Thursday, June 22, 2017

I write stories about teens facing real-world problems in a today-ish setting. I say today-ish, because the biggest dilemma of writing a contemporary story is this:

The world doesn't stand still while you write. Major changes happen every day, to cultures, to landmarks, to technology.

Those unanticipated changes can make your story absolutely laughable.

I'll give an example from one of my books. I started writing it after a trip to the UK in 2006, and had spent the weeks doing heavy on-the-ground research. But for various reasons I won't go into here, I didn't finally publish that book until 2012.

Guess what happened in the UK in 2012? The London Summer Olympics.

One of my scenes that takes place in a London train station, which I'd blocked out step by step in 2006, couldn't have happened the year I published. Big modifications were made to all rail stations in anticipation of the Olympics that upped the level of security. Yet I knew readers would expect my "contemporary" story published in 2012 to be set in 2012.

So what's a writer to do?

Backdate your story. It's that simple.

I now call my stories "near historical" because they are set in the late-2000s (Never Gone, 2007-08; Almost There, 2009). This enables me to "lock down" particular landmarks, technologies, and character interaction with world history (for example, my protagonist would be old enough to actually remember 9/11). It helped me make decisions about what tech would be available and most likely used, considering my characters' socio-economic backgrounds. The rapid change of tech and trends among teens alone makes "near historical" a good option for YA contemporary authors.

How you add in time markers depends on your story. Here are some ideas:

Dated chapter titles
Dated correspondence (snail mail, e-mail) within the story
News headlines or broadcasts (quoted or paraphrased)
Mentions of historic events
Mentions of time spans
Mentions of birth or death dates
Character participation (direct or indirect) in historic events

What do you think of the "contemporary fiction dilemma"? What other solutions besides writing "near historical" have you seen used effectively?


Thursday, June 22, 2017 Laurel Garver
I write stories about teens facing real-world problems in a today-ish setting. I say today-ish, because the biggest dilemma of writing a contemporary story is this:

The world doesn't stand still while you write. Major changes happen every day, to cultures, to landmarks, to technology.

Those unanticipated changes can make your story absolutely laughable.

I'll give an example from one of my books. I started writing it after a trip to the UK in 2006, and had spent the weeks doing heavy on-the-ground research. But for various reasons I won't go into here, I didn't finally publish that book until 2012.

Guess what happened in the UK in 2012? The London Summer Olympics.

One of my scenes that takes place in a London train station, which I'd blocked out step by step in 2006, couldn't have happened the year I published. Big modifications were made to all rail stations in anticipation of the Olympics that upped the level of security. Yet I knew readers would expect my "contemporary" story published in 2012 to be set in 2012.

So what's a writer to do?

Backdate your story. It's that simple.

I now call my stories "near historical" because they are set in the late-2000s (Never Gone, 2007-08; Almost There, 2009). This enables me to "lock down" particular landmarks, technologies, and character interaction with world history (for example, my protagonist would be old enough to actually remember 9/11). It helped me make decisions about what tech would be available and most likely used, considering my characters' socio-economic backgrounds. The rapid change of tech and trends among teens alone makes "near historical" a good option for YA contemporary authors.

How you add in time markers depends on your story. Here are some ideas:

Dated chapter titles
Dated correspondence (snail mail, e-mail) within the story
News headlines or broadcasts (quoted or paraphrased)
Mentions of historic events
Mentions of time spans
Mentions of birth or death dates
Character participation (direct or indirect) in historic events

What do you think of the "contemporary fiction dilemma"? What other solutions besides writing "near historical" have you seen used effectively?


Thursday, June 08, 2017

When I first started this blog in 2009, blog "awards" were all the rage. I think 2010-11 was a peak period, in which I received and passed along more than a dozen. By 2013 no one was doing them any more, and it made me a little sad. I can see how they might seem like public chain letters, but by golly they are fun. They give you something entertaining to blog about when all your creativity has gone into finishing a fantastic chapter the night before.

So I will not be joining the anti-blog-award brigade. Nope. I'll be having some fun. So here goes....

There are rules to this award, of course…
Rule 1: Put the award logo/image on your blog.

Rule 2: List the rules.

Rule 3: Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog.

Big thanks for the nomination to awesome A-Z Blogging challenge co-host J. Lenni Dorner, who I knew on Twitter for some time before becoming blog buddies.

Rule 4: Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well.
About the creator: Okoto Enigma’s blog 
The creator’s name, Enigma, means mystery, thus the title of the award.

Rule 5: Tell your readers three things about yourself.

1) I can identify nearly any early 1980s pop song within five measures or less. I was obsessed with America's Top 40 in my misspent youth. (I could have been memorizing Pi to the 400th decimal place or all the world capitals or something a little less frivolous). My husband sometimes makes me demonstrate my skill for guests.

2) I did props management and set decoration for about a dozen college productions, as well as for some community theatre shows. Once I'm an empty nester, I will likely take it up again. It is so much fun to build the material culture for a play.

