Monday, September 29, 2014

Telling a Good Story: 5 Reasons We Might Not Pull It Off

Novelists work hard to devise romantic serendipity, thicken mysterious plots, twist thrilling conspiracies, and then draw in readers and keep them turning pages.

Telling a story we didn’t have to dream up, however, should be a breeze. Right? 

Well, no. Telling or retelling our real-life stories or stories we've heard, read, or seen is wrought with potential missteps for writers. To review five ways it's possible to fail at pulling off a good story, lets go with the collective we.

Go ahead. Tell it to Fluffy.
1.       We didn’t employ basic elements of storytelling. The stories we tell about being stranded on tropical islands or in elevators may be powerful, but not if they are meandering or we sound as though we merely took strolls through parks or sat on the floor of lift conveyances wondering about the meaning of life.
2.       We assumed personal memory is good enough. If we say we first held hands with our spouses during movie X, Y, or Z in high school, but none of those movies was made until we were married with kids, some movie buffs could be distracted from the power and point of our stories.
3.       We didn’t check verifiable facts. That Winnie-the-Pooh or Little House on the Prairie quote so germane to the story about us and our moms? Sure, many readers know the ones we're talking about; they are familiar. But if we write what we think the quote is, not what it actually is, Winnie and Laura and Pa aficionados everywhere could be dismayed and, again, distracted.
4.       We contradicted another story. Wait, didn't we already say we were stranded on those elevators before we were stranded on the tropical islands, not after?  Again, distracted.
5.       We never told anyone the story. Not telling (or reading aloud) our stories to ourselves, to Fluffy, or even to that random guy at Starbucks who is interested in crazy writers leaves us more vulnerable to sharing stories that don't work. Our ears often hear what our eyes and minds don't initially notice.

For writers, are you guilty of any of these watch outs? If so, what can you do to avoid them?

For readers, what bugs you the most about stories that "don't work"?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

I Just Noticed I Am Not at a Writers Conference

In the last few days, quite a few of the authors and others in publishing I follow on social media started posting about their next major writers conferencepretty much as soon as their suitcases came out of their closets, if not sooner. That's nice, I thought. They have something great to look forward to.   

But it wasn’t until they started with the photos from their planes, trains, and automobiles; the photos of the views from their hotel rooms; and the waitstaff-taken photos of their first meals with friends, agents, and editors that I really noticed: 

Hmm. I am not there.

What I mean, of course, is that I realized I sorta kinda—in a way an introverted person sometimes does—wish I was there. It's my own fault, of course, when I miss such opportunities. I could save my money, book a flight and hotel, and haul myself there. I won't let on to anyone there (and they won't read this because they are, you know, busy being there), but, yes, it would be worth mustering all the extroversion I own. I could not only learn more about writing but also meet and greet both friends and former colleagues in publishing and in-house editors and authors I have edited for, but never met in person.

Huh. Did Sheldon and Leonard feel like this when they couldn’t get tickets to Comic-Con, though that is a decidedly different kind of convention?  Well, no. They were in a panic and willing to do just about anything to get there. I am merely a little wistful sitting alone in my home office, having just finished editing a novel by an author who, in a Facebook photo I saw this morning, was clearly happy to be there . . . without me.

Well, chin up! I have work to do and introversion to nurture until . . . I attend the writers conference taking place in a few weeks in my own town. No suitcases or planes or trains will be required, just a ten-minute drive in my car. But I promise, I will post a photo or two to, in my case, prove I can extrovert my way to and through such an event, whereupon I will also notice: I am here!

Readers and writers, have you ever been to a writers conference? What did you like best about it?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Misspeaks: A Plea for Safety from a Word-Geek Blogger Editor

The genesis of this post first appeared on a previous blog, bloomthink, on July 4, 2011.
I heard a TV personality on a morning show say she was going to "pre-warn" someone.

Really? A pre-warning is helpful? "I am pre-warning you. A man-eating lion is heading right for us. And in a few seconds I'm going to actually warn you. Wait for it!"

I think (hope) she had merely succumbed to a misspeak. Misspeaks are common, and they aren't so bad . . . unless you are a word-geek blogger editor! (Not that I will point out a misspeak unless it is in a piece I am editing, giving me professional license to make you hate me.)

How about "very unique"? If a thing is unique then it is unique. Period. There is no such thing as one unique person or thing being more unique than another unique person or thing. The word unique means one of a kind. Really. It does. A very unique anything is problematic.

Then there's "I could care less" when one means "I couldn't care less," meaning complete disinterest. If one says "I could care less," the intended insult just isn't there, is it?

Some refer to other people with the word that instead of with the word who. But a person is a who. Again, really. I want to always believe that . . . no matter who says it's not all that important anymore. Should I even talk about the difference between the words infer and imply? Or the validity of . . . ourself?

Misspeakers (those of you who are habitual about it), if you would just try . . . I am not completely innocent. I misspeak too. But please, take this pre-warning to heart: one day my dismay might burst forth and cause you to hurt me. You don't want that, do you? Sure, if I worked at it, I could care less. But I probably never will. (Did I not admit to being a word-geek blogger editor?)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Little Bits of Happiness

Not long ago I toured a museum with a wide array of gems from all across the globe. I didn't know what many of them were simply by looking at them. If I saw one on a sidewalk, especially one that seemed quite small, I would probably walk on by without a thought.  

The museum, however, beautifully displays every gem, no matter its size or how commonly it is found. No matter if it is rough or cut. And most gleam under the lights that have been placed to highlight their intricacies and splendor.

They are like little bits of happiness. 

The older I get, the more I understand I should not overlook or, worse, ignore little bits of happiness. Recognizing them is not only important for my well-being but one way to tell God I am paying attention. Even when life seems good, howeverperhaps especially when life seems goodI can miss those little bits. I am too busy or too distracted or, as with the gem on a sidewalk, too clueless to see them.
So like Ann Voskamp’s experience shared in her book One Thousand Gifts, like friends taking up thankfulness challenges on Facebook, I am trying to not let little bits of happiness go without proper notice. I want to experience them fully, celebrate them, and then, especially, be intentionally grateful for them.

Isn’t happiness nothing without gratitude at its side? 

·         A hug from a grandchild. I am grateful. 
·         A kind word from a client or author. I am grateful.
·         Time with a dear friend . . . two days in a row. I am grateful.
·         Lyrics in a song or quotes from a book that speak to me. I am grateful.
·         Learning that what I have to offer as a volunteer meets a need. I am grateful.
·         The smell of freshly brewed coffee. I am grateful. 
·         The flowers still blooming outside my office window in mid-September. I am grateful.

And then I ask myself  . . . Are these little bits of happiness so little after all? I think not.

For readers and writers, read One Thousand Gifts. Now.
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