Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Five Mountain-Climbing Strategies

You’re trekking up a steep, snow-covered mountain, and your only goal is to get to the summit (although getting down alive might be nice too). This is something you’ve been working toward for a long time. All of your friends are cheering you on from the bottom of the mountain, although you can’t hear them anymore.

In fact, because of the wind, you can’t hear much of anything. You can no longer feel any major part of your body, and you’re so tired you ache. It’s getting hard to breathe, and your movements slow. Just when you think you can’t take another step, you see something jutting out of the snow in front of you.

A slide.

That’s right. One of those colorful plastic tubes, like at McDonalds playplaces. Only this slide is a monster, wrapping its way all the way down the mountain. It’s also got built-in heating jets, and shoots you down to a spa/massage parlor at the bottom of the mountain.

You have a choice. Are you going to take the slide, or keep climbing up the mountain?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sabbath Reflections: Why I Am Not Writing a Blog Post

I know what you’re thinking: this looks like a blog post to me. No, in fact, it is not. (Silly reader. If I can read your mind, don’t you think I know a blog post when I write one?) A blog post is a self-contained reflection based on the writer’s extensive knowledge and wisdom. This is an explanation of why you won’t be reading one of those today.

I’m going on a retreat with my jr. highers tomorrow, so I felt pressure to write a brilliant, witty, wise blog post after a marathon, mind-frying homework session.

This is not that blog post.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Weakness: Setting

Have I mentioned before that setting is one of my biggest weakness? Because it is, probably because I don’t really care about the setting. It’s a very distant second to dialogue. No, make that a third to dialogue and plot. Or maybe fourth to dialogue, plot, and characters.

Well, since I just kicked setting off the medal podium, I’m going to talk about three ways to do setting. In my mind, the first and the last are extremes, and the second is a nice, happy medium (…that I haven’t found yet. But, hey, I’m working on it).

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sabbath Reflections: Quit the Circus

It’s really, really dangerous for me to determine what the average person thinks by using myself as an example. Mostly because I’m guessing my mind doesn’t work exactly like everyone else’s (no, I’m not bragging about my brilliant genius-ness – you must not know me).

Ready for some danger? Because that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Based on my own experience, there are two distinct impressions that come to mind when someone mentions the word “circus.”

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Conversation Hearts for Writers

No one knows exactly why candy companies sell millions of pastel chalk-like hearts with generic romantic sayings on them around Valentine’s Day. (Incidentally, they are not, in fact, chalk. I know this because I used one to write my name on a blackboard…and it would not erase.)

Do you know what the problem is with those candy hearts? I’ll tell you: they’re too generic. Hundreds of people across the nation will hand over that very same heart to others with the same chalky hands from searching through the bag for that same perfect message.

No, my friends. This should not be. We need specificity. We need detail. We need…conversation hearts for special interest groups. Like writers, for instance.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sabbath Reflections: Compass Hearts

I didn’t really like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. It probably had a little bit to do with the fact that I was overloaded with gross, half-sea-creature villains growling and sliming all over the place. Mostly, though, it was because there wasn’t anyone I could cheer for.

The scene where all of the main characters are pointing their guns at everyone else, constantly shifting them, sums up the entire movie. No one trusts anyone, there aren’t clear distinctions between good and evil, and betrayal happens about every five minutes.

It reminds me of Jack’s compass, the one that points to whatever he wants most. In this movie, for the first time, he can’t find a heading, other than “Set sail in a general…that way direction.” He doesn’t know what he wants, or what he’s willing to do to get it.

I have the tendency to be like the Pirates of the Caribbean characters. Sometimes I don’t know what I want. Sometimes I’m afraid of what I want. Sometimes my compass seems to point in a hundred different directions, spinning around wildly as I try to ground myself in something, anything, and chart a course.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Test Your Villain IQ

I’ve seen way too many antagonists who are portrayed as evil geniuses, but then do something that the average fifth grader would realize is a bad idea. Writers need to create consistently intelligent villains because…
A.     Readers won’t be afraid of someone who is dumber than they are. When I read a story, I instantly lose respect for a villain when he does something stupid for no good reason.
B.     Even though the villain’s stupid mistake might allow the hero to save the day, would it really feel rewarding? If you have to dumb down your antagonist to find a way for your protagonist to succeed, your climax won’t be as compelling or your resolution as satisfying.
C.     You don’t want people to make fun of your villain. Villains usually have low self esteem problems to begin with. No need to add to that.

Here’s a quiz to see if you are smarter than the average villain/henchman, just to point out some of the most common mistakes villains will make.

Note: If you stumbled on this blog post because you’re a megalomaniac dictator who wants to take over the world, oppress the innocent, etc., congratulations! You’ve come to the right place. Although this quiz is mainly for writers, you, too, can learn from the mistakes of other nefarious characters like yourself. Welcome.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Sabbath Reflections: The Most Boring Story of All Time

Once upon a time, there was a girl who met a guy.

And they lived happily ever after.

Lamest story ever. (And, no, cynics in the back, this does not describe every chick flick ever made. I literally mean a story that’s made of only those two sentences.)

No one would be interested in a story like this? Why? As a writer, I should give a technical, jargon-filled explanation. But, let’s face it, it’s just boring. For us to think that something actually happened in a story, there must be some opposition. We have to be afraid for the main character and wonder if he’ll ever achieve his goal, or we won’t really feel like cheering at the end. We need conflict.

Except when it’s our story.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Amy Makes an Educational Poster

I went to talk to a classroom of sixth graders last week. Afterwards, I noticed a cute little poster on the wall illustrating “The Writing Process.” It broke writing into seven nice, neat steps, like the Water Cycle or the Scientific Method.

And I laughed.

When one of the kids asked me why I was laughing, I pretended it was at the cartoony pictures illustrating the steps so I didn’t have to explain myself. Maybe you’ll understand why when I describe the poster.

It went like this: 1. Brainstorm. 2. Rough Draft. 3. First Draft. 4. Share. 5. Edit. 6. Final Draft. 7. Publish! (And, yes, there was an exclamation point next to the last one, even though the illustration implied that publishing was something like putting the writing in a binder with the author’s name written on the cover in magic marker.)