March 2

Plans for Extended Critical Essay (ECE)

For my upcoming semester at Spalding University,  I need to turn in a 20-30 page essay referred to as an Extended Critical Essay, or ECE,  Since I imagine three and a half-weeks between each draft wouldn’t be enough time for me to do all my research, reading, writing and edits, I am working on gathering all my information now.

I’m not sure what my topic will be on. I’m leaning toward writing emotion into a story or something on world building.  Maybe I can somehow combine the two…. How character’s emotions can help with world building in YA. I may decide to go in a totally different direction as well. But I’m hopefully giving myself enough time to do the research and come up with a final decision.

In fact, I plan to write mini-essays on the two topics while I am doing the research, with the hope that it’ll help me build material/resources for the ECE I will need to work on. I would love feedback from people as I make progress, differing opinions, suggestions on what other resources to look at, no matter what stage I am in during this endeavor.

My first step is to find the resources that will help me write the mini-essays and eventually the ECE. I would appreciate recommendations on:

  • Non-Fiction books/articles on Writing Emotion
  • Non-Fiction books/articles on World Building
  • YA Fiction that is a good example of one or both elements.
  • Any other resources that you think may be of interest/help to me.

Thanks in advance for your recommendations and comments.

July 15

An update on my semester in screenwriting

When I signed up for a semester in screenwriting, I knew I was opening myself to new experiences, new lessons and new writing techniques.  I’d heard of the benefits of at least trying your hand at screenwriting, and this would be my chance at trying it with someone to guide me through my attempt.

I am currently working on packet two. Five are due by the end of the semester and I’ve come to a conclusion: Screenwriting is an experience every writer should try.

The formatting of the story isn’t the only thing different about screenplays.  Screenplays tend to encompass very lean, very fast-paced, very to-the-point scenes. I thought I was doing well in writing those kind of scenes in my novel, but the more I play around with the screenplays the more I question my skills in those areas. Because I keep finding changes I need or should make for the screenplay because it isn’t straight-forward, fast enough, or relevant enough to be in the movie. When I encounter these incidents, I wonder if I should make those changes a part of my novel.  Doing so would tighten my novel. But in some areas I’m not sure if the material I’d lose would be worth the tightening, characterization vs pacing kind of thing. However, I know in other areas tightening the scene would be the better move.

I probably wouldn’t have noticed these options if I weren’t turning it into a screenplay.

With the changes I’m playing around with I’ll lose a lot of words and I imagine I’ll gain ideas as I get further along in the story.  On the flip side of the token, I’m also getting ideas on how to continue the story so that this and the sequel become one work, one book. I’d need the smaller word count to add in the sequel. But since I haven’t really written anything for the sequel yet, I’m not even sure how the sequel will work out yet. But I’m more than willing to find out.

June 1

New Semester, New Reading Material

A new semester has started at Casa Connelly, which means I have a long list of new material to work through. This semester my focus is on Screenplays, which means I’ll be reading a lot of screenplays, watching a lot of movies and reading a lot of books. My mentor for this semester is David-Matthew Barnes.  My list of reading material may change but at the moment this is what I’m looking at consuming:

Let The Right One In.  
Stardust
Princess Bride
Your Cut to: is showing
Young Adult
Garden State
Perks of Being a Wallflower
Chinatown
Thelma and Louise
Jane Eyre
Northanger Abbey
Jane Emily by Patricia Clapp  
A book by Lois Duncan

Any suggestions on which Lois Duncan book I should read? I’ve never read that author before.  Like last semester, I’d like to post reviews, both critical and regular book reviews on each of these.  So do you have a preference as to when I’ll read them?  They’ll be consumed between now and October. We’ll see what I can actually find, screenplay-wise as well.

April 25

Preparations for School

Life is growing increasingly hectic as I prepare for my second semester of school.  Outside of  normal responsibilities, I have things I need to read, critique and watch.  I’m also trying to decide what to pack.

