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, November 1, 2017

Insecure Writers want to know: Win or not, do you usually finish your NaNo project? Have any of them gone on to be published?

            Unfortunately, I don’t participate in NaNoWriMo. I simply don’t need more pressure to write. I write almost every day; poetry, short story, blog posts, memoir, and writing workshops and presentations. Yes, sometimes I stare more than I write. I get up and go through the motions to get the action correct for my protagonist and thereby the reader. I fuss and fudder. I cry. I tell myself I’m no good at writing.
http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com


Okay, so now you know why I’m part of Insecure Writers Support Group.

Then I return to that blasted blinking cursor and try again. I fight with my logical self and that stupid editor in my head who, many times, holds me back from beginning a new project until I know exactly what I’m doing. Does any writer know exactly what they’re doing at the beginning of a project? If you do, please share some tips! 

            I’m not a pantser. I can’t just bang out words, although I admire those who can. I can’t seem to disconnect that confounded editor in my head. I’m constantly re-reading what I’ve already written. Deleting here. Tightening there. Adding specifics and emotion. I can’t simply move forward in a piece of writing.   

I need to know where I’m going, what the point of my piece of writing is at the beginning. Now that’s not saying I know specifically where I’m going all the time. Quite often I only have an idea—sometimes just a glimmer—of what I’m trying to show through this essay or story, or demonstrate through sharing this incident. Hence, I do a lot of staring, like I said. And walking around my neighborhood. Yes! Even in the rain.

            Yet, I admire the camaraderie shared through NaNoWriMo, the need for a safe community that isn’t pitting themselves against their fellow writer, but rather cheering them on to success. I think NaNo is a wonderful thing, and I truly wish everyone who participates in it great success.  May all your stories come to fruition. Write on, dear fellow IWSG friends, write on!

Thanks so much for stopping by Adventures in Writing and offering a comment. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already. It’s greatly appreciated.  

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, October 17, 2017

What Exactly is the Origin Scene in Memoir or Fiction? #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

The inciting incident is the start of story present. In my case it’s when a high school guidance counselor challenges me to help my special needs daughter through her high school years and I realize I can't do it without a college education myself.  
http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com


The origin scene is where my misbelief about not being smart enough to handle college work originates. The origin scene and misbelief started when I myself tried to sign up for college prep courses in high school and was told more or less that I would fail if I attempted college.

Writers need to consider what the key origin scene is that starts the belief in a flaw that is so important to their particular protagonist in the fiction or memoir story they’re trying to tell. The origin scene is where the protagonist’s flaw first comes into play, and it usually happens during childhood, according to Lisa Cron, the creator of the Story Genius method of writing.  

A flaw develops in the protagonist’s logic in the origin scene to help the protagonist cope at that particular time in his or her life with the situation at hand.

Why did Victoria believe she wouldn’t succeed in college? In 1973, she brought home the course selections book for high school. Her parents needed to sign off on the courses. 

*Rough origin scene, Victoria’s 13 years old:

