Tag Archives: Story

Find Your Tribe

By Laura D Bastian

I’m brand new in this world.

I’ve been a “writer” officially for just over five years. That’s when I decided that the little writing assignments for a class to renew my teaching license weren’t cutting it for me. A simple five page story turned into a two hundred plus page story. And it was awesome! To write. The finished result was very far from awesome, but the feeling of accomplishment when I completed that rough draft was beyond anything I’d felt before.

So of course after finishing it, I thought it would be a piece of cake to polish it up (read: double check for typos) and then send it out to a couple friends and family members to tell me how wonderful it was, and then look online to find a publishing house to get it ready for the world.

Yeah, I was that naïve.

But you know what. That’s okay. I learned from my own experience it wasn’t a great book. It was okay, had wonderful potential, but was just not ready. Don’t know if any of you have had a similar experience, but I would guess some of you have.

I was lucky enough to be flipping through a newspaper as I was getting ready to start a fire with it and I found an article about a local writers group just getting started up in my town. I set that page aside, started my fire, and then went right to the computer to email the contact given.  Cheri Chesley was starting a chapter of the League of Utah Writers in Tooele Utah. Funny side note, now I’m the chapter president of that same chapter 5 years later.

By finding my “tribe” I have blossomed and changed as a writer. I got involved in the monthly meetings with my chapter where we encouraged and supported one another. I found other writers online and made friends and connections with them. I started a critique group right away, and I learned so much about how unready my writing really was from those critique group members. They pointed out passive voice. Pointed out how I had little or no conflict, how nothing exciting was happening until way past the point any sane reader would have put the story down, how the characters were unlikeable or unrealistic, etc.  With that help, I could fix my story. If you do nothing else as a writer, GET A CRITIQUE GROUP. You have to find other people not your friends or family to look at your story and tell you what’s wrong with it. Some can give you exact reasons why it doesn’t work, some will just say, I was bored here, here, and here. But get someone to read your work.

And take your pride, put it in your pocket, and look at their advice. If it really doesn’t work for you, then don’t take it. However, if you find that more than one or two people are pointing out issues with the same thing, LISTEN to that advice.

In the five years I’ve been involved in the writing world, it has changed. When I first looked at it, Self Publishing was a horrible word to say, let alone think about doing. I wanted to go find an agent that would get me into one of the big publishing houses for that validation. And honestly I was a scaredy cat. I didn’t want to do it. I let my friends around me try it out. And by watching them brave this new world, I’ve learned a lot. They had the guts to go out there and make mistakes, but they learned from them and shared their experiences, then shared it with me and other writers in the world. Now, I have plans to go “indie” on a Young Adult urban fantasy series later this year and have a Young Adult Sci-fi coming out with a small press soon.

Now, I’m not saying either route of publishing is better. That decision is left to you to make, but look at your options. Get involved in discussions about it. There are tons of online writer support groups. Go to conferences, take classes, read books, sign up for newsletters from authors you like who give out advice, try new things, but whatever you do, don’t stay where you are. You will never learn and grow as a writer if you don’t make changes. The rough draft is never good enough. It took five years of reworking that story and writing a handful of other ones as I learned the craft to get that first book from horrible – but with potential, to something that was ready to see the world. It comes out next week.

_________________________

www.LauraDBastian.com

https://www.facebook.com/AuthorLauraDBastian

About Bonnie Gwyn Johnson

Bonnie Gwyn wrote her first book, about a talking grandfather clock, when she was six – and hasn’t stopped writing since. In fact, she can’t “not write,” and she wouldn’t have it any other way. She hasn’t missed a day of writing in her journal for the past four years!

As a winner in this year’s National Novel Writing Month challenge, Bonnie produced her latest dystopian novel, "Escaping Safety," and is now working on its sequel. She is also close to completing a fantasy romance series, "The Legends of Elldamorae," whose characters have captured her heart and can’t wait to have their stories revealed.

Bonnie’s mantra is, “I write because I believe every story deserves to be told.”

You can learn more about Bonnie, and read her inspirational blog posts, on Where Legends Begin at http://www.bonniegwyn.blogspot.com/

Bonnie Gwyn handles all guest bloggers on this website. Contact her if you would like to volunteer your time to share writing advice for The Authors' Think Tank.

