What Do You Do When You’re Smacked Five Steps Back?

Happy Monday, everyone!

As you may have already noticed, I have a new site header. *pets screen* 😀

My amazing sister-in-law, Julie, designed this fantastic graphic, and she’s even going to shrink it scale for business cards. With the new design comes new excitement and a fresh feeling of oh-my-God-I’m-really-doing-this.

I’ve been absent from pretty much all social outlets for the past week or so due to a mini personal crisis, and an all-around lack of motivation. As in, I got hit hard with major revisions that I must do in my current WIP, which, in turn, unintentionally deflated my motivation. And as you can imagine, because writing is deeply personal, I took a small hit in my personal life (but one that happens at least once a year, so nothing too out there for me).

So what do we do when we’re hit hard? 

Take a break to gain distance and subjectivity.

My break happened subconsciously at first, but then it turned into an intentional decision so I could gain better distance from my work.

Take baby steps back into game.

I started by breaking down the plot in my current WIP, mapping it out on my plot planner, spreadsheets, and scene lists.

Slap on the big-girl panties and get back on horse.

After a small amount of time of reflection and baby steps, it’s time to just bite the freakin’ bullet and get back on the horse. ‘Cause we’re never going to get anywhere by sitting on the bench. Our books aren’t going to write themselves, they’re not going to revise themselves, and they’re most certainly not going to query themselves.

Realize this happens to the best of the best … so relax!

I’ve always been extremely hard on myself. And, at times, this has helped tremendously. But it has also hindered my progress and my creativity. So when we fall, we need to accept that it happened, give ourselves a break, and not be so hard on ourselves (or lecture ourselves on how much precious time we lost by taking that break).

Overall, I’m fairly happy about the time I took away from everything. I’ve been able to spend even more time with my husband, catching on TV shows and movies. I’ve been able to read a book purely for pleasure. And I’ve been able to catch up on some much-needed Zzzz’s. 😉

What about you? What do you do when you feel as though you’ve been smacked five steps back? Do you have any additional advice on how to get back into the game?

Writerly Wednesday: How a Scene Can Turn on a Word – Comedy or Tragedy?

It goes without saying, but Woody Allen is a master story-teller. Sure some of his movies can move a little slow, but there’s no denying the complexity of emotion in each one. While I have a few favorite movies of his, there is one that spoke loudly enough to make me start thinking. One that actually had two storylines: one comedic, and one dramatic:

In Melinda and Melinda, the story opens with a small group of writers at writers. Their conversation revolves around tragedy vs. comedy: Are our lives naturally comedic, or dramatic? As with any eclectic group of writers, you’re going to have two arguments to that question: 

Comedy writer: “The essence of life isn’t funny, it’s tragic…there’s nothing intrinsically funny about the terrible facts of human existence.”

Tragedy writer: “If the underlying reality of our being is tragic, my plays would make more than yours at the box office because my stories would resonate more profoundly with the human sow.”

Comedy writer:  “It’s exactly because tragedy hits on the truly painful essence of life that people run to my comedies for escape. Tragedy confronts. Comedy escapes.”

So now the argument is: is there a deeper reality in comedy than tragedy? Thus begins the proposal of a simple story: a distraught woman knocks on a door and disrupts a dinner party. And from there we’re taken on two different journeys, both starring the same protagonist (Radha Mitchell, though originally Allen wanted Winona Ryder).

It’d take too long to take you through both of the stories, but here’s a quick breakdown:

Tragedy: Melinda is a psychologically troubled woman who had it all at one point in time: a doctor-husband, two children, and a wonderful home in suburbia. But she becomes entangled with a photographer, falls in love with him, and all she had is now shattered. She can no longer see her children and that pushed her into a mental institution. By the time she interrupts the dinner party, hosted by one her college friends whose husband is trying to woo a play producer into granting him an important role, she’s come out of the institution and is still trying to get her life together, but unfortunately isn’t able to do so.

Comedy: Melinda is a woman who fell in love with another man who led her on and caused her break up her marriage. She’s also an art historian living across the hall of a couple hosting a dinner party (Amanda Peet is a movie director trying to woo a financial backer, and Will Ferrell is her out of work actor-husband). She knocks on their door after taking 28 sleeping pills. Of course Amanda Peet’s character doesn’t want her dinner party wrecked so she insists everyone continue eating before the food gets cold. Then Melinda states she needs to throw up, and the response by Will Ferrell’s character is “No, no, no. Not on the carpet. That’s new carpet.” Yes, very comedic, and eventually she gains the attention of the out-of-work-actor-husband, spends a little time with him, and his reactions to her dating another man brings the comedy to the story.