When I made this trip last year, I had the luxury of driving down. I say luxury, not because the cross-country trip was easy, though I’ve made the trip so often it’s probably far easier on me than on someone who has never managed it before. I say luxury because cars have the advantage in some areas when it comes to travel. By taking a car, I don’t have to limit my luggage.  As long as it fits in my car it can go, whether it’s edible, leaky, necessary or dangerous. With airlines you either pay a small fortune or are severely limited to what you can take on the plane, and how heavy/large your bag can be. So it’s a tossup on which is better the plane or the airline.  Both are uncomfortable, but you’ll, usually arrive faster on a plane than by car.

So, I’m making and re-making packing lists, trying to prioritize what needs to go and what can stay.  The school stuff has top priority. I need to take the screenplays, books and the schedule with me, along with a handful of other things. Clothes are an obvious necessity, but how much do I take with me? With me staying at my mothers I can do laundry at her house without it costing me anything.  However, I don’t want to be doing laundry every night. Do I take my manuscript, even though my focus is screenplays? Make up, which I rarely wear, but wore every day at residency? Then I need to consider my sister, who will be coming with me on the trip.  She’s seven. This will be her first time on a plane. What do I need to make sure she has in her carry-on? Then I’m trying to get other things done.  Newsletter for the Coeur du Bois Romance Writer’s Group, paying bills, working…looking up ideas on what Young Adult screenplays I should read for the semester…

As stressful as preparing for Residency is, I’ll be glad when I finally get there.  Last year I learned a ton.  The information I received from lectures, workshops and critiques transformed my writing, making me stronger in some areas. My story has made a dramatic change because of what I learned last year.  This year, I expect, will be no different, especially when I look at lectures they’ve announced will be at residency. For me, the semester was fun, a retreat, a vacation of sorts despite the long hours and sometimes stressful, last minute assignments. Plus, things will be less stressful for me once I get into the swing of things and add homework to my regular schedule again.

Until then…well, I’m wondering if the queen of hearts is trying to chop off my head.  I hope not.  The way I’m going right now, I’d never find my head again.

April 4

Writing Screenplays: Initial Challenges

The semester hasn’t even officially started yet and I’m challenged.  Before school starts, Spalding has their MFA students send in samples of their work.  The samples are put into similar categories: screenplays with screenplays, Children’s books with Children’s books, Memoirs with Memoirs, etc.  The categories are divided into groups of students.  I think Fiction has the majority of the students so they need multiple groups, where as Children’s and Young Adult writing had so few in that category that everyone was put in the same group.   Everyone then receives a  copy of the samples the students in their group sent in.  Once they receive it, they read and critique the pieces.  The more notes you have on the individual piece the better off you’ll be when it comes to giving the face-to-face critique during residency.

So, what have I been doing?  Preparing my sample for residency.

I could have chosen to try Fiction this semester instead of screenwriting. Fiction is closer to the YA genre I write and I read a ton of it.  Their’d be some changes, some differences, but nothing compared to what I’m enduring trying to get this screenwriting script worked out.  I knew Screenwriting would be a challenge because it is so different from what I’m use to writing, and I wanted to challenge myself, not have an easy semester.  I’ve proven what I’ve always suspected: Screenwriting and Novels are very different animals.

Not only is the formatting different but so is the way you think of how you write. Screenwriting, so far, seems to allow for far more telling.  I’m not needing to describe the emotions of the characters, add thoughts or numerous other things. I tell a lot instead of show. For example, in my screenplay, I have:

Regan: (Incredulous)  You’re husband?

In a novel, I’d write it a different way.  Adding more details so you saw and heard Regan’s emotions instead of being told them.  In that way, screenwriting is easier for me.  Because the emotional aspect of the story has always been a tad harder for me to write than other things. However, I feel like the story is naked without some of the more common elements I have in even my most basic drafts.  It’s unsettling and goes against several instincts.

