Thursday, November 29, 2012
Have you ever had a life map goal so entrenched in your expectations that you can’t or won’t veer from it? But then the unexpected happens and suddenly your choices are turned upside down.
In the movie Shag, four friends have their lives mapped out for them—literally and figuratively. With one exception they are about to settle into or accept the social, cultural expectations of their world and what others expect from them. But not without one last burst of freedom, one weekend to be who they think they are, and in those few days discover a new life map.
One young socialite is so fixated on her upcoming wedding that her best friends lie to her about their destination. Only when they turn onto a different highway does she realize they are heading for a beach to party. She had only agreed to the weekend if the activities had fit an acceptable decorum. She resists as much as possible but is pulled into the lure of a different road. Away from the rules she finds the shell she has molded for herself breaking into pieces.
Choose some categories of lifestyle that are, or were, in your heroine’s high school world. Is it a private school atmosphere or a rural school, high school with 4,000 students or one with 400?
What are the expectations of their family and community towards them, that they will follow into trade jobs, marry, stay status quo or go off the grid? Choose four from different economic, or other status levels, and write up a sketch of their expected day responsibilities ahead of them.
Share: Did your heroine follow the status quo or choose a different journey? What happened?
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Another way to build history into your world, and to find great ideas, is to track a city over a long time period alongside its changes. For example, study a city that made a major transition from rugged camp conditions into a cosmopolitan world center. Or you can go into the opposite direction: a once major city is now a shadow of its former appeal. What caused the downfall—corruption or public indifference or a little of both?
If an entire city seems overwhelming, choose one neighborhood.
The fame need not be in location only, but perhaps as a center for the arts, or sports or medicine or industry. What brought it to fame and why did it lose its ‘authority’?
Give your cities a connection historically too either through education, or commerce or religion. Jerusalem is a holy city for Christians, Jews, and Muslims, but not all their holy sites are in the same location. However some are. Has the city been ‘owned’ by so many different cultures that each can claim a heritage to it. What kind of conflict can become attached to your protagonist?
Copy one facet of a famous world city across our own timeline and use it to tie your own city together. For example, Alexandria Egypt and its famous library, the architecture in Prague Czechoslovakia, or Paris France for art.
Share: Which city did you choose to study?
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
In week one you did a freewrite and list exercise with cities. In week two you looked at building habitat with its legends and history and landmarks. Here you pull them together to decide which cities in your world are to have prominence, based on history then and history now.
Choose three cities: one modern, one middle-aged, and one ancient within your world’s timeline. What is the key historical focus of each city/town? If it lost its prominence—why? Was it once a major seaport and is now a land-locked desert?
Another approach is to look at the ‘ghost towns’ of your country. Were they bustling towns based on gold or another mineral and when they dried up everyone left? Or perhaps a new form of transportation made a once major city obsolete, like the railroads did in many countries as they bypassed some well known towns for others. In what areas did a population leave due to changes, such as many stage-coach routes lost their livelihood when the railroads took over.
Share: Which historical focus gave the strongest emotional connection?
Thursday, November 15, 2012
“Dance is the hidden language of the soul” Martha Graham
Over the past few months I’ve been watching old movies for some workshops I’ve been teaching and considering what enables them to pass the test of time and be relevant in today’s generation, which is so more high tech than twenty years ago.
Shag, one movie, is named after and highlights Carolina Shag dancing in the 1960’s, focuses on a week-end of four young women transitioning from high-school, and tracks personal discovery as they begin to see themselves from a new perspective. As this movie was made in 1989, it was already then an historical movie. Yet reached that audience with enthusiasm.
Some of its timeless appeal definitely included the music, which captured the era, was fun, and wove its own magic. However that isn’t enough, as the next movie’s music I’ll discuss actually became a detriment to new viewers.
What captured Shag’s timelessness was the metaphor of dance behind the actual dance steps and music. And the movie blended the dance concept/metaphor seamlessly throughout the storyline.
