Monday, October 18, 2010

Raise the stakes

I was watching kids beat each other up on the playground at school the other day.

It was Kindergarten, so there weren't any fists flying...blood dripping...or faces shoved against the ground. But there were plenty of hands on hips and mouths shouting, "Oh yeah? Well I'm gonna..."

I thought about stepping in. I probably should have.

But I was laughing too hard by the fifth time I heard someone shout and stomp away without ever finishing the sentence.

From a dramatic standpoint, it was the most boring fight I've ever seen.

Don't get me wrong. As a teacher, I'm glad the kids didn't kill each other, mangling someone into tears, snot balls, and bloody noses.

But as a writer, I have to do better than that in my books.

I have to raise the stakes.

While watching the fight I couldn't help but notice all the kids' energy fluttered and flitted around in every direction. None of the teachers could tell what happened or what anyone wanted. If I write that way in my books, my audience won't know what's going on, either.

It's not as simple as just knowing what your character wants. All of those kids knew they wanted to win the fight.

But they didn't know how to win. And they definitely didn't want it bad enough.

Characters have to be willing to do anything, no matter what the cost.

Even if it means they get their face shoved to the ground. Or popped in the nose with a fist.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Holy Cow. Or Holy Horse.

I got bit in the head by a horse.

My daughter and I were at the stable getting the horse ready for her weekly lesson, and he took a chomp at my hair.

I should have expected it. I mean, he was being a pill that day as my daughter prepped him for her lesson. He pushed. He nipped a few times. He lifted his head as high as he could knowing there was no way I could get the halter on him.

I was reading the signs. Watching to make sure his hoof didn't end up on my foot. Or in my gut. Or that he wouldn't take the pocket off my coat.

But I wasn't expecting the chomp-o-rama of his teeth against my scalp.

Especially on the top of my head.

After I toweled off the horse spit and poked the bruise 20 times to prove to myself that he really did bite me, I was still thinking to myself, "Holy cow. I can't believe he bit me."

And that, my friends writerly and otherwise, is good plot. The signs are there. The audience is invested and interested, and then: WHAM-O. They get something they weren't expecting.

Spit on the head. Teeth in the scalp. All of it.

Great plot happens when a writer makes the audience look back and say, "I thought I was reading all the signs. I can't believe I didn't figure it out sooner."

So onward. Charge ahead on that steed before he decides your head looks like a bag of oats...and work on writing great plot.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Playing With Toys

No. Not those kind. Though with my husband gone for a whole year, something like that might come in handy.

Totally kidding.

Sort of.

I got a new laptop.

It is amazing how much easier it is to actually, you know, write. No more eliminating letters created by a psycho keyboard. Or banging the shift out of the shift key to unshift it. Or finding the secret spot on the touch pad so it will quit highlighting everything on the screen.

I think it saved me from falling into the robot pit: I must write. I must publish. I must write I must publish. ImustwriteImustpublish.

I must rublish.

Sometimes I get so wrapped up that I forget everybody needs time to play. Everybody. So my advice for today is: go play with yourself.

By writing, of course.

Write a chapter where everybody breaks into song. Stick characters in a car with a manual transmission so they have to bang the shift out of the gear shift to unshift it. Draw someone in a secret spot where they get away with something ridiculous.

Or get yourself a toy and play with it.

Like a new laptop, of course.

You might find, just as I did, that it can shake you up enough to keep your story from becoming rublish.