3) I'm convinced that one of my childhood homes was haunted. We often heard movement in distant rooms, and one of the bedrooms has a distinct cold spot. I sensed the presence of our ghost more than once, particularly in the daytime when playing alone. My sense was that it was a young woman who'd perhaps died in childbirth and continued going about the business of taking care of her family, as if unaware she was dead.

Rule 6: Nominate other bloggers. (I'm going to cheat a little on this one. Twenty is a bit much).

Faith Hough
Jean Davis
Nick Wilford
Samantha Dunaway Bryant
Tyrean Martinson

Rule 7: Notify those people.

Rule 8: Ask your nominee any five questions of your choice, plus one weird or funny question.

The questions I have for my nominees are:
1) What are three things on your "bucket list"?
2) Which authors have influenced you in terms of genre, style, or theme?
3) What book's milieu (place, time, culture) would you most like to live in?
4) What are your favorite writing resources?
5) What's the best book you've read recently?
Fun/weird bonus:  Have you ever developed a "book crush" on a fictional character? Who and why?


I was asked
1) What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of a fictional book character you’ve read?

Anne Shirley's intense flights of fancy into imaginary worlds (Anne of Green Gables series). I didn't read the books until post-college and felt like L.M. Montgomery could have been writing my girlhood (minus the orphan thing, and living in the 1880s, obvs).

2) What most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

New printed books are a purchase I have to justify because of the space issue and the expense. I have to be convinced I will read it more than once, use it as a resource or model text, or will likely share it. A great sale might also convince me. I'm freer about picking up used books and ebooks--the former aren't as big an expense, the latter less a clutter creator.

3) How do YOU make an educated guess as to if a book by an author you haven’t read before will be “good” BEFORE you read any of it?

The description has to grab me. I can more quickly get past an ugly cover than this. And I never buy or download stuff--even freebies--without reading a sample. Because a great cover blurb of an interesting premise sometimes doesn't translate into style that draws me in. I'm a voice-driven writer and tend to be a voice-driven reader also.

4) What’s your favorite comfort food?

Mashed potatoes. My husband has a killer technique of boiling garlic cloves with the potatoes, then hand-mashing the cooked garlic into the cooked potatoes, along with sour cream, butter, and white pepper.

5) Where do you look for blogging inspiration?

My monthly critique group meetings often provide fodder, as does Twitter--sometimes a random post will catch my eye, sometimes a grammar or spelling error in a tweet will inspire an editing topic.

Weird/funny question: Do you have a celebrity encounter story you can share?

I am almost phobic about rubbing elbows with someone famous and doing something stupid, so I tend to go out of my way to avoid contact, even when given special access, like at comic conventions. So if there's a celebrity around, I will be trying to quietly creep away.


Rule 9: Share a link to my blog’s best post.
Rebel that I am, I'll share two. :-)

One of my analyses of Harry Potter characters continues to get the most hits. It's third in a series

What makes a villain? Part 3: Hero in Villain's Clothing

A newer post with nearly as many pageviews is this one on my revision process:

How I Do It: Identifying Story Weaknesses

Q4U: Do you miss the "good old days" of writing blogs (before 2012)? 
Answer any (or all) of my six questions listed under "rule 8."
Thursday, June 08, 2017 Laurel Garver
When I first started this blog in 2009, blog "awards" were all the rage. I think 2010-11 was a peak period, in which I received and passed along more than a dozen. By 2013 no one was doing them any more, and it made me a little sad. I can see how they might seem like public chain letters, but by golly they are fun. They give you something entertaining to blog about when all your creativity has gone into finishing a fantastic chapter the night before.

So I will not be joining the anti-blog-award brigade. Nope. I'll be having some fun. So here goes....

There are rules to this award, of course…
Rule 1: Put the award logo/image on your blog.

Rule 2: List the rules.

Rule 3: Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog.

Big thanks for the nomination to awesome A-Z Blogging challenge co-host J. Lenni Dorner, who I knew on Twitter for some time before becoming blog buddies.

Rule 4: Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well.
About the creator: Okoto Enigma’s blog 
The creator’s name, Enigma, means mystery, thus the title of the award.

Rule 5: Tell your readers three things about yourself.

1) I can identify nearly any early 1980s pop song within five measures or less. I was obsessed with America's Top 40 in my misspent youth. (I could have been memorizing Pi to the 400th decimal place or all the world capitals or something a little less frivolous). My husband sometimes makes me demonstrate my skill for guests.

2) I did props management and set decoration for about a dozen college productions, as well as for some community theatre shows. Once I'm an empty nester, I will likely take it up again. It is so much fun to build the material culture for a play.

3) I'm convinced that one of my childhood homes was haunted. We often heard movement in distant rooms, and one of the bedrooms has a distinct cold spot. I sensed the presence of our ghost more than once, particularly in the daytime when playing alone. My sense was that it was a young woman who'd perhaps died in childbirth and continued going about the business of taking care of her family, as if unaware she was dead.

