Friday, December 28, 2012

Bridging Conflict

Karlův most  
     We need bridging conflict in our writing. Without it, our readers will get bored and watch a movie, or pull out a more interesting book.
     So, what is bridging conflict? It’s the smaller conflict that keeps the reader interested during transitions and setups. Much of a novel is setup for the good stuff. By “the good stuff,” I mean the climactic scenes of a novel, the big conflicts. These big conflicts can only have big impact if they are properly set up for the reader. Bridging conflict keeps readers interested in the scenes that set up these major conflicts.
     Conflict is basically code for “another problem our protagonist must solve.” It’s another obstacle. Let’s look at an example to identify the big conflicts in a story, first. Then we’ll be able to see where and why we need bridging conflict. The Hunger Games isn’t a very original example, but the story is a beautiful example of layering conflict.
      Katniss volunteers for The Hunger Games to save her sister. This is big conflict because she’ll most likely die in the arena. But when is the next major climactic scene? When Peeta announces his love for her. And the next? When she begins the games. These are big moments in the story, but there’s a lot of setup that goes in-between these moments. Katniss must endure the capitol’s primping; she must meet her enemies; and we must begin to care about her. In order to get through all this setup, we need bridging conflict.
     So basically, bridging conflicts are smaller conflicts in between the bigger conflicts. They connect the main events…like bridges. They keep readers interested during the transitions. “Bridging Conflict” isn’t just a fancy term—it makes sense.
     Let’s look at an example of bridging conflict from The Hunger Games. When Katniss is running around in the arena, the bloodthirsty Gamemakers burn her leg with a fire ball. This is not a major plot point in the overall picture of the story, but it fills in a lull between major conflicts.
     This example also shows some other desirable characteristics for bridging conflicts. First of all, they must be interesting to the reader. Before to the fireball incident, Katniss was just figuring out how to survive in the wild. The incident forces her to run for her life and she is hurt badly. Then she runs right into the Career killers in the arena (not an accident, as we’ll see below). Life and death stakes grab reader attention—we worry for Katniss.
     Our second desirable characteristic for bridging conflict is that it shows us information. It shows us what the Gamemakers are like—they want to create action for the viewers in the Capitol. It’s their job. The Gamemakers are trying to hurt Katniss badly enough that the Career killers can murder her. The Gamemakers don't want to kill her outright, though, because they want the audience engaged in Katniss's struggle (sick, I know). It also tells us about the viewers in the Capitol, who think it’s all an entertaining game. It shows us how scary this is for Katniss. We realize she must feel like a pawn in their control.
     The third characteristic is that it seems natural. It arises organically from the events of the story all around Katniss, so it doesn't feel manufactured by the author. The Capital and Gamemakers are bloodthirsty, and this is a game of life and death. It makes sense in the context.
     How do we use Bridging Conflict? We create a believable conflict that primes the reader for the bigger, main actions in the story. It may be small thing—an injury, a fight with a friend, a temporary magical shortage, etc., but it will prepare the readers for a major plot point—a friend's betrayal, a death, the loss of a valuable artifact, etc. If your protagonist runs away from home in chapter 3, show a fight in chapter 1 that serves as an impetus for the act of running away. It's a smooth integration of conflict in to your setup chapters. The first few chapters of a novel will often need bridging conflict. As literary agent and author Mary Kole says, “A small conflict right off the bat will get us mildly invested and should carry us for a few pages" (159). If you’ve got a juicy bit of conflict on page 28 that kicks off all the action, that’s good news. You can use Bridging Conflict can carry your readers through whatever setup must come before that point. 
     This is a relatively new concept for me, but now that I understand it, it’s helping me a lot in my own writing. I hope it helps you, too!
     Thanks to Donald Maass for first introducing this topic in Writing the Breakout Novel and thanks to Mary Kole for reminding me of it in her Writing Irresistible Kidlit.
Photo Credit:
By Chosovi (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Works Cited
-Kole, Mary. Writing Irresistible Kidlit. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer's Digest Books, 2012. Print.
-Maass, Donald. Writing the Breakout Novel. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer's Digest Books. 2001. Print.
-The Hunger Games. Dir. Gary Ross. Perf. Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz. Lionsgate, 2012. BluerayDisc.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Writing Goals and Library Events

CargoNet Di 12 Euro 4000 Lønsdal - Bolna     The new year is coming! Let's celebrate. Here's a great post for writers on creating resolutions, and here's a great post on keeping those resolutions. I'm working on my list, although it's really more of a list of deadlines. I'm going to post my two big ones here to motivate me to finish!
  • July 2012, finish solo revisions and editing on Silent Raven so I can toss the manuscript around a critique group. (Also, I'm hoping to find a Beta Reader by then. I'm not yet sure how to go about doing that.)
  • Completely finish and send Silent Raven (my work-in-progress) out on its first round of submissions by Jan. 1, 2014, so I can begin my next project.
     I have been officially working on SR since October 2011 and am ready to finish. Do you have any writing goals? If you post them here, we can keep each other accountable. I'm in need of an accountability buddy.
     In other news, the Lakeport library will be holding an exercise class on Friday, Jan. 12th. A certified instructor will be giving a "Joint Check Warm-Up and Cool-Down" for the Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program. This free class will be for men and women and will run from 2-3PM. Wear loose-fitting, comfy clothing if you go. (Lucky me, I haven't got arthritis!)
     And speaking of library events, the candy-making class was great. The instructor, Amy Patton, taught us several easy microwave recipes. Fudge, butterscotch and caramel candies, chocolate and non-chocolate recipes galore. Oh, how I love the library.

