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You vs the Critic

When I was in grad school I had a mentor who was magical.  I would drive my dump truck full of story ideas, characters, and problems over to her and dump them out at her feet.  She was amazing.  Not only did she allow me to do this week after week, but she hired me as her Teacher’s Assistant, which was probably a genius way of getting even with me.  One very important piece of advice she shared was that I need to tell my inner critic to shut the hell up.  Some of you might have no problem doing this, for me, this is an eternal battle within.

Last week I received my critique back from my entry to the Writers’ League of Texas manuscript contest.  Naturally, it was a stomach churning moment.  I have been working with my writers group, rewriting, and tweaking the book, but I really did not know if I had something that could sell or if I was just writing this book for my own entertainment.  After reading the critique, I spiraled out of control.  I ate everything in sight.  Then the next day, I turned into Hemingway and drank everything in sight.  Yes, dear readers, I am a tad dramatic when someone doesn’t like my work as I feel that my writing is me.  Plus, my inner critic had won and was laughing her ass off.  Yes, I tend to take my writing personally and when my ego takes a hit I go dark.  Very dark.

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My ego taking flight.

My ego is like a hot air balloon.  I had to let it soar off into the gray skies for a few days.  I allowed myself three days to disappear into the clouds.  Three days for drama, but no more.  And I promised myself that I would not look at the critique during these dark days.

On Saturday morning I went for a five mile hike around the lake, came home, packed up my gear, and headed off to Spokesman (coffee joint).  Once I was comfortable and caffeinated, I opened the critique and read it, again.  Here’s what I discovered: I should be awarded for Biggest Overreaction by a Writer.  The review was fair.  I agreed with the points that required a rework and with the points that the reviewer thought were well done.  Yes, the critic had quite a few good things to say.  I could not believe it.  For the first time in a few days, I smiled.  Next, I punched my inner critic.  What?  She totally deserved it.

A friend of mine reminded me that I am not my writing.  Logically, I know this, but my inner artist and that evil critic bitch that lives inside of me likes to think otherwise.  I’m a work in progress as is my writing.  Someday I hope to conquer my inner critic.  Often, I imagine dropping her off at a vacant wayside during a horrendous snowstorm with only a Stephen King novel to keep her warm.  After all these years I feel that that would be the best way to shut her up forever.

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Does Your Summer Writing Schedule Feel Like a Fling?

As summer approaches I become giddy as a school girl, hopping up and down and anticipating the end of the day.  I’m fortunate to have a day job where we have summer hours, which means that my day ends at 11am on Fridays.  (Your monitor doesn’t appreciate you flipping it off.)

Last year I met up with a writer pal on Friday afternoons, we would chat, write, and then three hours later go our respective ways.  This year I’m attempting to be more diligent with my writing schedule.  When summer rolls around my normal shenanigans dip into the mega-shenanigans territory, meaning that if there is trouble, I’ll find it, roll around in it, and then wake up a day later wondering why my socks are on my ears.  It’s absolutely wonderful and horrible when I’m attempting to finish a body of work.

This year I decided to create a guide to help me stay on the writing track.  My plan is to make a summer writing schedule to balance my creativity, help me complete my goals, and allow for a little bit of fun in between.  I hope the below will inspire or help y’all with your summer writing plans.

Make Your Summer Writing More Than Just a Hook Up:

Hit the outdoors!  Grab your laptop or pens/pad and head outside.  Personally, I dig sitting at outdoor patios.  Yeah, I’m in Texas and it’s like sitting on fiery coals imported from hell, but who can complain when the sun is shinning and I’m getting some words down?!

Set a goal.  This must be a realistic goal.  Ask yourself the tough questions.  Can I complete a shitty first draft on a screenplay?  Can I complete that second novel in my trilogy?  Or will I ever be able to learn to read Ikea directions and put together this damn Jenga looking table stand thingy?

Balance the fun with your schedule.  Summer is a great time for grilling out with friends and vacationing.  As with most things in life there has to be a balance.  I’m going on a beach vacation in August where there will be a half dozen distractions, if not more.  I plan to set aside at least an hour a day for writing.  It’s a small amount of time and this way I won’t feel like I’m neglecting anyone or not fulfilling my shenanigans quota for the day.

