From Daring Heights – Writing a Series






I didn’t start out with the ambition of writing a series. I thought I could handle a trilogy with confidence, framed the concept around three brilliant men who meet at Harvard and built on it. I embraced Climbing High, the first book, with enthusiasm, the second, High Ground, with trepidation and the third, High Seas, with love. When the senior editor for my line suggested I had the material for a series and should proceed with one, I leapt on the idea. I did not want to let go of characters I had created, and come to know. They had much more to teach me through their philosophies, actions and feelings. It was a delight to move into book four.

In a recent interview with the “Prairie Post” I was asked, which was my favourite and least favourite book of the series. Reaching High, book four, RG Gribb’s story was easily my favourite. Here I unfold the secret connection between Jake Inglis and RG, to which I allude in the first three books. I left the reader wondering, what had brought the two men together, and resulted in RG giving Jake his intense loyalty and trust. RG, who had no expectations of finding love, moved into his forties dedicated to protecting Jake and his family and expecting nothing more for himself. Suddenly he has it all – a thriving business, a demanding job, and a woman he adores, who wants him, too. Their story flowed onto the page, because it was so integral to my hopes of what I felt this good man and wounded warrior deserved. I also focused on the epidemic of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among military personnel, a subject close to my heart.

My least favourite – well, that wasn’t because of the fascinating characters Joshua and Cat – but because of a technical mistake I made in plotting. Josh is an IT genius, who writes security software for government agencies around the world. There, already you have a brain full. Imagine reading the better part of an opening chapter that deals with technical terms, computer geek thinking and Zen philosophy. It was a ponderous start, and in hind sight I wished I’d chosen a better place to begin the story. However, it does pick up momentum and races to a fast action finish with lots of suspense. In fact, I garnered my best reviews on High Ground.

Book five, High Risk, felt like a play date in the park, fast, furious and fun. I revelled in the process of creating two diverse lives and weaving them together into an unbreakable strand, while exploring more of the fascinating history and geography of Hong Kong.

Writing book six was truly a pleasure, as I chose to weave in personal history from my husband’s side of the family. I was intensely invested in my two protagonists. Though Anna was new to this book, Anton had been introduced in book four and his enigmatic persona challenged me to dig deeper. As I forced my way beneath his complex layers of pain, patience and protection, I found my perfect male. I also enjoyed exploring the older woman, younger man relationship that gave Anna so much inner conflict.

Writing the series went smoothly, the editing not so much. By the time I finished, my publisher had assigned three different editors, each with their idiosyncrasies around word usage and punctuation – not my strong suit, especially when it is so subjective these days. I was writing and publishing two books a year, the goal I’d set, but book six stopped my momentum dead. The writing was on target and time, but getting it edited was a long drawn out process of one delay after another. A year and a half after submission Sky High will finally be launched worldwide. A goal met, a series concluded, with mega learning along the way.

You can purchase print books at amazon.com or The Wild Rose Press or download a digital book on any e-reader.

 

Retreat Into Writing






Six of our Prairie Quills members ventured afield for a writing retreat this weekend. On a sun gilded afternoon we travelled across wide stretches of flat prairie settled by French, Flemish and Belgian immigrants to Gravelbourg, where we stopped and stayed at Bishop’s Residence. The facility is set-up for individual and group dynamics and conducive to writers finding the peace and solitude they seek.

Gravelbourg, a beautiful town, well maintained and proud of its heritage is a must see to any Saskatchewan tourist. Delightful shops, beautiful buildings and snippets of French history are waiting around each corner.

One of many beautiful paintings done by Father Mayllard on linoleum in the 1930’s

A Saturday late morning tour of the Cathedral paintings and the convent great hall and paintings served as inspiration and triggered a greater thrust of creativity in the afternoon. Of course, we didn’t exclude a trip to Café Paris for a delicious lunch. Some members found strolling through town (population 1100), and taking in the beautiful architecture of clay brick buildings built in the 1930’s, served them well.

