Tag Archives: emotion

Gaining Incredible Emotional Power by Crossing Opposites

When I pressed “play” on Interstellar, I had no idea that I was about to have one of the most powerful emotional experiences of my movie-watching life. Sure, subconsciously I took into consideration that I would cry at the end of the movie. Maybe. I was not prepared to legitimately cry near the starting, in the middle, at the climax (multiple places), and at the resolution (in two places). On top of that, I was not expecting to experience emotion that was that raw. I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced emotion that raw from a movie.

I was not alone.

 

 

So what in the world did the Nolan brothers do?

Well, a few things.

Last time I talked about how pairing/crossing opposites can make a story more powerful. It’s because of the breadth. It’s the breadth between extremes that enables the audience to feel emotions more powerfully.

We tend to think that if we want to write a story that hits a particular emotion powerfully, that we have a lot of scenes that hit that emotion. So if we want a story that makes people cry, we might think of having most of the story made up of tragic scenes. But the audience actually experiences stronger, raw-er feelings, when you contrast emotions. Tragic scenes become more powerful when we have humorous scenes.

It all gets back to writing with foils. (You can read my post on foils here).  When we pair opposites, we create contrast–we are pulling the audience from one extreme to the other.

We are yanking them from one end of the spectrum to the other, and all that breadth they travel makes the experience feel sharper. (David Farland did a post on this once by the way.) It’s like going from hot water to cold. The cold feels colder because we just experienced the hot.

Interstellar does this beautifully.

First though, let’s talk about the kinds of emotion Interstellar evokes, because Interstellar elicits powerful emotions. The movie is emotional not just in the I’m-about-to-cry sense, but its emotional in that it evokes a variety of contrasting emotions and evokes them in a strong way

Here are some of the main emotions that I see: Continue reading Gaining Incredible Emotional Power by Crossing Opposites

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

Fawkes wrote her first story on a whim during a school break when she was seven. Crayon-drawn, poorly spelled, and edited so that it contained huge, fat, blacked-out lines, the story (about chickens seeking water) changed her life. Growing up, she had a very active imagination; one of her best friends accused her of playing Barbies wrong when she turned Ken into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mad scientist love interest. Her passion for stories led to her playing "pretend" longer than is socially acceptable. It was partially a symptom of never wanting to become an adult. Luckily she never did. She became a writer instead.

Fawkes has a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction, but she explores and reads anything well crafted. She has a passion for dissecting stories and likes to learn from a variety of genres, so you may find her discussing classics in one blog post animated shows in anotherTry not to be afraid of either. (And do be sensitive to the fact she never did reach adulthood.)


September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.
She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while (rarely now) critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side, and she even had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City, but mostly she hides out in her room, applies her butt to her chair, and writes. Other than that she reads fiction and books about writing fiction.

She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.  Her main writing project right now is a young adult fantasy novel she plans to publish traditionally.

Some of her favorite things include, but are not limited to, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Les Miserables, The X-Files, The Office, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, rock concerts, Creed, ballet, pugs, cherry blossoms, Ethel M. Chocolates, and anything yellow.

AGING, GRACEFULLY — OR NOT ! ! !

WOO‑HOO ! ! ! I just saw something GREAT online. It was a guest blog for the online Writer’s Digest by a stunning red‑head named Babette Hughes. She called it “The Big Lie of Age and Writing” and opened with “Age is not a disability, it is a second chance at life. I’m 92 years old and Post Hill Press has just published my three‑novel Kate Brady series . . .”

WOO‑HOO, again ! ! ! I just survived my third bout with cancer (over a nearly 30‑year period), and, with radiation NOT an option for already radiated flesh, I opted to go the surgical route: a double mastectomy. My birthday was one week after surgery: I turned 76. So I figure, I STILL have time to get published . . . SOME day. But some DAY sooner, than I’d been working toward.

