Thursday, January 20, 2011

Eye-opening moments, heroes and vanquishing fear

How can I portray a dream?
I've kept dream journals, awakening in dead of night to jot down words that can hardly contain the images. I've tried painting them. But the essence usually slips back to that other world.
This photo is nothing like a recent dream I had, but it does convey the surreal-ness and ethereal-ness of it. I tried to put it into haiku. It didn't fit, but here's the attempt.
peering from cavern--
sky-blue sea hits white granite,
dashing all darkness
I'm not going to bore you with the dream details, but I will say what was most wonderful was the sense of leaving behind darkness, fear, despair, in order to brave a new world, full of possibility. That's how it felt when I woke up and what picturing the expanse of blue water and snowy-white cliffs still conveys.

I hit a snag--not a wall, just a bump--in the fairy tale I'm currently writing. I knew where the next chapter was going but felt like it needed something. In other words, I wasn't enthused, and figured it lacked tension.
I just didn't know what to do.
So I picked up Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, which I'd left languishing on a bookshelf. Maybe I'd find a way over the snag. Well, you know what? This workbook really works.
The first exercise asked me to name personal heroes. Abraham Lincoln popped to mind first. I've always admired him. I also thought of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr.
But what did these bigger-than-life public figures have to do with my teen protagonist in a fairy tale? As I continued the exercise, I wrote down what qualities made them heroes: courage, fortitude, conviction, compassion, eloquence.
And I knew that's exactly what I want my heroine to embody as she grows into her place in the world.
But it was another exercise that freshened my journey into the chapter that had stalled me.
The prompt was to write something your MC would never say, never do.
I don't want to reveal my plot, but I struggled with this until I realized that I already had the perfect answer. All I had to do was go back and expand an issue with another character that was in the story. Once I did that, I'd added new tension, new obstacles for my protagonist.
I'm not only writing up a storm, I'm thrilled with the layer this has added to the entire story. Thank you, Mr. Maass!
Gotta do a huge shout out.
Beth Revis' ACROSS THE UNIVERSE has hit the NY Times bestseller list at #7! Yay, Beth!


Tess said...

hooray for beth! and, I have heard such great things about this craft book....must pick it up.

Hannah said...

I love when that happens. When you're struggling with a certain aspect of writing and then you read something or have an epiphany. Then everything flows from then on.

And congrats to Beth! I'm reading that right now and enjoying it very much!!

Golden Eagle said...

It's a great feeling when things start moving after they've hit a snag, isn't it? :)

Wow. #7! Congrats to Beth!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

*waves* Hi Tess! It's a great craft book. I can't believe I haven't really used it since I bought it last year. (making up for lost time)

Hannah: That's what I love about the whole writing experience--so many ah-ha moments that are really satisfying.

GoldenEagle: Yup. I'm in the flow. :D

Suzanne Casamento said...

Maas' workbook is a good one. Also check out Nancy Lamb's The Art and Craft of Storytelling and The Writer's Guide to Crafting Children's Stories. Those two books are genius.

BK Mattingly said...

That sounds like an amazing dream :) send one my way please!

Donna said...

Wow! Yay for blue waters, white cliffs, the right book and a heroic protagonist.

Jade said...

I've been meaning to check that book out. Must look into it...

Phoenix said...

Awesome. It's always frustrating when things grind to a halt when trying to write, and then suddenly the creativity breaks through like a bird. Best feeling in the world!

And lovely haiku, by the way :)

Liza said...

Beautiful picture...and yes, if only we could stay in the dream state long enough to write them down. Thanks for the workbook recommendation.

VR Barkowski said...

Isn't it magical how sometimes all it takes is a little nudge to think outside the box and we're off and running? I don't own the Maass workbook. Clearly, it's time to visit my local independent bookseller.

Stunning photo and haiku. And, of course, *HUGE* congratulations to Beth. She is awesome!

Jemi Fraser said...

