Friday, February 24, 2012

Emotions: Reader vs. Writer

Jennie wrote about rousing emotions with our writing. I totally agree that is an essential part of the crafting of a story. But sometimes as we tell the tale that is spinning in our heads, the emotions we seek to invoke are not necessarily the ones that happen.
My daughter, Nikki, is my best editor. She is an avid reader, and she is completely honest with me so I never have to worry about her glossing over something that isn't right. But we had an interesting interaction as she edited Too Many Ghosts.
Every day I read a chapter or bit of a chapter on how to write so I can hone my writing skills that have gotten rusty the last couple of years. Everything I read said you have to keep ratcheting up the ante - throwing another curve - another problem at the heroine. She has to have not only the main adventure going on, but she needs to have personal problems to deal with as well. So I threw in a heart attack for her dad while she is hot on the trail of her missing fiance. When her sister asks her to come home, she is only about two hours behind the man she hasn't seen for over a year and she needs to warn him of the gang that is close on his heels.
She talks to the doctor to see if she can delay coming home for another day, or is her father in danger of dying before she can get there if she does delay? He said they had the patient stabilized and she would probably be safe in delaying.
Nikki didn't like that at all. Now to be fair, Nikki would drop EVERYTHING to get to her father if he'd had a heart attack, so I wondered if she wasn't being a little prejudiced with the heroine's decision. But another reader said the same thing. They both stopped identifying with the character at that point and were disappointed in her.
In my mind she was being perfectly reasonable in delaying if her father's condition was stabilized so she could catch up with her fiance and save him. So perspective is everything. If you perceive a weakness in a character, some flaw that is supposed to make the reader feel some angst for them and it backfires, then what?
Of course, I took out the heart attack. Explaining my reasoning didn't sway my two critics. Now I worry that Dominique (my character) won't be a heroine readers will want to identify with. Have I lost touch with what my readers expect? Have I lost touch with reality?
I've always felt the lives and stories and worlds we create need to parallel our own lives and stories and worlds, but need to have a little more of everything. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they need to just mirror and reflect our own. How will I know for sure?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Words of Wisdom for Today

I will not be so bold as to offer words of wisdom from my own brain, though I do have a few gems, like..don't give a cat a bath. Instead, since most of my offerings follow that pattern, I will offer true words of wisdom from our sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln.

"I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts."

"I remember my mother's prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life."

"It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt."

"Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another, but let him work diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built."

After listening to our national politicians for many months, I think most could take a lesson from Honest Abe.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Books vs. Real Life

[It's Pancake day today, so maybe I should be blogging about that. But what's to say? Like the rest of the UK we'll have pancakes for tea.]

Instead, I wanted to reflect on something I read recently:
"If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are. Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colourful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads."

(That quote has recently been attributed to Robert Pattinson, but after a little digging I have discovered that it was in fact said by  Rosemarie Urquiqo. It must have been hijacked by R-Pattz fans, presumably to make him seem more articulate and appealing.)

Are you one of those girls for whom printed words and fictitious characters become, for a short time, more real and colourful than the drudgery and monotony of life around you?

I hope I am - but at the same time, I hope I am not.

Yes, I love to lose myself in a book. I love to get to know characters, their flaws and quirks, and to feel their pain and rejoice in their growth. I love to gasp at an unexpected development, or exclaim aloud at a triumph. I love to be surprised and delighted by a satisfactory ending.

My measure of a really good book is the "sorting washing" test. I spend a lot of time folding the four or five loads of clean laundry scattered across my bed, and sorting it into piles to go in each child's bedroom. So midway through the afternoon I will often announce that I'm going upstairs to sort washing. Of course, my Kindle is beside my bed. Occasionally, someone will come upstairs and find my lying on the unsorted clean washing reading a book. "Busted!" They will declare. And if I've found the temptation of a book too much to resist when I know I really need to get school uniforms on hangers and sheets back on beds, then it must be a really good book.

Books like that enrich my life, they educate me and pose interesting philosophical or moral questions. (Like, for example, if a woman has chosen a particular man as the love of her life, is it wrong for a close male friend to declare his love for that woman and try to win her? I believe it is. That's why I'm Team Edward.) They give me opportunities and experiences I couldn't otherwise have, and they make me laugh or cry, or both, with complete security,

But they are still fiction (mostly), and I wouldn't want to become so engrossed or overcome by a book that I forgot completely about the washing I had to sort. My story is this family, these lovely children, trying to fit in work and housework and church responsibilities, having fun with friends and loving and growing. I love reading fiction, but I don't need it to distract me from what it real, or for it to be my defining quality.

