Chrysalis: Emerging Women Writers

February 27, 2009

Write Unruly Characters; Grab ’em by the Hair and Pull Them Back Into Your Novel

Filed under: Motivations,Technique,Writing — Barb @ 2:10 am
Tags: , ,

Characters with a Life of Their Own

I wrote my first novel-length manuscript listening to my character. She was a vinegary ol’ gal, and I loved throwing her into conflict and seeing what she’d do. While some of her antics were surprising and entertaining, I found that I’d written chapters and chapters and still hadn’t broken her into becoming a reformed being who could satisfy a reader with a final chapter for the book.

Critique Group

Now here’s where a critique group can be of help.  Someone had the chutzpah to suggest that taking joy rides with my characters is good fun, but I-the writer- am the one driving the story.

Of course a writer has the privilege to disregard any advice they receive, (and I did), but it still bugged me.  The more I studied technique and character development, I discovered the advice was right. If I wanted a mousy waitress to develop a spine and have a face to face conflict with Mrs. Control in  Chapter 15, I’d better start laying foundations in Chapter 1 and developing trials, and motivation in the next 14 Chapters.  I couldn’t let her wander around bumping into situations and stumbling  out of them as she wanted.

So in my first manuscript, I had to grab my controlling ol’ know-it all  and put her through the drama I orchestrated. In other-words, I chose to to control  the story-arc.

Of course that meant that I had to rewrite hunks and provide layering throughout the work. It would have saved me lots of time if I’d had the knowledge and skills not to let my characters run over me in the first place.

We want big-personalities like:  Leathered old-timers who squint an eye when they talk to you; over-fifty bar flies with orange-red hair and smoke-graveled voices; or clean-cut kids with Chiclet grins who nod and say, “Yes, Mrs. Cleaver.” The bigger their personalities the more ornery they may seem about following your story arc.

But remind them, you’re the driver, the creator, and and you’re free to edit their personalities at anytime. If that doesn’t work, grab ’em by the hair and pull back in. Just make sure you didn’t create them bald.


February 18, 2009

Check Out Susan’s Retreat Post Below

Filed under: Uncategorized — Barb @ 8:36 pm

Look at your calendar’s Fire Girls. We have a chance for a Retreat.

3 Rules for Writing a Novel

What looked good last night, now in the light of day, reads like verse by someone who doesn’t have a grasp of the English langauge.

Why can’t words flood the paper instead of dribbling out like a messy Carl’s Jr. Burger before you sink into the:

From Amo Life:Capturing Life Beauty

From Amo Life:Capturing Life Beauty

The I-Can’t-Write-Blues?

Take heart. There are several things you can do.

  • Use keywords or phrases to stimulate writing: Here’s a few that circulate around the Chrysalis group: Put on Your Big Girl Panties, Thank you Thesauraus. com, and Some men need killin’.
  • Use music: Chrysalis members especially like music/lyrics inserted into a manuscript. They’ve been known to start singing and break into harmony during a scene.  Even if you don’t get a usable piece out of the exercise, you’ll have a great time watching the faces of your fellow writers as they visualize the scene you’ve written of Rhett Butler gyrating to “Living the Vida Loca.”
  • Finally, take heart. Many, many writers have self-flagellated themselves with the words, “I can’t write.” Keep your fleshy parts in the chair and keep putting words on paper. As Somerset Maugham once said: “There are 3 rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
  • Even Dr. Suess had bad writing days. (How can that be when there’s only about 120 words in his books?) But his immortal words perk up any bad writing day.

“Everything stinks till it’s finished.”

And that’s why you come to Chrysalis. If you quit now, your story may never be finished. There are friends at Chrysalis to give gentle advice. Someone to try your ideas on.  Women who are working on their craft,  just like you.

What helps you beat your stinky writing days?


Filed under: Uncategorized — Susan Landis-Steward @ 4:16 pm

Okay, ladies. I’m getting the message. There have been repeated requests for some type of extended retreats/writing workshops so I’ve come up with two ideas.

First, someone suggested a camping trip, maybe in a cabin or yurt. I know some of us would not feel comfortable with the whole camping thing but let’s assume it’s someplace close, say Silver Falls or Champoeg. Those of us who are die-hard campers could camp, the others could join us for the day and still be close enough to get home for bed. Except maybe Roxie. She goes to bed right after the 6 pm news.  This retreat would have a sort of NaNoWriMo feel to it. Meaning it would be strictly writing. I’m thinking maybe three days, a daily goal of 3000 words, with time to share PORTIONS by firelight while eating marshmallows. Writing that many words (around twelve pages or so) makes you switch off the editor and just get it down. We would supply “plot ninjas,” basically writing prompts along the line of “Your character just found out she is pregnant. She is a virgin.”  When you get stuck on one of these crusades, you open a plot ninja and move forward.

