Tag: writing about writing

Types of trauma – which does your character have?

facesI’m currently in that fun part of the doctoral student process where I’m writing my comprehensive exam – a big 75-page paper that demonstrates I’m an expert in my field and deserve to stay in the program. My focus is on trauma-informed care and education.

Trauma-informed care basically boils down to 2 things: realizing people have experienced crappy things in life, and then giving them the benefit of the doubt. It is NOT about making excuses for behavior, but rather finding an alternative way to get the same results you expect for everyone else.

There are quite a few types of trauma. Each one has a different cause, although they can all have similar results.

BIG CAVEAT: Not everyone who experiences trauma will react to it the same way. Some people are affected and some aren’t. It basically comes down to resiliency (although my argument is that if so many students have experienced – or are experiencing – trauma, why don’t we just change how the education system reacts to it, rather than telling kids to suck it up or get over it – which is kinda what teaching resiliency comes down to).

Anyway….

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration focuses on “three E’s” of trauma: event, experience of the event, and effect. Specifically, “Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.”

Within that definition, there’s a lot of room for variability.

  • Acute trauma – one single event. A house burning down, getting mugged or raped, witnessing your parents’ murder in an alley when you’re supposed to be enjoying the theater.
  • Chromic trauma – exposure to multiple events. Interesting fact: chronic poverty has the same neurological effect on kids as combat does on military personnel.
  • Complex trauma – exposure to multiple events over time, but of an interpersonal nature. Domestic violence and child abuse falls into this category.
  • Identity trauma – trauma that effects an entire group, because of how they identify (also known as historical or collective trauma). The Holocaust falls into this group, as does genocide against the Native Americans. It often manifests in cultural stories, practices, and beliefs.
  • Continuous or ongoing traumatic stress – chronic or complex or identity trauma, but it’s still happening and there’s no way to escape it. For example, people trapped in a war zone with no way to escape it.
  • Secondary trauma – the response to witnessing or hearing about someone else’s trauma. A huge issue for caregivers and teachers, especially if they’re not prepared for it.

Writers love to throw trauma at their characters, and readers seem to love it too. What types of trauma do your characters face? What types do you prefer to read about?

Using stuck points to build your characters

guy in bottleI write a lot of character-driven stories, and so I’m always on the lookout for ways to focus on characters’ motivation and thought processes. I’ve recently come across a term, stuck points, that really fits with my works.

My research focus in my PhD program is trauma’s role in education. As such, I’m taking a lot of classes and workshops focusing on a trauma-informed perspective – realizing that there’s a good chance anyone you meet and work with has experienced some kind of trauma that affects their perceptions and behaviors, and therefore changing your own perceptions and behaviors to meet them where they are.

One of the methods used to treat trauma is cognitive processing therapy (CPT), which focuses on reframing people’s perceptions of what they experienced. And a major component of this is stuck points.

Stuck point = a thought that keeps someone from recovering from a bad/traumatic experience.

Often times, stuck points develop because someone’s old way of thinking doesn’t fit with what happened to them. It builds on the just world theory that bad things only happen to bad people – so if something bad happens to you, you must be a bad person.

Stuck points are often a black and white exaggeration, using terms like “everyone” or “no one,” “always” or “never.”

Stuck points can focus on the past – “If I’d done X, then Y would’ve happened instead of Z” – or they can focus on the present – “No one will ever love me” or “I’ll never be able to trust again.”

My novel Yours to Keep or Throw Away is driven by MC Andrew Adam’s stuck points:

  • “My parents split up because I was a bad kid.” – focusing on his crappy childhood
  • “If I’d been a better partner, my relationships wouldn’t have ended badly.” – focusing on past relationships
  • “If I’d trained my soldiers better, they wouldn’t have been killed.” – focusing on his military experience
  • “I don’t deserve to have a happily ever after.” – the summation of all his other stuck points.

Sometimes there’s truth in stuck points. For example, if Andrew had been a better partner, maybe his relationships wouldn’t have ended – but maybe they still would have. What happened wasn’t entirely his fault, and he shouldn’t keep beating himself up over it.

As characters grow over the course of the story, they can move past these stuck points to become a healthy character (or go from a healthy character to having stuck points). Either way, it makes for a great, character-driven story.

What stuck points do your characters have? Are they able to resolve them?