I am "a girl who reads" but I don't consider life outside books to be monotony and stale hours. If my life isn't as engrossing and exciting as a book, I'm doing it wrong. Books are for entertainment; life is for living. I'm happy to lose myself in a book once in a while, but I try hard not to lose myself to books.

I'm reading a great book at the moment, (Illuminations of the Heart by Joyce DiPastena) but I won't pick it up to read until after I have made my children pancakes for tea.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


 Much of writing fiction is about conveying feelings or emotions. The desire to feel something is shared by readers. If how a character feels and responds to the events surrounding him or her is phony, the story doesn't resonate well with the reader. Neither does the reader like to feel manipulated by calculated tear-jerker events. When the writer touches a reader emotionally, and when the reader feels what the book's characters feel, a bond is established and the story becomes a success.  Creating realistic feelings is one of writing's greatest challenges. In this area the writer draws heavily from two sources; first from his or her own experiences and second from careful observation of the emotions of others. 

Careful writers learn to distinguish between their own real responses to both good and bad  situations and the feelings they think should be the response.  They also learn that other factors may determine how intense the response might be.  For the writer to be in touch with his/her own feelings or reactions to certain situations is not enough.  The writer also needs to observe how someone else, particularly those with similar characteristics to the character involved, will react. This is where observation becomes an essential part of writing. 

Writers who have never experienced an intense love relationship may substitute sex for love because it's easier to describe physical reactions than emotional ones.  Happiness is often watered down or confused with possession or winning for those who don't understand it. Anger is easier to describe because few people get through life without experiencing some anger.  Hate is something else as it goes far beyond anger to something dark and dangerous.  Fear is another feeling that is experienced to some degree by most people and often is the emotion that carries the excitement that keeps a reader turning pages.  Sadness, loneliness, arrogance, compassion, etc. all need to be portrayed in a believable manner that fits the character and touches a response in the reader. I'm not sure what that says about human nature that it is often easier to honestly portray the negative emotions than the positive. 

Lately, myself and many others, have grown annoyed or angry over the profusion of hateful political messages and lies spread on face book, by telephone, by mean-spirited PACs, through radio and TV, and through telephone calls from so-called organizing committees and polls.  This anger and our reactions to these things are entirely different from the anger we feel at someone who steals our identity, murders a child, or injures a loved one.  It's important to remember when writing about anger to suit the reaction to the situation and the character.  

It can be helpful to observe how other writers show emotion, but the best guide is a good look at ourselves and the observation of others.  When we see a two-year-old have a complete meltdown we can learn a great deal, but it is important to remember that adult or teenage meltdowns may have some of the same elements as that of the two-year-old, but age generally comes into play in how this total frustration is expressed.  

Very often it isn't the big dramatic reactions that teach us the most about feelings.  Sometimes it's the tottering old man helping his equally aged wife from a car, it's the impatient customer tapping her fingernails against the glass counter, it's the man who checks his pockets then kicks the parking meter, or it's the little boy who asks Mom if Madeline can come to his birthday party. It's the outpouring of relief for tsunami victims, the need to hold our own children safe when two little boys are senselessly murdered by their father, or the laughter when the Globetrotters come to town. 

Imagination is an important element of fiction, but feelings or emotions are too much an integral part of us for us to buy into a story where the emotions involved don't feel real.  If the writer doesn't feel it, neither will the reader.  If the reader's feelings are not engaged in a way that he or she can identify with, the story won't succeed. A successful writer must forge a bond of empathy with the reader through the emotional responses of a book's characters.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bippity Boppity Boo! Creating Magic aka Writing a Novel

As a published author I am often requested to speak to various groups. In those presentations I find myself attempting to explain how I'm constantly amazed at the creative process and how magical it can be at times.

I find it completely fascinating that a fiction writer can conjure up in their imagination; characters, worlds, dialogue and emotions and then write a story that somehow, at least for me, is as vivid as a movie that plays out in their mind. Then, this story is published and a reader picks up that book and the connection is made and they have their own experience as they are transported to possibly another place and time, even to another world, and they are pulled in and held captive by the magic of the story. In fact, many readers tell me that as they read they too can see a movie playing through their minds.

What is that??? It's magic. Call it imagination, call it synergy, call it crazy if you want, but when that connection is made; from writer's mind to reader's mind, it's pure magic.

