What a frenzied time of year. With the holiday parties, performances, deadlines, gift-buying, baking, planning and thanking, I have no uninterrupted time to think, let alone wr
Not that type of climax, sheesh! This is a writing blog. These tricks are for fiction writers but are helpful to keep in mind for all of us who put words on a page.
1) This is my favorite climax trick, and it comes straight from the amazing John Vorhaus: take a situation that could happen in real life and kick it up a notch. We writers are already good at this one, right? We play out what-if scenarios a lot. Some might say too much, but I would argue that this is who we are and why we’re good at what we do, so naysay elsewhere! Now then, where were we? Oh yes—take the gift of playing out scenarios and tweak it a smidge—what could almost happen if? This is fiction, so push your climax just outside of the reality box. Take off its acrylic sweater and help it plug in the garage sale disco ball that clicks every time it spins past 9:00. Now dance with it!
2) Go somewhere. What is the setting for your story? Can you switch it up for your pinnacle scene? Move your readers in every sense at this juncture; take them on a journey in more than one way. As your main character is changing on the inside, describe a new locale on the outside. Move us, ground us, shake, and serve.
3) Don’t get stuck on expectations. You’ve made it this far! You’re almost there! While writing my climax, I felt suffocated by the pressure of the first 90% of the book. What if this part sucks? Isn’t this the most important part? What if it’s not as good as the rest of the story and the whole thing unravels and the ending is terrible? Stick the thumb back in the mouth of your inner critic. Pro tip—put peanut butter on the thumb first, so she has a harder time removing it. Then write. Still stuck? Do this exercise: describe the climax scenes in the last five fiction books you’ve read. Can you? I couldn’t. Because the climax is less important than its name implies. What matters is your protagonist and how (s)he/it makes your readers feel. About the world, about themselves, about everything. A compelling central character is what matters most. Just make sure the climax rings true to this unforgettable character you’ve created. Or rather, just outside of true (see trick #1). Then, switch up the setting (see trick #2). And write it.
Now go! Your disco ball awaits.
As writers, we read a lot about those times when we’re all froze up. Writer’s block, brain cement, inner or outer critic sabotage. In an earlier post, I called it Backstroking Through Peanut Butter. Call it what you will, the struggle is real. With all the obstacles we writers face, it’s amazing we can progress at all.
Until recently, I was in a writing slump for over a year. Any progress I made during that time was the result of Herculean effort. Square marbles were clunking around in my brain. Nothing was rolling anywhere.
But this post isn’t about that. It’s about those times when it’s all working. A tail wind is speeding you toward your destination. You’re hitting green lights all the way. The only hindrance to project completion is how fast you can type, the number of hours in a day, eating and other distracting bodily requirements.
Don’t you love it when this happens? A wide open road. The spigot is cranked as far left as it will go and the plot is spraying out of you. Awkward moments transform to smooth. Sure, you’ll still need to revise later, but what you’re creating feels like it won’t require 75 rewrites because, in moments like these, you’re spinning gold.
Sometimes these flashes are fleeting or few and far between. But when they land, mmm, savor every moment. I’m in one right now, and I find myself thinking, what did I eat, drink, hear, and/or experience that dropped me into this perfect frame of mind to get this done? Was it the eclipse? Was it that dinner with my aunt? Did a (wonky, half-baked) headstand in yoga class jog something loose? What granted me the freedom to move ahead, to leap frog toward project completion? And how do I recreate this exact space the next time inspiration abandons me, as it undoubtedly will?
Don’t project, I tell myself. Sit. Type! Phone, down. News, off. Eat fast, sleep less. Capitalize on this rare instant when it feels like it’s writing itself. Don’t distract it! Keep the laptop charged. Save all work to the cloud. This is the magic hour. Don’t self-sabotage. Stay in it.
