Stepping into the forest of my mind

Stepping into the forest of my mind
Just as every journey begins with a first step, every story begins with the first word.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Story Genius Course: Starting with Backstory
The Story Genius course started
as a book. Lisa Cron uses concrete
methods to guide story creation.
That’s right, fellow writers!  Before you begin to write forward in your story, you need to understand who your protagonist is and why she acts the way she does.  What happened in her life before the story opens that makes her think and act this way?  Just like real people, characters are molded by prior life experience. 

Understanding the backstory of the protagonist [as well as secondary characters] is vital for fiction writers to create believable characters for their stories.  And that helps readers to connect with the characters and care about them.

Lisa Cron of Story Genius believes that writers must understand their characters before they can even begin to write the story present.  Cron believes stories are character driven as opposed to plot driven.

Cron’s concept of a character-driven story helps me to see that a particular story can only happen to this character because of how the character was raised or because of specific events that have happened to this character in her life before the present story action occurs.     

It’s a concept of specifics:  this particular story can only happen to this particular character because of her past and how she interpreted it.  It’s the character’s beliefs that drive the story forward and help the reader to connect to her.   

A particular character with her own beliefs and specific backstory works in memoir as well, although I must admit that I feel like I’ve been on a therapist’s couch for weeks now.  Looking for the “why” of my insecurity in college is giving me a complex—now, in my life’s present story. 

I need to discover why I didn’t attend college right after high school and how and where my insecurities developed. 

Oooo!  I thought.  I can tell you why I didn’t go to college right out of high school.  We didn’t have any money for college.  And my family didn’t believe in loans for college.  We went to work after high school. 

My editor writes back:  “Think deeper.  Why?”

My response:  I was signing up for high school courses at the time I found out there was no money for college.  It was the early 1970’s.  I grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood.  This was the norm—especially for females.  

The editor wrote again:  “A deeper why?”

Me:  Dad said you only go to college if you want to be a doctor or a lawyer.  [But we still didn’t have any money for it.]

Editor:  “Why did he think that?  How did this make you feel?”

…Do you see why I’m developing a complex over this? 

“Dig deeper into your feelings and memories,” the editor said.  “Pull out how you developed your insecurities.”

I wanted to write back:  Stop picking on me!  You and Story Genius are adding to my insecurities.  I might require a real therapist couch at this rate.

But I didn’t. 

Thanks so much for stopping by.  Feel free to visit Adventures in Writing again to learn how I make out with all these questions that are invading my dreams right now.  Please leave any insight you may have.  It is always greatly appreciated.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Insecure Writers Want to Know: When do you know your story is ready?

That’s a question every writer deals with constantly. Okay, okay.  Maybe it’s just me.  I confess. I’m a fusser and worrywart. I write YA adventure short stories mostly, and after fussing with the plot and characters for a while, I will tweak placement of actions and feelings.  Then I turn to the biggest stall of all: words.  Man!  Can I waste days, if not weeks, on this.

             In reality, a writer should have a logical routine to work through story or essay.  Start with an idea or situation.  For me, many times I begin with a poor unfortunate soul saddled with troubles.  I’ve got to have that internal problem for my character to overcome.  Many times it’s familial or deals with friends because it’s YA.

But then because I need excitement in my story, I look for danger lurking on the horizon of my character’s immediate future [because it’s short story].  That translates into location and, sometimes, a wild animal or two.  A plot forms and I need to work through the logic of the story. 

This is short story, so word count is important. Therefore, I trim and tuck telling details into action. I monkey with explanation and sense of what’s happening.  Then I live in the fussing with crisp word choice: how to find one word to state the same action, thought, or feeling as several.

This is what hangs me up for weeks, sometimes, because in order to tuck in a clearer description or feeling or action in one place, I may need to trim words in another.  Words are precious in short story, especially YA where the count is usually 1800 words.  And the younger the story, the shorter the word count.  Flash fiction works the same way.

