Friday, February 28, 2014
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Sunday, February 23, 2014
|Duyckinick, Evert A. Portrait Gallery of Eminent Men and Women in Europe and America. New York: Johnson, Wilson & Company, 1873 from http://utopia.utexas.edu/project/portraits/index.html?img=237|
[Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
This week on Writing From the Peak...
...Aaron Michael Ritchey brings us some rhyming fun in "Dr. Ritchey's New Year You-Can-Do-It"
...Pete Klismet brings us Part II in "Is Writing Ability Innate: Nature or Nurture"
...MB Partlow shares some witty information in this month's "Countdown to Conference"
Friday, February 21, 2014
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Last time, in the first in the Reader University series, we talked about Try — new authors, new genres, and new formats.
- a book
- a novella
- a short story
(This post first appeared on Stacy S. Jensen's blog on January 13, 2014)
About the Author: Stacy S.Jensen worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for two decades. Today, she writes picture books and revises a memoir manuscript. She lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and toddler.
Monday, February 17, 2014
|See "Woman in Black|
Dress" below for attribution
|See "Nyah" below|
Aaron has published a few short stories and several poems and is sitting on a few novels, like everyone else.
Scientist by day (hazardous waste management in the past, and entomologist/zoologist these days) and poet/musician by night, Aaron has gone on several musical tours around the USA. He plays trumpet poorly and theremin passingly. During the heat of summer, Aaron can be found at Burning Man every year.
Sunday, February 16, 2014
|By JudyBlume2009.jpg: Carl Lender of Flickr.com derivative work: Solid State Survivor (JudyBlume2009.jpg) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons|
This week on Writing From the Peak...
...Guest poster Aaron Spriggs gives us tips on "Steampunk Costuming" for the Friday costume dinner at PPWC 2014 (or wherever you may have occasion to participate in steampunk costuming)
...Stacy S. Jensen brings us the second part of her Reader University series, Read
...We share a PPW Sweet Success!
Friday, February 14, 2014
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
(This series first ran in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers newsletter in 2005.)
Monday, February 10, 2014
Mary Sue. She’s a nice girl. She never really does anything wrong. And she’s not really all that special or noteworthy. Just an ordinary girl, you might say.
When she’s a guy she’s Everyman.
From Small Town, USA.
And when things happen to her (or him), they just kind of happen to her. She didn’t do anything to start it, really; it was just bad luck.
She’s a poor, poor character in a world in which terrible things come along and happen to random, perfectly nice people. Not a hero. Just a person. Only it turns out that Miss Mary has amazing personal resources that she never would have suspected.
In the end, things work out for her. She gets the man (woman) of her dreams and has a prosperous life in which she (or he) is well-liked and nobody criticizes her (or him).
Mary Sue (if you don’t know) is the name of a trope in which the author turns themselves into a character in a story, and then doesn’t play fair about it. What I described was just one of the variations. Of course there are variations; as writers, we all have different fantasies about what we’d love to happen in a given situation.
The one similarity between these fantasies is that the writer doesn’t play fair with the character.
The character gets everything they ever dreamed of without consequence--and is generally held as all-around likable, desirable, lovable. And powerful. Any flaws are mentioned only so they can be laughed aside as unimportant. The Mary Sue is the ultimate combination of goodness and power. The Mary Sue can never be fully defeated.
The Mary Sue is a kind of monster, isn’t she?
She’s an evil vampire that comes into the story and hypnotizes the good guy into accepting her as one of the group. A cuckoo, if you know that story--Mary’s a bird that kicks out the character who should have been the main character of the story, replacing them with a big fat egg of her own.
The Mary Sue is that horrible creature of ego that arises when we’re picked on one too many times as a kid, when we feel like the universe is against us, and we feel like we’re justified in doing whatever it takes in order to get revenge.
Mary Sue puts high school bullies on the page and has them killed off by the supposed villain of the piece. Mary Sue does the noble thing to bring the killer to justice, when really she just wants to pat him on the back.
Mary Sue wins the heart of the boy she had a crush on in sixth grade, whether he wants her or not.