I just finished a project and am ready to start on my next one. I have two completely different stories in mind, two completely different genres even. I am not sure which one I want to write first. Again, I have to defer to the magic factor. I've decided to start writing both, and wait for the magic to happen, wait for that moment when my passion for the story and the character's ignites and I can't not write the story.

Many people ask me at the writing/book presentations, "How do you know an idea is good enough to write?"

For me, it's about the passion. If I feel passionate about the story, the story writes itself. If I feel that strongly about the story, chances are, the reader is also going to feel those same emotions. I thought it might be interesting to see what other people said about the "magic formula" for write a best-selling novel. The comments are varied, but all of them, I think, are true.

Here are some of the thoughts I found:

There's no "magic formula," unless you consider writing a great novel with an interesting plot and engaging characters a "magic formula." One of the best pieces of advice I could give a new writer (other than to read, read, read) would be to internalize all the mechanics of plotting, pacing, dialog, etc., and then to turn off the little inner editor and Write, Write, Write.

The only formulaic part of successful writing is as follows: there must be a beginning, middle and end, in which there is a conflict, a resolution, and an emotional payout for the reader.

There is a formula, but it's different for every writer and every book. You have to figure out you own.

There is not one magic formula. Instead there are thousands of them. Maybe hundreds of thousands or even more... because there is one inside the head of every agent and editor and it changes every day as they learn new things and add new variables to it. It also changes based on uncontrollable factors - how tired is the agent/editor when they read it? How annoyed are they? Have they just read an article saying that X concept which is just what you have written is really big right now? Have they read an article which says X is really not selling at the moment? Is the sun on their screen when they read your work?

There are a few things that you can do that will make your novel stand out, and one of the most important is to give the readers something that they haven't seen before - something that is a different than most of the stories that you've heard before.

What are your thoughts? Have you found a tried and true formula that works for you? Do you agree with some of these statements? None of them?

Do you believe in magic?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Thought for the Day

For years I e-mailed my kids a thought for the day. It usually began with a quote that I found enlightening, educational, interesting or very good advice. Then I expounded on it, adding motherly advice to help them. I just ran across one that I had printed and saved (for whatever reason!) I need to send it to all the political candidates and commentators - especially the moderators and commentators! But it is especially good advice for each of us in our everyday lives, too.

"Draw a line that you will not step over - that line means that you will not judge, defame, slander or speak evil of anyone." I added to that quote "Or to anyone." (But I didn't write who said it - shame on me.)
"When we speak anything of evil or defamation, we shall give account thereof in the judgment." (D&C 136:42)
But just biting our tongue isn't the answer. Replace the negative with the positive. "Say the Good word." Speak only good of others - and never withhold the sincere praise or compliments that would build someone else. Praise is more spontaneous when things go right, but it is more precious when things go wrong.
"We shouldn't be a 'belittler' and say bad things about others, but be a 'bebiggler.' My need is not to criticize which tears down, but to build, repair souls and broken hearts. Let your words tend to edify you and others." George Cannon (former Salt Lake Temple President)
In other words, "Have a cookie" - remember the story of the Girl Scout President and the hotel Magnate?
This is a hard habit to cultivate, but one that if learned well and practiced daily will bring MUCH happiness to us individually and to those we work with, be they children, associates or family.
Along those same lines: "Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great ones make you feel that you, too, can become great." Mark Twain
And finally: Many things are opened by mistake, but none so frequently as the mouth. Time and words cannot be recalled. While you are doing all that you must do today - remember to think first about what is going to come out of your mouth and the effect it will have on those who hear it. Make this your best day this week. Love, Mom
Wouldn't it be wonderful if the whole world adopted this advice?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ancient Hawaii

Researching ancient Hawaii for my next novel has been a fascinating journey, and I thought I'd share a few interesting tidbits of information. Most of these gems are taken from the book, Mo'olelo Hawai'i or Hawaiian Antiquities. The book was written in the 1830's by a Hawaiian scholar named David Malo.

The history of the islands was an oral history, handed down for generations. The "art of letters," formulated by the Protestant missions had only brought the Hawaiian language onto paper, six or seven years prior to the writing of Mr. Malo's text.

In his words:

"The ancients left no records of the lands of their birth, of what people drove them out, who were their guides and leaders, of the canoes that transported them, what lands they visited in their wanderings, and what gods they worshipped. Certain oral traditions do, however, give us the names of the idols of our ancestors."

"Memory was the only means possessed by our ancestors of preserving historical knowledge; it served them in place of books and chronicles."