Photo Attribution:
By Kabelleger / David Gubler ( (Own work : [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, December 15, 2012

After the End (of NaNoWriMo)

You're right, this isn't wheat bread.
     Sorry for missing yesterday's post, everyone. Finals, ya know? Now, on to the good stuff.
     Congrats to all you NaNoers out there! Even if you didn't finish the 50,000 words, any words are better than no words.
     Every time you write a first draft, you are getting practice at that part of the writing process--that's the fun, inspiring "follow your imagination" part of writing.
     If you ever want to see your work published and enjoyed, however, you also need to practice finishing a novel. NaNo gives some good resources to start you on your journey, but you'll need more than PB&J sandwiches and chocolate kisses to make it. You'll need egg salad sandwiches on wheat bread and spinach for dessert. I've covered the five stages of the writing process in a previous post, so I won't go into that much in this post. Today I'm just going to mentally prepare you for the road ahead, post-NaNo.
     After NaNo you'll have a first draft to work with. You may suspect that it is pure drivel or you may be very fond of it. Let me encourage you if you're feeling down: first drafts are all monstrous. But no matter how you are feeling about that manuscript, it's time to move beyond that first phase of writing. We have to get to and through that middle, slogging stage. Then we'll journey through the "finishing touches" stage.* Finally, we get to send it out to agents or publishers. Or, if you are self-publishing, this is where you format and pay for your copies and begin marketing like a crazy person.
     But we're getting ahead of ourselves. It's good to take a month long break from your NaNo  manuscripts before starting on the gigantic "middle phase." **
     I'm still developing my own writing process, but it's starting to kind of look like this:
  First Draft                                                Revisions                                                           


     That big, long second stage that lives on into the wild blue yonder is called "Revision." It does end...eventually ;) I've posted about revisions before, but this is the perfect time to think about it again. It's a completely different mindset, a new type of writing. You'll probably love some parts and hate others...But every manuscript needs revision.
     The end of NaNo begins the next stage of writing. The middle. Embark with me!
     You Can Make It!
     When you're stuck in the middle of the revisiony swamp, maybe dealing with writer's block, keep chugging along, my friend. It will end. Try this: Imagine eventually ending your own story. Imagine the pristine state it will be in. That's so good! It's what I write for. But the only way to finish that story and get that feelingis to muck through the middle and find your way.
How to Get Started
     There are tons of great books and blog posts out there on revision, so I won't go on about this too long. (I linked some great blog posts from published authors on revision to my "Five Stages of Writing" post.) To get started, I recommend these steps: 1.) Print out your work. 2.) Read it through, preferably in one sitting. 3.) Make a list of things you want to fix. It's like a to-do list. "Make Carlton a more realistic character." "Add some conflict to such and such a scene." "Tie the ending more to the beginning." Start off with the big stuff, like plot. Editing words and syntax will come later. 4.) Don't get overwhelmed by thinking of all the things you must fix. Take it one task at a time. 5.) Finish your list. 6.) Give it a few weeks, and read it all over again to make sure you've finished the big stuff. Meanwhile, you can begin editing the small stuff--grammar, voice, etc.
Working to Find What Works For You
     You can get help, but you can't immediately accept someone's advice and expect to know everything about revision. You have to get through it yourself before you can start figuring out how you did it and how to do it better next time. It takes practice to hone your process. Years of it.
And It's Oh, So Rewarding.
     I think Revision is the most rewarding process for a writer. After a long, hard day of revision, I always feel like "Hah, yeah, I'm a real writer." Don't skip it, scribblers. Jump right in write for those wonderful moments when you see things clicking together.

* This post is not about the last phase, but I thought I'd throw this in anyway. The "Ending" stage isn't too hard to practice, even if you've never written and revised a story to practice on. You can just go to any workshop class or online writing group and practice ending, which is also known as editing. Critiquing other peoples' work and getting your own work critiqued is a wonderful and necessary part of growth. I do this on a site called "Critique Circle," which taught me tremendous amounts about the process.