 Dad picked up the folder.  “What’s this, Vic?” 
He pointed to the curriculum path I chose.  College Prep.
I was all smiles.  They should be so proud of my choice.  Me, the daughter who had so much trouble in school before.  Now I was considering college.
            “Vic,” he said, “We don’t go to college.”  He placed the folder back on the table.
            “What?”  Can’t just anybody go away to college?  I didn’t get it.  “Dad.”  I looked at my mother.  “I want to be a writer.”  And an actress, I thought, but I couldn’t tell Daddy that.  He already told me that was stupid when I had mentioned it to Mom last year.
            “College is for doctors and lawyers,” he said.
            That’s all?  Really?  I was at a loss of what to say.  I shook my head.  “But all the authors I read about…”
            “They must be rich,” he said.  “We’re not.”  He leaned forward on the table.  “There’s no money for college, Vic,” he informed me, in that definitive tone I knew so well.  He pushed the folder back to me.  “We’re a working class family.  Everybody goes to work after high school.”  He rose from the table.  “At real jobs,” he added. 
But why can’t working class people go to college?  I felt my dream slipping away.  I searched my brain for some proof.  “Dad, Betty’s sister wants to be a teacher, and she’s going to college.”  I glanced up at him. 
He was looking at my mother.  Neither one said anything. 
“Vic,” Dad said finally.  “What makes you think you’re smart enough to do it?”
I felt like it was the middle of summer instead of early spring.  I wanted to run outside into the darkness to cool off.  Or was it to hide from my past? I struggled so much in school before 6th grade.  Mom told me that the school had wanted to hold me back in 3rd grade but Daddy wouldn’t let them.  He had worked with me in math for hours after his night shift had finished.  Yet I continued to struggle in 4th and 5th grade.  But somehow in 6th grade I finally got it, although it took much studying and work on my part.
“Dad,” I said desperately, “I’m on the honor roll now.” 
“You need more than that to survive college, Vic.  Play it safe.  Go to work.”  When I didn’t reply, he left the room.
I sat there dumbfounded, trying to make sense of this. My parents didn’t go to college. And neither did my girlfriend’s parents.  Mom’s a secretary.  And Dad’s a machinist.  They have a house and cars.  They’re successful.  So are my friends’ parents.  College isn’t necessary for success. It didn’t matter what other writers had done.
            Daddy’s right.  If I tried college and failed, I’d embarrass them.  And Dad wouldn’t be able to help me this time with math.  It’s good to know this now before I have trouble with college prep courses.  And even if I did all that work, I wouldn’t have anything to study at college because I don’t want to be a doctor.  I don’t like blood and guts.  And I don’t want to be a lawyer because I’m afraid of the bad guys.  And I don’t need to struggle in college and then fail, proving to Dad that I’m not smart enough. 
  
*End of scene.

The origin scene begins a misunderstanding in the protagonist’s life. This misunderstanding must be connected to the main thrust of the story. And the misunderstanding should become a way for the protagonist to save herself from future problems. In my case, the misunderstanding that I’m not college material would save me from failure in life. I needed to choose a more secure path without the need to struggle further in my education.

Does this sound overly dramatic to you? Your insight is always appreciated.

The origin scene’s misunderstanding blooms into the flaw that the protagonist carries around with her for the rest of the story. But remember, to the protagonist, this misconstrued logic shows her how to interpret life so no harm or bad feelings come to her in the future.

Victoria’s father made it clear that doing well in the basic classes does not prepare one for college, in his mind. Victoria needed to be smarter. And she wasn’t. He instilled in her that failure in life is not good. Victoria interpreted this as “don’t attempt anything that you might fail at.” So she stayed away from college until her own daughter wanted the same dream.

Remember that many times, the antagonist’s intentions seem logical to him. They’re from his own life experience. The antagonist, many times, is just trying to help the protagonist. 


Thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. I’ll be sure to do the same for you. To continue hopping through more amazing blogs or to join our Author Toolbox blog hop, click here

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Insecure Writers want to know: Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?

I think all writers do this, although sometimes without realizing it. I know I do. 
http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com


            In memoir, of course personal information is shared. That’s what memoir is all about, allowing your reader to share your experience. But in my fiction, when a critique partner asks why a particular character didn’t do what the partner expected, I answer, “Oh, that’s because he would never do that.”

            And my critique partner would say, “No, Vic. It’s YOU who would never do that. Your protagonist must do that so the story can move forward.”

            And that’s the point. All writers need to have their stories move forward, no matter if we share a part of ourselves in the story through a character or an event or experience or make things up. Stories must move forward to interest readers.

            But writers must also remember that sometimes real life isn’t easy to believe. This happened in a few of my short adventure stories for teens. I usually set my story in a national park my family has visited. When my husband and I camp with five kids, we try to take in as many of the park ranger hikes and talks as possible. That’s where I get my knowledge that’s shared through my YA adventure stories.

            In two of my stories published in Cricket Magazine, the editor contacted me about the reality of the situation. Remember that I write contemporary and not sci-fi or fantasy. The first story question was easy. I simply sent him links to prove my point: one to the park webpage and one to a blog post that explained my family’s experience with the park and had a photo of trees and pine cones with people to give perspective. Writers always want to make things as easy as possible for busy editors, right?      

            The second question the same editor had was in a later story. The only proof I could tell him was that we heard a similar situation from the park ranger on a hike in that particular national park. I gave the editor a link to the park’s website. The editor bought the story.

