Whys and What Ifs?

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Questions lead places. They don’t stop like words do at the end of a sentence. They’re an invitation to go somewhere potentially new and bountiful.

 

I use powerful questions in my coaching practice, and I use a different set when I write. I ask myself ‘What if?’ and ‘Why?’ plus the rest of the ‘W & H’ questions to get deeper into plot and character development and motivating goals.

 

Let’s say I want to write a short story featuring a ham sandwich. Before or after doing some preliminary brainstorming, whether listing, mind-mapping, or stacking categories/subsets, I would develop tangents that might come from the food and ask:

 

Why is the sandwich important?

How did it enter the story?

When was it made?

What is its composition?

Who will eat it?

Where are they located: the eater and the food?

 

I might write out a few sets of those like reps at a gym, just for fun. Then I prioritize which questions are most central to the story I feel forming in my brain. After I do that, I begin with, ‘What ifs?’

 

What if it’s poisoned?

What if it was stolen from someone who struggles for food every day?

What if the bread is moldy?

What if it has a smell that brings back an important memory?

What if it’s the last food available?

What if it falls on the floor and/or gets stepped on?

What if there’s a paper inside that contains the password for an important account?

 

I could go on quite a while like this, but when I finish for the time being, again I prioritize them. I see which ones have the most potential and are of the most interest to me.

 

Do you use questions in your writing? Have you found any helpful ways to think about them that give you more mileage? We’d love to hear questions, snippets, topics, anything you’d like to share as an example of your questioning strategy.

A question may be simple, but it’s a powerful tool for life and creativity.

 

Sprint n’Splat

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How have you been?

As for us, here’s this month in collaboration:

These questions go through both of our minds, and we discuss them every time:

Does my sister condemn me?

Does she pass judgement or accuse me of slacking?

No, she never does. We’d like to get to the place where we can accept this as truth, rather than adding stress to our lives worrying what the other will think.

And to be honest, worrying over what each one of us thinks… of ourselves.

At its best, collaboration provides the way for us to keep up our dedication amid setbacks.

Having a partner oftentimes raises energy. Even when one is decidedly NOT up for anything, small tasks can be done by the other. We have to be okay with that.

We have the best intentions every day.

We had a good run for a couple of weeks at the beginning of June, revising our second draft, left, right, and center.

THEN, we tripped…. health-wise: our usual unwelcome, annoying, and intermittent experience turns around and bites us again.

No matter how many times we’ve been through the two steps forward/one step back thing, every time we have a good run, we forget that interruption could be lurking round the next bend… in this case, Chapter 28.

Patience, love, and compassion win the day in these situations, even if we can’t see it right away. What is most important after all?

As with location for putting up a successful business, communication is essential for collaboration.

How do you get through your rough patches? What are the tools you find most helpful when you doubt yourself?

We’d love to hear from you.

Justification

The-Lord-of-The-Rings

 

When I think about characterization, I develop arcs based, in part, upon the philosophies each character holds in his, her, or its heart. I want to know this about the characters, even if that information never overtly appears in the pages of the book.

 

A spectrum I like to use is whether the character values ends or means more… and whether they move from one position at the start of the story and end somewhere else.

 

One of my favorite books is ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ by J.R.R. Tolkien. I love this book as I have from my early teens. While it is in no way thoroughly representative of my interests as a reader, I find it an excellent glass through which to perceive various philosophical, existential, and organizational questions about life and writing.

 

First up, these two statements:

 

“The ends justify the means.”

-OR-

“The means justify the ends.”

 

An interesting exercise is to take some favorite characters of your own, or for this example, from Tolkien, and see where they would appear on this spectrum.

 

I’ll mention Gandalf ™ and Gollum™ because of the many people acquainted with these characters from either the volume(s) or the Peter Jackson movies which take the books as their source material.

 

It strikes me that Gandalf considers the means the more important aspect on which to hang his wizard’s hat most of the time. Means are the ‘now,’ the moment within his control, to the extent that he has any . If he takes an action, he thinks about it in advance, constantly revising, if need be, and relying on intuition as well as his other senses to know whether it is right. If something he does runs afoul of his personal integrity or wisdom, he knows that he is likely to see this wrinkle exaggerated in the end results.

 

He values the importance of each step he takes, and lets the end take care of itself thereby, quite possibly in the direction he’d like to see.