So you want to write a book…

My first novel, Yours to Keep or Throw Aside (previously released as The Lone Wolf), came out a couple years ago. After hearing about it, I’ve had several people tell me, “I’m not a big reader, but I’ve been thinking about writing a book too. I have a really great idea.” Which is great, but….

Before I go any further, watch this video.

It’s been said that for every overnight success, no one saw all their late nights and early mornings. Writing is no exception. It’s hard work, and it take a lot of time.

Here are the things I think are necessary to write a publishable book:

1. READ!!!!

I’ve been an avid reader since I was five (25+ years), and I read everything – fiction and nonfiction, children and adult, Nobel laureates and NY Times bestsellers, US and international, classics and modern, literary and fluff, genre – you name a category, and I’ve read something in it. I’ve taught high school literature and analyzed it in college lit classes. So, I think it’s fair to say I have a good idea of what’s out there, what works and what doesn’t, and why. But that doesn’t mean I’m qualified to write a book.

2. Develop your writing skills.

I’m currently a PhD student and I’ve worked as a professional researcher in several fields, meaning I’ve written a lot of analysis/explanatory papers, some of which I’ve won awards for. And I’ve taught writing at the high school level, so I think it’s fair to say I have well-developed writing skills. But that doesn’t mean I’m qualified to write a book.

I wrote one anyways, for NaNoWriMo ’09. And, it sucked. It sucked bad. I’d like to revisit it someday, but as for now it’ll stay locked away.

3. Get feedback from people you don’t know, who know what they’re talking about.

I kept writing, though. In October 2010, after eight months of writing, I finished the first draft of Yours to Keep or Throw Aside. Yay me! It was good, but I knew it wasn’t good enough. So I joined FOUR online writing groups (and I’ve since joined a local in-person writing group and a local writing association). Two were worthless and provided absolutely no feedback. One was filled with people who said it was great, and would I please tell them how great theirs were too so they could win a popularity contest? The fourth, Scribophile, ripped the novel apart. Not only were there story and character issues, but the writing was subpar – POV mistakes, filter words, telling instead of showing, too many tags and adverbs. And you know what? They were right.

4. Learn more about the craft of writing.

So I set out to learn about what I was doing wrong. I read books on writing. I follow a couple dozen blogs about writing. I read about what to do, and what not to do, and billions of examples and explanations of each. I talked to other writers. I’ve attended writing workshops.

I also wrote (and continue to write) short stories. While the depth is minuscule compared to a whole novel, it’s a great way to try out techniques, hone your voice, and finesse your understanding of the language.

5. REVISE, then Revise, then revise again. When you’re done with that, revise.

Armed with all that knowledge, I rewrote my novel. I got more feedback. I rewrote it again. I got more feedback. I nitpicked with edits for two years until finally I was ready to send it out into the big scary world.

6. Learn about the publishing industry.

While I’d been editing, I’d also been reading up on the publishing industry. I’d tested the waters with short stories, both with publishers and self-publishing. So when it came time to send queries, I knew who to send them to, what to say in them, and what to expect in reply.

Conclusion

When people tell me they want to write a book, but they don’t like reading, and they’ve never written anything other than stories in elementary school and short papers in high school, and they don’t know anything about their audience or the publishing industry, and can I put in a good word with my publisher for them? – the answer is NO.

It’s not that I’m trying to be mean. I think everyone has great (and not so great) ideas for books, and these people are no exception. But they need to put in the work, because writing a book involves much more than an idea.

Writers – what’s your experience with publishing? Any points you’d add to my list?

Writing as a career vs writing as a hobby

I just started a PhD program this fall, and I love it.

When it comes to my career goals – eventually, I intend to be a research analyst at a national thinktank, looking at education policy as it pertains to low socioeconomic status and minority students – I don’t mess around. I’m strategic. I know what I want to do, and I evaluate every class I take, every relationship I form within the school, every decision, with respect to whether it’ll get me closer to my goals. If it doesn’t, I don’t do it.

Since classes started this fall, I’ve identified three possible research organizations I could work with next year AND talked to people involved about getting on with them. I’ve narrowed down faculty I could do research with, both for my research practicum next fall and for a research assistantship. I’ve made a list of classes I plan to take, as well as how they’ll fit into the generic schedule given to me by my advisor (not surprisingly, I’ll be taking extra classes because at this point, I definitely know what kind of courseload I’m capable of). I’ve looked at the job qualifications at places I’d love to work someday and compared my skills to the list. I’ve gotten the go-ahead to do my own research projects and I’m in the process of putting together a team of master’s students to help me.