Wanna back track, and go back to your youth? I sure don’t! Somehow, I got through several “shy” years, when we moved back from Hawaii when I was ten: everybody already HAD a “best friend” by the time I got here. I’d known all along that I wanted to become a teacher, so I rushed through three years of college to get there. Meanwhile, I’ve endured three marriages, two divorces, three bouts with cancer, a total of 46 radiation treatments, and all the indignities which go with mammograms . . . especially when they’d call or write back time after time after time, to get me to come back for a re‑do. . . they weren’t “sure” about something they were seeing on the first shot.

All this, along with the regular worries of a teen emerging into adulthood, and, as Ms. Hughes said, “career worries, relationship worries, money worries, kid worries. A time with no idea of who we are or even what we want in life [at least I had THAT one nailed] . . . Age gives us the freedom from those hectic years with the wisdom and time to write.”

I think, at my age, I deserve to “let go ” of some of the angst I’ve always carried with me. And a brand‑new year is JUST the time and place to do it. Hughes claims that LIFE, “comes in a bundle ‑‑‑ the good, the bad, the disappointing and even the tragedies are all of a piece.” Our acceptance of “the whole bundle” ‑‑‑ with “moral nerve and a certain toughness” means that “we choose life.” And Life chooses US, right back. Accepting all that comes with Life, instead of choosing “the chair and the TV” (in other words, giving up) makes us emotionally, spiritually able to survive the hits, and “endows depth and richness to our writing.”

And look what Life‑choosers can still accomplish:

Doris Haddock (89) began walking between L.A. and Washington D.C. ‑ a 14‑month journey

Kimani Maruge enrolled in first grade at 84.

Grandma Moses (75) began painting and lived to be 100 ‑‑‑ still painting.

Tao Porchon (93) and her 23‑yr.‑old partner swept ballroom dancing competitions in New York, New Jersey, and Puerto Rico.

Mieko Nagoka (80) took up swimming, and at 100 became the first centenarian to complete a 1500‑meter freestyle swim

Hidekichi Miyazaki (103) holds the world record for the 100‑meter dash (29.83 seconds) in the 100‑104 age group. They HAVE a 100‑104 age group ? ? ?

These last two women are from a culture “Japan’s ‑‑‑ that, unlike America, reveres old age.”

That mastectomy I told you about? I decided to go “all the way” because I was still pretty healthy at 75 (for another week); then I turned 76. I wanted to get this DONE, OVER WITH, so I wouldn’t have to do it at 78 or 79, or 83 or 84. Because I’ll be too busy then.

I’m NOT going to make New Year’s Resolutions like all my old ones: lose weight, get more exercise, REALLY find a “working” diet, finish writing five of my books before next year. But I AM going to quit a few bad habits:

No more:

  • “I’m too old,”
  • “I’m not strong enough,”
  • “I’m too tired,”
  • “I’m not flexible enough,”
  • “I’d rather just watch TV,” etc., etc., etc.

Now it’s going to be:

  • “Wow! I can still do that!
  • “Hey! I’ve never tried that before ‑‑‑ let’s go!”
  • “Sure, RIGHT after we take a nap!” (got to keep it practical ! ! !)
  • “Sounds like a GREAT book ‑‑‑ may I borrow it when you’re through?”
  • “I’ve never written a steam‑punk story before . . . I’ll give it a shot.”
  • “I’m going to send my poem to that contest.”

What can you give up for the New Year?

What will you try that you haven’t done before?

 

“The Emotional Range of a Teaspoon”: Your Characters’ Spectrum of Emotions

For the last month and a half, I’ve been rearranging and revamping a whole sequence of scenes in my novel. Moving stuff up, pushing stuff back, deleting this, adding this, and while I wasn’t surprised at the time and work it took to complete this revamp, I was reminded about how a great novel should all interlock. So, by changing and moving things, I have to change and revamp other parts. Not just on a plot level, but on a character arc level, on a thematic level, on an everything level.