            I wonder if this particular editor thinks I send my own children into all these risky and scary situations alone as I do my protagonist. I hope not. Therein lays the fiction part.

            Whether writers use personal experience or beliefs or events in their writing or not, we writers need to be sure those personal experiences sound logical in the stories we tell, even in fantasy and sci-fi. Good luck in your story telling!

Thanks so much for stopping by Adventures in Writing and offering a comment. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already. It’s greatly appreciated.  


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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

What Does Backstory Do in Memoir or Fiction? #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

The question of “why” continues in memoir and fiction. Why this protagonist? Why now? Why does what happens in the story present matter to the protagonist?
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Through backstory, we find the why of the present story we are trying to tell, according to Lisa Cron, the creator of the Story Genius method of writing. The reader wishes to understand why the protagonist behaves as she does. What is her backstory?

In memoir as in fiction, backstory shows the reader why what’s happening in the story—the story action—matters to the protagonist.

            In Victoria’s memoir story, she had always revered those who went to college. College graduates were smarter than she was, she felt. They were successful, in her mind. And, the college-educated were in charge of her children’s education—especially her special needs oldest daughter.

            Victoria dealt with these feelings of inferiority until the high school guidance counselor told her that her oldest daughter shouldn’t go to college. She wasn’t capable. She wouldn’t be able to handle the work.

This is where the writer brings in “why this matters to Victoria.” Without the “why” of the story, the memoir would be merely surface. Who cares? Just stick the child in special education and let the educated people deal with teaching the child.  

            But Victoria had never done that. She was a team player and always supported all her children through their education. Until now. Until high school. Victoria didn’t feel knowledgeable enough to teach her children high school subjects.

            Okay. But why let this bother Victoria? Why did what the counselor tells her matter so much to Victoria?

It matters because Victoria has always wanted to be included among the college-educated. She feels she could be a better mother, if she is college-educated.

Then go to college, the reader thinks.

But Victoria believes, at the time the memoir story opens, that the opportunity to attend college has passed. She has five young children, the oldest special needs. Her husband travels for work.

To go deeper, Victoria was told by her father she wasn’t smart enough herself to succeed in college because she too struggled in her early education. Her father felt he was saving his daughter from possible failure in life.

This is why what is happening in the present memoir scene with her daughter’s high school guidance counselor matters so much to Victoria. This is where specific backstory comes into play.

            You put story-specific backstory into the scene at a moment when something triggers the protagonist to think back to a particular past situation or action in order to make sense of the present situation.

A protagonist may use his or her personal backstory to make a decision on how to respond or how to act in a specific confrontation or situation in the story. Backstory helps the reader understand why the protagonist is reacting the way she is.

            Think about it in your own life. We use our own personal backstory; how we were brought up, our experiences and learned life lessons, to make sense of our present world and personal life. Our past—our backstory—helps us to decide what to do next in life situations. Our past helps us to make meaning of our present.   

            Backstory can be a few words, a few paragraphs of explanation, or even an entire scene to explain what happened in order to show why a character acts the way she does in story present.

Backstory is uniquely tied to the origin scene in story. In the origin scene, a flaw is found in the logic of the protagonist. Where is this scene in the life of your protagonist, the particular flaw that is addressed through your story or memoir? Why did Victoria believe she wouldn’t succeed in college? We’ll address this next month.

Please offer me any feedback about the logic of Victoria’s memoir story, for it truly helps me to move forward in my work. Also, feel free to pose memoir topics. I will share what I know through my blog posts.


Thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. I’ll be sure to do the same for you. To continue hopping through more amazing blogs or to join our Author Toolbox blog hop, click here

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Insecure Writers want to know: Have You Ever Surprised Yourself with Your Writing?

