Tag Archive: A-Z Challenge

Masterplots Theater: C is for Chosen One

C Masterplots Theater-2It’s week two of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, and time for our next installment of Masterplots Theater.

Episodes thus far include:
A is for Adventure
B is for Buddy Love

If you like focusing on a strong central character, creating clear-cut moral conflicts and enjoy getting down and dirty with fight scenes, this could be your plot. The Chosen One might be the most popular masterplot we will cover all month. It’s widely used in Sic-Fi and Fantasy, but shows up in every genre. It’s adaptability means it works for any age range reader. That flexibility also means there are a lot of Chosen One stories already out there. You will need to work extra hard to make yours stand out.

Chosen One Plot Notes:

The Chosen One character is always the hero of the tale, however a story can have more than one chosen character.

The Chosen One has little to no say in their destiny. They are appointed the task by external forces. This might happen at birth with a divine sign, such as the alignment of stars that announces the arrival of The Chosen One. Or this character might start out exceptionally ordinary, until the day their special fate is revealed. This often happens in conjunction with a coming-of-age birthday.

There can be a magical item that defines the hero, something powerful and significant that only responds to the touch of the true Chosen One.

This main character can be any age or gender, and is often named or called The Chosen One by the other characters. There is also a tendency for authors to title these books The Chosen One. According to my last Amazon search there were some 84,000 books with “Chosen One” in the title.

This character can be physically striking, with a high level of sexual attraction. Love triangles abound in this masterplot. But the Chosen One often has no clue how attractive or gifted they are. Insecurity is sometimes the only character flaw in this hero.

Typically, it’s not fun to be The Chosen One. They need to make sacrifices and their character arc is critical. This masterplot packs in the internal conflict as the Chosen One learns how to put their own needs aside for the greater good.

The midpoint of this plot almost always contains a major moment. It’s either a “turn back” moment when the hero wants to give up and pass the job to another. Or the “give in” moment, when the hero decides to stop avoiding danger and fight.

The Chosen One story always has high stakes, with black and white, good vs evil morality. The Chosen One and they alone must save the world from a powerful dark force. If they fail, so shall humanity.

Often the external conflict carries the action in this masterplot. And there can be a lot of action. With high stakes comes epic battles.

Example to Study:

There are so many examples for this plot, but I’ve selected The NarniaLion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis.

Here’s why:

  • MAGICAL ITEM:  The wardrobe in this story is the portal to Narnia, yet it has failed to open for decades. It takes the touch of The Chosen Ones to activate the magic. Of the four children, it is Lucy who opens the doorway. It is also Lucy that first champions the cause of saving Narnia.

  • COMING FORETOLD:  Mr. Beaver has the task of telling the children about their destiny. He recited the old rhyme and does his best to convince them of their mission. This is when we find out all four children are The Chosen Ones. They all must complete the mission to save Narnia. However, Beaver meets with little success; The Chosen Ones haven’t reached the “give in” moment.

  • HIGH STAKES: Jadis, White Witch of Narnia, has held the land in perpetual winter for centuries. Under her rule, fear of being turned to stone keeps everyone but the darkest and most vile creatures enslaved. The coming of The Chosen Ones triggers the arrival of Aslan, High King of Narnia. These two events create the turning point in the story’s stakes. The mood shifts as everyone starts to anticipate the epic battle of good vs. evil.

  • GIVE IN MOMENT:  Before the battle can start, Peter tells Susan to take the others and go home! While Susan is ready to retreat, Edmund and Lucy are not. This is the moment each of them stops avoiding and accepts they must work together and embrace being The Chosen Ones to fight.

  • BONUS: This story gets points for having four Chosen Ones. Each of these characters brings a different layer to the story. Also because the children start out ordinary, every reader can cast themselves into the shoes of one of these characters.

Future Research:

There are so many examples of this plot in books and movies, I would need thousands of words to cover just the high points. ENDER’S GAME, THE DARK IS RISING, DUNE! Instead of creating a huge list I’ll leave this link to the TV Tropes entry and you can explore books and movies with The Chosen One masterplot on your own. And do come back tomorrow for another installment of Masterplots Theater, D is for Dystopia.

