In winter, I plot and plan. In spring, I move. (Henry Rollins)
We may be the last place in Canada to get a taste of real winter weather. So, no complaining. We rejoice in the beauty of snow and blue winter skies reflected on the water.
A great story is life with the dull parts taken out – Alfred Hitchcock.
Morning grey on the Fraser River – day two of our fall trip. Nothing dull about that pic. In novel writing, we want no dull characters, no dull situations, no dull settings. But, let’s be clear on what constitutes dull. The definition, in terms of writing, is unique. Any action that doesn’t move the story forward is dull. If teeth brushing is integral to the movement of your story, then teeth brushing is not dull. Maybe your character is brushing her teeth and as she spits blood into the sink, she decides once and for all to leave the brute who smashed her in the face that morning. Definitely not dull.
On the other hand, the photo below, is vibrant with fall colours. It is no dull grey expose but what does it have to do with the story? The colours may pop but if they aren’t moving the story forward, dull, dull, dull.
Action is plot and plot is action. I’ve read that genre novels are action driven. Lots of things happen to the character. Literary novels are more about the interior life of the characters. It could be said that the character happens to the plot. In each case, the story must find a way to move. It seems to me that most good novels are a combination of the two.
A plot without good character development is all action and no bonding. The reader can’t get invested. On the other hand, character development without a plot is like being all dressed up and having no where to go. And by the way – have you ever heard of a Turban squash. I hadn’t until we stopped at the Marisposa Organic Fruit Stand outside Keremeos.
At its most basic, plot is how a character deals with challenge. And it’s all about movement. Want something, go somewhere, learn something, come out the other end changed. There you have it. Bare bones, but if you can’t see down to the skeleton, you can’t write a decent novel.
The photo below is Sunset in Osoyoos, the end of day two of our fall trip. The bulrush chimes near the art gallery. I hadn’t been back to Osoyoos since selling my dad’s house in 2010. He’d died late the previous year. I wasn’t expecting the return to bring back such powerful, overwhelming memories. Death changes everything.
No two persons ever read the same book. Edmund Wilson – critic – May 8th, 1895-1972.
Any author who has received reviews of their work will tell you the truth of Wilson’s quote. Writers write and readers interpret.
As Anna sings in the hit Disney classic, Frozen – Let it go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore.
As a writer, I fling my words out into the world and I let the readers do their job. Each person who opens one of my novels will bring to the book a unique set of life experiences, attitudes, values and expectations. Each will read a different book out of the very words available to all. And so it should be!
Yesterday, Ash Wednesday kicked off the forty days of Lent. For those who follow church time, Lent is traditionally a period to clear out the excess that clutters our days to make room for the new life that will come with Easter. It is true that the new will have a hard time finding a spot to settle in with us if all the available real estate is taken.
Without a doubt, our lives get cluttered. Objects, behaviours, ideas, activities – you name it – somehow, these things start to take up way more time, energy and space that we ever thought they would. In the best sense, Lent can be the broom that sweeps clear and helps us get back to the basics. Lent can be a time when we hone in on what really matters to us and how we might find our way to doing what we can to enact change.
Here is a list of ways to make change this Lent (by no means exhaustive and only meant to prime the pump of your own imagination):
“Everything in life has its own time. There is time to celebrate and there is time to mourn. This is the time for reflection and transformation. Let us look within and change into what we ought to be.” (Aaron Saul)
“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for a home.” Edith Sitwell
There are always flowers for those who want to see them – Henry Matisse
A hearty little snapdragon that is still blooming on Dec. 1st!
Flower Friday! Home from our travels to Alberta to find that we still have hints of colour poking up here and there. Love the North Island.
A lonely Angel’s Trumpet in the green house along with a vibrant chrysanthemum.
Lovely to be home and I can’t wait to start writing again
All Saints Day – also known as All Hallows – thus last night was All Hallows Eve!
A bit of reflection on saintliness via some literary minds is a nice way to start the month of November. This list of quotes came to my attention on Writers Write blog.
Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent. (George Orwell)
If I were going to convert to any religion I would probably choose Catholicism because it at least has female saints and the Virgin Mary. (Margaret Atwood)
Saints have no moderation, nor do poets, just exuberance. (Anne Sexton)
Kids delight in ‘magical thinking’, whether in the form of the Tooth Fairy or the saints: whether you see these as comforting lies or eternal verities, they are part of how we help kids make sense of the world. (Emma Donoghue)
In his holy flirtation with the world, God occasionally drops a handkerchief. These handkerchiefs are called saints. (Frederick Buechner)
Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. (Oscar Wilde)
Bright splashes of colour peeking through the browns of fall – pure magic indeed. I’m not referring to flowers that are meant to bloom specifically for autumn. Things like Chrysanthemums, colourful Michaelmas Daisies and Autumn Crocuses. I’m talking about the hardy summer blooming flowers that just won’t give up on the chance to flash showy colours as the cold nights of fall descend.
