Tag Archives: writing

November Power Word: FLAVOR!

9 Nov

During this kickoff season of notoriously unhealthy eating, focus on FLAVOR in your work as well as your diet. Forgo fatty fillers that add nothing to the content of your creation. Limit the sugary sweetness that in excess dulls the palette and even makes one nauseous. Instead, savor the FLAVOR! Spicy, saucy, tangy or tart; rich, deep, succulent or simmered–that’s the stuff feasts are made of.

20131109-100424.jpg

Advertisements

Writing Characters People Care About

1 Nov

I’m generally reluctant to blog about the craft of writing, mostly because I feel like ‘Who am I to tell others what works and what doesn’t?’ I’m no Stephen King (whose book On Writing every writer should read!)  But, as one of my wise professors used to say, “I teach in the area in which I most need to learn”. He knew that we internalize learning best when we share it with others.  So, in that spirit, read or ignore the following ramblings as you like…

Character – What Does It Mean Anyway?

Isn’t it funny how the word ‘character’ is used in conversation to mean very different things?  On one hand we say “He’s a man of character,” which means we agree with his values or morals.  On the other hand, we say, “Isn’t he a character?” by which we mean he’s naughty but we like him anyway.  Unless, of course, you’re from the South and you say, “He’s a character, all right, bless his heart,” which means we don’t like him or we don’t approve of him, but we have to say it in a politely passive-aggressive way, you see, because that’s what we do.

Care About vs. Love

The interesting thing is that any of the above meanings can translate into writing a character people care about.  Notice I did not say a character people love.  You need characters that people don’t always love to make a story fulfilling.  This provides tension which is so necessary for a story we just can’t put down. You need both the yin and the yang in your story to make it work.  Sometimes the yin and yang are even within the same character.  The best books in my opinion are the ones where both the protagonist and the antagonist have qualities we empathize with, and those we self-righteously judge, just in different measures.

Avoiding Meh…

Spice, anyone?

Spice, anyone?

As writers, when we get feedback about our characters that they aren’t likeable, our knee-jerk reaction can be to take away all the ‘bad’ stuff – the snarkiness, the depressed outlook, or even too much perkiness (as in, I don’t like this character because she’s always perky and that makes me feel bad about my life).  Though there might be some over-the-top elements you could polish a little bit, if you take away all the ‘bad’ stuff and you have nothing left, you have, well…nothing. Instead, add some dimension by giving them behaviors or motivators that are contrary to what already exists.

Finding the Right Balance

I like to think of it like cooking.  While it is possible to have too much spice, usually it is the lack of balance that ruins the dish. There’s a funny commercial out now, where a couple is in a Chinese restaurant and someone has left the sweet out of their sweet and sour dish. Don’t take out all the sour – what you’ll be left with is bland.  Here are some examples of sweet and sour character types I like:

  • The snarky teen who is uber-snarky to his parents but kind to his kid sister because, frankly, the parents kind of suck and he feels she deserves better
  • The hyper-driven type A who initially appears 100% confident, but who we learn is motivated by fear of abandonment
  • The wimpy kid who won’t stand up for himself but will for his friend

So, that’s it, my thoughts on character that I will try – try, I tell you – to keep in mind as I continue plowing through my current WIP.

How about you?  How do you find the right balance and create characters people care about?

SOAR! On a new breeze

23 Oct

It’s Fall!  My favorite season. I love when it’s still warm outside but cool breezes whisper across your skin. And you begin detecting the dusty smell of leaves drying up and falling from their homes in the sky.

Taking inspiration from this eagle in my neighborhood

Taking inspiration from this eagle in my neighborhood

I think I’ve always loved Fall also because it meant the beginning of school. Not that school was utopia for me.  Like for most people, I imagine, it was equal parts joy, terror, and boredom.  But the first day of school was the start of something new. New classes, new notebooks, new pencils, new possibilities.  In many ways I associate Fall with renewal more than I do Spring.

With that in mind, what can I do to SOAR this month?  Two things, I think.

First, to let the momentum I’ve already created in my creative projects (writing a middle grade novel and querying an early chapter book,) carry me along, like those currents in the air upon which birds soar. Second, to take stock of where I am, what I’m spending my energy on, and clear out some of the clutter that may weigh me down.

Can I tell a story people will care about? Can I find an agent who’s interested in my writing?  Time will tell.  For now, I just have to focus on SOARING!

SOAR! to See More

10 Oct

Do you ever feel like your project is just too big, too difficult for you to handle? I did. Whenever I’d start to work on my novel, or more precisely think about working on it, I’d more often than not culminate in overwhelmed defeat and just give up.

SOAR: Feel free to expand.

SOAR: Feel free to expand.

Then last fall, I received a piece of advice from author Mark Spencer that has changed my perspective: Don’t be afraid to expand. 

This gem came to me while taking an online class through Writer’s Digest University, for which Mark was my amazing instructor. Besides writing the actual submissions each week, which was very motivating, I would whine ventexpress to my Mark how overwhelmed I felt by the whole process of trying to write. He assured me that my despondent, neurotic anxieties were actually ‘normal behavior’ for writers, thereby proving myself to be one.