Woody Allen’s pretty brilliant, huh?

Now this got me thinking: What if we took a similar set up, wrote it out, and left it in a place where a single word could turn the scene into the beginning of a tragedy, or a comedy?

So I’d like for you to decide not only the ‘turning word’ in this opening scene, but the following sentences to show exactly how this particular scene is either tragedy or comedy:

The sounds of life and laughter coming from the apartment caused her to hesitate. But the silent silky darkness of the hallway pushed her to knock on the door regardless. So what if they were having a good time in there? She needed help and there were no other signs of life in the building.

A dark haired woman answered the door. “Laurel?”

“I-I’m sorry to interrupt, but I didn’t know what else to do.” She pushed her way through the door, past her neighbor, Emily. The sounds coming from the dining room magnified in her head.

“What’s wrong?” Emily asked, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. She guided her into the kitchen.

“I haven’t been feeling well lately,” Laurel mumbled.

She grabbed the…..

Contest Info:

Show your craft. Show your creativity. Show how you can turn this scene into tragedy or comedy.

Good Luck and Happy Writing!!!


    Writerly Wednesday: Writing Lessons Learned from The Princess Bride (Film Version)

    Welcome to another entry into Writing Lessons from the Movies!  Over the course of the next month, there will be 2 – count ‘em, TWO – challenges and contests! *prances around room like a little girl* 

    • The first will begin two weeks from today, March 14th, and will directly follow the incredibly fun writing lesson I learned from Across the Universe (winner will be announced on March 21st).
    • The next challenge and contest will be held two weeks after that on March 28th and will follow along yet another fun writing lesson I learned from Melinda and Melinda – which is a fabulous title, if you ask me (winner will be announced on April 4th).

    For the two contests listed above, a secret ‘judge’ – aka: a fellow writer – will be judging the contest entries and deciding the first and second place winners (yes, there will be two prizes for each one!). So mark your calendars and be sure to join me back here on Muse, Rant, Rave for some creativity and writerly challenges! *smiles*

    Now…onto today’s writing lessons from The Princess Bride, which came at a special request from a blog follower and friend, Jenn.  To get you started, check out this amazing fan-made trailer.

    Plot per IMBD: “A classic fairy tale, with swordplay, giants, an evil prince, a beautiful princess, and yes, some kissing (as read by a kindly grandfather).”

    • A New Take on a Master Plot: I stopped into Barnes & Noble during my lunch the other day and I discovered a book entitled 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them. *cue my a-ha! moment*
      • The Princess Bride is a master plot! Girl meets boy, girl falls in love with boy, girl is made to believe she has lost boy (through death or some other tragic twist), so girl moves onto another boy BUT then original love/boy returns from the so-called dead to claim his one true love. Sound familiar??
        • Brothers, Pearl Harbor, my untitled-and-currently-in-research-phase-WIP…heck, even The Notebook follows along a similar plotline: Ally falls for Noah, is made to believe that after she goes to school that Noah is gone from her life for good so she moves onto another man, but then Noah enters her life again and forces her to make the decision between her current and original love.
      • Here’s the thing with plots: They are all in some way, shape or form a twist of a master plot, one that is time-tested to linger in the heart of a reader for years to come. They’ve just been made original through world-building, characters, subplots, and ultimately how the stories turn out. I just finished reading Everneath by Brodi Ashton. With this particular story, Ms. Aston has taken the mythology of Persephone and made it unique by intertwining it with wonderfully seamless, modern story-telling and incredible world building. See? A master plot at work right there! So don’t be afraid to tell a story with a famous plot…just make it twistedly-unique with your own added spice, flare and voice, and it’ll be sure to stick in the hearts of your readers.

