Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Sky is Falling, The Sky is Falling!

Ever wonder why we have so many catastrophic-oriented, distopian and world-end stories on TV and in the movies? What's going on? 

We  all hear of disasters and potential for disasters--now more than ever because we have the instant internet.

Because of fear (conscious or subliminal) and our built in survival instincts, we allow ourselves to consider all the possible scenarios of potential catastrophes so we can be prepared. Even if we are only mildly curious, we need to know how we would handle the eventualities because we are built for stories. 

While we read stories for entertainment, we are also putting ourselves into the stories (depending on the skill of the writer-see How To Hook Your Reader With Dopamine) to learn how the situations are resolved, in case we will need that information in the future. It is a built in compulsion-a survival mechanism in humans from our earliest days of  survival. We tell stories of the good we encountered, what to be wary of and how to handle trouble. 

It can be compared to camping. You think ahead of all the things you need to stay alive (or as comfortable as you personally want to be) in the wilderness (or camp park). So you bring food, shelter, clothing, weapons/tools and a first aid kit—all the things necessary to handle any dangers out there in the eventuality that you actually have to confront one (bears, poison ivy, falling in a river, mosquitoes, etc).

It is only a step further to considering dangers on a larger scale. You run through all the possible scenarios and what you would do in the event one of them happens--so you will be ready to act if necessary.

Some people go the religious route and hope/believe someone or something outside themselves will save them. Some people go the survivalist route and build shelters and stock up on food and gear to meet the possible dangers. (Some do both and cover all the bases) Others freak out and get depressed. We all handle potential danger differently.

If you want to know what some of the major conspiracy theories are, go to Conspiritorium.

For some of the best movie thrillers of all time, visit Hollywood and Conspiracy Films and see some of the 24 greatest movies made to tap into the public’s fascination with conspiracies. (There were several I want to watch again-some great old classics)

What is your favorite fear/conspiracy theory/apocalyptic prophesy?

You know you have one.

Remember, it is only a theory until it happens.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Here We Are Back On That Subject Again!


I am still reading/absorbing Wired For Story by LisaCron and still astounded by the statement that: “beautiful writing trumps all” is a myth.

The reality is that “storytelling trumps beautiful writing, every time.”

I was rooming with two writer friends at a Bouchercon conference years ago. We'd been given a tote full of free books and had piled them all on one of the beds to begin reading first paragraphs aloud to each other to see which ones caught our attention (so we could take those home and donate the rest back). 

One friend had the arc copy of The Da Vinci Code (the arc is the Advanced Reading Copy usually given to reviewers before the book is published) and she just handed to me and said, here I think you might like this with your artist background (The title). I opened it, read it aloud and was hooked. Why?

The characters were not fabulous or particularly well drawn, the dialogue wasn’t great, the imagery in the churches was only written to point to the next clue and it didn’t contain luscious language to enthrall the reader. (my opinion)

So why was I immediately hooked, as was apparently millions of others? Because, from the very first page I was dying to know what happens next. The story has a sense of urgency from the first paragraph.

That is not to disparage beautifully written stories. After all, if they also abide by the storytelling criteria, they can be a fabulous read. The point, Cron makes is, “learning to write well is not synonymous with learning to write a story.”

Story telling first, writing well, secondary.

If you pick up a book and don’t care what happens next, what does it matter how well it is written? 

A cognitive truth from Chapter 2:
“When the brain focuses its full attention on something, it filters out all unnecessary information.”

The story secret Cron goes on to point out,
“To hold the brain’s attention, everything in a story must be there on a need-to-know basis,” so your “first job is to zero in on the point your story is making.”

It becomes necessary to take out all unnecessary and distracting information. Too often writers fall in love with their own words and quickly lose the reader because they fail to stay focused on the protagonist’s issue (or worse-haven't figured out what it is, the theme and the plot.

Chew on this and consider whether you write to story or write to enthrall others with your beautiful descriptions. Is it more important to you--to be read by many or admired for  beautiful prose? 

Have the books you've read lately, left you flat--maybe put too much emphasis on beautiful writing and not enough on story?

Chime right in…

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Peek at the Past

I am posting today over at Sherry Isaac's blog, Psychological Sizzle

Check out the incident that led to the writing of my new novel coming out this winter, 
Dance The Dream Awake, about a past life breaking through to this one. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Smattering of Informative Posts This Week

On Tweeting:
Read about the good bits of the Tweeting life.
“Twitter is all about people . . . sharing and connecting . . . a great promotion tool . . . the key to using it effectively. . .”

Scandal of the week revealed:
“You may have heard of a little scandal last week involving Lendink, where a group of authors – mainly indie, although some were traditionally published – misunderstood the purpose of borrowing site LendInk, mistakenly believing the site had pirated their books.” Read the rest by Talli Roland on The Importance of Reading the Fine Print

Inspiration for older writers:
Never give up on your dreams. You’re never too old to publish. Anne R. Allen’s Blog.

Short Story contest with $$$$ awards
Glimmer Train's - Short Story Award for New Writers
Deadline for entries: August 31, 2012
Glimmer Train is having a short story contest for new writers with a first prize of $1500.00, so if you have a story, now is the time to enter. 