Still, I complained that I didn’t even know if I could fit my story into one book, which is when he told me to feel free to expand. What a horrifying suggestion, I thought at first, to make it bigger than it already was! In retrospect, my fear was telling me to make the story smaller, simpler, easier. But the story itself was telling me otherwise. Mark told me to listen to the story, and in so doing, to myself.

When you're SOARING, the size of the sky is freeing, not frightening.

When you’re SOARING, the size of the sky is freeing, not frightening.

This fall, I’m taking WDU’s Advanced Novel Writing course. Mark’s helping me through another chunk of my novel, impelling me with insights and encouraging feedback that only an experienced author can give.

It’s still a bit scary to look at it all from up high, seeing how much there is yet to be done.

But with my synopsis providing my birds-eye view, I can soar down to my sharply focused target–crafting one precious scene at a time–without fearing the size of the surrounding sky.

TWIST AND BOUNCE: How a story got twisted

25 Sep

I’m kind of mad at my fellow Chick Tracey because she already came up with the idea to cheat and use TWIST and BOUNCE in one post. *stamps around pouting*

Okay, so I’m not really mad. It just shows we’re brilliant (or that we put things off–in my case, WAY off)!

OLIVIA TWISTED debuts in less than two months! *Cue freaking out*

This month, I thought I’d share some of the ways I twisted the original characters of OLIVER TWIST to make it a contemporary story, giving you a little insight to the world of OLIVIA TWISTED.

CHARACTERS

Olivia (Liv) Westfield (Oliver Twist)
Olivia, like Oliver, is an orphan. While Oliver lived his young life in a workhouse, Olivia is raised in the foster care system. Like Oliver, she yearns for love and, regardless of a rough life, is still innocent at heart. But though Oliver never really did anything illegal on his own, Olivia made some wrong choices. Sometimes making the wrong choices helps guide a person to making the right ones later.

Z (The Artful Dodger)
I think I might’ve had a tiny crush on the Artful Dodger when I was a little kid and saw the movie Oliver! Just a tiny one, mind you, before I realized he probably should take a bath. So maybe that influenced my decision to make Z the hot bad boy who rides a Ducati. But I always liked how the Artful Dodger took Oliver in hand and was a friend to him (albeit a friend with underhanded motives). I thought this was the perfect opportunity to brew a romance with Liv (I like brewing things, you know). His internal turmoil begins when he starts thinking about someone else besides himself for once in his life.

Nancy (Fagin/Nancy)
Oh, poor Nancy from the original story—what a horrible hand she was dealt in life. Seriously. But I really liked her and the way she fought against everything to help Oliver, even though it led to her demise. I made her the “mom” of the Monroe Street gang because I always thought she deserved better. Though sometimes her decisions are a little messed up (hello, Bill Sykes).

Bill Sykes (Bill Sikes)
Every party has a pooper, that’s why we invited you: Bill Sykes. Yes, Bill is the leader of the hackers (and, cough cough, other homes of ill-repute). He was evil in Oliver Twist. He is evil in my story. Evil can be so much fun (*rubs hands together evilly*)!

Sam (Charley Bates)
Yes, I could’ve named her Charley after the Artful Dodger’s sidekick. But Sam is the type not to do anything because someone told her to. She was Sam to me from the very beginning, and her character is quite happy with that name. Sam is the fun-loving friend and partner of Z’s who befriends Olivia right off the bat. Sam is much closer to Olivia than Charley was to Oliver, though, like Z, her motives aren’t always well intentioned.

BOUNCE over to my website at www.vivibarnes.com to see more on how I twisted the classic. Then BOUNCE over to www.oliviatwisted.com to check out the new trailer for Olivia Twisted, which debuted this past week on www.Hypable.com (there’s still a couple days left to enter to win a signed book and swag)!

Dizzy yet? 😉

Add OLIVIA TWISTED to your Goodreads shelf.

Pre-order OLIVIA TWISTED from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million

OliviaTwistedCover

TWIST and BOUNCE to Progress

5 Sep

Attention, OK-Mart shoppers: this month I’m offering a BOGO. Blog One power word, Get One free! Like that multi-tasking TWIST?

Once again this fall, I’ve undertaken a Writer’s Digest online class to force me at gunpoint inspire me to make progress on my historical novel. So August had me twisting to churn out 15,000 words. And by TWIST I mean writhing and squirming on the floor from the pain of an inescapable deadline.

To make it, I had to say ‘no’ to volunteering more at my daughter’s school, which was very hard for me to do. I also put my son in full-day preschool, which was even harder. I thought I would be overridden by guilt. Instead, I was energized and motivated by such a generous gift to myself, a gift that my inner artist deeply appreciates and is returning in kind.

LA InterchangeStill, I struggle with my internal antagonists: insecurity, indecision, imperfection. Once I get going in a scene or section of a scene, I’m happy in the process of actual, you know, writing. To me, crafting dialogue is the icing on the Brussels sprouts. But it takes a lot out of me to get there or decide the exact events within a given scene. I get stalled, even overwhelmed, by the infinite possibilities. It’s like Frost’s The Road Less Traveled but on the twisted East LA Interchange. It’s hard to see where each road will take me, if it will connect to my other roads, and even how to find the right on ramp.