**A note about taking a month long break: Many experts recommend this and I have tried it myself. It works best if you already have a plot in place. If you have not finished your planned plotline, or you aren't sure that your character has followed any sort of sensible journey, I recommend holding off on the month long break because it will take your head out of the game while you still need it to be immersed in planning the plot. I've learned this from experience. If, however, you have finished your plot line, then break away! :) It's good to take a break and get some perspective on what you've written, once you've finished the story. Perspective will help you see the weak points of your rough draft. (And trust me, all rough drafts have weak points.)
Photo Credit:
jill, jellidonut... whatever. "best egg salad sandwich ever, flying star, Albuquerque NM, 12/7/2007." Wikipedia Commons. Originally published on Flickr. 7 December 2007. 13 December 2012. 13 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas Gifts @ the Library

     Do you need gifts for book or candy lovers? Good news: the library can help. The first option is for those who want to make their gift for family or friends.
     "As part of Lakeport Library’s December theme, 'Gifts from the Kitchen' the library will present a 'Microwave Candy Class'" on Dec. 15 at 2:00 p.m. The library is located at 1425 N. High Street. "Amy Patton will demonstrate how to make rocky road, fudge, toffee, caramels, peanut brittle and other types of candy in the microwave. The class is free and no library card is required to attend. Patton’s volunteer tasters have tested and approved these recipes. For more information contact Patton at 263-8817 ext 17105" (Cook); or you could email Amy at Amy.Patton (at) LakeCountyCA (dot) gov. Children are welcomed.
     I got to taste that candy. Mmmm! Doesn't that class sound awesome? I made favors for a Christmas party using Amy's fudge ideas. Worked great!
     If candy is not your loved one's favorite giftie, the library offers another way to help.
     The Friends of Library is selling gift bags of books at the Lakeport branch. They're perfect gifts for friends and family members who enjoy reading in genres like mysteries, fiction, historical novels, romance, health, and animal nature books. You can design the gift bags to their specific tastes. The Friends will gift wrapped a book bag with clear cellophane, and nicely decorate it. The gift bags are $25.00, and the Friends need a week to complete your order. They've set up some samples at the library which, unfortunately, I didn't think to snap pictures of. Dur.
     The other cool thing about this gift idea is that you are also supporting the library. Double-Yes! Get a beautified armload of books for your loved one AND support the library.

Works Cited & Photo Credit
Bennet, Jo. "Lake County Friends of the Library Press Release." 4 Dec. 2012. Email.
Blairsnow. "Gift ideas for men - wrapping paper example." Wikimedia Commons. June 2011. 7 Dec. 2012. Online Photo.
Cook, Jan. "Lake County Library Press Release." 1 Dec. 2012. Email.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Bright Futures: An Interview with Dr. Caramine White

     Hey Scribblers and Book Bandits!
     You probably read this blog because you love writing or reading. (Unless you're my mom or something. Hi, Mom!). If so, isn’t it fun to see how our futures could involve these things we love?
     I recently interviewed my British Literature professor, Dr. Caramine White, over the phone about her life as a professor and writer. Dr. White has written two non-fiction works:  Reading Roddy Doyle, and Reading More of Roddy Doyle. She has also written a memoir called Running Naked Through the Streets about her experiences living in Slovakia as a teacher. On top of these accomplishments, she has written several articles and interviews. She is gifted with the ability to pick stories out of people and explain them to readers.
     And, let’s not forget that she’s an avid marathon-runner and animal activist.

Please welcome, for your pleasure, Dr. Caramine White!

1.      You’ve written a number of interviews. You mentioned once that good interviewers pick stories out of people. Do you have any tips about how to do this?
-Be interested in your subjects and you’ll be a good interviewer.
-Do research on your topic before you interview, because it’s hard to ask good questions if you don’t know anything about the topic.
-Keep the person talking. It’s like when you’re on a date—keep asking questions!

2.      You wrote a memoir about your experiences in Slovakia as a teacher. Why did you choose to write a memoir as opposed to fiction?
-I had never written any fiction before, only non-fiction. The memoir just occurred to me as a true story to share.

I thought this was a cool point for us, Scribblers and Book Bandits. In this case, Dr. White took the advice to “write what you know.” She wrote about her experiences in a comfortable medium. It’s good for beginning writers to step out and stretch ourselves sometimes, but we can write things in comfortable mediums as well. (Although I wouldn't call Dr. White a beginning author!)

3.      Can you share any lessons you’ve learned about writing?
-Since I write mostly non-fiction, the biggest thing I must remember is to make sure the facts are correct. Newspaper articles must be especially clear, meticulously so. I’ve gotten calls before about extremely minor things. Once, a musician told me his record had come out “recently.” I wrote that in the article. An editor called me and berated me for writing “recently,” because the musician’s record had been out for a few months already.

4.      How do you include your Catholic faith in your writing?
-Being ethical is important. When I’m writing up interviews, I must represent people accurately. My subjects are often afraid of being misrepresented because they have been so many times before. I can’t let my biases interpret people—I have to put aside my opinions as much as possible. Although…when someone is particularly rude, I just let them form their own image on the page. I don’t edit out anything—I leave in everything they say and do, so I present the truth. That way, they look like who they are.

5.      Are you planning to write fiction? If you did, what would it look like?
-My dream is to write accessible, best-selling novels that make people think. Serious fiction should make a person think. It should open up questions for people to think wonder about.

