Posts Tagged ‘Writing Craft’

Recently I realized there’s a definite pattern to the books that I’ve been writing. In some ways I suppose it’s obvious, but since it’s quite unintentional, it kind of caught me by surprise.

The female protagonists, and often the males as well, in at least two of my novels, and probably another three that I’ve outlined, are adults in their mid-thirties to early fourties, and who have, for one reason or another, chosen to put their energies into their career at the expense of finding love. Sometimes their single-minded focus on their careers is related to their backstory– something that happened to them in their family of origin or in their youth. Sometimes their avoidance or downplaying of love in their lives is due to their commitment to their career, but often to their backstory as well. Sometimes committment is the issue.

These things tend to get muddled together, and often there are issues characters don’t want to admit to or confront. Personally, I think this makes for interesting values-in-conflict story-telling, just like Randy Ingermanson recently wrote.

When it comes to career, we’re talking about identity. For modern working women, this is a complicated issue. I discuss this a bit in the Essay elsewhere on my website entitled: What is it about romance? I also think that this pattern is not uncommon, and that not all women talk openly about this issue with their friends. Men possibly not at all. For a serious, career-driven woman to admit that she is looking for love seems like a cop-out. It’s something that should “just happen” but never take one’s attention away from the all-important career. It feels like they are pandering to outmoded “fairy tales” from the past. Perhaps today, with internet dating sites, the whole “mate searching” problem has become more open and explicit than it was in my day. Even if women are open about wanting to find love as well as have their career, I think it remains a challenge for modern women to be comfortable with the idea that they place importance on finding true love without feeling like their identity as a professional woman is somehow compromised, or that they will be perceived as not “serious.”

Identity in conflict with a character’s essence is how Michael Hauge talks about the character arc in a plot. It reminds me of Maureen Murdock’s writing in The Heroine’s Journey. It differs significantly from The Hero’s Journey in that for men, there is only the quest. For women, there is both the quest and the hearth–the desire and need to nurture and have a family. Perhaps these two goals have always been in conflict for women through the ages, but the Feminist movement brought it into the light. I happen to think that in these Post-feminist times (and I mean that like Post-Modernism, the Feminism hasn’t gone away, we’re just living in the historical wake of a huge societal change) the challenge is all the greater because each successive generation of women openly discuss the rights we’ve come to expect less and less. So much is taken for granted, that I think individual women often struggle alone to come to terms with these conflicting values without the rhetoric to guide them.

In Murdoch’s view, the Heroine’s Journey is not linear, but rather circular, or perhaps spiral. A woman may begin the journey by rejecting the “mother” and embracing the strong “masculine” role for herself, but she cannot attain her ultimate essence until she takes a little detour down to the underworld of the primal Earth mother, embraces her essential feminine, and returns, having discovered the source of her own power. Only then can she come to terms with her own mother, internalize the strong male and emerge empowered as her true feminine self, as both a “warrior” and a “mother” figure (whether or not she in fact is or becomes a mother). (My sincere apologies to Maureen Murdoch if I’ve completely mangled her ideas in my attempt to distill and condense them here.) This “coming to terms with the essential power of the feminine” brings to mind the re-told stories of Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her Women Who Run with the Wolves. There’s a Jungian link between these two writers, so the connection is no accident. In any event, the journey is a bit more complicated for women. Murdoch suggests that any given woman may be stuck at, or experiencing, a particular place along this path, which raises certain issues and puts particular challenges before our heroine.

This is how I envision my heroines. Depending upon their individual story, I try to keep in mind what challenge they most need in order to take the next step toward their own happy ending, and find a way for that to happen in my stories. You may or may not recognize Murdoch’s Jungian stages in my stories, but they definitely help me trace each of my heroine’s journeys.


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Well I see it’s quite a while since I added anything new to my site. I have a good excuse, honest.

I mentioned in What’s New back in April that I’d been taking a few courses. Well, I sure did. I don’t know what came over me. I seem to have discovered a multitude of wonderful resources and slipped temporarily into a kind of addiction to learning. After taking two online course from Laurie Schnebley at WriterU entitled the Hero’s Personality Ladder and Plotting Via Motivation, I judged a contest, took a WordPress class online through the RWA-PRO group, then headed off to the Banff Centre for the Arts for the weeklong Writing with Style Workshop, as mentioned earlier.