Mary Sue saves the universe from a horrible fate. One that, really, Miss Mary arranged to happen in the first place. She’s really the author, after all. She arranges everything.
(Sometimes Mary Sue isn’t just a person, either; sometimes she’s the collective “good guys,” the forces arrayed against “evil,” which is really just everyone that happened to annoy the adolescent psyche of the writer when they were a teenager. I don’t mind a little good vs. evil, but it irks me when “good” is just a face of Mary Sue.)
When we start out writing (and I was no different), we write a lot of Mary Sues.
We put characters on the page who are “definitely not us,” but then we don’t play fair with them. We don’t give them flaws; we certainly don’t make their flaws the reason that problems come crashing down on them. We separate the story into an “us” and a “them,” and we do all kinds of horrible things to the “them” when the interesting thing is to do them to the “us.”
We don’t make our characters active--because victims come across as more innocent, and the last thing we want to do is expose our characters to the kind of criticism that’s so painful in real life.
In real life, our intentions go awry. “Why did you do that?” people ask us, and it hurts. So we arrange it so that the bad guys are the ones who started the fight--the good guys are just the ones who finish it.
It’s a crap way to live, really. Waiting for things to happen to you; finding people to blame when they do.
And it’s a crap way to write stories.
Mary Sue stories are boring. It’s a cliché of writing advice: don’t write Mary Sues.
But the real problem isn’t that Mary Sue stories are boring. It’s that Mary Sue stories cheat readers out of the real gift of stories: taking us outside ourselves.
Stories plant seeds of wisdom and insight into us--even the cheesiest romance does this--they help us deal with pain, they make the world more bearable. Some studies are showing that stories help us practice getting through the worst parts of life; others show stories as the root of empathy.
A Mary Sue cheats that. There is no wisdom in blaming others for our own shortcomings; there is no insight in being universally loved. In fact, a Mary Sue is too easily seen through as a window into despair--that admiration must be forced, love bribed, and victory bought by lies.
She’s a sad, slow death, that Mary Sue. Best to just let her go.
About the Author: DeAnna Knippling started freelancing in May 2011 and wouldn’t be able to do it without her wonderful family and friends, especially her husband. In fact, she owes a lot to Pikes Peak Writers for helping her be a better writer, especially through the Write Brains, both in the lectures and in meeting lots of other writers.
Her reason for writing is to entertain by celebrating her family’s tradition of dry yet merry wit, and to help ease the suffering of lack of self-confidence, having suffered it many years herself. She also likes to poke around and ask difficult questions, because she hates it when people assume something must be so.
For more kicks in the writerly pants, see her blog at www.deannaknippling.com or her ebook How to Fail & Keep on Writing, available at Smashwords, B&N, Amazon, and OmniLit.
Sunday, February 9, 2014
|Laura Ingalls Wilder, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons|
This week on Writing From the Peak...
...DeAnna Knippling discusses "The Real Problem With Mary Sue" and how to avoid the pitfalls
...Jax Hunter brings us the fourth part of her series on Setting
...We share a PPW Sweet Success!
Friday, February 7, 2014
Note: More information can be found on each of the below events on our Events tab, above.
Write Your Heart Out is a free half-day conference preview, tomorrow, Saturday, February 8, 1-5 PM, at the Colorado Springs Marriott. Our speakers are Cindi Madsen, Tom Adair, DeAnna Knippling, Aaron Ritchey, Todd Wallinger, and Becky Clark. RSVP is required (email@example.com).
The February Write Brain will be Sex is Not a Four-Letter Word: Tearing Down the Taboo Walls of Sexuality to Create More Interesting Primary and Secondary Characters in All Genres, presented by NYT and USA Today bestselling author Lisa Renee Jones. Tuesday, February 18, 6:30 to 8:30 PM. It will be held at Penrose Library, but in a different room than usual, the Adult/Children's meeting room. This event is free.
Open Critique is Wednesday, February 19, 6-8:30 PM, at Cottonwood Center for the Arts. Get the first 8 pages of your manuscript critiqued. RSVP required for those wanting a critique.