In short, I’m focused.

When it comes to writing, however, not so much. I know what I want to do – I have a list of goals for the year – but I don’t do much to reach this goals.

For example, I set myself the goal of writing at least two hours a day while I’ve been on fall break from my school social work internship. I’ve probably spent two hours total over the last two weeks.

I know a lot of writers who are very focused on their writing. They treat it as a career – and I think that’s the reason I’m not putting as much time into it as others, because for me, writing isn’t a career. I love what I do, in the field I’ve chosen (not to mention the huge cost in terms of dollars and time in getting several advanced degrees). I have no intention of quitting my day job to be a full-time writer.

At the same time, I want writing to be more than just a hobby.

If you’re a writer, is it a hobby or a career for you? If you’re like me and love your career, how do you balance time for writing as well?

Story a Day 2015 update #1

shortstorymonthx240It’s been a couple years since I last attempted Story A Day, where you write a story a day for the month of May. This year probably wasn’t the best to attempt it; in addition to the day job and end-of-the-semester tests, papers, and projects and helping classmates on those papers and projects, I’m also taking three weekend trips this month. We’re about a week in, and here’s my progress so far:

Stories attempted: 5

Stories completed: 0

I carry around a bunch of notepads with me, each with a different story started on them. So far I’ve worked on five different stories, but I haven’t written more than a page or so for each one. I know what I want to write about, but it’s hard finding the time to actually do it. Things should maybe calm down after next week, so I may still be able to finish successfully.

Are you participating in Story A Day? If so, how are you doing with it?

My Writing Process – Blog Hop

Yesterday coverI’ve been tagged by a fellow writer to discuss my writing process.

Samyann is the author of Yesterday: A Novel of Reincarnation, a historical romance spanning from the Civil War, to the Great Chicago Fire, to modern times, and she tells all about her own process on her blog.

Q. What am I working on?

What am I not working on? I’m finishing up the first draft of my novel A Handful of Wishes, which should be released by Evolved Publishing December 2014. I’m also putting the final touches on a short story collection, The Futility of Loving a Soldier, that’ll be released this summer (maybe; I’ve been trying to finish it for a year). And there are always a dozen short stories floating around, half-written, that I’m trying to work on.

Q. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I don’t write a specific genre; I write what I find interesting. So while The Lone Wolf was literary/women’s fiction, A Handful of Wishes is magical realism. My short stories range from contemporary to horror and paranormal. I focus more on a common theme – love and betrayal, sacrifice and redemption – as opposed to any genre conventions.

Q. Why do I write what I do?

Again, I write what interests me. I’ve always read widely, from everyday fiction to genre stuff like mysteries, sci-fi, and horror, as well as a lot of nonfiction. I try to write stories that’ll elicit a strong emotional response from my readers and stick with them long after they’re done reading.

Q. How does your writing process work?

Poorly, at the moment. Right now my weekday schedule is up at 5:30, work 7-5, class from 5:30-8:30, then home at nine to write papers until about midnight or 1:00, then fall asleep and do it all over the next day. Unfortunately, I’ve been getting a lot of great story ideas but haven’t had a chance to write them, other than brief notes. When I do have time to write, I usually do so fast and furiously, because the stories have been marinating for awhile and are pretty ripe for telling.

Q. Who will we meet next week?Road to Hell cover

I’m going to tag author Christopher Starr, because he’s about two months overdue for a blog post.

He’s the author of the Heaven Falls series, starting with The Road to Hell: The Book of Lucifer, about Lucifer’s fall from grace.

 

#NaNoWriMo WhyNoMeNo

It’s November, which means that thousands upon thousands of people are sitting down to write a 50,000 word novel as part of NaNoWriMo.

It also means that thousands upon thousands of people are sitting in front of their computers, eying their word counts, and thinking, “Crap, it’s only day seven and I’m how far behind?”

I’m in that second group.

I started off strong. I went to a local write-in on the first day. I sat at a table where a fellow writer took away another NaNo’er’s phone to minimize distractions and may have threatened to disconnect my internet connection. I hit my word count. Days 2, 3, and 4, I hit my word count.

But then on day 5, I came home from my evening class with a migraine/mild diabetic reaction to too much flan, and a bug bite that I had an allergic reaction too (funny story; it’s called Skeeter Syndrome, and it means bites swell up into itchy 3″ in diameter welts). I tried to write, but ended up just going to bed, at 9:00, and sleeping it all off. I planned to catch up today, but between an unexpected trip to the mechanic’s (headlight went out this morning) and my son’s 7th birthday party tonight, I didn’t have time for it.

