The What and Why of Writing: The Ds

I was discussing another writer’s story idea with her, and I told her it was time to plot out the “Ds” in the story. “Think bad, badder, baddest,” I suggested. “No happy, sunny days.”

Ah, the fun of writing a novel.

You, the writer, get to wreak havoc on your characters – all the while ignoring any and all havoc in your life. At least for a little while. You must return to reality at some point.

Wreaking havoc – that’s just another term for “the Ds”: the events that distance your hero or heroine from their goals. 

What: The Ds

Think Distancing, Denial, Disappointments and Devastation. Ds distance a character from what they want. Ds deny your character something – a relationship, maybe – and create a Y in the road, forcing her to make a choice. Most often when we think of the Ds, we think of Disappointments that get worse and worse with each turn of the page until there’s a devastating event that brings your character to their knees.

Why:

You weave Ds into your story because your character doesn’t live on Easy Street. If she does, then pack her stuff up and move her out. In other words, a book with no conflict is boring. It’s also unrealistic. Do you know anyone with no conflict in their life? Me, either.

Think of the Ds as literary roadblocks. They stop your main character from going forward and getting where she wants to be. By creating a Y in the road, the Ds force your character to ask, “What do I do now? Quit? Try again? Try something else?”

When you’re stopped by a real roadblock, you can either:

  1. Quit. If your character does this, you write “The End” to your book. You don’t want to do this unless you are truly at the end of your book. Trust me, if you’re plotting the Ds, you’re not ready to write “The End.”
  2. Try again. Have you ever watched a movie when someone blasts right through a roadblock? It’s dangerous and all kinds of crazy things happen — and you can’t tear your eyes away from the screen, can you?
  3. Change direction. Consider how the Y in the road leads to a detour. If your character can’t do the thing she planned on doing, what can she do?

And then the question is: What does that choice, that action lead to?  There’s always another D, right? Well, there is … until you get to the Black Moment. But that’s another blog post.

What Ds have  plotted for your main characters? 

 

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The Blessings of Negative Criticism by Connilyn Cossette

There are two words every writer dreads. Negative criticism. Throwing our art, and our heart, out into the world is daunting. I remember the first time I emailed a portion of my unfinished manuscript to someone, I thought I might pass out, or throw up, or both—and that was to someone really nice!

Whenever you put your story into the world someone will criticize. Period. Anonymous judges in contests that shred your work. Agents that don’t see the potential and turn you down. Editors that point out the flaws and holes in your story. Reviewers who just who don’t like what you write.

No one likes to be told that they are wrong, or not up to par, or that they still have a lot to learn. And there will always be someone out there who does not like your style or your voice or who disagrees with you. Take a few minutes and peruse great, critically acclaimed works out there on a large retail site—Everyone gets one-star reviews. Everyone.

But what if instead of dreading being told there is something wrong with our stories, we embrace it? What if instead of being frustrated or angry when someone just “doesn’t get it”, we are grateful? What if being fearful of someone attacking our hard work, we look forward to the growth we can gain from the experience?

How can we flip the switch and look at negative criticism in a positive way?

I think there are a few things that we can focus on and questions we can ask ourselves, instead of dwelling on the hurt.

Ask yourself first: What can I learn from this negative criticism? Can I sift through the disapproval to find something I can work on? We are not perfect people, we will always be learning, so glean some new wisdom and let the rest go.

Next ask yourself: Is this person my audience? Perhaps the critic doesn’t like first person present POV, or they don’t like your religious views, or they can’t stand historicals or they normally only read suspense and were bored by your literary style. Not everyone has the same taste. And that’s okay! Write for the person your story is meant for, the person who needs your message, and let go of the impossible need to please everyone.

Then ask yourself: How have I grown from this experience? Did you put your story out there? Fantastic! You stretched yourself! Instead of hiding your talents under a bushel, you had faith that there is purpose in what you are doing. And with each critique of your work, you are getting tougher skin. You are growing in your craft. You are stepping forward and becoming more who you were meant to be.

There will always be critics, sometimes even unkind ones. But if we shift our perspective, work on building ourselves up instead of beating ourselves up, then we will come out stronger, wiser, and better writers in the end.

~*~

There is nothing Connilyn Cossette likes better than digging into the rich ancient world of the Bible and uncovering buried gems of grace that point toward Jesus. Her debut novel, Counted With the Stars: Out from Egypt Series, recently released through Bethany House Publishers. Connect with her at www.connilyncossette.com.