Rule 6: Nominate other bloggers. (I'm going to cheat a little on this one. Twenty is a bit much).

Faith Hough
Jean Davis
Nick Wilford
Samantha Dunaway Bryant
Tyrean Martinson

Rule 7: Notify those people.

Rule 8: Ask your nominee any five questions of your choice, plus one weird or funny question.

The questions I have for my nominees are:
1) What are three things on your "bucket list"?
2) Which authors have influenced you in terms of genre, style, or theme?
3) What book's milieu (place, time, culture) would you most like to live in?
4) What are your favorite writing resources?
5) What's the best book you've read recently?
Fun/weird bonus:  Have you ever developed a "book crush" on a fictional character? Who and why?


I was asked
1) What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of a fictional book character you’ve read?

Anne Shirley's intense flights of fancy into imaginary worlds (Anne of Green Gables series). I didn't read the books until post-college and felt like L.M. Montgomery could have been writing my girlhood (minus the orphan thing, and living in the 1880s, obvs).

2) What most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

New printed books are a purchase I have to justify because of the space issue and the expense. I have to be convinced I will read it more than once, use it as a resource or model text, or will likely share it. A great sale might also convince me. I'm freer about picking up used books and ebooks--the former aren't as big an expense, the latter less a clutter creator.

3) How do YOU make an educated guess as to if a book by an author you haven’t read before will be “good” BEFORE you read any of it?

The description has to grab me. I can more quickly get past an ugly cover than this. And I never buy or download stuff--even freebies--without reading a sample. Because a great cover blurb of an interesting premise sometimes doesn't translate into style that draws me in. I'm a voice-driven writer and tend to be a voice-driven reader also.

4) What’s your favorite comfort food?

Mashed potatoes. My husband has a killer technique of boiling garlic cloves with the potatoes, then hand-mashing the cooked garlic into the cooked potatoes, along with sour cream, butter, and white pepper.

5) Where do you look for blogging inspiration?

My monthly critique group meetings often provide fodder, as does Twitter--sometimes a random post will catch my eye, sometimes a grammar or spelling error in a tweet will inspire an editing topic.

Weird/funny question: Do you have a celebrity encounter story you can share?

I am almost phobic about rubbing elbows with someone famous and doing something stupid, so I tend to go out of my way to avoid contact, even when given special access, like at comic conventions. So if there's a celebrity around, I will be trying to quietly creep away.


Rule 9: Share a link to my blog’s best post.
Rebel that I am, I'll share two. :-)

One of my analyses of Harry Potter characters continues to get the most hits. It's third in a series

What makes a villain? Part 3: Hero in Villain's Clothing

A newer post with nearly as many pageviews is this one on my revision process:

How I Do It: Identifying Story Weaknesses

Q4U: Do you miss the "good old days" of writing blogs (before 2012)? 
Answer any (or all) of my six questions listed under "rule 8."

Thursday, June 01, 2017

True confession. I feel like I ought to like reading romances. I generally prefer a happy ending to a sad one. But each time I've tried one--especially the Kindle First offerings to Prime members--I've been disappointed.

The romance plot model has become so entrenched, it no longer allows room for any genuine surprises. I know there will be some dumb thing that separates heroine and hero at roughly the midpoint and that dumb thing will clear up in a matter of chapters. I know the heroine will be beautiful, as will the hero, though one or both will be clueless about this or insecure in some way. If one of them has a deep, dark secret, the counterpart will have a corresponding one. Even in the hands of a great wordsmith, the formula clunks along as usual, boring me to tears.

I'd love to know if there are established writers out there who have earned a free pass to write plots that don't follow the predictable formula of boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-wins-girl-back-again. I'd like to see some heroines who aren't the usual healthy, educated, white, and beautiful. How about a blind protagonist, or one with a learning disability, or someone biracial or average looking but brainy, or even disfigured (say an amputee veteran)? You find characters like this in literary fiction, women's fiction, romantic comedy, YA and MG. It would be great to see their love stories, and have a departure from the same-old, same-old.


Is there a genre you've tried but just can't connect to? Why do you think that is? 

Is there a romance author doing something unique I might actually enjoy? Do tell. 


Thursday, June 01, 2017 Laurel Garver
True confession. I feel like I ought to like reading romances. I generally prefer a happy ending to a sad one. But each time I've tried one--especially the Kindle First offerings to Prime members--I've been disappointed.

The romance plot model has become so entrenched, it no longer allows room for any genuine surprises. I know there will be some dumb thing that separates heroine and hero at roughly the midpoint and that dumb thing will clear up in a matter of chapters. I know the heroine will be beautiful, as will the hero, though one or both will be clueless about this or insecure in some way. If one of them has a deep, dark secret, the counterpart will have a corresponding one. Even in the hands of a great wordsmith, the formula clunks along as usual, boring me to tears.