Saturday evening Peggy Worrell led the group in a mini workshop on 8 Ways to Make Your Characters Come to Life. Members applied the exercise to one of their works in progress, and all felt the process improved their piece and moved it forward. I re-worked a story I’d written about a fellow in the French Foreign Legion who makes some bad choices that affect the remainder of his life. During the exercise, I realized I had an abrupt transition between the climax and the conclusion, and was able to add material that spoke to the second protagonists motivation, and thus improve the piece.

I find it fascinating to read pieces I wrote years ago. I sometimes question if I even wrote it, or what motivated me to write it. Sometimes I am astonished by the excellence of the piece, and assume a higher power was working through me, for I can’t perceive formulating such thoughts on my own.

Workshop: 8 Ways to Make Your Characters Come to Life

Querying those who took part I learned Peggy enjoyed the camaraderie with other writers, while Irene Bingham liked the peaceful atmosphere with no interruptions from telephones or TV. Dianne Miller said the discussions on writing motivated her and noted the vivacious synergy created by the group. Newly appointed President, Tina Letwiniuk appreciated the atmosphere of Bishop’s House, and felt it allowed for, and stimulated creativity and our growth as a writing group. I most enjoyed the sharing times when writing formed the basis for dynamic discussion on writing styles, routines, rules and brainstorming.

Cozy breakfast gathering at Bishops’s Residence

Cozy breakfasts in the bright dining room provided a relaxed forum for sharing of writing techniques and new learning. We financed the majority of our retreat with a writing grant awarded to the group by SWG. Those who attended feel we received maximum benefit from the monies designated to help writing groups develop their writing skills

My conclusion to our storybook retreat – don’t check this experience off your list. There are as many things left to discover as we unearthed this time around. It is an ideal location for writers who long for the physical, mental and spiritual space to write.

.

 

WRITE YOUR LIFE – Session #5






Shape your ideas, dreams, anecdotes and memories

 into fascinating stories to share.

Exercise #1

Take the brief write-up of your dream and analyze it, identifying the following: POV, tone, mood, setting

Exercise #2

Using your dream paragraph as a starting point, write a short story, expanding the dream in any direction you want. E.g. fantasy, horror, comedy e.g. add characters, change setting, set POV.

Exercise #3

Work through the checklist below, writing out your answers, and using them to flesh in the character(s) in your story.

Checklist for Character Development

I think my characters are very normal, very typical people.

But I’m assuming the range of what is normal is very wide.

Mary Gaitskill 

  1. Ask yourself why? for everything your character does. Know your character’s motivation.
  2. Do you know how your character will act in the situations you place her in? Show how.
  3. Does your character have a dominant character trait and a subdominant trait? i.e. loyalty (strength), stubbornness (weakness). These can be effective tool for writing short stories.
  4. Do the characters experience conflict?
  5. Do you use one of the following to allow the reader to see the character’s emotions?Dialogue – words, tone and attitude show character’s emotionInterior dialogue thoughts – not about feelings but about what is causing feelings
  6. Setting – becomes a metaphor for the character’s feelings
  7. Action – behavior expresses feelings (i.e. striding, charging, tiptoeing)
  8. Does your character pull on the reader’s heartstrings?
  9. Does each character have his or her distinct voice?
  10. Do you make clear from whose Point of View you are writing?
  11. Is the dialogue effective?
  12. Do you use the simplicity of a minute detail to describe your characters? (read the great Russian writers: Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gorky, Chekov – they are masters at this technique)
  13. Do you hear the underlying voice (your voice)? What picture of the writer does the reader get?
  14. Do you dole out character information a small bit at a time throughout the story, rather than dump it all on the first page.

A writer’s knowledge of himself, realistic and unromantic, is like a store of energy on which he must draw for a lifetime;

one volt of it properly directed will bring a character alive.

Graham Greene

How To Use Your Stories as Gifts

Affirmation: My life has value. People are interested in knowing about me. My words have value.  I am creative and able to write my stories and the stories of others.