Please share your thoughts on Chosen One stories in the comments below.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/masterplots-theater-c-is-for-chosen-one/

Masterplots Theater: B is for Buddy Love

Small C Masterplots Theater(5)

Hope you’re back in your comfy chair and ready for another episode of Masterplots Theater! Perhaps you’ve been contemplating a story idea that has two compelling lead characters and can’t decide which is the true hero. Well, I have good news for you — maybe you don’t have to choose! Today we study a masterplot that has two heroes: Buddy Love.

“What “Buddy Love” movies are really all about: My life changed for having met another.” — Blake Snyder, Save the Cat!® Goes to the Movies, pg 134.

Buddy Love Plot Notes: 

The essential element of this master plot is the two protagonists or co-heroes. Basically, this pair must meet for the story to happen, regardless of all the other things taking place in the plot. The Buddy Love plot can be funny, romantic, action-packed, suspenseful, you name it, as long as the point of the story is the two main characters’ relationship.

It’s crucial that these co-heroes are incomplete without each other. They may not know it yet, but it’s true. This is not one person’s journey, or a coming-of-age tale aided by a mentor character, this is a story about two people who change each other’s lives. And because they each change (aka have a character arc), both are protagonists/heroes.

Co-hero character arcs operate in tandem, though they are separate. What I mean by this is that each character has inner conflicts independent of the other character, but the act of coming together to tackle external conflicts helps both deal with their issues. 

Because of all this, co-heroes carry equal narrative weight in the story. In a movie, both characters get the same amount of scenes; one does not have more screen time than the other. In books, this means that POV time is split equally between each character.

Regardless of the genre (cop drama, comedy, action adventure), every Buddy Love plot arc is a gradual realization that the buddies are not as good apart as they are together.

And finally, the big central question of the Buddy Love masterplot is: Will the buddies overcome the obstacle and be together in the end?

Example to Study:

Snyder studies LETHAL WEAPON in his Save The Cat series. This movie is an excellent example of Buddy Love, and one of the most common  film tropes – cops who start as enemies end as best buds. Other film examples of Buddy Love are THELMA & LOUISE, WAYNE’S WORLD and RAIN MAN. However, I’m going to chose to examine the one novel I’ve read that I believe fits into this masterplot, albeit a little differently:

Book Cover - Code Name VerityCODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein

· CO-HEROES: Two young women meet by chance and, though they’re very different, develop a friendship that changes each of their lives’ paths. This story is told from Verity and Maddie’s POVs, though it’s not the usual alternating scenes split – the first half is Verity’s telling, and the second half is Maddie’s. If you’ve read the book you’ll know why this is.

· PLOT: At first glance, this book is about WWII and two women’s roles in it, but by the end it’s clear this is ultimately a story of a friendship so deep it can only be classified as Buddy Love.

· CHARACTER ARC: Both heroines have their own story, told completely separately in fact, but the influence of the other character is clear in every scene. As the story unfolds, the reader sees how these two young women transformed into different and better people because of their friendship.

· CENTRAL QUESTION: Without giving much away, I’ll just state that I believe that Verity and Maddie do overcome the obstacles, though not in a traditional happily-ever-after way. But they did it, and because of their efforts, the good guys win. As for the together forever part? Their friendship does last forever, even if [spoiler alert] one of their lives doesn’t.

Future Research:

I recommend reading Blake Synder’s Save the Cat!® Goes to the Movies for all kinds of examples of Buddy Love. He even breaks it down into Pet Love (films like FREE WILLY, BLACK BEAUTY), Rom-Com Love (WHEN HARRY MET SALLY), Epic Love (TITANIC), and Forbidden Love (BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN). *NOTE: Romances can be Buddy Love, but only if the characters are co-heroes. If the story is told mainly from one character’s POV, then it’s a classic romance.

Thank you for joining us today! We hope you enjoyed B is for Buddy Love and we invite you back Monday for our next installment of Masterplots Theater: C is for The Chosen One.

Please share your own favorite Buddy Love stories or tips in the comments below. I know there must be many novels out there that fit into this masterplot (I just haven’t had time to read them yet).

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/masterplots-theater-b-is-for-buddy-love/

Masterplots Theater: A is for Adventure

Masterplots Theater

Welcome to Masterplots Theater!  Our third year participating in the Blogging From A to Z Challenge.