 

On the other hand, there’s Gollum, and all he wants is the Ring of Power ™. He will do anything, take any means to get it, even though we get a split sense of dimension what with the two sides of his personality occasionally bickering, cajoling, manipulating. As long as Gollum gets the ring in the end (don’t worry, no spoilers here), he is happy, for the most part, with whatever means he has taken.

 

Not surprisingly, it would seem that Gandalf and Gollum think about one another or at the least, figure into each other’s vision of the future and/or past:

 

Responding to Frodo who expresses outrage that Gollum was allowed to live after Gandalf’s last meeting with him, the latter speaks one of my favorite quotes (of many) from the book:

 

SPOILER WARNING:

“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it. And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many – yours not least. In any case we did not kill him: he is very old and very wretched. The Wood-elves have him in prison, but they treat him with such kindness as they can find in their wise hearts.”

OKAY – safe again

 

Admitting that one cannot see all ends may be the elixir that bestows a healthy dose of respect for means.

 ~*~

This is one axis to look at in the characters and the story, and it can be a fun one. If I cross this axis with a second, things can really heat up, debate-wise. This is why, for example, I mentioned ‘personal integrity’ rather than societal or relativistic. More on this later…

 

-Does this method of drawing out characters resonate with any that you love, hate, or both – that you’ve read, seen, or written?

 

-In this example, Gandalf is considered ‘good’ though he, like all wizards, is ‘subtle and quick to anger’ when meddled with, while Gollum is something quite different. Are there examples in stories that spring to mind where those polarities are reversed for protagonist and antagonist?

 

We’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

 

 

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Awareness of the Cue

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A day we couldn’t work brought a new perspective.

 

We both carry a sense of guilt when we can’t do something we’d like to accomplish. No matter that it may stem from the fact that our bodies won’t comply or we’re too distracted by pain, fog, sensory overload, and/or the fear that it will continue to be ‘this way.’ The thing for us to remember is that these situations turn out, time and time again, to be a kind of soil from which grows meaningful writing, revision, or an entire reframing of that part of the story.

 

Every hesitation, need for self-care, change of plans, detour – every hiccup along the way – is an opportunity. The longer we dwell on potential negative impacts, like time lost, the more time we spend forgetting the benefits. These come from the cause and effects which are rarely within our sole conscious control.

 

We are learning – sometimes quickly, sometimes after repeated cueing experiences. Awareness of these cues can be a great help whether we are writing or revising. They try to tell us: “Do not be so hard on yourself. Take your speck of sand and make from it your pearl.”

 

For example, we lost the last nineteen chapters of the book. Sort of…

 

We recently finished the book and returned to the first chapter of the last nineteen (at that point it would’ve been Chapter 63) to do some revision work. We had the clever idea to do all of this work in one Word document which would later be added into Scrivener ™ in chapter-sized segments.

 

The story goes something like this…

 

Once upon a time, we had an extremely productive day. One of those in-the-flow, amazing days. Unfortunately, we had an issue which shut down Word ™ but didn’t save our document correctly. We lost the entire last day’s hours of writing and all of the revision, but in its place after a brief pity party, we came up with back story and another twist we wouldn’t have otherwise conceived.

 

One key was to begin writing again the instant we discovered – and accepted the reality – that this had actually occurred. Much of the work we’d done was still in our short term memory banks, though some things were irretrievably lost, which was okay.

 

When we’re in the midst of feeling unwell, we feel awful about what looks like waste. The minute we get back in the flow, we realize how much insight and creativity happened in the meanwhile.

 

Are there times when you are hard on yourself or times when you could see that an otherwise fallow time yielded fruit?

The Evocative Kernel of Rice

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I ate some rice tonight. It was long-grained Basmati, flavorful enough to bring back images and memories of a small rural village in the Maharashtra district at sundown.

Chanting can be heard over the hills off to the far left as new constellations (and a few old familiar ones) rise and set where there’s a marble Shiva temple on a distant hill. Small fires cook the evening meal in dots along roads of dust and iron grating.

Prompts are to be found anywhere and everywhere. I found tonight’s in my mouth when I suspected I wasn’t even thinking about writing.

This tells me two things.

  1. I think about writing far more often than I realize.
  2. All is food for the beginning, middle, or end of a piece, no matter how short or how long.

What prompts your writing? Think of a piece you wrote, whether you especially love it – or not, and see whether you can trace it back to the beginning… conception.