Assignment: Keep collecting ideas and writing stories from them.

 

Contact masmid@sasktel.net and request a customized course designed to help you meet your writing goals. I have an 88% rate of success. The 12% that don’t succeed give up on writing. I don’t give up on them.

Courses run from four to eight sessions, and are timed to your writing schedule (every week, two weeks, etc.) and are designed from beginner to advanced levels of writing.

 

 

WRITE YOUR LIFE Session #4






Write About Where you live(d)

Share your culture, your community and your geography

 Tone

What is the author’s attitude toward his subject? When the reader answers this question, he or she will be reflecting on your tone, or the mode in which you choose to write your piece.

The Tragic Mode

In this curriculum the tragic mode goes beyond the dramatic concept of tragedy in which a hero of high estate is brought to destruction because of a flaw in his own character. Here, the tragic mode includes, as well, plays in which ordinary men are destroyed by their environment, poems which reveal a pessimistic view of life, works which discuss tragedy rather than present it, and generally, works which are dominated by doubt, sadness, despair, disillusionment, or some other sombre mood.

The Comic Mode

In the comic mode the author has selected and controlled his material so that the reader is amused and entertained. The characters and their problems engage the reader’s delighted attention without unduly arousing his concern, for he knows that the mishaps are never catastrophic and that all will turn out well in the end.

The Romantic Mode

The romanticist sees everything as a little bit better than real. His rose-colored glasses soften the harsh outlines of what is ordinarily ugly or painful to make it endurable or even appealing. He often idealizes the circumstances of life, especially what is remote in terms of either time or distance, and extols the simple virtues to make them appear greater or more abundant that they really are.

Valuing as he does what is simple, spontaneous and natural he tends to put great faith in his emotions and to look disparagingly on authority, discipline and social convention.

Listed under the romantic mode are poems that deal with love, beauty, patriotism, devotions, nature and youth; stories and plays that celebrate adventure, sacrifice, heroism, intrigue, romantic love and triumph over adversity; and non-fiction that tends to be personal and impressionistic rather than objective and analytical.

The Ironic Mode

Irony involves a contrast between what is and what could be – between what we expect and what we get. Whether we look at an individual’s deeds and goals or at mankind’s we see that they are often inappropriate to what we regard as valid circumstance. The twentieth century, which has won so many of the goals set by earlier generations, is marked perhaps more than any other by dissatisfaction, despair and violence. The loving go unloved, the hungry remain unfed, and the unworthy exercise power.

This kind of incongruity is one of the striking realities of human life and has always been a preoccupation of the author and poet. That it is so much in evidence today no doubt accounts for the tone of so much twentieth century writing, especially that of the sixties and seventies: the protest songs, plays and novels by “angry young men” and even the cynical humor of some television skits and monologues.

However, a contrast between expectation and actual outcome is not always a cause for outrage. Sometimes writers use the ironic situations in human affairs to intrigue or amuse the reader.

The philosophic Mode

The philosophic writer is the one whose works tend to be thoughtful, speculative and quite possibly inconclusive rather that factual and definitive. His writings might deal with the quest for knowledge, or be reflections upon the nature of good and evil, man’s destiny, man’s relations with his fellow man and with God, or death.

The philosophic mode is certainly not one that excludes qualities we see in other modes, no do other modes exclude the philosophic. A moment’s consideration of Hamlet, for example, shows the futility of regarding any mode as an exclusive category or, conversely, of considering any major work to be representative of only one mode. *mode denotes tonal quality

Exercise #1

Choose one of the tones for your writing voice, and tell the story of your photo – the place you lived – with that tone. E.g. humorous, philosophical etc. Stay consistent throughout.

Mood

Introducing mood deals with the emotions the author makes the reader feel in less direct ways – by sounds of the words she uses, the length and rhythm of sentences, the choice of images and their associations.

“Sometimes tone and mood are most effective when they are mismatched.”