Shhh, it’s flowing…
I wish I wasn’t writing about politics right now, but The Clown In Chief isn’t giving me much of a choice, now is he? Reason #4,763 to poke another rusty pin into my tiny-yet-somehow-bigly voodoo doll: I want to write about things I love, like un-stale tortilla chips, excellent haircuts, the unrelenting cuteness of my cats, and the dizzying amazement I feel about my kids (except when they fight plus the other times I want to post them on Craigslist), but I can’t, because The Grand Poobah of Doofusness is relentless.
Speaking of (or sigh-ing of?), are you big-sighing as much as me these days?
Venezuela, big sigh.
North Korea, giant petrified sigh.
Charlottesville, gargantuan tear-filled sigh.
I can’t friggin’ write. I’m too morose about it all. And too annoyed that I’ve been rendered morose by a reality TV shyster whose evil heart casts such a malevolent and slimy shadow over every corner of our world.
I know I said in this earlier post that “if we survive his reign, he may end up being a gift to us all.” But today, I find the Pollyanna-Me-of-Yesterday clueless, annoying, and badly in need of a slug to the stomach.
Given all of that, I will end on a positive note, because DNA is weird and I am incapable of leaving people in darkness and tumult, even if that’s where my heart resides. Here is one thing I know for sure: we must take decisive action now, in whatever form we can. My form is writing, and if you’re reading this, yours probably is too. Writing prompts are good for people like us—they help us further our craft—and, especially, in this case, they take us to places we may not have otherwise gone.
So here’s your prompt du jour: write a story about a person who somehow lands a job they are not remotely qualified for or capable of handling and one instance where (s)he “yugely” botches it up.
We know one example of this, all too well, or rather, all too inadequately. The novel Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart rocks this theme too. Steve Carell in The Office? Nails it. Me singing karaoke fits it like a glove. 30 Rock, Parks and Rec., a lot of great TV operates in this realm.
Where else do you come across this in your life? Write it, share it, allow it to further your craft. Create at least a smidge of good from all this bad. Remember, we are the recorders of our times. We are most essential during moments like these, crucial to prevent history from repeating itself. Let’s make sure, for the sake of our world, that we are the best at what we do, or at least, the best we can be.
I love a good yoga class, almost as much as I love a good story.
It was while pondering this notion (in Shavasana) that I had the following earth-shattering revelation: I love both writing and yoga because they are one and the same! Structurally, I mean. The elements of a good story must also take place in a good yoga class, or it will fall flat on its face (like I do when attempting crow pose).
Here are the five ways a good story resembles yoga:
1) The hook. At the beginning of yoga, the teacher will look at you while oozing serenity and say something to the effect of, ”Like it or not, here’s what you’re going to learn today.” Stories do this same thing by serving up something scary, jarring, or uncomfortable. They put you squarely into a problem, one that (you hope) will be unraveled by the end.
2) Warm me up, lest I break. With the hook, I’m given a dose of what I’ve come for. Now it’s time to move some blood around, so I don’t pull a hammy. Here’s where I’m shown characters, voice, and plot—the yoga equivalent of sun salutations.
3) Vascillation. I suck at yoga! Wait, I should be an instructor! I’m so flexible! Actually, I’m a starfish! In this part of a both yoga and story, we don’t know what we want, who we love, or why we are still on this planet. Because when we aren’t ecstatic, everything aches.
4) The test. Did we succeed or fail? Win or lose? Or did we leave with a lesson we had no intention of learning? In yoga, this will usually resemble some type of inversion.Today it was the flying pigeon. But on this day, all the flapping, twisting, stretching, and breathing wouldn’t get this bird out of the coop. In a story, we are also turned upside down. Tension is at its peak because this is the last shot at the goal we think we have, the final chance to tuck that ribbon into our pocket and move on. We are sweating, focused, riveted because success or failure comes down to this moment right here, right now.