"The great chiefs were entirely exclusive, being hedged about with many kapus, and a large number of people were slain for breaking or infringing upon, these kapus. The kapus that hedged about an alii were exceedingly strick and severe...if the shadow of a man fell upon the house of a kapu chief, that man must be put to death, and so with any one whose shadow fell upon the back of the chief, or upon his robe or malo, or upon anything that belonged to the chief."
"The canoe with its furniture was considered a valuable possession, of service both to the people and to the chiefs. By means of it they could go on trading voyages to other lands, engage in fishing, and perform many other errands."

"There were many different methods of fishing: with nets; with hook and line; with the pa, or troll hook; with the leho, or cowry; with the hinai, or basket; with the method called koi; and with the hand thrust into holes in the rocks."

As a writer of historical fiction, I'm indebted to historians, such as David Malo who wrote the practical aspects, as well as the wonder and mystery of his culture.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Charles Dickens

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, and as the blogger in our little group who lives only 30 miles from where Dickens is buried, it feels that is is somehow my duty to pay homage to one of the greatest writers of all time.

Unfortunately - and this is a shocking confession - I've never read any Dickens.

Yes, I admitted it. I have a degree in English Literature, and yet I've never read anything written by Charles Dickens. My mother dislikes his work, and when I was young she told me why. He wrote about dark, depressing and troubling things; his characters were exaggerated caricatures; and when he had an affair in his mid-forties he threw his wife out of their family home and forbade her from ever seeing their ten children again.

So although at the tender age of ten (or whatever) I couldn't have put it in quite these terms, I fixed Dickens in my mind as a writer I didn't like. My life has, thus far, been pink and fluffy and frothy, and I try so hard to avoid anything upsetting or depressing that I don't watch or read the news - my mother told me that Dickens' work is particularly miserable. I hate anything vaguely surreal (including Alice in Wonderland) so exaggerated caricatures were not characters I would warm to, and, as you'll know if you've read my post about Enid Blyton, the character of the author matters to me, and I prefer not to buy books by people whose personal lives I object to.

Makes it a bit tricky to write a tribute, of course.

However, I will acknowledge the huge influence the works of Charles Dickens have been on the world, and what a debt of gratitude even I owe to him. From the musical Oliver! and the Muppets' Christmas Carol (which I do like) to workhouse reform and making 25th December a national holiday, Charles Dickens became a very loud and enduring voice against the injustices of society and improved things for all of us. He had his work serialised in a magazine so that even the poor could afford to read it, and in doing so invented both the "cliffhanger" ending, and the "Previously, on ...." preface that we are so familiar with from TV.

Now that I have confessed to this shameful gap in my literary education, I feel I need to pay Mr Dickens the best tribute I can. I'm going to read one of his books.

Any suggestions as to where I should start?

Monday, February 6, 2012

And in the Darkness--Light

I recently watched a very inspiring movie, entitled, "Soul Surfer." When I added it to my list of movies to watch from Netflix, I was impressed by the reviews, and that the storyline was based on something that really happened. I was unprepared for the impact this movie would have on me personally.

Now the title doesn't do the movie justice, but after seeing it, it is indeed appropriate. (Click on this link for more information: All About Bethany Hamilton) In a nutshell, this movie tells the story of a young, teenage surfer girl named Bethany Hamilton. She had already won several surfing competitions in Hawaii, and she was about to compete nationally when disaster struck: while out surfing one day with friends, she was attacked by a shark. This random act of violence caused Bethany to lose an arm. Her survival was miraculous, considering the loss of blood, and the distance she was from the nearest hospital.

While she was recovering, a wise doctor told her that she could still do anything she wanted in life--but that she would have to learn different ways to achieve her goals. Bethany still wanted to surf. Instead of giving up something she loved, a grim determination was born. She went back to the sea and her surfboard and despite several challenges, began to compete again.

When she lost the first competition, she was understandably distraught. She gave away her surfboards and decided she was through with surfing. In tears, she asked family members and friends why this had happened to her. She wondered how any of this could fit in with God's plan for her life.

I think there are moments in all of our lives when we reach that crossroad--when we wonder why certain challenges surface, some without warning. We are often left heartbroken, shattered, and questioning our faith. It can be a dark time, especially when the adversary sends forth his fiery darts. (Have you ever noticed that he tends to kick us when we're down?)