I'd love to know if there are established writers out there who have earned a free pass to write plots that don't follow the predictable formula of boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-wins-girl-back-again. I'd like to see some heroines who aren't the usual healthy, educated, white, and beautiful. How about a blind protagonist, or one with a learning disability, or someone biracial or average looking but brainy, or even disfigured (say an amputee veteran)? You find characters like this in literary fiction, women's fiction, romantic comedy, YA and MG. It would be great to see their love stories, and have a departure from the same-old, same-old.


Is there a genre you've tried but just can't connect to? Why do you think that is? 

Is there a romance author doing something unique I might actually enjoy? Do tell. 


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Research often gets a bad rap in fiction-writing circles. Everyone seems to know at least one aspiring author who got lost on the Planet Library, having followed one interesting tidbit after another deep into the stacks, never to return. Never to actually turn the acquired knowledge into a story.

No one wants to become that guy.

One the other extreme, some consider doing any research a waste of time, since fiction is supposed to be "all make believe." But make believe that doesn't have some grounding in researched reality will likely be drawn from your limited experience, or worse, from cliches.

Somewhere between these extremes of no research and nothing but research is the sweet spot of doing some research. As Robert McKee says in Story, “No matter how talented, the ignorant cannot write. Talent must be stimulated by facts and ideas. Do research. Feed your talent. Research not only wins the war on cliché, it’s the key to victory over fear and its cousin, depression.”

Today, I'd like to touch on a few areas of research that will help you build fantastic, memorable characters. When you take the time to know your characters' worlds deeply, you'll be able to develop more dynamic plots and relationships, and you'll be more equipped to develop each character's unique voice in dialogue.

Knowledge base

In order to write realistic characters and create believable plots, you need to know what your characters know—or at least a big enough slice to accurately represent their daily activities and thought patterns.

How educated are your characters? What special areas of knowledge or training do they have?
Read up as much as possible on topics that would interest your character. Educate yourself about the routines and general lifestyle of their particular vocation, whether an elementary school student or astrophysicist, a milkmaid or Baronet. Use written resources to build your general knowledge, develop questions to ask experts, and create lists of things you’d like to observe.

Cultural/historical influences 

If you’re writing a protagonist who isn’t an autobiographical stand-in for yourself, chances are this person has a different history and may be shaped by different cultural influences. She might be from another generation, another socioeconomic class, another geographical region, another subculture.

Familiarize yourself with important historic events that happened during their lifetime, as well as the lifetime of key family members (parents, siblings, grandparents). You might be surprised especially when writing younger characters: events that shaped your life may have no relevance to them at all. Characters from previous generations might have had contact with technology you’ve never heard of, and be deeply shaped by problems long forgotten in our day (are you noticing a pattern here?).

People from other cultures have different sets of stars and heroes. They value different virtues, and overlook (or punish) different vices. They have different ways of interpreting history and their own circumstances than you might looking in from the outside. So dig in. Get to know your character’s cultural world.

Your goal should be to understand your character’s surrounding influences and the choices s/he is likely to make based on those influences.

Family dynamics

No matter what genre you write, it’s helpful to do some reading in the social sciences. Because everyone is typically born or adopted into a family, research on family dynamics can be useful.

Some helpful sub-categories to explore:
Marriage dynamics
Birth order and personality
Sibling dynamics
Intergenerational influence and conflict
Rights and responsibilities of various family roles in history

If you write about a futuristic setting, these works may become jumping-off points for world building. Consider a world in which no middle children exist, or where marital bonds are for a fixed period, say ten years. How would that affect individual families and culture at large? Speculative fiction writers might also find it helpful to read about family dynamics in ages past, such as texts from ancient Rome about family life.

Associations

Associations are “tip of the mind” thoughts that, like icebergs, show only a portion of the whole story. Most of the mass is hidden under the surface, whether it’s a mass of history or emotion. Associations can be a shorthand way of showing what kind of past experiences the character has gone through, what he values, and what forms of culture shape him. Associations show up in the way characters describe things, and especially how they make comparisons, such as similes and metaphors. Here are two examples from my novel Never Gone:

Images burst in my mind like sudden sun through stained glass.

This person is someone who frequents:
a. sport arenas
b. churches
c. suburban malls

“Crikey,” Uncle says. “We’re in Dante’s eighth circle of hell.”

This person is...
a. a man of the soil who works with his hands
b. an Irish dancer who dreams of becoming the next Michael Flatley
c. an educated bloke who has studied Classical literature

The simile and metaphor in each of these examples pours a great deal of back story into the characters without my having to tell you “Dani grew up attending church every Sunday without fail,” or “Uncle Philip took a First in Classics before attending law school.” As a reader, I’d be bored being told these rather dull facts. It’s far more interesting to see how life experiences shape the characters’ minds.

In the second example, I used a particular kind of association, a reference to other literature (or film or music) called an allusion. Allusions can be used strategically to bring themes of the other work to bear on yours. My example alludes to Dante’s Inferno. In it, the eighth circle of hell (ditch nine) is for “sowers of discord”—people who cause conflict and dissension between others—and their fate is to be cut to pieces. This is thematically important to the story, and the uncle’s role especially.