5) Release the heat. Now I can breathe with my mouth open again and review what I learned. In yoga, perhaps my intended physical goal was not realized but I instead I gained a clearer picture of my true strength, a greater appreciation for my purpose. If I’m lucky, I may have gotten a longer glance at the fleeting fairy of inner peace. In both yoga and story, this is where we acknowledge why we came and recognize that we will come again, to breathe in more of this feeling, to twist ourselves into even more unlikely contortions, and to, once again, (attempt to) take flight. And, once our story is over and if we have done this right, we get to say Namaste to strength, hope, improbability, and magic.
Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/yoga-headstand-cat-1726228/
Adieu, fair computer
Oh, how I will miss thee—
Your greasy screen
Your peeling space bar
The large dent on your front right corner from the day I dropped you
I will miss the sensitivity of your tab key,
Your stubborn L,
How you sometimes hide icons and then surprise me with them
How rapidly do you scroll?
I know this answer.
I live this answer.
How speedily do you search?
Here I pause, because while fair, strong, and true,
You are also a web sloth.
Like yesterday when I asked you,
What is the capital of Tasmania?
I hit the spyglass and waited
As you spun
And finally transported me to a place
of pale gray emptiness,
where nothing I could do
would convince you to accept your mission,
Now Tasmania has no capital.
This was not the first time,
not even the fiftieth time you said,
NO. NO, I WILL NOT SEARCH FOR YOU TODAY.
That you made me wish for a wall of Encyclopedia Britannica.
I recognize our relationship has changed to one
where I practice patience, deep-breathing, and mantra repetition while trying
And this lesson has value; I cannot deny it. So thank you.
But perhaps it’s time for new lessons.
For memorizing the curves and contours of a new keyboard—
The one my work gave me
So adieu, Beloved.
Let’s allow this new day,
dedicated to electronics recycling at this high school gym
and smelling faintly of sports socks
To be the day someone else inherits
the gift of not breaking things.
Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/search/computer?photo=z8lfwpQVXJo
Preposterous. Unconscionable. Diabolical.
To call him childish insults young humans everywhere.
You know who I’m talking about.
His audacity takes my breath away. He also takes my sleep. And my words.
I, like many of you, am suffering from TIFPS, or Trump-Induced Frozen Pen Syndrome. My words have become a casualty of this inconceivable nightmare-cum-truth. Because it feels like an error in the order of the universe! Like we were heading, albeit upstream, toward a beautiful, self-realized place when suddenly, our canoe flipped and we are now sputtering and speeding toward a massive waterfall! Where giant hungry piranhas await us at the bottom! And even if we can somehow kick them away, the plunge pool is comprised of skin-eating acid and tall shards of glass! I fear we might be dusted.
Yet, something niggles at my brain. There must be a reason, the something whispers. A force like him doesn’t just pop onto the global stage without carting a larger lesson, like a dingleberry tangled into his comb-over.
What good can come of this new reality, where environment-haters are entrusted with our environment? Where public school-haters are entrusted with our public schools? What is the lesson here? I wonder these things as my fingers idle, frozen above the keyboard and my pen lies arrested, poised over paper.
As a Feisty Contributor and Editor, I also wonder how this new world order affects us, our tribe, the scribes of our times. Because we, as the world’s storytellers, must not freeze. Now, more than ever, the world needs us.
How do we combat TIFPS and continue to do the job the universe assigned to us? We cannot lose our words, our voice, the tool that wields the most power!
Here is one idea: let’s use the Apricot Aberration to make us better writers. Because we almost can’t get better fodder. He can be our tangerine-hued, frowny-faced writing prompt. Here are a few questions to ask ourselves to get unstuck:
We witness him suck power on a daily basis as though he just rolled out from ten days under a dusty rock and straight into a 7-11 on 7-11, a.k.a., Free Slurpee Day. Sure, he can slurp all he wants, but he will not suck our power.
We must write through his reign so the world knows how we survived. We must capture this moment in time by observing, with our words, the details, the heartbreaks, and the humanity. When was the moment I took a stand? Here is what it looked like. When did I give up? Because I felt like it was too big and I was too small. When did I go from powerless to powerful? Write down all of this. Every speck.