I surprise myself every time an editor accepts one of my short stories. When I create my YA adventure stories, I feel as though I have both the inner and outer struggle for the protagonist. I have antagonists: one human; a cousin, sibling, friend, or self and one nature; an avalanche, a thick forest, a thundering river, or wild animals. I craft the adventures meticulously, usually setting them in a national park.
http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com


One of my five children or my husband will find me talking to myself—or worse, to the computer—and leave the room. Or they’ll discover me sitting on a dining room chair with one of my son’s canoe paddles, trying to understand how the mechanics of paddling works when negotiating rocks in a river, how to explain it to the reader. The kids—mine—help me re-enact stage directions with a stuffed [animal] snake or read what I have written to see if they understand the actions explained. The family can sometimes refresh my memory of what a trail was like when we were last on it during a camping trip to the particular national park I’m using as a setting in my story.  

I have a trusted writer friend who diligently tells me the short story is awful. So I fix it, and then fix it again. I stare at it. And “fix” it again. Then I sigh and submit it, and pray. You know how long writers wait to hear back after submission.

I try to move on in life and with my memoir, which mostly I’ve been staring at and crying about. I know what happens there. It’s truth. I can’t change it. And you’d think that knowing what happens would make it easier to write. Nope!

Memoir needs to be told as story. And the framing of this memoir story paralyzes me. My writer friend doesn’t have time to read or help me with this longer work. She says she’s not knowledgeable about memoir. I’ve taken memoir writing courses and story writing courses, the last being Lisa Cron’s Story Genius method, which is incredible. I have some good scenes. I’ve deepened the memoir story greatly. But each scene needs to be linked to the next. There must be a cause and effect trajectory. It seems like knowing so much about the story process makes me afraid to move forward in memoir because I can’t create what is needed. I must craft what really happened—choosing the events needed to do so—and create a story.

And until I can crawl ahead with my memoir, I live for an acceptance letter for my short stories. Like many writers, I ache for readers to enjoy my stories. But when the letter or e-mail comes, I hold my breath before I open it.

I had two stories in the queue at Cricket Media this time. I’ve had two stories before and Cricket Magazine, a literary magazine for 9 to 14 year olds, had accepted both stories. However this time, they only wanted one, a YA adventure about cousins canoeing the Delaware. Instead of rejoicing—okay, maybe I rejoiced a little bit—I couldn’t help but wonder why they didn’t want the second one.

I received the standard rejection letter: “it is not quite right for our magazine.” Yet I feel my stories are of the same quality. The only difference with this particular story was that I name dropped Susan Boyle, trying to connect Susan’s difficulties in life to my protagonist’s. Maybe an international children’s magazine such as Cricket doesn’t allow for name-dropping. Has anyone had experience with comparing a character to a known person in an attempt to imply that character has the same attributes? Is there a better method to explain how characters are in a few words without well-known comparisons?

The last story I sent to Cricket, they didn’t want either. Same standard rejection letter. I understand they don’t have time to tell you why. But the guessing on the writer’s part as to why it was rejected when other stories weren’t is grueling. In that story, I had one character receive a glancing bite from a rattlesnake. No one dies. It is a dry bite, which is explained in the story. Because it’s YA, maybe I can’t have the characters literally attacked by the wild animal, only frightened by them. Does anyone have any comment about that? I never have anyone die in my YA adventure stories. I know the editors wouldn’t accept that.
  
Thanks so much for stopping by Adventures in Writing and offering a comment. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already. It’s greatly appreciated.  

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, August 15, 2017

Flawed Characters in Memoir #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Yes, even in memoir, the protagonist needs to be flawed. Flawed in her understanding, her logic, and her actions. Other characters may be flawed as well. This can be difficult for writers. In memoir, you are writing about yourself. And it needs to be true!
http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com


            Okay, you may say. But which flaws do I include? How do I know which events to put into the memoir story and which ones to leave out?

We choose the flaw/s and events to include that pertain to the point we are trying to make with the memoir story as a whole.

            This is why you need to know the overall point of the memoir. What are you trying to show or prove? Which insight do you wish to share with the reader? It is very important that you know where you’re going in your memoir story. Knowing the point of your story will save you from writing pages and pages that go nowhere. By knowing the overall point, you also know whether you’ve made it or proved it through your writing, and—most importantly—you know where to end the memoir story.
           
This is true whether you are writing fiction or essays or memoir.

But trying to find the point to convey through your memoir can be difficult to discover. It can take memoirists and writers a long time to find. At least it did with me because I overthink everything—one of my many flaws! And I’m still not sure if I have it right.