But what did surprise me was how I had to rewrite the emotional level of my characters. In that alone, in a way, I felt like I had to rewrite each scene. Because I had changed and rearranged plot elements, my characters were in different moods for different scenes. They had different emotional arcs in my scenes than what they had before. So for each scene, I had to get deep into my character all over again to convey his or her emotional status for the scene. And of course, in a lot of scenes, a character’s emotional status changes throughout it. On top of that, I’ve been trying to do deep and thorough character edits anyway, making even their body language distinct from other characters.

Like real people, characters should react to, cope with, and manifest their emotions in individual ways. If your character hears that someone ran over her dog, what is her emotional reaction? Is she mad? Sad? Shocked? Devastated? Happy? Annoyed? Why? How she reacts emotionally reveals character. To take it to the next level, you ask, how is she mad? Sad? Happy? Etc. Does she try to hold it in? Does she keep her angry thoughts to herself and say something completely different outloud? Does she scream every profanity she can think of? Is it a cold anger that leads her into calmly seeking revenge on the driver?

But beyond that, each character has his or her own range of emotions. Some people have a huge range of happy emotional states and small or little angry emotional states. Some people have a variety of sad states and a variety of ways of showing that sadness, but then only rarely feel or dwell on emotional regret. People have different demeanors, and some emotional states are more consistent or stronger in some.

Let’s look at some extreme examples to illustrate.

kristen-stewart-emotional-chart-25655-1278599566-5

Continue reading “The Emotional Range of a Teaspoon”: Your Characters’ Spectrum of Emotions

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

Fawkes wrote her first story on a whim during a school break when she was seven. Crayon-drawn, poorly spelled, and edited so that it contained huge, fat, blacked-out lines, the story (about chickens seeking water) changed her life. Growing up, she had a very active imagination; one of her best friends accused her of playing Barbies wrong when she turned Ken into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mad scientist love interest. Her passion for stories led to her playing "pretend" longer than is socially acceptable. It was partially a symptom of never wanting to become an adult. Luckily she never did. She became a writer instead.

Fawkes has a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction, but she explores and reads anything well crafted. She has a passion for dissecting stories and likes to learn from a variety of genres, so you may find her discussing classics in one blog post animated shows in anotherTry not to be afraid of either. (And do be sensitive to the fact she never did reach adulthood.)


September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.
She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while (rarely now) critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side, and she even had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City, but mostly she hides out in her room, applies her butt to her chair, and writes. Other than that she reads fiction and books about writing fiction.

She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.  Her main writing project right now is a young adult fantasy novel she plans to publish traditionally.

Some of her favorite things include, but are not limited to, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Les Miserables, The X-Files, The Office, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, rock concerts, Creed, ballet, pugs, cherry blossoms, Ethel M. Chocolates, and anything yellow.

“Loss”

I don’t really think my father ever understood me very well. He was an outdoorsy type, and a business man. He kept himself busy, in spare moments, making, designing, or inventing things. He invented what the family always called his “Gold Machine”. He took his schematic, with all its specifications, to a machinist shop in Hawaii, where we were living at the time, and asked them to manufacture the prototype, which they did. This was some time before I’d turned ten. For the rest of his life, he traveled ‑‑‑ for business ‑‑‑ all around the western states, and sometimes even farther. He would stop by a river and take a sand sample from the banks, have it assayed to determine possible gold content, etc. He never was able to get a patent, as the Patent Office claimed that every part of his machine was already covered, piece by piece, by other patents. Nothing “original” here (but nothing copied either), it’s just that he put all the parts together for a different purpose. It became his life‑long hobby.

He was my pal, my dad, my protector and the family jokester. He loved me. And I loved him back. But I don’t think he really “got” me.

Meanwhile, my mother liked fashion. Movies. Movie stars. She should have become a buyer for a store: she had impeccable taste in what would suit this woman or that and was never wrong to my recollection. Relatives in California kept credit cards active in Utah for stores like the old ZCMI, so that she could buy clothes for my three female cousins and have them sent to Berkeley. She loved musicals (on film, though occasionally managed to go to a live production with me or my younger brother).