I’m hoping to catch up soon, but this weekend I’m headed out of town, which means not much writing will get done Friday, Saturday, and possibly Sunday.

And then I have a 20-page policy analysis paper due in a couple weeks, followed by an 8-page paper on my family’s ethnic integration in America. And a book launch in less than a month.

It’s not going to be pretty this month.

If you’re doing NaNo, how’s your progress coming along?

FREE Writing Feedback During the WHW Amazing Race

Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi at Writers Helping Writers (formerly The Bookshelf Muse) have added two more books to their Descriptive Thesaurus Collection: The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes and The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws. To celebrate, they are hosting a race, and not just any old race, either. It’s the…

Writing is hard, isn’t it? Create the perfect hook. Make your first page compelling. Craft an amazing 25 word pitch. Knock out a query that will blow an agent’s mind. On and on it goes. And sometimes, well, you just wish someone would help.

WISH NO MORE!

From October 21st until October 27th, Writers Helping Writers is posting an OPEN CALL for writers. Fill out a form to request help with critiques, book visibility, social media sharing, blog diagnostics, advice, and more.

An army of Amazing Racers are standing by (me included), waiting to help with your submissions. How many people can we help in a week? Let’s find out! Did I mention there are Celebrity Racers too–amazing authors and editors who know their way around a first page. Maybe one of them will pick your submission to help with!

Each day this week, there’s an AMAZING giveaway, too. So stop in at Angela & Becca’s new Writers Helping Writers website and find out how to take advantage of this unique, pay-it-forward event for writers.

Review: Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland

As an aside – one of the great things about networking with other authors is that they often give you free ARCs (advanced reader copies) of their upcoming books to review. I’ll be looking for some ARC readers in late October for my novel, The Lone Wolf, due out in December. If you’re interested, please sign up for my mailing list (link on the left) for details.

Author K.M. Weiland does a bit of everything – writing fantasy and speculative fiction, mentoring new writers, and blogging helpful tips about the writing process. Her new book, Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story, is a must-read for anyone writing a novel, no matter what stage she’s at in the process.

The book is a companion to her Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success. Part one walks writers through the basic structure of a 3-act story, from writing a strong opening hook, setting the tone and defining the setting, to writing an ending that readers will love.

Part two focuses on scene development. She delves into Randy Ingermanson‘s scene/sequel (action/reaction) idea, expanding on it with ideas for scene disasters, conflicts, dilemmas, and decisions, as well as variations that still work in the context of a structured scene.

Part three is about structuring your sentence – about what makes prose good. This for me was the most helpful section and what I’d be most likely to refer to other writers. She covers participles and parallelism (a huge thing for me), run-ons and fragments, as well as how to get rid of stuff you don’t need, like modifiers and filter words.

Throughout the book, Weiland gives detailed examples from movies and books, as well as coming back to the same four in every chapter: Pride and Prejudice, It’s a Wonderful Life, Ender’s Game, and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. It’s her examples that really make this book useful; it’s one thing to tell us about a concept, but much better to show us through real-life examples.

Overall, this is probably one of the most helpful writing books I’ve read, and one I definitely want on my shelf.

Chupacabras; or, how I get my story ideas

Several times in the past month, I’ve been asked how I get my story ideas.

As my official bio says, “I draw on my experiences to tell the stories of those around me, with a generous heaping of ‘what if’ thrown in.” 

For example, one night I was driving home and this big thing ran across the road in front of me. It was probably a dog or a coyote, but…what if it were a chupacabra? What if chupacabras are coming out of some kind of dimensional rift, part of some plot by evil satyrs to take over the world? What if I’m the only one who can see them and have to figure out a way to stop them? Yeah, that’s how I get my story ideas.

I found this in a dinosaur museum. I’m pretty sure it’s a prehistoric chupacabra.

Watch a little kid play sometime. He makes up fantastic stories, about monsters and battles and princesses and moms and dads and little kids and airplanes and god knows what. I did it as a kid; you did too. But as a kid grows, he stops voicing those stories. Maybe he writes them down for school assignments, but by the time he’s an adult, he doesn’t articulate them, and eventually that creativity is abandoned and rusty from lack of use.

With practice, everyone could find something to write about, but most don’t because they don’t think they can.

I refuse to let my creative voice get rusty.

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