All roads diverged at a point of plot,
And sorry I could not travel each
And be one writer, long I thought
And looked down one longer than I ought
To where it bent in the story line…

This is where the BOUNCE comes in. When I encounter an interchange or detour, my natural inclination is to pull off at the next exit for a Diet Coke and Snickers, maybe catch a movie, flip through my Facebook, alphabetize the cereal boxes in my pantry–anything to avoid driving.  However, I am retraining myself to bounce through it instead.

Taking on a buoyant attitude of BOUNCE propels me from a defeatist all-or-nothing something-is-wrong-with-me mentality to a resilient something-or-something-else whatever-gets-me-to-the-next-sentence outlook. Once through a stressful trouble spot, I can relax again. Even if I’m not exactly sure where I’m going, I took a road to keep traveling. And that has made all the difference.

August Power Word: TWIST!

4 Aug
Unexpected twists in plots and life are good; they provide the best opportunities to grow by reacting in a new way.

Unexpected twists in plots and life are good; they provide helpful opportunities to react in new ways, changing us.

This month the Muse challenges you to TWIST! Interesting characters, in books as in life, never travel forward in straight lines. They face obstacles and conflicts. They make detours and even u-turns. Just when they solve one problem, another bigger problem arises, making them feel like they’re just moving in circles.

But with each iteration around your problems (or those of your fictional characters), heightened stakes come with heightened potential for growth. What first presents itself as an unfortunate turn of events might actually be the very thing that propels you closer to your goal.

So embrace the TWIST! Combine things in new ways like Chick Vivi, whose debut young adult novel, Olivia Twisted, comes out this fall. Or stretch yourself like Chick Eva, who’s tackling her final exams for health and nutrition school.

Whatever you’re facing, imagine yourself as the heroine or hero in your own story. Persevere through challenges and even losses, knowing that you’re becoming more fascinating and more dynamic with each TWIST.

FLARE! into the Night

5 Jul

mjzGRrw

This silent sky envelops all my soul,
A fading flicker dimmed by dark despair.
Alone and empty, lost in this black hole,
I search for stars but see hope shine nowhere.

And yet I burn, sole evidence I live,
With longings, disappointments, failures, fears.
Such toxic fuels, if used, new power give.
Ignited, inner anger disappears.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is no path, no safe and structured rise,
But only straggled streams of struggling light.
Ideas like constellations fill the skies
Once braved to flare into the hopeless night.

PADDLE! Through the Rapids

29 May
The Lot River - much bigger and slower than the one we paddled

The Lot River – much bigger and slower than the one we paddled

Years ago, I went on a vacation with my mom. (Hi, Mom!)  We visited my aunt and uncle in France.  I loved everything about France – the art, the architecture, the wine. *sigh*  But my favorite memory is of the day we went canoeing in the countryside near my aunt and uncle’s house.  We put in on a river named the Cele.  My French was rusty and I quite forgot that cele means “swift” in French.  So you can guess where this is going…

Yes, there were some rapids along that river, and yes, my mom and I ended up in the icy cold water once.  But I learned something: when you head into rapids and your heart is beating like crazy and all you want is to put on the brakes, you actually have to do the complete opposite of what your instincts tell you to do.  You have to PADDLE!  As hard as you can.  The faster you go, the better. You get on top of that current and you ride it.  It’s the only way to make it through.  And you know what? It feels awesome!  Now, of all the many things I love, love, love about France, paddling down the Cele tops the list.

So now that I’m in the midst of end-of-school activities with the kids, my work projects are heating up, and I’m preparing for a long family vacation, I can’t slow down.  In fact, I’ve got to paddle hard and fast and conquer that current.  And, I’ve got to keep writing. So far, it’s working.  I’ve written about 5000 words on a couple different projects, completed a chapter book, have queries out and I’m going on a writing retreat soon.  Instead of fighting it, I’m going to enjoy the ride.  C’mon, PADDLE with me!

May Power Word: PADDLE!

1 May

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAImagine yourself in your own personal boat on a long winding river. Like others around you, before you and behind you, you want to move through the waters of your creative project, right?

You could just float on the surface and see what happens. Perhaps, if you’re lucky, you might be carried somewhere downstream, where most people end up. Or you might drift sideways back to the bank not far from where you started. Then you could just stay still out in the middle and wait, hoping that those nearby alligators don’t decide you look like lunch.

But NO! You are not like most people, my friend. You are strong. And you are one of my creative Chicks! That’s why this month I, the Muse, want  you to muster your strength and power ahead.  I want you to PADDLE!

Whether the waters are still where you are now or full of currents trying to pull you backwards, I want you to propel yourself forward.  Only then can you view the dramatic waterfall instead of plunge down it. Stroke by stroke, push your creative muscles. Even when you’re tired and soreespecially thenjust keep paddling!

%d bloggers like this: