Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Long on Short Fiction

Yesterday at Falen Formulates Fiction, I learned the short story I entered in Sarah Ahiers's 100 Followers Contest won third place! I was thrilled -- thanks, Sarah!

I encourage anyone who has never written a short story to give it a try. Writing shorts is an excellent way to experiment with your craft. We grow as writers when we challenge ourselves, step outside our writing comfort zones. However, embarking on a lengthy project with a complicated plot and large cast of characters may overwhelm an author who's writing out of her box. A short only deals with one significant moment in time, so whether you've never written from the omniscient viewpoint, or you want to attempt speculative fiction, the short story format is the perfect platform to try it out.

In the "short" category, there are a few formats to choose from:

Flash Fiction

This is the shortest of the shorts. There's no definitive definition for flash fiction, but most agree a story under 1,000 words is flash. Despite its brevity, flash fiction still must have a clear beginning, strong middle, and definite end. It should include exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Otherwise it is not flash fiction, but rather a vignette or scene.

Read this excellent article to better understand Flash Fiction.

Short Story

A short story is said to be a story you can read in one sitting. Again, the length of this format is debated and often comes down to the submission guidelines of each contest, magazine, or anthology. The most adhered to definition of a modern short story is one which has no more than 20,000 words and no less than 1,000.

This detailed article explains how to write a short story.

[Update: Thanks to Lindsay Duncan @ Unicorn Ramblings for pointing out that there is another format nestled in here between short story and novella. The Novelette is a category of short fiction said to have a word count between 7,500 and 17,499 words (according to Wikipedia) However, the same article points out that "The terms novelette and novelettish can also be derogatory, suggesting fiction which is 'trite, feeble or sentimental'."

When I checked online dictionaries, I found in Free Online Dictionary that the first definition of a novelette is "an extended narrative or short story," while the second definition is "a novel that is regarded as being slight, trivial, or sentimental." (HERE) And on the single definition for novelette is "a short novel, sometimes, specif., one regarded as inferior in quality, banal, overly commercial, etc." (HERE) Thanks, Lindsay, for your comment that led to this research!]


A novella is a renegade literary form in that it characterizes both a short story and a novel. Like a short story, a novella has a somewhat concise plot. The time frame is generally compact, and the reader often knows little about what happened before or after the time period of the story. A novella also mimics a novel because the story is organized in chapter-like segments and enjoys the freedom to explore its characters and plot in greater depth than does a short story. It typically is said to have between 17,500 words and 40,000.

Examples of famous novellas include John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

Have you ever written a short story? What's your favorite platform for experimenting with your craft?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My Truth and an Excerpt to Prove It

Almost every lie I wrote yesterday held a grain of truth, but there was nothing false about the two that were true. Of course, I've written stories about the most harrowing of my life's adventures, so my Tuesday Teaser will follow, a snippet from that story. But first:

1. I earned my doctorate in Rhetorical Speaking from the State University of New York at Oswego. Nope. I earned a Bachelor's in Rhetorical Communications from that school.

2. We have seven pets: a Shitzu puppy named Sammy, a Himalayan Persian cat named Pumpkin, an African Gray parrot named C.J., two love birds called Happy and Mango, a Betta Fish called Mr. Odie, and a frog named Jeremiah that hatched from a tadpole we caught in the pond out back. False! We have a Betta named Mr. Odie, but the other pets ALL live with my sister.

3. A ten-foot-long shark swam right alongside me while I was looking for seashells in water up to my knees on the Florida coast. TRUE! I was beach combing on a six a.m. walk, and I thought it was a dolphin in the water. I couldn't believe I was that close to a dolphin and in my excitement, I waded further in and walked alongside it. When it didn't surface for air I became suspicious, but when it thrashed its head I was sure: it was a shark, trolling the shore for breakfast.

4. I trained for three months and won at the regional level (Southeastern U.S.) of the Fitness America Competition. No...but I did place third!

5. I was kidnapped at gunpoint by machine gun-toting rebels during an African civil war. 100% True. See excerpt below.

6. One summer, I juiced three cucumbers a day, and drinking the juice made my hair grow six inches in three and a half months. No way.

7. In 1991, I shook Madonna's hand on the red carpet when she arrived for the premier of Truth or Dare in Hollywood, CA. Untrue-ish. I was there, and Madonna stepped out of her limo fifteen feet in front of me. But I didn't shake her hand.

8. I speak four languages: English (duh), French, Spanish, and an African dialect called Sango. Nope, I only speak three languages. No hablo Espagnol.

I apologize in advance for only offering a short excerpt of the following. In the Face of Danger, which tells the story of my abduction by rebel soldiers during the 1996 mutant army uprising in the Central African Republic, is currently submitted to The New Millennium Awards contest in the category of Creative Non-Fiction. For this reason, I can't publish it on the web. And, for the same reason, this excerpt will only be up for one day.

Here's the set-up: I was a Peace Corps volunteer with only a few months of service left before finishing my two year, three month tour of duty. My husband Christian, who was then my fiancé, and I met there. At the time of this story, he was living ten kilometers away on his company's construction base. When the war broke out, the Peace Corp issued a country-wide evacuation, and we were to follow the Emergency Evacuation Plan implicitly. This included volunteers in the region locking ourselves in the predesignated "Safe House" and awaiting further instructions. We were not to leave under any circumstances. I did. Here's what happened:

Excerpt From: In the Face of Danger
by Nicole Ducleroir


Monday, March 29, 2010

...pants on fire!

The lovely and hilarious Talli Roland passed the Soul Mate Award to me. Talli's blog voice is upbeat and her topics always blend writing with truths and oddities from the real world. Check out this perfect example from over the weekend!

The rules:
1. Choose five followers/commenters that 'get' you.
2. Write something fake (preferably not too mean) about them.
3. Link to them, and link back to the award's originating post to comment your receipt of the award.

Today, the Soul Mate Award goes to:

Abby Annis, whose loving husband commissioned a statue in her likeness for a first wedding anniversary present that Abby proudly displays on the front lawn.

Sarah Jayne @ Writing in the Wilderness, who was kicked out of a prestigious mime school in Paris when she kept saying vroom-vroom every time she mimed driving a car.

Laurel @ Laurel's Leaves, who was once chosen from the audience to assist a hypnotist and now hiccups every time the doorbell rings.

Mary Campbell @ Writer's Butt Does Not Apply, who somehow mixed up the seed packets last spring and ended up with a row of Cosmos in the vegetable garden and unsightly stalks of sweet corn lining her front porch.

Kimberly Franklin, who holds the handstand record in the state of Texas -- she broke the record after walking around on her hands for one week, one day, and seven hours. The first thing she did after acknowledging her supporters was go to the bathroom.

Thank you to Amanda @ So Many Story Ideas for the Creative Liar Award! Amanda's a creative woman with interesting things to say, and her blog is gorgeous! I hope you visit her today :)

The rules to this fun award are to write six fabulous lies about myself and two truths. You have to guess which ones are true! I have been terrible at guessing other people's truths; let's see how hard it'll be for you to guess mine (*smile*)

1. I earned my doctorate in Rhetorical Speaking from the State University of New York at Oswego.

2. We have seven pets: a Shitzu puppy named Sammy, a Himalayan Persian cat named Pumpkin, an African Gray parrot named C.J., two love birds called Happy and Mango, a Betta Fish called Mr. Odie, and a frog named Jeremiah that hatched from a tadpole we caught in the pond out back.

3. A ten-foot-long shark swam right alongside me while I was looking for seashells in water up to my knees on the Florida coast.

4. I trained for three months and won at the regional level (Southeastern U.S.) of the Fitness America Competition.

5. I was kidnapped at gunpoint by machine gun-toting rebels during an African civil war.

6. One summer, I juiced three cucumbers a day, and drinking the juice made my hair grow six inches in three and a half months.

7. In 1991, I shook Madonna's hand on the red carpet when she arrived for the premier of Truth or Dare in Hollywood, CA.

8. I speak four languages: English (duh), French, Spanish, and an African dialect called Sango.

I'm passing this award on to bloggers I'm excited to have met this week:

Justine Dell

Samantha @ Show and Tell

Gina @ Passions on Paper

Mel @ Ever Flowing Thoughts and Other Randomness

Jaydee @ Jaydee Morgan Blogs

So can you pick out the two truths from all those lies? I'll reveal my truths tomorrow. And while you're playing along, I hope you'll visit the bloggers' sites linked here.

Have a wonderful day!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Week Full of Awards

Over the past week I've been offered some wonderful blog awards. It's so uplifting to feel the love from you awesome people! Here's what I've received and how I'd like to share it!

Thanks to my friends Talli Roland and Anne @ Piedmont Writer for this gorgeous award! I love the inscription that comes with this award: "By definition, a Prolific Blogger 'is one who is intellectually productive...keeping up an active blog that is filled with enjoyable content.'" Cool!

I'd like to pass this award on to some of my newest blogger friends:

Tawna Fenske @ Don't Pet Me, I'm Writing -- Tawna is wildly talented, represented and published, and her blog is on my daily must-read list. Love her voice, love her humor, LOVE her!

She Writes -- Her romance-style excerpts remind me of the times love has filled my heart with joy or pain, and her writing takes my breath away.

Michael @ Mental Masturbation -- Michael's sharp and creative mind makes for interesting blog posts each day, but his intuitive style lends beauty and rhythmic flow to everything he says.

Lisa Marie Miles @ Confessions of a Writing Mama -- Lisa reminds me of myself -- she blogs about big changes in her life (she moved this month) and still dives deeper into her craft (deciding to do Script Frenzy!) Help me cheer her on!!

Laura @ Through Laura's Eyes -- This talented lady is an amazing writer and blogger. Her engaging style pulls me into her writing every time.

Christi Goddard @ A Torch in the Tempest -- Christi is an artist and a writer, my favorite combination! Her blog is eye-candy and inspirational.

Alicia Frey @ Eyes 2 Page -- I enjoy Alicia's blog posts -- this writer is going places!

The lovely Niki @ Wool'n'Nuts passed The Silver Lining Award on to me. Niki's posts are wonderful, often about her love for animals and all nature's gifts. Her writing is wonderful too!

This award goes to more of my new blogging friends:

Kelly Gibian @ Just Write -- I love Kelly's blog voice! She's upbeat, and there's great energy in everything she says, especially when she's talking about her family and running.

Amanda Johnson @ Ramblings of a Wandering Mind -- Amanda has a young, fresh voice and she's making great progress on her WiP!

Charity Bradford @ My Writing Journey -- Charity reached 50 followers and is celebrating with a fun "food-themed" blogfest!

I want to thank Michael at Mental Masturbation for this wonderful award. Michael is one of the newer voices I've discovered in the blogosphere and love to listen to.

This award goes to more of my newest blogger friends:

Lindsay Duncan @ Unicorn Ramblings -- Lindsay's talent jumps off the screen, whether she's posting or commenting. I'm enjoying getting to know her!

Aubrie @ Flutey Words -- Aubrie is a sweetheart and her talent spans the music and writing worlds. I love reading what she has to say each day.

Anne Elle Altman @ All Write With Coffee -- Some blogs have incredible energy and this one does. The brand of energy that comes through Anne's writing is effortless and infectious.

Jen @ Unedited passed this award to me. Thanks, Jen! Her blog is teeming with creativity and she's loved by so many of us at Blogger. Visit her today!

I'm giving this award to three of my blogging BFFs:

Talli Roland -- This generous blog buddy is funny, smart, and makes me want to jump on a plane and cross the pond to hang out with her in person!

Lola @ Sharp Pen/Dull Sword -- Lola's posts make me laugh, think, and pull me into her world. Love this girl!

DL Hammon @ Cruising Altitude -- DL is one of my favorite bloggers. He's so centered in his writing, and his style is absolutely my cup of tea. When he's published, I'll be the first to buy his book.

