Thursday, February 20, 2014

Watching The Fish Swim

When I was in high school my mother had a peculiar pastime. She would sit in a chair in front of one of the three big fish tanks we had in the house and watch the fish swim. Something about the way they would glide through the water, their leisurely swim, mesmerized my mother. She would sit in a rocking chair with a cup of coffee and stare at those fish for what seemed like hours.
I remember seeing her in those moments and thinking to myself, please don't let me end up an old lady who spends her days watching the fish swim! (Remember, this is my idiotic high school self talking.)
At the time I could think of nothing more wasteful than to sit and watch soft bodied water creatures move within a glass tank. And now that I'm older, I feel terrible about myself if I "waste" even a small part of my day. And by "wasting" I mean things like sitting down to eat my lunch, or meeting friends for coffee, or reading a book.
That feeling has intensified as my kids have gotten older and many of my friends have gone back to work.
In my mind, if I'm a stay at home mom, and my kids are in school for the majority of the day, I should be getting three times as much done as everyone else.
If I'm not cleaning, or running errands, or shopping, or cooking, or helping the kids with this or that I should be doing SOMETHING. What is that something? Well, as it happens, that something is writing.
I feel like if I have a spare minute I should be writing. And when I don't use those spare minutes for writing I feel guilty. And although there may be no greater waste of time than making yourself feel bad about yourself, that's what I continue to do.
I thought my mother was crazy for spending her free time watching the world within a glass tank, but the truth is she was lucky. She found a way to relax. She found a way to bring her mind to a peaceful place. What a gift that would be.
In this world of go, go, go, sometimes we need to be able to stop and take a break. Whether it's meditating, gardening, yoga, or simply watching the fish swim, go do something relaxing today! You've earned it! Trust me. You have!
And I have too. So, today, instead of agonizing about word count, I'm going shopping. I'm heading to Ulta and I'm going to waste money on one more beauty product I don't really know how to use. Why? Just because it's fun, and no other reason than that.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Weekly Word Count

Another crazy week for me. By Friday I'd only written 6,436 words. I don't usually write at all on the weekends, but with last weeks total of only 841 words I thought I'd better give it a shot.
Of course, the kids were home and I didn't want to abandon my husband with both of them so I brought my daughter with me to the library. She's kind of a bookworm, and we were heading to "the big library" so I thought we'd check her out a few books and she'd settle in for a long read. How could I have been so wrong?
After we got her books and sat down she wanted to get a drink. Then another drink. She'd tap me on the shoulder telling me to, "Look at that cute baby." or say, "Mom, feel this. I think it's gum.".
Then she wanted to ride the elevator upstairs. "Come on Mom, just ONE time!"
Okay, I thought, we'll ride the elevator up to the top floor and I'll rent one of those study rooms. We could go in there together.
It would be like a tiny jail cell for her. No water fountain, nobody walking by, no elevator, no distractions. I could finally get some work done!
I was wrong. There was a key! The fact that she could lock and unlock the door proved to be too much for her to resist. She suddenly needed to go to the bathroom, "I'll be right back." she'd say as she walked out the door with the key and a new air of sophistication. Or, "I have to get another drink of water." or "There's this book I want to check out." In and out. In and out, until finally I'd had enough.
Needless to say I didn't get much done. I left after writing only 1,557 words, giving me a total of 7,993 for the week.
When we got home she told my husband how much fun we'd had and how she couldn't wait to go again.
Oh well, lesson learned.
 How many words did you write last week?

P.S  It's two o'clock on Monday, February 17th. So far my word count for the day is zero, and I've almost finished an entire box of Girl Scout cookies! I'm not off to a great start!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Midpoint Mirror

Okay, here are just a few tidbits on what to do at the midpoint of your story. The midpoint is sometimes referred to as a reversal, or a big reveal, but whatever you call it, it should have two things.

First, an action or incident from which there is no going back. This is not one of those moments in the story where you can be wishy washy. As the author, you have to make a decision and make it stick.

Second, your protagonist should do some serious self evaluation. He (or she) has to ask some hard questions. What do I really want? What is at stake? Who am I? Can I win?

