Sunday, May 29, 2011

The utensil of character development

This is the most useful utensil I've come across. You could survive any eating experience with it.

You could tear into a juicy slab of Alberta Beef; you could swivel pasta or noodles; and, you could scoop up some pudding for desert.

It's a multi-dimensional, complex utensil, just as your characters need to be multi-dimensional and complex.

Like my protag Cyd in the two novels of the Megabyte Mystery series, she can stab the antagonist with sarcasm and wit; swirl through plot twists and slide through the turns with intelligence and curiosity; and, care for her animal obsessed twin sister with compassion. She's a complex character. 

Donald Maass has an exercise where you take a couple of the positive characteristics of your protag and give them to your antag and vice versa. This is how you create complex characters; characters aren't all good or evil all the time. 

Similarly to the utensil, your character can then dig into any literary meal you throw at them.

 Gotz to get me some Alberta beef!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What's a logline?

I was skyping with my writer friend Jocosa of the Earrings (who blogs at I may not be John Irving where theatre meets writing), and we were discussing the logline for her work-in-progress. She is going to a conference and they asked participants to write a logline for their manuscript.  

My first question was: what's a logline

Different from the high concept blurbs on my novels like: It's Nancy Drew meets Lady Macbeth (Dead Bird through the Cat Door) or It's Nancy Drew for the ipod generation (Dead Frog on the Porch) a log line is most often used in the movie industry. It boils the story down to its essence.  

The elements of a logline include:
who the story is about (protagonist)
what s/he strives for (goal)
what stands in his/her way (antagonistic force).
A logline doesn't tell the entire story. It's a hook, and uses story elements to reveal the dramatic narrative.  

Let's look at some famous loglines:

 After a twister transports a lonely Kansas farm girl to a magical land, she sets out on a dangerous journey to find a wizard with the power to send her home. - THE WIZARD OF OZ
Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first woman she meets, then teams up with three complete strangers to do it again. — Humourous Logline for The Wizard of Oz, attributed to Richard Polito of the Marin Independent Journal who writes sarcastic briefs for the paper's daily TV listings.

After being institutionalized for a suicide attempt, a teen struggles for sanity and closure but must overcome his greatest adversary first – his mother. - ORDINARY PEOPLE

In  a future where criminals are arrested before the crime occurs, a despondent cop struggles on the lam to prove his innocence for a murder he has not yet committed. - MINORITY REPORT

You'll notice some similarities: cause and effect, well chosen adjectives, and the fact that the protag struggles against an antagonistic force.  

Here's my log line/back of the book cover blurb for Dead Frog on the Porch:

Sisters Cyd and Jane are propelled into an international plot involving evil scientists and giant, genetically stretched frogs. They struggle to save the frog kingdom as their scientist mom sides with the geneticists, and the police don’t believe them. (Alright, it's a little long, I'll work on it).  

Jocosa's log line about our friendship and journey as struggling writers: 
A wannabe woman's fiction writer teams up with a crazed lentil addicted YA author. Together they crash conferences and stalk agents and novelists on their bipolar ride to publishing stardom.
Now we just need someone to write the screen play ... I'm busy making lentil soup. 

What the log line for your work-in-progress?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

If you're    ready for a zombie apocalypse, then you're ready for any emergency.

Now that I've survived the end of the world (sitting in the sun in my backyard reading Middlemarch by George Eliot), I figured it was time to prepare for the possibility of a Zombie Apocalypse (like I don't have enough problems? Now I have to prepare for a Zombie Apocalypse!?). 

The good anti-zombie people at the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention are thinking ahead and  came up with Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse. 

There are many good tips like this one: 

Plan your evacuation route. When zombies are hungry they won’t stop until they get food (i.e., brains), which means you need to get out of town fast! Plan where you would go and multiple routes you would take ahead of time so that the flesh eaters don’t have a chance! This is also helpful when natural disasters strike and you have to take shelter fast.  

You can get all the info you need to be prepared for the impending Zombie Apocalypse (or any other natural disaster) at this link.    

Now to get back outside and catch a few more rays before the zombies arrive - or the more likely rain clouds. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sentenced to poetry and octopus ballet

Now that we've all lived through the great blogger meltdown of 2011, I can post again! Love blogger, hated the meltdown. 

As writers we're always looking for inspiration. Sometimes we look for it sitting on the couch, channel surfing and watching re-runs, but mostly we know that inspiration is everywhere, and we have to train our creative eye to find it. 

Here are a couple of examples I found this week. 

A judge in Florida recognized the power of literature when she sentences some youth to writing. Here's the article from the South Florida Sun Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- A Broward County judge is giving some juvenile offenders some poetic justice.

Circuit Judge Merrilee Ehrlich has ordered about a dozen young offenders over the last six months to write poetry and read their work in court as part of their conditions for probation.
As a reward, some defendants can lose as many as 20 hours from their community service sentences.

Ehrlich says it's too early to tell if the alternative sentences are making any difference in the defendants' lives, but she points out how many have chosen to participate in the poetry readings.
Friday was the third poetry reading in Ehrlich's courtroom. Young offenders read from handwritten notes about their hardships and temptations in their neighborhoods.

And here's a video of some deep water octopi performing a ballet of the ocean. No calamari were harmed in the making of this video. 

Have an inspiring writing day!   

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Disease of 'what if?' ... germs of imagination

Last Saturday I presented at the Calgary Young Writers' Conference put on by the Calgary Board of Education. More than a thousand super keen children, in grades 4-8, who love reading and writing gave up a Saturday to spend the day in writing workshops, listening to a key note address, revelling in the book store set up by Mount Royal University Book Store and getting autographs from all of the 45 writers, illustrators and poets who were presenting. 

Multiple award winning (which basically means I'm too lazy to look up all the awards he's received and list them for your reading pleasure) author Tim Wynne-Jones presented the key note address. I had a blue pencil session with him last fall at the Surrey International Writers' Conference and we were both equally covered in cat hair (thus re-enforcing the stereotype that writers like cats).   
The kids loved him, and he was funny. He diagnosed writers as having the disease of 'what if?' This isn't spread by germs, but by imagination (does that mean I can lay off the hand sanitizer)? Writers observe the world around us and ask 'what if?' then follow that thought, create a world and populate it with characters. 

It was a truly wonderful and inspirational day. I presented two 75 minute workshops where I made the kids write until their fingers bled encouraged the youth to express their creativity through the medium of writing.  

I gave them a writing exercise and told them to stretch their imagination and let their ideas take flight. One diminutive grade four student with an equally tiny voice put up her hand and squeaked: "without imagination you don't have anything. You don't have a story!" So true!

When I asked them to take the scene they'd written (which was mostly telling and not showing) and write it all in dialogue one student blurted out: "but that's hard!" My response: "yes, yes it is and every writer struggles to write believable dialogue."   

Thanks to all the great kids who dedicated a Saturday to hanging out with writers and learning more about writing. Many, many teachers volunteered to make the conference work and kudos to the organizers. 
I guess writers do like cats!