Perhaps you’re sitting in a comfy chair right now plotting a new story. It features a brilliant and daring scientist. Your character is short on emotional entanglements, but long on project commitment and wanderlust. You love to research exotic settings. You write fast-paced action with ease. Your favorite characters are fearless Alpha heroes, people who live on the edge. It’s possible you’re a budding adventure writer without knowing it. Take a look at the plot notes and examples of the adventure masterplot and find out if your story fits.

Classic Adventure Plot Notes:

Unlike a quest plot, which we will be covering on April 20th, the adventure plot is all about the journey. It’s action driven.

While some writers can craft killer urban adventures, most writers put their adventure stories in an exotic setting. This could include finding a lost tribe in the Amazon or doing some deep sea diving to discover a sunken ship.

This plot will involve danger! High tension and lots of external conflict make for dramatic storytelling. The pace is not as fast as a thriller, but it comes darn close.

Danger requires special characters; characters who jump out of planes and run into the unknown with a smile on their face and a knife strapped to their thigh.

 

lara4

The profile of this hero is brave, self-assured and knowledgeable. Some are near genius in one or more areas of expertise. It never hurts if they’re slightly dishonest.

Adventure plots mostly follow a series of linear cause and effect events. These events are often outlandish, but ultimately they dovetail together in a way that makes sense.

This masterplot often omits a character arc, meaning the hero is emotionally unchanged by the adventure, and start and end the story as pretty much the same type of person. Although there can be a romance (or bromance) element, there’s little room in an adventure for long emotional detours.

The energy and focus of this plot is on capturing a prize at the climax. The hero might return richer, as was their goal, or perhaps return wiser. Because of the high degree of difficultly, the adventurer hero is sometimes just happy they lived to adventure another day.

Example to Study:

One of the best films with a classic adventure plot is Raiders of the Lost Ark. Here’s why:

Raiders· SETTING: A varied and exotic travelogue: Egypt, Peru and Mongolia. Who wouldn’t want to visit these destinations?

· CHARACTERS: Strong central figure (Dr. Jones) who is convincing when thrown into a vast array of dangerous situations. This one factor can make or break the best adventure plot.

· PLOT: Even though the adventure story is frequently outlandish (finding a super weapon made up of the dust from the Ten Commandments), it still falls within a larger framework of possible, if not probable.

· BONUS: Prizes worthy of the peril. The end goal should justify the risks. We can’t help but respect Indiana Jones for risking his life to keep a powerful weapon out of the hands of Nazis. If an adventure hero is reckless without sufficient motivation the adventure plot would start to fall apart.

Future Research:

There are many classic adventure writers, like Jack London, Rudyard Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson. Or you can read more recent contributions from authors like Clive Cluster or Michael Crichton. Reading these stories should help reinforce the key points of crafting the adventure plot.

Thank you for joining us today, we hope you enjoyed A is for Adventure and we invite you back tomorrow for our next installment of Masterplots Theater, B is for Buddy Love.

Please share your own adventure writing tips, or titles you love in the comments.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/a-is-for-adventure/

April A to Z Theme Reveal!

atoz-theme-reveal-2015Last year, on a complete whim, the WriteOnSisters signed up for the “Blogging From A to Z Challenge.” We had no plan, no theme, just a vague idea that we’d craft a post based on each letter of the alphabet and that it would have something to do with writing, because we’re a writing blog. And… go! Not only did we survive the month and post every day (except Sundays, as per the challenge rules), we made friends with other bloggers and found some great blogs to follow. That’s not to say it was easy. A post a day is a lot of work, so we decided for 2015 we needed a strategy, which is basically this:

#1 – WRITE SHORTER POSTS

Our regular blog posts run around 800 words, sometimes longer, but for the April A to Z Challenge, shorter is better. Not only because it will take us less time to write, but because it will take you less time to read. That leaves everyone with more time to visit other blogs in the challenge.

#2 – BE HELPFUL

We have all kinds of posts on WriteOnSisters, from book reviews to writing tips to inspirational messages to writer’s life advice. Especially in our initial year of blogging, when we first did the A to Z Challenge, we were still figuring out what worked for us. Now in year two we’ve seen a pattern emerge – our most popular posts cover writing craft. So that’s what we will focus on for this year’s challenge.

#3 – PICK A THEME

Sure, the A to Z thing is already a theme of sorts, but having a more specific subject helps focus our posts and let people know what to expect. Now, without further ado, our theme for 2015’s Blogging From A to Z Challenge is…

BLASTOFF to STELLAR WRITING

Get ready for writing tips, rocket ships, and deep space thoughts! Each post will consist of:

  • 3 quick tips on one aspect of writing (i.e. conflict, stakes, narrators, etc.)

