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.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Make Your Characters Vulnerable #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

I’m 100 pages into my memoir about attending college as a mother of five and at the point where I’ve won a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania and am about to begin. I’m scared to death!
http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com

Were you ever too eager to please someone or a group of someones? A boss? A hopeful romantic interest or co-worker or editor?

Like in many stories or movies, this is where the protagonist usually messes up. At least in her first few attempts at acquiring the desired goal of pleasing those in charge. This can happen for a variety reasons; i.e., not thinking before you speak, doing inappropriate actions, or not consciously listening to those around you.

At this stage in my college memoir, I felt the need to prove to those at Penn that I could be an Ivy Leaguer. I wanted them to see that they did not make a mistake in granting me the Phi Theta Kappa Scholarship. I needed to make a good first impression at Penn, and of course it backfired on me.

http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com
Transfer students had a summer reading project, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, and I needed to interpret a connection to one of the topics in the book. A lively discussion had ensued that hot August afternoon in a packed College Hall. While all of the other incoming students connected to topics through academia; sociology, psychology, and business practices to name a few, I connected to teaching preschoolers through the use of the Sesame Street television show. This topic in the book talks about how small lessons can make big improvements in the education of children.

Yes. I heard everyone else speak. In fact I was almost the last student to speak. I was afraid to speak because my connection was from life experience, not academic study. I thought possibly these academics hadn’t had the experience with Sesame Street I had raising my five children. I thought they might appreciate my insight because it was so different from all the intellectuals in the room. So while everyone else received comments or questions or further discussion into their topics from the panel of Penn administrators, my topic crashed into the floor like a lead balloon. No discussion. You could hear the air conditioning unit cycle on again.

Just like characters in stories, our protagonists need to make mistakes, need to feel defeat, anxiety, or humiliation in order to be real to the readers. Readers want to connect to our characters, especially our protagonists.

So while our stories are unique, what our characters do is unique, there needs to be some base feeling or action that our readers can connect to. Embarrassment is a good one. So is fear of the unknown or hurt from someone we love or trust. Characters need to be vulnerable at one time or another in our stories to be real, no matter what genre we are writing in.

So how do you make your characters seem vulnerable to the reader or other characters in the story you are telling?

Please feel free to offer any insight regarding Victoria’s summer reading project scenario. It would be truly appreciated.  

Thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in the comment so I can 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, May 1, 2019

Insecure Writers Want to Know: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?


            For me, it was simple. I was a communications and English major at college. This particular community college didn’t have a journalism degree at the time. Once I became editor of the college newspaper, I discovered how powerful my words were in covering the news on the college campus. While the monthly newspaper had come out sporadically before I took over, maybe once a semester, I made sure it came out every month. And I organized it into sections and put substance in it. I discovered I liked sniffing out news stories for the paper. I became an advocate for the student body, finally finding my college voice at the community college level, investigating life on campus from why the administration closed the pool to why some buildings became a lake each time it rained.
http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com


Anything that affected the student body and college campus found its way into the student-run college newspaper. Where the administration had been all excited about the new look and content of the student paper, department heads and vice presidents soon started to glare at me and hold their tongues until I made them understand that I was going to report on an incident whether they spoke to me or not. I permitted the administration equal space within the article to inform the student body what was being done about certain situations.  

But how did I know administration was upset with my coverage of events at college? Once a semester, all leaders of student organizations met with the president of the college and the provost and vice presidents. We students introduced ourselves and reported to the president what our organizations were doing around campus. We also brought up any concerns students may have. I had no problem with this, as I was doing it already in the newspaper. The president zeroed in on me and relentlessly drilled me as to why I kept harping on any problems the college was having. If it wasn’t for the provost reminding the president that I was only doing my job, he was a college reporter in his time too, I thought the president was going to kick me out of college. I really got under her skin.

 But the important issues in life need to be brought up, need to be discussed if we’re ever going to make things better in this world. That’s why we need honest and moral writers to bring the issues into conversation to help those in charge see the importance of addressing the issues.

I can’t wait to see how you learned that language had power. Thanks for visiting! Please follow Adventures in Writing if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in your comment so I can be sure to do the same for 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, April 16, 2019

Chicken Soup for the Soul Mom Knows Best #AuthorToolboxBlogHop


My mother has been my guiding light all my life. She believed in me when I didn’t. She told me that I could accomplish anything I put my mind to. These are the types of positive people writers need around them as they struggle to accomplish their writing goals. Unfortunately, I lost my mother to cancer at the end of the summer. Mom may be in Heaven now, but some of her sage advice lives on in the new Chicken Soup for the Soul Mom Knows Best issue released on March 19, 2019.  
http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com


Have you ever had an essay included in a Chicken Soup issue? Which one? Was it your first attempt, or did it take a while for them to accept one of your essays?