6.      When did you learn to write?
-Actually, when I was working on my PH.d. program, one of my professors was very tough on me when he critiqued my writing. He taught me a lot!
7.      How did you become interested in teaching?
- Originally, a high school history teacher told me that I didn’t write well, so I didn’t consider writing as a career. I was a Latin and Psych major at Duke for undergrad. Ater graduating from Duke, I served in the Navy as an operations officer. Then I went back to school to get a teaching degree. I eventually just decided to bag the Education degree and go for a PhD in English. My mentor said I was too eccentric to teach high school and suggested I teach college. I listened to her, and here I am!
I’m glad Dr. White listened to her mentor! I learned a lot about Literature in her class. One interesting topic that came up in our discussion about school was that Dr. White had graded AP Tests on a panel before. She asked about my experience with the AP Lit test. I said, “I don’t understand why I got a 3/5! I even wrote on Hamlet.” She laughed and told me, “Teachers should tell their students never to write on Hamlet. We graders groan every time a Hamlet essay comes up because we get so many. The essays never do the play justice, so they never get good grades.” In my essay on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, she advised me about how to cover a topic more thoroughly in an essay. “A really good Lit essay explores every aspect of its thesis. So, if you’re writing on a character, you need to study him every time he appears on stage. It’s tough to do this in a short essay.” She also told me that when you examine a piece of literature in an essay, you must examine it like a lawyer. You must know everything about it and create a solid thesis using all the evidence the play gives you. You can’t just ignore something and hope no one notices. Dr. White's advice helps me every time I write an essay.

8.      What is the publishing market like right now?
-It is SO hard to get published right now! A lot of people are just e-publishing. Actually, I’ve talked to some editors who advise just that. The big publishers don’t look at unsolicited manuscripts*, and agents don’t consider you unless you’ve already got a traditionally published book under your belt. It’s tough to break into the market
     9. What book would you recommend for writers on the hunt for agents or editors?
-I would recommend Jeff Herman’s Guide to Publishing. He publishes a new edition every few years.
* “Unsolicited manuscripts” are labeled as such because a publisher has not requested it. Sometimes, this only means that you need to send the publisher a query letter first. Other times, this means “Don’t send us anything.” Read a publisher’s “Submission Guidelines” page to find out. If they don’t have any guidelines, you can know for sure that they don’t even want to receive queries. Publishers like this usually require submissions to come from literary agents. It’s advised to try and interest a literary agent in your manuscript first anyway.
     We hoped you enjoyed the interview, friends. Don’t forget to leave Dr. White a thank you note in the comment section!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Principles for Reviewing Books

      Lately, I've been reviewing a lot of books because doing so helps me form opinions that would otherwise remain cloudy. It promotes critical thinking...and it's fun!
     But it's also an art. Do you like reviewing books? Do you want to give people the truth about books? Honestly, your reviews and opinions of books DO matter. They ARE important and worth the time they take to compose. I've discovered four important things to remember when reviewing a book:

1.      Be honest. It helps no one if reviewers are lying through their teeth. Lying helps no one: not the author, who wants the truth; not the reader, who also wants the truth; and not you, reviewer, who, I assume, want the truth. Readers won’t trust you if you mislead them in a review unintentionally or intentionally. If you liked Twilight, don’t lie and write a hater-review to impress your friends. It’s not tasteful—and it’s not even original because everyone is doing that. Why waste your valuable time being a Snark when you could be telling the truth? If you aren't telling the truth, you don't deserve free speech...okay, maybe that's a bit harsh! But the point is, Be Honest.
2.      Consider the author's intended audience and purpose. Sometimes an author writes a certain way because they are writing to fit in certain stereotypes called “genres.” (Ever heard of them? ;) If you read a genre novel, be aware of what stereotypes are acceptable. Genre novelists are writing to a certain crowd who expects certain things. If you start bashing these stereotypes, then you look silly, not the author. If the hero kills the dragon and saves the princess in a Fantasy novel, don't immediately dash off, "Seen it before. Booooring!" If you can see the outcome of a romance novel a mile off, think for a sec. In most Romance, you're supposed to know who to root for. On the other hand, if you are reading a book labeled as "Literary Fiction" and it's totally predictable, and the style is awful, you may have a beef worth voicing!
3.   Have an Objective Part. There should be at least some objectivity to your review. A lot of the content of book reviews is opinion—but not all. For example, if you are reviewing The Grapes of Wrath, remember that it is already an established classic. You can’t just say “It was awful, I hated it, 0 stars.” You have to admit: it is invaluable historically and the writing is magnificent, in terms of style. Certain books have undeniable quality. Those elements should be praised. Other books are...less worthy. They shouldn't be allowed to stick themselves in with the quality books without alarms being raised. If books have typos or terrible writing or are ridiculously repetitive and unoriginal in prose, please do mention it.
4.   And a Subjective Part. The Subjective section is where you get to say, “I don’t care how great (or terrible) this book was stylistically—I hated the story. And here’s why.” Please don’t forget this important “why” part of the subjective review. This is what readers are curious to read. Put in some of the good and the bad. Was the plot twisty and intelligent, or did it have holes the size of Texas? Did the characters become your friends? Did they at least succeed in impressing you? Or were they as plastic as your Barbie dolls? Also, did you agree with the moral or intellectual implications? Or disagree? These subjects are great to talk about. They’re interesting. Good authors write books that can be discussed for a long time, books that will make people think. Even The Hunger Games, popular fiction at its greatest, has study and discussion questions. So think, and write those reviews.
     Reviewers matter, and their words DO make a difference. Use both discretion and honesty in your reviews. But remember, also, that reviewing books is a learning experience, and it’s fun! Enjoy putting your opinions out there. The world wants to hear them.
     I adhere to these guidelines for my own reviews. I hope they help you, too!

