Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Story boarding for Revision

I sat with the story before me. The main character, Sam, clearly in my mind. I needed to revise it, to add in a piece, but was uncertain how to do it. Pregnant, she was pregnant. What did that have to do with the story? I remembered when I first began to write the beginning of this story (in 2009) I discovered Sam was pregnant, but then changed it. After all, how could a pregnant person climb on a climbing wall. I hadn't thought far enough, she could be in her first trimester. So, I decided to it back in. But, I needed to understand what that had to do with the story?

The conference. Sam's at a conference when she meets another woman. That's the catalyst that starts this story off, but what is the conference for? How does it fit into the story? I need to know this too and how it connects with what happens in the story. The main character climbs the wall, she learns something about herself, about trust. I need the pieces to fit together. I know the plot, but I feel the need to visualize it. I need to write it out, write out notes. But not write a plot line. I need to see the three strings which make up the story and then weave them together.

I don't do well with outlines, especially when I'm discovering the story. This story I know. I decide now is the time to write out some of the mechanics. I pick up my pen and begin. Why is she there, what training is she getting? Rip. I stick the paper to the front window. She's pregnant. She's single. How does she feel about this? Fear - fear of being alone, undecided about continuing the relationship with the father. Rip. I stick it up beside the first paper. What does she see in Shay? I make notes and stick it up beside the first two. Next I start on the second row. Conference - FASD. Pregant - Doesn't trust herself. Shay - desperate to connect. Then comes the next row. Conference location - Banff. Pregnant - I list the feelings and barriers this has raised for her. Shay - her safety line (ooh, poor choice) Shay doesn't want to be her safety line. Then comes the last row. Walls. This story is about overcoming walls in more than one way. I list what walls each of the sections is posing.

As stand back and gaze at my stickied window, reading the threads. Things a looking much clearer and I now have some more ideas about how I'm going to proceed with this and put in the missing pieces to the story.

I'm not sure why I haven't used a story board to visually organize my ideas before. This isn't exactly a story board as it doesn't outline the story in sequence, but it is the closest thing I can think of to describe what I have done. Storyboards are generally used to lay out a films or movies in animated segments in order to tell a story. This has been used in film, theatre, comics, screen plays and many other types of digital or multi-media storytelling. I have heard of a few people tacking up cue cards to organize scenes and chapters in novels and I believe I even read an article on it in either the Writer Magazine or The Writer's Journal, but this is the first time I've ever actually attempted to use anything like it myself. It worked wonderfully.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Journey's in Writing

A good story always takes me on a journey. I become immersed in the character and, if it's a good story, I arrive at the end satisfied. In my fantasy novel, Rightful Heirs, (which is in pieces) each of the main characters goes on a physical journey and the plot largely revolves around this necessity to travel to a specific place and all the things which befall them along the way. In large part they are being chased. However, the part I need to figure out is the character arc. I need to figure out how the journey changes them and why. I haven't figured that out yet and this is precisely why this story currently sits in pieces.

In the book, The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler, the author talks about the arch character types and the journey they go on. I have written about the way he works with plot in an earlier post, Journey's. In this way of plotting there are two important thresholds or climaxes. The first occurs when the main character leaves the "real world" or starting point of the story and becomes committed to the journey. Once the character has entered this domain he/she is tested and changed, finally to return back to the "real world" through the last threshold a having learnt something and become a different person. Of course there are mini thresholds in between. Definitely worth a read.

I, like all my artistic endeavours, have difficulty with the simple. I was the art student who, when we had to make picture using stencils, air brushes and at least 2 colours (so 2 stencils for a picture), decided to do a cat with a food bowl, a bow tie, different colour eyes and... I think I had like 5 stencils. When we did block printing instead of making a simple blocked image I did a squirrel, cutting out the feathered edges and leaving very little of the actual block. Why would my writing be any different? Perhaps this is why I love Christopher Voglers plot model so much. I have been able to adapt it and stretch it and squish many different threads and plots into this model to greater and lesser success.

Of course, there is more to a journey than plot. The character must change or shift in who they are from the beginning to the end of the piece. It is this emotional journey that the reader craves. I want to hold my breath in danger, gasp in surprise and cry at heartbreak. A recent article in The Writer's Guide to Fiction, published by the Writer magazine and titled The Driving Force Behind Plot, by Robert Olen Butler, refers to this as yearning. In the article he talks about how what the character want drives the plot and mentions that this is what can make the difference between a story being just words or pulsing with life. He's totally right. In the article he gives examples of how to convey this yearning through writing.

And so it is these pieces which I need to figure out for each story I write. Sometimes this means writing a whole lot of empty words first, kind of like walking through a forest until I stumble upon the right path. In Times Heart, the YA novel I'm working on amongst other projects, I wrote a scene where Fabula (the main character) goes out in a fog to feed the chickens. The story droned on and on with out much life until I realized that he didn't want to be there. He wanted to find Old Rumier, his mentor, because he was worried about him. So, despite the danger of getting lost in the fog and all the difficulties he might face, he took off to do that and when he did the story came alive.