When I was in grad school, in the theater department, and had already taught English, speech, drama and debate in high schools for several years, I got the lead at my college in a main stage production of “The Little Foxes.” (See the old Bette Davis movie if you’re curious.). Somehow, she managed to cajole my father into bringing her to Provo for my opening night of a two‑week run.

The only reason they could come that night was because, ill as she was, they were waiting for a “bed” to open up at the hospital, which it did the next day. She died in that hospital, at age 63, after five weeks of every system in her body trying to shut down.

I was divorced by then, from a 6‑year, uncomfortable marriage. No children. I finally remarried a couple of years later, the same year my brother got married for the first and only time. But I never got over the fact that my mother ‑‑‑ a woman meant to “mother” and nurture ‑‑‑ never got to see either of my children, nor any of my brother’s six, nor any of our combined 20‑something grandchildren, or of my four‑or‑so (or so‑far) great‑grands. What a loss for them. What a loss for all of us.

And now, this week, my husband of not‑quite‑four years and I have lost HIS lovely and loving mother in Alabama. That lovely 88‑year‑old “Honey,” nurturer, model, stalwart is gone from our lives. Which brought all the above to my mind again.

What has your MC lost? Parents? Siblings? Dear friends? An important job? A limb or two?

Which of his or her losses hurt the most? Hurt for the longest time? Have NEVER been overcome?

How can that part of that‑which‑is‑humanity be expressed in your book? As a memory? As an ache? As a gut‑wrenching loss which can never be fully overcome? As a block to his her progress? As the ONE hurdle he or she MUST overcome?

How can you show your reader the REAL character of your MC? What can take the reader’s breath away with it’s beauty, or simplicity, or pathos, or humanity?

Milestones or Stumbling Blocks?

I hit a wonderful Milestone a couple of weeks ago: it was time for my one‑year “annual” mammogram. Before that, I’d been having one every six months, and before that even a little more frequently, once I finished my life‑time’s second bout with doing radiation for cancer. How lucky was I? That was my second time going through cancer and radiation, as I’d had my first bout with it 27 or 28 years before.

There were a lot of Milestones along both the ways:

In the first instance:

My two children were still living at home. As a family we tried not to make a big deal out of it.

My husband was very supportive, taking me to appointments, talking me through all the steps.

Neighbors helped to carry the burden of caring, talking, making sure I was “OK”.

I loved my hospital’s radiologist, a young woman who has in the last throes of her internship, and graduated at the same time as I “graduated” from my radiation treatment.

Before, during and after discovering cancer, I frequently got called back in for “do‑overs” on my mammograms. Scary. But something that was handled quickly, easily, over and over.

In the second instance:

I had been single again for 14 years, and then my ex‑‑, with whom I was still good friends, died in the last of those 14 years.

At the end of those 14 years, I remarried and, again, had a VERY supportive husband, who sat in the waiting room on his birthday, and the date of our then six‑month marriage, while I had a biopsy. He did not “allow” me to go to appointments, testing, etc., by myself . . . and generally took me out to a favorite luncheon spot on the way home.

I told my husband I’d beaten it before, and I could do it again.

My children were in relationships and/or homes of their own, but were also supportive.

I went to a different hospital this time, but was DELIGHTED to find my now much “seasoned” radiologist would be the one I’d had the first time.

Now:

I finally had reached the step of waiting a WHOLE YEAR before getting another mammo.

Then they called me back in. Again.

I told my husband that I’d beaten it once, I’d beaten it twice. I was just going to have to do it all over again. Again.

A biopsy was scheduled for this week.

As we pulled into the garage, after the mammo, after our favorite luncheon spot, my phone rang. A dear friend was in tears. She’d just gotten called back in for a “do‑over” from HER mammo, knew I’d been through it before, and needed to talk. We talked for quite a while, and I told her if I could do it, SHE could do it!