Photo Credit: Julo. Edited from "Magnifying Glass." Wikimedia Commons. 10 Aug. 2007. 23 Nov. 2012.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Beginning With Character Archetypes

     If you are doing NaNo this year, my post may be coming at the perfect time--the beginning of Week 3, when you need inspiration to begin the ending.
     NaNo covers one step in the process of writing a novel: the first draft, or the beginning. You are creating a brand new story. You need inspiration and (if you're like me) a bit of structural advice.
     I'm working on creating a routine for myself to begin writing novels. I need a refresher on story-writing basics when I begin a new story. Refreshers help structure my thoughts, plan a bit, and motivate me to get writing. In my Writing Commercial Fiction class, I was assigned a great video to add to my routine. The video goes over the 8 character archetypes, or "jobs" that must be fulfilled by characters in a story. That doesn't mean you need 8 characters, mind you, but just that there are 8 jobs that need doing. For instance, someone must be the hero, someone must teach the protagonist (the teacher), and someone else should shift beetween sides to heighten tension (the shapeshifter). If you are curious about these jobs, you can watch the video, too! I actually watched it three times. Enjoy and learn, friends.


Thanks to Dr. Diorio of Regent University for highlighting this awesome resource!

Works Cited
Juszak, Rob. "Green Man." Wikimedia Commons. 1 Jan 2009. 16 November 2012.

PHSMr.Wood. "Hero's Journey Archetypes." 15 Nov. 2011. 16 Nov. 2012.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Deciding When and How Much We Should Write

     Lately, I've been struggling to reconcile the different productivity goals people tell writers to make:
  • Write every day.
  • Set a daily word count.
  • Set a daily hour count.
  • Set a weekly word quota.
  • Set a weekly hour quota.
  • Write at least 1667 words in a day because that's a normal writer's load.
  • Writing a NaNoload (1667) is at least 2Xs too much! Everything you write will be crud.
     How are we supposed to reconcile all the quota advice out there for writers? How can we live and write--happily--knowing that so many others would scoff at our own particular routine as not "productive" enough, or "too narrow"?
     I'm coming to the conclusion that each of us must figure it out for ourselves. I can't subscribe to everyone else's ways of thinking, because I'm not everyone else. I'm me. I'm slow, and careful, and I hate rushing things. I'm also impatient, so sometimes I wonder if I'm doing the wrong thing by taking my time.
     And you are you, not me, and not them.
     Your life circumstances dictate how much writing time you have. During my 9-credits-in-8-weeks school stints, I have ZERO time for "fun" writing. I just don't have it! It is my responsibility to be  thorough in my learning. And I better be, because my family is paying big bucks to put me through it! Luckily, those stints are only 8 weeks long, and I do still write during them. I just don't have time to write for fun. Recently, I mapped out my hours each week. Literally: how many hours per class, for my job, with Kevin, with Mom, etc. For now, I have 4-5 hours on Sundays to spend on my novel, my blog, and any other fun writing projects I'm working on. I usually edit blog posts on Thursdays or Fridays. Maggie Stiefvater admitted that she wrote her first novel in stints: two hours every Wednesday. What kind of time do you have? Map it out if you're curious, or serious.
     Right now, I'm in a learning stage. My priority is to learn how others write, and to learn what works for me. My main priority is not output on my novel. I've learned the hard way that it's good for me to have somewhat of a plan. Blog posts help me learn, so I make them a weekly priority. After I finish my degree program, establish some routines that work for me, and have formed opinions on various writing craft controversies, I will make novel-writing more of a priority. By that point, I'll have a better idea of how it should go for me.
     Writing enhances life, not the other way around. For some writers, writing is life. It's their meaning, and it's what they live for. Not me. God is Who I live for. I have to make sure I'm spending time with Him first. Then comes my husband, Kevin. Then comes work. Work is third. And my writing isn't even "work" yet, because it's not my "job." So school actually comes next, then my part-time work, then everyone else in my life. Then, and only then, comes my "dear hobbies" category: writing, baking, and other fun stuff. Keep your priorities in check, people. When writing becomes your job, you can put it up there. But don't put it above religion (if you have one), or above family. Don't even put it above friends. You need those, you know? Sometimes you may have to tell your friends you can't make because you have a deadline...but make sure you spend time with them.
     What do you think? Should we try to meet other people's guidelines to the "ideal writing life"? Or should we all just figure out what works for us?

     There are lots of other writing topics which people disagree on. I read recently that we must come to a point where we decide which expert to agree with because, "You can't please all the fiction writing teachers all the time" (Gerke 35). Eventually, after looking at every side of the matter, we must make up our own minds about how to run our writing.

