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Does your protagonist have a life theme or motto?

At the beginning of each year, my writing partner Carly chooses a short phrase or sentence that she uses to remind herself of what she wants to focus on for the coming year.

She says she likes to keep the sentence short so it’s easy to remember and can easily be turned into a daily mantra. For the last several years, she’s developed a personal writing theme.

To read more about her idea, please read her posts, “My 2014 personal writing theme revealed,” and “Short story writing method reveals New Year’s theme.

I noticed while re-reading Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods,” that the main character Shadow has a motto that he lives by. In the first chapter, Shadow is in prison and we learn his survival motto is, “Keep your head down. Do your own time. Speak when you’re spoken to.” In other words, you do your own time in prison. You don’t do anyone else’s time for them. You don’t get mixed up in their dramas. You keep your mouth shut.

Later, after Shadow is let out of prison and he begins working for Mr. Wednesday and is kidnapped by men in black, he repeats his old prison motto to himself:

“He pretended he was back in prison. Do your own time, thought Shadow. Don’t tell them anything they don’t already know. Don’t ask questions.”

By the end of the story—well, I won’t put in any spoilers—but basically his motto gets turned on its head. And this is part of his growth as a character.

Does your character have a motto they live by or a life theme like Carly and Shadow that they can sum up in one or two sentences? Is there a belief that drives them from day to day? Having this theme firmly in mind while writing your scenes will help ground you in your character’s reality.

Exercise: Set a timer for six minutes and free write about what your protagonist’s life theme might be. Do the same for your antagonist and then every major character.

If you’d like, please share your character’s theme in the comments below.

 

 

How to create a great villain

In Award Winning Screenwriter Jacob Krueger’s short video below, he answers the question “How Do You Create a Perfect Villain?”

Krueger says we have to remember that the antagonist thinks he is the hero of his story. Most characters believe they are the good guys even if they are doing horrible things.

Example: in “Star Wars” all Darth Vader wants is to rule the galaxy with his son–he just has a twisted way of going about it. Each antagonist has a story they are telling themselves that makes them feel like a good person every day. Their desires are as important to them as the protagonist’s desires are important to them.

Krueger also says a great antagonist comes at the world with a point-of-view that is so truthful it forces the main character to deal with something they’re not confronting in themselves. A great antagonist will force the protagonist to face their flaws, overcome them, and be changed in some way.

For more tips in creating a great antagonist watch Krueger’s video below:

Cultivate conversation with a mini essay

You never know where you will find wild words.

In a recent post, How to find writerly inspiration while eating a burrito, I wrote about Chipotle restaurant’s Cultivating Thought — Author Series in which it features essays from 11 authors on cups and to-go bags.

The campaign was meant to spark conversation and introspection through essays that take about two minutes to read.

In the spirit of cultivating inspiration and discussion, consider writing your own two-minute essay. Here’s a list of writing prompts that might spark an idea.

1. What is your personal philosophy?

2. What is a favorite memory and why?

3. What frustrates or annoys you?

4. What makes you happy?

5. What are you grateful for?

Write about 300 to 400 words. When you sit down to write, suspend all critical thought and just pour your heart out on the page. You’ll have time later to edit and revise. Consider even writing your first draft by hand in a notebook. When you’re done, publish your essay on your blog or website and start a discussion of your own.

Develop your characters through dance

Thanks to Rhay Christou, author and writing teacher at www.MargieLawson.com, for introducing me to this short video below showing a fun and creative way to develop your characters.

Actor Kevin Cox offers advice to other actors that can be beneficial for writers, too. He says we should be able to express our character physically. He suggests dancing out your scenes—try different styles of dance like hip hop, ballet, tango, salsa, waltz, etc. Give your dance the attitudes of your character. This will help unlock your body and open up your potential to connect with your character. If you have two characters in a scene dance out one character’s part then dance out the other character’s part. How do they differ? What did you learn?

Once you’ve got the dancing down and you’re still in your character’s skin, close your eyes and ask some questions. What do they feel in the moment? How are they moving? What do they taste and hear and smell? If they opened their eyes right now, what would they see?

Watch this 3-minute video and then read on:

I just tried this (in my side yard where no neighbors could see me) and discovered the following:

* My protagonist feels heavy in her body when she’s with the antagonist she is attracted to (she’s not overweight so this is a reflection of her emotional state);

* She feels lighter in her body and soul when she’s with her ex-boyfriend who she is also attracted to.

