bank of characters and plots, inspire a specific story, refresh your mind and body physically, keep you up to date with the modern world, teach you about the ancient one, find creative ways to market your work, and the list goes on and on. Find activities that work for you and derive your own lessons from them.

Here's a very incomplete list of extra-curricular activities that may help inspire you. It may be useful as a starting point:

-Theater/Film (acting, directing, reviewing, costume/set design, cinematography, dramaturgy, etc.)
-Improv (improv groups are a GREAT source of creative inspiration)
-Pets (breeding, training, loving, etc.)
-Mothering (this is a huge one)
-Sewing, knitting, crocheting, quilting, etc.
-Sciences (biology, psychology, astrology, chemistry, etc.)
-Design (interior design, fashion design, ad campaign design, etc.)
-Physical training
-Anything else you like to do

What extra activities do you do for inspiration?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

America and the Struggling Artist

Ok, so this may have been a more timely post two days ago, but better late then never, right? This is kind of whats been on my mind lately, in regards to the higher ideas about writing. What influence does living in the United States of America have on writers and other artists?

It seems like the stereotype is that great writing comes from a traumatic life. Many writers have lived through wars, poverty, etc. Writing was a fight for them, not just something to do everyday.

Maybe we shouldn't lose that sense of fight. We are incredibly lucky to live in a country where we have both the freedom and the means to do with our time basically what we want. We can't let that make us lazy. We have enough to eat and a law-protected roof over our heads; use those as enabling things.

Maybe this just means that the fights in our lives are a lot more personal rather than physical, and I think thats a good thing. For me at least, personal stakes are much more intriguing than physical stakes anyway. Everyone has problems, though they may not be fear of starvation or family safety. Don't be afraid to use your own emotions and experience to make your writing hit your readers in the gut.

Sarah Allen

Friday, July 2, 2010

Ready, Set: Going from Planning to Writing

This is point I'm pretty much at for all three pieces that I'm working on, and I'm finding it sort of a difficult hurdle to overcome. The planning stage is so different from the writing stage, and mentally its hard to jump from one to the other, at least for me. Sitting down at a desk and typing out words is much harder than laying in bed daydreaming about how awesome your book is going to be.

I think whats difficult is going from abstract to concrete. Its fun and easy to have abstract ideas about your characters and plot lines, but putting them down on paper is a whole other thing.

Besides, how do you know when you've done enough planning? Obviously the planning can't go on forever, but how do you know when you have enough information to fill a book?

This is the general frustration I'm feeling about my projects right now, and I'm thinking/hoping that I'm not the only one who goes through this. Its something you just have to swallow hard and write those first few pages. Once thats done, then you've switched gears and have a little momentum behind you. How much planning is needed is up to each writer, but don't let it go on for too long. I have a bad habit of doing that. I constantly have to remind myself that I can always go back. So take a deep breath, pull up a fresh page and just do it.

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Writing Without Stability

As this scantily upkept blog no doubt shows, there has been little to no stability in my life for the past while. By that I mean I have been involved in a large number of things like school and shows, family reunions and summer vacations, things like that. I've barely had any time at home, let alone time to write. I'm sure you have all experienced times in your life such as this, where you are struggling just to make it through the day without dropping too many of the balls you have in the air, and for a while time for writing just kind of doesn't exist. Here are some ideas I've thought of for how you can still be writingly productive during the insane times.

Write on the run. I've found that for me its hard to do actual writing of a piece while I'm on the run. But something that does work for me is bringing around a bigger notebook and using it for outlining and planning. I'm in the process of starting a novel, a screenplay and a short story, so for the past while I've just brought around that notebook with me in the car, to rehearsals, etc, and jotted down scene ideas and stuff. Now I've almost got outlines enough for me to get started on the actual writing.

Read. While waiting in line, in the car, for a meeting, any time, have a book with you and pull it out and read. I didn't think it was possible, but in the past week or so I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, mostly at rehearsals and waiting in the car. You can't be a good writer without being a good reader, so use your waiting time to your advantage.

Marketing. Crazy busy times often include meeting a bunch of new people, and these new people are all potential help for spreading the word about your next book. Make friends, make connections, add people on facebook and twitter, talk about your writing. You never know what these people can do for your writing career. Plus making new friends is always awesome.

It seems that my life is stabilizing itself a little bit, so hopefully I can get this blog back up and running at its best. I hope this helps. We all have busy times, but if you are serious about being a writer, you need to always be working at it, no matter what else is going on in your life. Trust me, you'll be glad you did.

Sarah Allen

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Movie Review: Toy Story 3

For my 100th post, I wanted to write about something special, and this movie definitely qualifies. This blog has been a fun journey for me so far, as has the Toy Story universe. That's pretty much the only connection I can force on why Toy Story is an appropriate 100th post marker, but here goes anyway.

