Monthly Archives: April 2015

Writing Thursday: Spring Cleaning

stock-vector-spring-cleaning-icon-eps-vector-grouped-for-easy-editing-no-open-shapes-or-paths-169101809Spring cleaning. Today’s one of those beautiful days that scream spring. I’ve been at the library most of the day working on my work in progress, but it looked beautiful outside. Especially now that the pollen count is down. All around spring is blooming. Flowers are sprouting, the weather is warming up, and I’ve thought about cleaning. The operative word being thought. I asked my wonderful hubby to bring home boxes from work so I can box up old clothes for Goodwill and some books for the library sale. I’ve started going through stuff, weeding through piles of stuff and getting it ready to go out of the house, hoping for the day when I have a clean, uncluttered house. (For those of you who know me, I’ll wait a minute for you to stop laughing.) With spring all around me, I thought about ways writers unclutter their lives in order to become more productive. What can I learn about writing from spring cleaning?

Have a plan. Not just a plan for a book but a plan to increase my productivity. One of the best ways I can do this is to utilize a to-do list. When I don’t write out my goals for the week, I usually don’t get as much done. It’s not enough for me to think about my goals, I have to physically write out my list. When I visualize what I need to do, I attack my list. Today I actually made it to the part where I included blogging and social media. To-do lists often get a bad rap. They’re often seen as signs of a Type A personality when someone hunkers down over his or her work and thinks of nothing else but accomplishing everything on that list to the detriment of everything else in his or her life. In my case, not so much. It’s a way for me to finish my goals so I can dedicate time to my family. Lists don’t work for everyone, but I think they can do wonders for writers. Instead of berating themselves for all they didn’t get done, writers can congratulate themselves on what they did get done. Just like it helps with spring cleaning to have a list of what you want to get done in each room and cross off the deeds one by one, so too a plan can help a writer prioritize what needs to get done today and what can wait until tomorrow.

Get to work. I’m a great procrastinator. Not just good or okay. I excel at it. Instead of Writing Monday, this blog is getting written on Thursday. It’s been one of those weeks. Just as spring cleaning is great to visualize, it doesn’t happen until the sleeves are up, the clutter is put away, given away, or thrown away, and the room is clean. So too with writing. Until I sit down at the keyboard, nothing gets done. It’s great to have the book simmering in my head, but BICHOK (butt in chair, hands on keys) works great for getting it onto the page. I have to write every day. For me, the process is multi-fold: I plot out the book, write the book, edit the book, send it to my critique partner, and then edit a lot more.

Double checking the drawers and under the bed. I’m a mom of a teenager, a tween, and twin preschoolers. The four of them all have their own personalities, but they all have one thing in common: all of them love to make messes. One time I found a bottle of opened maple syrup in my oldest son’s room. So I’ve learned I have to double check under the bed and in the drawers when I clean. I’ve learned to go back and start line editing my works. Writing a book doesn’t stop the first time I type The End. Even on my fourth pass of a draft, I’ve found paragraphs where I used the work dark three times in two lines. Today I corrected peeked to peaked. Checking work is crucial: spelling, grammar, word repetition and maintaining one character’s POV can go a long way into presenting a professional looking manuscript. It’s making sure the bottle of maple syrup is outside in the trash rather than under the bed.

Enlisting others to help. Sometimes getting the whole family to help is the best way to make sure the whole house gets cleaned. Encouragement from others is often the best way to make sure the manuscript gets done. Whether it’s a family member, a critique partner, a friend, a chapter member or someone else, a friendly word goes a long way in helping get through rejection or writer’s block or whatever’s in the writer’s path.

 Start another cleaning project. Once the house is clean (once again, no laughter from those who know me best), there’s always another project to tackle: organizing family photographs, planning a vacation, getting kids ready for back to school. Once the book is written, edited and re-edited, then it’s time to start all over. Writers don’t rest on their laurels. I’m always looking to my next book, getting excited over plotting and meeting new characters.

Are you a fan of to-do lists or do you wing it? Let me know.

Writing Monday: Couple Chemistry

Those people who know me know to stay away from two subjects: classic movies and writing. When I start talking about movies or writing, I can get carried away. Just ask my husband. The last time we went to a party, someone casually mentioned they were interested in writing a book. My husband removed his coat and started talking to the hostess. Forty-five minutes later after extolling the virtues of how a few words a day can add up in a hurry, how awesome my local writing chapter is, and how neat it is to type the end, I wrapped up my discussion about writing. My husband graciously escorted me out before I started talking to anyone else about some of my favorite subjects. Needless to say, I’ll discuss the craft of writing with anyone, anytime, anywhere. That’s one of the reasons I blog about it, hoping to spark a tiny bit of interest in someone who might have carried a germ of an idea around in his or her head and wants to start translating those ideas into a book or screenplay. It only made sense to blog about what classic movies have taught me and how I try to apply some of those lessons in my own writing. This is the last in my series connecting classic movies to the craft of writing. And I’m doing so with a bang-chemistry. What helps turn a great screenplay into a truly memorable movie? The chemistry between the leads. What makes a book memorable? Chemistry between the characters.