  • 2 examples of good technique

  • 1 resource for more in-depth help

By the end of the month, your writing will be primed to take off!

Pack your spacesuit and freeze-dried snacks, and we’ll see you in April!

 Don’t forget to pop over to the linky list and check out the other themes.

For a list of our 2014 A to Z Challenge posts, click here.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/a-z-challenge/april-a-to-z-theme-reveal/

What We’re Reading: “W” is for Wicked

AtoZBadge-LetterW

Here at the Writeonsisters, the last Saturday of the month is always What We’re Reading. This month it also happens to be “W” day of The A to Z Blog Challenge. There are many book themes we could have picked that start with W (writing, whodunit, war, etc.), but we chose “wicked.” I guess we’re all a little fascinated with the dark side…

 

Heather’s Pick:

HORNS by Joe Hill

BookCover-HornsMost of what I read is YA fiction, but I’m currently seeking horror/thriller stories and haven’t found many good ones in teen lit. So I turned to Joe Hill. HORNS is the story of a young man who wakes up one morning with devil horns growing out of his head and now everyone he encounters tells him their wickedest deeds and desires. It’s a wonderfully twisted concept that inevitably prompts the reader to worry about the evil in everyone. What would people say if they were compelled to blurt out their darkest secrets or profess their sins? The horror in this novel comes from the atrocious things the characters have done, are still doing, and may do more of in the future. And even though the main character has horns and seems to have turned into the devil, you still root for him to stop the really bad guy.

 

 

Caryn’s Pick: 

A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of WitchesWicked is one of my favorite words. It sort of became a cliché a few years ago, used as an exclamation for almost anything great. I usually associate it with witches, and as a child one of my favorite books, ever, was The Little Witch. I read it when I was about ten and have tried to find it again, but to no avail. The Little Witch’s mother was, of course, a witch, and she transformed all the annoying children in the neighborhood into flowers that she kept on her windowsill in small clay pots. The little witch eventually outsmarts her mother and returns the lost children to their homes.

Deborah Harkness’s debut novel, A Discovery of Witches, tapped into my intrigue about witches and I found it to be a mature, intellectual story about a modern-day college professor who unexpectedly finds herself immersed in a world of witches and vampires.

Diana Bishop, a young scholar and descendant of witches, discovers a long-lost and enchanted alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, deep in Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Its reappearance awakens her connection to a past she’s been trying to ignore and summons up a fantastical underworld that she navigates with her leading man, vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont. One thing that did start to wear on me was her incessant tea-drinking. It became a distraction. I love tea, but really, the character used it as a salve for nearly every stressor in the story.

Harkness created a contemporary story of magic and suspense that is much more than a supernatural tale. It’s an intelligent consideration of genetic mating, powers, and history that acquaints the reader with the Philosopher’s Stone, alchemy and so much more. And then there’s the sweet romance that seems doomed on every level. A boyfriend who is a professor and a vampire? Replete with Gothic mansion? Really? And yes, I loved it!

And there are two more books if this one strikes your fancy and I just learned there’s a movie in the works! Oh yeah!

 

Robin’s Pick
AOfS WebALCHEMY OF STONE by Ekaterina Sedia
This book has a whole lot of wicked and interesting stuff going on. A society crumbling, a cruel inventor, hosts of revolutionaries, a few spies, some restless ghost, dying gargoyles, and of course Mattie, a brilliant automaton who works as an alchemist. Mattie is the only machine of her kind. She lives a strange little life in her shop, helping those who come to her door with her personal brand of alchemy, a blend of science and magic. She’s an emancipated automaton, almost free of her inventor, but not quite. He refuses to give up her key, the one that fits her heart, winds her gears and keeps her going. We get the sense he holds the key captive for complex reasons, first because he wants to keep Mattie loyal to him. Since he’s a mechanic and she is an alchemist, and they are the two groups battling for governmental control, one could assume his reasons are solidly political, but I don’t think so. Theirs is a complicated relationship, and I got the feeling unrequited love, envy, jealousy and much more are simmering under the surface of their civil exchanges.