    • Character Motivations: This movie is the prime example of why every character in your story – especially those who are intricate parts of the plotline – should have their own motivation. The story does not work without their individual and/or group motivations!
      • Westly: Initially it was to seek his fortune so he and Buttercup can marry, but upon his return it is to rescue her from three outlaws then to keep her safe and away from Prince Humperdinck. Why? Because she’s his one true love and that’s what kept the Dread Pirate Roberts from killing him after his ship was attacked.
      • Prince Humperdink: Humperdinck wants to go to war with Guilder, but alas, Florin will not openly begin the war itself…in other words, his subjects will not fight without due cause. In order to get what he wants, he arranges his marriage to Buttercup (a commoner who according to the laws of the land he could not marry, so he lied about her origins), a woman who he obviously doesn’t truly care for (as we learn later in the story), then arranges for her to be kidnapped and murdered so he can pin both on the country he so desperately wants to rumble with. Why? Because he needs an army to fight that battle for him and believes they won’t do so unless their new princess is murdered on her wedding night.
      • Inigo Montoya: Ah, the Spanish fencer and member of the outlaw group who kidnaps Buttercup. His motivation throughout the entire movie is clearly stated shortly after we’re introduced to him. During his swordfight with Westly, he reveals that throughout his entire life since his father’s death, he’s been seeking the six-fingered man who murdered his father. He even has the perfect parting lines for the murderer. Why? Because his father was unjustly murdered by Count Rugen when he refused to sell him the sword he specifically forged and sweated over for the Count due to the fact that the Count went back on his promised price.

    • “This is true love – you think this happens every day?”: Thank you, Westly, I couldn’t have said it better myself! *claps* Because true love doesn’t happen every day, and because it often occurs in a slow-type manner, you should be gentle with it throughout your story:
      • Characters shouldn’t jump blindly into all-out-can’t-live-without-you-love. UNLESS it’s the plot of the entire story, the one in which the entire story and subplots revolve around (ex: Romeo and Juliet). Regardless if you write historical, contemporary, paranormal, fantasy or horror, your two characters aren’t just going to magically fall in love within an hour of meeting one another. Sure there’ll be extreme butterflies, reddened cheeks and bodily reactions to the sight of one another, but that’s not can’t-live-without-one-another-love. Buttercup and Westly did not fall in love on sight. In fact, Westly was a farmhand in which she bossed around, to which he merely replied, “As you wish.” It wasn’t until some time and internalization later that she realized he loved her, and that she loved him. Take the reader along your characters’ journeys of falling in love with one another. Make them fall in love with the hero and heroine just as they are falling for one another.
      • Because true love doesn’t happen everyday, it shouldn’t bleed from the page. I’m sure you’ve read a sappy love story where it seemed that particular plot point was drilled into your head to the point of nausea. My personal experience example is The Vampire Diaries, Book One. The TV show is amazing, but in the book there was way too much “Oh, Elena,” “Oh, Stefan.” Writing about love on every single page will do nothing more than bore your reader to tears. There should be a second plot somewhere in your story that breaks up the gushy love-stuff. Best example: The Black Dagger Brotherhood series from J.R. Ward. Her series is paranormal romance – which means she writes about the romance and love between two main characters. But guess what? Incredible subplots enter the fold and break up the love scenes so that they don’t overwhelm the reader.

    • The Difference Between Mostly Dead and All Dead: If you’re a fellow writer/author, do me a favor: think of one of your MSS that you’ve previously put on the shelf and have forgotten about because it just wasn’t working, or maybe because the plot was tired. Got the MS in mind? Good. Now I want you to pay attention to the following advice from Miracle Max:

    Did you catch that? “Mostly dead is slightly alive.” Did your heart just jump a little? I know mine did, especially because it hit me straight between the eyes. Just because you put a MS on the shelf due to a tired plot or maybe one that wasn’t working doesn’t mean the MS’s all dead! There’s good stuff in there that’s keeping that MS slightly alive: three-dimensional characters, a believable world you poured your heart and soul into at one point in time, amazing dialogue, magnificent action scenes, etc. The point is this: you’ve come a long way since you left that slightly alive MS thinking it was all dead, so why not re-visit that world and pump full life into it by changing and/or twisting a few things around to make it work? C’mon, take a chance and spend a little time stewing on it. I guarantee you’ll be freshly excited about the story once it’s been brought back to life like Westly was.

    What about you? Do you live on the planet earth? If so, then I know you’ve had to have seen The Princess Bride (if not then I do apologize for calling you an alien). Have you taken a time-tested master plot and twisted it in a unique fashion for a story? Do you flesh out your characters until each of their motivations becomes clear? What about love? Do you write your romances with a little bit of action and dark plot twists? Or do you write action and dark plot twists with a little bit of romance? Have you ever taken a MS from the shelf, brushed the cobwebs off, and brought it from slightly alive to thriving with a pounding heart beat?

    Do you have a movie you’d like to see analyzed in this series?

    Writerly Wednesday: Writing Lessons Learned from Forrest Gump

    Thanks to the super-convincing awesomesauce words of S.P. Sipal, I’ve decided to do a series of posts based on the writing lessons we can learn from movies (I do believe I may have found my niche *throws confetti*). 