She and her husband came to visit and I shared what I could of “HOW TO” get through this.

We discovered that she and I are BOTH set for biopsies this week, the same day, the same place. We’re all going to my/our favorite place for breakfast afterwards.

What does this do for you, my writer friends?

FEMALE: get your MAMMOGRAMS when you’re supposed to! No putting it off allowed ! ! !

MALE: take your WIFE/SIGNIFICANT OTHER and be there for her ! ! ! (It wouldn’t hurt to take her out for breakfast or lunch afterward either.)

WRITERS, ALL:

Make a list of the toughest things YOU’VE had to endure.

Make a list of strategies you tried to help you get to the “other side” of whatever was going on.

Put some of your TOUGHEST fights into one of your books. HELP your MC get through it. Or let him/her flounder trying. You want a happy ending? A realistic ending? A crowning‑glory ending? How realistic is THAT one?

Does your MC get to and surpass all her Milestones?

Does he sink or swim? Does he fail?

Why? or Why not? What can your MC do which would empower him/her AND your readers?

What’s with all the vitriol on the perceived “eve” of the national elections?

In December of 2012, I posted most of what lies below as a “Monday Moans” contribution to our writers’ group blog. Monday was a day for us to vent about all things writing. Or just plain “all things.” Everybody needs an occasional place to vent, I assume.

In this, I was consumed by the vitriol among voters, candidates, and various people in “authority,” following the national elections. The frightening part of this is that the vitriol has done nothing to calm; in fact, it’s worse now than in 2012. And we’re months and months away from the elections.

I wrote, “Still??? And ‘states’ want to secede? To what purpose? How would secessionists work that out, creating new government entities, etc.? And now we’re faced with the ‘Fiscal Cliff,’ [sound familiar?] and arguing about whether to ‘let’ the economy go off in the ditch? [Now, 2015, we have a Congress/Senate and more which think that’s the road to “getting” their way.]

It all brought to mind the Rodney King quote, which I repeated, about “‘Can’t we all just get along?’ [If you’ve forgotten who he was, look him up online.]

“The elections were over; the President was who he was [and still IS who he was]. “Ditto the Senators, Representatives, Mayors, School Board members, Dog Catchers, etc., both nationally and state‑by‑state. Can’t they just do their jobs?” [Now we have certain minor officials in some states going to jail over whether or not they should do what is required of their job.]

“If we could all extend common courtesy to our fellow beings, don’t you think we have sense enough to figure out a way to take care of our neighbors? Extend a helping hand within each of the cities in which we live? Think Big, by helping to solve problems which may affect our individual, but united, states? Let our leaders know what we need from them, what we want, and how we intend to help our nation climb out from under financial and social problems which plague us all?”

As writers and THINKERS, which we are, is there some way for us to contribute to calm, cohesiveness, camaraderie, civil argumentation and discourse? Can we include scenes of such behavior in our books, under the guide of kind, careful, thinking and moral characters who may encourage like thinking in our readers? Yes, even if they’re ONLY children?

“Let’s remember, this is the United States of America, and we’ve been that sovereign nation for more years than you, I or anyone else I know has lived on this earth, so can’t we all just . . . get along?”

Love, LuAnn

I’ve always had Three Loves: teaching, theatre, and writing (the order changes from time to time). Before I began kindergarten, I “knew” I wanted to be a teacher. (It’s probably always been a control issue.) When I played “school” with my little pre‑kindergarten friends, I was always the teacher. How did I even know what a teacher would do?

Then I began school, and was learning to read. I remember The Day I “got it!” I was looking at a very long word, which I didn’t know. As I sounded it out in my mind, I realized I DID know the first part of it: “may”. Then I realized I knew the second part of it too: “be”! May Be. Maybe. It was like a bolt of lightning zapped through my head. Neither of the two words means the same thing as the combination means ‑‑‑ it was a word I didn’t recognize, as written, but once I’d puzzled it out, I was beyond thrilled that I knew THAT word too! At least, when hearing or saying it. It was MAGIC ! That had to be when my love affair with words began.