I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. (Lucy Maude Montgomery – Anne of Green Gables)
No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face. (John Donne)
Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower. (Albert Camus)
Autumn – the year’s last loveliest smile. (William Cullen Bryant)
Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall. (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
Recently, I was asked this question – How do you come up with the ideas for your books? The person asking was sincere in a desire to understand the inner workings of a novelist’s process. My first thought was that ideas are a dime a dozen. They’re everywhere, free for the taking. As Amy Tan wrote, “It’s a luxury being a writer, because all you ever think about is life.”
Neil Gaimon talks of how every profession has its pitfalls. Doctors are asked for medical advice, lawyers are asked for legal information, morticians are told how interesting their profession must be before the subject is quickly changed. Writers must bear the burden of being asked where we get our ideas from.
I scrambled to pull my thoughts together and make an adequate reply. I considered answering as Hemingway would. “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” From there all will flow. I rejected that idea. By quoting Hemingway I ran the risk of sounding like a literary snob and such an answer would have been unsatisfying to a sincere questioner.
Instead, I talked of how I spend a lot of time getting to know my characters. They are the ones who have all the ideas. I’m with Stephen King when he says that the best stories always end up being about the people, not the events. The only problem with this answer is that it begged the next question. Where do the characters come from?
Where indeed? Even after five forays into creating characters and stories that fill whole books, the process is as much a mystery to me as it might be to someone who has never done it. Fair to say, as Chuck Palahniuk notes, “My writing process isn’t a very organized thing.”
The more I think about how the books came to be, the more the indefinable nature of the work strikes me. It’s almost as if I have fallen victim to a strange reflective amnesia. Where on earth did those first characters in Disappearing in Plain Sight come from? I just don’t know. E.L Doctorow tells us, “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights but you can make the whole trip that way.” He might have been wise to add that when looking in the rear-view mirror, one can see nothing at all.
The writing process is a hard thing to discuss. Virginia Wolfe had it right when she reflected that, “Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of … life, every quality of … mind is written large in his [or her] words.”
All I know for sure is that all my life I’ve wondered about people. I’ve always been curious and I’ve always been prone to wild bouts of speculation. Questions of ‘what if’ have often driven my thoughts.
Maybe George Orwell has the answer. “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one weren’t driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Orwell could have also noted that having to talk about such a process is worse than going through it!
Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch) seems to have it all: popularity, a loving boyfriend (Kian Lawley) and a seemingly perfect future. Everything changes in the blink of an eye when she dies in a car crash but then magically wakes up to find herself reliving the same day over and over again. As Samantha tries to untangle the mystery of a life derailed, she must also unravel the secrets of the people closest to her and discover how the power of a single day can make a difference.
I don’t see many movies, let alone a new release! Stop the presses. My daughter and I found ourselves with time to spare last night. I wasn’t so tired I had to flop in bed at 9:30. This movie was cued up and ready to go. The first twenty minutes of viewing, before the dramatic scene that sets the stage for the plot to unfold, are pure slogging. The viewer will almost wish something bad happens to the main character and her friends. They give a new meaning to the expression ‘mean girls’.
Once Samantha has died and is thrust into a purgatory of reliving her last day on earth over and over, the movie gets interesting. The blurb summarizes nicely – discoveries are made, past behaviours are examined and a variety of denial mechanisms are brought into play. But ultimately, Samantha is forced to recognize her culpability in setting a terrible chain of events in motion.
The twofold message of this movie is a great one for young and old alike. The plot aptly demonstrates how, with one tentative step after another – no choice earth shattering or worthy of pondering in and of itself – a person can end up on a path never planned for or anticipated. Even more important is the belief we all have that there will be endless time to get things right. We brush off behaviour that is petty, or mean or selfish. We know we’re better than that and we’re sure we’ll make it right in the future. But what happens if our time runs out? On any given day, are we ready to leave this life behind?
Samantha discovers that living one day fully with not a single regret is all the preparation needed to make the ultimate sacrifice and leave this world knowing she made a difference.
See Before I Fall with the young people in your life. Talk about the message. This movie will make you think.