Grab a timer.  I know, it’s not a race, but sometimes a timer or a stopwatch can help you and those around you abide by your writing schedule.  I love my family and my friends, but they need to see that you’re not avoiding them, you’re working.  A timer is something they can see, they can hold onto, and curse out when the mood strikes them.  This is a handy tool not only for kids, but for those pesky adults, too.

Find a buddy.  I plan on asking my writer pal to meet up, again, on Fridays this summer. And if you can’t find just one buddy then you might want to check out your local writers groups.  Yes, writing is a very introverted field, so you might wonder why you need a buddy.  The simple answer is that if you have a buddy then you can’t flake out on the meeting.  A buddy will hold you accountable.

A room of one’s own.  I used to love to write at home, in my own space, where I could lounge in my pajama’s as I typed.  However my day job has tainted my home creative space.  Often I feel like my skin is crawling when I try to write at my apartment, which is a massive bummer.  On the plus side, there are countless coffee/bar joints in Austin, which are awesome for long writing sessions.

Perfect Imperfections: Character Traits

Today I’m ruminating on character traits.  Traits are those little things that inherently make up a person.  We all have them whether we like to admit it or not, same can be said for your characters.  I like to think of character traits as perfect imperfections.  These designed flaws are designated to specific characters in a story.

I’m thinking about traits, because I’m mentally evaluating the characters that I have created.  Have I used the same traits for characters over the years?  Or have I assigned new ones to new characters?  When you have a small cache of screenplays, short stories, and novels you begin to question yourself.  I like to think this is normal to second guess oneself.  It’s kind of like when you leave the house and wonder if you’ve left the garage door open, turned the stove off, or fed the gerbil.  However, deep down you know it is just your imagination running wild.  Fine, there is a slim chance that you didn’t feed Marvin (gerbil), but it’s okay.  He’ll survive.  Although, he might pass out on his wheel.   Getting back to my point, if you have one character who is ditzy in one of your screenplays and a ditz in one of your short stories that’s fine.  It is okay to steal from yourself as long as the flaw is true to that character and hopefully different in other ways from a character you’ve previously created.

I like to believe that I have been genuine while creating my characters and have assigned a new flaw particular to each new individual.  Granted, to be precise I would have to shuffle through all my notes for everything I’ve ever written.  Yeah, that’s probably not gonna happen.

Currently, I’m reviewing the traits that I have designated to my characters in my novel.  And I’m asking myself questions: Is character X too similar to character Y?  Can I change the traits and will this fix this problem?  Is character X necessary or can character X be eliminated entirely?  My characters in this book are, in a word, sensational.  They are larger than life, which is fantastic for a work of fiction.  But it also presents a challenge when I evaluate their characteristics.  I want to make certain that each individual is different.  Yes, I’ll agree with some of you who are out there yelling at me that I should have had this all figured out from the beginning.  Here’s the kicker: I thought I did.  As I rewrite there is overlap occurring in some of the scenes.  This is what I know, I know I wrote those traits down for the characters in the beginning, but while I was writing that first draft I allowed my characters to take the wheel and that’s where things got fuzzy.

As much as I love creating these perfect imperfections I find myself frustrated.  I’m playing janitor, which isn’t a bad thing if you have just one room to clean, but when you find that it’s a room on various floors, well, that’s when things get annoying.

I’m hoping, dear readers, that what you learn from this post is to enjoy creating those perfect imperfections and to keep your character traits cheat sheet handy.

Can Jotting Down Notes Improve My Writing?

Heck, yes, notes can improve your screenplay, novel or short story.  I can hear the groans flying at me left and right.  I know what you’re thinking, “I thought I was done with writing notes after I left school, college, my crappy job…”  Um, nope, probably not.  I’ve discovered that it improves the quality and content of my work, which means that if you’re a writer it might improve your writing as well.

