From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Monday, October 29, 2012

Bringing Your Frankenstory to Life

Sometimes I feel like I have the parts of a story, the head, the feet, the arms, but I don't feel like I have the pulse, the electric current that binds it all together.

That's how its going with novel number two. I pretty much have my main character, a thirteen year old girl who has been in my head a long time. That's how it typically starts for me, a person who won't leave me alone with a life and a situation that they want my help to understand. I know her situation, her family, where she's living. But I still haven't figured out the plot points and heart beat that moves the story forward.

Does this happen for anyone else? What do you do to solve the problem?

I have been watching a bit of Twilight Zone (great hurricane entertainment, let me tell you.) Like I said, it is the most incredibly conceptual show ever, and I am hoping some of that genius rubs off on me.

So yeah. How do you go about bringing your monster to life?

Sarah Allen

Thursday, October 25, 2012

This Story Is For You

It happened again, you guys, and it hasn't happened in a while.

The word click seems so inadequate. It is more like when you haven't had bread pudding in maybe months, and you know it is your favorite thing in the world, the warm bread and sweet and condensed milk and caramel exactly what your taste buds were made for. Sometimes you think about it, sometimes you crave it enough to try and look for it, even though often you can't find it, have to settle for toast instead. Then after a day when you've gotten three rejections from an agent and come home late from the night shift, you finally settle in, get comfy for the night, and lo and behold, the universe hands you a big, perfect, warm bowl of bread pudding, made exactly how you like it.

I love stories about old people. I love old people romance. I adore the English. I love stories about marriage, its many intricacies and complications. I love the puppy-dog loyalty and sweetness in Bill Nighy's face and the humaneness and pain when he finally stands up for himself. I love the wit and really-a-softy-crustiness of Maggie Smith. I love Judi Dench all the things.

Maybe this bread pudding is to my taste specifically, and if it is, that's okay. But watch The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. See.

Do you know what I'm talking about? What books or movies or stories or shows have done this for you?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Things Going On...In the Twilight Zone

Life is interesting, isn't it? I can't focus, or rather I am trying to think about too many things. And I'm going to allow that for now.

I am very sick of the election. I'm sorry, but I am. It will be nice when Facebook doesn't totally drive me nuts anymore. Wait...

Also, freaking Rod Serling. Given the ride I should have known the show would be freaking amazing, but guys, its so cool. I love how literary it is, and how well written, and I think it definitely qualifies as the most conceptual show ever. What I wouldn't give to be as conceptual as Rod Serling.

I could use that right now. I always have such angst in coming up with my novel ideas, and this time is no exception. Maybe number two is even harder? Its not so much a shortage of ideas as plethora of sort of half ideas that I can't seem to hold on to long enough to really work with. Its like I have thousands of puzzle pieces that I'm shuffling around randomly and I hope soon they will start forming some kind of picture.

Steven King, you guys. Some new leaf for me or something lately, but Twilight Zone and The Green Mile audiobook in the car are totally jiving with me lately. I don't know if I would do so well with Kings more straight up horror stuff like It or Cujo, but Green Mile is awesome. I've read it before, and listening to it is so awesome. Literary plus high concept equals awesomeness. And yes, I consider Steven King literary.

Agents! Gah! This submission process is so much more nerve-wracking than submitting to literary magazines. It feels lots more personal. Part of me wants to tell everyone about every step of this process, but I also think that's probably not a great idea. How long do I have to wait after submitting to an agent before I can freak out? Because right now its when I press send and then I'm all Y THEY NO WRITE ME BACK NOW.

Libraries. I don't know why I haven't discovered them until recently, I mean, you'd think...being a writer, and going to school with one the largest university libraries in the country...I think it took all my books being in boxes. But checking out an audio book for my commute is glorious, and being able to read books as more of an experiment without the same kind of obligation. Its awesome!