When you start out, in fiction or memoir, your point may be vague; like, forgiveness takes time or love conquers all. The point of my memoir about attending college as a mother of five is “to seize opportunity so as not to be left with regret.” I’d been instructing my children to do this ever since they were born. But maybe the point needed to be a bit more specific to my story. I came up with: “Don’t let fear and doubt stop you from taking a chance at seizing your dream.” Still kind of heavy.

The flaw I’m tracking and dramatizing with this memoir is my inner struggle with inferiority, that I was not good enough to attend college. I need to show this through concrete events in my life. Much of this is through backstory, beginning with the origin scene. We’ll address that in another post.

 Writers need to consider their readers. In considering the readers of my college memoir, I believe feelings of inferiority are universal. But is it deep enough or specific enough for my memoir story purposes? I need to ponder this. Your thoughts on this would be beneficial to my memoir progress. 

As for seizing opportunity and having a second chance at my dream of a college degree, I learned about community college from another parent who was attending part time. This seems ridiculous now in the age of the ubiquitous internet, but back in 1998, when I was knee deep in kids—five, remember, the oldest with social and learning difficulties—this was new information to me. When I attended high school, going to college meant going away to study, fulltime.

In the story present—the time when the memoir story opens—I thought college had passed me by. I had no time for it now.  Then the Ivy League showed itself on the horizon in scholarship form because of awards earned at the community college level. And Inferiority moved into my home to live with me—permanently—taunting me daily: The Ivy League? You? A mother? Are you crazy? You got lucky in community college.

            Memoirists and writers may start with a general point to their story and then make it specific to the protagonist. Why her? Why now? Why does it matter to her?

This is where specific backstory comes into play. Through backstory, we find the why of the present story you are telling. We’ll address this next month. Please feel free to ask me anything about memoir and I will explain what I know through my blog posts.  


Thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. I’ll be sure to do the same for you. To continue hopping through more amazing blogs or to join our Author Toolbox blog hop, click here

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Insecure Writers want to know: What are your pet peeves when reading/writing/editing?

            What really gets stuck in my computer keys is this mindset, usually by non-writers, that writing a story is easy. Now wait! We are writers. We understand how things in our story worlds must be logical. So let’s look at this assumption logically.
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When you think about it, writers must create a whole new world that didn’t exist before in story, no matter what the genre. Historical fiction begins with the facts. Then the writer leaps from there to create a fictional world and situation. Fantasy and science-fiction work this way, too. The more the writer grounds the story base in fact or myths or beliefs, the more realistic the story seems. Each world needs to follow a logical set of rules just like in reality. Even in contemporary stories, writers must research facts and details to base their worlds in possibility. And this all takes time and effort.

Once the writer has a genre and sets up the world, she needs to populate it with characters; a protagonist, an antagonist, and secondary characters. Each character then needs his or her own backstory and belief system and personal problems.

Note: Worlds or characters or situations, begin with what works best for you. There is no one way to write. However, the worlds, characters, and situations must seem realistic to the reader.

Creating art from words requires discipline. Like any profession, one must commit to completing a project. That means devoting the time to the task, whether you are learning new skills and methods through workshops and courses, or quieting that nagging critic in your head so you can move forward in your story.

Writers are very brave. They must allow their characters, and thereby themselves, to be vulnerable on the page for all to see. Writers make mistakes. But they figuratively pick themselves up, put Band-Aids on their kneecaps if necessary, and dig in again. And sometimes, again and again. For writers understand that raw and true emotion intensifies tension in story. It connects readers to characters.

And the bravery continues when the writer begins to share her newborn story in critique sessions or with a critique partner. A writer is a fragile creature, as I’ve said before. The courage to “bleed on the page” as Hemingway said and then show it to others for their opinions is what makes writers so brave. The writer must be open to other’s thoughts on their creation, however, before sending it out into the world to see what agents or editors think or stepping into self-publishing. They should seriously consider any comments that come up more than once.

Maya Angelou had it right when she said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Writers are compelled to create stories. And they need to do it again. And again. And again. Writing a story is hard work. It’s the writer researching and calculating and understanding difficult phenomena. What do you think? Do you think writing a story is easy? If so, PLEASE, share some tips.

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.