I’m an avid note writer.  I jot notes on anything that’s not nailed down and some that are.  I own a hammer, so it’s okay.  I’ve written notes on the back of envelopes, paper towels (more durable than toilet paper), and on coupons (don’t use them at the store, because they won’t give them back).

The magical thing about notes are the imperfections.  They can be random thoughts about how your character walks, talks, or the things growing in their refrigerator.  This past weekend I found myself cleaning, which lead me, naturally, to thinking about my rewrites.  (Sidebar: I’m the type that thinks more clearly when I’m doing a dozen other things.  A few call me an overachiever.  I just call it A.D.D.).  As I was mid-sweep, I grabbed the nearest envelope as ideas began to burgeon.  I wrote furiously with a Sharpie, hoping that whatever was underneath the envelope wasn’t important (taxes), because as we all know you can’t write with a Sharpie without the ink bleeding into three or sometimes four pieces of other paper, including the countertop.

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I love the chaos of notes.  It’s a hot mess.  The trick is to organize those ideas/questions/thoughts and then apply them to your writing.  This part, the organizing, is a bit of a puzzle when you’re working on rewrites.  Often it feels like walking backwards, which in my experience, especially when heading down a set of stairs, can be tricky.  I apply time and patience as I shuffle through my notes, a few ideas are tossed out and a few are solid gold (weigh the good vs the meh).

I’ll leave y’all with this final thought, when you go to the grocery story do you write things down or leave your shopping to your stomach?

 

 

The Correlation Between a Half Marathon & Rewriting

There is a connection between training for a half marathon and working on rewrites.  I didn’t see it at first until the second week of training.   In both instances you have to be extremely dedicated and also a hint of crazy.  You’re basically, signing up to say that I will do nothing else in life for X amount of time to do this thing, because you are married to that thing.  You will compromise when you can rewrite/run. You will go to bed early just to wake up before the sun to run/write.  You’ll forgo some of your favorite things in life, beer, coffee, and hanging out with friends. Did I mention beer?  (Sweet baby Jesus I missed beer.  My Wisconsin expat veins missed the amber.).  I asked for running advice from friends who had been running marathons and triathlons for years to prepare myself and my body for what was to come, which is the same thing that I do regarding writing.  I seek out other authors, editors, and experts to navigate towards a full-time writing career.  I think I’ve learned a lot from training for a half marathon and hopefully I can also apply some of this knowledge to my rewriting process.

 

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Below are the deep thoughts that occurred while I was running the half marathon.  I’m pretty certain I was hallucinating.  You be the judge:

“Cobblestones.  Ooo, pretty.”

15 minutes into the race: “I have to go pee.”

“Cobblestone is killing my feet.”

“Port-a-potty where are you?”

“I hate you cobblestone.”

“One more mile and I’ll stop to pee.”

“A cobbler works on shoes.”

25 minutes later…

“Finally, I can go pee.”

Post pee break: “Ooh, blueberry cobbler.”

“Thirsty.  Must.  Have.  Water.”

“Why do we use the word cobble so much?  Couldn’t we cobble up any other ideas?  Heh.”

“Pee.  Again?”

“If I were in Pamplona a bull would have skewered me.”

“Curse you bladder!”

At mile 10: “I wish I were in Pamplona.”

The finish line: “Ooo, they have peaches.  No cobbler?  Damn.”

 

Fortunately, these chaotic thoughts don’t happen when I’m rewriting…

Writing, Rewriting & Running

Ok, it’s been a long time.  I missed y’all so much!  I’ve been busy with writing and rewriting the novel (yes, that is a photo of one of the drafts).  OH, and somehow I decided to train and run a half marathon.  I admit it, 2018 is off to a wild and wacky start.

First, let’s chat about the novel.  Yes, you are reading the title of the book correctly.  I wrote this book my second month in Austin for the 2017 NaNoWriteMo.  I wrote it like a monkey on meth.  I wrote it fast.  Very fast.  I would advise any sane person to avoid writing anything that fast.  The rewriting process has been good, but with the good there has been the bad.  As with everything in life it’s been a true learning experience.  One that I’ll probably do again, because obviously this is volume one in this book series, so I’ve kind of set myself up here for jumping into the abyss, again.  Heh.