Imma go watch Twilight Zone now :)

Sarah Allen

Friday, October 19, 2012

How These Shows Would Have Ended If I'd Written Them (And its probably good I didn't)

We all do this. We watch a show, we are engaged, and then an episode comes along that makes us go, "Oh, come on guys, that's not what was supposed to happen." So lets indulge that impulse for a moment. Here are some shows I would have done differently.

Once Upon a Time: I'll admit, it is this show that has gotten me thinking about this. I have had twinges about the frankly awful dialog since the beginning. I like the characters and love the premise, and they do even throw bits of clever dialog in there occasionally. But since the season 1 finale it has been driving me crazy. I could get past the dialog if they HADN'T RUINED RUMBELLE. Ok. Sorry, calm. Except Robert Carlyle is THE REASON I watch this show and his face was so beautiful when Belle all the sudden walks back into his shop but then after that they totally ruined it. They needed a moment, and not just a cheesy, "I love you you monster" moment. Jeez, they didn't even kiss. Except apparently there's going to be this majorly smexy Captain Hook coming along soon so I can't stop watching now.

Lost: This is probably one that its good I didn't write, because if I had, it would for sure have just turned in to the Benjamin Linus Show. I always wanted EVERY episode to be a Ben-centric one. Honestly I didn't care about Jack or Kait. Hurley was awesome, Sawyer was hot, but really it was all about Ben. It just was. What they did give him I thought was brilliant. His Dr. Linus redemption episode in the last season is...perfection. His creepy "Got any milk?" and "Because you're MINE" were freaking incredible and I still can't even talk about his "I want to explain that I know what you're feeling" speech...gahh!!! I loved it all, I just wanted a lot, lot more.

Firefly: Fox...*facepalm*

Frasier: Niles and Daphne ALL THE THINGS.

House: This ones harder, because I actually LOVED the way they ended it. I thought it was perfect. Perfect for the characters themselves and perfect for the original Doyle source material. Its just there's this part of me that still really wants House and Cuddy to be together.

That was kinda fun :) Maybe I want all my TV to be about pining middle aged men but so what. :) What about you guys? What shows would you have changed and how?

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Landscapes, Child Molesters, and Other Elements of Literary Fiction

Strange or not, I am, at the moment, feeling frustrated with my genre.

I should say, first off, that literary fiction is what I love. There is a reason mainstream is what I write. Austen, Dickens, George Elliot, Charlotte Bronte, Wallace Stegner, these are the stars by which I hope to guide my own literary efforts.

However. The waters of the modern literary novel are not feeling very welcoming at the moment.

Firstly, I get the whole lyrical prose thing. I really do. So much so that when I write I have to be careful it doesn't become detrimental to my plot. Characters are the most important, yes, the words on the page should sing. But does every literary novel or short story have to start with a five paragraph description of setting? Setting has its place. Again, I get the character and beautiful prose thing, and my betas can tell you that my pacing is actually quite slow, but still, lets start in the middle of the action, with a person, giving us a way to get to know them.

Also, and mostly. Gah. So, I check out a Pulitzer from the library. I've been excited to read it. I sit down and open it and am stunned. The first paragraph introduces me to an interesting character. The writing is gorgeous. The story is funny and interesting and progressing and it gets darker, but in a good way, and then, all of the sudden, the thirteen year old girl is getting raped.

*Sigh*. Look. I still love these books, in a difficult way. I love the beautiful writing. I even understand that we're getting at some important and incredibly tough issues here, and that's a good thing. I know bad, awful things happen, and its the artists job to make sense of the world. I accept that, I do not begrudge it.

But, is there any chance, any possibility, of a Pulitzer Prize winning novel being happy?