Before you begin researching associations, brainstorm to determine a few key environmental pieces for each character, whether they are career, family of origin, hobby, or other influence. Having more than one will make for an interesting, multi-layered personality, rather than a repetitive, one-note character. These elements should be important for how the character interacts with others and move the plot along, otherwise they will become tangents that muddy the story rather than enhance it.

Research the environmental factor and record key terms, images, events, allusions, etc. that can be worked into your character’s conversations and thought life.

Which of these areas of research intrigues you most? What things do you need to research to make your current project's characters more vibrant and realistic?

Thursday, May 25, 2017 Laurel Garver
Research often gets a bad rap in fiction-writing circles. Everyone seems to know at least one aspiring author who got lost on the Planet Library, having followed one interesting tidbit after another deep into the stacks, never to return. Never to actually turn the acquired knowledge into a story.

No one wants to become that guy.

One the other extreme, some consider doing any research a waste of time, since fiction is supposed to be "all make believe." But make believe that doesn't have some grounding in researched reality will likely be drawn from your limited experience, or worse, from cliches.

Somewhere between these extremes of no research and nothing but research is the sweet spot of doing some research. As Robert McKee says in Story, “No matter how talented, the ignorant cannot write. Talent must be stimulated by facts and ideas. Do research. Feed your talent. Research not only wins the war on cliché, it’s the key to victory over fear and its cousin, depression.”

Today, I'd like to touch on a few areas of research that will help you build fantastic, memorable characters. When you take the time to know your characters' worlds deeply, you'll be able to develop more dynamic plots and relationships, and you'll be more equipped to develop each character's unique voice in dialogue.

Knowledge base

In order to write realistic characters and create believable plots, you need to know what your characters know—or at least a big enough slice to accurately represent their daily activities and thought patterns.

How educated are your characters? What special areas of knowledge or training do they have?
Read up as much as possible on topics that would interest your character. Educate yourself about the routines and general lifestyle of their particular vocation, whether an elementary school student or astrophysicist, a milkmaid or Baronet. Use written resources to build your general knowledge, develop questions to ask experts, and create lists of things you’d like to observe.

Cultural/historical influences 

If you’re writing a protagonist who isn’t an autobiographical stand-in for yourself, chances are this person has a different history and may be shaped by different cultural influences. She might be from another generation, another socioeconomic class, another geographical region, another subculture.

Familiarize yourself with important historic events that happened during their lifetime, as well as the lifetime of key family members (parents, siblings, grandparents). You might be surprised especially when writing younger characters: events that shaped your life may have no relevance to them at all. Characters from previous generations might have had contact with technology you’ve never heard of, and be deeply shaped by problems long forgotten in our day (are you noticing a pattern here?).

People from other cultures have different sets of stars and heroes. They value different virtues, and overlook (or punish) different vices. They have different ways of interpreting history and their own circumstances than you might looking in from the outside. So dig in. Get to know your character’s cultural world.

Your goal should be to understand your character’s surrounding influences and the choices s/he is likely to make based on those influences.

Family dynamics

No matter what genre you write, it’s helpful to do some reading in the social sciences. Because everyone is typically born or adopted into a family, research on family dynamics can be useful.

Some helpful sub-categories to explore:
Marriage dynamics
Birth order and personality
Sibling dynamics
Intergenerational influence and conflict
Rights and responsibilities of various family roles in history

If you write about a futuristic setting, these works may become jumping-off points for world building. Consider a world in which no middle children exist, or where marital bonds are for a fixed period, say ten years. How would that affect individual families and culture at large? Speculative fiction writers might also find it helpful to read about family dynamics in ages past, such as texts from ancient Rome about family life.

Associations

Associations are “tip of the mind” thoughts that, like icebergs, show only a portion of the whole story. Most of the mass is hidden under the surface, whether it’s a mass of history or emotion. Associations can be a shorthand way of showing what kind of past experiences the character has gone through, what he values, and what forms of culture shape him. Associations show up in the way characters describe things, and especially how they make comparisons, such as similes and metaphors. Here are two examples from my novel Never Gone:

Images burst in my mind like sudden sun through stained glass.

This person is someone who frequents:
a. sport arenas
b. churches
c. suburban malls

“Crikey,” Uncle says. “We’re in Dante’s eighth circle of hell.”

This person is...
a. a man of the soil who works with his hands
b. an Irish dancer who dreams of becoming the next Michael Flatley
c. an educated bloke who has studied Classical literature

The simile and metaphor in each of these examples pours a great deal of back story into the characters without my having to tell you “Dani grew up attending church every Sunday without fail,” or “Uncle Philip took a First in Classics before attending law school.” As a reader, I’d be bored being told these rather dull facts. It’s far more interesting to see how life experiences shape the characters’ minds.

