Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sharpen your tools (or claws)

I heard good buzz about Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. I write novels, but a lot can be learned about compelling storytelling from movies. So I ordered Snyder’s book from my county library share system and found I’d ordered the follow-up book by accident.
SAVE THE CAT! Goes to the Movies is packed with insights useful to any writer. Snyder identifies story types and gives examples of movies that fit these structures: Monster in the House, Golden Fleece, Out of the Bottle, Dude with a Problem, Rites of Passage, Buddy Love, Whydunit, Fool Triumphant, Institutionalized and Superhero.
Some of the films he gives as examples will make you nod your head and murmur, “Of course.” Others may surprise you.
I think the message here is not so much there are only a certain number of plotlines that exist in the world, but that a story needs a rock-solid structure first and then can vary the rest of the details. Otherwise, writers run the risk of being wishy-washy, not able to pinpoint in their pitch and, later, to readers what their story really is about.

If you have trouble identifying into which of the categories your story fits, Snyder lists elements that should be there. For instance, under Rites of Passage, it is the hero who must change, not the world around him.

Under Monster in the House, there must be a “sin,” some transgression that let the monster in. Buddy Love requires an incomplete hero who needs another to be whole.
There are lots of valuable tips. But I think I’ll leave you with a game. See if you can figure out what common links there are in the example movies that Snyder gives for each story type. (You can find the answers by reading the book. I’m so mean. Although if some of you try to guess in the comment section, I’ll tell you if you solved it, because I’m not all that mean.)

Monster in the House: Alien; Fatal Attraction; Scream; The Ring; Saw.

Golden Fleece: The Bad News Bears; Planes, Trains and Automobiles; Saving Private Ryan; Ocean’s Eleven; Maria Full of Grace.

Out of the Bottle: Freaky Friday; Cocoon; The Nutty Professor; What Women Want; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Dude With a Problem: Three Days of the Condor; Die Hard; Sleeping With the Enemy; Deep Impact; Open Water.

Rites of Passage: 10; Kramer vs. Kramer; Ordinary People; 28 Days; Napoleon Dynamite.

Buddy Love: The Black Stallion; Lethal Weapon; When Harry Met Sally; Titanic; Brokeback Mountain.

Whydunit: All the President’s Men; Blade Runner; Fargo; Mystic River; Brick.

Fool Triumphant: Being There, Tootsie; Forrest Gump; Legally Blond; The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

Institutionalized: M*A*S*H; Do the Right Thing; Office Space: Training Day; Crash.

Superhero: Raging Bull; The Lion King; The Matrix; Gladiator; Spider-Man 2.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Nature's helping hand

the ocean turns from

snow ice to vanilla cream

with the rising sun




My heart melted a little when I forced myself out for this early morning walk and saw the colors of sun on water and dolphins leaping in the surf.


Someone really screwed me and my daughter over yesterday. It is something that damages us financially and emotionally, since it was a betrayal. Usually, I don't post about such things, but I do if I can find a way to work with them on a creative level.

This is one thing that nature, photography, haiku and other forms of writing do for me. They help me balance the anger and grief over something like this. Do you have ways of dealing with setbacks, particularly those you have no control over?

Friday, August 19, 2011


I'm reflecting on three incredible days I spent at WriteOnCon without leaving my home office. I can't say enough about the people who organize this free online conference or about the scores of editors, agents and authors who volunteer to share their tips, encouragement and critiques.

The photo of reflection I took this week while walking along a flat and freshly wet section of beach. The sand looked like it was enamel and it reflected the sky. Otherworldly.


Here are some random tidbits I was wowed with at WriteOnCon.

Are you having trouble coming up with a title? Editor Martha Mihalick says she looks for ideas in Shakespeare, the Bible and poetry. How cool is that tip? *runs to bookshelf*

Author Lisa Schroeder says you need to have a good reason for whatever beginning you chose for your novel. It should be a moment of significance, and you need to ask yourself why you chose that particular moment.

Agent Joanna Volpe really put the heart into what makes middle grade novels special.