Resources on Time Management for Writers: a great, encouraging blog post by Maggie Stiefvater, another, older blog post by Maggie Stiefvater, and the other, oldest blog post by Maggie Stievater. Every wonder why I quote her a lot? Because she's a best-selling writer several times over, as well as an artist, a musician, a mom AND a wife!

Work Cited
Gerke, Jeff. The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction. Colorado Springs, CO: Marcher Lord Press, 2009.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Book Review: "Audrey's Guide to Witchcraft" by Jody Gehrman

     G'day Scribblers and Book Bandits,
     On the blog today, we have a book review of Audrey's Guide to Witchcraft by Jody Gehrman. I know what you're thinking (maybe): Why is Christy reading a guide to witchcraft? Firstly, because this is a novel. It is a cutesy work of fiction, in which the protagonist uses her blossoming witchy powers to defeat evil. Secondly, because the author taught my very first Creative Writing course over at Mendocino College. (She also teaches a few other courses.) She has written seven books and numerous plays.  If you'd like to find out more about Jody, you can check out her adorable website. Audrey's Guide is Jody's first self-published book. It is also the first self-published book I've ever read. The third reason I reviewed this book is because Jody honored me by providing a free copy in exchange for an honest review :)
     And now, on to said review:
     Audrey, until now a very normal teenager, knows from the first sentence of the book that her mother is in danger. But, she wonders, how does she "just know"? Turns out, her "witchy powers" have come to fruition! Better late than never? Not! As trouble mounts up, making her feel responsible, she soon wishes she had never found out about magic. Some freaky stranger is threatening her, on top of her other worries. Where is her mother? And how does Audrey fit into this picture?
     Before reading this book, I wondered whether I would feel secure in reading a self-published book. Would I feel like I was in the hands of an experience storyteller? Well, Jody Gehrman pulled it off! 2 points! There was definite skill in her craft, enough that I was not scared to continue reading.
     This book was like candy, as opposed to a hearty meal: pure fun (and it was fun), but containing very little meat or nutritional value. I didn’t learn from it, but I did enjoy the story. I think Jody’s purpose was to write a fun book, though, so I was not expecting much in the edification department. I expected fun, and I got fun.
     The story arc of this book was good. I like the plot! I reallyreally wanted the end to resolve the conflict; but Jody was smarter. She left just enough hanging that I wish I had the sequel in my hands right now.
     Naturally, in a book written for teen girls, there was a romantic angle. I liked Julian, if he was a bit flat. I loved the twists in Audrey's and Julian's relationship—especially the memory loss, precious and original to Audrey’s Guide. I admired the author for resisting to heap on the sexual humor. Such humor is often distasteful; conversely, I greatly enjoyed Audrey’s sweet, bubbly humor. I only mention this because a past book of Jody's did have some.
     My complaint about plot: in several tight situations, Audrey uses some humorous, lucky method to win the day, while the bad guy often makes some absurd oversight. For boys, it would be unacceptable. For Jody Gehrman’s audience (girl readers), it is excusable.
     As far as morality, my spirit says "Eh." There's good and there's evil. I disagree with some of what the "good" side says. Of course, that happens with every book. There is a sort of Christian presence in this book, which surprised me. I enjoyed the character of Bridgit (Audrey's sweet BFF) to some degree, but she doesn't act like an authentic Christian. Her parents are those horrid legalistic type. Unfortunately, there are some of those in the world. I felt they were portrayed a bit stereotypically, however. I hate saying that about a book, but it's true.
     There was quite a bit of light cursing. Nothing terribly vulgar, just the usual stupid teenager type. It was annoying rather than off-putting.
     Overall, I give this book a 3.5. I liked it for the story, and I’ll still read the sequel.
     Thanks, Jody, for the review copy! I hope my review was honest and up to your standards.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Quick Tip for NaNoWriMo

Scribblers and Book Bandits,
I know it isn't Friday yet, but since NaNoWriMo begins tomorrow, this tip that couldn't wait. I read recently that it's helpful to know the genre of your story BEFORE you start writing it. This may seem like common sense; if so, know that you are smarter than I was the first time I tried NaNoWriMo! :) Figuring out your genre can be ridiculously difficult, so here's a helpful website that defines them. This website (Agent Query) is helpful for other things, too, which you can read about elsewhere on the site.
Best of luck, friends!

I got this resource from my professor, Dr. MaryAnne Diorio, who is also an author. Thanks Dr. Diorio!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Interview Part II: The Analysis, and My Opinion

Brenda! And me, squinting at my camera phone
in my backyard.

     Hey Scribblers!
     If you read last week's post, an interview of my artsy neighbors, you got a treat. Marc and Brenda Hooper kindly answered some questions concerning the aesthetics of art and literature. I analyzed their interview according to my Philosophy textbook, and they gave me permission to post the results on the blog!