In the second example, I used a particular kind of association, a reference to other literature (or film or music) called an allusion. Allusions can be used strategically to bring themes of the other work to bear on yours. My example alludes to Dante’s Inferno. In it, the eighth circle of hell (ditch nine) is for “sowers of discord”—people who cause conflict and dissension between others—and their fate is to be cut to pieces. This is thematically important to the story, and the uncle’s role especially.

Before you begin researching associations, brainstorm to determine a few key environmental pieces for each character, whether they are career, family of origin, hobby, or other influence. Having more than one will make for an interesting, multi-layered personality, rather than a repetitive, one-note character. These elements should be important for how the character interacts with others and move the plot along, otherwise they will become tangents that muddy the story rather than enhance it.

Research the environmental factor and record key terms, images, events, allusions, etc. that can be worked into your character’s conversations and thought life.

Which of these areas of research intrigues you most? What things do you need to research to make your current project's characters more vibrant and realistic?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

image credit: Felicia Santos for morguefile
As the school year enters its final weeks and summer fun is so close around the corner, homework is about the last thing kids feel like doing. I don't know about you other parents out there, but homework battles in my house have gone from bad to worse in my home of late.

Research nerd that I am, I went on the hunt for advice about how to get through the final marking period, ending strong without bloodshed. I tripped across a short e-book by life coach Dennis Bumgarner, Motivating Your Intelligent but Unmotivated Teenager.  What I found most striking in his approach to the whole "movtivating" and "unmotivated" issue is his breakdown of why sticks and carrots rarely work, and also WHEN motivation happens.

Hold onto your hats, because this concept is a game changer:

"Performance precedes motivation." 

Bumgarner argues that beginning a small piece of a task will motivate continued steps. Not cheerleading. Not rewards and punishments. Not lectures or logic.

Doing.

I think this insight has broad applications for nearly every step of the writing, editing, submission, design/formatting, marketing parts of creating written work.

Trying to "get in the mood" to write or chasing one motivational strategy after another is a waste of time. Simply start a little something. You only discover the intrinsic rewards of writing by actually writing, not by dreaming about writing, talking about it with other writers, pinning pithy quotes on Pinterest, or whatever other supposedly motivation-building (but useless) strategy you've attempted.

Write some words, any words. Flow comes when you overcome that initial inertia.

What do you think of the maxim "performance precedes motivation"? Can you think of instances where this idea has proven true for you?
Thursday, May 18, 2017 Laurel Garver
image credit: Felicia Santos for morguefile
As the school year enters its final weeks and summer fun is so close around the corner, homework is about the last thing kids feel like doing. I don't know about you other parents out there, but homework battles in my house have gone from bad to worse in my home of late.

Research nerd that I am, I went on the hunt for advice about how to get through the final marking period, ending strong without bloodshed. I tripped across a short e-book by life coach Dennis Bumgarner, Motivating Your Intelligent but Unmotivated Teenager.  What I found most striking in his approach to the whole "movtivating" and "unmotivated" issue is his breakdown of why sticks and carrots rarely work, and also WHEN motivation happens.

Hold onto your hats, because this concept is a game changer:

"Performance precedes motivation." 

Bumgarner argues that beginning a small piece of a task will motivate continued steps. Not cheerleading. Not rewards and punishments. Not lectures or logic.

Doing.

I think this insight has broad applications for nearly every step of the writing, editing, submission, design/formatting, marketing parts of creating written work.

Trying to "get in the mood" to write or chasing one motivational strategy after another is a waste of time. Simply start a little something. You only discover the intrinsic rewards of writing by actually writing, not by dreaming about writing, talking about it with other writers, pinning pithy quotes on Pinterest, or whatever other supposedly motivation-building (but useless) strategy you've attempted.

Write some words, any words. Flow comes when you overcome that initial inertia.

What do you think of the maxim "performance precedes motivation"? Can you think of instances where this idea has proven true for you?

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Creative slumps can happen to anyone who strives to bring creative works into the world, be they written works, visual art, music, or handicrafts. Slumps can come on slowly or all at once. Often you aren't entirely aware you're in a slump until you've spent some time there, stuck and unmotivated.

Slump thinking sounds like this:

"I'm so stressed out, I can't focus."
"My brain is so full of noise, I can't hear my characters."
"These ideas are just a big mess."
"This project feels rangy and shapeless."
"I can't remember why I ever thought this was a good story idea."
"Why can't I make any progress?"
"I want to write, but feel adrift every time I sit down."
"I used to have things to say. I'm not sure what I believe or care about right now."
"I should be farther along than this. I'm such a hack/poseur/failure."

Slumps tend to happen after you've expended a lot of energy in one direction (say finishing and releasing a new book) and in the midst of crises in your personal life.

Very possibly it's a temperament thing, that some bounce back quickly from burnout and/or crises, and others of us slip into slumps.