I think I did okay with my scripts. But I’ll find out for certain how I did when I get on campus and receive my critiques from my peers and mentors.  No matter how I actually did on the screenplays, I know this will be a learning experience that will hopefully help me with my novels.

March 7

The Things They Carried

They carried malaria tablets, love letters, 28-pound mine detectors, dope, illustrated bibles, each other. And if they made it home alive, they carried unrelenting images of a nightmarish war that history is only beginning to absorb. Since its first publication, The Things They Carried has become an unparalleled Vietnam testament, a classic work of American literature, and a profound study of men at war that illuminates the capacity, and the limits, of the human heart and soul

I knew right off I wouldn’t like this book.  I haven’t found a war-centered story that I do like, at least not a historical one. I also remembered hearing book reports about The Things They Carried when I was in high school and not feeling an inkling of interest toward it. However the book was required reading for my second semester of graduate school so I sat down and actually read the book.

The book did not bore me to the point its cousins normally do. The book was focused on war but it seemed to be more than what a war-story is. I’m not sure how to explain it. The story has several short stories in it which allowed the author to address the aftereffects of war, the choices made before one went to war and the horrors that may be seen during the war.  Some of the stories are true, others are admittedly fictitious. The author spoke to the reader in parts, discussing how to write a good war story, his opinions on life and war and what inspired some of the stories he wrote. He has some interesting views and insights, but nothing in the book made me want to go: “I must buy this!”  I can see why it’s so popular, why it’s seen as powerful, but in the end I was glad I got my copy from the library.

Since I’m not into war stories, the biggest compliment I can give it is that the book didn’t bore me to tears.  I managed to read through the book without dreading having to read more.  The chapters were normally pretty short.  But I imagine those interested in true, historical war stories would probably find this book enthralling.

My critical review on this book will be posted on Friday if you want a more…academic view on the book.

October 13

Slow Down. Breaking down and Setting Time limits

When I’m going to edit my own work, my process is usually predictable and simple.

Step one: Print the entire manuscript out.
Step two: Mark each individual chapter with post-it notes so chapters are easier to identify.
Step three: Break the book into 4ths–to the nearest chapter ending. So if the 1/4 mark is on page 60 and the chapter doesn’t end until page 63, the first quarter will contain 63 pages.
 Step four: Use paper clips to keep each fourth separated and together, except for the quarter I am working on. I do not always order the quarters in chronological order, though I am only allowed to work in one quarter at a time.
Step five: Edit an entire quarter.
Step six: Transfer notes for quarter edited onto computer.
Step seven: Start on next quarter
Step eight:  Repeat step five, six and seven until the entire manuscript is edited.
Step nine: Incorporate final notes and clean up final passages from edit.

During my first semester in Spalding’s MFA program, I’ve already seen a change in my editing processes, mainly due to needing to get my requirements throughout the semester, but the new procedure seems to have a much stronger effect on my novel than my original way of editing.  I can see and feel the changes in the novel almost instantly, whereas I may need to go through the above process three or four times before I truly noticed a consistent change in the draft, sometimes in entire chapters.

What is this new, more effective way of editing? It’s simple really.

I’ve been breaking the novel into sections for my packets. About 40 pages each–to the nearest chapter ending. So if I’m on my third pack of 40–with the packet supposed to end on page 120–but the nearest new chapter ends on page 119, I’d break it a page short. I work on the forty page section for three weeks. I am not allowed to work outside those 40 pages during those three weeks.  If I make all the major changes to the draft before my three weeks is up, I start at the beginning of the forty pages and do a deeper edit, grammar, sentence structure, smoothness, general clean up.  If their are changes I still want to make at the end of the three weeks, I make a note of it and MOVE onto the next section of forty pages.

How is what I’ve been doing, different from what I’ve started doing? Honestly if you break my novel down–at least before I started editing it, I’d have only had 5.5 sets of 40. So, I’d only be adding a section and a half to my original idea, which can’t make too much of a difference right?

