Saturday, June 30, 2012

Writing tips, Pixar Style

I went with my boys to see BRAVE on opening day last week. Thank goodness... they had been begging for it for MONTHS.

In fact, the four year old did not understand when we went to see Pirates last month that we weren't ACTUALLY watching BRAVE yet. Throughout Pirates (which I enjoyed) he would pipe up with, "When does BRAVE start?"Ouch. Pirates was good, but some of the humor was over his head. We went to BRAVE on opening day and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

In honor of BRAVE, I wanted to post this little gem, which has been circulating on Twitter and FB and you've likely all seen it already.

I give you: The 22 Rules of Storytelling, by Emma Coats of Pixar. (Follow her tweets here.)

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
#2: You gotta keep in mind what's interesting to you as an audience, not what's fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won't see what the story is actually about til you're at the end of it. Now rewrite.
#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
#8: Finish your story, let go even if it's not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
#9: When you're stuck, make a list of what WOULDN'T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you've got to recognize it before you can use it.
#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you'll never share it with anyone.
#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it's poison to the audience.
#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.
#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don't succeed? Stack the odds against.
#17: No work is ever wasted. If it's not working, let go and move on - it'll come back around to be useful later.
#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d'you rearrange them into what you DO like?
#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can't just write ‘cool'. What would make YOU act that way?
#22: What's the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Travel hiatus?

I will be leaving soon for my research trip to Kisumu, Kenya-- and I have no idea how easy it will be to blog while there.

You may be getting photos and impressions from me the whole time... or not hear a peep for two weeks.

I wish you all well, and can't wait to share my tales with you!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My So-Called Teenage Life Blog Hop

Christa Desir and Amy L. Sonnichsen are co-hosting the My So-Called Teenage Life Blog Hop!

Lucky for all of us I did not use this blogfest as an opportunity to delve into THE BOX. You know, the one at THE BACK of the closet that is full of journals.

THE BOX is so far back in the closet it would have taken half a day to find it. And if I'd opened THE BOX, it would have taken the other half of the day just to get through it.

Instead, I grabbed a sketchbook from the mid 1990s off my shelf. Periodically I would take old diaries and journals and cut them up to use within collages I made in sketchbooks. That made it less easy to cringe over my own painful entries. I would use my journals, drawings, photos from magazines, etc

So, here are some of those collages... for your entertainment.

 Beetles and art cut out from magazines.

 Drawings by Degas, a dragonfly from me, photos, MLK, and a report from when my roommate was attacked in college. 

A project from photography class. 

Diary pages and bugs and drawings.

 Closeup of the page.

 Beetles, art, a photo of me and one of my bee paintings.

I still love this one. A cut out of the emaciated model from a victoria's secret catalog surrounded by beetles. I've written in "This is not healthy." Now I just know that's not healthy, but then I had to keep reminding myself.

Do you have bad poetry, journals, or art to share from your teenage years? JOIN the blog hop!

Friday, June 15, 2012

New BUGS from my studio

I've been working away at some prints over the past few months.

The main character of my mystery-solving-bug-collector book likes to describe the people in her life by equating them with different insects.

As I've worked on the book I've also been creating insect woodblocks of the different "characters"-- just for myself, not as artwork FOR the book.

Here are a few:

The lady she babysits for is like a Monarch Butterfly, "dressed to the nines and beautiful in a precise, but kind of distant way."

Her family friend Dell, an elderly man is like a Luna Moth: "Sturdy but light. Handsome but not showy."

The collages within the woodblocks are made of postage stamps from the 40s and 50s.

The father of the child she babysits for, Mr. Anderson, is like a Stag Beetle, "Big and showy, the male stag beetle likes to compare the size of its horn with other males."
 My etsy shop is here.

Do you use art (home made or on the web) as you ponder your characters?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Be Kind, Unwind

I'm thrilled to be joining The Kindness Project, the brain child of a big group of cool writers, with Carolina Valdez Miller leading the charge. 

Here's the premise, from Carolina's blog:

"Too often kindness is relegated to a random act performed only when we’re feeling good. But an even greater kindness (to ourselves and others) occurs when we reach out even when we aren't feeling entirely whole. It’s not easy, and no one is perfect. But we’ve decided it’s not impossible to brighten the world one smile, one kind word, one blog post at a time. To that end, a few of us writers have established The Kindness Project, starting with a series of inspirational posts. We post the second Wednesday of every month." 

With this in mind, I've spent most of today pondering kindness. But the thing about kindness is... wait for it... it's hard. 

Some days I am SO THERE-- I'm a nice person-- I like the elderly, small children, and animals. Some days it's easy to be Cinderella, singing to the birds and coordinating local mice into acts that benefit mankind. 

And some days I'm Maleficent, barely holding it all together (she IS evil, but she has the best bad-lady name of ALL time).

Today I woke up with a migraine. It was just one of those days. One of those days when you want to believe that if you force yourself to sit and work, the migraine will somehow go away (even though typing and staring at computer screens does the opposite). 

I failed to accomplish much this morning. I stopped for lunch, and then went back to the computer. I started slogging away again, and then I realized I wasn't being kind. 