* The difference is the antagonist leans in on her energy, he is trying to get something from her and wants to control her. Her ex-boyfriend wants her to be herself and to fulfill her potential but only so that it completes her and not him. Wow. Love it. And this is just the surface stuff…I bet if I dig deeper into the dance, I find more.

Try the exercise and tell us what you experienced in the comments below.

How to find writerly inspiration while eating a burrito

The minute I finally learned to read, I was hooked on words. I was like a staggering lost child who had crawled out of the Mohave desert and couldn’t stop gulping water from the first faucet I found. I checked out stacks of books at the library and read anything I could get my hands on, including the back of the Cheerios box as I sat at the breakfast table.

So it’s no surprise that when I went to Chipotle yesterday, I immediately glued my eyes to the copy written on my to-go sack as I chomped down on my burrito.

“Hope that, in future, all is well, everyone eats free, no one must work, all just sit around feeling love for one another.” George Saunders

I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Huh? What’s George Saunders, the short story writer extraordinaire, doing on my burrito sack?”

This is what: Saunders and 10 other writers are part of a Chipotle campaign called Cultivating Thought — Author Series. The campaign was the brainchild of Jonathan Safran Foer, a featured author and curator of the project.  It’s meant to spark conversation and introspection through essays that take about two minutes to read. The idea, Foer said in a video on the website, was not for the campaign to be any sort of marketing tool. He goes on to say that, “….in the scheme of corporate America, this is not a massive investment of any kind. But it might have really beautiful payoffs.”

Other authors include Toni Morrison, who wrote the essay, “Two-Minute Seduction,” comedian Sarah Silverman, Harvard professor Steven Pinker, and Michael Lewis, author of “Moneyball” and “The Blind Side.”

The essays on Chipotle’s bags and cups are meant to, “create a moment of analog pause in a digital world, provoking introspection or inspiration, and maybe a little laughter.”

Besides the essays, the paper bags and cups feature original art. For a bite of inspiration, go to cultivatingthought.com to see the artwork, author bios, Q&As with the writers, and their essays.

How do you define the truth of your story?

In the short video below, author and screenwriting mentor Robert McKee answers the question, “How do you define the truth of your story?”

My main struggle as a writer is to express the truth of my stories or poems in a way that will also resonate with my readers.

McKee says that there are many levels of truth in a story. There’s the surface level—the how and why things happen. The facts of the story.

For example, my protagonist in my current work starts out as a veterinarian focused on healing animals with her science and medical abilities only but, as the story progresses, she is drawn deeper into the magic of her hometown and her own special healing abilities. This is the surface story.

But, McKee says, a storyteller is after how and why what happens on the surface happens. We are looking for the deep hows and whys even down to our character’s subconscious level.

In my story, my protagonist resists using her special abilities because bad things have happened to those she loved when she used her powers as a young girl. She carries this trauma forward and it is her truth.

In a good story, says McKee, you express the truth that you believe in. Someone else may see it as a totally different truth from their own experiences but this doesn’t matter. If you express your truths well and beautifully, the reader will resonate with your work. They will come away from your book or movie recognizing they are in the presence of the truth.

 

 

Fun and inspiring titles for your summer reading pleasure

It’s summer here in the U.S.A., so time for many of us to head out for a vacation. Wherever you’re going, it’s a perfect time to take a stack of books or your e-reader to catch up on some reading.

For your reading pleasure, here’s my list of fun and stimulating titles.

I was totally entranced by The Rosie Project, a novel about socially challenged genetics professor, Don, who tries to turn the art of love and his search for it into a science project. An unlikely relationship develops between Don and one of the candidates who responds to his search, Rosie Jarman. The Rosie Project is quirky, funny and different than any other romantic comedy I’ve ever read.

For those of us who live for writing, you’ll be inspired by Jimmy Santiago Baca’s memoir, A Place to Stand. Baca writes about how he learned his craft and found redemption in poetry while serving time in a maximum security prison. At one point, he gets into a fight with another inmate and as he hovers over him about to plunge a blade into his heart, Baca hears in his head the words of Garcia Lorca and Pablo Neruda, two great Spanish poets he’d been reading.

“How can you kill and still be a poet?” he asks. Baca is torn between a prison code of survival and the beauty and inspiration of words and in the end chooses poetry — and life. Read more

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