Writer's Night is Monday, February 24, 6:30-8:30 PM, at Ivywild. Open forum. Come discuss whatever writerly topics you'd like. Food and drinks available for purchase at the venue.
Other "Local" Events
Colorado Springs Fiction Writers has various meetings throughout at the month at different locations. Visitors are welcome.
The Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America will host Deb Courtney, as she presents Publicity and Promotion. Thursday, February 13. Doors open at 6:30 PM. $25 for non-members, dinner and program included in price.
Pikes Peak Pen Women will host Jane Rigler, who will present Interpresence: The Process of Bringing Art and Writing Together, February 15, 11:30 AM to 1:30 PM, at Blue Sage Cafe. $23 for non-members, lunch and program included in the cost. RSVP required.
Springs Writers will be presenting The Flip-Side of a Writer, with speaker Susan Mathis, Tuesday, February 18, 6-8 PM, at Woodmen Valley Chapel.
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Note: I’ve done enough fiction writing craft research that I’ve absorbed what I learned and made it my own. However, I may have lost original resources or worse yet, attribute writing tips to the wrong person. My profound apologies if I get the attribution wrong.
Somewhere along the way (I think it was Robert J. Ray in “Weekend Novelist”) I picked up the idea of thinking about props during a scene. What are the ‘things’ of the scene that your characters might interact with. Like the props in a stage play, what things populate your scenes?
Imagine the setting where your scene takes place. Let’s say it’s in a fancy restaurant. What are the props you might use? The first things that come to mind are the place settings. But often the first things that come to mind are the easiest. They tend toward cliché or at least are overused. We’ve all read and seen the scene where the character doesn’t know which fork to use, or is overwhelmed by how you get the lobster tail out of the shell with grace and leave the linen spot free. Funny, but overused.
So look around your fictional fancy restaurant for another prop. I personally like a funky bar for burgers and beers over a fancy restaurant with wait staff whose only job is to stand behind the table and pour water when your glass is more than a third empty. So if I were writing a scene at a fancy restaurant that is where I would go to look for props – to the place of my discomfort.
What if my character notices a small smudge on the side of the white-gloved hand of the faceless person that keeps filling up her water glass? Maybe my heroine is uncomfortable. Seeing that spot can do something for her and for the plot. It might make her breathe easier – no one is perfect and she doesn’t have to feel out of place. Or it might make her really uncomfortable. Because of the spot, she knows that the same wait-person is waiting on her. Watching her drink her water. He or she is behind her back and making her really uncomfortable. Is the water person a male or a female? You could write the scene creepy or safe, whatever fits the plot. But if you spend some time with the things of your scenes you can put them to work and make the scene more real.
Imagine a scene as a room. Your character enters, struggles with another character, but wins and exits out the opposite end of the room. You will have a positive emotional change. If your character is thwarted in their quest to get what they want in the scene room, then you will have a negative (or continuous negative) emotional change.
When characters enter a scene, they come from the scene before. They bring their reactions and feelings from what just happened. You should know when a character enters a scene how he or she is feeling.
Let’s take the fancy restaurant scene. If it’s my heroine, she’s apprehensive. She’s hoping that her hair is holding up in back. She’s conscious of the pinch of her dress under one arm. Her heart is pounding as she’s frantically trying to think of some sort of small talk she can make with this person who has commanded her presence at this dinner. She has no idea why she’s here and would far rather be at home with her cats.
As the dinner progresses, her dinner partner senses her apprehension and swoops in for an attack. Our heroine parries the attack as best she can and almost puts her dining partner in her place. So satisfied with her responses to the nasty woman who has invited her for dinner, she forgets for a moment to be on guard and her wrist hits the delicate wine glass she placed too close to the edge of the table. Like a slow motion scene in a movie, she can play out the next minute before it actually happens. The glass will explode on the hardwood floor and reveal her once and for all as the fake she is, eating at this fancy restaurant. In the nick of time, the faceless waiter behind her catches the wine glass, not spilling a drop and sets it back on the table. She looks up, meets his eye….