For me, it took quite a while for Chicken Soup for the Soul to accept one of my essays. I have been trying to break into this niche on and off for years. Several friends in my South Jersey Writers Group have been published in Chicken Soup. They gave me courage to try again and again. There is no charge for submitting to Chicken Soup for the Soul. Here’s the link.  

            Like any other writing project, it’s always best to begin by studying the market. Read other Chicken Soup for the Soul books to see what they are publishing. Break down the essay to see how the writer put it together. Notice how tightly the prose is, how specific the details about place are. Notice there are no extra words or throwaway dialogue and thoughts. Then check Chicken Soup’s website to see what topics they are currently looking for and start drafting your essay.  

Although the editors at Chicken Soup give you lots of guidance on how to prepare your story, nothing beats a critique partner, especially someone who has already been published by the market you wish to enter. Ask to see their document of the essay they submitted to the market. This will be what they sent in as opposed to the one that was edited by the publisher before publication. It helps to see how they structured their essays.   

http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com
I was ecstatic when I saw one of my own stories in the
Chicken Soup for the Soul Mom Knows Best issue.
And keep the essay simple. This was my biggest problem. I could study issues from Chicken Soup, strip down the essays, study the language used, and feel I have created just what they want, and receive silence for all my effort. Chicken Soup for the Soul will contact you ONLY when they want your essay. Otherwise you don’t hear from them.

And God knows, be persistent! Like I said, it doesn’t cost anything to submit to Chicken Soup, so why not follow these steps and send in your best advice on a topic they’re looking for. Good Luck!

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Mom Knows Best is on sale now. You can find it in bookstores and online here. My particular story, Evening Things Up, will be featured in a podcast from Chicken Soup on April 29, 2019. You can listen to the podcast for free by going to Chicken Soup's website and clicking the podcast tab. 
http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com
My beloved mother, Elaine McDonald


Thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in the comment so I can 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




Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Insecure Writers Want to Know: If you could use a wish to help write one chapter in your book, which would it be?


            Now there’s a complicated question! I guess if I could only have one place in my college memoir where something magical could help me write it, it would be the first chapter. Since wishes are magical to me, that would mean someone who knows more than I or possibly could see into the future would help me be sure I was starting the story in the correct place. Beginnings are so important in story.  
http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com


            Beginnings to novels or memoirs are different from what they were in past eras. No longer can writers indulgingly describe settings or characters. Today, the story must jump right into the action or problems of a story. Every scene must drive the story plot forward, even if only a tiny bit. There is too much other stuff competing for a reader’s time. A writer needs to show the possibilities of problems to come on that first page, almost, in order to keep a reader reading the novel.

            Not only do writers need to hook readers with juicy plots, but also wow them with real characters to care about. You could open with an exciting plot; aliens invading earth or two boys barreling down a raging river. But if you don’t connect the plot to a sentient being, no one will care about it. Our stories need to be about someone in particular; some vulnerable, flawed person the readers can connect to. And the story should begin in scene. We need to be someplace, even if we are just thinking. We need to ground the reader in time and place.

            Is my college memoir starting in the right place? Gosh, I hope so. This is where that magical wish could show me for sure.

            I begin my story with a scene. And through that scene, I hope to connect readers to a person, a particular person with hopes and dreams and problems.

The memoir opens with my special-needs daughter signing up for high school classes. She wants to go to college, just like I did all those years before. And just like what happened to me, someone important tells her she shouldn’t go to college. Within this guidance counselor scene, Victoria’s backstory begins to unfold, showing [I hope] why this particular situation is pivotal. With this initial scene, I want to demonstrate Victoria’s struggles as a mother, what she feels about a college education and the reasons for her feelings. This initial counselor meeting forces Victoria to revisit her own dreams of a college education in order to help her children. This initial scene also allows for Victoria to revisit her feelings about being educated toward the end of the memoir once she finishes her own college journey.

That’s a lot for one opening scene to carry. How important do you feel beginnings are to novels or memoirs? I would truly appreciate your insight into the beginning of my college memoir.

I can’t wait to see where you would use your special wish in story writing. Thanks for visiting! Please follow Adventures in Writing if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in your comment so I can be sure to do the same for 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, March 19, 2019

What’s the Cost to Your Protagonist to Accomplish a Goal? #AuthorToolboxBlogHop


Everyone makes choices. People are a sum of the choices they’ve made in life. But each choice usually costs them something. Think about your own personal choices. Are you married? Then you are making a commitment to love and honor your spouse and not someone else. Do you have children? Then you’re making a commitment to care and educate them in their lifetime. Are you religious? Did you choose a career? All of these choices cost you something to commit to. Relationships and careers take time and effort to deal with the problems that come up in life. 
https://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com


In fiction or memoir, our protagonists must make choices in their story lives that cost them something in return. It must cost the protagonist to change internally or externally or even deal with a plot problem. Does she get what she’s after? The goal must cost her something, emotionally or physically, to attempt it.

https://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com
Think about Kathryn Stockett’s novel The Help. One of the main protagonists is a young white woman who wants to be a writer, Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan. It’s the early 1960’s, and Phelan’s mother wants her to get married and have babies, like Phelan’s friends. There is so much to unpack in this novel. I’m going to choose one tiny piece. Phelan chooses to write a book about the horrible treatment of “colored” maids in the Deep South. This takes much effort and time for Phelan, and she requires assistance to gather the information. But her choice to compose this book costs her the love of a man she had initially wanted a meaningful relationship with. It also costs her acceptance in the neighborhood. In fact, Phelan ends up moving north to be a writer.  
                                                                                                      
So what does it cost Victoria to choose to begin college as a mother of five?