So when do you know your story is ready to send out?  You don’t.  But if you follow through your own logical method and include critique, I always do, you can feel a teeny bit better about letting go.  You need to send the story out to move on in life.  And then pray.  Or take a walk and try not to obsess over it.  At least this is what I do.  Do you have any suggestions or tips on when to send out your work to publishers?

This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.  We post on the first Wednesday of every month.  To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Intense New Writing Course: Story Genius with Lisa Cron and Jennie Nash

It’s time for a new draft of my memoir about attending college as a mother of five.  I’ve been tweaking and revising the same version, but I think I need a fresh start.  So I signed up for Story Genius with Lisa Cron and Jennie Nash. It’s the science behind story—brain science.
This is an intense 10-week Writing Workshop
…I’m overthinking the application process already.    

            I'm a scene painter.  I enjoy reliving and fleshing out the scenes [the stories of my college experiences] in the memoir.  I think that I am showing the reader my home life, my experiences, the characters who are myself and my family.  I am progressing through college and hope that I am taking the reader along for the ride.  I think I’m inviting the reader into my life at that time so that he or she can experience this journey.

This memoir is supposed to be the insightful, yet humorous, adventure of an inexperienced and obsessive mother with young children trying to navigate the world of academia.  I feel it would help other parents/mothers or older non-traditional people who always wanted to go to college but who might think they can't juggle the responsibilities or might feel it's too much trouble to begin or too late to even try. 

This is my journey of attending college as the primary caretaker of five young children, the oldest being special needs. I had never attended college, knew nothing about how to begin, and worried that my brain no longer worked after being home with those children. I began at a community college close to home when my youngest, twins, started second grade and my oldest started high school. I received several honors and won scholarship to the Ivy League to complete my B.A.

            We had to fill out an application to begin the course.  One of the questions was what’s your book about?  And I wrote this:

Victoria is your average mother of five who never went to college. She always wanted to, though. So when her youngest starts second grade, she jumps in with all her insecurities and a few skills she learned from her children: whining for help from her college-grad husband, falling asleep on textbooks while doing homework in hopes that osmosis works, and peppering professors with questions until her brain wraps itself around a new concept.

Through awards at the community college level, Victoria earns the opportunity to attend the University of Pennsylvania to complete her bachelor’s degree in English.  With this major success, all the insecurities just overcome to obtain her associate’s degrees rush back to haunt her. She wrestles with her belief to never let opportunity pass her by and tries to conceive how she can possibly handle the Ivy League.  It’s not a casual four-year institution a mother of five attends, right? 

Victoria realizes that the only regrets in life are the opportunities never taken.  How can she be content to stay as she is while opportunities flourish around her?  She goes down to the wire, signing up and choosing classes at another university that offered her scholarship before finally accepting the University of Pennsylvania’s invitation to study.  Victoria recognizes that she can’t retreat back into the home and be content with what she has.  Not when the world of academia graciously invites her in to stay a while with scholarships to further enlighten her mind.

            I’m in the second week of Story Genius and all my insecurities are firmly in place as I try to come up with the point of this memoir.  How about: The only regrets in life are the opportunities never taken like I said in my application?  What do you think?  Your insight is greatly appreciated.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Finding Time to Write: Look for Sanctuary at the Library

            How do you find the time to write in your busy day? 

It’s called getting away from the house and children when I can. I hide in the library.  Yes.  I still have my cell phone.  But I’m away from all the other things that call to me at home; phone calls from friends and extended family who don’t realize I’m working. For that’s what writing is.  I need to keep remembering that.  I’m working; I’m working.  Even if I’m just staring at that blasted blip, I’m working.  But the children don’t see that.  Sometimes, neither does my husband.

            But working from home, it’s not just humans who call for attention.  The laundry likes to crowd around my feet and grace the air with its fragrance.  Dishes do this, too.  They clatter all over the house, sometimes.  With seven people living at home, I have five children remember, some chore always needs to be done.

