Category Archives: Reader Wednesdays

Reader Wednesday: CONFLICT

To continue our series….

What I'm reading now

From Beginnings, Middles & Ends, by Nancy Kress, I’ll share the “four elements that make a first scene compelling,” along with how my novel stacks up. The four elements are: CHARACTER, CONFLICT, SPECIFICITY  and CREDIBILITY.

This week: CONFLICT

CONFLICT:  in real life, we avoid it, in fiction we live for it and so does your story and its readers.

CONFLICT doesn’t necessarily mean an argument or a fight scene.  In Beginnings, Middles & Ends author, Nancy Kress, uses Raymond Carver’s short story “Fat” as an example of CONFLICT. The overall theme of Carver’s story is based on a touchy subject. The writer and reader both know that in our society, weight is an emotional issue.

 

 In my novel,  I show CONFLICT in the following ways:

  • ABANDONMENT: Humans thrive on the need to be needed, loved, connected. We learn early on, page one to be exact, that Lily has been abandoned by her mother.
  • ALCOHOLISM: This disease has far-reaching affects, not only on the abuser, but their circle of family and friends. Lily’s mother’s disease effects Lily’s entire outlook on life: past, present and future. It is what drives her need to flee, yet grounds her at home, where she hopes her mom will return for her.
  • GRANDPARENT RAISING GRANDCHILD: As common as this situation is, it comes with its own set of problems. The age gap, the resentment on both the grandparent’s end and the child’s end, anger at the absent parent, yet a need to protect and defend them. Lily struggles with her Nonna’s prudish ways and strict work ethic on their lake resort. She depends on Nonna for being the only stable thing in her life, yet resents when Nonna bad-mouths her mother.
  • FAMILY SECRETS: anytime secrets are kept within a family, something is about to explode. Truth revealed and the reaction to that truth can cause a riptide in the gene pool.  As the new young guest, Frank, confides in Lily about the horrific secret his family is keeping, Lily discovers a buried box, filled with secrets her own family has been keeping from her.

Ask the Question: What is the CONFLICT and how early is it introduced?

Kress says the First line, or at least the first page,should promise CONFLICT and raise questions for the reader.

So, take the first page of your draft and see if  your CONFLICT  makes its grand entrance. Share your findings with us!

Next week we’ll discuss SPECIFICITY

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Reader Wednesday

This week, I picked another writing book – cause I have a slight problem. With books. And writing. And buying things ; )

What I'm reading now

From Beginnings, Middles & Ends, by Nancy Kress, I’ll share the “four elements that make a first scene compelling,” along with how my novel stacks up. The four elements are: CHARACTER, CONFLICT, SPECIFICITY  and CREDIBILITY.

This week: CHARACTER

CHARACTER:  described by her voice, internal and external dialogue, thoughts, clothing, surroundings and her reaction to them.

In my opening scene I show CHARACTER in the following ways:

  • IN HER ROOM: Piles of mismatched pillows that Lily swiped from the houses of her mom’s long list of “hook-up’s”
  • IN HER SETTING: Lily’s reaction and interaction with the lake, the air, the sun and the island
  • IN HER TASTES: Coffee – no sugar
  • IN HER PHYSICAL APPEARANCE: her complex with her large nose, the scar, her tanned skin, dry chapped feet, long windblown hair, cut-off jeans
  • IN HER DREAMS: culinary school brochures & applications

Ask the Question: What does this promise?

  1. Lily obviously has a problem with theft and possibly her mom’s promiscuity – how will this play into the story?
  2. The Setting of being on a lake and how Lily walks around in that world shows us her skills, her upbringing, her culture and lifestyle. Also may play into conflict later (with weather)
  3. Her tastes and family traditions surrounding coffee and all foods and cooking play a large role in the book
  4. Having a complex about the size of her nose makes her human, relatable. The details of her appearance and clothing pull the reader into Lily’s world – making her believable
  5. Lily’s goal of getting into culinary school is central in the theme of the book. When the Protagonist has a goal, the conflicts stacked up against her are that much more tense. Makes the reader Care!!