The What and Why of Writing: Character Values

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” ~Roy Disney (1930-2009), longtime senior executive for The Walt Disney Company

Every day we make decisions. And if we stopped and really thought about it, we’d realize we made those choices based on our values – the things that are important to us.  Or as Proverbs so aptly puts it: Everyone does what is right in his (or her) own eyes. (Proverbs 21:2)

Guess what? The imaginary characters in our books? They have to do the very same thing: make choices based on their values.

What: Values

Things we desire, whether we have them or not, such as forgiveness, honesty, money, compassion, power and trust

Why:

We don’t like it when we wander around aimlessly, not sure what to do. Wasted hours, wasted days. And we’re certainly not going to read (or write) a book where the hero and heroine spend pages and pages thinking, “What should I do? What should I do?”

If you know what your characters’ values are, then you can easily determine what they would do. How do you figure out a character’s values? Think about it for a minute: What formed your values? Your life experience. The same is true for your characters. This is why it’s important to know your hero’s and heroine’s Dark Moment, Wound and Lie – these experiences influence what they value.

Example: If your hero moved around a lot as a child, if he never really had a place to call home, what might he value?

Answer: You could play this several ways. (It’s your book, after all.) Maybe he grows up to value home and roots because he never had that. Or maybe he values independence and being a loner – as a defense mechanism to protect his Wound.

Example: If your heroine was told she was ugly  — and that her sister was the beautiful one — what might she value?

Answer: She might grow up to value external beauty – trying to prove everyone wrong. Or let’s flip this once again, she might value brains, a.k.a. intelligence, trying to prove her worth that way, since she isn’t beautiful, or so people say.

Once you know your characters’ values, you can plot stronger scenes. You know that the hero who values home will clash with the heroine who is career-driven – and you know why. And you know that your “brainiac” heroine is really covering up a Wound – and will reveal heartache as she interacts with the hero.

You can also create inner tension if you make your characters choose between competing values. What if your hero longs for home and he also values independence — he’s protected himself by being a loner for a lot of years. Make him choose between remaining independent or falling in love and finally finding that home and the happily ever after he’s always wanted.

Looking for some resources on values? Check out:

http://www.values.com/teaching-values

http://www.stevepavlina.com/articles/list-of-values.htm

http://www.selfcounseling.com/help/personalsuccess/personalvalues.html

When You Don’t Get Roses by Angela Arndt

As I sat there in the choir loft, sobbing during the service, most people thought I was still mourning a close friend who’d died that week. That was part of it. But most of it was ugly, red-nosed, can’t-find-a-tissue-so-I-have-to-sit-here-and-sniff self-pity. I’m a stepmother and Mother’s Days are complicated.

At the end of that service, our newest elder, Joey, came up to me with a huge smile, his hand behind his back. I blew my nose, smiling back through my tears.

Joey’s class was my favorite when I taught junior high science because they were so eager to learn. They inhaled the lessons and when we had extra time, I’d do my best to find wacky competitions to help illustrate what they’d learned.

Once, after an engineering unit, I asked them to create a bridge out of spaghetti. Their mouths dropped. After they stopped complaining, I read the weight component of the competition. Their bridge had to hold two ounces, but the bridge that held the most weight won.

The moaning stopped at the word, “competition,” and as I handed out the boxes of spaghetti and white glue, they were already designing. This was my favorite assignment, even though it left the lab was a mess.

But for some reason, assignment just didn’t click with Joey. A straight-A student, he came to me in a panic when his latest bridge failed the day before the assignment was due. I reviewed the lesson with the class one more time, but this time, I gave them a hint: look under real bridges. I’ll never forget the smile on his face the next day as he brought in a spaghetti suspension bridge, its deck reinforced with beams made of triangles. It held the required two ounces, but it won the competition because it held a one-pound weight.

Fast-forward fifteen years: Joey smiled as he handed me a pink carnation and wished me a happy Mother’s Day. Joey, the highway engineer. Designer of bridges. I inhaled the spicy sweetness of that pink carnation and smiled.

The object of this lesson is to trust God to care for your heart. We’re called to care for those God puts in our path. We’re not called to be appreciated.

Today I’m sending a pink carnation to Beth Vogt. God put me in her path and she’s encouraged me, mentored me and kept me going as a writer. If it weren’t for her, I would have given up years ago. Love you, Beth!

Who has God put in your path? How can you encourage someone today?

~*~

fb-Headshot aearndt 82113Angie writes stories about God’s love and small towns. She and her hubby live in the middle of a big wood. She’d love for you to join her at Seriously Write and her website, http://www.angelaarndt.com.