My friend, DL Hammons @ Cruising Altitude awarded me this honor -- and this one really made me feel wonderful. Commenting on each other's blogs helps us stay connected on a personal level with other writers/bloggers. It's all about supporting each other and learning from one another.

Two friends who comment regularly on my blog, always leaving me with inspirational and encouraging words, and who are most deserving of this award are:

Anne @ Piedmont Writer -- Anne's become an inspiration and a sounding-board for project ideas, and I value her friendship and suggestions more than she probably knows!

Jemi Fraser @ Just Jemi -- Jemi has been a regular visitor and commenter since I met her, and I love her encouraging insights every time I see her beautiful white rose icon on my blog.

I hope you'll visit these creative bloggers' sites today. If you don't follow them, why not sign on? It's the number one best way to show your support of their talents and efforts -- and it just feels good to spread around the love!!

It's friends like the above mentioned, and YOU, that make my blogging experience perfect! Thank you!!

Have a fab weekend!

Friday, March 26, 2010

My Contest Entry

Today, I'm entering Sarah Ahier's Falen Formulates Fiction 100 Followers Writing Contest. If you want to play along, you'll need to write a short story under 750 words, following one of Sarah's prompts. It's all explained HERE to click -- hurry! Contest deadline is 5 pm CST today!

I chose this prompt to work with: A man discovers a large sum of money in his wallet and can't remember where it came from.

Here's my story:

The Sacred Heart

Thomas’ black leather coat was as useful as a window screen at protecting him from the biting wind. He clutched the collar to his throat and strode down the littered Bronx sidewalk with his head bent against the constant gust. Halfway down the block, a pair of tattered shoes entered his limited field of vision. Thomas slowed his pace and lifted his chin. His gaze traveled from the shoes, up soiled pant legs, past where the waist bent at ninety degrees, to the torso of a disheveled and unconscious man. Thomas took a step closer, peering at the man’s chest to see if it rose and fell. That’s when he spied the frayed wallet, half- wedged under the man’s hip next to a smudged Styrofoam coffee cup.

Thomas glanced quickly up and down the street, snatched up the wallet, and opened it. It was empty.

He tossed it back on the card board bedroll and walked on. A hundred feet later, he turned and crossed a small parking lot in front of Fortworth Saloon. He reached for the door handle and paused. A drop of water ran down the inside of the sweating glass. Thomas whipped his head left and right, popping his neck. He took a deep breath and pulled open the door.


“Are you freakin’ kiddin’ me?” Stevie Romero scoffed as he threw his cards face down. A cheer went up from the onlookers surrounding the table. Thomas raked all the chips from the ante pile toward him, including the Rolex laid neatly on top. The piles of chips at his side resembled the smokestacks of Jersey’s finest factories across the Hudson. Thomas allowed a boyish grin and avoided looking at the other players.

A large man in a white suit and matching ten bucket cowboy hat peered at Thomas. “So, Tommy Heart?” he drawled. “How come we’ve never seen y’all around the circuit before today? Y’all can’t be new to the game. Ain't beginners who can bluff like you.” He eyed Thomas’ chip fortress with suspicion.

“I been playin’ in the neighborhood for years. In Brooklyn, you gotta have your game face on all the time, ya know what I’m talkin’ about?” Thomas smirked and offered a knuckle bump to the cowboy who sat still, his emotionless eyes fixed on Thomas. Thomas lowered his fist.

“Aw, come on Tex, you’re just pissed off ‘cause he got your stupid watch,” shouted Romero from the other side of the table. “Your bluff was weak, man. Even I saw through it.”

As the Texan argued with Romero, Tommy Heart excused himself from the table. His cool composure cloaked his racing heart. In the vacant hallway leading to the restrooms, he pulled out his cell phone. Glancing left and right, he pushed speed dial number one.

“Sacred Heart of Brooklyn, may I assist you?”

“Sister Cecelia Maria?” he whispered into the phone.

“Father Thomas? Is that you? Where are you, we’ve been worried sick!”

“I’m fine, Sister. But I only have a minute to talk. Listen, please call the parish council and tell them to block the Youth Center demolition. I have raised the money for the new roof, and I suspect there’ll be enough to buy new furniture and get some of those programs off the ground we talked about for the kids.”

“Praise the Lord, Father! This is a last minute miracle. How did you do it?”

Father Thomas glanced at the poster on the wall advertising the semi-pro Texas Hold’em Poker Tournament. With a scarlet blush he said, “I found a room full of willing donators.”

“God is great!” Sister Cecelia Maria exclaimed. “I’ll make the call now. Thank you, Father. Thank you so much!”

“You are welcome. And Sister? One other thing. Please call Father Fitzgerald. See if he is available on Sunday to hear my confession.”


An hour later with the wind at his back, Thomas made his way up the block. He stopped in front of the sleeping homeless man. Retrieving the wallet, Thomas slipped six twenties into the billfold. He shoved the wallet squarely into the man’s trouser pocket. Snapping his arm out straight to reveal the watch, he unstrapped the Rolex from his wrist and dropped it into the man’s stained trench coat pocket. The man stirred and Thomas walked away.

As Thomas rounded the corner, he looked back. The homeless man was sitting up, one hand cupping the top of his head as he stared into his open wallet.

(Word Count = 749, not including the title)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What Time Is It?

The chosen setting of a novel presents to the author hundreds of little description decisions that must be made throughout the plot in order to sell the authenticity of the story. A novel that takes place in 1998, for example, will be very different in many ways than one that takes place in 2008.

Take a look at developments in technology over the past ten years. Since the end of the '90s we've seen Internet usage demographics go from 'just tech-savvy urbanites' to 'everyone and her grandparents.' DVD players have all but replaced VHS. In 1999, most of my music was still on cassette tape. I didn't have time to buy all the CDs I wanted before MP3 music files became the rage. Televisions were still bulky boxes with 32-inch screens sitting atop consoles, and although the technology to stop, rewind, and digitally record live TV has been around for twenty-five years, TiVo didn't become a household word until the middle of the first decade after the Millennium.

