25 August 2008

Blogging and the Muse

A writer recently left the following message:
"Sometimes when I'm writing I feel like someone else is in my head writing it for me. Weird when the characters take over but not uncommon apparently. This doesn't happen when blog writing by the way."

I surmise it is the muse in the form of the characters that is taking over. Somehow, this writer is able to surrender his/her ego (what some call the critic) long enough for the creative force to work through him/her when writing fiction.

I find it interesting that blog writing isn't the same. I wonder if that's true for others???

Perhaps blog writing is so quickly accessible to public scrutiny that the ego (critic) can't let go. Does that make blogs more ego-driven???? The writing more self-conscious???

Any thoughts???

21 August 2008


I respond to the first query about villains with intrigue. I teach writers to use as many antagonists as needed to create conflict and excitement on the page. I seldom concentrate on the archetype of the villain. The antagonists I focus on are the seven internal antagonists that plague our characters (as well as ourselves). There are also seven external antagonists.

I generally address only dictionary definition #3 of villain: a character in a story or play who opposes the hero.

My intrigue turned leery when I noticed the same message appear in the comment's section of the blog -- this time repeated three times.

Before I have a chance to post, I personally get slammed in the face with #4 definition of villain: one blamed for a particular evil or difficulty. Caught completely off-guard by the vehement anger and resentment thrown at me, I could not help but note the timing. My hesitancy to write about the villain paired with the email experience forced me to face my fear of the villain. Bullies scare me. So much easier to see them as antagonists -- a concept. Removed.

Instead of an actual post, I twittered about villains. Cop-out, I know. But still, a step...

Before I have a chance for an actual, the message returns, now with a threat. Don't answer and the writer will take his question elsewhere. My deepest reaction? Relief.

The message comes back.

Here goes:
The protagonist of a story of any kind, even in a blog post, sets out on a journey. Along the way she is tested both internally -- fears, hates, and / or flaw. She is also tested externally -- society, nature, other people, machines. Other people can be family members and friends, anyone out to stop the protagonist from getting what she wants.

A villain is darker and meaner. Family and so-called friends can be or become villains. The villain welds power enough to demand their own plot line. They are not changed and transformed by the dramatic action in the story -- as the protagonist is -- but their story has to hit the same key scenes in universal story form.

Have you ever faced a villain?? Not an antagonist but the archetype of a villain?? How dark and how evil? How do you deal with a villain -- in life and in your writing?? I only have that once. My lasting impression is being overpowered by blackness.

14 August 2008

Plot at the Local Children's Shelter

Seven young adults between the ages of 12 to 17 shuffle inside the Children Shelter’s classroom. The boys loom large. The girls shift from motherly to sexy and back, like blinking red lights.

I break down some stories to them with a focus on the Beginning 1/4 of the story and ending at The End of the Beginning. I ask them to write the beginning of a story real or imagined that leads to a moment of no return, a moment when life shifts, when good turns bad or bad to worse. I suggest that the character want something that now becomes seemingly impossible to attain.

For a girl with clear brown eyes, her main character wants more time with her dad. The End of the Beginning is when her dad dies. Another girl shows a mom in heaven remembering her beautiful little girls. The End of the Beginning is when the girls go live with an uncle with a belt.

For the Middle of their stories, I asked them to describe the new world the main character is now living. I ask for three bumps that shake the character, stop the character, interfere with his/her dreams and leads to a Crisis. The Crisis is is the dark night of the soul.

Before I release them to their writing, we play charades. The two biggest boys and a girl with incredilbly long eyelashes act out emotion cards. The other kids and volunteers and counselors guess at the emotions. I stress for descriptions of what they see that leads them to know the emotion. I wanted them to "show" the character in the emotion, not "tell" the character.

To demonstrate anger, the biggest boy grabs a chair, swings it over his head and slams it to the floor. The girls reel backwards and scream. Counselors leap to their feet. I ask him to do it again but without the violence. Then we dissect his facial expressions to find the more subtle signs of anger and rage.