To start bluntly, Toy Story 3 is the best movie I've seen in theaters this year. All the characters, witticisms, and humor that we love from the old movies are back in abundance, plus some new awesomeness. If you haven't seen it yet, you're missing out.

Despite, or perhaps because of all this, Toy Story 3 needs to come with a warning. Without giving too much away, you can't go expecting a light-hearted, easy movie. On the contrary, it was pretty intense, very poignant and at some points flat-out scary. They took the story and the characters to a much deeper, more profound level than not only the other two Toy Story movies, but most animated movies in general. I would say that its up there with Up and Monsters, Inc. in its emotional intensity/poignancy level. I, for one, really appreciated the thought and depth of this particular movie, and I think its wonderful for kids (and everyone else) to experience stories and characters at that level. I will admit that I got teary eyed multiple times.

While still a movie that anyone can appreciate, it was definitely geared towards people who grew up with the Toy Story movies. There are subtle references that just make you smile. We've all kind of grown up with Andy, and there's a bitter-sweetness in seeing him move on in life and realizing that we have too. Though, I will say, since I'm admitting things anyway, I still sleep with a teddy-bear.

Sarah Allen

p.s. The preview for Despicable Me looks freaking hilarious. Check it out, if you haven't already. There's another one I want to see the day it comes out.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day for Writers

Another holiday. If you're like me, that means you just woke up. We all probably have too many miscellaneous things on our to-do list that we're using this off-day to take care of for it to be completely relaxing, but at least there's no school or work.

So how can writers specifically use this day to our advantage? Here are three things I've thought of that writers can do on Memorial Day to make the most of it.

Networking. Find some local Memorial Day events and go. Meet new people. Rekindle some old extended family relationships, even with your crazy relatives. You never know when someone will end up being the connection of your creative writing lifetime.

Catch up on reading. We all have a mile-long to-read list, and use this off-day to catch up on it. Inside every good writer is an even better reader, and every book can teach/inspire/warn you in terms of your own writing. Take advantage of this no-work day and read.

Research for story ideas. Most of us have ancestors involved in the Civil or World Wars. Use the multitude of online genealogy resources to find out about your military ancestors. In doing that, you'll find characters and plots to inspire you and your writing. And you'll be doing family history at the same time, right?

Anway, I hope you all enjoy your Memorial Day, and use it the best way you can.

Sarah Allen

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Writing Rule: Omit Needless Words

This classic writing rule from Strunk and White's 'Element's of Style' is one of the most useful of the many writing rules, and worth highlighting. So write this rule on a sticky note and stick it close to your computer: Omit Needless Words.

Keeping this rule in mind is often enough to improve your writing. If your sentences are convoluted or hard to follow, applying this rule will almost always fix the problem.

Here are some example phrases from the book:
The question as to whether/whether
He is a man who/he
Her story is a strange one/her story is strange
Owing to the fact that/because
Call your attention to the fact/remind you

I hope this rule helps, and makes your writing crisper, clearer, and more concise.

Having said all this, there are two more things I want to add. 1. I have probably broken this rule many times already in this blog, or even in this post. I'm still learning too. 2. As far as writing goes, rules are made to be broken. This is a good rule, but don't let it stand in the way of great writing.

Sarah Allen

Monday, May 24, 2010

Thoughts on the fantastic Lost finale and the wonderful Michael Emerson

Its about 24 hours since the epic 2 1/2 hour Lost finale began, and I've been thinking about it the whole time. My initial reaction was somewhere between, 'whoa, that was brilliant' and 'what the crap?' After talking to friends and reading interviews and reviews, I'm tending more and more towards the brilliant side.

So basically, the sideways existence was a kind of limbo existence between this life and the next. We see what happens to everyone in their real-life/island existence. We go from seeing Jack on the island, stumbling and dying, to him off the island, recognizing, remembering, rejoicing and meeting up with all these people who have played such a big part in his life. In this timeless, limbo existence, they have all met up to move on together.

All except for Benjamin Linus. Ben is still left in the ambiguous, gray area, which is an incredible move on the writers part. So why doesn't Ben move on with the others? There are two reasons that I like the best. One, he still feels unresolved about his life, and feels that there are things he needs to repent and atone for, in an almost Marley-esque way. The second reason, and the one that I like even better: He's waiting for Alex. And of course, every moment with Ben Linus was a moment of Michael Emerson genius.

I doubt any other TV show has ever been this successfully philosophical and spiritual. Not only that, but with the genius combination of good writing and Michael Emerson, the creators of Lost have created in Benjamin Linus one of the most complex, subtle, deep, genius anti-hero's of all time. If could create a character half as awesome as him, I could die a happy artist.

I am interested in your thoughts about the Lost finale. Ambiguous, yes, but in a good way? What did you think?

Sarah Allen

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Where can writers meet people?