     Marc and Brenda answered most of my questions in terms of societal ideals (how America should handle art) rather than by their personal preferences; both also favored a conservative form of "aesthetic subjectivism" by agreeing that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Aesthetic subjectivism says that beauty is not a real quality that something can have. Art is pleasing to some people, and not others. Marc’s answers consistently aligned themselves with this subjective assessment, while Brenda’s were slightly more conservative. For example, the artist of the urinal display was trying to show that beauty is subjective. (As a refresher: an artist displayed an ordinary urinal, turned it slightly in one direction, and called it art. Controversial much?). Marc agreed with him, saying, “Some people might see it as art,” while Brenda flatly refused that interpretation. Both of their definitions of “art” were also very open, though. Marc said any life work can be artistic, using farms as an example.  Interestingly, they both felt that the media influences our perceptions of beauty, but that perception of beauty is still truly up to the individual. Marc especially seemed to agree with an opinion proposed by Madeleine L'Engle in her book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art: that “…to look at a work of art and then to make a judgment as to whether or not it is art…is presumptuous” (L’Engle 23). Brenda disagreed slightly, thinking beauty is not entirely a matter of opinion, which leads us to our next point.
When I asked Marc and Brenda about whether there are, or should be, standards  or censorship of art, they disagreed with each other. Brenda felt that there should be some objective standards, such as with the urinal art; too many objective standards, though, could be counterproductive to the artist. Marc’s answers took an interesting turn. He said that other countries control art more than America, and that art censorship scared him somewhat. He felt very strongly that we should not draw objective standards. His words brought North Korea to my mind as a scary example of over-the-top censorship: “Information is completely controlled…art, music and literature all feed the people in a constant stream of propaganda” (Nettleton 92&95). This terrifying situation in North Korea shows a good reason for his caution. After the interview, Brenda echoed this sentiment by giving me an essay called “Freedom” by E. B. White, which she said explained her views “better than she could.” The essay held fast to freedom of expression in America. “In this land the citizens are still invited to write their plays and books, to paint their pictures…to enjoy education in all subjects without censorship…[and] to compose music.”
            In regard to the moral assessment of art, both Marc and Brenda seemed to support ethicism, a middle ground view. Ethicism says, “moral attributes are relevant to, but not wholly determinative of, its aesthetic value” (Cowan 437). Brenda said the church should assess everything, but not ban it. In other words, we need to consider (and, probably respond to) it rather than burn it. Both Marc and Brenda agreed that for the sake of children, schools should be allowed to censor art, but that adults are able filter out whatever they need to. Mostly, they challenged parents to be the moral protectors of their children, not society. Their conclusion about adults suggested a slight lean towards aestheticism, which says “art and the artist are insusceptible to moral judgment” (Cowan 437). However, their attitude was probably based more on the idea that adults can judge for themselves, rather than needing to be controlled by society.
            I think that schools and private institutions should be allowed to ban art...However, people need free expression. Art shouldn't be banned from a society or country. You may have heard about the "Banned Books" controversy. My jury is still out on this particular topic, as it relates to children. It seems to make children more curious to read the books than anything. Adults being curious, though, is a fine thing. If people are curious, and they read a book, than they'll form an opinion of it. Some (stupid) people will revel in any evils they find; others, though, will discuss and dissect it. There's no use in hiding thoughts from adults. There should be limits on explicit things--like gratuitous violence, sex, etc--to public exposure. Most people will agree with that (although not all). Free expression is important. Free exhibition is not. I asked a wise friend, once, what he thought should be done about questionable content in books. He said we should all think and discuss it. It took a few years for the wisdom of this simple answer to sink in. Now I understand it. It's a very correct way of going about it. With children, more descretion is needed, I believe. Like Marc and Brenda, I think parents should be taknig care of this, though. Parents understand the development of their children better than anyone else. It's scary to think, though, that some of the best books out there have been banned from school bookshelves--To Kill a Mockingbird, The Lord of the Rings, and A Wrinkle in Time, for a few examples.
One of the only aesthetic guidelines scripture gives us is Philippians 4:8—to dwell on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, etc. Because the Hoopers answered the questions in terms of society rather than personal consumption, their views were difficult to analyze according to biblical and  and my Philosophy book's standards. My textbook did, however, state that some subjectivism in this area is normal, so despite my neighbors’ denial of aesthetic absolutes, their ethicism seats them somewhere in the wide realm of a Christian aesthetics.

Works Cited & Resources
Chesterton, G. K. “The Ethics of Elfland.” A Chesterton Anthology. San Francisco: Ignatious Press. 1985. Print.
            -I liked the thoughts in this essay.

Cowan, Steven B., and James S. Spiegel. The Love of Wisdom: A Christian Introduction to Philosophy / Steven B. Cowan, James S. Spiegel. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2009. Print.
            -This is my textbook. It has a wonderful section on Aesthetics, with  a great critique of
              general viewpoints.
L'Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art. Commemorative ed.
Wheaton, IL: H. Shaw, 1980. Print.
-This book is wonderful. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Nettleton, P. Todd., and The Voice of the Martyrs. North Korea: Good News Reaches the Hermit
            Kingdom. Vol. North Korea. Bartlesville, OK: Living Sacrifice Book, 2008. Print. Restricted             Nations.