After a lunch of pizza and juice, we trudge back inside for the End. The room is stuffy and close, but feels safe and womb-like.

I give examples of characters overcoming tremendous odds at the Climax and being deeply transformed by the experience. We talk about what stories mean overall: a tough time leads to a lifelong belief that people are no damn good? (my father throughout his life) Good triumphs over bad (the girl with the belt). Bad triumphs over good (the boy with the rage).

My hope is that giving the kids an opportunity to get the bad stuff out of their bodies and moving is good. Rather than let it sit and fester, to bring the fear and disappointment out to the light of day is a good thing.

What have you left buried deep inside????

07 August 2008

Allow Your Dreams to do Your Heavy Plot Lifting

Following is an inspirational way to use your dreams to write your stories by hynotherapist, author, and radio personality Kelly Sullivan Walden.

Like Kelly, I, too, use my dreams to support my writing and you'll usually find me up before dawn, writing.

"While I was up to my elbows mid-way through writing my recent book, “I Had the Strangest Dream…the Dreamer’s Dictionary for the 21st Century” (Warner Books), I developed the practice of rolling out of bed and into my “writing station.” While still in the in-between-worlds place I would open my laptop, take a deep breath, and with eyes half closed, let my fingers do the tapping. Before my logical brain woke up, I would give myself permission to write whatever wanted to be written from my subconscious/dream state.

This “dream state” writing would often wind its way to being relevant to the particular aspect of the book I happened to be working on. Even if my writing took a detour I would nonetheless find myself opened to a smorgasbord of thoughts and feelings that I could apply to the subject at hand that never would have occurred to me otherwise.

If there was nothing in particular that wanted to be written, I would simply write about my dreams from the night before. This actually has become a practice I believe will be with me ‘til the day I die, and perhaps the most valuable practice I have ever discovered. I believe there is a brief and precarious window period between the realm of sleep and awake, and if accessed, our entire day becomes brighter with a heightened awareness and aliveness. I actually feel that this may very well be the short cut to truly developing and strengthening our intuition. As a writer, what gift could be more valuable?

I believe it is specifically due to this practice that I was able to “dream up” an entire novel. About a year ago, I awoke at 3am (many writers tell me that their best writing ideas come to them at this god forsaken hour) with the entire story…the beginning, middle, end…the characters, their names, dress, voice tonality, the whole 9, as it were.

Without having to painstakingly try to figure out these characters and plot line, it was delivered to me, and all I had to do was take dictation.

I’ve talked to many writers that receive their best ideas, or plot lines from their dreams…and why not? Our dreams connect us with the vast aspect of who we are…as we sleep we dance with souls from time immemorial and explore realms about which have heretofore never been written. Why not let your dreams do your heavy plot lifting for you so that you can spend your precious awake time downloading these inspired messages. Who knows, tonight you just may receive the plot twist you’ve been praying for!

May your wildest and most wonderful writing dreams all come true!"

Kelly Sullivan Walden is a Hypnotherapist, Dream Coach, and author of Warner Books’ I HAD THE STRANGEST DREAM, THE DREAMER’S DICTIONARY FOR THE 21ST CENTURY. Author of DISCOVER YOUR INNER GODDESS QUEEN, an Inspirational Journey from Drama Queen to Goddess Queen, Kelly is also the publisher of GoddessQueenMagazine.com. Her specialty is in empowering people to live the life of their dreams. Kelly is a regular guest on FOX news New York, CBS/AOL Psychic Radio and has recently been featured around the country on ABC, FOX, and NBC news, as well as in Cosmopolitan, Woman’s Day, SELF, ELLE and the Chicago Tribune. Kelly is the creator of The Dream Project, a local movement for Global change.

Join Kelly’s Dream Circle Membership Program and receive Kelly’s FREE Weekly Dream Symbol and subscription to Goddess Queen Magazine. If you are interested in more information about the Dream Project, talking with Kelly about private dream coaching sessions or booking her for any future speaking engagements, you may contact her at: kelly@kellysullivanwalden.com.

Do you use your dreams to help support your writing? Write while the rest of the world sleeps?