The Positive Side of My Rewrite Process

  • Everyone is laughing in the appropriate parts of the book.
  • My readers like my characters.
  • When I hand over pages to be read, my readers are genuinely excited to read it.  (Sidebar: Find a group of fantastic readers.  They help to make the rewriting process easier.)
  • Figuring out what’s missing is an amazing puzzle.  What?  I like puzzles.
  • I love my characters now more so than when I created them.
  • I’m still interested and obsessed with the characters and story.

The Flip-Side to My Rewrite Process

  • Not everyone should read my work.  (Sidebar: Be selective even if it means that you kind of have to act like a dick.)
  • It’s time consuming.
  • It’s all you will think about even when you’re grocery shopping, driving or skiing.  (Sidebar: Beware of trees in all of those situations.)
  • Often characters will do/say things that they should not do/say.  And they will act out.  It will drive you nuts.  You just need to push through to the other side of it.
  • You will lose your patience.  A lot.
  • I was not an English major.  I’m a storyteller.  I make a TON of grammar and spelling errors.  As long as you have readers who will help you find and correct them then don’t sweat it.  I had to remind myself this several times over.

Now what?

I’m very close to having that first rewrite completed.  The next step will be to pitch it and see if I can get an editor as excited about it as I am.  Don’t fret, I will keep y’all up to date on my progress.

Rewriting & Running a Half Marathon

Last fall, a friend of mine mentioned that I have a ridiculous amount of energy and asked if I ever considered running a half marathon.  My knee-jerk reaction was, “HELL NO.”  And then, two weeks later I found myself thinking about it, while I was sitting, writing, at my writers group.  Granted, I’ve always played sports, but running was never my forte.  I used running for conditioning for other sports.  Yes, I’m a rare hybrid – part athlete, part artist.

Let’s fast forward to the end of January and the gorgeous mountain range of Taos, New Mexico (ski trip with friends).  Somewhere between soaking in a hot tub, a bottle of Jameson, and drinking in incredible views, I had made my decision.  I was going to run a half marathon.

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The first day on the slopes.  It was gloomy and wonderful.

The great thing about training for a half marathon is that when I’m tired I find that I force myself through rewrites.  I was practically falling asleep in my chair at Cosmic while I was writing on Saturday.  Okay, I’m not saying that what I wrote was brilliant, but when you are physically exhausted it makes it harder to get out of a chair.  In a way, running a half marathon might be the best thing for wrapping up my rewrites.

 

Turning the Page on A New Year

Happy 2018 y’all!

As y’all have noticed, I have not posted in a few weeks, but with the holidays and vacation I’ve been busy working on my novel.  I’m attempting to wrap up the edits before 2018 is upon us, which means that I had to set the blogging to the side.

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A lot of blood, sweat, and…laughter were shed during the editing process.

I wanted to take the time to say thank you to y’all. Thanks for the questions, the comments and thanks for reading!  I can’t wait to share more of my writing struggles and tips with you next year.

Happy New Year to one and all!
-Kerry

Not Everyone Can Be Beyoncé: Creating Characters With Flaws

Why is it important to have flawed characters?  The short answer is that no one is perfect, even in a screenplay, and they shouldn’t be.  Let me just stress this one more time NO ONE IS PERFECT.  (My Mom likes to think her children are, but lemme share with y’all I’m a gazillion miles away from perfect.)  And, if you think about it, flawed characters are much more fasinating than flawless characters, not everyone can be Beyoncé.  This week ties into the post Kicking A Character Into High Gear.
Let’s start out with what is considered a flaw.  Perhaps your character puts themselves first, all they think about is themselves, and everything they do is for their own advancement.  A flaw can conflict with the goal or it might do the opposite.  Flaws are important in adding dimension and depth to your characters.
I struggle with giving my characters flaws.  I hate to see people hurting or people hurting others, so it makes sense that it’s a battle for me.  I think this is common for a lot of writers.  Sometimes it is difficult to set our own feelings to the side.  One way to shake off my own perceptions is to dig into the backstory of the characters.  What happened to that character?  How did it mold them into who they are?  And how does it effect future actions?  As I jot down and mine a characters past I learn more about them and quickly mute my brain and my own thoughts and feelings.