For example, the character Pudge loves to dance, is so excited she can’t wait to be at the dance hall, and faces immediate disappointment as no one wants to dance with her. She sees herself through her nickname as undesirable. The surface dilemma is a minor inconvenience to the deeper desire for Pudge to have someone value her for herself, for someone to wants to ‘dance’ with her, to match her heart. The young man she meets insists he can’t shag so Pudge offers to teach him. He actually is an excellent dancer but he too is looking beyond the surface and doesn’t want to be liked just because he can dance in the contest. The dance metaphor guides them into a real understanding of friendship and relationship and possibilities.
And underlines the transition for all the main characters, as they learn their new steps as individuals hearing their own heartbeats, their real desires and their soul hungers.
Choose a dance theme that matches your character, whether current or historical to her real timeline. Chart out the actual dance moves and the pattern to them.
How can you apply that pattern to an emotional conflict she is trying to comprehend?
Share: What timeless quality does it unveil for her situation?
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
History in Place Writing assignment:
1. Choose a place in your novel and describe it with its history. Integrate what was there by first describing both the present, and the absent, and then the present and the past.
2. Or take a setting out of a folktale, fairy tale or actual history in another town/era/culture that bears the same thematic ‘map’ and use it doing the above exercise.
For example: many stories have travelers lost in a forest. Maybe the forest in your town is still young so borrow an ancient one as its back history.
3. After you have chosen and written one from an “historical” viewpoint, rewrite it from a family history perspective within the same framework.
Share: What worked well? What was difficult?
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
History as Perspective
Another key factor in presenting history is to identify perspective. A fun practice is to study world scenes from different artists in different centuries and note what they highlighted in their subjects and what they kept muted. How did they interpret the moment they wanted to share? What kind of statements might they have been making?
Click to the following links of two paintings in Wikipedia and resist reading all the background until after you’ve read the visual for yourself, and answered the following questions for each scene.
Describing a scene. (Interpretation)
1. What are some possibilities for organizing and discussing this visual text in Hogarth’s Street Scene?
kinds of facial expressions, noise-sound-music, theme of poverty, people at once crowed and isolated, social-class divisions, religious and other symbols, modes of amusement.
2. What assumptions can we make about this ‘world’ based on this moment in time?
Share: What is your emotional impression of one scene?
Thursday, November 1, 2012
As we enter into our vocations we need the community of artisans and colleagues to teach and sharpen and encourage growth and skills. We learn from the collective memory, some living and some dead, classroom by personal experience or classrooms through reading or other forms of art. In some ways it’s a modern day version of guilds where skills can be passed down from generation to generation. And everyone benefits.
However when we are fortunate enough to find a mentor, that experience deepens into our hearts and becomes a spiritual inheritance as well. They give us the tools that help us identify our particular bent or purpose or skill within the body. And when we stumble or lose our direction they give us their gift of memory by asking questions that remind us why we started, and where our vision is, and how to find our starting point again. They are a rare gift. They share from generous hearts.
But how exactly? How do they construct beyond craft to spirit? I have been blessed by two special mentors, authors Lauraine Snelling and Ethel Herr, who have practiced what they teach for well over the twenty years I’ve known them. And so I began to list some of their qualities as mentors where they have shared and challenged and grounded me over the years to find the concrete within the abstract. (See the list below)
Their gifts to myself, and many many others, came to a highlight this week as Ethel passed into heaven and our community of writers began the process of saying goodbye by remembering all our stories with her. Mentor. Friend. Poet. Historian. Author. Pray-er. And so much more.
Stories that will help us construct with memory every time we think of her. Words passed along with commitment and humor, with love and challenge, with hope and integrity. Words to be valued. Poured out words.
Received with gratitude.
Go down the list below and write next to each category the name of a mentor who has contributed to your inheritance for faith/vocation/purpose. What are the words or ideas they have given you to sustain you when the road gets blurry, to help you remember your goals for:
Quality of Craft
Share: What is a lifelong insight that you received from a mentor?