            And, yes, I’m training my children to become competent contributors to the home front.  But for some reason there’s resistance in the ranks.  Hence, I run and hide from everyone and everything at the library and hold out for as long as I can.  

            Once at the library, I hide among the stacks at a table.  I turn on my computer, glue my bottom to the seat, and pretend I’m invisible. I’m not saying I don’t still stare at that blasted blip, but I don’t allow myself to get up and go look for things to do.  Not until I have a huge pile of poop on the page do I allow myself to wander to a window and look outside to give my eyes a rest.  If I’m truly blessed and have many pages of poop after a few hours, I promise myself a quick walk around the pond by the library to let my thoughts simmer.    

            Do you feel the need to hide from both family and laundry to be able to write?  Feel free to offer any tips on how you cope with family, chores, and writing. 

This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.  We post on the first Wednesday of every month.  To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Worlds of Wonder: Middle Grade Fantasy Guest post by Author Darcy Pattison

It is my privilege, today, to introduce Darcy Pattison to everyone.  Darcy is a well-published children’s writer with a host of fiction and non-fiction titles on her shelf.  Her shelves also contain books on writing and publishing in today’s market.  She holds writing workshops at Highlights Foundation Workshops at Chautauqua and at other conferences as well as online.
Children's Writer, Darcy Pattison

Darcy is going to talk about her newest title, Liberty, a middle grade adventure story on the high seas.  This is a tale of struggle and hard work to obtain dreams.  It’s a tale of learning to believe in oneself in order to help others. 

Welcome, Darcy, to Adventures in Writing.  And thank you for sharing some of your writing expertise with our readers.   
My pleasure, Victoria Marie, and thank you for having me. 
One of the most important elements in children's literature is a sense of wonder. As a children's book author, you must remember that children don't have a strong base of experiences to draw upon. Everything is new - and full of wonder. The appeal of fantasy is exactly the same thing, that this story reaches outside the realm of everyday and takes them to a new place for new experiences.
In my new middle grade fantasy, LIBERTY, I play upon that need for new experiences by starting with pigs on Farmer MacDonald's farm, the normal world. Quickly, though, you realize this story won't stay near home. Santiago Talbert is a pig who wants to sail the seven seas! Pigs at sea? Yes!
Darcy Pattison's new
            release book cover
The story started soon after 9/11 when I sat at the dinner table with my elementary school age son and his friend and asked what I should write about next. 
Pigs, they said. 
Okay, but what will the pigs do?
Go sailing.
From a simple conversation the concept grew. Santiago and Penelope Talbert leave the farm and go to the mythical land of Liberty, where any intelligent creature—human or animal—can get ahead in the world. They learn the world of sailing and map making and finally join the crew of the H'alloween, where the polar bear Captain harbors a dark secret.
It's a journey or a quest, a coming of age story. The character's growth was important to keep in mind. They move from naive about the world to savvy sailors. But the deeper question is how do you decide what you value in life? The Talberts' character qualities are challenged by their adventures. Will they pursue selfish dreams? How will they treat others?
For this type of fantasy, it's been important to keep the character change in mind. The adventures aren't just for action's sake, but instead to put the characters in positions where they must choose a course of action. Quests are about discovery of new places, but most importantly about discovery of a character about him/herself. While revising, I went back often to check exactly what they said at important points and made a list of these statements. Then, I read through them to be sure there was an emotional progression that made sense.
LIBERTY is a story about following your dreams while holding onto your ideals. Set in the fascinating era of tall ships, it's a rousing story of danger on the high seas. But in the midst of the action, Penelope and Santiago grow up and become the sort of pigs that take care of their friends.
               Thank you so much for this post, Darcy.  If you are interested in purchasing Darcy’s new release, you may access it through these links:
Mims House publisher's site for print books:

Have a beautiful day, everyone! 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

An Insecure Writer’s Support Group Post: Where is the Very First Piece of Writing I Wrote?