06 August 2008

Tells the Story -- What or Who?

Have you ever been told your characters read like cardboard figures? Agents complain about not being able to get close enough to the main character? That they couldn't stay interested? It happens to all writers, whether action-driven or character-driven.

Writer's Test:

You're in an elevator with the exact right agent for your book. You have three floors to attract the agent's interest, get her to ask, "what happens next?" and, at the third floor, give you her card to send the first 50 pages.

Do you:

1. Start by saying something about the character: It's a story about a beautiful Swedish girl who comes to America looking for love. She gets a job in the kitchen of a society family in New York City. The family's silver and gold go missing. The man who interrogates her is tall and handsome. She has to defend herself with only the English she learned in school.

2) Start by giving an overview of the dramatic action: "It's a story about a land deal in New York City between the Elks Club and the mob. Money and silver go missing from the Elk leader's home. The next day he is found dead.

3) Start with a brief idea of the theme: It's a story about corruption and greed, the wealthy and poor, loyalty and love.

I have ideas about each of these, but lately am fascinated by #2. I'll post some tips and tricks in the coming weeks. Be patient.

05 August 2008


I never write two posts in one day. I'm lucky if I get in one a week. Rather than do what I should be doing -- getting my free monthly Plot Tips eZine out to awaiting writers -- I procrastinate instead.

My procrastination took the form of reading a couple of writers blogs new to me. In one, a writer hesitantly and respectfully reported he had started a new project, mere sentences -- a tender blade barely broken out of the earth. Still, he was writing.

I congratulated him with enthusiasm. A story of 80,000 words begins with just one.......

I went on to tell him that I usually caution writers not to talk too much about about what you're writing about -- you can talk it to death. Talk all the energy right out of it

Since blogging seems to have replaced verbal communication, it seemed only right that the same must apply to him -- he was blogging about his writing. Granted, not any specifics about his project, but still....

I could be wrong however. Sometimes it seems as if blogging about the process has become the new process. Not the means to the end, but the end itself???

Is that why I'm blogging right now and not working on my WIP? What's your excuse??? Why are you reading this and not working on your work-in-progress???


Recently, I asked a random sampling of writers not familiar with my work what they thought of plot. Most of the answers I received bordered on hostile. I include a few of the tamer ones here:

"I view plot as an enemy that must be destroyed, lest it pilliage my village and rape my wimmins." UJ

"When I think of plot, I stop thinking about writing." JT

"I have a deep disdain for plot, really." LJ

I was most surprised when I read AK's comment: "All anyone cares about is plot, plot, plot."

Most writers I come in contact with "care" about plot because they're grappling with not only what plot is but, even more importantly, how best to use it.

Plot is more than a prescribed course of dramatic action.

Action in and of itself is not dramatic. Conflict that creates tension, suspense, mystery, and/or curiosity make action dramatic.
Random action is not dramatic. Action that unfolds through cause and effect is.
Action that happens in scene can be dramatic. After all, scene "shows" the action happening moment-by-moment on the page.
Action that happens in summary is not. After all, summary merely "tells" about action.

When a character emotionally anticipates conflict that is coming, emotionally reacts to conflict at hand, and emotionally responds to conflict after the fact, the action is dramatic. Dramatic action paired with meaningful character emotional development then becomes plot.

Plot is deeper than structure.

Dramatic action that happens in a novel, screenplay, memoir, short story, and any other kind of writing that causes a character(s) to react and thus be affected by and changed at depth over the duration of the story. The crux of every good story is character transformation.

Plot is the full integration of dramatic action, character emotional development and thematic significance in a story.

Some writers prefer to start writing about or with characters. Other writers begin with action. Still others begin with only a point they want to prove. All starting points are equally valid. It's the showing up and starting that counts.

Are you confident about what you know about plot and how to use it? Are you ever intimidated by the concept of plot? Confused by it?

I keep asking these types of questions because I'm afraid plot gets a bad rap. I'm hoping by asking what you think when you think plot, I might better understand the opposition.....