First off, I apologize for the lack of postage lately. I am one of those firm believers of no excuse is a good excuse, but my excuse is that my computer is nonfunctional, and I haven't had consistent access to a computer for a while. Anyway, I hope to be getting my computer and this blog back to normal functionality very soon.

So where can writers meet people? Or maybe the first question should be, why should writers even care about meeting people? Aren't we the lone souls slaving away at the computers in our parents basements? I think for both career/marketing purposes as well as emotional/personal purposes, it is important for writers to maintain some sort of social life. This is another one of those posts where I am looking for answers myself, so any ideas would be great. Here is what I've come up with so far.

Writerly places: Book clubs, writing groups, the library, bookstore, author signings, writer conventions, creative writing classes, etc.

Extracurricular places: A big one for me in this category would be theater. Whatever you are interested in are besides writing, use it to meet people. Ideas: gardening stores, photography classes, knitting groups, car shops, wherever you like going.

Friend-of-a-friend places: Going to parties, bars, clubs, etc with friends is not really my cup-of-tea either, but don't be shy about hanging out with some friends friends. They usually won't bite. They may end up being cooler then the first friend, and maybe your friends old roommates great aunts first husband is an editor at Random House or The New Yorker. You never know.

What are your guys' ideas? I know clubs and classes and malls are more typical places to meet people, but if you're like me, you're too weird to meet people typically, and you usually don't find typical people interesting anyway. So where can ambitious, intelligent, slightly odd people like us (anyone reading this blog has to be slightly odd) meet people like us?

Sarah Allen

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

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

5 Ways to Get Out of Your Creative Writing Comfort Zone

A lot of us writers have a set way of doing things. Both our work and our writing life have patterns and habits that we may not even recognize. But a lot of times we can be missing out on some great opportunities if we don't get out of our comfort zone every once in a while. Here are some ideas of how to do just that:

1. Try a new genre. This is an obvious but important one. If you've never tried poetry, try it. If you've never tried YA, try it. You may be surprised at what you can do, and may find a new love.

2. Try a new style/voice. This is related to the first, but slightly different. For example, even if you want to stick with one of your customary genres, maybe try writing it in present tense. If you've never written a male main character, try it. Experiment with voice by pretending you are a different writer.

3. Change up your writing space. Rearrange your office, library, bedroom, wherever you write. Put new pictures in the room. Experiment with the music that you play. And if you don't want to go that far, just try writing in a bunch of new places like parks, coffee shops, or a different room in the house. See what happens.

4. Use a new marketing venue. There are so many marketing opportunities out there, and you never know what could happen when you start using new ones. Sites like facebook, twitter, myspace, youtube, flickr, or even community gaming sites. Experiment with newspapers, book clubs, or other events. If you market primarily to middle-age women, maybe see what happens with college students.

5. Find new editor-friends. Its great to have a set group of people who can help critique your work, but a fresh set of eyes may give you feedback you otherwise would not have gotten. Each person has a different take, and a fresh take may know exactly what it is your piece needs to make it work.

What are your ideas? What do you do when you feel your writing getting stale?

Sarah Allen

Saturday, March 27, 2010

This Morning's Poetry Reading at BYU

This morning I had the opportunity to read some poetry at BYU's literary conference, 'Frame by Frame.' It was a good experience, and hopefully one you may be able to benefit from. Here are some tips for doing a reading.

Relax. Last night I was actually pretty nervous about this, but the conference was pretty chill and everyone was really nice. If you don't stress about it and let yourself relax, then you'll be more natural, likeable and memorable.

Prepare. Like I said, you don't need to stress overly much, but its good to prepare a little. For the life of me I could not decide what order in which to read my poems, but that turned out to be ok. I just went with the flow, and for some things that works best. But I had sort of thought a little bit about what to say about each piece, and that turned out to be important. In fact, I wish I had done more preparing in that regard. Just prepare enough for you to keep things flowing, easy and natural.

Keep perspective. Whatever happens, remember that the reception you get is just as subjective as submitting your pieces for publication, just on a more intimate level. In the case of this morning, everyone was very kind, but it was a very small group and nothing spectacular happened. Thats ok. Remember who your audience is and don't expect more or less then is reasonable. And if you get less then expected, remember its all subjective, don't let any of it get you down, and better luck next time. If you get more then expected, then fantastic.

Hope this helps! I would love to hear from you all and how your writing lives are going.

Sarah Allen

Monday, March 22, 2010

Story Start: Dorothy's Birthday

I've been looking through my files, and found the beginnings of a story that I did for a class a while ago. Feel free to use whatever you find useful.