Many, many years later, when I’d already been teaching for a few decades, I met a like soul: LuAnn Brobst Staheli: the consummate teacher and wordsmith. I think we “recognized” each other upon our first meeting. She always had wise words, and that broad, welcoming smile! (How I miss her now.) I ran across an old blog of hers, and would like to pass along a few nuggets. She had become discouraged, at one point, and feeling that ‑‑‑ in spite of “small” successes with a couple of books through “niche presses” and what could only have been the beginnings of writing awards she received, she was ready to give up: too many “No, thank you,” “not right for our list,” “We’ll have to pass on this,” and “Good luck finding a house for your work” rejections.

Was she writing the wrong things? What would be the next Big Thing? Editors and others could only answer, “We’ll know it when we see it.” She was asking the questions most prolific, but unpublished, writers ask themselves. Then she made a decision and set a goal: “

LuAnn tried to look at her writing ‑‑‑realistically ‑‑‑she loved to write, knew how to tell a good story (that could have been from all those years of capturing the attention of her hundreds of junior high school students!). She knew she could write for a broad audience: middle grade, YA, adult, fiction and non‑fiction with topics just as wide ranging from memoir, education, history and all kinds of swirling, yet‑unrealized topics and subjects.

“So in December, I made a decision,” she wrote. “If publishers didn’t want to buy my books, then I’d need to move on without them. I had readers who were tired of waiting and I was too. . . . I made a list of all the books I had already written that were sitting on my hard drive, waiting for a home. I added the manuscripts that were nearly done as well, and found, that even with not yet counting the two manuscripts

I had out waiting for a response from traditional publishers, that I had enough books close enough to completion to meet my goal. (Since then, both of those books have been formally rejected, so they are now a part of my master list of books that will be lining up on Amazon, ready for an instant download to the readers who want them.)”

And so her 2013 goal came into being: she would publish a book‑a‑month, even if she had to do it on Kindle. She began with Leona & Me, Helen Marie, based on her mother’s stories of childhood, growing up in southern Indiana, which she’d written shortly after her mother passed away. The cover showed her mom, Helen Marie, and her aunt, Leona Mae.

LuAnn’s February release was A Note Worth Taking, with a cover which “placed it into the Small Town U.S.A. series. She noted that “[a]lthough some readers have tried to read themselves into this novel . . . it’s a story I made up in my mind . . . some of the events are based on truth, but the conflict and resolution, and the characters who play key roles are purely fiction. . . . when it comes to girl drama, there is nothing new under the sun, so you could change the names a million times and people would still wonder, ‘Is this about ME?’“

Having gone through this process herself, Luann wrote on her blog May 16, 2013, “Thinking of giving up your writing career? Time to get energized and take a new direction. Read my story here: T.he Book of the Month Club.”

LuAnn Brobst Staheli was NOT a quitter. She was more likely to follow Winston Churchill’s wise words: “Never give up. Never, never, never give up!”

And so should we all.

(Thanks, LuAnn, and “Winnie” ‑‑‑ I needed that!)

Some other books by LuAnn Brobst Staheli:

  • When Hearts Conjoin (Utah’s Best of State Medal for Non‑fiction Literary Arts)
  • Tides Across the Sea
  • Just Like Elizabeth Taylor
  • Men of Destiny: Abraham Lincoln and the Prophet Joseph Smith
  • Living in an Osmond World
  • Been There, Done That, Bought the T‑Shirt
  • Books, Books, and More Books, vol. 2; A Parent and Teacher’s Guide to Adolescent Literature
  • Temporary Bridesmaid
  • Carny
  • Ebenezer

Winning While We Write!