Logic and Story: Getting your readers “buy in”

I can’t tell you how many times I see posts from writers who are trying to get their character to go from point A to point B, and they aren’t sure how to do it. It can be frustrating to have an outline that just isn’t working for you. I think this opens up some key ways to discover your main character and get your audience to “buy in” to your story. Let’s talk about logic.

Logic as defined is the study of methods and principals used to distinguish correct from incorrect reasoning.

If this is a true definition, then you need to know your character well enough to deduce the correct form of reasoning from the incorrect. Let’s say your character has two choices like Harry Potter did in the final book. Harry could either go after the deathly hallows or the horcruxes. What made Harry choose the way he did? It was his character, his logic, his reasoning… As an audience we need to know what our main character will chose by his/her point of view. 

Horcruxes-horcrux-hunters-26434096-500-500

With every movement/or scene we should see as readers, how it relates to the story you’re telling and the logic behind it. This is where pantsers have the upper hand to some degree. When your outline is too structured then your character’s logic dies and you lose your audience. It’s also a great way to look at all your editing as well. If the idea, situation, or scene is not supporting the logic of both the story and your character then take it out. It’s unnecessary.

Often times we see characters make wrong choices and their logic has everything to do with their moral fundamentals. Here you can toy with your audience to get an emotional response. Brandon Mull does this with his character Seth in his Fablehaven series. Time and time again Seth makes bad choices.

Maybe your character makes the wrong choice in a situation and the reader can see it puts them in harm’s way, or causes more problems for your main character. These choices come in forms of propositions where you can show off who your character is. Placing your character in a position to make a choice often helps us as writers to understand what the character would chose logically and can morph stories in ways that are unexpected and deeply interesting—many times much more so than what we had planned at the beginning.

The greatest philosopher both in ancient and modern times is none other than Aristotle. 

aristotle_stoneEven when he was wrong about something he was rarely questioned because of his strong logic.

Writers need to understand their characters logic so deeply that readers won’t question them. It needs to be believable because readers are smart and can’t be buffaloed into just anything you put on the page. Each line you write is a building block of reasoning to support your argument. Your argument is your story and you must convince the reader it’s real. The characters on your page need to become real people like you and I based on morals, convictions, and logic. If you can do this, then you’ll get the “buy in” you need to be successful.

 

Jennifer Bennett

About Jennifer Bennett

Jennifer J. Bennett was born in Southern California as the youngest of six children. Her imagination began to develop as a child creating worlds in her backyard. Books have always played a big role in her life; favorites growing up were “The Country Bunny” by Dubose Heyward, “The Light in the Attic”by Shel Silverstein, and “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’ Dell among many, many others. She also enjoys music, theater, travel, and cooking.

Jennifer moved from Southern California in 1989 and finished high school in Southern Utah where she met her husband Matthew Bennett who currently works in educational administration. They reside in St. George, Utah with four amazing kids: Haylee, Chase, Conner, and Libby. After her father was diagnosed with cancer, she began writing her first novel, “The Path”. Her father encouraged her to move forward with her writing and she has continued since. He passed away in 2009.

Jen, as her friends call her; can be found buzzing around California from time to time in search of magical elements from the past. She tries to balance fun, being a mom, and trying to be a grownup (which she really isn’t sure she ever wants to be).

Conflict and the Middle-grade Genre

51MU5VilKpL Conflict is a key element in every book. It is what moves the story forward. Without conflict the story wouldn’t happen and there would be no change in the characters. Not only does it help add depth to story it helps readers relate to the human condition—how we change and grow throughout life. I have found with writing middle-grade that the conflict needs to start right away. This can be an internal or external conflict, but the readers need it at the beginning to hook them in.

tumblr_mathr5TgZR1qa1iiqo1_1280Think about Harry Potter. In the very first chapter of The Sorcerer’s Stone, you have the conflict of this boy-wizard going to live with the worst family of muggles. This conflict is what grabs the readers and they stay with the story because they want to know what is going to happen to Harry as he grows up with non-magical-people. Of course that is not the conflict of the whole story but it is what gets us started.

There are many ways in which to add conflict to story. Some of the basic types of conflict are:

  • Man against manDaniel-Radcliffe-as-Harry-Potter-in-Warner-Brothers-Harry-Potter-and-The-Sorcerers-Stone-2001-2-650x1026
  • Man against nature
  • Man against society
  • Man against self.