I still haven't made a firm decision about the setting of my WIP. The original premise hinges on a random, computer-generated phone call by a telemarketer selling long distance telephone service. I could stick with that premise and set the novel in the early 2000s. If I do, then when the antagonist sets out to hunt down the protagonist with only her first and last name and an area code, I'll have to decide what devices he uses to locate her. The Internet? In 2001 and 2002, a "Google" search wouldn't pull up very much on an ordinary person in her early 20s. Even if you were Feeling Lucky. MySpace? Would my reclusive, thirty-something bad guy even have a computer at his house? And on the road, would he know how to find or use an Internet café? I'd have to figure out what other options he would have at his disposal.

Option number two is to move the setting to modern day. To do so, I'd have to tweak the premise. Do we even have telemarketers anymore? I get calls from credit card company affiliates wanting to sell me protection packages against identity theft. Maybe old Ray works for one of those? Does he have a laptop computer to take on the road with him? Does Julie have a FaceBook profile? (I tried to find a "Julie Knotts" on FaceBook, just for the fun of it. There were literally thousands of people who came up.)

At this point, the logic problems to work through seem endless. Clearly, depending on the setting I choose, I have more research ahead of me.

How does technology impact your current story? Do you have to think about it, or is it irrelevant? Do you have to create any technology of your own?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I commit...

If someone could photograph the workings of my brain, this is what it would look like. My thoughts are like the concentric paths of each ring. If I don't concentrate my efforts, force organization into my methods, the effect is the same as letting your eyes drift to the side of this image. My rings start spinning independent of the others and before I realize what's happened, I've lost two productive hours of my day.

In support of my natural and near-nonexistent left-brain talents, I'm devising a writing schedule for my WIP. I work best with looming deadlines, so here's my plan of action:

I have until I leave for France to complete and print out the Snowflake Method outline for Overcome. I leave on June 18, so:

By April 3: Step Six -- One week to expand one page story synopsis into a four-page synopsis.

By April 10: Step Seven -- One week to expand character synopsis into detailed character charts.

By May 1: Step Eight -- From four-page story synopsis, create scenes. [Plot scenes on spreadsheet and decide chapter breaks...(*right side of brain begins weeping*)]

By May 29: Step Nine -- Back to word processor, sketch each chapter by expanding each spreadsheet line into multi-paragraph description of that scene. Decide essential conflict of each chapter.

By June 5 (leaving me a week to pack): Revisions and chapter drafts. Each chapter draft/sketch will go on new page(s). I'll print them out and put them in a three-ring binder where I can resort chapter order and make revisions. This is the hardcopy I'll take to France.

There are several motivators built into this plan. For example, my in-laws don't have a computer or Internet connection. Any work I do on the project will have to be handwritten. I'll be on vacation so clearly writing won't be my first priority; however, taking into consideration the ten-hour roundtrip plane rides and la sieste -- two hour "quiet time" strictly observed in France between the noon-day meal and late afternoon -- I'll have opportunities to write.

Disclaimer: I know in my heart that I won't need this kind of strict planning for future novels. I may never sell this one. My objective is to get it written, to learn the process so next time my organizational skills can truly support my creative voice.

Do writing schedules work for you? How important are deadlines for your productivity?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

It's Like We're Soulmates Award

Well, after sparring with all day long, this is the "new look" for my blog. Whatcha think? I wormed my way into the CSS and HTML and figured out how to put my own title on there, but I wasn't able to override the template's Title Page Header configuration. It insists I give my blog a title, but when I typed "One Significant Moment at a Time," it printed it below the PSP text that says the same thing. I couldn't have that twice, so I put "Nicole Ducleroir, Author" on the configuration title line. Then it occurred to me that my blog's name is now "Nicole Ducleroir, Author." (I followed myself to verify.) Sorry for any confusion that may cause :p

On to other things...

This is perhaps the coolest award making its way around the blogosphere right now. I LOVE it! Huge shout out to my soul sista, Anne @ Piedmont Writer for passing it to me. Thank you, Anne!!
Apparently, this award is for people who "get you," which makes it all personal and awesome.

Rules are simple:
Five Recipients.
Make up something (not too mean) about the people you give the award to.
Link to the people you give it to.
Link back to the original award post here.

I'm going to pass it on to these friends I feel "get me" (and who I "get" too!):

1. Julie Dao @ Silver Linings, who this summer plans to backpack across the country and write a short story about every state she visits.

2. Christine Danek @ Christine's Journey, who I suspect has successfully cloned herself. That way she can leave insightful comments on everyones' blogs each day while her clone does the housework and runs errands for her.

3. Summer @ ...And This Time Concentrate, who by coincidence posted a picture of my ex-boyfriend on her blog today. (I'm a discrete woman, so I won't say which one he is...)

4. Shelley Sly @ Stories in the Ordinary, who used to live in the same quaint apartment that Madonna rented when she and a then-husband Sean Penn needed a vacation from the paparazzi.

5. Elana Johnson, who's actually Miley Cyrus (I know! I was shocked too!)

I have a couple more awards to give pass along, but my brain is cyber-fried. I need a break from this computer. Until tomorrow -- have a fab day!

~ Excuse My Dust ~

I'm changing my blog template and you know what that means...
For the next couple hours :))
Please check back later and tell me what you think of the new decor!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Life is a Subway

A subway car is a microcosm of life. Its riders are a random sampling of society, the characters in that scene from life's novel. Look at this picture. Who are these people? What would happen if a disaster struck, if the train jumped its tracks the moment after this picture was snapped? The answer depends on the personalities of the people thrown together and what they carry with them in terms of priorities and their life experiences.

I'm a virgin novelist, as many of you know. I may be approaching this project backwards, but it's occurred to me that assembling my first cast of characters is a little like walking onto a subway train and picking a handful of people. As I get to know the strangers I've invited into my project, I'm reminded of a great truth in life: We're all struggling down our life paths.