Brilliant is a word that often seems to attach itself to author Sarah Rees Brennan. And it's easy to see why if you follow her livejournal blog or read her books. Her hilarious personality comes through in a chat that also delivers plenty of tips. I will never forget the mind puppets.

Picture book authors Tiffany Strelitz Haber and Corey Rosen Schwartz went many extra miles to give personalized rewrites of stanzas to the people who left examples on their post. It was amazing to see what they can do with rhyme, meter and content


I was pretty much wowed by all the panel chats and agent critiques. You can go through the August archives to find everything, but the easiest way for you to cherrypick what to read is to go to the Full Schedule and link from there. The calls for questions or submissions for critiques are obviously closed now that the event is over, but the posts and transcripts of live events can be accessed any time. Do yourself a favor, for both pleasure and personal growth, read. That's another beauty about this conference--it's there whenever you can spare a moment.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Pharaoh in the Sand and other tales

I saw this Pharaoh in the sand and thought what a great story title that would be. I've got storytelling on my mind after spending dawn to dark at WriteOnCon today (except for that walk along on the beach, I was crazy-glued to my computer screen).

If you're not at WriteOnCon, you're missing out on this free, online conference. The good news is you can read all the chat transcripts, watch the videos and read posts any time. But it's fun to attend the live events.

Here are some highlights (stuff I loved) from the first day. These are just paraphrased tidbits. You'll get much more out of reading the related posts or transcripts:

A chat with agent Suzie Townsend. She receives about 350 queries every week, so you can imagine how important it is to make yours stand out. Don't tell her, she says, that you heard she likes strong female characters, show her that character in the way you write the query. If she's not engaged by the character, she'll stop reading. She's very open in this chat about how she works with clients--the relationship, the revisions.

A chat with agent Sara Megibow, which covered in depth how she thinks writers should develop platforms.

The best description of magical realism ever by author Nova Ren Suma.

A video of author Sara Zarr discussing pacing. This was so packed with useful tidbits, I took notes. Here's one: By page 30, all the story seeds should be planted--the central conflict and important characters introduced.

Picture book query critiques from author Emma Walton Hamilton. She read and commented on about 50 query letters!

Q&A with agent Jessica Sinsheimer who went many extra miles in answering tons of questions, including mine, which made me all kinds of smiley.


This barely begins to describe what these people, and many other authors, agents and editors are offering. Truly an amazing event, which continues Wednesday and Thursday. Go taste of its goodness. You know you want to.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Prompting Fate (a contest)

Contest time at The Merry Sisters of Fate. Randomly-chosen winners are trying for a signed advance reader’s copy of THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater, a signed advance reader’s copy of THE SPACE BETWEEN by Brenna Yovanoff or a signed hardback of BLOOD MAGIC by Tessa Gratton. The authors are the sisters of fate, if you didn’t know.
The picture prompt for this contest is “The Turret Stairs” by Frederic Burton, and here’s my entry, a flash fiction:

He has no choice. Those are his words, not mine. I feel them like a shard of glass, a needle of ice through my heart.

This is the last time—I have no doubt of this—he will press his body to mine, the final touch of soft lips, hot breath upon my neck.

I cannot look at him.

“I am the kingdom,” he says, as though I need convincing. “What I desire, what I prefer, must always be for the good of all.”

Am I not part of all? But I do not speak those words or any other.

My hand rests on stone, cold as a tomb, centuries of terror held captive in these walls. I must climb into the darkness alone while he will step into the light of ten thousand candles and as many dawns.

“It was your hair, they say, that made them so sure.” He loops the end of my braid around his finger—a red-copper ring. A moan escapes him. He pulls his dagger free and cuts the lock, holding it first to his nose and then tucking it within his shirt. “I will mourn you always.”

I face him finally. “You will mourn, and you will suffer every moment of my eternal imprisonment. I would rather they’d sewn a hundred river stones in my hem or made me run in iron boots fresh from the fire than the end you chose. For you did have a choice, you see.”

“I could not sentence you to such a death!”

“But you have, my love, you have.”

Sunday, August 7, 2011

misty thoughts

flannel sky, pewter

sea, soft and silent as stilt

walkers and our ghosts



flapping red flags

break up the gray stillness

scatter my thoughts