I think the difference is the forced three weeks to work on the section. By setting that time limit, I force myself to slow down, to really look at my writing, no matter how much I may want to be done with the round of editing. Without the time limit set, I would push through the entire novel at my pace.  I’d make notes to make major changes, however I missed a lot of the changes that were also needed in that same section because I wasn’t looking closely enough.  This also works to keep me motivated, focused on working on my story, so that I can make sure all the changes that need to happen can be made, instead of delayed for another draft.

If you’re needing a new method of editing, this one may be worth trying.

October 10

Tenderness Critical Review

Almost any writer can tell you that the three act structure consists of Set up, Confrontation and Resolution.  However there are more ways to write a story then the three act structure.  A book could be written with three, four, five or even six acts. Robert Cormier provides a strong example of the four act structure in his novel Tenderness.

According to Larry Brooks the first act of the four act structure “introduces the hero in his everyday life, sets a hook to keep readers reading, establishes the hero’s stakes (what he cares about that will be endangered later), and foreshadows later events. It also introduces the changes in the hero’s life that propel him toward the First Plot Point.”

Readers see the first act in first 100 pages of Tenderness. Readers are in the first Act of the story. In this act we meet Lori, learn about her fixations and see how she gets rid of them with Thrash. Afterwards, while watching the news, readers see her develop another fixation on admitted killer, Eric Poole.  Unwilling to leave town before she gets rid of her fixation on him, Lori finds a temporary refuge at Harmony House.

Eric’s past is revealed through an interrogation by a police officer. He then foils the officer’s plans to keep him in prison. On one of his last days in prison, Eric develops his own fixation on a girl, Maria, who fits his victim profile.

In The Four-Part Structure, Larry Brooks wrote the following about act two, “Everything the hero cares about (and readers came to care about in Part 1) is in danger. The hero is usually just reacting to what happened at the First Plot Point—not being proactive. She might try to save the day, but if she does, it doesn’t work yet.”

From pages 100 to 140, readers are in act two. Eric stays at his Aunt Phoebe’s house. While waiting for the media to lose interest in him, Eric thinks about Maria and slowly grows tired of biding his time. He wants to kill Maria. Meanwhile, because Eric avoids the media watching his aunt’s house for him, Lori is unable to see Eric, much less remove her fixation.  She is stalled, non-active beyond keeping a vigil on Eric’s house in the hopes of him coming out.

Eric however has seen Lori through the back window of the house.  She looks familiar to him at first, but he eventually remembers that she was a potential witness to one of the murders he committed years ago and wonders if she might be a lose end he has to kill to maintain his freedom.

Concurrently, one of the girls at Harmony House is trying to get Lori in trouble and Lori recognizes she can’t stay there any longer. Giving up on removing her fixation on Eric, she leaves Harmony House to return home. Before she leaves, however, she swings by his house one final time to say a silent goodbye.

Act three, according to Larry Brooks, is when “the hero becomes proactive, and begins to seriously fight back against the antagonist. He also starts to fight against the inner demons that are holding him back.”

From pages 140 to 214, readers are in the third act structure.  In this act, Lori and Eric finally meet or are reunited as the case may be.  However Eric is suspicious of her and wonders if he needs to kill her. They spend some time together, during which Eric decides Lori isn’t a threat to him and Lori manages to get rid of fixation of him. By then she has grown to care for Eric though and realizing he has not been freed of his fixation on Maria, Lori encourages Eric to go after her. Maria is a trap however. Lori realizes this and stops Eric from hurting Maria, before he has done anything the police can arrest him on. The police threaten to arrest Lori for interfering and she runs into the woods to escape them.

In the Four-Part Structure, Larry Brooks wrote that in Act four “Everything in the previous three parts comes together in a final climax, in which the hero shows that she’s overcome her inner demons. After that, there’s a bit of time for tying up loose ends.”