Nobody has it easy in life. You can take five people, for example, and in the group have:

  • A successful Marketing Rep
  • A gorgeous fitness model
  • A creative storyteller
  • A well-known entertainer
  • A Martha Stewart-style homemaker

But within that same group and in shuffled order, you also have:

  • A person paralyzed by fear of failure
  • A woman who kicked her cheating husband out but is afraid to divorce him and truly be on her own
  • A drug addict, in and out of rehap
  • A blind person
  • A first-time mother transitioning to the new life of parenthood

If you were sitting on a subway train with these five people, you probably couldn't guess which description from each list went with what person (unless New Mom had Baby with her!).

As I flesh out the characters for my novel, I appreciate the importance of acknowledging all the successes and failures with which a character is dealing, within the timeframe of the novel. How a person acts and reacts in a scene is dependent on the combination of their conflicts and what they've experienced in life. I'm enjoying exploring what those things are and deciding how they will impact the plot of the novel.

What about you? When you start a project, are you more apt to know the personalities you need and build characters around them? Or are you like me and create characters who then reveal themselves in ways you didn't anticipate, so that you have to adapt the plot to accomodate them?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

No More Mumbling!

I'm deep in Step Five of the Snowflake Method, and I've had a revelation. Before I say what that revelation was, let me start by saying this: Even though the Snowflake Method is a very structured process for plotting my novel, there is a very real and necessary requirement for writing by-the-seat-of-my-pants.

Step Five asks me to "Take a day or two and write up a one-page description of each major character and a half-page description of the other important characters. These 'character synopses' should tell the story from the point of view of each character."

Here's my revelation: One reason my project stalled was I didn't know what was going on with my minor characters. I have two major players, Julie the protagonist and Ray the antagonist. The complete cast of major and minor characters includes nine personalities, five of which up to this point have been (patiently?) waiting in the wings to be called out on stage for the first time.

All this time, I've mulled over Julie and Ray's stories, what they want abstractly and concretely, their goals and the conflicts standing in their way. The ideas I have for the other characters were partially fleshed out, at best. I realized today how much this has contributed to my standstill.

Today, I was a full-fledged "pantser." I started with Providence Maiday, a character whose role in the plot I've vaguely known, though recognized for its importance. With no expectations I let my fingers fly. I wrote in her voice, explaining her part in the story as she sees it. I learned so much about her! An hour later, I had channeled four paragraphs about her life before her entrance in my novel, and found out what makes her tick. Then I moved on to the next character...

Story threads are emerging. Sub-plots are forming in my brain. Logic problems are working themselves out. It's exhilarating!

It was a lot like learning the real lyrics to La Bamba. I always sing that song when it comes on the radio. Its infectious melody and catchy tune suck me in every time. I sing the first two lines and then mumble the rest. And that's exactly what I've been doing with my novel!

I've been singing the two main characters and mumbling over the rest of the cast.

And that is why the Snowflake Method is working for me. It's given me the structure I need to focus my thinking, in a way I haven't been able to do on my own. My creative flow hasn't been dammed up -- just the opposite! Things are flowing again, filling up the dried creek beds and rushing toward the next bigger body of water. And, it's a lot of fun!

In honor of singing the whole song of my novel, I'll leave you with the actual words to La Bamba!

Para bailar La Bamba
Para bailar La Bamba
Se necessita una poca de gracia
Una poca de gracia
Para mi, para ti, ay arriba, ay arriba
Ay, arriba arriba
Por ti sere, por ti sere, por ti sere
Yo no soy marinero
Yo no soy marinero, soy capitan
Soy capitan, soy capitan
Bamba, bamba
Bamba, bamba
Bamba, bamba, bam
(repeat whole thing twice and toss in a guitar solo)

Have a Wonderful Weekend!!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Snowflakes in Spring

I've plotted out short stories before writing them, and I've written stories by-the-seat-of-my-pants. The end results were the same, in that I was pleased with the success of the final drafts. I can't say for certain which method took me longer, since I never paid attention to timing.

With my novel-in-progress, I've tried both pantsing and plotting. Draft #1 was nineteen chapters of NaNoWriMo word vomit -- pantsing to the tenth power. Realizing I needed some structure to move forward, I attempted to construct some sort of outline from what I'd already written, taking into account the major character change I made to the protagonist which dictated scrapping half of her chapters, anyway. I had major breakthrough #1 the other day when I sat down with index cards, sketched already-written and new scenes, and put them in tentative chronological order. Then, major breakthrough #2 happened last night.

I was blog-hopping when I found the articles, but when I navigated away from the blog I couldn't remember where I'd been. [If I find you again, awesome blogger with the link, I'll definitely give you a big shout-out chez moi !]

I'd first read about Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Method after it came up in a regional meet-n-greet for NaNo participants. The funny thing about knowledge is the timing has to be right. At the time, all I had was a premise for a novel, and I was geared up to try the much-touted stream-of-consciousness writing embraced by NaNo. The Snowflake Method seemed complicated and tedious, and not for me.

Last night, I read through it again. Epiphany! Ingermanson's Snowflake Method is a ten step process in which you prepare your novel starting with a one sentence summary. Each step builds on that sentence, that summary, until by step ten you're ready to bang out your first draft.

Ingermanson's repeated disclaimer is that not all writers will be successful with the method. He says many "pantsers" will think the method too left-brained, that it dams up the creative flow. For a total right-brained writer like me, and where I am creatively right now, I think the method will provide exactly the kind of structure I crave. I've pantsed the plot for five months now, and I still don't know exactly what's going to happen by the end of the story.

I felt excited and inspired while reading through the article, and as of this morning, steps one and two are complete. I look forward to each step in the process, especially getting to writing the actual draft. Here's what Ingermanson says during his explanation of step ten:

"This stage is incredibly fun and exciting. I have heard many writers complain about how hard the first draft is. Invariably, they are seat-of-the-pants writers who have no clue what's coming next. Good grief! Life is too short to write like that! There is no reason to spend 500 hours writing a wandering first draft of your novel when you can write a solid one in 150. Counting the 100 hours it takes to do the design documents, you come out way ahead in time."