As the book evolves it’s clear that Mattie is in possession of much greater understanding of civic events and of human nature than her inventor suspects. At the bequest of the city gargoyles Mattie finds herself thrust into the forefront of huge sweeping events. She’s destined to play a part in plunging the city she loves, already balancing of the brink of war, over the edge.

The world building is what I loved about this book, the class structure, the plots and subplots. There is just so much going on. This is not a popular book by any means, but it has a number of the stylistic decisions that author made that create a unique read. I can’t say I loved the ending; the pacing felt rushed and I wonder if a sequel was originally planned, as as a number of issues are left unresolved. Overall a worthy read.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/book-reviews/what-were-reading-w-is-for-wicked/

U for UnderCovers: Writing the Erotic Romance

UWhen Fifty Shades of Grey crashed into the publishing world, everyone was aghast. On so many levels. Talk shows brought in therapists and psychologists— specialists on sexual abuse and relationships, and quickly labeled it mommy porn. Stuck home with my first broken ankle and nearly dead from boredom, I couldn’t resist the idea of reading something so risqué in the privacy of my own home. And thanks to the instant gratification that Amazon provides I fired up my eReader and was reading in less than five minutes. I’d never read anything like it and can’t deny it ambushed my libido in about a nanosecond.

It soon became the hot topic of conversation among my reader and writer pals. We debated and confessed: we loved it, we hated it, wanted to hate it but didn’t, wanted to love it but didn’t. The quality of the writing came up, which always annoys me. If you don’t like the writing, then stop reading. I don’t criticize other people’s writing unless they ask me to. Just like you don’t comment on someone’s clothing or haircut unless they petition you for your opinion, and even then I tread lightly. It’s different if it’s a crit partner, then the need for complete honesty is paramount, although I always bench my comments with a reminder that it’s just one person’s opinion, and other than technical errors, it’s up to the author as to whether they should take the advice to heart or not.

Conversation among my writer pals and my editor heightened. “Someone should jump on the bandwagon and write an erotic romance novel!” they all agreed. “It’s a huge new market and a great opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up.” Hmm…I thought. That sounds kind of cheesy, like rushing to write a dystopian novel because of the success of The Hunger Games, or getting on the Vampire and Zombie train, it’s just felt wrong. Writing to Market is a topic of many a pitch conference, but doing it intentionally just to follow a craze seemed well, again, just wrong. We write the stories inside us, the ones we want, not one designed to please others.

But my mind started to wander. I discovered there is a whole world of books that follow the BDSM lifestyle and I began to read them. Confined to my couch, I had nothing much else to do. I’d write for some part of the day, but I was pretty much limited to reading and TV to amuse myself for months, especially after I broke my other ankle. I read a lot. And my mind wandered some more. Using my usual What if…? prompt when I went to bed at night, a story took shape. I furthered my musings, day after endless day. The debate and near-hysteria among my friends continued until one day a writer pal said to my editor (who was desperately trying to convince one of us to write such a novel) “Caryn’s the one! She can do it!” Well, I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. Was I insulted or pleased that I came to mind?

I soon confessed that I thought I had such a story in me and decided to give it a shot. The story came easily enough, romance not too difficult to write, but the sex scenes? Well, they were rough, and I’m not just talking about the sex. One of the trickiest parts for me is the language. I’ve written before about writing a love scene and Jenn has tackled the mechanics of writing sex, but this was on a whole new level. One of the reasons I liked FSG so much was that her language didn’t make me cringe. Some people like to talk dirty, but it’s just not me. I do have quite a potty mouth, but it doesn’t seem to find it’s way into the bedroom. I have no idea why. Maybe it’s left over from my good-girl Catholic school days, or my mother’s indoctrination about being a lady. In seventh grade she told me not to dance the twist because the Blessed Virgin Mary wouldn’t do it. It made me angry then and of course I disobeyed her, now it makes me laugh. Okay, TMI, I’ll stop.SEX

Crafting a BDSM sex scene without going too far became my aim. And, of course, my female protagonist is never going to become a wimp or a true submissive, even if she’s involved in that world for some ulterior motive as an undercover FBI agent. And so UnderCovers is finished, and in the hands of my editor, who has been incredibly enthusiastic about it’s possibility for success. We’ll see. I had a blast writing it and even if it never sees the light of day, and it remains ‘undercovers’ forever, I had a ton of fun. The only thing that still makes me uncomfortable is: do I publish under my name or use a pen name? Not sure how my sons would feel about this endeavor… Yikes!

