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, 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?
http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com


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.
http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com


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.  

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Adventures in Writing wins the Liebster Award!

Thank you so much for the Liebster Blogging Award, Raimey. You really made my day. I am truly honored! Blogging can sometimes feel like a lonely gig. However, Raimey Gallant’s brilliant Author Toolbox Blog Hop helps writers of all stripes connect and support one another. Thank you for this too, Raimey!
http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com


Readers and nominees, here are the rules for being nominated as a Liebster:

Liebster Award Rules and Nominees:
Rule 1: Thank the person who nominated you for the award.
Rule 2: Answer the 11 questions the person asked you.
Rule 3: Nominate 11 people (comment on their blog to let them know)
Rule 4: Ask the people you have nominated 11 questions (My questions are at the bottom of this post.)

Here are my answers to Raimey’s questions. I must admit. Some of them were tough.

1. Who is your favourite author that you haven’t listed as a password backup for a financial institution.  
Mary Higgins Clark

2. Invent a hashtag that you would like to see gain traction.
#ContemporaryYAAventurestory

3. The wackiest writing prompt you can think of on the fly.
A parrot led a boy into a cave to find a treasure chest. When the boy broke the lock and opened the chest, he discovered…

4. What genre(s) do you write in, and what subgenre(s) do you spice in?
Adventure and Mystery,    Subgenre- throw in romance

5. What does your plotting/pantsing technique involve? Please describe using morse code. Kidding. You can use letters. 
I always need to know where I’m going in story. Scene cards are very helpful with this. In other words – I only wear pants, not write by them.

6. Using only three-word sentences, tell us about your childhood (i.e. I hated hockey. Mom re-married dad. Toaster broke window.)
School was tough. Helped at home. Watched little sister. I prepared dinner. Was not popular. I loved mysteries. I wrote stories. I loved music. Acted in plays. I loved hiking. Sea shore adventures. Work, no college.

7. Write the eulogy for one of your characters in less than 100 words.
Yikes! I don’t want to kill my characters. [OK, so that’s one of my problems!]
He was famous for his wood carvings, at least the family thought so. And when he tapped danced in the living room, all the children’s card houses collapsed. He made his world laugh. He held them with his voice. He was a protector. No one cared more for his family.

8. Tell us something quirky about you.
Each summer, I journey and explore the United States and parts of Canada, from coast to coast, in a small conversion van with 5 noisy kids, camping in a tiny pop-up trailer that sleeps 7 in three beds. …And having the time of my life. I think the children are too!

9. I’m gonna need you to dig deep for this one. If chances are slim, how can something be fat about it (fat chance)?
Wow! Good point. A literal person, I’m going to ignore the sarcasm in this question and assume it’s psychological. Humans are usually positive creatures. I know I try to be. It’s hard when writing, though. We are always looking for the big—or fat—chances in life. At least we should try, for how can we better ourselves if we never attempt difficult endeavors?

10. If you could change one thing about a social media site, what would it be?
New comments, posts, or pop-ups continually surfacing when I’m trying to read or comment. My husband says I take too much time to think about what I want to say. True! But I want to say something pithy—or at least not embarrass myself.

11. How many plots do you have in your head on any given day?
A full plot? Only 2 or 3. Possible various threads or themes to plots? Oh…maybe about 50 or 60.

Here are 11 more wonderful bloggers who deserve the Liebster Blogging Award and what they write about. Congratulations, everyone!

http://gilbertcuriosities.blogspot.com Marie Gilbert writes about life, family, and her sci-fi series.
http://www.obligatorytraveler.com/ Sarah is a world traveler and recounts her adventures here with gorgeous photos.
www.miriamdiazgilbert.com Miriam writes about the running life. She offers tips and experiences.  
https://lorettasisco.com/ Loretta writes about pets and animals and life.
http://dawnbyrne.blogspot.com/ Dawn writes about the writing life and family.
http://positiveletters.blogspot.com/ Hilary Melton Butcher writes fascinating posts on English culture, food, and history.
https://ematimar.com/posts/ Erika writes about social media, writing, and technology.
http://jenniferrhubbard.blogspot.com/ Jennifer writes YA literary fiction and ponders the writing life on her blog.
http://taratylertalks.blogspot.com/ Tara blogs about the writer’s life and her fantasy and sci-fi books.
http://christianediting.co.nz/blog/ Iola writes about technology and social media and Christian topics.
https://onceuponatimeinhaz.blogspot.com/ Morgan talks about her camping fun with the family.

Okay everyone; here are my 11 questions for you to answer. Don’t get lost in details. Just have fun!

1.     You are thrown into a favorite story. [Not your own.] Which story and who would you be?
2.     What is the hardest part of writing for you? Why?
3.     When and where do you write? How did you discover that was best for you?
4.     If you could be anybody or anything, who or what would you be and why?
5.     How do you push forward when the inner critic won’t shut up?
6.     Do you need to write inside a bubble or library [like me] or do like to listen to music or other inspiring background sounds or “white” noise to write?  
7.     How do you keep the wolves…ahem…I mean convince your children or other people to leave you alone to write? Does it work? Provide tips—please!
8.     Who was your favorite author as a child? Who is your favorite author now?
9.     If you could have a superpower, what would it be? Why that?
10.  How do you find inspiration?
11.  What book or movie or writing workshop or blog post has affected your work the most? Why?