From page 217 to 229 readers are in the fourth act. Once Lori and Eric find each other again, they decide to celebrate their near escape and rent a canoe in the park. They trust each other, are fond of each other and feel they may be together for a while.  However Lori falls out of the canoe and into the river.  Eric tries to save her. However Lori dies and Eric is sent to prison for her accidental death. In prison, Eric mourns for the loss of a living creature for the first time in his life, which ends the four act structure.

Cormier is a master storyteller, who uses the lesser known four act-structure to tell the story of a serial killer and his would-be accomplice.

Works Cited

Brooks, Larry. “The Four-Part Structure.” Squidoo. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Oct. 2012. .Cormier, Robert. Tenderness: A Novel. New York: Delacorte, 1997. Print.
October 10

City of Bones: Critical Review

City of Bones opens at a dance club called Pandemonium. Inside, a demon searches for prey among the dancing humans. By slowing this scene down and choosing the correct words, Clare turns a simple walk across a crowded club into a sort of dance that also raises the tension in her novel.  This is seen in passages like:

His hand tightened on the blade he carried and he had begun to step out onto the dance floor when a girl broke away from the mass of dancers and began walking toward him. (…) She smiled, passing him, beckoning with her eyes.  He turned to follow her, tasting the phantom sizzle of her death on his lips. (3)

Despite the demon’s unsavory intentions, this passage has a clear flirtatious feel to it, at least from the girl who is later identified as Isabelle. She is acts almost predatorily with the way she moves around him, makes sure that he sees her and he watches.  We know she’s constantly moving but readers may not realize how much it’s mentioned because Clare wisely chose her words carefully. Instead of several “walks” and “moves,” readers instead encounter “step out,” “broke away,” “neared him” and “passing him.”  Keeping their constant movement from feeling repetitive as it would have if Clare had used the same set of words repetitively to tell the actions.

On the next page, the constant walking continues with the following passage but Clare’s choice of words only adds to the tension that the author has already started to build:

The girl was a pale ghost retreating through the colored smoke. She reached the wall and turned, bunching her skirt up in her hands, lifting it as she grinned at him. Under the skirt she was wearing thigh-high boots.
He sauntered up to her, his skin prickling with her nearness. (…)
A cool smiled curled his lips. She moved to the side and he could see that she was leaning against a closed door. No Admittance—Storage was scrawled across it in red paint.  She reached behind her for the knob, turned it, slid inside.  (…)
He slipped into the room after her, unaware that he was being followed. (4)

Here the words that Clare uses to show the girl’s movements up the tension in the same way that simply slowing the scene down does. The word “retreat” has connotations of fear and prey attached to it.  However the word sauntered is the opposite. Someone who saunters is confident, perhaps even a predator. And as readers are aware that the boy/demon wishes to make a meal of the girl, the tension is raised with those word choices.

In two pages, with the two above passages, Clare describes the boy and girl walking at least ten times and only actually uses the word walking once.  Instead Clare uses descriptions like “retreat,” “sauntered,” or “pass” to add more tension and keep redundancy at bay.

Works Cited
Clare, Cassandra. City of Bones: The Mortal Instruments #1. New York: Simon Pulse, 2008. Print.
September 23

End of Semester is Coming

So some of you may already be aware that I am working on my last packet for this semester.  I won’t be able to attend school for the fall semester, which starts in November.  However, I plan to attend the next spring semester–late May.  By all appearances, second semester students are strongly encouraged to try a different focus for a full semester.  So, instead of taking in YA next semester, try memoir, poetry, screenplay, playwright, adult….  I’m leaning toward Screenplay.  I’ve just heard a lot of great things about that program and it would be different from what I currently write.  I think Adult writing would be too much like YA for it to show me a different way of writing in a significant way.  So I thought I’d ask readers to recommend books or screenplays to me.  Partially so I can keep posting reviews on this blog.

Any genre will do, though I would prefer YA novels for books.  And I have no idea what I’d want Screenplay-wise so I leave that to readers to suggest.

Also, I know, I owe a book review on City of Bones still and two more critical reviews.  Those will be coming shortly!