On Dorothy’s birthday she woke up before everyone else. Birthdays still made her as excited as they did when she was five. She smiled as she adjusted the blue quilt to cover her husbands exposed feet. She would probably still have to make breakfast for him and Ted and Lily, but she still hoped for breakfast in bed. She wanted chocolate malt-o-meal and wheat toast with honey. Also some orange juice, on the glass tray they still had from Mrs. Lambert. The alarm from the apartment next door shocked her out of her culinary reveries, but Paul snored right through it. Their neighbors alarm woke her up most mornings, but usually she just fell right back asleep. This morning she couldn’t. Dorothy wondered why the man next door always got up so early. She knew he was a business man, so he probably got up to work on some presentation. Maybe he had an early flight to a big conference in Europe. Or maybe that was all a cover up and he was really a CIA agent who had to get out early to do research on a major drug lord in Chicago.

Paul choked mid-snore. She almost had to cover her mouth to keep from laughing. She smiled down at him and brushed a lock of hair out of his eyes. He smelled like Listerine. Maybe he had already bought her a present. She doubted it. Paul was a sweet guy, but he didn’t usually remember things like birthdays. At least he had warned her. On their third date he told her that when he turned 12 he didn’t remember it was his birthday until his mom started singing Happy Birthday to him at breakfast. It made her laugh, but it also bothered her. Dorothy was into the details. She was spontaneous and frequently rearranged the living room furniture and the kitchen spice drawer, but once things were in their place, they stayed there. She also had a huge calendar hung up over the kitchen sink with the whole family’s plans for the month, but maybe Paul just never looked at it.

Even if Paul did remember to get her a present, it was probably the wrong one. She had shown him newspaper ads about the Broadway tours of Les Miserables and Seussical the Musical that were coming to town, and had played the CD’s non-stop, but he probably didn’t get the hint. She expected to end up with the usual gift card to Home Depot. She knew the drawers in the kitchen got stuck, and the garage needed shelves, and Ted’s shower head leaked, but was he really that concerned about it? It just made her feel guilty for not having gotten to it sooner. She just wanted to get out and be with no one but Paul. Even tickets to just one of the shows would be nice.

Sarah Allen

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Play Review: Tennessee Williams' 'The Glass Menagerie' at Provo Theater Company

If you're anywhere near Utah Valley, you need to come to this show. Honestly, I'm not terribly familiar with the work of Tennessee Williams, but based on what I saw last night, he is a writer that any artist can learn from. The story is very simple, not based on spectacle, and does not end happily. But still it is whole, and leaves you with a sense of emotional satisfaction and even hope.

But great writing needs to be greatly portrayed, and this production is stellar. Put on by the Mortal Fools Theater Project and directed by David Morgan, the quality of this production is of the kind you usually have to go out of Utah Valley to see. The cast is made up of only four people, and every one of them is phenomenal. Every character was pitiable, pitiful, smooth and haunting.

Reese Purser played a wonderfully edgy, on the brink Tom. His asides to the audience were natural and helped us understand what was going on. My favorite moment of his is when he and his mother finally smile together.

Daryl Ball played Jim in a very unobtrusive, boy-next-door sort of way. You felt comfortable and happy around him from the minute he walked on the stage. It was clear why Laura liked him. And David Morgan's direction in the kissing scene was absolutely perfect.

First off, I would just like to commend Karen Baird (Amanda) for basically memorizing the entire play. It really is the character of Amanda that does almost all the talking and has to keep the play running. And she did it beautifully. Her Amanda left you wanting to both stuff a pillow in her face and tell her everything would be alright; which is exactly how Amanda is supposed to make you feel.

Last but certainly not least, Stephanie Foster Breinholt played a beautifully nervous Laura. She doesn't say much, but if you take your eyes off of her, you miss loads. It was obvious she had worked and thought long and hard about this play and her character, and the payoff was brilliant.

Please don't miss out on this show. Sit back and let the brilliant acting transport you into the world of Tennessee Williams.

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Plotless in Provo

The book I've been writing has been giving me some trouble. It comes to me in scenes that I see as a movie. I was talking to me roommate about this, and she said, well why not write it as a movie. So I am. I'm working in reading "The Screenwriters Bible by David Trottier and then I'm going to hopefully make this story into a screenplay that will break box-office records and win me an academy award. Thats the plan, anyway.

And thats the good news. The bad news is that now that I'm using that story for a screenplay, I now need a new book idea. This is where things get hard for me. I love coming up with characters, situations, little vinnets, bits of dialogue, mini-scenes, etc., but it is really hard for me to come up with something that will put it all together into a structured whole. Basically, I have a plot problem. Granted, its only been a few days and plots don't just pop up whenever you want them, (wouldn't that be nice), but any advice would be fantastic.

Where do you guys find the most successful inspiration for plots? I've been looking at newspapers, writing books, etc, and hopefully something will come to me soon. But what advice can you give me in the meantime?

Sarah Allen

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Moments vs Story

I think every writer tends towards one of two sides: moments of brilliance or geniusly elaborate story. Like in photography, its sort of like a macro versus a pan shot. Each writer has the own character and style that focuses, cares about and emphasizes one side over the other. One is not necessarily better then the other, its just an individual thing.

In the 'Geniusly elaborate story' side, the big picture is the most developed. This is where you get a lot of crime novels, and writers like J. R. R. Tolkien. Television drama like Crossing Jordan or CSI usually tends towards this side. The writers spend most of their time coming up with an intricate and intriguing story. To be totally honest, this is most definitely not the side I fall on; coming up with cool plots is not my forte.

On the moments of brilliance side, things like character quirks, bits of dialogue or a beautiful description are what matters. Poetry falls pretty much 100% under this category, unless you're Homer or Milton. Also this is where you get a lot of sitcoms like The Office or Frasier, where the stories aren't all that elaborate, but you watch it for the characters and funny moments.

Obviously the key is to get some of both. I would say an example of a generally story-oriented work that has some moments of brilliance would be Harry Potter, or Lost, the moments being the Snape chapter in the seventh book, or for Lost, any scene with Michael Emerson. And on the other side, you could say that what is really important in a book like Gone With the Wind are the character quirks and moments between Scarlett and Rhett, but it is also a sweeping and elaborate story that the moments kind of add up to.

Its hard to go against natural tendency and incorporate more of the side that is harder for you, but recognition is the first step, and I think it could turn out to be a useful and beneficial exercise. I know that in my case I focus so much on moments that I have a hard time writing anything with structure. But we're all growing, right?

So what do you guys think?

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dr. Linus: Michael Emerson is genius...again

I just bought the episode on iTunes, and while I'm waiting for it to download I thought I might as well write about how genius and creatively inspiring Michael Emerson is.

And the iTunes ratings validate me. This episode has a way higher popularity then any of the other episodes this season. Anyone keeping up on the tweets about it will realize how many people were touched by Michael Emerson's performance. There were many people saying how they didn't ever expect to like or feel sorry for Ben, but that Michael Emerson pulled it off.

His speech with Ilana at the end was stunning. I was on the treadmill at the gym watching, and I had to keep myself from crying so I wouldn't freak anybody out. "Because he's the only one that'll have me." Brilliant.

It seems like Ben always has the best lines. It's probably the combination of Ben being such a brilliantly written character, as well as Michael Emerson's genius portrayal. "If your talking about time travelling bunnies, then yes." "How many times do I have to tell you, John. I always have a plan." "Oh, so after all these years you've decided to stop ignoring me." And thats just the beginning. And what about all the non-verbal brilliance? Sharing a candybar with Hurley. Seeing his daughter shot in front of his face. I could go on. In fact, I will.

Ben is such an intriguing character because we have seen him do all these horrible things, but we have moments where we realize that at his core he is a desperate, lonely, devoted, good man. That makes us like him. To add to that, Michael Emerson's portrayal is incredibly vulnerable, poignant and honest. This creates the best character on Lost, perhaps on television as a whole, and most definitely deserves an Emmy. Or 12.

If you are a Lostie and familiar with Michael Emerson's genius, learn everything you can from him. If not, you're missing out. I'm sorry this is a less analytical, more gushy post, but thats what I've got right now. And we wanna create things people will gush over anyway, right?

And by the way...if any of you see Ben, tell him I'll have him.

Sarah Allen

Monday, March 8, 2010

Thoughts on the Academy Awards

First off, I'd like to thank the Academy for picking something other than Avatar for best picture. It won art direction, cinematography, and visual effects, which is exactly what it deserved. Probably nothing less, and most definitely nothing more. And this may sound a little cruel, but I can't help feeling some slight satisfaction in the fact that James Cameron was beat out by his ex-wife.

For us aspiring writers, paying attention to the winning films from this year and all the years past is probably a good idea. It couldn't hurt to go through and read some of the winning scripts.

And yay for 'Up' winning best animated film and best musical score. That just made me happy. I challenge anyone to watch that movie and not feel all toasty inside. I would love to write a movie as beautifully sweet as that one someday.

As far as acting goes, the clip of Mo'nique they showed from Precious was absolutely stunning. Judging just from the clips she was way ahead of the competition. And though, as you all know, I adore Stanley Tucci in sweetheart roles (Devil Wears Prada, Julie and Julia, Shall we Dance), and was a little weirded out when I saw he was playing a child rapist; but in the clip they showed, he was as brilliant as ever, geniusly creepy, and I'm sure this role is one of many that will show his range and competence as an actor. And yay for Jeff Bridges. He is also an actor who you just can't help but love.

As far as lead actress goes, if it was up to me, we all know the winner would have been, without a doubt, Meryl Streep. But 'Blind Side' is one I actually did see, and Sandra Bullock did a great job, and was by far the best thing in the movie. The story was good, but I thought the movie as a whole was actually a bit overdramatic. But like I said, Sandra did a great job, and it isn't a huge disgrace that she beat out Meryl Streep.

What did you all think of the results? Any lessons we can take away? Like I said, my plan is to read a lot of the winning scripts and see what I can learn. I also want to watch a lot of the winning movies and learn from that too. In the meantime, if you need me, I'll be in my bathroom with my brush, practicing my speech.