    Last week we visited John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club. This week we’re going to visit an even bigger blockbuster of a movie: Forrest Gump.

    Plot per IMDB: “Forrest, Forrest Gump, is a simple man with a low IQ but good intentions. He is running through childhood with his best and only friend, Jenny. His ‘mama’ teaches him the ways of life and leaves him to choose his destiny. Forrest joins the army for service in Vietnam, finding new friends called Dan and Bubba, he wins medals, creates a famous shrimp fishing fleet, inspires people to jog, starts a ping-pong craze, creates the smiley, writes bumper stickers and songs, donates to people and meets the president several times. However this is all irrelevant to Forrest who can only think of his childhood sweetheart, Jenny, who has messed up her life. Although in the end all he wants to prove is that anyone can love anyone.”

    • Symbolism – a strong story element: Remember the white feather that just floats along in the beginning of the movie…then reappears at the end? That particular light-as-air feather packs a BIG meaning, especially when Forrest says at the end of the movie, “I don’t know if Mama’s right or if its Lieutenant Dan, I don’t know if we each have a destiny or if we’re all floating around accidental, like on a breeze.” The best part is that this is one of those symbols that represents a wide variety of meanings to different people.  Here are two interpretations from the cast of the movie as an example:
      • Tom Hanks’s Interpretation: “Our destiny is only defined by how we deal with the chance elements to our life and that’s kind of the embodiment of the feather as it comes in. Here is this thing that can land anywhere and that it lands at your feet; it has theological implications that are really huge.”
      • Sally Field’s Interpretation: “It blows in the wind and just touches down here or there. Was it planned or was it just perchance?”

    I suggest taking a look at the Symbolism Thesaurus over at The Bookshelf Muse for more ideas of how you use this element throughout your own plotting. Like I said, regardless of why you use it and what it means to you,  it’s a powerful element that’s open to interpretation by the reader…and it’s something the reader will forever remember in the back of their mind (I always think of Forrest whenever I see a feather).

    • Develop you minor characters:  In this particular movie we not only follow Forrest, but we also follow several other characters: Jenny and Lt. Dan.

    • Jenny: When we first meet Jenny (Robin Wright Penn) she’s a little girl and the only kid who offers a place for Forrest to sit next to on the bus to school. Throughout their friendship she never judged Forrest. Sure, she may have asked him within the first few minutes of their meeting, “Are you stupid or something?”, but after that she leaned on him in her times of need: when her father abused her, when she needed a place to rest and deflate, when she knew the end of her life was in sight. Her journey is a memorable one in the fact that she begins her journey into adulthood with emotional issues due to her abusive childhood and like many others, she deals with those in the only way she knows how: by numbing herself with alcohol and drugs. Eventually she cleans herself up (thanks to Forrest for taking her in) and becomes responsible when she has a child and that within itself is where I believe her character arc truly resonates and shines. Yes, every story is mainly following a single character, but there are other characters that the reader (or viewer) yearns to learn about, to care about, to root for. Jenny is one such character and her existence in itself was a symbol to Forrest.
      • More on symbols: Throughout the story Jenny is a symbol for Forrest. To him she represents all that is wonderful and good. He listens to her when she tells him to run (which saves his life in Vietnam and starts a jogging craze across the country), she unintentionally pulls him through the rough times, and she’s the one that started him on the path to greatness – his rock or foundation, so to speak. Without her being in his life he would’ve never ran like the wind and pushed past his disability…thus allowing him to run like hell from bullies…thus getting him into college to play football…thus causing him to graduate college where he then enrolled into the Army…thus saving his life once again by telling him to run if he ever got in trouble while in Vietnam…and so on and so forth.  What would’ve happened if Jenny’s character hadn’t been followed and developed alongside Forrest?

          • Lt. Dan Taylor: Lt. Dan (Gary Sinese) is another character we just wanted to root for, but we didn’t necessarily do so until after he’d been knocked down to his lowest level: when he lost both legs in the war and pulled Forrest out of his bed one night and practically cried in his arms over feeling like a cripple (this is something that he and Forrest, unbeknownst to Lt. Dan, had in common since Forrest had to overcome that particular obstacle at a young age) and stating that he’d been cheated out of his life’s destiny by Forrest. Throughout the course of the movie we watched as Lt. Dan entered Forrest’s life after a TV interview where shortly after, he defended Forrest to two women who called him stupid. In effect this opened Forrest’s eyes a bit to the fact that he and Dan had another thing in coming: Forrest didn’t like being called stupid just like Dan didn’t like being called cripple. Lt. Dan’s character takes a turn after he joins Forrest on his shrimpin’ boat, lovingly called Jenny, and finds a newfound outlook on life after challenging God during a horrific storm – this is where he finally thanks Forrest for saving his life. In the end, Lt. Dan appears with new titanium alloy limbs, a fiance, and a smile on his face. Where would this movie have been without that particular development of Lt. Dan? I can’t even imagine it, can you?