Tonight, as I sit and ponder which piece to work on and consider their many journeys, I realize some have similar threads. I wonder why we as writers are compelled these journeys which our characters are forced to embark on? And what compels us to write different stories on the same theme? It's almost like we are completing the same journey in many different lives (a sub theme which runs strongly in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series)? Are they a refection of the journeys we are each embarked upon or a way of expanding our understanding? Is it because we have an inherent need to explore the unknown or the need to pass on our experiences and lessons? Is it to document what people are living and experiencing today or is it larger, a need to evoke a change in thought - to enable others to see the world in a different light? What is it that drives us to write what it is we write?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hint Fiction

While searching the web for market to send any of my three postcard stories (aka Flash Fiction), pieces of 250, 500 or 1000 words long, depending on the publication, I came across SmokeLong Quarterly. 

This online magazine deals strictly in flash fiction. They have a different editor each week and publish one story a week. But beware, they do screen submissions and repeatedly submitting the same story each week is not allowed.

While I was there I discovered a new genre of story writing, it's called Hint Fiction. Hint Fiction is a story told in 30 words. I found this idea intriguing and was totally stumped at how I would accomplish this task until I woke up at 2 a.m. with the story, which I've since submitted.

For anyone else interested in trying this they are running their Hint Fiction contest during the month of November. You can check it out here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A bit ridiculous - In my opinion

I was 7 years old the first time I encountered the terms Male and Female. I'd been sent to the office with some kind of form to be filled out. The secretary, Ms. Tibido, dutifully placed the form in her typewriter, (yes, I said typewriter) and began dictating the form as she typed.

Name: she said my name. Age: 7 Sex: Female.
Sex, I thought, cringing, what was she saying? That was like the forbidden word and all kinds of wrong in my seven your old world. What did you say? I said, moving closer so I could see the form. Yes, it said sex.
Sex: Female, she said. 
What do you mean, female? I said. I wasn't sure I wanted to be this term - female. 
Well, you are a girl aren't you? I could put down male if you want, she said.
Well, yes, I said, confused.
Yes, what?
I'm a girl, I said, I gripping my dress. At least, I was. What's female mean?  
It's just a fancy term for girl, she said. Female for girl and male for boy.  
Weird. I said. 
What would you like me to put?
Female I guess. I said. 

I have since become resigned to the fact that almost every form any government agency has requires the additional information of knowing what genitalia a person possesses. Don't get me wrong, I am a woman and I'm happy to be a woman and have no desire whatsoever to be a man, but is this what makes me who I am? Of course not, I'm much more than the organs I was born with. Nevertheless I was shocked to discover that my Yukon Drivers license neglects to specify this particular piece of information! Normally this wouldn't be such a bad thing. I dislike being place in boxes at the best of times and it's not like someone looking at me doesn't have some assumptions about my gender anyway. 

However, it turns out this lack of information could have devastating implications for traveling as I discovered quite by accident through a local news release which was forwarded to me. A woman was stopped from boarding a plane in Vancouver because her photo ID, her Yukon Driver's license, neglected to state her sex and according to airline policy her photo ID must have this piece of information. 

Yikes, I thought. Here I've just traveled from the Yukon all the way to Newfoundland (where I attended Piper's Frith - a writing retreat and mentorship program) and back and could have been stopped from boarding any of the planes. Phew, was I lucky the man with the silicone face mask and fake ID (another recent news story) hadn't been discovered earlier and forced the airlines to check their ID's and follow policies more closely. And yet I still have to wonder what it was that prompted a government so fascinated with knowing ones gender to omit this ridiculous piece of information from my ID?

I have been assured though that the "new" Yukon Drivers license, with all the bells and whistles as far as security features, does indeed have ones sexual gender on it. However, this means I have yet another task before I hop the plane to Vancouver next week - to update the drivers license I renewed last month. A feat, ironically, which requires more ID and documents to obtain than a passport (birth certificate, utility bill, health care card, old drivers license, picture ID, etc for a start... hope I don't have to dance too). It's a good thing we are not still awaiting this technology or we would all be SOL when it comes to traveling. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Narration and Third Person POV

I've always wanted a brother. I suppose my view of what a brother would be like is probably skewed because it's something I never got to experience growing up in a family of three girls. However, I have been blessed with three boys and thus have a very good idea of how they interact with each other.

This is very useful in my current project, Times Heart, which I've begun. Times Heart is a YA novel about the birth of a storyteller. It's coming of age story involving the passing on of an age old art and the responsibility that goes with it. The main characters include Fabula and his two brothers, Sitku and Anik.

This week has been a lot of fun as I have revised the first couple scenes, playing with the point of view and narration. The story is told in third person, but some of it is from Fabula's point of view. The sections in Fabula's POV were very active and pulled the reader closer as opposed to the parts, such as backstory or additional information the reader must know, which are more narrated. In order to make this seamless I've played with active language in the backstory summary. These techniques, if you would, give the story a very different feel, but seem to work.

The closest example I can think of to what I'm trying to accomplish and how the story feels are the movies The Princess Bride or The Polar Bear King. In both these movies there are times when there is an outside narrator, which we accept and it doesn't pull us out of the movie. This story is the similar in design, but of course is told through the narrative window as opposed to a motion picture on a screen.

Of course, this all means that instead of writing some 1600-17000 words a day (the Nanowrimo requirement which enables one to reach 50,000 words by Nov. 30th) I'm averaging 250 - 800 words a day, but what I do have is good. I believe if I can set up a solid foundation in structure and characters the rest of the story will progress much more easily as I get further into the novel.

About the photo's: Top Right - taken at the headwaters of the Takhini River (the lower end of Kusawa Lake). Bottom Left - my eldest son's and their father returning from an afternoon of fishing.