Or maybe you aren’t there yet. You are still frozen, powerless, petrified. We get that, too, and you are not alone. But if you were to take a stand, what would you want that stand to look like? Write that down. If we are able to survive his regime, he may end up being a gift to us all. A majestic awakening. A monumental call for truth, understanding, and above all, compassion. For that to happen, we will need to remember what this time looked like. What this felt, smelled, and sounded like. We need us.
* My answers:
1) I feel powerless, fearful, despondent.
2) I stop standing up for myself at work and at home with my family because it does no good. Why expend the energy? I always lose anyway. I focus on my quilting instead. But my quilt scenes are getting weirder and angrier.
3) We go to war with nations all over the world simultaneously and are immediately close to perishing, every last one of us evaporating into a fungus-shaped cloud.
4) I contact an amazing scientist in Japan who went to my quilting camp in 8th grade. She has identified an enzyme which dissolves both plastic and rubber. With the help of some unsuspicious individuals, boom, all warplanes are grounded. We, as a nation, are forced to return to diplomacy.
While critiquing my writing, please pretend I’m a kitten. Because while I’m as feisty as they come, I’m also sensitive. This is not always a great combination. Sometimes I can serve it, but can’t return it. Sure, I’ll dish it, but I refuse to eat it. Mess with the bull, you’ll get the blubbering mess who has torn the horns from her scalp and is trying to stab herself with them while bemoaning, I don’t deserve to be so forsaken. I’m human; I have those days. For now, for the sake of argument, let’s assume every day is one of those days. And also that I’m a kitten.
Let’s role-play. Here I am, walking into our writing class/meetup/poetry jam/critique group/creepy online chat room. I might look put together because my shoes match my scrunchie, but that will be a fluke. Here’s the truth—on the inside, I’m a disaster. It doesn’t matter why. After this meeting, I’m thinking about tying a bunch of twigs together and floating myself out to sea, beckoning large black birds to come feast slowly on my vital organs, killing me softly with their beaks. (You can sing that last part.) I even brought some Styrofoam in my trunk in case the twigs aren’t buoyant enough with my weight on them, but I’d rather not use it because our oceans have enough problems without an additional slice of something with a gazillion year half-life. I will die miserable, but on good terms with our planet.
Before I take myself out, I’ve brought something to read aloud, and it stinks. Of course, it stinks, I wrote it while feeling sorry for myself. This piece reeks of Eau de VICTIM. Few people can get away with VICTIM as their theme. If the main character is a whiner, she better be darn good at something else too. As in, she’s a whiner but she bakes a crazy good cheesecake. Or, she’s a whiner, but she’s also a psychotic axe-murderer who held the word record for underwater hula hooping in 1985. Whining solely to air injustices doesn’t work. I hate to be so bIack and white about things; maybe there’s a person who can pull this off. In general, my thought is that whining is what journals and therapists are for.
Back to our group thing. It’s finally my turn. I read my woe-is-me story out loud (because I have a lot of them, in my journal). There is an extended moment of silence. You want to say, NO. Erase. Redo. Start over. Now is when you should remember that I’m just a kitten. I have big paws that I trip over. I fall asleep in crazy places and funny positions. I make noises that are considered adorable by cat people and, more often than not, I’m scared, but I puff up to look tough. Kittens like me prefer constructive criticism, because we just got here, and we have a lot to figure out. So please, tell me the truth because I’ve come here to learn and improve, but say it with kindness.
Here at thefeistywriter.com, we encourage you to embrace your feisty side, the part of you that says, “Here’s my story, no apologies!” We also remind you to create more distance between yourself and the parts of you that shun praise but shed all armor when baseless criticism is fired straight at your guts. People can be jerks. But not us feisty writers! We are gentle and helpful when people share their truth with us, even when their truth smells like a box of cat turds. We go easy. I’m a kitten; you’re a kitten. Let’s play around and be open and curious with this craft we love and encourage others to do the same.
Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/photos/Y_pLBbSAhHI
I’m in the throes of a rewrite that feels like I’m backstroking through peanut butter—I can’t see for beans, but I’m kicking, stroking, kicking, stroking, and doing all the right things to muddle through. This routine is necessary if I want to get to the end of the jar and finish the sandwich, but no new ideas are bubbling to the surface because shaking loose a bubble in this muck is rough work!
I’m not sure I can hack through it. Everywhere I look, I see whirlpools forming around stale chunks of plot. Bacteria are probably festering there as well. Why is this peanut butter crunchy when the label clearly says smooth? When I get to the bottom of the jar, will it be dry and cracked, like sun-scorched mud? Or will it be pure, straight peanut oil, which is certainly easier to navigate, but only serves to sog up my sando?
This expedition is tedious and tiresome. I feel unfit. I should quit. I should drop this mess into the composter and make a burrito instead. It’s weird that I even started with peanut butter because burritos are way easier and I prefer them in every way.
I’m pretty deep in the jar, though, and I’m not sure I can extract my big sticky feet. And what if I had one more of those inspired moments, producing one last golden peanut of an idea? One final frog kick could propel me to the Dagwood at the finish line.
I haven’t had a moment like that in a while, though. It’s been too long of a dry spell. S.O.S: I’ve entered un-spreadable territory.
There was that one idea… It was a pretty good one, too, a couple of weeks ago. It felt like I grew a pair of swim fins with serrated edges to slash through the brown. I torpedoed through four chapters.
Maybe I’ll hit another bubble soon. Maybe I should wait for it…
I guess I’ll stick it out. Too much time spent in this puddle of clay to leave now, and besides, I’ve run out of room in my drawer.
If you need me, I’ll be over here, kicking, stroking, kicking, stroking…
I bet when you clicked on thefeistywriter.com, you didn’t expect the advice to STOP WRITING NOW. Yet, here it is, and here’s why: because Mercury is in retrograde, which means this is rewrite time, baby!
Astrologists tell us that when Mercury is in retrograde, most aspects of our life are less than awesome. But for the rewriter in us, c’est fantastique! We don’t start a project when that badass planet looks like it’s spinning backwards, or create fresh content for a current project when the universe is topsy-turvy, oh no we don’t. We’re already battling with our loved ones, setting fire to our laptops, getting stuck in fluke hurricanes, and making ill-advised investment choices. Yes, our sage life skills are curled around the toilet, but the rewriter in us should do a double back handspring!
Sound the alarm—it’s RE-time! Time to REvisit old projects. REword the heinous screenplay stuck in the archives. REconfigure the chapter order of an awkward middle-grade fiction. REanalyze that hate poem, and maybe soften it. Or add more flames and REpost it! RE, RE, RE!
I guess RE-time doesn’t only have to happen during noteworthy astrological moments. Maybe we should take a beat when we feel stuck in deep, stinky brain cement. Or maybe when we’re low, tired, or sad. Or maybe when our laptop is honking because we’ve run out of space again and don’t want to pay for upgraded storage because this storage nonsense is highway robbery and I’ve had enough. Whatever the reason, there are times when it’s okay to say: I refuse to climb that mud-covered mountain during a lightning storm while wearing clogs. Just no.
So stop. Cease creating new material. But don’t stop writing—that would be crazy! This is your essence we’re talking about. Don’t quit baking because you’re too grumpy for cake—make brownies instead, out of the feces in your ancient word files! When Mercury or your mind, body, or soul is in retrograde, become a human dung beetle. Mine the crap in your Scrivener, or wherever you hide your most embarrassing attempts at your craft and add sugar. I can’t advise you to eat the result—that would be gross. But make something, anything, out of the old. Go vintage for a while; it might be just the thing for you this season.
Photo Credit: www.flickr.com Riksarkivet (National Archives of Norway)