Have you tried the Snowflake Method before? Are you a plotter or a pantser? Or are you like me and describe yourself as somewhere in the middle?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Big Fat Patchwork Novel

We've heard a quilt is a metaphor for life so many times that it's become cliché. And I try to avoid using cliché I'll put on it my own twist and use it anyways to explain why I'm struggling so much with my WIP.

This quilt was the first I'd ever attempted, my debut textile project. As you can see, I didn't start out sewing a small, crib-size quilt with a simple four-block pattern. Instead, I chose a complicated nine-patch block, of which five patches were constructed from tiny triangles. I never considered a crib quilt -- I skipped right to queen size. And, I added to the original pattern, creating two additional borders (the skinny yellow border and the border that's a single row of stars were my ideas). As I struggled with my WIP outline this week, I realized that my creative methods are the same, regardless of the medium I'm working with. It's surely a mild form of arrogance, or perhaps an inability to know my own boundaries, but I've never been able to accept myself as a novice.

Short stories are easier for me to write. I'm comfortable dealing with one significant moment in time. Transitioning to the format of a novel is brand new territory for me. But like my big fat first quilt project, I've thrown myself into the deep end of the creative pool.

Rather than construct a linear plot that fits into a basic three act formula, I'm working with two distinct storylines. Two strangers, dealing with the conflicts in their lives, are fated to cross paths after a computer-generated phone call puts them on a collision course. Their lives don't intersect until midway through the book. Until then, chapters go back and forth, sometimes narrated by one character in one part of the country, and other times narrated by the other in a different city, so that the reader understands and sympathizes with both by the time they arrive at their crossroad.

I've struggled with tying their two separate experiences together. I'm worried the book will come across fractual, with odd patchwork pieces that don't fit together. My answer to this quandary is theme. Both characters, as different as their circumstances and as polar opposite as they are on the morality scale, are connected by the theme(s) I'm exploring throughout the book.

A novice novelist? Me? (*chuckles condescendingly, as if to herself*) You must have me confused with someone who doesn't know what she's doing.

Do you ever feel like your creative ideas exceed your skills? Do you think big and then scale down? Or does your confidence grow as you write, so that your end result is more successful than you imagined it'd be?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cool Contest @ Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe!

Shannon Messenger at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe has surpassed the 400 follower mark! To celebrate, she's running a cool contest that you are going to want in on!!

Listen to the prize...a SIGNED copy of Becca Fitzpatrick's New York Times bestseller Hush, Hush

The drawing will be on March 26th -- SIGN UP TODAY BY CLICKING HERE

And now, because I'm so happy to have made progress on my WIP, after weeks of agonizing writer's block, I want to share this goofy-ass pic with you! Anne at Piedmont Writer was my inspiration, after writing a post yesterday about the tremendous creative gush she enjoyed while working on her new WIP. Something about what she shared struck a chord with me, doors in my head swung open, the fear was dispelled, and IT FELT GREAT!!

[Update: Anne let me know that Sarah over at Falen Formulates Fiction inspired her with the idea to spread out scene cards across her table and plot out some of her novel. I've been reading Sarah's awesome blog for months, and I love her quick wit and creative voice. Especially fun are her Friday posts, when she makes up words and defines them for us. Hilarious! If you don't follow Sarah yet, shoot over there and say hello!]

Award, Award, and Award

Thank you Julie at Silver Lining for the Sunshine Award! Julie's blog is one of my favorite to read. There's something fluid and engaging in her style of writing that is going to take her FAR in the literary world. If you don't follow her, I hope you sign on today. You'll be happy you did!
Thanks, Abby Annis and DL Hammon at Cruising Altitude, for this beautiful award! I love Abby's energy, and her blog posts are always awesome. Stop by her blog and say "hi!" And DL is a fantastic writer and a great blogger. His commentaries are insightful and often humorous. Visit him today, too!

Here are the Rules to Accept the Award:

1. Put the logo on your blog or within your post.
2. Pass the award to 5 bloggers.
3. Link the nominees within your post.
4. Let them know they received this award by commenting on their blog.
5. Share the love and link to the person from whom you received this award.
6. Share 5 things about yourself.

Let's see...five things about myself...all right:

1. I have a brand new nephew! Derek James made his appearance late on March 12th -- and by late I don't mean past his due date! I mean, he was born at 11:41 p.m. after sis was in labor for fifteen hours. Ugh!

2. I take a large freezer bag into the grocery store when I do my weekly shopping. I ask the baggers to put my cold stuff in the bag, which is like a big, soft cooler. That way, when I get home I drag all the groceries from the car to the entryway and then check my email/blog...sometimes taking up to an hour before I put my food away. (Does anyone else have crazy, computer-addicted behavior??)

3. My favorite ice cream flavor is Ben and Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk.

4. While researching for my WIP, I recently called a local funeral home and asked for a behind-the-scenes tour. I haven't heard back from them. I suspect they didn't take me seriously, or considered me a crack pot.

5. I prefer plain M&Ms over peanut. However, if they are served in the same bowl, I eat two plain and one peanut at the same time. The chocolate to peanut ration is perfect that way. You should try it.

Thank you, E. Elle over at The Writer's Funhouse, for this totally awesome award! Elle's smart and inspiring posts make her blog a must-read, so be sure to visit her today! I love the inscription that comes with this award: "By definition, a Prolific Blogger 'is one who is intellectually productive...keeping up an active blog that is filled with enjoyable content.'" How uplifting is that?

I'd like to pass these awards on to some of my most prolific blogging peeps. Choose the one you'd like! The following are all fantabulous writers, some of whom I've just met and others who I have grown most fond of! I hope you'll visit their blogs today. If you're meeting someone for the first time, sign on as their follower! Spread the joy :))

Annika @ A Swede Abroad
Hilary Wagner
Julie @ Silver Lining
Kristin Rae @ Kristin Creative
Kat O'keefe @ Words, Etc.
Meika @ Waiting on the Muse
Susan Fields
Steph @ Steph in the City
Amy Holder @ Written in Lipstick
Jade @ Chasing Empty Pavements

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tuesday Teaser

Although the book I'm writing falls in the literary fiction genre, some scenes will require the characteristics of other genres. It will include, for example, suspenseful scenes with a lot of action. Over the past two years, I practiced my hand at different genres through short stories, working on the skills I'd need when I wrote my novels. The following excerpt is from one of them, an action/adventure piece entitled "The Way Forward."