Once again, thank you, Raimey, for nominating my Adventures in Writing blog for the

Liebster Blogging Award. It is appreciated more than you realize. Thanks for stopping by, everyone!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Memoir Made Easy: What to Remember When Starting Out #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Hello and welcome, everyone, to Adventures in Writing and my first Author Toolbox Blog Hop post. Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Victoria Marie Lees and I write YA short story adventures, poetry, and memoir.
http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com


            Memoir is a story—yes, even though it’s about the writer’s life, it is a story. “Just the facts, Ma’am,” is autobiography. Memoir is usually about one specific time period in the writer’s life, a period where discoveries are made. Memoir interprets the events for the reader. Occasionally, the timeline of memoir may be scattered throughout the writer’s lifetime, but the focus will be narrowed to one topic.

My memoir is about the ten-year journey I took through academia to acquire a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania while still being a mother to my five children during their growing-up years. It encompasses the trials a parent needs to face and understand when attempting such an endeavor and how to survive it successfully.    

Memoir needs to be true. You must include the fiction elements of:
protagonist vs. antagonist[s], even if the antagonist is a concept like time or academic understanding;
tension and problem resolution;
an overall-story ticking clock;
setting and pacing;
the creation of believable characters out of real people.

This is what makes memoir so difficult to write. You are telling a story about yourself with all these fiction elements in place.

Then you need to consider that memoir is not all about you. Memoir needs to offer critical insight for the reader.
So how do you do this?
By looking inside yourself to understand why you did what you did at that time, why you thought what you thought at that time.

Remember. Just like in fiction, the reader needs to be in the scene, understanding your every move. Everything from why you think it’s best to drop a course, as in my memoir, to why any parent would ever attempt an Ivy League education after starting her education at a community college close to home.

            The often misunderstood “Show, don’t tell” helps with this. “Show, don’t tell” means to show the reader why what’s happening matters to the protagonist. Fiction or memoir, you need to show how the protagonist came to that decision—internally. Inner thoughts are at the heart of any story or memoir. In other words, to borrow from Hemingway, to write a memoir, you need to “bleed” on the page.

            Readers want to be in the head of the protagonist, hearing the inner thoughts and understanding any logic for decisions made, no matter how flawed that logic may be.

            Remember, the protagonist is flawed. This is the most difficult part for memoirists.

Now you’re thinking: “Me? Flawed?”

Okay, so I don’t know about you, but I’m greatly flawed. Just ask my children.

As in all creative writing, the writer must decide what to put in the story or essay and what to leave out—especially in memoir. Memoir is not your whole life. That’s autobiography. Memoir is only a small piece of it.

For me to choose which flaw to showcase in my college memoir, I needed to consider the flaw that would resonate most with the story question of why I waited until I had five children to attend college. My youngest, twins, started second grade and the oldest, who is learning-disabled, started high school when I began my college journey.

            To dramatize that moment in the memoir, I needed to consider my own personal backstory, my past, my growing up years to discover the origin scene for the flaw in my own logic.  

            There is so much to consider when creating a memoir. This should get you started if you plan to write one in the future. I’d like to continue this topic for next month’s Author Toolbox blog hop.


Please feel free to share any good memoirs you have read or leave any questions you may have about memoir or writing in the comments section. Again, 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, July 5, 2017

Insecure Writers want to know: What is one valuable lesson you've learned since you started writing?

            So many valuable lessons, so much still to learn. I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned since beginning to write is to believe in myself enough to send a story out. And if it comes back, to brush it off, and send it out again. And again, and—yes—even again.
http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com


            Many times, writers are a fragile creature. I know I am. We try so hard to believe in ourselves, in our stories, in our writing. And in my case, I’m crushed again and again. To be able to pick yourself up and continue to believe is a power all writers have. It’s just difficult to find sometimes. 

            Where can we find this inner strength to continue calling ourselves writers, to actually be writers? Here are a few tips that help me.

            Safety in numbers. Writing groups help writers find confidence. I belong to South Jersey Writers Group, a friendly group of writers in many genres who support one another, critique one another’s work, and offer presentations about writing, publishing, social media, and other tools of the trade.

            Writers helping writers. When writers learn something new, they don’t keep it to themselves. The very nature of the writing beast is to share what they’ve learned with others in their number. I do this through South Jersey Writers Group and reading other Insecure Writers Support Group blogs and sharing information on my Adventures in Writing blog and through workshops I present.
            Here are a few excellent writers and bloggers that I have come across: Jennie Nash, Lisa CronWriters in the Storm, The Editor’s Blog. You might like to follow them as well.

            Finding a quiet space to think. We are a multi-tasking society, and writers are no different. I believe writers need a peaceful place to leave the world and all their obligations behind in order to look within and consider what’s working and what’s not in their writing in progress. Some writers attend writing conferences, which not only allow for the first two points in my post, but also some time for uninterrupted thinking and writing. I realize they are expensive and some writers don’t have the money or time to go away to write.
I find thinking time in chunks, a few hours lost among the stacks in a library—away from the five children and home obligations. But I also find quiet in a walk through the woods or around a local lake. Sometimes just a walk in my neighborhood gets me away from the computer screen and into my thoughts about story flow, pacing, and logic. Writers can’t be afraid to look within to find answers; both for their writing and in life.

If writers are lucky enough to share these three key pieces of the writerly life, then they can find the courage to let go and send their stories and essays out into the world time and again, whether through traditional publishing or self-publishing. No. It’s still not easy. But it can be done.

I wish you all a solid belief in what you are doing in your writing life. Thanks for stopping by Adventures in Writing and sharing any thoughts you might have about this or about writing. Writers sharing with other writers. It’s what the writing life’s about.

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.