Sarah Allen

Friday, March 5, 2010

Movie Review: Alice in Wonderland

Last night a few friends and I went and saw the midnight showing of Tim Burton's 'Alice in Wonderland'. The first thing I want to say is that it was very worth seeing, and I highly recommend it. Very well done.

I'm usually not a fan of whimsical, fluffy, somewhat weak female lead characters (i.e. Cozette, Juliette...Bella Swan) and Alice can definitely tend that way, but I was actually very impressed with Mia Wasikowska. She gave Alice some spunk and likeability, and when she came out in her suit of armor she was actually pretty kick-butt.

The script, a combination of Carrol's work, was awesome! This was sort of Through the Looking Glass round II, and I think it worked. It started me thinking of what other authors you could combine/sequel like that. C.S. Lewis? Dickens? Shakespeare?

Having said all that, the best thing in the movie was by far Johnny Depp. Not surprising, considering he's usually the best thing in everything he's in. His slight gap-toothed lisp was perfect, and the exact quirk we as the audience need to get us really into the character. To put it simply, he is unnaturally natural in unnatural characters. Everything he does intriguing. It is interesting how the little quirks like that can delve so deeply into a character. This role is just another feather in Johnny Depp's hat. Pun intended.

Putting Ann Hathaway into a Tim Burton/Johnny Depp world absolutely did not work. I'm sorry, but she was terrible. Distractingly so, in my opinion. Her inflections and physicalities seemed awkward and forced, like she didn't quite know how to keep up with Depp and Bonham Carter.

So what are the artistic lessons to take from this? The best characters have quirks that bring you in and attach you to them. All the characters need to be of equal quality, if not equal importance, or the weaker ones will distract like a sore thumb. Give your main characters some determination and umph.

Go see this movie! It is very Tim Burton-esque, which I consider a good thing. It's not one I'm dying to go pay ten bucks to see again, but most definitely worth paying for a first time, and most definitely worth seeing. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Sarah Allen

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Day Jobs for Writers

With the end of Winter semester slowly approaching, I'm at that point where I need to start making some job decisions. For the past 2 1/2 years I have worked as a research assistant/secretary to a religion professor at BYU. It has been such a great job, and I am really grateful for the opportunity I've had to work in a BYU office. But I'm graduating this year. Not only that, but I will probably need more work for the summer. Its time to start making some serious career decisions.

Obviously what I really want to do is write. But you just don't make money doing that, especially not in the beginning. So I need a day job, and this is where I need your guys' help.

In my opinion, a good day job for a writer has set hours and no take home work. This is why I can see teaching being a difficult day-job: because you're never not working. Preferably a job where your not sitting at a desk/computer all day, so you don't get sick of computers by the time you have time to sit at yours and write. And you probably don't want a job that will leave you too mentally exhausted to write at the end of the day.

With these qualifications, the first thing I'm led to is: retail. I actually think retail might be a good day job for a writer. Personally, I love books, movies and animals so this morning I have been on the phone with Barnes & Nobles, F.Y.E., and PetSmart. In a retail job you have set hours, hopefully enjoyable coworkers, and time after work to do what you want; i.e., write.

Here are some other random ideas:

Bus/Taxi Driver

Still, considering that I'm still pre-baccalaureate, retail seems like the best option. Any other ideas?

Sarah Allen

Monday, March 1, 2010

Liebrary: the best game for creative writers

I think a couple years ago my cousins gave me a board game called "Liebrary" for my birthday. It's still one of my all-time favorite games, and its very educational and creatively inspiring.

In Liebrary, there is a stack of cards for 5 or 6 literary genres, like sci-fi/horror, childrens, non-fiction, literary, etc. Each card has the name of a book, a synopsis, the author and the first line. The "librarian" reads everything except the first line. Everyone else's job is to write their own first line, and the librarian writes down the real first line. Then the librarian reads all the first lines, and everyone votes on which one they think is the right one. You'd be amazed at what people come up with.

When I'm stuck, I flip through the cards for ideas, and I still have a baggie full of all the first lines people have written. Maybe I'll write a story with them some day or something.

Anyway, just thought I'd introduce you guys to a game that you can play with your friends and family, have a ton of fun and be creatively inspired. Enjoy!

Sarah Allen

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Fresh Voices interview is up!

Sorry to have another 'all about me' post, but just wanted to tell everyone that the Fresh Voices Interview on Sue London's blog is up! I'm pretty excited about stuff like this is always fun. Check it out, see what you think. Thank you all so much for your wonderful support :-)

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Meryl Streep/Sandra Bullock Theory

In comparing these two phenomenal actresses, I have come across some interesting ideas, which, though inspired by actors, can apply to any kind of art, including creative writing.

These two actresses demonstrate two different approaches to art, or two different kinds of artists. See which category you mostly fall under, and see what you can learn from the other.