        • The art of show don’t tell: This particular movie is a prime example of ‘show don’t tell.’ Here are a few examples:
          • When Forrest can’t get into school due to his low I.Q. or 75, his mother takes things into her own hands to ensure her son receives equal treatment by *ahem* meeting the needs of the man in charge (so to speak).
            • We weren’t told that she had sex with the man and Forrest never thought twice about it. Instead what the story showed is Forrest hearing disturbing-type noises that night, followed by the man leaving his home stating (I’m paraphrasing here), “You’re mama sure does care about your education, boy.” Even without the noises, the viewer can figure out what happened between them with just that statement. To quote some of the best advice I’ve received from Lisa Gail Green: “Trust the reader!”
          • Before Forrest goes to Vietnam, he visits Jenny.
            • While Forrest states that Jenny finally got her dream to finally be on stage, singing with her guitar, what is shown is that she’s actually a performer in a strip club. We didn’t have to be told because we could deduce it from the fact that the men in the crowd were screaming for her to move her guitar aside and show them some action.
              • Sidenote: While we know what’s really going on and we’re seeing how her life has declined, that’s one of those moments where it’s really great to see the world through Forrest’s eyes.
          • Historical writers will like this one: When the men who are looking for the ‘fuse box or somethun’ near Forrest’s hotel room – the one where President Nixon moved him.
            • Since we’ve all had our history lesson we really didn’t need to be told exactly what was happening. Putting two and two together for the viewer showed us Forrest was the one who busted the five men breaking and entering into the DNC headquarters at the Watergate complex.
          • Jenny’s death – the one where she states she has some kind of virus, one the Dr.’s can’t figure out.
            • Given the timing and what we know about Jenny’s history it’s pretty easy to figure out that she more than likely had contracted the AIDS virus. While it’s not exactly identified, the viewer knows it in their heart of hearts.

        • Choose the theme(s) of your novel carefully and plant them seamlessly throughout your story: While the author of the novel, Winston Groom, has stated that Forest’s story is about dignity, I like to think it’s also about respect, tolerance, unconditional love, and perseverance.  All four are universal themes that we all aspire to be/have in our lives: We aspire to earn and keep the respect of others around us, we yearn to learn tolerance of others and their choices (even if we don’t like them), we learn through our children, friends and family what unconditional love is (and through our stories we strive to teach others), and each and every day we persevere. 
          • Most themes aren’t particularly obvious as you’re watching a movie or reading a book until the very end when you sit and reflect on the life story you just witnessed. Strive for that with your writing. Strive for planting theme(s) seamlessly throughout the story that will bring the reader back time after time, that’ll get the reading groups talking, that’ll transcend sex, gender and race, and that’ll speak to every generation.

        I could go on for about another thousand words with the writing lessons we can take away from this particular movie, but instead I’ll leave you with some trivia before opening it up for comments. Be sure to come back on Friday for this week’s round-up of writing posts. Next Wednesday we’ll visit writing lessons from The Good Girl.

        • John Travolta was originally sought after to play the role of Forrest. He of course turned it down and has said that it was a huge mistake. The next person they wanted for the role was Bill Murray. But the one actor who nabbed this part was Tom Hanks who signed onto the film within an hour and a half of reading the script.
        • Kurt Russell, though not credited, provided the voice of Elvis Presley in the scene where Forrest showed his moves.
        • Mykelti Williamson (Bubba) wore an attachment during filming in order to give himself the ‘big gums’ look.
        • Dick Cavett played the 70’s version of himself in the movie (with the help of make-up, of course).
        • A sequel to the book has been published, Gump & Co., and for a while Hollywood debated on developing it but opted out shortly after the world changed with 9-11.
        • According to the research I’ve done, the author, Groom Winston, was never thanked during acceptance speeches for being the mastermind behind the character and his story.
        • Forrest Gump won a total of 29 awards – 6 of which are Oscars

        Your turn: What other writing lessons can you pull from Forrest Gump?  Have you been using these lessons all along and never thought about how they were in some way, shape, or form incorporated into this particular film? Is there a particular movie you’d like for me to post about? <—I’m definitely up for the challenge!