When my character leaves the fancy restaurant scene room, her emotions are in a different place than when she entered. And when she goes into the next scene she will start off happy and then something will happen to change her emotional charge. You can chart your character’s emotional change throughout your plot chain.
Write through the senses
See, feel, hear, touch, smell. These are the five senses writers are referring to when they ask you to write through the senses. If you spend some time in your scene mapping the sensual experience the character has, you’ll make the scene come alive. Writing through the senses is one of the keys to the adage: Show, don’t tell.
William Strunk, Jr., in “The Elements of Style,” writes that “the surest way to arouse and hold the attention of the reader is by being specific, definite and concrete.” In “Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft” Janet Burroway takes this quote further. She says: “A detail is ‘definite’ and ‘concrete’ when it appeals to the senses.”
When you’re storyboarding your plot into scenes, spend time focused on the five senses. Take our fancy restaurant again and go through the list of senses for what your character might experience in the scene:
- See – the bouncing glitter of china and crystal and gold-edged picture frames against a navy blue wall in the dimmed light from the thousand-prism chandelier that hangs from the thirty-foot ceiling.
- Hear – the sound of stiletto heels across a hardwood floor. Muted conversation from the table next to them. Far enough away so they can’t hear or be overheard.
- Touch – the feel of the fine linen napkin, the heft of the silver knife, the thin glass between her lips as she drinks her wine.
- Taste – they’re in a restaurant, so taste can follow the courses. The garlic and butter of the escargot. The tart and sweet of lemon and raspberry on the minuscule plate of greens, etc.
- Smell – a hint of clean soap when the wait-person leans over her to fill her glass.
Whenever I’m having trouble writing a scene I go to the prep and spend some time imagining before I actually write. I jot notes and play with props. I immerse myself in my character’s feelings and senses.
Like most of my writing, a line will come to me. A piece of dialogue or a first line, and then I free-write the scene. Do you have any scene tips or tricks to add to this?
About the Author: Deb McLeod, is a writer, creative writing coach and founder of The Writing Ranch. She has both an MFA and a BA in creative writing. She has been teaching and coaching for over ten years. Deb has published short fiction in anthologies and journals. She has written articles and creative nonfiction. Deb has been a professional blogger, tech writer, graphic artist and Internet marketing specialist.
Monday, February 3, 2014
And if the year hasn't started out so great, it means one month down, eleven to go. Even so, this year will surely hold many ups and downs for all of us. Hopefully, it will mean more ups than downs, more positive memories formed than negative. If keeping the positive at the forefront is something you struggle with, you might consider keeping a jar for positive experiences that you can pull out when you're having a rough day. When something good happens, write it on a slip of paper and put it in the jar. This can work many different ways, including keeping a notebook for the same purpose. The hope is that the positive experiences will help to battle the negative, allowing you to move forward with your goals.
To help you with your writing goals for the year, we're offering our Write Your Heart Out event this coming Saturday, February 8. A pre-conference preview, the event is completely free, but requires an RSVP due to limited space. More information can be found at the "Events" tab above. Please note: If you have emailed an RSVP in and have not heard back from someone to confirm receipt, we haven't received it! Please re-send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you can't make WYHO, we will still have our regular free monthly programming. For more information on that, check back on Friday when we share Pikes Peak Writers events, as well as upcoming events by other area writing groups.
Before this post comes to a close, I'd like to welcome Kathie Scrimgeour to the team. She has accepted the Sweet Success Columnist position here on Writing From the Peak. If you have good writing-related news you'd like to share with your fellow Pikes Peak Writers members, shoot an email to email@example.com.
Most of all, have a wonderful, productive, and inspired month. Take a moment to play in the snow and to appreciate the beauty of your surroundings. February can be a gorgeous, albeit cold, month here in Colorado. And it brings us one step closer to spring.
Managing Editor, Writing From the Peak
PPW NCE Director
Sunday, February 2, 2014
|Langston Hughes, Feb. 29, 1936|
Carl Van Vechten (Photographer), Wikimedia Commons
This week on Writing From the Peak...
...The February Letter From the Editor
...Deb McLeod talks about Storyboarding Your Senses
...February News, Events, & Links