Movies. Think about some of your favorite movies, whether they’re romantic in nature or not. I bet there is some relationship that caught your attention. If you like romantic comedies, have you seen My Man Godfrey? Classic movie fans immediately have an image of Carole Lombard and William Powell clashing. Carole Lombard was at the height of her beauty, a blonde dithery vision on a scavenger hunt searching for a vagrant to accompany her back to the organizers. William Powell was at the height of his career. He played Godfrey, a man who turned his back on the world and lived on his terms: stubble, dirt and all. It worked because of their chemistry. The remake with June Allyson and David Niven didn’t work nearly as well because the two didn’t reflect the same sparks as Lombard and Powell did. (Don’t get me wrong-Allyson and Niven were both great actors more than capable of great chemistry with the right partner-June Allyson teamed very well with Van Johnson and Jimmy Stewart; David Niven teamed very well with Ginger Rogers and Robert Wagner.)

If you like science-fiction/fantasy movies, what would Star Wars be without C-3PO and R2D2? They may be droids, but their rapport and shtick help not only provide comic relief but also shows how much they rely on one another.

More of an action movie fan? The Lethal Weapon series wouldn’t have been the same without the great rapport between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. Even Die Hard benefits from the walkie-talkie discussions between Bruce Willis and Reginald VelJohnson.

Dramas? What about the father-daughter bond between Atticus Finch and Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird?

Mysteries? Have you seen Laura? Dana Andrews gives an underappreciated performance in this movie, falling in love with Laura without having ever met her as he is investigating her murder.

In each of these movies, a relationship became even stronger when the characters fed off and learned from each other.

Books. I write romance novels. No matter the heat level in a romance, the leads have to have chemistry. There has to be some bond, some connection that shows in a world of over seven billion (assuming the setting is Earth and it’s not a fantasy romance set in another realm), these two characters are only meant for each other. That’s what a romance author has to capture on the written page: the emotional connection that ties these two people together, no matter the odds, no matter the conflict.

When in doubt about a scene, I sometimes reflect on my love of classic movies. How did two opposites like the bookish David Huxley and the wealthy Susan Vance fall in love in Bringing Up Baby? How did two married people keep the spark alive as well as Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man? How did Devlin and Alicia Huberman generate such passion when she believes he only sees her as a fallen woman in Notorious? The chemistry between these couples helps me want to create a strong couple, a couple who overcomes odds and deserves a happy ending.

And that concludes my series tying together two of my favorite subjects: classic movies and writing. Chemistry between two characters goes a long way into a book going on the keeper shelf and a movie staying in my thoughts long after the last reel has faded.

What couples in film or books are some of your favorites? Let me know.

Writing Wednesday: Comfort Movies and a Writer’s Voice

stock-photo-viewers-watch-motion-picture-at-movie-theatre-long-exposure-177676565 When you’ve had a bad day, are you the type of person who has comfort movies? I live in the South, and we’re big on comfort food down here. There are times, though, I don’t reach for freshly fried chicken or a hot fudge sundae. Instead, I go straight to my movie collection. When I’m down, there’s nothing like Fred or Ginger dancing away their worries. Or Rosalind and Cary spewing lines left and right in a hailstorm of hilarity. Yeah, after a bad day, there’s nothing like relaxing with one of my favorite movies. Ever since I was a teenager searching for a way to get out of housework one afternoon and stumbled on Topper, I’ve loved watching classic movies. The original Frankenstein with Colin Clive and Boris Karloff has some chilling moments that still resonate today. The scene in Double Indemnity where Billy Wilder highlights Barbara Stanwyck’s face as Phyllis watches her husband die is a classic moment in film noir. Irene Dunne’s Lucy Warriner trills a note and grins in The Awful Truth when her husband Jerry, played by Cary Grant, barges in on her recital and falls flat on his face. It’s Writing Wednesday, and in keeping with my series on how classic movies can help with writing, what do all of these movies have in common? They are classics in their genre: horror, film noir, and romantic comedy. They knew their voice and executed their elements beautifully.

Genre. A trip to a bookstore doesn’t hide the fact there are tons of different books out there: horror, thrillers, cozy mysteries, romance, young adult, mainstream fiction, biographies, self-help and more. (If you haven’t seen the post about a bookstore employee making his own sections, it’s really funny and worth a look). The first decision a writer makes is narrowing down the field and realizing what they want to write. I love cozy mysteries and when I’m not reading a romance, I’m usually caught up in the latest of one of my favorite mystery authors like Carolyn Hart or Rita Mae Brown. But when push came to shove, I always turn to a romantic movie to pull me out of the doldrums. More often than naught, I turn to one of my favorite romance writers when I need a good laugh. For me, the choice was simple: romance.

Voice. Ah, the elusive term for writers. How often do beginning writers hear a familiar refrain? Find your voice. Find your brand.