That is when we need to look around us for the light that is always there--even when we are shrouded in dark despair. I have found that those dark times are true character-building moments. When I have been driven to my knees--I have always found strength beyond my own. In my own life I have faced two life-threatening chronic illnesses (Type 1 diabetes & lupus) the suicide deaths of two family members (my father and my brother-in-law) financial setbacks, failures, and disappointments. I have survived two car accidents, one motorcycle accident, and as a teenager, an assault in the park across from our home at the time. I have accidentally poured hot oil over half of my body (this while working as a cook for a drive-in) and recently survived rolling a 4-wheeler down the side of a mountain. Through all of these, and other adventures, I have come to learn that no matter what it is that we are called upon to endure, we are never alone. Our Savior, who endured everything that any one of us would ever suffer, understands best how to heal our hearts. He will always provide a way for us to wade out of the dark pools of grief if we will simply look and live. (See 1 Nephi 17:40-41)

Now in Bethany Hamilton's case, she half-heartedly went with a youth group to offer aid to the survivors of the tsunami in Thailand. As she began helping others whose lives had been devastated, she found the hope to continue on with her own. When she returned to her home in Hawaii, she competed again in a national competition. She lost, but told her family she was fine with that since she had surfed one of the best waves of her life during the competition. "It's not about winning," she said proudly, thrilled by her performance. Incidentally, she went on to win this same competition the next year.

Not giving up is the key to moving forward when any of us are dealing with tragic loss or trials. Sometimes we need reminded of that fact. I know I did. It is important to look and live, so that one day we can return home to our Father with no regrets.

"And out of darkness came the hands that reach thro' nature, moulding men. " Alfred Lord Tennyson

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Once, back in college, I was asked to serve as a debate judge for a junior college debate tournament.  I listened carefully, took notes, and made my decision based on who I thought was right.  Afterward I learned I did it all wrong.  I was supposed to pick the winner according to who made the most dramatic presentation, who zinged his opponent the most times, and who had a rebuttal for the most statements made by his opponent whether the rebuttal was right or even made sense. With the plethora of GOP debates on every channel and discussed on every forum, I feel like I've gone back in time.  Only these debates are even more weird; often the moderator seems to be one of the debaters and his purpose seems to be jabbing the candidates.  In my lifetime debates have become a major component of the candidate selection process, but I haven't noticed that the good debaters have been particularly good presidents. The one thing these debates have convinced me of is that debates are a poor way to pick a candidate for a post as important as President of the United States.  

I spent some time as a newspaper reporter and I'll admit it's more fun to write about kooks, oddballs, rule breakers, and quirky or outrageous people than calm, peaceful, hard-working individuals. Face it, they're more fun to read about too, but are these "interesting characters" who we really want to be our leaders and hold the power of a US President? Reporters learn, mostly through experience, that people who yell the loudest for a cause often have secrets and exposing secrets is a major triumph in journalistic circles. A good journalist should go after the story behind the story, cross check facts, and dig a little deeper than the average person.  But here I'm seeing a failure of honest, even-handed reporting, especially by the networks.  I'm getting awfully tired of little stacked panels and interview questions that reveal more about the interviewer's bias than about the candidate's character and platform.  

To be honest, I don't like caucuses.  I don't like the disproportionate amount of power placed in so few hands.  I know anyone can attend a caucus, but in reality they're poorly advertised and the general population fails to see their importance since they don't really vote for candidates and they're held so far ahead of elections most people aren't really interested yet.  Which brings up another peeve of mine; the campaign process starts way too early.  While most people are focusing on Christmas, we're supposed to be considering candidates?  States who hold January and February caucuses and elections receive disproportionate attention and higher value is placed on choices made there than in the rest of the country.  I understand that candidates can't give every state the attention they presently give to the first handful of states, but it would certainly be more fair to hold regional elections giving the total electorate a chance to thin out the candidates rather than using the flawed and biased present system. 

I've always wondered what kind of ego trip compels a person to be a third party candidate or to stay in the race long after it  has become obvious that person has become a joke or the laughingstock of the country.  Usually these people simply become spoilers, securing just enough votes to cripple a major candidate and ensuring the election of a possibly major, but inferior candidate. I wonder too about the people who vote for an extremist candidate who has no chance of winning.  Too often their allegiance to what they consider a principle results in the election of the person the most distant from their supposed principles. 

I've been active in politics all of my adult life.  I vote.  I attend caucuses.  I've been a delegate (state and county).  I've held party offices.  I've worked on campaigns.  I've been a legislative page. I even won an election myself to a town council. Still, the things that bothers me the most about our political process is the number of people who don't care, the number who are uninformed, the ones with short memories concerning a candidate's past poor choices, biased and bigoted voters, and the number of voters who value freedom so little they vote on a whim or not at all.