 

Next Up is Heather with “V” – Living Vicariously Through Fiction

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/romance/u-for-undercovers-writing-the-erotic-romance/

Team, Twitterific and Talent

TT is for Team, Twitterific, and Talent

There was never any doubt in my mind, if I ever wanted to participate in a blog, it had to be a Team effort. When we started Write On Sisters we never thought we would be as successful or have as much fun as we are today. Now 150 posts later (we hit that major event yesterday), we’re looking forward to conquering new milestones and pushing ourselves and each other toward reaching new heights.

Even with a Team, weekly blogging takes a lot of time. I find it particularly challenging because I have younger children. Each of us must wrestle a blog to the mat about 5 – 7 times a month, sometime I do it with a squirming kid in my lap. Of course it takes time away from other aspects of our personal lives to research and create the best posts we can each week. Jenn has decided to step down so she can devote more time to her family and writing. We hope you will join us in wishing her the best.

Which brings us to the Twitterific part of the post, and our own Heather Jackson, the undisputed Queen of Writeonsisters. A gal with a knack for creating magically inspiring posts and who holds an unprecedented six slots in our top ten list of most popular posts. Which of course includes the number one post 10 Tips to Survive the Starving Artist lifestyle. Well, she did it again and knocked it out to the park with Dropping the F-Bomb in YA Lit, landing herself on yet another impressive list: Elisabeth Spann Craig’s Twitterific Writing Links

Three cheers for Heather!

Now for our last T, Talent. What makes a blog is it’s people. Since Write On Sisters is growing and changing we’re putting out our first official call for Talented new Team members. We hope there are some solo bloggers out there who want to stop being alone and join up with a Team of fellow writers, one of whom is also Twitterific. If you find yourself in need of a new home and you feel you have some Talent to share please contact us.

TTFN!

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/general-information/team-twitterific-and-tallent/

Surprising, Sensational and Strange, it’s Nature!

WOSLetterSHappy 2014 Earth Day everyone!

This is one of my favorite holidays, and anyone who follows my posts knows I’m crazy about Old Mother Earth, and I write about her as often as I can.

Luckily for me, the other sisters haven’t told me to give it a rest. Yet!

Here are excerpts from two of my favorite nature posts. I hope they motivate you to go outside and give nature a great big thank-you for being stupendous. Also for each of you to put pen to paper when nature is threatened, exploited and abused. Because if we don’t, who will?

Excerpt from Into the Wild II, originally posted on October 23, 2014

Last week my local government dredged the creek that borders my home, and since that fateful day, I’ve watched as a solitary egret stands motionless in the creek. I wonder if the devastation of home leaves this bird as dazed and disoriented as it does me. Is it a mother looking for her late season young? Or a mate looking for a lost love? Or a youth who doesn’t know where to go now that its Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.comsource of food and protection is gone?

The city says they did this for me. All this devastation will prevent possible flooding to the homes in my area, and since they want to rezone a section near the creek “High Density” for a luxury condominium complex, I guess unpredictable water levels wouldn’t make the new developers happy. They bestowed my gift in fall, a time when the whole ecosystem of the watershed is under stress. Migratory birds are arriving, desperate for habitat and a place to rest up before pushing onward to warmer climates. The year round critters of the waterway are stocking for the winter, collecting their acorns and fattening up as best they can on the last desiccated morsels of the summer’s bounty. They dredge the stream not just before spring when plants are ready to bounce back from the angry welts of backhoes and shovels, but at the start of the rainy season. Right when thousands of gallons of water will sluice down those raw, defiled banks dumping hundreds of cubic inches of good healthy topsoil into an already stressed waterway. This massive infusion of silt will destroy water quality and kill off even more wildlife. Ironically, it will also nullify the extensive manpower, fossil fuels and funds they just expended to dredge the waterway.

For the last few days I tried not to let myself become like my egret, a sad figure, helpless and frozen in my agony, losing sleep over everything lost. Worried about the fate of the raccoons that steal from my garden, shedding tears for the lost water dwellers, the otters and even these annoying little crayfish the heron loved to pluck from between the now missing river rocks.

Instead of becoming the lone egret, I choose to join a flock and fight.

Excerpt from Friday Inspiration: Author John Muir, originally appeared 1/24/2014

 “The world, we are told, was made especially for man — a presumption not supported by all the facts.” John Muir.