Classic movies knew their voice. There was a reason some people referred to Frank Capra movies as Capra-corn. When you went to a Frank Capra movie, you knew you were getting two hours of delicious, fun movie entertainment. Eighty years later, a number of his movies are still household names: It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Arsenic and Old Lace, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, It Happened One Night, and You Can’t Take It With You. All of these movies resonate with the deep down goodness of people to do the right thing (even the Arsenic and Old Lace aunts in their own twisted way are convinced they’re doing those men a favor before Teddy digs another lock for the canal). George Bailey finds out that no man who has friends is a failure. Jefferson Smith finds out his filibuster is not for naught. Longfellow Deeds finds out Babe Bennett isn’t just out for the story. Peter Warne finds out the importance of standing behind his principles and only asks for the money due to him. Alice Sycamore finds out the richness of one’s family is not in dollars, but in the way they live their lives fully and without reservation.

Persistence can help a writer figure out what sets their books apart from others in the same genre. Sometimes it’s likeability. Sometimes it’s the writing style fitting the genre. The more you write, the more you find out what is unique about your writing style and the more it will come across on the written page just the same way it did for Frank Capra’s voice coming across on the silver screen.

So personally, comfort movies can actually translate to the written word. So many times I’ve turned to one of my romantic comedies to the point that it was natural for me to turn to writing romance.

What about you? What’s your comfort movie? Let me know.

Writing Wednesday: Let’s Put on a Show

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If there’s one thing that seems to be repeated about movies, it seems to be the question about whether Hollywood has run out of ideas. Everywhere you turn, there seems to be another sequel or another movie featuring a dystopian or post-apocalyptic theme. It’s not that Hollywood has run out of ideas, after all how many fresh ideas are there? Rather movies tend to come in cycles. In the 1930s after The Thin Man became a hit, there was a wave of copycat romantic mysteries. In the 1940s The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity paved the way for a decade of film noir thrillers. The 1950s saw a proliferation of Biblical epics from a remake of The Ten Commandments to Samson and Delilah. And so on, and so on. Despite the cyclical way Hollywood works, lessons from movies can often help people, especially writers. For example, in the 1930s, there were a lot of “let’s-put-on-a-show” movies. And almost every decade had a least one box office ensemble smash from Grand Hotel to The Best Years of Our Lives to Network to Love Actually. So what can writers learn from these two types of films?

“Let’s-put-on-a-show” movies. For lack of a better term, this is what I call the movies that are somewhat out of style. Ones that featured Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney bringing the gang together to raise money for a great cause. They featured teamwork and people putting aside their differences for a reason. While there may be television shows that sometimes feature this plot, this seldom sees the light of day as far as modern movies.

But just as Judy and Mickey put on many a show in the 30s, so too do writers come together. Anybody who has written a book knows the second you advertise your status as a writer, there are certain questions or comments that come your way: “I’ve always wanted to write a book, but I wouldn’t know where to start.” “Are you published (also known as where can I buy your book)?” and “I have an idea that would be perfect for a book.” As far as the second, some of us are working really hard to make selling our book a reality. As far as the third, then you go ahead and write it. And as far as the first, writing a book may take on different forms but it always involves one word at a time getting typed or written. The great part is that no matter the process you follow to write a book, there are resources to help you. Is it the craft of writing you’re having trouble with? There are some excellent books out there to help. (My four favorite so far are Stephen King’s On Writing, Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict, James Scott Bell’s Conflict and Suspense, and Renni Browne and Dave King’s Self Editing for Fiction Writers.)       Even more than that, I would recommend finding a writing group either online or in person that writes the same genre as you. Write cozy mysteries? Join Sisters in Crime. Write romances? Join Romance Writers of America. Write inspirationals? Join ACFW. In my experiences with writing organizations, the members encourage and support each other. They work together to promote awareness of craft, encourage beginning writers, and provide the tools to provide quality books.

Early in Gold Diggers of 1933, a bunch of actresses all come together at a friend’s house to try to convince a producer to hire them all for his latest show. So too do writers in these organizations often come together to support each other and help each other continue to learn about the craft of writing.

Ensembles. Have you seen Love Actually? What’s your favorite plot? Can you pick just one? My two favorite are the ones that revolve around Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister falling in love and Colin Firth’s writer falling in love. I can’t single out my favorite. The cast and production company came together to create a great movie.

At first glance, a book seems to be the product of someone sitting in a closet typing furiously on a computer. And for some fortunate authors, that may be all it takes. But there’s a reason there’s an acknowledgment page. There’s often the writer’s support team (family and friends), the writer’s support personnel (agents, editors, formatters, graphic designers, to name a few), and the writer’s fellow writers (critique partners, beta readers, chapter mates, online mentors, once again to name a few). While it is the author him or herself that ultimately sits down with hands on keyboard to write a book, he or she usually has a support network with him or her every step of the way.

If you’re a writer, how did you take that first step and sit down and write that book? Who encourages you every step of the way? Let me know.