They made their way to the head of the trail in high spirits. "White rectangular blazes mark the trail over the entire 2100 miles from Georgia to Maine," Michael read from the trail map. "Turns are marked with double blazes and side trails and approaches use blue." Michael stopped. Kaitlyn was no longer walking beside him. Turning, he spotted her heading off the path into the woods.

"Kait, honey, you're not supposed to leave the trail. Hon?"

Kaitlyn put her finger to her lips and looked back into the woods. A moment later she rejoined him.

"I thought I heard an animal, but it must have gotten scared and scurried off." Her flushed cheeks glowed with excitement.

"You never know what could be hiding in these woods, babe. There are snakes and bears living up here with the bunnies and squirrels." Michael wasn't sure if the look on Kaitlyn's face said his concern endeared him to her or simply amused her.

Kaitlyn's suppressed smile lingered in her eyes. "Tag! You're it!" she suddenly shouted, taking off down the trail.

Kaitlyn's playfulness infected Michael, and they made their way through the quiet woods, talking and joking. By noontime, they had hiked into Sosebee Cove, a remote nook protected by a wall of rock and ablaze with the colors of flourishing springtime bloomers.

"Do you hear water?" Kaitlyn asked.

Michael consulted the map. "It looks like DeSoto Falls is about a quarter mile from here." He looked to the left. "There, see that tree with the blue blaze on it? That trail will take us to it."

Ten minutes later they were heading down the side trail. It was harder to follow than the first one. The woods were thick with forbidding underbrush. The din of rushing water grew louder with each step, until its source came into view.

Melted snow from higher elevations had swelled the river to twice its normal size. Above them, raging water rushed over a promontory and crashed in billows of roiling white foam fifteen feet below. The noise was deafening. Kaitlyn pulled her camera from her pack and began snapping pictures. The air was much cooler here, and after a few minutes they turned to go.

"God! It's beautiful here," Kaitlyn sighed when they could hear each other again. Then, she sucked in her breath.

Following Kaitlyn's gaze, Michael saw the brightly colored butterfly she had spotted. She raised the camera to her eye as it settled on a trillium bush. No sooner had she focused the lens than the butterfly took flight again. Kaitlyn stepped off the path in pursuit of it.

Closer and closer to the river, the insect flitted from one blossom to the next. Finally, it alit on a branch at the water's edge. Looking through the lens of the camera, Kaitlyn edged closer. Michael called out, "That's close enough, Kait," but his voice was lost to the river. As she snapped the picture, her foot slipped on the moist embankment. She let out a high-pitched yelp that never made it to Michael's ears. All he saw was one of Kaitlyn's arms shoot out awkwardly before she disappeared below the bank.

Michael sprang into action even before his mind had time to process what had happened. He sprinted toward the river, ploughing through branches that tore at his face, shouting Kaitlyn's name. She was nowhere to be seen. He searched the white water churning with the vengeance of a stampede of beasts, mirroring the panic coursing through his body. Suddenly, Kaitlyn's head broke the surface of the water several yards away. There was an outcropping of rock visible further downstream, and Michael bolted for it.

"Swim for me!" he shouted as he ran, never taking his eyes off her. He threw himself onto the rock's edge, yelling, "Kaitlyn! Grab my hand!" He was flat on his stomach, reaching as far out over the water as he could manage, as the fast-paced current carried Kaitlyn toward him.

Terror was etched in every furrow of her contorted face. She could see Michael's hand but she was powerless over the current dictating her trajectory. The river slammed her like a rag doll against a rock, pitching her violently under the water. When she resurfaced moments later, she was heading straight for Michael.

Kaitlyn was floating impotently past Michael, but she managed to stretch her hand out. With astonishing timing, Michael heaved his weight forward and caught her firmly around the wrist. She dangled heavily there, her frightened eyes locked with his. The nightmare from years ago was brutally triggered, and fear threatened to rob him of brawn and confidence. He forced the old memory out of his mind and his resolution stoked his strength. "I've got you, baby! I've got you!" he gasped. Fighting the current and the water-logged weight of her pack, he struggled to pull her in. It wasn't until he got his hand around the back of her belt, that he realized he had denied the arrogating river of its quarry.

Monday, March 15, 2010

And the Winner is...

Shelley, I'll contact you via email to get your mailing 411!

To all my blog followers and new friends, thank you so much for your warm welcome into the world of blogging. I look forward each day to reading what you have to say on your blogs and drawing inspiration from your comments on my posts. You guys are the best!

In particular, let me say thank you to those who have reached out to me since Friday. I'm crossing one of life's rough patches and your words of encouragement have eased the heaviness in my heart more than you know. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart!

Here's to a GREAT week, for everyone!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Life (In)Balance

The duality of life is inescapable. There is nothing that's all good or all bad. As a Libra, I appreciate the light and the dark, the joy and the sadness, life and death. I'm earthbound, unable to focus on only one side of the scales. Some days, finding the sacred balances in life prove more challenging.

One sister, bursting with joy, lies in hospital today awaiting the arrival of her first baby. I wish I was there with her.

One sister, her heart in ribbons, checks into hospital this morning, her first baby now nine years old, taken from her. If only I could be there, too.

Angels and demons teeter totter on my scales.

Writing soothes my conflicted soul. Today, I'll remember each character has in her both good and bad, the capacity to succeed and the ability to fail, talents and shortcomings. But above all else, they need love in their lives. No matter what they've done or what they plan to do. All of Life's characters, fictional and real, need love.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Saluting Capote's Descriptive Voice

For me, the characteristic that sets an author's writing above the others is a strong descriptive voice. Descriptions captivate me when they flow like water down the riverbed of a story. I want to be pulled into the characters' world through all five of my senses, until my imagination is alive in their reality.

I aspire to write what I'd want to read.