Quarter webNever satisfied that nature was safe from fools, John Muir took an active role in changing government policy toward nature. He wanted people to see wild spaces differently and he made it his mission to bring important people into the mountains so they could witness the magic of the wilderness first hand.

After touring Yosemite Valley, CA with Muir, then US President Roosevelt later wrote:

“Not only are his books delightful, not only is he the author to whom all men turn when they think of the Sierras and northern glaciers, and the giant trees of the California slope, but he was also  — what few nature lovers are — a man able to influence contemporary thought and action on the subjects to which he had devoted his life.”

Muir lived the last forty-six years of his life in my home state of California. His house is now a National Historic Site, and California celebrates his life every April 21st as a commemorative day. In California his name is synonymous with the love of outdoor adventure and our rugged natural landscapes. Yet, Muir belongs to everyone who believes in having a commitment and a responsible for safeguarding the natural world.

I think the reason I find Muir inspiring is he proves to me a lone voice spoken with passion can move mountains. He serves as a brilliant model for nonfiction writers everywhere, because we still need people who dream of making a difference and who use their voices to change the world.

Happy Earth Day, I hope you enjoy this important holiday and use it to help you cultivate your own passion for nature.

“The power of imagination makes us infinite.” John Muir

 

 

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Reading Overload in the Information Age

AtoZBadge-LetterRI read constantly. I bet you do too because, since you’re reading this blog, you have access to the Internet where there’s an infinite amount of stuff to read – emails, articles, blogs, tweets, books, essays – all at your nimbly typing fingertips. People read more now than ever, not just for work, school or fun, but also for day-to-day communication. The Information Age has also been dubbed the Age of Distractions, but the problem isn’t exterior forces distracting us from reading, it’s that we have too much reading.

Gasp! How can a writer say such a thing? Isn’t reading good for us? Absolutely. Through reading we gain knowledge and insight, develop empathy and understanding, and exercise our brains. But the old adage that you can have too much of a good thing is true. And for writers especially, reading can become more of a chore than a pleasurable pastime because it’s part of our job.

book pileI’ve been way behind on my list of things to read for years. My library holds consistently hover around 50 books, and even though I read about four books a month, I never catch up because I’m always adding more. My email Inbox fills with publishing newsletters, blog posts and news alerts faster than I can read them. And don’t even get me started on Twitter.

A couple months ago I decided my problem was the Internet – our relationship took up too much of my precious time, so I wrote the Internet a letter establishing that I needed space. A month into our separation, I had some tips and tricks for staying away from the Internet’s tempting embrace. But even after following my own advice, like unsubscribing from newsletters and setting time limits for checking Twitter, I still have too much to read, and it’s taking its toll. I’m suffering from all the Symptoms of Reading Overload:

Stress. Yes, I’m stressed about how much I have to read. Ridiculous, I know, but I want to read all the things and I don’t have time, and then… oh no, what do I do?!

Skimming. So I skim. Chronically. I check articles to see how long they are before I commit to reading them, and if they’re more than 800 words I ditch them or skim.

Bitterness. If I don’t enjoy reading something, I’m unreasonably bitter and angry for wasting my time. Like it’s the blog/article/book’s fault I read it!

Resentment. I’m starting to resent new awesome books that come out or fun blogs I’ve discovered, because I don’t have time for more!

Worst of all, these symptoms ruin my reading experience. I used to read for fun. Now reading has become a chore, something to check off my To Do List. Clearly, I need to get this under control and reclaim the joy. Here’s the plan…

4 Ways to Cure Reading Overload

1)   Categorize – Divide your reading into Must, Should and Want piles. I’m surprised to find my Must pile is fairly small, mainly business emails. Everything else is under Should and Want, which essentially means “optional.” This instantly relieves my stress.

2)   Prioritize – Look for crossover in the Should and Want piles. My Should pile is material I feel could help my career, like articles/blogs about publishing, or books by authors who are repped by agents I’m interested in, or the latest bestseller I should have an informed opinion about, but don’t necessarily want to read. Hence the skimming. Gather Shoulds that are also Wants and put these combos in a pile right after Must.

3)   Delete – The remaining stuff in the Should pile, just delete it. Seriously. This is so freeing! You don’t want to read it anyway. Who cares if that book was a bestseller. If you’re 50 pages in and bored, stop! Now you won’t be bitter for wasting hours reading something you don’t enjoy.