Have you been unsure where to submit your novel?
How do you choose a publishing house to get your novel out there? Sunny Frazier tells all at Novel Spaces:

I will be visiting Sherri Isaac on her blog, Psychological Sizzle, this Saturday with a post on past lives. Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Drawing the Edges of Your Writing

When I started out on my own, I roomed with a girl friend who was critical of my sad places . I would listen to sad music (the Blues and torch songs), cry and write poetry a lot (oh, the angst of young men and women)

I was entranced with the Beatnik mistique, but alas, that era was passing. My friend said I shouldn’t do that—give into the sadness—and then she got religious with me as to why I shouldn't.

“Don’t tell me what I should think and feel!”

The conflict I had with my friend set up a rebellion within me; a rebellion against her preconceived ideas of what was right and appropriate for me. 

Listening to sad music helped me feel the depths of emotion and sadness. It was an exercise, like drawing the black lines along the edges of my soul, that helped define me. 

So I dressed in black and moved to San Francisco to find the remnants of the Beats.

Why bring this up? Because when I write, I go to those scary places and challenge some aspect of the dark outlines, drawing them out further to increase my area of light and confidence, my sense of self and who I am. 

As writers, I think we need to push against those scary places within ourselves. Stretch and expand our writing to greater depths.

This month, on Saturday, August 18, Sherri Isaac will host me on her site, Psychological Sizzle, to talk about where this fierce resistance comes from and how I used it to write my first novel.  I hope you join me over at Sherri’s place for further discussion about those dark edges.

Have you defined where the inspiration comes from for your stories? 

Do you do anything unusual to bring out the writing juices for a new book?

As a reader, what unusual elements do you enjoy in books you read?

Friday, August 3, 2012

How to Hook Your Reader With Dopamine

Recently, I had a bunch of e-books on my reader and I just couldn’t get into any of them. Then I opened the last book I’d downloaded on my Nook for free. Before I realized it, I was 80 pages in and hooked. Why, I wondered did all those other good books not grab me and this one did? 

Back in June, I was blogging on why we choose to read certain books, here:  and a follow up of the results here: There was lots of opinions in the comments about what readers like to read and why.

Then I came across this post at Writer Unboxed, and I was struck by the simplicity of what it takes to make a story that grabs people and doesn’t let them go until the end.

Why Are We Wired For Story? Is an article by Lisa Cron from her new craft book, Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence. 

She says, “What the brain craves, hunts for and responds to in every story it hears has nothing to do with what most writers are taught to strive for . . . whether literary or a down and dirty thriller.”

“Beginning with the very first sentence, the brain craves a sense of urgency that instantly makes us want to know what happens next. It’s a visceral feeling that seduces us into leaving the real world behind and surrendering to the world of the story.”

Story is more than entertainment, more than a question to be answered, more than a vicarious experience. Story is how we make sense of the world. Cron says it is the brain’s goal to predict what might happen, so in the event that we are in a similar situation, we will know what to do. It has to do with Stone Age programming for survival. We vicariously live through the story experience so we can gain useful information, just in case.

Cron makes the case,
“Story was so crucial to our survival that the brain evolved specifically to respond to it, especially once we realized that banding together in social groups makes surviving a whole lot easier. Suddenly it wasn’t just about figuring out the physical world, it was about something far trickier: navigating the social realm.

In short, we’re wired to turn to story to teach us the way of the world and give us insight into what makes people tick, the better to discern whether the cute guy in the next cubicle really is single like he says, and to plan the perfect comeuppance if he’s not.”

So, I was hitting on something back in my June posts when I questioned what people want in story. There were comments all over the place about what makes a good story—or at least the stories that grab us and won’t let go. Wouldn’t we all like readers to read our stories like that—unable to put them down? 

It seems that when a story grabs us to pay attention it has to do with the neural pleasure transmitter, dopamine. Imagine that.

“It’s triggered by curiosity,” Cron says. “We want to know what happens next—curiosity gives us a flood of dopamine to keep us reading long after midnight because tomorrow we might need the insight it will give us.”

The results of my limited questionnaire in June were:
People read for a variety of reasons, the main ones being evenly divided between:
       Plot and story:
      -to get lost in the story 
      -a problem to solve; a mystery
      -interesting story line
      -effectiveness of weaving a tale 

This seems to affirm Cron's hypothesis. 

So, how do writers craft a well-told tale? It’s not your lyrical prose that is most important. It’s not even those memorable characters of themselves that are important, but only if your characters are actively engaged in solving a problem effectively (believably). Then the dopamine makes us respond.

Cron goes on to say that you can reduce your editing time by not concentrating on polishing your prose—she says “that’s like rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic.” Concentrate on telling a good story. And, I would add, a believable story that could happen (even in a sci-fi or fantasy world). We can’t forget believable emotions and emotional reactions as well.

Are you convinced that story is more important to keep readers reading than the prose? Or, do you believe the writing is the most important thing, as one of my commenters said, “if I find multiple errors in a book, I throw it across the room!

What do you think?