The Bullock Way: If you think about it, Sandra Bullock really only plays one type of character: herself. In most her movies she looks and acts basically the way she is in real life. And she does it brilliantly. She has made an art out of being herself. She takes her own personality and uses it to mold whatever character she's given, and it turns out hilarious, down-to-earth, and just very natural. You can apply this to any art form, but its harder to do then it seems, because if its going to work you have to be utterly honest with yourself and expose that inner part of you that relates to and is accessible to everyone. Maybe try sitting down and just write something and focus on being utterly you. See what you come up with.

The Streep Way: Ms. Meryl Streep, on the other hand, has never played the same character twice. She is one of the most diverse, prolific and stunningly genius actresses of our time, and the list of characters she's portrayed is huge. Witchy fashion boss to Julia Childs. Singing, flower power mamma to vindictive nun. And that's only her recent stuff. Don't get me wrong, obviously she puts part of herself in to every part she plays; the thing is, she is able to put herself into such a variety of characters. This is also hard to do. Its risky and potentially uncomfortable. But it can also turn out incredible stuff if you let it. Try genres, formats and mediums you haven't tried before. Create characters and stories that are way out there for you. For example, I've never tried YA or speculative fiction, so maybe my next short story will be a YA fantasy. I think lyrics would be really hard for me and doubt I'd be that good at it, so at some point I want to stretch myself and try it.

Both sides have benefits, and creating stuff in both veins is probably a good idea. What are your thoughts? Do you see the dichotomy or am I way off base?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Writing Updates

This may be a bit self-aggrandizing, but I thought I'd just post an update on what's going on for me and my writing.

The Tipton Poetry Journal emailed me today and said that the new issue has been sent out, so I should be getting my contributor copy in the mail any time now. I'm so excited to see my name in print! They also said that the online version should be up in the next couple of weeks.

A while ago I submitted a bunch of stuff to the National Undergraduate Literature Conference held this year at Weber State in Ogden, Utah. I got an acceptance email a couple days ago, which is awesome, but I'm still kind of confused because the online thing hasn't told me exactly what they've accepted, and online registration isn't up yet. So we'll see how this one turns out.

Last but certainly not least: A while ago Sue London, author of the blog Thoughts That Get Stuck in My Head messaged me on Twitter and invited me to be part of her Fresh Voices series on her blog. Of course I gave an ecstatic yes, and she sent me some interview questions which I filled out and sent back. I think my interview will be up this Friday, but I'm not sure. But its coming up sometime soon on her blog, and I'll keep you all updated, never fear.

So what can you take out of this? If I can do it, you can! And I'm not just saying that to be nice, I really mean it. It really is up to how much work you put into it. Just keep submitting and keep submitting until you finally get a yes. Think of your writing career as a business, and work on things like social networking and researching out competitions and conferences too. I will try and help as much as I can by posting opportunities that I come across, but I can't submit your work for you. Don't be scared. The worst thing that can happen is nothing, but as the cliche yet true saying goes, you miss 100% of the shots you don't take.

I would love to hear how your writing careers are going. Successes? Near-successes? Possible opportunities?

Keep writing, keep learning, keep submitting!
Sarah Allen

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Creative Writing and the Olympics

With the Olympics going on, I was thinking about the chasm between the world of athletics and the world of literature/art and how it maybe it doesn't need to be as big of a gap as it is right now. There are definitely things we writers can learn from the world of athletics, the Olympics in particular.

Inspiration. Sports can provide direct creative material, like if you wrote a story about an Olympian or a wannabe pro athlete. Maybe you know an athlete and their stories and characters can inspire your next piece.

Determination. Think of how much time and effort these Olympians have put into their sport. Basically their entire life. Thats the only way they have gotten where they are, and if we want to be the "olympians" of literature, we should expect to have to do the same thing. Of course they are different things, and I'm not saying we need to train for ten hours every day. But we need to be doing something every day, and thinking of new and creative ways to expand our career, and hone our craft, and everything else writers have to do.

Marketing. This one is a little more complex, and I would love to hear your ideas on it. But what I mean is that maybe we can take marketing and promotion lessons from the NFL, NBA, etc. Commercials, target audience, stuff like that. Look at what they do and see how you could creatively apply it to marketing your work. I mean, Golf has a huge, almost cult following. Why? How? Is it because its a game that tons of people play, so tons of people can relate? If so, find a way to apply this to your writing career: create something everyone can feel a part of. Remember baseball cards? Yeah, something like that. I can't get very specific here, because this is very dependent on your individual work and personality. Be creative and find what works for you. And think about this: Does Tiger Woods have a cult following because he's a golfing heavyweight, or is he a golf heavyweight because he has a cult following? The answer is probably yes...but learn from it.

What are your thoughts? Do you think writers have anything to learn from athletes? Hope this helps, and enjoy the Olympics!