Damon Knight; Creating Short Fiction; Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH; 1981

Knight’s comments explain the difference between tone and mood better than any other I have read. You can see that both are necessary in your writing.  Tone has a great deal to do with the writer’s voice – preferred style.  Mood is specific to the particular piece and will vary from scene to scene, character to character.

You can use different techniques to set your mood. Consider the difference between long flowing sentences and short choppy ones, a series of words used in a paragraph that have soft sibilant sounds (s, sh, f, soft c’s) and a set that repeat sharp, attacking consonants (hard g, h, k, hard c).

Exercise #2

Using the photo from one of the places you lived (assigned as homework), write a short paragraph describing the place in each of the following moods.

“The novelist works with the things that pass unobserved by others,

captures them in motion, brings them out into the open.”  Joao Guimaraes Rosa

Setting

Setting is about images. Consider the images you choose to include in a scene, out of plethora of possibilities. The reader is set into the story. Does he know where he is: house, mountain? What time of day it is? What season? Where he is located in the setting? e.g. standing in the doorway of a room or in the center of the room. This information provided in word pictures and using the techniques llisted above creates the overall mood you want your reader to experience.

Exercise #3

Write the story of your photo place, making sure you choose your writing mode/tone, the mood you felt when you chose this photo, and the relevant facts of the setting.

Assignment

Write down a dream you’ve had in preparation for session #5.

NOTE: Session #5 will not be posted until March 3.

 

WRITE YOUR LIFE – Session #3






Write Your History. Investigate the past and present and hand on a family history.

Exerise #1

List the people in your photograph. Make a list of the differences in the way they remembered what was happening when the photo was taken. (Your homework was to ask them their interpretation of the story.)

Choosing your POV

Point of view refers to the writer’s relationship to the subject of the composition. Here is a breakdown of the different POVs.

Omniscient Point of View

If you were writing an expository piece (an essay for University) you would use the omniscient point of view (you are standing outside the subject looking in)  You would use pronouns like (one would think, they might believe).

Informal POV

If you are writing narrative/an opinion editorial/a short story you might choose 1st person singular.  The pronoun I represents your POV.  This is the type of writing you do most, when you are explaining your beliefs, experiences etc.  to the reader. I saw my dad hugging my mom and [I is implied here] noticed that the monitor went berserk.  You could also create a character and then tell the story from her POV.  “I was born on the Isle of Skye in the year 1910.” Third person singular, he or she is also used informally.

Intimate POV

I am using second person singular point of view in The Chronic Ripple.  I address the reader as  “you”.  This could be applied in the singular so that a man or woman with Crohns would read “You might be in pain 80% of the time” and interpret it to apply specifically to her or him.  This is like the ‘tu’ in French and forms an intimate connection between the writer and the reader.

Impersonal POV

If I wrote in second person plural I would say “You form a great body of unidentified  people with invisible disease.”  Now I am lumping all the readers with Crohns  together.

Objective POV

If writing a newspaper article based on fact and interview you would use third person plural because you are speaking for others while remaining totally objective.  “The people who march on the legislature say they are angry. They believe the government is ignoring their needs.

Objective POV

You might, if writing a narrative choose 1st person plural – because you want to speak for a group of people.  Therefore you would use the pronoun “we”. We feel that the environment is in danger and the threat comes from all of us. You can’t use this POV when writing a story because the reader can only be in one character’s POV not know the all the feelings of a whole group of people at the same time.

Subjective POV

When quoting one particular person you switch to third person singular “He said his cattle are dying from lack of food and there is not market in which to sell them.”  “Aunt Beth says she lives a full life.  At 97 she still milks her own cows and plays organ at the church.”