If you're one of those bouncy types, I beg you not to douse your slumped friends with buckets of positive thinking mantras. They make us feel worse--inadequate and deeply flawed, rather than simply different from you. Instead, remind us that you care. Listen without dispensing advice. Invite us to join you in some activity we can enjoy together that's not too demanding--taking a hike or walking tour, poking around cute shops, playing cards or board games, visiting an art opening, crafts festival, outdoor concert, or mellow jazz club. Something fun that gets us out of the house--and out of our own heads for a few hours.

Make no mistake, slumps can morph pretty quickly into full blown depression. If you're prone to it, seek professional help. If your slump feels more like creativity blues--you're functioning okay in other areas of your life, but aren't creating at all--some self-care may be your road out of the Slough of Despond.

Here are some ways you can help yourself:

Go someplace new

Get off the couch or out of the desk chair and leave the house--explore someplace new, even if it's a ten minute stroll down a side street in your neighborhood you've never been on before.  Take a slightly different route to work, try a new restaurant, shop at a different market. When "something different" feels beyond your grasp, little forays out of your routine can be a powerful way to prove that mental message wrong--different is ten feet from boring, old, usual, not ten thousand miles. And you can get there in a few steps.

Care for your body

Times of stress can make it difficult to maintain an exercise program or sleep schedule. Stress eating can leave you even more lethargic. Look for small ways to begin giving your body the care it needs, starting with good sleep hygiene, then good food choices, simple exercise (like walking), and a little pampering like a haircut or new outfit. Some change can work from the outside in.

Seek some small accomplishments

Emerging from a slump is a gradual process. Look around for a few small things you've been avoiding and accomplish those things--whether it's making some overdue doctor appointments, weeding that ugly patch in the corner of your yard, or reorganizing a dresser drawer. That sense of pride can energize increasingly larger projects.

Reconnect with old loves

Slumps can feel like a source of joy has taken off, abandoned you. Think about long-lost hobbies or enthusiasms you haven't tried in a while, whether it's going back to earliest memories of finger painting or biking with your elementary pals, playing an instrument you gave up after high school, or a craft you've forgotten about like knitting, sewing, or leather craft, decoupage or beading. Creativity begets creativity.


Draw on sources of strength

Connect with people who love you, like an long-term friend, a sibling, or a grandparent. Chances are after a brief phone call you'll realize how deeply you are valued and valuable to others. Pick up an inspiring book like Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, or Rising Strong by Brene Brown. Resume or take up new spiritual practices, like prayer, meditation, or scripture reading. Talk to a counselor or mentor.


Take baby steps with your dreaded project

In the peak of a slump, you're going to view everything about your unfinished writing project with a jaundiced eye. But once you've begun the process of emerging from it. look for ways to reconnect with it. Glance over your notes, and perhaps organize them. Research some aspect of the story, whether it's details about your hero's job, the psychology of the family dynamic in  your story, floor plans of the buildings in your setting, or cultural influences on your characters. Create an idea board on Pinterest. Brainstorm concepts for the cover design. Interview your characters or write journal entries in their voices. Bit by bit, these fictional people and their world will come alive for you again.

Have you ever suffered a creative slump? What helped you emerge from it?
Thursday, May 04, 2017 Laurel Garver
Creative slumps can happen to anyone who strives to bring creative works into the world, be they written works, visual art, music, or handicrafts. Slumps can come on slowly or all at once. Often you aren't entirely aware you're in a slump until you've spent some time there, stuck and unmotivated.

Slump thinking sounds like this:

"I'm so stressed out, I can't focus."
"My brain is so full of noise, I can't hear my characters."
"These ideas are just a big mess."
"This project feels rangy and shapeless."
"I can't remember why I ever thought this was a good story idea."
"Why can't I make any progress?"
"I want to write, but feel adrift every time I sit down."
"I used to have things to say. I'm not sure what I believe or care about right now."
"I should be farther along than this. I'm such a hack/poseur/failure."

Slumps tend to happen after you've expended a lot of energy in one direction (say finishing and releasing a new book) and in the midst of crises in your personal life.

Very possibly it's a temperament thing, that some bounce back quickly from burnout and/or crises, and others of us slip into slumps.

If you're one of those bouncy types, I beg you not to douse your slumped friends with buckets of positive thinking mantras. They make us feel worse--inadequate and deeply flawed, rather than simply different from you. Instead, remind us that you care. Listen without dispensing advice. Invite us to join you in some activity we can enjoy together that's not too demanding--taking a hike or walking tour, poking around cute shops, playing cards or board games, visiting an art opening, crafts festival, outdoor concert, or mellow jazz club. Something fun that gets us out of the house--and out of our own heads for a few hours.

Make no mistake, slumps can morph pretty quickly into full blown depression. If you're prone to it, seek professional help. If your slump feels more like creativity blues--you're functioning okay in other areas of your life, but aren't creating at all--some self-care may be your road out of the Slough of Despond.