Sarah Allen

Friday, February 19, 2010

Creative Writing: Improv to Improve

I'm sitting on the couch watching 'Whose Line is it Anyway' laughing my head off. My high school English teacher, a large part of why I write, also taught an improv class that I took for a few semesters, and we spent a lot of time talking about the way improv can help and inspire artists and writers of all kinds, and I think its something useful and way fun to discuss.

Improv can generate ideas. When your story is stuck; when your characters need filling out; when dialogue isn't working right--improv can help. Improv can open you up to creative inspiration and calm down your internal editor. Improv can take your story in completely unexpected places or can fill out the spots that feel empty.

Take specific characters, lines, and plots that come out of an improv session and use them to generate or enhance your own work. Let yourself make crazy decisions in improv so you can see first-hand how creative risks can pay off big-time. Participating in improv can help you make connections and see things in completely new ways.

There are some ways to do solo-improv. Fill a jar with quotes and pull one out when you need inspiration. Listen to wordless music and make up your own words. Games like MadLibs may work.

That having been said, improv works best as a social activity. Have an improv party with some fun friends. Look up Whose Line episodes on YouTube (that can not only teach and inspire you, but its friggin hilarious). You may even want to go all out and research some improv groups in your area. Take an improv/acting class.

Most of all, have fun! Free your creativity and you will always surprise yourself.

Have any of you had experience with improv? What are your thoughts about how it can help inspire creative writing?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ridiculosity: Sydney White vs Mamma Mia

Lately I've realized something about being ridiculous; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I'm not exactly sure what makes the difference between the two, but there is something. The easiest way to demonstrate my point is with film, though my point can apply to writing and any other art form as well.

The two movies I would like to use as an example are 'Sydney White' and 'Mamma Mia.' These are interesting cases for me, because while I am not a young person movie, high-school drama-ish kind of person, I really enjoyed Sydney White. And while every move Meryl Streep makes is stunningly, breathtakingly brilliant, as a whole I really did not like Mamma Mia. (Don't get me wrong, she was still amazing in Mamma Mia. The only amazing thing about it.) Both of these movies are plain-old, good times ridiculous, but one worked for me and the other didn't. I'm not quite sure what made the difference, but I do have a few thoughts.

Maybe its self-consciousness. I feel like Sydney White was very consciously ridiculous. Lines like, "Things are looking grim, brothers," shows just how much fun the writers were having. I think there was lots of just being ridiculousness in Mamma Mia, but there were also moments when it was really trying to be serious, and they just didn't work, especially if Meryl Streep wasn't involved. Not only didn't they work, but they took some of the fun and umph away from the light-hearted ridiculousness too.

Maybe its the culturally embedded story. The plot of Mamma Mia is just a way the writers found to string Abba songs together, so its not a story we watch or hear as children. Ridiculousness can work with these kind of new, hodge-podge stories, but its not as easy. With Sydney White, the story was an adaptation of the Snow White fairy tale, so its a story we are all familiar with. This allows the story to go all out making fun of itself, and gives us lines like the one above. Renditions of fairy-tales are usually a safe bet in regards to ridiculosity.

What do you think? Obviously I'm still trying to figure this out, so any thoughts from you would be great. Because who doesn't want to try being ridiculous every once in a while, right?

Sarah Allen

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentines Day for Creative Writers

Whether Valentine's day is a happy occasion for you, or whether it is, as it is for me, simply Single's Awareness day, holidays are a great time to collect stories and build up your creative stockpile. Here are ways creative writers can use February 14th to their advantage.

Use it directly. Write a story about cupid or a misplaced valentine's card. This last is what 'The Office' writers used. Think of the movie that came out two days ago. You may find a way to use this holiday as direct creative material.

Get stories. What better day to collect stories from friends and family, whether happy or bitter. The couple who gets engaged on Valentine's. The couple who get divorced on Valentine's. The husband who plans a huge day with his wife only to be blocked at every turn. These stories can be a story of their own, a small part of a larger story, or adapted to fit other characters and other times.

Get characters. Maybe you have a sister who refuses to wear anything but black on valentines day. Perhaps your great aunt decorates her house for valentines day even more then she does for Christmas. What if your characters birthday was on February 14th, and he hated it because all he ever got were those disgusting chalk hearts. You could even mix holidays and write about how Blitzen and the tooth-fairy celebrate valentine's day. Even if you're currently working on a project, it's a good idea to know how your characters would feel about Valentine's day.

Get in touch with life. In order to write real, compelling characters, you have to make them have real experiences and feelings, and holidays are a good time to sit back and think about life and the things people go through. Valentine's day means so many different things to different people. It can be a day of bliss, loneliness, contentment, desperation, enchantment, disgust, ennui, stress, excitement, busy plans, reflection, or a combination of all of them.

Anyway, hope these ideas help. What are your thoughts about Valentine's day and art?

Sarah Allen
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