So, take the first scene of your draft and see how your CHARACTER stacks up. Share your findings with us!

Next week we’ll discuss CONFLICT

 ~~~~~~~~~~

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Reader Wednesday

What I'm reading now

Once again, from Write Great Fiction – Plot & Structure (Techniques and exercises for crafting a plot that grips readers from start to finish) – James Scott Bell

Stretching the Emotional (tension)

We humans are a circus of doubts and anxieties. Play them up! Give us the whole show.

To stretch the inner tension, ask these questions to get your raw material:

1.    What is the worst thing from the inside that can happen to my character? (This encompasses a whole universe of mental stakes. HINT:  look to the character’s fears.)

2.    What is the worst information my character can receive? (Some secret from the past or fact that rocks her world can be stalking her through the scene.)

3.    Have I sufficiently set up the depth of emotion for readers before the scene? (We need to care about your LEAD characters before we care about their problems.)

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5 prompt Friday

         Here we go again…

  1. The empty feeling in my stomach spread to my chest and head, threatening to pull me inside out.
  2. How do I say this to you?
  3. On her wrist was a bracelet made from multi-colored paperclips.
  4. His voice crackled through the walkie-talkie, “The Eagle Has Landed.”
  5. Are you ready to do this?

Have a story or prompt to share? Post it here : ) Happy writing!


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WINNER! and Reader Wednesday

Random.org selected commenter # 1 – That’s you, Beth MacKinney!

Congrats! Pls send me (mjwriter”at”comcast.net) your email contact  info and Mari L.McCarthy will send you her ebook: 27 Days of Journaling to Health and Happiness

 

And now back to our scheduled programming….

What I’m reading now

 

From Plot & Structure, by The Great James Scott Bell

Stretching the Physical (tension)

Questions to ask before you write a tense scene involving physical action:

What is the worst thing from the outside that can happen to my character? (This may be in the form of another person, a physical object, or a circumstance outside my character’s control.)

In my Novel-in-progress I’m thinking of a scene in the woods where Lily and Frank are digging up old relics in the dark. They’re found by Frank’s older brother, Vince, who’s been drinking and is belligerent.

What is the worst trouble my character can get into in this scene? (You may come up with an instant answer. Pause a moment and ratchet it up a notch. This may suggest further possibilities.)

Currently, Vince seems like a dangerous physical threat, but Lily fakes him out and she and Frank speed off on the mini-bike, avoiding any real danger. Too boring. Have you ever heard the advice to keep your characters in the room? It’s easy to get them out of trouble quickly and change scenes. But easy doesn’t make for interesting, tense reading. And building trouble, not dodging it, is the key to memorable scenes. So, Vince needs to get closer – be a real threat  – a hint that something terrible could result. Lily, a drunken boy. The dark woods. A scared little brother. Who’s going to be the hero? Will they be too late? How will this scene change the rest of the story? Change the characters?

Have I sufficiently set up the danger for readers before the scene? (Remember, they need to know what’s at stake before they start worrying.)

At this point in the story, Lily is no stranger to verbal abuse, but I don’t show any physical abuse. Perhaps that needs to explored. At this point, we also know that Lily is a tough girl with a sassy mouth, but we haven’t seen her in any confrontations. I think I need to add a few flashbacks of how Lily reacts to her mother’s abuse (cowers from her, folds into herself) to see how she will react to Vince’s threats.  Hm, sounds like I have some re-writing to do!

How can this exercise help your story? Which scene are you working on and what will you do differently to build that physical tension? *Next Week: Building Emotional Tension!

 

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Reader Wednesday

How are you guys liking the Reader Wednesday Series? I’m having fun posting my findings…

What I'm reading now

This week, From Write Great Fiction – Plot & Structure (Techniques and exercises for crafting a plot that grips readers from start to finish) – James Scott Bell