Or, if we are speaking of Harry Potter, they would look like this:

  • Harry against Voldemort
  • Harry against the magic world (or the non magic world)
  • Harry against society (or the negative views of half-bloods)
  • Harry against Harry (his internal conflict with himself)

All of these conflicts are seen in the Harry Potter books and that is what makes the story so compelling. Once you think one conflict has been resolved we have another conflict to deal with. This helps to keep the book moving along and your readers interested.

You will find that successful middle-grade and young adult books have various levels of conflict in their story. They also have both internal (shows change in the character), like Harry’s struggles with himself abouhpss_040DanielRadcliffet the potential for being a dark wizard (we see this in the first book with the sorting hat), and external (the BIG conflict that moves the plot), like Harry’s quest to beat Professor Snap to getting the sorcerer’s stone.

When you think about conflict in creating your story think about two things: What is the BIG external conflict that moves the story, and what is the internal conflict that helps your character change over the course of the book? These are what will give your book a fantastic depth that readers will love. I hope you found this helpful. Happy Writing

Mikey Brooks

About Mikey Brooks

Mikey Brooks is a small child masquerading as an adult. On occasion you’ll catch him dancing the funky chicken, singing like a banshee, and pretending to have never grown up. He is an award-winning author of the middle-grade fantasy adventure series The Dream Keeper Chronicles. His other middle-grade books include: The Gates of Atlantis: Battle for Acropolis and The Stone of Valhalla. His picture books include the best-selling ABC Adventures: Magical Creatures, Trouble with Bernie, and Bean’s Dragons. Mikey has a BS degree in English from Utah State University and works fulltime as a freelance illustrator, cover designer, and author. His art can be seen in many forms from picture books to full room murals. He loves to daydream with his three daughters and explore the worlds that only the imagination of children can create. As a member of the Emblazoners, he is one of many authors devoted to ‘writing stories on the hearts of children’ (emblazoners.com). You can find more about him and his books at: www.insidemikeysworld.com.

First Story: Gilgamesh the Blockbuster

gilgamesh01

Last semester I took a World Literature class that sparked my interest. One assignment assigned was to read the story of “Gilgamesh”. I had heard the name before but had never read the story. So, I think I’ll give you a small bit of information about it before I go into the jist of the post.

“Gilgamesh is one of the oldest recorded stories in the world. It tells the story of an ancient King of Uruk, Gilgamesh, who may have actually existed, and whose name is on the Sumerian King List. The story of Gilgamesh, in various Sumerian versions, was originally widely known in the third millennium B.C. After a long history of retelling  this story was recorded, in a standardized Akkadian version, in the seventh century B.C., and stored in the famous library of King Assurbanipal.

Later, the story of Gilgamesh was lost to human memory, except for occasional fragments. The story was rediscovered in the mid-nineteenth century A.D., and made available in translation to German by the beginning of the twentieth century. People were especially amazed when they read this most ancient of stories, and realized that the flood story in Gilgamesh was a close analogue of the flood story in the Hebrew Bible” (Thompson)

I could go on and on about the historical aspects of the story and I would encourage you to read up on the tale. It’s extremely interesting. But, what I really wanted to touch base on was how a story written thousands of years ago could still resonate with people today.

As I read the tale, it read like an epic journey much like “Lord of the Rings” or “Harry Potter”. I was surprised that the oldest known story on record was so riveting, adventurous, character driven, and emotional. It’s as good as any Blockbuster movie written today. So, I wanted to look at why that was.

The story starts out with a protagonist, Gilgamesh. He’s a king… part god, part man. A rather stuck on himself sort of guy who wants immediate fame and to remembered as someone famous. He’s bothered that his hunting excursions aren’t going as planned and goes to his mother with his problem. The issue stems from a wild man who runs with the animals and is chasing the animals away out of the traps. His mother suggests Gilgamesh hire a prostitute to tame the man so he would no longer want to run with the beasts.

So, here we have an unlikely protagonist who is hiring a prostitute for another guy (This definitely has blockbuster appeal that Copella or Scorsese would faun over). The plan works well for Gilgamesh and the wild man who we learn to know as Enkido, becomes like a brother to Gilgamesh and is even welcomed into his house. The two men go on a quest of sorts that turns into the death of Enkido (The gods, temptation and revenge are all involved making this a rather juicy tale).