Yesterday I sent a thank you to KelliAnne and Buster who run an inexpensive online-writing spot called 750words.com. (It’s FREE for a month — after that, $5 a month if you want to keep going.) Writing 750 words a day (or more — sometimes, I wrote thousands! ) on their site, I enjoyed their incentives like online “badges” for reaching particular goals through the 750. You NEVER have to write more than 750 words to “win” for that day. I seldom (any more) write that few. I just played around with it for a while, missing a day or two, here and there. Then I decided to try to lengthen my “streak” to something more substantial. I use the 750 to write journals, blogs, book/story ideas, notes from workshops, actual chapters or sections of books, schedules, etc. Not to mention its being just a place to let off some steam about something that’s got me riled.

NO ONE ever sees what you write . . . though I suppose you could make a copy and send it to a friend (or an enemy?) if you wanted to. The idea is to promise yourself to write AT LEAST 750 words a day. Of ANYthing. How tough is that? They often post encouraging words from other site members — but only when the member has SPECIFICALLY written kudos to them, or to all the writers on the site.

Every month, they host a challenge you can sign up for to try to write your 750 for one FULL MONTH without breaking your “streak”. I have NEVER started a daily 750 without doing AT LEAST that many words, though in the first month or two there were whole days, probably even a few days in a row, when I did not write at all.

I am now running on a 566 day streak: in other words, it’s been well over a year-and-a-half since I missed a day. Now I sign up for the monthly challenge EVERY month, and haven’t missed winning that challenge either, during the last year-and-a-half. Of the often 700 people or more who sign for the monthly challenge, approximately 1/3 of the group makes it through to the end of that month. Some drop out on the first day, others — heart-breakingly — wait to mess up their streak until the last week of the month, or even the last DAY.

Your writings are available for you to access any time you want, though they are closed to everyone else, so you won’t “lose” anything you’ve written. Ever, according to them. They have an interesting run-down at the end of each of your sessions that gives you all kinds of information about your writing: what mood you were in, the weather that day, which of the senses you used most, whether you wrote mostly about the past, present, or future, which words you used most often, etc. They also keep a running total of how many words you’ve written from your first day on. (I’ll be coming up on 1,000,000 words before very much longer — who knew?) It’s a fun, easy way to examine your own writing in ways you’ve perhaps never thought of before.

Need a new challenge, coupled with new ways to examine your output? I cannot recommend this site often enough, or strongly enough. Give it a try. It won’t cost you ANYTHING but your time for up to a month. And MAYBE it will help you reach your writing goal for the day. Every day!

It’s About Time for Writing

I’m dipping back into Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. I’ve had my copy for years (c. 1986 for my copy), don’t think I’ve yet read it cover‑to‑cover, but have made many notes on chapters/sections in the past, even adding quotes to hers, or jotting in notes of my own about a “new” writing idea or project. This time, I’m determined to read every single word.

Because of the book’s “age,” I did have to laugh when she talked about a writer’s equipment: pens, pencils, felt tips, fun notebooks, etc. First, I got a kick out of her buying cartoony notebooks on the back‑to‑school sales. Then she talked about some people directly typing out their thoughts, and that, no matter how you do it, writing is a very physical exercise, so the typing, which comes out in “block, black letters” may show you a different aspect of yourself. She touted handwriting as more connected to the “movement of the heart,” and I can even understand that. But when she said, “I have not worked very much with a computer, but I can imagine using a Macintosh . . . keyboard . . . on my lap . . . closing my eyes and just typing away. The computer automatically returns the carriage. The device is called ‘wrap‑around . . .” I won’t go on, but I was laughing my head off. I’m guessing she probably became a “convert” at some point.

But her advice, encouragement and no‑nonsense attitude about “practice writing” is GOLD. (Of course; it’s GOLDberg after all!) I used to have my high school students do this. I called it Qwik Write. And my rules were the same as hers:

  1. Keep your hand moving. (Don’t pause to reread the line you have just written. That’s stalling and trying to get control of what you’re saying.)
  2. Don’t cross out. (That is editing as you write. Even if you write something you didn’t mean to write, leave it.)
  3. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar. (Don’t even care about staying within the margins and lines on the page.*)
  4. Lose control.
  5. Don’t think. Don’t get logical.
  6. Go for the jugular (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.)**

* I didn’t have the last part of this rule about lines and margins. I wish I HAD given them that one too.