Yay Beth!!!!! :)

Love when the new idea adds layers to the story - such a great feeling! :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

What a day I've had. Somebody hit my car when it was parked and it has to go into the shop (and cost me money). :(

Anyway, it's such an uplift to come home and find your wonderful comments. Thank you all.

Suzanne: Thanks for the suggestions. I'll check for Nancy's books.

Bethany: Ha! I love that comment and will try to teleport you some dreams (only the good ones).

Donna: I really need to channel the energy and good will of that dream right now!

Jade: Please do. :)

Stacy: Aw, thank you. Writing haiku is soothing. Maybe I should write a little more.

Liza: They're slippery devils, those dreams, aren't they?

Viva: It is magical and, thank goodness, magic gets sprinkled in with the other stuff. ;)

Jemi: Yes, it's good. The layers make a story so much richer.

Tabitha Bird said...

I MUST get this book!

Glad you found it so helpful.

storyqueen said...

I have always wanted to read this I am definitely going to!

Yay for getting re-enthused!

I am seriously soooo curious about your WIP.


Linda Kage said...

I love that workbook. It really helped me with writing a synopsis.

Bish Denham said...

I think I need that book too! So happy it helped you work through the jam. Beautiful photo.

Jan Morrison said...

that book sounds great and I love hearing about your process. Yay!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Tabitha: I tend to drag my feet when it comes to reading workbooks, because, well, it's work! But this one is so helpful.

Shelley: I'm trying to get re-enthused all over again since someone hit my car yesterday. After I get it to the shop, I hope I'll get settled again.
I promise when I get the first draft complete, I'll be asking if you'd like to read it!

Linda: Oh, that's great to hear!

Bish: It did, and I've just started it. More good stuff to come, I believe. :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Jan: This has been a fun exercise. Glad you like!

Paul Greci said...

I love the DM workbook!!
And I'm totally enjoying Across the Universe--almost finished reading it.

cleemckenzie said...

It seems like it's important to return to those resources every once in a while. For some reason our minds seem to clog and a good book like Maass' is a great drain cleaning. Oh dear, I hope he doesn't take that in a negative sense because I adore his book.

Sarah Wylie said...

This book appears on my TBR list about...6 times? No more excuses - *must* check it out.

I love that photo!

Robyn Campbell said...

The haiku is so lovely, my friend. The haiku moves me more than the pic. It's stunning and sitting in my head right now for a long thought on it.

This writing book is wonderful. But Pat, the best writing craft book I know is actually reading your genre. You learn so much from reading other writers and I know you know that.

But that writing exercise sounds great. I can't remember reading it. Must go back and read it.

And I didn't do a shout out to Beth on my blog. Needed to, but I've been down about this other. So I'm a poop head. (((hugs))) I love you and this post.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Paul: I wish I'd cracked open that workbook sooner--I had no idea how helpful it would be.

Lee: Drain cleaner. :) Now that's an image-making phrase.

Sarah: I confess to being balky about "exercises." But this works!

Robyn: So pleased you like the haiku. The dream was too vivid to ignore and left such a sensation of challenges met and overcome.
You have every right to be down and distracted over what you're dealing with. I'm sure Beth understands. Big hugs to you.


Donald Maas's book sounds really good. Is he the same person as the agent? If so, nice to see someone so multi-talented. My favorite writing book (though not a workbook) is still John Gardner's The Art of Fiction, which I know is super old school, but still--I love all the things he says. Thanks for posting about this, and congrats on your friend's book--that's uber impressive.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Hi Samuel! Yes, that's the same Donald Maass who is an agent. I read Gardner's book years ago. I should pick that up again, too.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I'm so stoked for Beth!! Such a crazy awesome happy thing for her! And I'm going to have to dig out Maass' book - I got it for Christmas, but only got through the first chapter before I got distracted. But I'll keep it in mind for my next "block." :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Susan: I'm going to do more of the workbook exercises tomorrow. Keep stirring the pot!