Not yet ready to lie down, I then attended the RWAGVChapter Write On Vancouver Conference and enjoyed the amazing Michael Hauge’s “Style Mastery” Workshop. Then at the end of May, the RWAGVChapter hosted an all day workshop with the intrepid Bob Meyer on the Warrior Writer. Throughout May, I was also taking Margie Lawson’s Deep Edits course online, by which time I was practically brain dead. I just couldn’t keep up with the assignments, even though the material was fascinating and I wanted to juice it for every ounce of wisdom (and trust me, Margie has plenty to offer.)

I think that’s when I turned off and tuned out completely, and after a brief reprieve, decided to go back to working on the first draft of my WIP, Coming About (see Books.) I was still trying to write 50K words between February and the RWA National Conference in NYC in late June, which, sadly, I was unable to attend.  Nevertheless, I actually did ultimately succeed in meeting the goal, and have continued onward through the summer adding to that total, so that now, I’m about 75% complete the first draft of the ms. with about 78,500 words to date.

Margie’s material is so terrific that it was hard to keep writing when I knew there was still so much to learn. But if there’s one thing I have learned, it’s that the first draft hasn’t much to do with all those terrific writing skills. Those are best applied later, during revisions. It’s a funny thing. I’ve always preferred writing the first draft, and rather dreaded the revisions. More on that later.

My brain is so overfilled with fantastic new knowledge that it’s difficult to recap, but I want to say at least one pithy thing about each of the courses that I’ve taken this spring. Firstly, in The Hero’s Personality Ladder, I learned that it’s critical to know your protagonist very well before you begin to write. It’s important to understand both the hero’s strengths and weaknesses, because these tell you how s/he will react to stimuli, and this clues you into what obstacles to throw in their path to best reveal their transformation. Also, these strengths and weaknesses have to be revealed early in the story.

Progressing on from there, Plotting Via Motivation delves deeper into character, and motivation, including backstory, to dig down beneath the surface. By asking Why? we can understand what really makes our characters tick, and expose their most basic needs. Sometimes these are selfish and not-so-honourable, but they are the motives and needs that make the characters both human and believable. Weaving together the personalities and motivations of the main characters reveals the warp and weft of your plot. Et Voila.

About the WordPress course, I can only say to my RWA-PRO peers, THANK YOU! For a somewhat-too-old-to-be-quite-comfortable with this technology, this course demystified and made available the tools to create a web presence which was before unavailable. It turned out to be quite simple. Which is not to say I’m ready for regular blog posts. But it’s a start.

The Writing with Style workshop at the Banff Centre was a once in a lifetime rich experience. There is simply nothing like total immersion in a full time writing environment surrounding by peers who are on the same journey. I learned valuable skills from each of the stylistas in my Novel-First Chapter workshop, and we all thrived under the expert guidance of award winning author Audrey Thomas. From these talented writers I learned something about dreams, voice, history, detail, humour, culture and discipline. Most of all I learned to believe in and never to short-change your own vision as a writer.

Michael Hauge’s workshop was an interesting take on similar material to Christopher Vogler’s Hero’s Journey but with a focus on Michael’s massive experience with screenwriting and vetting. With this unique perspective came new terminology and some questions and answers about story structure and the relationship between the hero’s inner and outer journey that were fresh and helpful.

Bob Mayer’s workshop focussed on the Writer as a professional. The material is available in his book Warrior Writer: From Writer to Published Author and delves into the psychology of the writer’s mind to help articulate personal goals and achieve them. It’s an aspect of the writing life that’s seldom touched upon, and Bob digs deep into character to help us understand what we want and what might be holding us back. (I will I will I WILL send out those D**M queries!) Thanks so much Bob!

Back to Margie Lawson. What can I say. I’ve learned something valuable from all my teachers, but I’ve been looking for the tools that Margie teaches for years. Until now, I’ve approached revisions in an optimistic but fairly hapless way. Margie’s Deep Edits and Rhetorical Devices class gave me a system to examine my writing, and that of others, and to really understand what it’s doing and HOW. It’s rational, which I guess I like. There’s often so much going on in my head that I can’t pin it down, and end up spinning my wheels (cliche alert! ; )) and feeling helpless, so I like systems to organize my thoughts. Now I’m looking forward to finishing my first draft of Coming About and getting to work tightening up the first two books before coming back at the new one with fresh eyes and VERY sharp tools. So Exciting!

I so enjoyed Margie’s class that I also downloaded the lecture packets for her other two classes: Empowering Character Emotions and Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist. I’ve just started working through the second one (I know, I know, I’m supposed to be taking a  break from courses, but…) WOW. It’s great material. What can I say?

Back to writing. Just coming to the juicy part now. We’ll see if all this stuff really works. Cheerio.

Oh! I’m also going to test the Pomodoro method as recommended by Randy Ingermanson. Just sayin’ : )

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