We’d love to hear any sparks that started an adventure in your writing.

“Ella… the Untold Story”

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For today’s post, we are sharing a short story written on Day 25 of Andrea’s Creative Writing course. The prompt on that day was one that is especially fun as fairy tales often contain skeletal story elements, ripe soil for creative change and embellishment. Here goes the prompt: “Write a fairy tale that changes the ending and other elements of the original.”

“Ella… the Untold Story”

  “Ella, are you going to sit there all day while I’m out hunting and keeping the kingdom safe?”

“Yup. Pretty much. You promised me an exciting life, and all I get to do is stare at these same four stone walls.”

His tone softened as he sat down next to her. “I don’t want anything to happen to you. You know how the other kingdoms are always trying to take us down. If anything ever happened to you, I would be devastated. There’s plenty for you to do around here.”

“Like what, dear King? Order this one around or that one? I am watched 24/7. I’ve freakin had it with the microscope I live under. The only time I get to myself is when I’m on the throne, if you know what I mean. Even then I’m not so sure. I see how the others look at me when I leave the loo.”

“Oh Ella. You’re being paranoid. No one is watching you.”

“If you say so. But I don’t buy it. Not one bit.”

“I’ll prove it to you. Go for a walk around the garden. No one will follow you. I promise.”

“Okay. I’ll do that.” Ella gave him a kiss on the cheek and was on her way.

After she left, he went behind the large wall tapestry and entered his mission control. “Keep an eye on her, boys, but not too close. I told her she wasn’t being watched, and I don’t want her to get suspicious.”

“Yes, Your Majesty. We won’t let her out of our sight.”

“You can ease up on the powder room camera. I guess she can have a little privacy there for now.”

The king noticed the disappointment in the man’s eyes. He wanted to smash his face into the desk, but he refrained. He needed his men loyal, and hurting this one would not be good for morale.

***

I know he’s watching me. I can feel it. Ella kicked the dirt with her glass walking shoes. Ever since they got together, every pair of shoes had to be made of glass. Really? I know he thinks it’s romantic but enough already. My feet are killing me.

“Hello Mister Mouse. How are you today?”

The tiny creature looked up at her and with a turn of his head, smiled. She knew the mouse was having a good day.

Ella wished for the freedom he had. Even at her evil stepmother’s, she had time to herself. Who knew it was going to be like this?

“Can you help me, Sweetie?”

Ella walked to where she heard the raspy voice. There was a turtle lying on his back in the shade under a big oak. He was smiling at her too. Nothing surprised her these days since she knew magic was real.

“How may I help you, Mister Turtle.”

“If you could turn me right side up, I would be ever so grateful.”

“No problem,” and Ella immediately righted the turtle on his feet once more.

“I’d like to be Frank with you. I am your Fairy Godmother’s half-brother on her father’s side. I am here to de-wish you.”

“De-wish me? Whatever does that mean?”

“Well, I know you wanted this, but not ‘this’ exactly. You know the old saying, ‘Be care…’”

“Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. I know that saying all right. So how does this de-wishing process work?”

“You have a choice. You can either leave things as they are, or you can go back to the way things were.”

This is it. What I’ve been hoping for all these long months. “Hmm. Which do I choose?”

“Sleep on it. Your true heart’s desire will reveal itself in the morning.”

“By the way, what is your name, kind turtle?”

“I already told you. My name is Frank.”

“What? Oh, yes. I guess in an unconventional way, you did.”

Ella thanked Frank, waved goodbye, and headed back to the castle. She quickly passed the king’s chambers and entered her sleeping area. It was a long boring day and she was ready for bed.

She awoke from a deep sleep to a screeching sound she hadn’t heard in forever.

“Cinderella! Get down here now and make us breakfast!”

“Oh no. I made a mistake. I don’t want this again. Please bring me back.”

Ella opened her eyes to the king’s face. He was nose to nose with her.

“Good morning, Sunshine. It’s wakey wakey time. You have a big day ahead of you.”

“Really? What do you have planned for me?” Ella sat up. She was excited at the prospect of an adventure.

“Well, you said you were bored, so I gave the chef and maids the day off. You get to take care of the whole castle. Isn’t that exciting? Enjoy your day, Love. I’ll see you tonight.”

“Frank!! Come back!”

Tortoise

Thank you for reading.

If you feel so moved to adapt a fairy tale of your choice, we would love for you to share it or its URL here in the comments.