Heartbroken Gilgamesh searches both inwardly and physically for a “fountain of youth” to hide from death. So, again he goes out to find fame and through the gods and is remarkably able to find such a thing. Yet, in his human error looses it to a serpent. There’s much more to the story but that’s the general plot.

I’m encouraged by the complexity of Gilgamesh and impressed that ever since time began, it has captured the imagination of people. It’s fun to find stories that continue to provide a window to the human spirit that’s timeless and inspiring. AS writers we need to look at how stories make an impression and use that in our own writing. If you get a chance, I encourage you to read Gilgamesh. Who knows, with what Hollywood comes out with today, they might want to take a look at this tale.

Jennifer Bennett

About Jennifer Bennett

Jennifer J. Bennett was born in Southern California as the youngest of six children. Her imagination began to develop as a child creating worlds in her backyard. Books have always played a big role in her life; favorites growing up were “The Country Bunny” by Dubose Heyward, “The Light in the Attic”by Shel Silverstein, and “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’ Dell among many, many others. She also enjoys music, theater, travel, and cooking.

Jennifer moved from Southern California in 1989 and finished high school in Southern Utah where she met her husband Matthew Bennett who currently works in educational administration. They reside in St. George, Utah with four amazing kids: Haylee, Chase, Conner, and Libby. After her father was diagnosed with cancer, she began writing her first novel, “The Path”. Her father encouraged her to move forward with her writing and she has continued since. He passed away in 2009.

Jen, as her friends call her; can be found buzzing around California from time to time in search of magical elements from the past. She tries to balance fun, being a mom, and trying to be a grownup (which she really isn’t sure she ever wants to be).

Urban Legends in Writing

Who hasn’t heard the story about the escaped inmate with a hook for a hand who goes after teenagers necking atop a hill—or maybe the one about the man hiding in the backseat of some pretty lady’s car—perhaps the story about the babysitter being phone stocked by a serial killer?  These stories were famous when I was in my early teens and I still find them fascinating to hear.  These are the scary stories that hit too close to home.  They are urban legends.

With so many blockbuster movies based off urban legends I had to try and discover what makes these stories so successful.

Like most story structures there are rules that have to be followed.  The most important rule with urban legends is that it has to be believable.  There’s no suspension of belief here folks.  Urban legends are reality…well, not really, but as writers of them you need to make it so.  That is why most urban legends are told in a specific way.  “Let me tell you a story that happened to my friend’s cousin’s friend one late night in October…” If the story is about someone you know, even long distantly, the story becomes closer.  You don’t even have to have the story about someone you know it could just happen in your own backyard.  Think about the way you feel when you see on the news that some woman was shot to death by her husband on the street just a block away.  So, number one rule: make the story believable and familiar.

This is what makes up an urban legend:

  1. An innocent victim, preferably a female is doing something they ought not (most of the time urban legends are trying to share a morality lesson).  Most of the time they are isolated and alone.  The victim, or victims, is unaware of their surroundings.
  2. An evil attacker, preferably an ambiguous male with a mental instability.
  3. The story needs to play off human fears.
  4. The story normally happens at night and in a rural setting.
  5. A hero, preferable male and in an authoritative position comes in right at the end to save the day—sometimes not.
  6. There is what’s called the rule of three: meaning the same thing happens two times before the final third.  Like in the story of “the Hook” the escaped inmate attempts to open the car door two times before the couple speed off in their car.  The third time the hook is found on the car door.  Remember the rule of three.  The reader is aware something is going to happen, and happen, and BOOM—it happens.

I challenge you to create an urban legend, a story that seems plausible that happened to you or a close friend—perhaps in your neighborhood.  Use the rules above to structure the story and see what happens.  Hope you found this helpful. Happy Writing!

Mikey Brooks

About Mikey Brooks

Mikey Brooks is a small child masquerading as an adult. On occasion you’ll catch him dancing the funky chicken, singing like a banshee, and pretending to have never grown up. He is an award-winning author of the middle-grade fantasy adventure series The Dream Keeper Chronicles. His other middle-grade books include: The Gates of Atlantis: Battle for Acropolis and The Stone of Valhalla. His picture books include the best-selling ABC Adventures: Magical Creatures, Trouble with Bernie, and Bean’s Dragons. Mikey has a BS degree in English from Utah State University and works fulltime as a freelance illustrator, cover designer, and author. His art can be seen in many forms from picture books to full room murals. He loves to daydream with his three daughters and explore the worlds that only the imagination of children can create. As a member of the Emblazoners, he is one of many authors devoted to ‘writing stories on the hearts of children’ (emblazoners.com). You can find more about him and his books at: www.insidemikeysworld.com.