Remember:

Flawed = Fascinating, three-dimensional.
Flawless = Only Beyoncé.  The rest of the world is screwed.

Kicking A Character Into High Gear

It would be so easy to let a character stay in bed all day, wouldn’t it?  She could lounge on fluffy pillows, eat Red Vines while watching Sports Center and daytime TV and do absolutely nothing!  Hmm.  Yeeeeaaah, that would be a boring story.  This week we’ll dive into how we can get our central character out of bed.  What motivates a character?  Let’s take a look at two important pieces in motivating a character, goals and needs.

Goals

One sure fire way to kick that character out of the sheets – set goals for your character – I find that this generates questions that will require answers.  What are the stakes involved in going after this goal?  What can she lose/gain from achieving this goal?  How will the character achieve this goal?  Are the risks to achieving the goal life threatening to the character or someone the character cares about?  As you begin writing down the goals you’ll begin to fill the character fuel tank.

Needs

It’s your job to figure out what your character needs.  Your characters needs could be emotional, physical, economical, etc.  Beware that sometimes the characters goals will clash with their needs and other times the goal will support the need.  What does the character need and why?  How does her need block her from achieving her goal?

There is always something deeper going on with our characters, we just need to dig to discover what they truly need.  When you ask yourself what does my character need you’re going to think that the first thing that pops into your mind is correct, but is it really?  Characters sometimes withhold what they really need when you’re developing them, which is fine until they wake you up at 2:42AM shouting at you.  Ugh.  Characters are so demanding.

 

If you’re struggling with motivating your character, take a step back and revaluate the goals and needs.  You might discover that it’s exactly what finally kicks that character out of bed.

Runaway Characters

As much as we plot and plan, and plan and plot, sometimes our characters can stir up trouble and run away from us.  This post will focus on issues that I recently encountered while working on my novel, which can also be applied to screenwriting.

Recently, I ran into a problem with the protagonist in my novel. Evidently, she became less interesting as the story crept into the midpoint. I panicked. In fact, I’m still kind of on edge that she lost her “sparkle”. I started to wonder how it could have happened? And when? And why? How could I lose her when I’ve worked so hard to build a protagonist that I know so well? I was really beating myself up for letting her slip away. And that’s when it hit me – it would be okay. Yes, I’m still angry with myself, but that’s just emotion and my ego having a go at me. Setting both of those things aside I needed to look at the facts.

Fact #1: I’m smack dab in the middle of rewrites. There will be plenty of problems and bumps to overcome during the rewrite process. Thankfully, I have two terrific readers who pointed this character flaw out to me, which means that I need to analyze the protagonist and control her voice and actions more closely.

Fact #2: There is no rush. The last thing that I need to do right now is to charge into the first half of the novel and try to force changes onto the character that do not make sense to her overall personality and plot.

Fact #3: Move forwards, not backwards. If I allow my emotions to run the show then I’d love to start from the beginning and start making changes (very willy nilly) on the rewritten material. This is not a good idea. My plan, from the midpoint, is to move forwards and not backwards until I complete this first round of rewrites on the entire book. (This sounds so simple, but it’s taking all of my will power not to go back to the beginning.)

Fact #4: The supporting characters are very dynamic. The characters surrounding my protagonist are lush, which may have dimmed the light on my protagonist.

Fact #5: I wrote my first draft in a month. This doesn’t sound all that amazing, but I did write the first draft rather quickly. I think writing fast may have contributed to my runaway protagonist.

Yes, my protagonist ran away from me. I don’t know when or how, but I know that it happened. This is a very difficult statement to hear and to say aloud. The good thing is that I know this can be fixed. Getting a character back on track is not easy, there is no quick fix, but at least now I know the angle to take when I approach the problem.

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Rewrites and organization isn’t always pretty.