To help you out let's look at a few simple midpoint examples.
In our pretend story your protagonist works hard throughout the first half of the book to get the man of her dreams. In the middle of our story, when she finally nabs the dude:

A.  She spends the night with him (we're talking sex here, not just a sleepover), but when she wakes up in the morning she has second thoughts. He calls out to her from the bedroom, he wants her to make him breakfast. It reminds her of her parent's relationship, a relationship that was all wrong for both her mother and her father.  She asks herself; Am I like my mother? Do I really want this man?

B.  She spends the night with him (S-E-X). He asks her to make him breakfast and it reminds her of how her mother used to cook breakfast for her father.

C.  She takes him to her place and cooks for him. He seems demanding. He reminds her of her father, the way he used to boss around her mother. She asks herself; Am I like my mother? Do I really want this man?

Now, obviously, example A is your midpoint and it's not just because there is more writing up there.
It's because an action has occurred that she cannot undo (I'm pretty sure you can't UNsleep with people. You can say "nothing happened", but we all know it did:), and then she asks herself some questions. In essence, she holds a mirror (hello midpoint mirror) up to herself to ask what she really wants.

In example B, she spends the night with him, and is reminded of her mother and father's relationship, but she doesn't ask herself any hard questions. It's the questions, or more precisely, the answers to those questions that gives us the reversal we need at the midpoint.

In example C, you have the protagonist's realization that he is demanding like her father, and she asks herself the important questions, but there is no event that can't be undone. She is just dating him at this point and she can easily say, "Oops, my bad.".

Do you see how examples B and C could really make your midpoint drag? A reader might be saying to themselves, "Nothing's happening in this story." You don't want that anywhere in your novel, but especially not at the midpoint (or at your two major plot points).
Use your midpoint for your big scenes. Kill off characters, reveal secrets, blow shit up, but make sure that whatever happens it cannot be undone (You can't almost reveal the secret! Or reveal it and then take it back!), and it has to give the protagonist a reason to stop and re-evaluate what's been happening since page one.

Event that cannot be undone - Protagonist self evaluation - A change in the action of the story. That is your midpoint!!

Yes, there are a million different ways to do this. You don't need to have your protagonist sitting with her head in her hands thinking about feelings for two pages. You can set it up from the beginning of the story so that the reader knows that if our main character's mother dies she will be...homeless, helpless, charged with murder...whatever. When, at the midpoint, the mother does die we already know how our main character is going to feel about this. We already know it will change the direction of the story.

If you're muddling through the middle and you're stuck, try writing out a scene with the midpoint mirror in mind. If nothing else it will give you a better handle on who your main character is and what she wants.

If you wanna know about more than just midpoint, check out my post on  Three Act Structure.
Also, for a look at my writing resources check out Books on Writing.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Weekly Word Count

Don't laugh, but I only wrote 841 words last week. That's a lot of zeros up there!!
I'd like to say that I feel bad about not writing much last week, but the truth is I don't. I watched TV, hung out with the family, made costumes for a mother daughter rollerskating day, ran errands, helped kids with homework, and generally just enjoyed the role of stay at home mom.
Will I get back into the swing of things this week? I'm not sure, but I'm going to try. I must admit, it felt rather nice to just chill out a little:)

A quick update on my new writing gimmick. I have 30,000 words left to go. That means thirty of those note cards are left hanging on my bathroom mirror until my novel is done. Hopefully this week I'll be able to pull some more of those numbers off!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Weekly Word Count

My total word count for the month of January, in case you're interested, is 40,325. Not quite up to NaNo standards, but still not bad.
On Monday the muse was with me and I wrote 5, 572 words. I had to count twice to make sure I was right.  The rest of the week I did add some word count, but I was meandering through the plot a little. I need to spend the weekend to figure out exactly where I'm going.
I did end the week with a total of 10,992 words, my best week yet.
If you read my post about my new writing gimmick you'll be happy to know I've already taken down 20 of those little note cards. Not only am I writing faster, so that I can pull all those cards down, but I'm also just writing more. More scenes, more nonsense, more everything.
 I tend to be a very lean writer, thinking about the story structure in each scene. This is a good thing for the most part, but it can also be very limiting. By pushing myself on word count instead of just finishing the book I think I'm getting a little more depth to my characters and my story.
All in all, I'm feeling pretty good about January's totals.
Here's hoping next month will be even better.