Wit 'n Wisdom of Janice LaQuiere

Thursday, September 28, 2006

WTBN Chapter Four: Time and Place

Chapter Four - Breakout Checklist (Summary): Time and Place

1. Every story has a context, whether it is emphasized or not.
2. Creating breakout time and place involves more than just describing setting
3. Using psychology of place means capturing how a place makes a point-of-view character feel.
4. Coney a sense of the times.
5. Portray historical forces and social trends through characters.
6. Unexpected tragedy or grace adds a senes of destiny at work.
7. Detail is the secret ingredient of breakout settings.

Setting sets the context. It includes time and place. Milieu, period, fashion, ideas, human outlook historical moment, spiritual mood, etc. It needs detail depicted in verbs and nouns.

Psychology of place:

How does setting make character feel?
(Character will see the setting as warm or harsh depending on her outlook.)

Create a relationship between character and place (Tricia sees her neighborhood as a refuge. When she forced out the neighborhood becomes threatening. Rocky's missing - swallowed up by the neighborhood. Strange things are happening...and then the neighborhood becomes an enemy.

What is the social posistion of your character? How do they feel about it?

Does her status rise or fall? She looses financial status as well as status in the eyes of her church. How can she tell?

In what ways is society evolving during this story?

The universe is bigger than ourselves, find a place to put in an unexpected moment of tragedy or grace. (The landlord lady who offers Tricia a place to stay - kick up the scene.)

Change the scene from the mundane (kitchen) to the extraordinary (...attic, backyard tent...)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

WTBN - Chapter 3 - Raising the Stakes

As I'm reviewing this book I'm applying it to my current mss., which are what some of the comments are referring to under my personal notes.

Chapter 3 - Stakes -

Chapter Checklist (Summary)

1. High stakes yield high success
2. Stakes say what could be lost.
3. To test stakes ask, "So what?"
4. Making public stakes real means starting with a grain of truth.
5. Breakout novels combine high public stakes with high personal stakes
6. Deep personal stakes dig down so far they show us who we are.
7. Public stakes change with the times.
8. To raise personal stakes ask, How can this matter more?"
9. To raise overall stakes ask, "How could things get worse?"
10. Keep danger immediate. Make your characters suffer.
11. High stakes come from your own stakes in writing your story.

My personal notes:

Can you define your stakes?" (Collapse of her marriage, loss of her children, imprisonment, prostitution. Sometimes the greatest stakes is the compromise of a code of honor or ideal.)

Are the stakes in the manuscript as high as possible?

Can you cite the page numbers where protagonist is locked into her course of action with less hope of success?

There are public stakes and private stakes:

Public Stakes (i.e. the destruction of humanity):

Plausibility begins with a grain of truth in the premise, and then detailing.

Public stakes must become personal. A story is about a person.

For a reader to identify with a setting, it must be specific.

Public stakes change with the times...loss of freedom from war...from laws. Destruction from enemies...from lack of morality. Dissolution of the family from disease...lack of ideals.

Private Stakes:

In order for the private stakes to matter to the reader, the reader must care about the character. (Show Trish planning to surprise Stan.)

What does protagonist need? (Trish needs to feel loved.)

What is her goal? (She wants a happy ever after marriage.)

What does she yearn for? (Understanding for her husband)

What must she avoid? (Depression)

What freezes her into a state of paralysis? (Clausterphobia - lack of trust in God.)

"Every protagonist needs a torturous need - (Trish needs to feel worthy)
consuming fear- (She'll be abandoned my Stan, like her mother abadoned her, and ultimately God)
aching regret - (She didn't stand up for her right to be loved)
visible dream - (A close knit family, farmhouse and white picket fence)
passionate longing - (To homeschool
inescapable ambition - (Prove to Stan she's worthy...to be "smart" as an entreprenure and a woman
an exquisite lust -
and inner lack -
a fatal weakness - (Her kids.)
an unavoidable obligation - (Her kids)
and iron instinct-
an irresistible plan -
a noble ideal -
an undying hope -
Something to propel her beyond the boundaries that confine us."

Don't make the basic danger deeper, but add layers to the stakes, compound the misery. Determine what would be the worse moment for the problem to get worse.

"How can the stakes become not just a possible loss but one that has palpable, dread-producing immediacy?" (When the food is delivered and the guy wants to rape her.)

Misc. Q.
What conflicting interests are presented in the history of the characters' stories?

What ethical dilemmas are likely to arise in protagonists' profession?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

WTBN Chapter 2 - The Premise

Not all novel premises are breakout material. A writer needs to know when to discard a weak premise.

1. Name your top three favorite novels - Write down their titles.

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

The Lady's Confession - Geo. MacDonald

The Man from Montana - Grace Livingston Hill

A breakout novel takes us "away". It provides a new experience, and is an expression of our deepest desires, our secret hopes. Characters are larger than life.

Premise: A spurned wife's refusal to grant her husband a divorce ensnares her in a sinister human-trafficking operation. Her vow to remain loyal is tested when her husband's unholy union produces a child she must love as her own.

Q. What am I trying to communicate? Message? Passion?

A. To not give up

A. You are in charge of how you behave.

A. You don't have to follow the same road others have.

A. A successful life is a spiritual matter, and isn't based on physical conditions.

A. Difficult decisions means walking into difficult circumstances and going up against popular opinion.

Judge the premise on

1. Plausibility
2. Inherent conflict (struggle between husband and wife)
3. originality (new angle: internet affair, leads a couple into money laundering and the darker world of human trafficking)
4. gut emotional appeal

Throughout the story, create inherent conflict and emotional appeal wherever possible.

Breakout Checklist (chapter summary):

1. A breakout premise can be built.

2. Your favorite novels sweep you away, have characters you can't forget, and involve dramatic and meaningful events.

3. Plausibility means that the story could happen to any of us.

4. Inherent conflict means problems in your "place".

5. Originality can be new angles on old stories, the opposite of what we expect or story elements in unexpected combinations.

6. Gut emotional appeal springs from the emotional situations that grab us in life.

7. Even an unlikely starting point can be built into a breakout premise.

9. To brainstorm a breakout premise, steer away from the obvious, seek inherent conflict, find gut emotional appeal and ask, "What if...?"

Monday, September 25, 2006

Writing the Breakout Novel - Ch. 1

At long last I've come within site of the end of my current WIP ("work-in-progress" for those none writers out there.)

I've recently joined a small group that intends to work their way through Writing The Breakout Novel by Donald Maas. I've read through this book before and it became one of my favorite books on writing. It's an easy read that points out the elements included in a successful novel. (For example: The idea to include conflict on every page...it's the conflict that keeps the reader reading.)

For those interested, I've included the points from Chapter One:

1. To survive in today's book publishing industry, it is not good enough to get published

2. The midlist is in trouble, and this time it's for real. (Because people are changing how they spend their leisure time, books are more expensive, the industry is changing.)

3. Even so, authors are breaking out.

4. The root cause of most midcareer meltdows is the author's own writing. (Which means that we have success within our grasp.)

5. Success (sales) Does not come from agents, advances, editors or promotions....it comes from word of mouth.

6. The e-revolution may not save us; indded, it may not happen. (Maass implies that if anything e-books may lend itself to lesser quality books. And even with e-books we must strive for that "breakout novel")

7. Breakout-level fiction is the key to survival and to getting ahead.


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