“Philippians 4.” The Bible. NIV ed. Web. 22 Sept. 2012.
Sayers, Dorothy L. "Towards A Christian Esthetic." The Whimsical Christian. New York: Macmillan, 1979. Print.
           -This was a wonderful essay. I highly recommend it to Christians.

White, E. B. “Freedom.” One Man’s Heart. HarperCollins, 1982. Print.
            -This essay was very thought provoking.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Aesthetics of Art and Literature Interview Part I

     Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing my very artsy neighbors, Marc and Brenda Hooper, on the topic "Aesthetics of Beauty." They do not claim to be experts on the subject matter, but sometimes it's nice to hear the opinions of thoughtful members of the American public. The questions centered on Art and Literature. Our discussion was so enlightening, I just had to share their thoughts with you, dear Scribblers and Book Bandits. 
     The "aesthetics of art and literature" is the philosophical side of entertainment. Really, who decides what is appropriate to watch or read? Or what is appropriate to create and display? And by what criteria? Although the interview may not have all the answers you're looking for, maybe it will get you started. Next week, I'll post my analysis of their thoughts, according to my Philosophy textbook. I'll also include a list of sources which you can check out for more information. I'm still forming my own opinion about all of these things, so I'm interested to hear what anyone may have to say in response to their thoughts.
     Here is what we came up with! :

1.) I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Do you think Beauty is a real quality of things, or just a matter of personal opinion? 

·         Marc: The media tries to influence our ideas of beauty, but it actually is in the eye of the beholder.

·         Brenda: At this point in my life, I recognize that it is in the eye of the beholder. Like many young people today, I might have aligned my opinion with the crowd when I was younger.

2.) What is a work of art? Can we define “art,” or just identify it?

·         Marc: A person’s life work is their art. I work in agriculture. When I see a beautiful farm, it’s like art. I’ve seen some ugly farms, too! Art is not restricted to fine arts.

My textbook includes an example of a man who displayed a urinal, turned it 90 degrees, and called it art. Would you?

·         Brenda: No!

·         Marc: It depends on your perspective. Some people might see it as art.

3.) Do you think there are standards, relative or absolute, for art? Should there be?

·         Marc: We have freedoms in America that other countries don’t have, like freedom of speech. America has relative rules, but other countries have absolute standards of what is and isn’t allowed. We need some standards, but not too many because they could get controlling.

·         Brenda: There aren’t many standards here, and I don’t think there should be.  Objective standards would take away an artist’s individuality.

Some people feel that Michelangelo’s nude statue of “David” is crude. They draw a line there. How do you feel about drawing these lines?

·         Marc: We shouldn’t.

·         Brenda: I don’t think we should go back to the Victorian Age, but I think our standards have been set too low, here. Lingerie ads like those of Victoria’s Secrets are ridiculous. I suppose we do need some standards.

4.) What is the proper relation between art and ethics? Can we make moral assessments of them?

·         Brenda: Sometimes the church needs to be woken up. The opinions of others can be hard to swallow, but we need to hear them. We can make moral assessments, and we do, but we shouldn’t always count things out. Honestly, if parents guarded their children, this might not be such a problem.

·         Marc: Moral standards are needed in order to protect children.

I see that you both feel the need to protect children. What about standards for adults?

·         Brenda: Adults can filter out whatever they need to, but children need help from their parents with that.

5.) How do you feel Christianity should manifest itself through art?

·         Brenda: There are certain things I would expect to see. I would hold a Christian artist to a higher standard; if you claim Christianity, you are claiming a higher standard.

·         Marc: Because you can teach your audience through art, we need to see their beliefs through it.

6.) Do you believe in any kind of art censorship?

·         Brenda: There should be some. Schools should be allowed to pick and choose what art goes on their walls, and what books go in their library.

·         Marc: Censorship scares me somewhat, but I think it’s important to protect kids.

7.) What kinds of differences would you expect to see in art by a Christian, as oppose to a non-religious person?

·         Brenda: There are definitely certain things I would expect to see. I would hold a Christian artist to a higher standard; if you claim Christianity, you are claiming a higher standard.

·         Marc: Because you can teach your audience through art, we need to see their beliefs in their art.

8.) How do you feel about profanity in Literature?

·         Brenda: Profanity is offensive and unnecessary in Literature and movies. I won’t stop reading or watching, usually, but I don’t like it.

·         Marc: Profanity sullies the quality.

A Christian friend of mine believes that in order to portray the truth, a writer must stay true to the speech of a character, which may include profanity. How do you feel about that?

·         Brenda: I disagree with it. We should try to understand why people use profanity, but if you want to effect a change, you can’t be drawn into it yourself. There are better ways to paint a picture of a person.

·         Marc: I disagree with that perspective. Cursing shows the poverty of their thoughts.
     Check out Part II for an analysis of their thoughts, and some resources. Thanks for stopping by!

Photo Credit: Engelsma, Chris. "A Sennheiser Microphone." Wikimedia Commons. 28 July 2009. 19 Oct. 2012.