4)   Shelve – Take everything in the Want pile off your To Do List and put it on a shelf for later, no expiry date. Suddenly, I don’t resent those new books, because instead of them being work I don’t have time for, they’re a pleasure I look forward to.

We’re living in an incredible time for reading – so much material and so many ways to access it – but it’s impossible to read everything. Don’t lose the joy of reading by trying to keep up with it all.

How do you decide what to read? Does it overwhelm you as much as it does me? Or am I just weird?

 

Next up from Heather on Monday… “X-Rated: Should YA Books have a Ratings System?

 

Click here for more blog posts from Heather.

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Friday Inspiration: D is for Dreams as Inspiration

DDreams can be terrifying: a dragon chases you over a steep mountain, your teeth fall out, a loved one is knifed in a dark alleyway! You wake up sweating, screaming, flailing, much to your partner’s dismay and perhaps to find him defending himself against your violent onslaught.

Dreams can be happy: you win the lottery, a dead mother is resurrected, you’ve lost thirty pounds! You wake up ecstatic, only to be disappointed Nightmare in bedwhen you realize none of it is true.

Or dreams can just be weird, like having sex with that guy you should definitely not be having sex with and didn’t even think you liked!

All of us wonder about the meaning of our dreams. There is extensive research regarding dreams, but why we dream is still open to serious debate. Many theories abound: memory consolidation, emotional regulation, threat simulation. People often attempt to mine their dreams for creative insights into how to lead a better life. Some even believe they are premonitions. A dream is rich with images, ideas, emotions and sensations and they occur involuntarily during the REM stage of sleep. If you’re not sleeping soundly, you won’t be able to tap into this deep reservoir of creativity and wanton abandon. So…get those ZZZZs!

In my research I stumbled on this interesting study, (Bulkeley, 2012) regarding the relationship between your political orientation and dreaming. Political liberals tend to remember their dreams more frequently than their conservative counterparts, and conservatives report more mundane dreams in contrast to the bizarre dreams of liberals. Better dream recall is associated with openness to experience, and liberals, who tend to be more open to differences, not just in their social values, are generally seen as more imaginative than conservatives. On the other hand, conservatives were also cited as having more restful, peaceful sleep than liberals.

The researcher indicated that this finding could be interpreted in one of two ways:

  1. Liberals are crazy, unbalanced and lost in their own fantasies, while conservatives have a more grounded, realistic and sober approach to life.  OR…
  2. Conservatives must be repressed, narrow-minded and lacking self-knowledge, while liberals are clearly blessed with greater imagination, creativity and mental flexibility.

Well, I know which one I’m going with!

For writers, dreams are a spontaneous and thrilling ride through Wonderland. You can meet the Mad Hatter, The Queen of Hearts, or The Devil himself, or all of them at the same time…in Russia! You can converse with them, fly with them, kill them! For me, they’ve often provided the solution to my protagonist’s dilemma and even provided the climax/resolution to my story. And I recently discovered that I’m not the only one to use dreams as inspiration.

I recently read an interview with Stephen King: An excerpt from Writers Dreaming by Naomi Epel. Mr. King instantly put my mind at ease, letting me know we are kindred spirits in writing style. I’ll paraphrase here: When I’m working I never know what the end is going to be or how things are going to come out. I don’t know what’s going to happen next and it makes me extremely nervous. Apparently, he had 7,800 pages done on a manuscript and he couldn’t finish. He went to bed one night and dreamed the junkyard scene. I just took the dream as it was and put it in the book. Dropped it in. I didn’t change anything.

Now, I know you have that pad next to your bed so you can write down things that come to mind as you’re unwinding from the day. I find this time to be my most creative. Once I’m away from the distractions of my everyday life, my mind opens and thoughts form. So make sure you use it as a dream journal too, because when you wake in the middle of the night with an amazing one, you won’t remember it all that well once the sun beams through your windows. Only be sure you take a minute to turn on the light and write legibly. More than once, I wrote something down without turning the light on and when I went to read it in the light of day, well, it looked like an alien had sent me some cryptic message. I couldn’t read a single word. And since I wasn’t writing a SciFi novel, an alien message was of no help whatsoever… 😉

Up Next: E is for Empathy: why it’s important for writers

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