** I didn’t block subjects that came up, but I also didn’t think to tell them how much ENERGY that kind of writing might embody. Wish I’d told them that too!

I’m coupling the Goldberg book with re‑reading (and writing accordingly) Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. They are good companion pieces. Moreover, Cameron, in her list of books for “further study”, included Goldberg’s and a few others I happened to own already, so I pulled out M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled and the only fiction piece Cameron listed: The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (and I’m an absolute nut for all things Arthurian.) I’m working through these four books on a 12‑week venture (both Cameron’s and Peck’s are perfectly set up for completing in 12 weeks, the other two, it’s just a matter of setting daily number‑of‑pages goals.) I’ve added one other, on an “As‑I‑Have‑Time basis, but maybe it will GIVE me the extra time: Timeshifting by Stephan Rechtschaffen, M. D. ‑ a fascinating look at how we can shift and shape our perception of time to our advantage.

That’s MY 12‑Week‑Goal (in addition to continuing work on my current WIP). What do you want to accomplish in the next 12 weeks? Month? Week? Day?

For Cryin’ Out Loud!

Ever have one of those days when you find reasons to cry? All. Day. Long. I had one of those Saturday. At 4 a.m., I woke up thinking about being at the hospital the night my father died. My mother, who’d passed when I was only 27, died at the age of 63. A year‑plus later, my father remarried a woman who was the last of five sisters — the only one who’d never married. They had many happy years together, did quite a bit of traveling both with his work and after he’d retired. He’d always done a fair amount of physical work and was in good shape, but, eventually, the years caught up to him.

The family gathered at the hospital. His ragged breath betrayed his condition, every one sounding like his last. He was obviously stressed and pain‑ridden. One nephew sobbed the whole time — the rest of us only marginally better. My stepmother took it especially hard: now she was facing being “alone” again. She grasped his hands, calling out his name through her tears. I couldn’t stand the stress his mind and body were experiencing and finally took her shoulder and said, “You have to let him go. He’ll stay here as long as you need him, but it’s time. You have to let him go.” Heartbroken at my own words to her, words to my father, she finally let go, we all finally let go. Within a shuddering breath or two, he was gone.

That was years and years ago. I was not dreaming. But I lived that heart‑wrenching night again Saturday morning. I woke my husband.

“What? What’s wrong?” and I told him about my father’s last night, which I’d never before done.

That afternoon, we joined neighbors in our 50’s‑plus neighborhood to watch a musical: the old “King and I” with Yul Brynner. Herb and I had just seen a live performance of the show at the Legacy Theater in Centerville at the end of June. And I’ve never been able to get through any performance of that show without boo‑hooing all the way through about the “two young lovers,” the King, dying at the end; his too‑young son, perhaps not ready to pick up the burden and become king, so I was ready to do some more sobbing, thinking MAYBE I’d make it through this time without . . .

Then, as the group of us sat ready to begin the film, we heard about one of our neighbors: she’d just been awakened from a late nap by a neighbor, his wife . . . and the police. You may have seen the news: a 41‑year‑old man, walking his dog a couple of blocks from our West Valley complex was hit by a speeding driver — both man and dog killed instantly. This was our neighbor’s son, who lived with and cared for his ailing mother. Moreover, years ago, she’d endured losing her husband, a policeman, at the hands of a criminal.

More crying ensued. And more, again, during and after the film.

How much can one person endure? How does your main character recuperate from the blows dealt by life? What makes him or her cry? What makes him/her angry? Give up? Persist anyway? What does the stress do to your MC? What mistakes does s/he make under stress? What decisions must be made? What if some of them are the wrong decision?

We all live with stress. How do your characters react? How do they overcome? Or live with the consequences?