Here are some ways you can help yourself:

Go someplace new

Get off the couch or out of the desk chair and leave the house--explore someplace new, even if it's a ten minute stroll down a side street in your neighborhood you've never been on before.  Take a slightly different route to work, try a new restaurant, shop at a different market. When "something different" feels beyond your grasp, little forays out of your routine can be a powerful way to prove that mental message wrong--different is ten feet from boring, old, usual, not ten thousand miles. And you can get there in a few steps.

Care for your body

Times of stress can make it difficult to maintain an exercise program or sleep schedule. Stress eating can leave you even more lethargic. Look for small ways to begin giving your body the care it needs, starting with good sleep hygiene, then good food choices, simple exercise (like walking), and a little pampering like a haircut or new outfit. Some change can work from the outside in.

Seek some small accomplishments

Emerging from a slump is a gradual process. Look around for a few small things you've been avoiding and accomplish those things--whether it's making some overdue doctor appointments, weeding that ugly patch in the corner of your yard, or reorganizing a dresser drawer. That sense of pride can energize increasingly larger projects.

Reconnect with old loves

Slumps can feel like a source of joy has taken off, abandoned you. Think about long-lost hobbies or enthusiasms you haven't tried in a while, whether it's going back to earliest memories of finger painting or biking with your elementary pals, playing an instrument you gave up after high school, or a craft you've forgotten about like knitting, sewing, or leather craft, decoupage or beading. Creativity begets creativity.


Draw on sources of strength

Connect with people who love you, like an long-term friend, a sibling, or a grandparent. Chances are after a brief phone call you'll realize how deeply you are valued and valuable to others. Pick up an inspiring book like Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, or Rising Strong by Brene Brown. Resume or take up new spiritual practices, like prayer, meditation, or scripture reading. Talk to a counselor or mentor.


Take baby steps with your dreaded project

In the peak of a slump, you're going to view everything about your unfinished writing project with a jaundiced eye. But once you've begun the process of emerging from it. look for ways to reconnect with it. Glance over your notes, and perhaps organize them. Research some aspect of the story, whether it's details about your hero's job, the psychology of the family dynamic in  your story, floor plans of the buildings in your setting, or cultural influences on your characters. Create an idea board on Pinterest. Brainstorm concepts for the cover design. Interview your characters or write journal entries in their voices. Bit by bit, these fictional people and their world will come alive for you again.

Have you ever suffered a creative slump? What helped you emerge from it?

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Welcome, A-Z Blogging Challenge friends. This year, my theme is Prompt-a-day, with fun or thought-provoking writing prompts to use as a story start, warm up, or creativity stretching exercise.

Zealous


A young doctor fights to contain an epidemic in a tight-knit community.


Why writing prompts can be a helpful tool, no matter where you are in your writing journey: 5 Reasons to Write with Prompts.

Love writing with prompts?

Check out my latest release, 1001 Evocative Prompts for Fiction Writers. It will stimulate your thinking wherever you are in your writing journey and get you writing today. It provides story starts and writing inspiration for a wide variety of genres by focusing on emotions, character development, and pivotal moments.

You can face a blank page with confidence when you use these prompts to warm up, beat writer’s block, develop and maintain a writing habit, change up your routine, start a new project, experiment in a new genre, deepen parts of an existing story, or overcome burnout.

What are you waiting for? Dig in and get writing right now!

Add it on Goodreads
e-book: Amazon / Barnes and Noble / Apple iTunes / KoboSmashwords
Pocket paperback (5"x 8", 114 pp.) Amazon / Barnes and NobleCreateSpace
Workbook (8"x 10", 426 pp.) Amazon / Barnes and NobleCreateSpace


Q4U: How might you spin this prompt in an unexpected direction? How about as steampunk, historical fiction, or a thriller?
Sunday, April 30, 2017 Laurel Garver
Welcome, A-Z Blogging Challenge friends. This year, my theme is Prompt-a-day, with fun or thought-provoking writing prompts to use as a story start, warm up, or creativity stretching exercise.

Zealous


A young doctor fights to contain an epidemic in a tight-knit community.


Why writing prompts can be a helpful tool, no matter where you are in your writing journey: 5 Reasons to Write with Prompts.

Love writing with prompts?

Check out my latest release, 1001 Evocative Prompts for Fiction Writers. It will stimulate your thinking wherever you are in your writing journey and get you writing today. It provides story starts and writing inspiration for a wide variety of genres by focusing on emotions, character development, and pivotal moments.

You can face a blank page with confidence when you use these prompts to warm up, beat writer’s block, develop and maintain a writing habit, change up your routine, start a new project, experiment in a new genre, deepen parts of an existing story, or overcome burnout.

What are you waiting for? Dig in and get writing right now!

Add it on Goodreads
e-book: Amazon / Barnes and Noble / Apple iTunes / KoboSmashwords
Pocket paperback (5"x 8", 114 pp.) Amazon / Barnes and NobleCreateSpace
Workbook (8"x 10", 426 pp.) Amazon / Barnes and NobleCreateSpace


Q4U: How might you spin this prompt in an unexpected direction? How about as steampunk, historical fiction, or a thriller?