RE: the Lead Character

I love creating characters, probably my most favorite part of writing fiction, hence the reason I’m reading several books on developing plot! In Plot & Structure, Bell tells of the four characteristics your lead must have in order to hook the reader and carry them along for the journey of the book, the “why should I care about this character?”

Here are the four, and how my lead character, 16-year-old Lily Capriani, ranks:

IDENTIFICATION: How will readers identify with Lily?

Bell says readers will identify with lead characters using “the marks of a real human being.” Most likely we are 1) trying to make it in the world, 2) a little fearful and 3) not perfect.

This is how Lily is…

1)      Trying to make it in the world…

Surviving her mother’s abandonment

Needing to separate herself from her alcoholic mother and the gossip she left behind

Wanting to study culinary arts overseas to create her own future, far away from her current circumstances

2)      A little fearful…

Hoping her mom will return

Shelters her emotions, keeps a distance

Being stuck on Half Moon Bay Resort forever

Ending up like her mom

3)      Not perfect…

Low self-esteem

Workaholic

Kleptomaniac

SYMPATHY: Why will readers care about Lily? Root for her?

Bell says there are 4 ways to establish sympathy: 1) Jeopardy (physical or emotional trouble) 2) Hardship (facing a misfortune not of her own making) 3) The Underdog (we love rooting for those rags to riches heroes) 4) Vulnerability (we worry about a character who can be manipulated or injured or worse)

Lily evokes SYMPATHY by…

Vulnerability: she is stuck in her current life on the lake, reliving her mother’s abandonment each time she reappears to wreak havoc; Lily has an unsettling suspicion that her Nonna is keeping a terrible secret from her, which would have devastating results on her already unstable life.

LIKABILITY: Why would readers want to hang out with Lily for her journey (through several hundred pages?)

Lily is a likable character because…

She has an empathetic heart, kindness especially towards the elderly (her Nonna, the older resort guests) and underdogs (Frank) who she observes in an abusive situation, even though she struggles with her own distrust of people and need to remain “disconnected” so not to get hurt (mom’s abandonment)

She has a witty sense of sarcasm and humor and some smart ass one-liners

INNER CONFLICT: What inner voices battle within Lily making her a complex, multi-dimensional character?

Lily battles with the decision to leave Half Moon Bay and her Nonna to study culinary arts overseas

She justifies this decision by the need to live her own life and get away from the looming family secret, yet guilt over leaving her elderly Nonna to run the resort.

Lily also battles the improbable dream: that her mom will return sober, wanting to have the perfect mother-daughter relationship. If she leaves, she leaves that dream behind.

So, how does your lead character rank?

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Reader Wednesdays

What Im reading now

Still gleaning some sound advice from James Scott Bell’s  The Art of War for Writers (fiction writing strategies, tactics, and exercises)

Reminders as I write:

We all have our strong, and not so strong writing tricks, habits and patterns. And we are all trying to become better writers, no matter what our level of experience. We need to expand and stretch in our craft, try new things to enrich our writing.  Bell tells us: Decide what tactics you want to keep at the front of your mind as you write. Keep a list of these reminders with you during writing time. These will change as your writing changes/develops.

Here’s my current list:

THE BIG PICTURE= Remember to look at how the little scenes feed into the whole story; don’t go tangent crazy

DIG DEEPER =  the first draft is OK for simplified, clichéd descriptions, but I need to dig deeper for the perfect word/phrase to paint the precise picture (go easy on the adverbs)

ACTIVE = change those passive verbs to active! >>Anyone have references or exercises they can recommend?

NO TEARS IN THE WRITER…= no tears in the reader – infuse each scene with strong, deep emotions. Stop and reflect first person experiences to bring emotion and truth to the scene.

What are you reading? What are you learning?

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