One of the masters of literary fiction was Truman Capote. His penchant for prolific prose was astounding, and his rich descriptions permeate his short stories, novellas, and novels. I'd looked forward to reading Breakfast at Tiffany's this week (the local library's copy was checked out), but settled on a collection of short stories based on Capote's childhood. Here is an excerpt from A Christmas Memory that illustrates perfectly why I admire Capote's descriptive genuis:

Silently, wallowing in the pleasures of conspiracy, we take the bead purse from its secret place and spill its contents on the scrap quilt. Dollar bills, tightly rolled and green as May buds. Somber fifty-cent pieces, heavy enough to weight a dead man's eyes. Lovely dimes, the liveliest coin, the one that really jingles. Nickels and quarters, worn smooth as creek pebbles. Bost mostly a hateful heap of bitter-odored pennies. Last summer, others in the house contracted us a penny for every twenty-five flies we killed. Oh, the carnage of August: the flies that flew to heaven! Yet it was not work in which we took pride. And, as we sit counting pennies, it is as though we were back tabulating dead flies. (Truman Capote, A Christmas Memory, page 10)

The poetic descriptions for the various pieces of money not only held my attention, but they brought the narrating character into sharper focus. Clearly, the narrator was not a city dweller. Only a country boy would see springtime buds in rolled dollar bills or equate worn coins with the smoothness of water-eroded stones. The narrator was not wealthy in the traditional sense, otherwise he wouldn't have kept coins hidden in a beaded purse, had a scrap quilt on the bed, or accepted a job paying only a penny per twenty-five dead flies. We're shown so much in such a short paragraph.

When I read his work, I glean a lesson in creative writing in every paragraph of a Capote story.

Who are your author champions, the writers who exemplify what you'd like to achieve in your own work?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tuesday Teaser

It's been a productive week for me. Since deciding on a new profession for my MC, I had to scrap close to half the chapters I wrote during NaNo. This week I researched her new line of work, wrote a new outline, and began writing a new chapter.

So far, I think these changes are good for the project.

It's still to early to begin sharing teasers from the WIP, so today I'll offer a snippet from a short story I wrote in 2009, called Stopgap.

Liza pulled the Studebaker up to the gas station's store front. As Van yanked open the passenger door he saw the cashier watching him through the plate glass window. Van managed a smile as he folded into the car; the clerk didn’t smile back.

“I thought I’d drive. Hope you don’t mind.”

Van grunted, his attention on a black SUV at the pumps, where the man who'd smacked his young son in the cashier line stood shouting into his phone. Van’s father used to say, “Get your ass in the car and wait.” Silent or spoken, the threats had been fierce. Eventually, when he was about that kid’s age, the threats had evolved. He’d known, even at that innocent age, that his father liked knocking him around. It got the tension out; made life easier to deal with. If Van’s mother had lived, things would’ve been different. She’d have protected him. Isn’t that what mothers do? Where was that kid’s mom, he wondered. Liza’s voice broke into his thoughts.

“Alright, we made it, babe! We’re home free: me, you, and all that cash!” She slapped a manicured hand on the steering wheel. “Damn, we make a great team!” She glanced over, her smile faltering. “What’s the matter with you?”

“Nothing,” he grumbled as the filling station disappeared from sight in his side view mirror. “How about some music?”

Van turned on the radio. He cranked the large, grooved knob and the red needle moved across the FM dial with jerky motion. Elvis’ voice issued suddenly from the scratchy speakers. Van noticed Liza’s fleeting grimace, but the nostalgic strains lightened his mood. He turned it up.

“Perfect, right?”

Liza lifted the hair back from her temple and hooked it behind an ear. “Yeah. Perfect.”

Two songs later and Van’s smile had returned. The conversation focused on how they’d spend the money. As they began the climb into higher elevations, the Studebaker’s underpowered engine showed signs of complaint.

Liza’s eyes flicked to the rearview mirror. Van checked over his shoulder and scowled as if he got a whiff of a rancid odor. The black SUV came up fast behind them. It swerved across double lines and edged alongside the Studebaker.

The driver’s attention was fixed forward. What an asshole, Van thought with a sneer. As the SUV pushed past them, the small face in the backseat window came into view. For a suspended moment Van stared at the boy whose eyes appeared pleading to Van for liberation. A knot of remorse choked him as the truck shot forward and around a bend.

They heard the screeching brakes and sickening metallic crunch before the Studebaker hauled itself around the curve. Liza clapped a hand over her mouth and gasped as the scene came into view. The SUV lay on its side across the highway, its front end rumpled like sheets of an unkempt bed. Smoke hung in the air and angry splatters of blood wet the road between the vehicle and the dismembered deer whose eyes stared into nothingness. Van had the door open before Liza slowed to a stop. He ran around the top-side of the car.

The driver hung out the front, the jagged windshield embedded in his torso as if the car had tried to bite him in half. Van blinked hard and shouted, “Liza, don’t come over here! It’s bad.” The cell phone lay on the pavement. Snatching it up, he moved around the nose of the SUV, peering through the windshield. Seeing nothing, he clambered up onto the passenger side. The window was cracked so he was careful to place his knees on the door frame as he looked down into the back seat. He spotted the boy, lying in a ball on the window now flat against the road. The doors were locked. Van tapped the glass, and the youngster stirred. Van straightened and located Liza pacing in circles next to the Studebaker.

“Liza, the boy’s alive! I’m calling 911!” He placed the call then jumped down and ran to her.

“An ambulance is on the way,” he said.

“Good. Let’s get out of here.” She moved toward the car.

Van grabbed her elbow. “We can’t leave! That little boy may be hurt. He’s trapped in that car and his dad’s dead.”

Liza glanced at the wreck with tear-filled eyes. “Van, are you crazy? The cops will be here any minute. We have stolen money in our car! We need to get away from here!” Her voice rose an octave with each statement.

Van shook his head. “No. I’m not leaving that kid alone. I won’t do it.” His tone was even, determined.

“Well, I’m not staying!”

Thanks for reading!
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