To myself. 

So I pushed away from the desk and did a few things for me. I had a bath. I ate a fruit popsicle. I read. I took an Aleve. (Yay!)

By then it was time to pick up the boys, but my migraine had dissipated. 

I didn't get a lot of words down on paper today. I didn't finish the latest article I'm trying to crank out. Lord knows I didn't pay any bills or clean the house (Shh... I wouldn't have done the last two anyway). 

Sometimes, you have to accept that it's time to be kind to yourself. Then you can get to the place that allows you to be kind to others. 

What were you today, Cinderella or Maleficent? 

Want to join the kindness? Just grab the button. Then be kind. 

Looking for more inspiration? Check out other posts with The Kindness Project. 

Sophia Chang                         Sara Larson
Erica Chapman                       Matthew MacNish
Jessica Corra                          Sara McClung
Elizabeth Davis                       Gretchen McNeil
Christa Desir                          Leigh Moore
Sarah Fine                             Tracey Neithercott
Claire Hennessy                    Elizabeth Poole
Elana Johnson                        Lola Sharp
Liza Kane                              Michele Shaw
Amie Kaufman                      
Meagan Spooner 

Alina Klein                            Carolina Valdez Miller

Monday, June 11, 2012

I Dig Reading: May

In the I DIG READING CHALLENGE I pledge to donate a set amount of money for every book I read this year!

May was a great month in reading, because I was able to read 15 books-- but before you get unduly impressed, several of the Agatha Christies were more like novellas. 

Death Comes as the End by Agatha Christie.

Set in Ancient Egypt, I honestly didn't think I would like this one, but once I gave it a chance, I did. 

I also read The Adventure of “The Western Star”, The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor, The Adventure of the Cheap Flat, and The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge by Ms Christie. She's excellent at what she does, but I do prefer the longer books to the novellas. I think she needs the extra space and time to give plausible reasons to suspect several characters. Just my two cents. :0)

The Sign of the Four by Arthur Conan Doyle-- another classic Sherlock. I'm watching the new series from the BBC and loving how they integrate scenes and themes from the books into modern stories. So creative. 

Hushed by Kelley York and The Circular Staircase by Mary Rinehart Roberts, both reviewed here

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. WOW did this book blow me away. This is how dystopia should be. It was incredibly well written, compelling story-telling with fantastic world building. LOVED it. 

I re-read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets aloud with my kids. 

I completed the Tomorrow, When the War Began series by John Marsden, reading Darkness Be My FriendBurning for RevengeThe Night is for Hunting, and The Other Side of Dawn. I reviewed the series here. I could not love it more. 

Insurgent by Veronica Roth. I liked the first one better, but this was a solid follow-up to Divergent. I will be very interested to see how she wraps up the series. 

My donation this month will be to the Kindergarten Kickstart program-- the organization seeks to provide camp for kids in our neighborhood who are starting Kindergarten in the fall, with the goal of getting them ready to learn. SUCH a great program.

Monday, June 4, 2012

BIG News

Sometimes you work hard for something... and fail.

Sometimes this happens repeatedly.

You are writers, you know what I mean.

The first time I applied for funding to collect data in Africa was in 1999. At the time I'd spent a couple of years researching this beauty, the baobab tree (Adansonia digitata).

My research was on the insects that flock to the tree (which often serves as an oasis in arid regions) and then in turn how those insects influence human populations, whether through the mosquitos that breed in the water that stand in hollows of the tree, the cotton stainers that breed here and then ruin crops, or the honey they get from bees nesting there.  (photo credit)

You may know the baobab better from The Little Prince.

I applied two years in a row, but I didn't get the funding.

I did eventually get funding to travel to St Croix to collect insects around the baobabs there, which was amazing... but it wasn't Africa.

Fast-forward ten or so years. I'm working on different research (about how people make decisions about their natural resources) and start applying for funding to collect data in Kenya.

I applied in 2009, and did not get it.
I applied in 2010, and did not get it-- but was encouraged strongly by the funders to apply again.
I applied in 2011, and did not get it.
I applied in 2012, and... did not get it.

(image credit)

I thought to myself, this is not meant to be.

I thought, why am I working so hard to get this funding-- isn't the definition of insanity to do the same thing over and over, but expect different results?

But then, other sources of funding that on their own were not nearly enough, started to come together.

I have been working with a student who applied for summer research support. The grant fully supports the student for the summer and gives a little bit of money to the faculty advisor. She got the grant (she's AWESOME, and ALSO got funds through a different grant to go to Kenya) and I got a little bit of faculty support.

The Dean offers small grants for research, I applied and got it.

The other researchers planning the trip got a large grant, and offered to pay some of my way.

And despite failing at getting the big grant (as recently as this year)... I am going to Kenya. I will travel for two weeks at the end of June/beginning of July. I'm so excited about it that it does not feel real. Though, when I go in for shots at the Travel Clinic this afternoon it may start to feel real.

And Lord help me if I see a REAL Baobab, in REAL LIFE, in AFRICA, because I just might lose it.