The major cost is time with her family. This affects others. And it hinges on another cost for Victoria. Internally, because she struggles with feelings of inferiority, and works twice as hard just to keep up in college, Victoria can’t seem to relax or take a break. So Victoria believes she’s wasting time and effort that could be spent making life better for her family.
No, she can’t be the Mom she was before attempting college, spending most of her downtime with the children. She needs time to study if she wants to show those children how to be successful. Her children need to mature enough to understand this. So does her husband. And, most importantly, so does Victoria. She must learn to stop worrying about taking too much time away from family because she learns differently and studies constantly.

Please feel free to offer any insight regarding the costs in this college journey. It would be truly appreciated.

Thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in the comment so I can 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


Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Insecure Writers Want to Know: Whose perspective do you like to write from, the hero (protagonist) or the villain (antagonist)? Why?


            Ooo! What a juicy question. Since I write predominately YA short adventure stories, I’m mostly in the mindset of the protagonist, the young teen who will change the most and be the hero of the story. In a lot of my adventure stories, the physical antagonist is a wild animal or weather or natural phenomenon, like an avalanche or a fire. That’s not to say I don’t have a sibling or bully causing external problems too. There also needs to be an internal “antagonist” of sorts in the form of something bothering the protagonist; like a personal fear or lack of courage to do something, or an unwillingness to change. 
http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com


Even so with such a tight word count, usually 1800 words, I only have word space for one perspective.

            So how does the writer get the perspective of the antagonist onto the page when writing on a limited word count?

            The writer does this through the protagonist’s perspective. The protagonist projects his or her own feelings about the bully, the mean sibling, that natural phenomenon, or even the protagonist’s personal fear to the reader. In other words, the protagonist interprets what all the action, inner struggle, or problems mean to the protagonist, who’s driving the story and must solve the story problem, especially in children’s fiction.

In order to go beneath the surface of the story, the reader needs to see how the action or problems, affect one person—the protagonist. If the writer chooses to write through the perspective of the antagonist, the story needs to be affecting the antagonist the most.  

            As a writer, which character is more interesting to speak as; the protagonist or the antagonist? Again, I think it’s important to see how what’s happening in the story affects each of those characters. It’s what the story actually means to a character that adds depth to the story, that helps the readers connect with the character. Ultimately, that’s what makes the story distinctive.       

I can’t wait to see whose perspective you prefer to write through and why. Thanks for visiting! Please follow Adventures in Writing if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in your comment so I can be sure to do the same for 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, February 19, 2019

Obstacles Add Tension in Story #AuthorToolboxBlogHop


As in life, obstacles can add tension in fiction or memoir stories. When I say this, I mean literally whatever keeps your protagonist from reaching her story goal is an obstacle. 
http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com/


Obstacles can be physical things like:

Wild animals blocking the path back home
An evil villain forcing your protagonist to retreat or hide [antagonist]
Any treacherous trail to negotiate in order to find freedom [landscape]
An ice storm or bitter cold or icy waters to traverse [weather]
Government or societal corruption

But obstacles can also be internal things like:

Lacking physical ability to do something
Lacking in knowledge
Mental or physical illness
Regret
Mental or physical abuse
A bad relationship your protagonist can’t break free of
Inferiority
Any belief contrary to a logical standpoint [if someone’s being nice to you, that means they want something]

Writers should include both internal and external obstacles for their protagonists—in varying degrees of intensity. They can’t all be life-threatening in a story or the writer will run the risk of exhausting his reader. The writer needs to choose obstacles that mean something important to his protagonist. How the protagonist interprets these obstacles is the reason why writers include them in their stories.

If we turn to my college memoir, Victoria’s main obstacle in keeping her from obtaining her college degree is internal. It’s her belief that she can actually do it. It’s her feeling of inadequacy when compared to other college students.

A few external obstacles in this college journey are:
            Her children – Although they are the impetus for Victoria to begin college, the time they require in their growing up years collides with Vic’s ability to focus on college.
            Failing the math portion of the entrance exam.
            Professors – their teaching style and Vic’s ability to learn collide.
            Dropping a course in order to save sanity
            Vic’s always fighting the clock, trying to find time to complete assignments
            Vic struggles with learning subject material

Feel free to offer any insight regarding my obstacles in this college journey. It would be truly appreciated.

Thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in the comment so I can 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