Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Do you ever wonder, as you're reading incredibly creative books, where the authors got their ideas?

It's no secret I'm a huge Harry Potter fan. Some people can read that series and come away thinking they're books for children.

Um, no.

And yes. Harry and his fellow students grow as the series grows. But even in those early books, there's a depth to the storytelling you might miss if you only read the series once. Before the release of each book, I'd reread the books that had been released. With the new book's revelations, I would find the way I looked at the earlier books had changed--and I'd have to go back and read them again in the new light.

I would love to be able to write with the kind of depth Jo Rowling did there--stories that appeal to  children while providing adults with a rich adventure as well. And believe me there are millions of adult HP fans. On the Leaky Lounge, we had doctors, lawyers, geneticists, writers, professors, physicists, etc. arguing back and forth about whether or not Dumbledore was dead! The caliber of the debate was amazing.

So, where do ideas come from?

Author Dan Wells touched on this last October when he was the guest speaker at the UVU Book Academy. He said he's frequently asked this question, and he said ideas are everywhere. Don't just look at a news report as it is but let your imagination play with it. Do a lot of "what ifs". He said he was watching a science show on PBS one day, and one little tangent triggered by the story led him to his new series.

Let your imagination out of the box. Pull unusual combinations together, and see if you can make them work.

Like in Star Trek, you can let your imagination "boldly go where no one has gone before" (even if that is a grammatical no no).

So where do you get your ideas from? Do you have a process that you use? What kinds of things trigger your ideas?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What Holds You Back?

We all get hung up on different things in life, things that hold us back and keep us from achieving the goals we have set for ourselves. Sometimes those things are real - we have to take care of a sick child, we have to work overtime, we become ill ourselves. Sometimes those things are imagined - we aren't smart enough, we aren't brave enough, we don't deserve to be successful.

Every one of us will face those challenges. No one is exempt. The key now is to determine what you're going to do about it.

It's true that you may face a challenge that requires you to give up writing for a time. You may find it literally impossible to squeeze in an extra moment into your day. But we're not talking about physical limitations right now - we're talking about mental limitations. There are never any limits to your goals, your dreams, and your belief system - unless you put them there.

I've been watching old episodes of The Biggest Loser on Hulu lately. I was particularly impressed by contestant Moses, who lost a hundred pounds on the ranch faster than anyone else to date. It's also fun that he is a member of my religion. Anyway, he suffered an injury and he wasn't able to exercise. But his trainer showed him how to shadow box, and he sat on the corner of his bed and shadow boxed every day until he was strong enough to exercise again. He literally could not perform the tasks physically, but mentally, he was taking care of business, and as soon as his body healed, he was right back in the game to go on to set a record. He did not let his very real injury hold him back.

No matter what you are currently facing, whether it be fear of the unknown or doubt in yourself, whether it be a lack of time or poor health - no matter what it is, there are ways to push past it. There are ways to keep mentally in the game. It's when you allow your mind to shut down and to stop working on your dreams that you really miss the boat. As long as you can keep your spark alive with the positive workings of your mind, it doesn't matter what you're currently facing. You are on the path. You are making headway. If you're a runner but you're in bed with a broken leg, you're only defeated when you stop making plans to succeed. If you're a writer who can't find the time to create, you're only defeated when you stop using your imagination.

Think about it - what's holding you back? Then think about it again - how can you defeat that thing? Is it a matter of time, of introspection, of education? And how do you get that thing? You can do it. It's within you to do it. Stop letting those things hold you back, and instead, use them to propel yourself to greater heights than ever before.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


I am a firm believer that everything is better with layers. If you stop and think about it I'm quite sure you'll agree with me. Parfaits: layers, Trifle: layers. But it’s also true with music. Yes, a piano or violin is beautiful on it's own, but an orchestra will stir your soul. An acoustic guitar is great but plug it in and add the LAYERS of voice, drums, bass and maybe another voice or keyboard and you have killer sound.

It's what keeps me coming back for more, layers.

This applies to writing. A nursery rhyme is timeless but how often do you go back and reread them? They have a few lines a bit of rhythm. They are great for kids, but as we grow we want more. And as we grow the books we read grow too. They have more plot lines, characters and disasters.

So how does a writer get those layers?
    Strong Supporting Characters
To be honest I first thought of Harry Potter here. Harry is the main character but there are so many strong sub-characters. Hermione, Ron, Luna, Prof. Snape, Dumbledore etc... the list goes on. I'm sure you're naming others I didn't. But that's exactly the point, the story wasn't only about Harry. It was about how to be yourself no matter what others thought: Luna, fighting for equality: Hermione. And the characters goals should expand and grow in each book over the series. Give those supporting characters a character arc, and your readers will thank you.
    Relatable Emotion
Characters don't always have to look on the bright side, cup half full, stiff upper lip and all that, allow believable break downs, anger outbursts and an occasional case of the giggles. Readers often read to be drawn in, as a species who empathizes with each other, write-in moments for your reader to connect emotionally with your character.
    Multiple, Interwoven Plots
Allow multiple problems to come up at once. The huge geology presentation gone wrong, then a car accident all while fighting between friends. In real life problems don't take turns, they shouldn't in your book either.
    Believable Try/Fail Cycles
Try to really make your character suffer and not superman all the time, even the hero fails and the bad guy gains the upper hand. The fool can get it right and the damsel is the one doing the saving.
    Symbols and Motifs
A symbol is representative of something else and a motif is a repeated image or phrase. They can be either literal or symbolic. Think charging river symbolizing change, or a serene field as safety or peace.

As you write and rewrite, think about how you can pull your reader deeper into the layers of your story.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

To bling or not to bling?

I’ve always thought of style as personal decisions about fashion.Which trends to follow? How much or little of the trends to follow? Classic. Retro. Fads. Who to listen to–Vogue?–Elle? So many choices: sweaters, shorts, shoes, earrings, hair, lip colors. . .
Wait, where was this going? Oh, right–Style.
In writing, I think of style as being my personal writing wardrobe. On the first draft, I just try to knock the storyline out. Who, what, when, where, why and how. There are even gaps in that when I declare the first draft done. The fun for me is in the revision.
I know, some people write beautifully on their first draft. I secretly hate them.
When I have a basic story I go back through it several times to work on images and style. This isn’t that unusual–lots of writers do this.
One of the things I try to notice is the sentence fluency. Long and short. Variety in the beginning words. Sentence structure matches the meaning and emotion. Artistic sentences that add depth through simile and metaphor or repetition.
I’m reading a YA book right now (Heist Society by Ally Carter–very fun by the way) that has a lot of examples that make the sentences interesting to read. Sometimes they enhance the story. Sometimes they deepen a character. Here’s an example:
Hale (very cute, rich boy) is talking to Katrina (protagonist, long time friend of Hale)
“That’s sweet, Kat. Maybe later I’ll buy you a university. And an ice cream.”
The author used hyperbole to show us the playful nature of their relationship.
Here’s another example of style in a conversation between Kat and her uncle (Their family has had a little falling out, and things are still awkward.)
“I’m here,” Kat said in a softer voice.
She didn’t say, I can hear you.
She didn’t tell him, I came home.
She didn’t promise, I’m not going anywhere.
In this passage, the author uses a parallel sentence structure for the three sentence to simulate pleading, and the paragraph spaces between sentences to enhance the isolation the main character is feeling.
Style is the way an author uses sentence structure and meaning together. It’s the intention and expression of meaning that makes the sentences memorable. It’s the sentences that make the reading natural. Style looks and sounds right.
Style in writing separates one great story from hundreds of good ones.

Like Yves Saint Laurent said,“Fashions fade, style is eternal.”