Okay, so I may not remember if this was the very first piece of creative writing I wrote as an adult, but it was toward the beginning of my “writing career,” if I can call it that. 

            At the time, I was taking a correspondence writing course with The Institute of Children’s Literature Group.  I’m sure I’m dating myself with the mention of “correspondence courses,” but I had five little kids and no time to go to the bathroom in those years.   I wrote several pieces during that course.  This particular story was my favorite.  Luckily, I never abandoned it.  I did constantly revise it, though.  One of my many insecurities—constantly revising!

            “The Unusual Tour Guides” became “Emerging from Darkness,” my first YA published short story in Cricket Magazine in 2012, the October issue.  Since then, I have published four stories with Cricket Magazine.  Yes, I’m still pinching myself to be sure I’m awake!  And, no, it didn’t happen overnight.  It took years.  And years.

            “Emerging from Darkness” went through various workshops and critique groups.  I made the mistake of taking too many people’s advice, another insecurity I have.  Everyone else can write better than I can. 

Even short stories need to have both the internal and the external struggle.  What I needed to filter out was any advice that was outside my story scope or not how Victoria Marie Lees wrote.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is the difficult part when receiving critiques and advice.

 The editors at Cricket liked the premise: a young teen still grieving from the recent death of her mother and resisting the need to become the caretaker for her younger brother.  Of course, then I needed to add in a bit of adventure in a national park setting, it’s becoming my trademark.  My family and I have been blessed to go camping every summer and we usually choose National Parks.  I maintain a Camping with Five Kids blog of our many true adventures. 

It’s so easy to say, never give up on a story.  I have many stories living on my computer for which I am still trying to find homes.  Perhaps I need to try harder.  At least I should stop trying to incorporate everyone’s advice or revising the poor things to death, and just send the stories out to markets.   

Please feel free to offer some advice of your own on how you filter out which comments to incorporate from critique and which to disregard for your manuscript and how you let go of revisions to send it out.  It would be greatly appreciated.  All the best to you.  
This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.  We post on the first Wednesday of every month.  To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.  

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

An Academic Foundation Can Be Had
Remaining positive for the
  new draft of my college memoir
All I needed was time.  But that’s what I lacked.  Or so it seemed.  Many times, the older students have fulltime jobs and/or a family to care for.

            I fell under the “family” category—all five of them.  As I’ve said before, my oldest daughter is special needs.  She required more of my time for her education to be a success.  My children were my life.  Their future was in my hands.  I couldn’t mess it up.

            But so was mine.  I couldn’t mess up my future, my education either.

            So I started studying the college’s idea of basic math that summer before I began college.  I bought a used math textbook at the college’s book store and tried to figure out percentages and fractions and basic algebra.  I even took the text and a notebook on our family’s camping trip.    

            Somehow, the math didn’t seem so basic to me.

            I drove my poor husband nuts each night for two weeks.  After days of hiking the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia with young children, after trying to feed seven people with one old two-burner Coleman stove, after campfires, telling stories and putting them all to bed, he was not in the mood for math.  [Imagine that!]

I needed to wait for the basic skills math classes to begin at college.

Luckily, some of that basic math helped out in a funny little requirement called college-level science because there wasn't a basic skills class for science.  The only drawback with my college science course was that Chemistry was all new to me.  It’s true, ladies and gentlemen; I didn’t know what a periodic table was.  And don’t even ask me what all the little numbers meant!

            Then there was the literature.  No basic skills classes here either.  I mean I heard of Shakespeare.  Not Homer.  Never read either's work.  I hadn't even read Hemingway.  I didn’t have literature in high school.  I didn’t know people wrote books about journeying through Hell.  I read mysteries and adventure stories.  I needed to start collecting literature and begin reading before classes.

            The traditional college students, the ones entering college directly from high school, possessed all this foundation.  I couldn’t cope in college without it.  I needed to make the time to obtain it. 

Did you find your college preparatory classes in high school truly prepared you for college?