Our Copyright 0515

3… 2…1… Reentry

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We’ve been busy since we last saw you. We hope you’ve kept well and happy. You’ve been in our thoughts.

In the interim, we finished the first draft of our novel after a full year’s creative endeavor. We look forward to sharing snippets and scenes and in-betweens.

We’d like to pose questions and invitations for you to share your works as well.

We are now prepping for a month’s-long set of revision passes.

We find Janice Hardy’s suggestions invaluable as are James Scott Bell’s. The former suggested prepping the book by creating an editorial map with this format for each chapter. You could easily do it for each scene as well:

[SUMMARY

First line

Last line.

Revision Thoughts: ]

 

Here’s the link to Janice’s helpful resource: http://blog.janicehardy.com/2015/02/revison-prep-create-editorial-map.html

Next steps for us include an outline of the three acts and the main turning points within them.

~*~

We’ve missed this space and community. Bloggers everywhere have been in our thoughts. One good thing is we’ve been learning every day we’ve written.

Originally, we didn’t know how coauthoring would go with the two of us having different schedules, varying levels of pain, and the ever-burgeoning list of doctor appointments.

It wasn’t always easy, yet we persevered. We’re now looking for a way to celebrate our, ‘We did it!’ moment in time by reentering 2penthrupain. Please celebrate with us if you have a spare moment or two.

We know the blog is an essential part of what we’re trying to accomplish – touching base with other readers and writers.

We have a few new areas of interest coming up including finding a publisher. We were all set to go with a publishing company, but fortunately happened upon some unfortunate information. In the end because of our research, we decided not to sign their contract though it had been a slam dunk for the months leading up to the discoveries. Something kept us from actually signing the darn thing for quite a while.

Andrea took a month’s creative writing course with prompts. She’s been producing some wonderful stories on a near daily basis…. The rest were poems of equally inspiring innovation. She found the course both eye-opening and mind-stretching.

In our next post we will feature one of her short stories.

The course was offered through Creative Writing Now with Nancy Strauss.

She’s currently offering a free 3 Day Course on Endless Story Ideas. Here is the link.

http://www.creative-writing-now.com/free-online-writing-courses.html

We look forward to diving back in. Thank you for your continued support. We’d love to hear from you.

Productivity and Persistence

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There’s an old song that goes something like,

“The bear went over the mountain,
The bear went over the mountain,
The bear went over the mountain,
To see what he could see

To see what he could see,
To see what he could see

The other side of the mountain,
The other side of the mountain,
The other side of the mountain,
Was all that he could see

Was all that he could see,
Was all that he could see,
The other side of the mountain,
Was all that he could see!

To the tune of ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.’  Written By: Unknown, Copyright Unknown

 

I was surprised that these were the lyrics as I remembered ones that were slightly but semantically different. Many websites are in agreement, however what I remember after ‘To see what he could see,’ was “He saw another mountain, He saw another mountain… “

It’s like the game of ‘Telephone,’ I suppose. Passing along lyrics over the years is like that. I find the whole of language shifting over time in particular ways very revealing. Concepts, rigor and openness of thought, and how we change as human beings are meaningfully buried in the history of languages.

Back to the song the way I remember it. If a bear climbs an entire mountain with much exertion only to see another mountain that needs climbing, where do motivation, rest, and reinvigoration come in?

The bear and his series of mountains is analogous to story structure and the way that everyday life proceeds. Living from challenge to challenge must carry within itself an ebb and flow… at least some of the time.

We neither want to exhaust nor under-stimulate our readers… or truth be told, ourselves.

Persistence is crucial to production, whether it’s climbing or writing. Our brains build complication into clever distractions, to get us doing anything besides following through, step by step, all the way to the end. I wonder why? Does it make my brain ‘look bad’ if I ‘complete’ a multi-faceted, long-term task, like writing a novel?

Fear and sadness.

Supposedly they are two of the primary emotions. As blue and yellow come together to make secondary green (… and even tertiary colors), so do fear and sadness come together to make anger and other offspring.

There are blocks to our climbing the next mountain.

-Perhaps some rest is needed – in the beautiful sunny valley, maybe?

-Maybe someone or some group gave us the fear that we could never do it, and we believed that.

That second part is under our control, so it deserves further attention.

Why would we be so ready to dismiss our own ability to do what many others have done before us? Are we not also humans?