Ok, I'm being facetious, because I've actually read some happy Pulitzers. Well, "happy" is definitely the wrong word. They are hopeful, but in a way they are even more intense than the quirky, creepy, child molestation ones because they are just gloriously, beautiful, richly dense and heavy just by virtue of what they are. They deal with hard things too, death, loss, love, all of it, but with this kind of sense of morality and hope. And I don't feel like they're relying on any one scenario for intensity or shock value. The best Pulitzers feel as heavy and beautiful and real as life, and I mean that. I'm talking about Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. Two of the greatest books written in the last century.

I guess I feel frustrated because, and I say this with full recognition of its presumption and pomposity, this is the crowd I want to run with and in my head it has become divided into two camps: one camp too divine for someone like me, and the other, while ardently admired, not quite what I'm looking for and I don't think I'm what they want either.

My absolute core is inescapably optimistic, even joyful, and if that means that I will never win the Pulitzer Prize then okay. Its even worse that, it seems to me, optimistic and happy people are taken less seriously, approached like they don't understand or have never experienced true sorrow, unmitigated despair or depression. Happiness is an outlook on experience, not an indicator of it, and is not easily achieved. Any optimist can tell you that.

It doesn't really matter, because I, and all of us, will keep writing what we write, and we do our utmost with it. There is no changing that. I guess I just don't want to be told that life is poignant because it is dark and sinister and shocking. Life is not poignant because anything; it is poignant because it is life.

And life is capital H Happy.

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Happy People Make Better Writers

I have a specific reason for saying this.

Writers need to be present. They need to notice things and take note of them. They need to be aware not only of their own feelings but the feelings of others, and the various ways of expressing those feelings.

I find it nigh impossible to do this when I'm depressed.

Depression and sadness pull you inside yourself. You're focusing on your own stress, your own problems. You don't as much notice the sadness in the voice of the boy at the register or the sun breaking through the clouds because you are worried about how much longer your grandmother has to live, or how you're going to pay rent next month or a wide variety of other things. Sometimes we have big things we're dealing with, or just really hard things, and we can't help but be internal and sad for a while. That is fine.

However. It does not a growing writer make. When we are not stuck inside ourselves we notice things about the world. When we pay attention to how other people are feeling it gives us a fresh set of eyes. And I really, really need to do better at it.

The cool thing about this is that it works the other way around too. When you're down and low, make a conscious decision to notice something around you that you haven't noticed before. Take a closer look at a tree, at someones face. Pay attention to another persons emotional cues. Before you know it, hope and even a little happiness have come back.

Happy and in a good emotional place for writing. I think we all want that.

Sarah Allen

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Danger of an Outline

I should start off by saying that I am a huge outliner. My outlines are basically just a list of bullet points, but I have it organized chapter by chapter, scene by scene, so I know which part goes where and roughly how many words each scene and each chapter needs to be to add up to the desired whole. If I don't know by my outline that I have enough material to fill a whole novel, I get anxious.

But as I've edited the novel I've noticed that a lot of the problems and flaws that I need to fix come from using an outline in the first place. The flaws are much easier to see after having given it some time as well as seeing the novel through the fresh eyes of my beta readers.

There are definite pacing problems, and spots where the emotional arc just does not flow. These things can be fixed, but I think these problems originate from sticking too closely to a laid out list of plot points. When you use an outline it is easy to follow it and ignore the subtle emotional reactions and changes in your characters that might actually influence or even totally change what happens next in the story. This makes the pacing feel off, the emotional reactions forced or unrealistic.

Outlines still definitely have their good points. Many, in fact, or I would not have used one. They keep you moving forward in a deliberate direction, giving your story necessary focus. They help you know where you are going. But I'm learning that even if you know where you are going, which is good, you still need to let your characters move slowly or stumble or run or skip or move forward in the way most natural to them, let them stop at the interesting cabin, look at the clouds, smell the roses. Let what happens happen. If it doesn't work you can always nix it later.

This is what I hope to be able to do next time.

So how many of you are outliners? How do you avoid this problem? If you're a pantser, how do you find the confidence that your idea is large enough for an entire novel?

Sarah Allen
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