Stories: They come back over time

As a writer, I find myself in love with film. I think we can all say film and novels go hand in hand. Today we see most blockbuster films coming directly from novels written by award winning authors. Some films do better than others, but all book related movies seem to be the most popular. I saw the film “Black Swan” the other night and before I tell you what I thought of it, I’m going to give you a history lesson of sorts on another film, The Red Shoes (1948). This is a film I watched over and over as child.

“The Red Shoes” was written and based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. (Other fairy tales he wrote included “The Little Mermaid”, “The Princess and the Pea”, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, “The Little Match Girl”, “The Snow Queen”, “Thumeblina”, “The Wild Swans”, “The Ugly Duckling” and “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”). Interestingly enough, Hans’s father was an independent shoemaker, with a workshop in their living room.

In “The Red Shoes” story, there’s a shoemaker who plays a strong role in creating the life of the shoes themselves. The shoes tempt a customer to place them on their feet and then the shoes take hold and dance the wearer to death (Some might say it was the story of Hans himself). It’s a dark story of desire and passion for art which ultimately in the movie version, takes hold of the actress playing its role; exactly like “The Black Swan”. Both stories are about ballerinas who get their huge break by the owner of the ballet company taking them on as the lead role of a new ballet. Both stories end with the lead actresses’ death because of the roles they play which over take over their lives (Both movies also became award winning films).

These are all similar aspects of the two films and there’s many more but I think you get the idea. The differences however, are the take on the stories. “The Red Shoes” is romantic, driven, and very mystical. The “Black Swan” takes a stronger approach of a psycho/sexual thriller; both films were written for the current audiences tastes. Now the similarities of the films are uncanny.  I think the most interesting portion is how these roles not only showed duelality, but, have greatly affected the lives of the actresses themselves.

The lead of “The Black Swan” Natalie Portman physically acts out metamorphosing into a Black Swan. Although her role is psychotic and dark she sees her future as her aged mother; a retired ballerina who ended her career because of her pregnancy. In real life Natalie Portman finds herself pregnant after acting the role in film by the choreographer of the very same film. Moira Shearer, the lead in “The Red Shoes” experienced welcoming a child following her film with the headlines from the “Sydney Morning Herald”, “Pink Booties for Red Shoes”.

Most stories that are popular and have resonance; in this case it seems that Hans Christian Andersen was the base of this resonance. I enjoyed watching “The Black Swan” and found Natalie Portman brilliant in her role. The direction was superb, costuming lovely, and the film kept me on edge of my seat. I don’t think it’s a film for everyone. It does borderline horror, unlike “The Red Shoes”. So, for those who have issues watching lesbian love scenes and bloody images I say watch “The Red Shoes”. It’s pretty much the same but without all the smut.

Good stories have a tendency to come back time and time again. This doesn’t mean as authors we need to reinvent the wheel. Many times we need to look at great stories and tell them to the generation we live in. Sometimes that calls for us to use elements from older stories into our own creation. Take a look at stories you loved as a child. See how you can create that same magic today. I would however, prefer you to keep it cleaner. If you do come up with something, maybe you’ll be the next famous person sitting at the Oscars?

Jennifer Bennett

About Jennifer Bennett

Jennifer J. Bennett was born in Southern California as the youngest of six children. Her imagination began to develop as a child creating worlds in her backyard. Books have always played a big role in her life; favorites growing up were “The Country Bunny” by Dubose Heyward, “The Light in the Attic”by Shel Silverstein, and “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’ Dell among many, many others. She also enjoys music, theater, travel, and cooking.

Jennifer moved from Southern California in 1989 and finished high school in Southern Utah where she met her husband Matthew Bennett who currently works in educational administration. They reside in St. George, Utah with four amazing kids: Haylee, Chase, Conner, and Libby. After her father was diagnosed with cancer, she began writing her first novel, “The Path”. Her father encouraged her to move forward with her writing and she has continued since. He passed away in 2009.

Jen, as her friends call her; can be found buzzing around California from time to time in search of magical elements from the past. She tries to balance fun, being a mom, and trying to be a grownup (which she really isn’t sure she ever wants to be).