“If you don’t expect something great to happen, you won’t be disappointed,” says the Stoic in me.

However, for the first time since I’ve been writing, there’s a quality of Persistence in me. I’m not giving in so easily. It’s, ‘Rest up,’ sure, but when that’s done, it’s, ‘Back to the drawing board.’

Just as we believe in our eventually NOT doing something, we are also capable of believing we have what it takes to follow through. We can teach ourselves this. We can grow our ability, even our preponderance toward it. We can do this. We are born storytellers once the gunk is wiped away. We are also born story readers, so supply and demand could possibly co-exist happily if we learn how to reach out.

 

 

BBB and FUN-ding

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Busy, Busy, Busy…..

We have our BBB – book, blog, business (thanks, Andrea – for deciphering your acronym sightings everywhere), which is keeping us BBBusy!

We finally stumbled upon the good old ‘To Do List’ to help us get the most out of our shared screen software and in-person work sessions. Otherwise we could talk forever and get nothing done. Thank you, Mayans, for being the first to come up with the concept of ZERO, zip, nada nothing.

Maybe I should back up a bit.

The BOOK came like a whirlwind. It was a definite YES, and there was nothing to do but write it. It was not just a story, powerful as they are, of course, but part of a strongly-held mission of empowerment. It’s evolving into so much more than we ever thought.

The BUSINESS came into being because minimal self-employment was not going to provide what we needed quickly enough to fund our writing and our time.

We need money, honey, but it has to be something we believe in and find useful.

We also open up the question to you of what other writers do to fund their creativity. We are always interested to hear what people are doing, and it could prove useful to us and other readers.

The BLOG, or the third B as we like to call it, came into being to support our book and engage our audience. We hope it will become interactive… a place to share ideas as we continue to delve into themes of empowerment, writing, disability, siblings, and working together. We believe that giving our readers a chance to weigh in on aspects of the Book and Business as well as this blog might be the best way to go. Participation is a powerful tool.

So, what’s all this about a Mission of Empowerment? Why, What, Where, When, and How?

Some of these questions we touched on above, but we’ll try them all.

What: Described up above in minimal terms, it started as a mission to empower girls and young women, changing from a children’s book early on to a Young Adult novel, especially as our villain entered the scene. He helped answer THAT question. Everywhere we looked we saw girls and young women who were feeling insecure, being mistreated in school, at home, and certainly in the media, laws, and courts. We grew up our protagonist quickly. She didn’t have any arguments, thank goodness.

Why: We guess we just answered some of those questions in the What. Forgive us if we’re not strict about these W categories. Why? We were girls. We are women, and we see both every day. Sometimes we hear them being yelled at through apartment walls or windows, in stores and restaurants, and it breaks our hearts. It’s not just girls or women any more either. We look all around and find messages of human and nature/animal belittlement and disenfranchisement. It brings us back to certain times in our lives that we feel lucky to have exited, yet ones that still live on and challenge us from within.

When: We guess this all started early last spring of 2014… so really not that long ago. Andrea worked and lived a high-stress, high-voltage, extremely demanding job while raising a child as a single parent. While being very grateful for support from family and friends, the job broke her. She was toast. Burnt toast. There was a long period of pain and fatigue where the idea of doing anything was impossible. It still comes and goes, but from the moment she began writing the book there started a huge transformation in enthusiasm. She felt like living again. Leslie felt the echoes, some in the present, of going through what she saw in her younger sister and wanted to help any way she could. A partnership was born.

What we would get out of it continues to surpass the richness and creativity of our expectations.

Where: Here and now. Anywhere there’s a laptop or two if we’re lucky… here in New Jersey, truly the Garden State… We’re not just an exit on the Parkway.

How: Well, this is one of the questions this blog is designed to answer. We’ll do it in our own unique way as there are many valuable writing blogs out there already. We want to give you our experiences as best we can so you have resources, case studies, and our encouragement …just as we always encourage each other. It’s a process. We can tell you that, yet you most likely know. Still, we remind ourselves of things we feel we know but want to integrate on a deeper level. That is ongoing and truly a thrill ride. It’s filled with ups and downs and all-arounds, but that excitement and despair is the stuff of Story and Legend… and that’s the whole point.

Also, if anyone has an interest in being a guest for a Q & A here on this blog – please write us a comment on this post or write to us at 2penthrupain@gmail.com . Thank you.

 ~*~*~