Exercise #2          

Write a short version of the story in your photograph based on each of the following POVs:

  1. write from – 1st person singular (I) (e.g. you)
  2. alternate between two POV – I and he, (e.g. your mother and father)
  3. omniscient looking in knows what everyone thought (God like narrative)

Character Profile

Individual character

Name, age, birthdate, height, weight, hair, eyes, body type, health, related habits, personality, personal goals, professional goals, marital status, friends, relationships (past and present).

finances, responsibilities, hobbies,

fears, yearnings, sense of humor, flaws/weaknesses, strengths, surroundings

habits/quirks, favourite food, favourite colour, favourite music

Family History

Parent’s names

Ethnic origin

General physical characteristics

Attitude to protagonist

Profession/Education

Economic Status

Religion/Ethics

Marital Status

Siblings

Process:

You should know 100% about your character before you begin writing. However, you will probably include only 20% of the information in your story. The 80% you don’t use, provides a sense of credibility and trust for the reader.

Prioritize what part of this information the reader should know.

Fill in pages that include all the above information and other bits.

To the portfolio for this character add:

  1. details from people you know
  2. How you will inform the reader
  3. Ideas for scenes in which you can show this information
  4. Photos that remind you of person, setting, events
  5. Props that remind you of a scene or action

Exercise #3

Write your photo story in the POV you’ve chosen, fleshing out the details from your character profiles.

Exercise #4

Write your photo story in the POV you’ve chosen, fleshing out the details from your character profiles.

 Assignment:         

Complete your Sign Posts with all the places you lived mapped on it. Bring a picture of one of the places you’ve lived.

 

WRITE YOUR LIFE – Session #2






Write Your History. Investigate the past and present and hand on a family history.

 Exercise#1

Signposts for your life

Create a linear map beginning with your birth and moving forward.

On that map set the following signposts. These signposts will point you in the direction of your stories, reminding you of things that happened in your life and what you learned from them.

Suggested process: On a piece of paper, quarter your life (divide into so many years a quarter) Write a list of all the things that happened to you in each quarter, using the signpost list as a reference.  When you have all your quarters complete (depending on your age), put your signposts in chronological order for each quarter and insert them on your linear map.

Life Signposts:

Birth, Present age, End of life, Serious illnesses, Major losses: parents, grandparents, children

Personal Signposts:

Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, Children born

Education/Career signposts:

Graduate: public school, high school, university, masters, doctorate, other; Career choices: moves, advancements; Recognition or Wins: awards, titles, etc.

Celebratory Signposts:

Memorable: birthdays, anniversaries, weddings; Births: children, grandchildren,great grandchildren; Memorable holidays or trips

Historical Signposts:

Things that particularly influenced your life, such as wars, new laws, regional changes, economic changes, crimes

Dates of particular relevance to you (Sept 11, Kennedy’s assassination, Elvis death, Trump inauguration)

Geographical Signposts:

Where you lived, when; where you went to school, holidayed, visited, travelled

Exercise #2

Write a short paragraph explaining the photograph you chose as your  homework for session #1, answering the questions: who, where, when, what and why succinctly. Don’t go into detail. Stick to the facts.

Plotting your story

Acts: generally (3) Beginning, Middle, End

Beginning ¼  Middle ½  End ¼

i.e. 12 chapter book B=3, M=6,  E=3

i.e. 2000 word story B=500, M=1000, E=500

Beginning (Introduction – who?)

The beginning tells the reader:

The beginning contains a number of scenes. Each scene also has a beginning, middle and end, in similar proportions as above. Each scene must do two of three things:

The beginning contains an Inciting Incident that:

The turning point:

Between the set-up and end of Act I the reader needs to see:

Middle (complications – what?)The middle is the toughest part to write. It takes up ½ the story length. It continues to put the MEAT on the SKELETON. The middle:

We create momentum in our middle or Act 2 by:

End (Pay-off – how?)The ending begins with the new stimulus following the mid act crisis or turning point. It is another try by a character. The ending:

Exercise #3

Now write your story using the photo you brought from session #1 and what you have learned about beginnings, middles and ends. Include it in your collection under the correct heading. You have one story complete. Congratulations!        

ASSIGNMENT:

Choose a photo of a family happening. Contact each person in it, and ask him/her to tell you the story from their POV. Write them down in point form and have them ready for Session #3.

Your Journaling:

How is it going? Any break throughs, disappointments? Continue to journal each day.