Second, I’m thinking a workshop-type format for the second one, place TBD but I have an idea.  We’ve got some knowledgable folks in our group and could learn about blogging, editing, publishing, self-publishing, etc., again over the course of a long weekend. With writing exercises, etc. thrown in for good measure.

In both cases, costs would be kept to a minimum, basically lodging and snacks. Mariah and I belong to a camping gang and we do food individually with a common meal, potluck, on Saturday night. Optionally, we could volunteer in small groups to supply meals for the attendees.

What do you think? I thinking the camping retreat in late spring or early summer, the workshop maybe over Columbus Day. Opinions? Ideas? Would you come?

February 10, 2009

How To Write A Crappy First Draft

Filed under: Uncategorized,Writing — Barb @ 3:56 pm
Tags: , , ,

Whaaat???? You say you don’t need any help getting fragments, dangling phrases, and convoluted thoughts down on paper?

crappy-heart's Tootsie Rolls, Ladies.

Then pat yourself on the back, because you already know a big secret about writing.

It’s Okay To Have a Crappy First Draft….If you can live with this thought it means that:

  • You’ve learned how to turn down your “no voice”.  It’s the little speaker that pesters you while you write and nags you to find a better word, spending 10 minutes perusing the thesaurus, instead of putting XXX’s as a marker and getting the rest of your thoughts on paper.
  • You’ve learned how to turn off the Punctuation Witch that heckles you about commas, semicolons, and quotation marks.
  • You’ve learned how to say “SHUT UP!” in firm, Jack Bauer language to snotty Miss Inner-Critic, who likes to say things like: “Nobody is ever going to read the crap you write.”

Why is it okay???

Because when you’re giving birth to an idea—Let the words flow! Sometimes giving yourself permission to write a crappy first draft is the best way to let creativity flood the paper.

Sure, you’ll hear some writers announce they can “Write that manuscript in 3 drafts.”  And if you’re as practiced as Stephen King who churns out 5,000 words a day, you may be able to say that.  Until that degree of expertise and productivity effortlessly connects your brain and your typing fingers….give yourself permission to write crappy first drafts.

Help Me! Help Me! My “NO” Voice won’t go away.

No Problem.  Remember, it’s not a bad voice, and you don’t have to supress it completely. Tell it you’ll use it when it’s most helpful: when you’re revising. And if it still stops you to correct spelling, punctuation, and revise words on your first draft, then teach it a lesson and turn off your computer screen (at least for a bit) while you compose.

Free AT Last!

So now you are free to capture those thoughts on paper. Next, resist the urge to print out what you just wrote and ask someone if it’s any good. Remember, you already know it’s a crappy first draft. You gave yourself permission to write sentences that were too long with mixed verb tenses in the middle. It’s okay. Now you and the panel of judges inside of your head have a pile of words and ideas to work with. Let the “edits” begin.

pretty-heartYour revamp and revising process will make your work a thing of beauty and a gift to others. Remember, Kurt Vonnegut, a writer of layered and complex prose, assured all writers that the process allows those “who are patient and industrious to revise their stupidity, to edit themselves into something like intelligence.” HOOORAY!

February 4, 2009

Light Your Fires, Water Girls!

Filed under: Motivations,Writing — Barb @ 12:37 am
Tags: ,

February is a great writing month.

  • No yardwork calling your name.
  • Too early to plant a garden.
  • Not enough warm sunshine to lure you away from your computer chair.
  • This should be Write a Novel Month…(Well at least a short story).
  • This is the the world’s REM sleep time. Dreaming, Creating, Waiting to burst forth like water from a dam.

But there are interruptions.

  • Shut UP!  Telephone.
  • Stop sending me e-mails of kitties and butterflies, Auntie Marilyn.
  • What do you mean, you’d like dinner? There’s an apple and peanut butter in the fridge.


So I Have a Code

I light a candle on my desk. It’s supposed to help me focus, but it’s become a code for “This is my official writing time. Leave me alone.  Okay, if you have to ask me a question…make it a short one.”

Slowly, my family has started looking to see if I have a candle lit. Sometimes they peek in the room and just walk out. Maybe they aren’t really giving me my solitude, maybe they’ve just learned where the peanut butter and apples are.

I’ve tried running my water fountain to help me create, but it makes me go to the bathroom a lot. I’ll stay with the candle.

What do you use to focus, and light your “writing fire?”

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