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“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Build a Story World

Read With Impact

For Music ‘read’ for narrative characteristics, atmosphere, and emotion.

a.     What music genres would be a good back sound to your story?
b.     What do you find yourself humming when you’re working on it?

a.     Review a music video in mute—look for narration characteristics
b.     Listen to the music only—what does it add re atmosphere/emotion
c.      Looks at the lyrics—is there a story line?
d.     Watch the video again but now with the sound, what is your response?

Note: I suggest you also look at some of the earliest videos produced, such as Billy Joel’s, over thirty years ago as well as current.

How can you incorporate the ambience into your story? It’s almost impossible to quote lyrics or words from songs, but you can use the beats as a template. Substitute your own words and write out a few lines for your character to sing.


1.     Find a song that has been done by many artists and across musical styles. Which versions highlight what aspects of either the words themselves or the emotional resonance?

2.     List ways you adapt those characteristics to differentiate atmosphere or tension in one of your scenes.

3.     Take a movie or play that has been done over a period of several decades and note the difference in musical scores. Phantom of the Opera and Hamlet would be two good examples. Note how relevant, or not, costumes are to a musical production.

4.     Or revisit silent movies and early talking movies where the musical score had to carry a heavy weight.

5.     Read your opening scene as if it were a movie. What image/sound would the camera capture?

Share: If you wrote a new song, share one line. :) 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Construct With Memory

“It may be that place can focus the gigantic, voracious eye of genius and bring its gaze to point. Focus then means awareness, discernment, order, clarity, insight—they are like the attributes of love. … Indeed, as soon as the least of us stands still, that is the moment something extraordinary is seen to be going on in the world.”   Eudora Welty

When memory is focused on place it has the potential to thread several character and plot threads throughout the story. As with Amy Cantrell, in Bridging Two Hearts by Michelle Ule, she has clear insight as to the emotional pain causing her practical dilemma. However she assumes she can tough out the situation without actually addressing the heart issue. She keeps attacking and failing. Until she stands still from the memory and then the extraordinary happens.

For Central Park Rendezvous, the memory of place threads through multiple stories and several characters weaving a variety of awareness depending on the narrator. As the letters work back in time, the gaze upon the bridge becomes more and more focused for the readers, enabling them to see its impact before the characters themselves. We stand on tiptoe whenever the bridge enters a story, waiting in anticipation. And we are not disappointed. We groan with frustration at the conflicts and sigh with satisfaction at the connections. Our personal memories loop into the narrative. We are drawn in by the close-up.

Journal Prompt:

            Take an important place for your character and make a list according to Eudora Welty’s quote above. Just as attributes of love can be expressed in different ways show how the focus on your character’s place can be a gaze of awareness, discernment, clarity, order and insight.

Share: Which one impacted her/his heart as extraordinary?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Build a Story World

Read With Impact

For Paintings or Photographs read for theme, story, and image. When we ‘see’ the effect of micro scenes, we can then apply the techniques to our fictional scenes therefore deepening their effect.

1          1) Journal
a.     What makes a photograph or a painting interesting to look at?
b.     Why do some catch your attention?

      2) Read     
a. Choose a photograph or painting that represents either the actual look of a particular place in your world, or the emotion that you want to convey?

This is an absolute favorite and fun to do. Due to copyright issues I cannot post a favorite workshop painting but hopefully you can find it by typing in "automat by edward hopper" on google. But only look at the image and don’t read any information on it until after you’ve completed the response below.

      3) Respond
                        a. What do you first notice about this scene?
                        b. What is the attitude or feeling portrayed?
                        c. What images, topics jump out at you?
                        d. Do you think this picture is staged? Why? Why not?
                        e. What does this imply about this person?
                        f. What does this painting ‘say’ to you? What do you think is the


1.     Sort through paintings, photographs, or brochures that have a particular landscape you want in your novel. Choose one or two and develop them as a scene.

2.     Go through a family photo album and pick out unknown people. Write up a mini scene for them based on their facial expression.

3.     Freeze frame a movie scene and apply the questions. What did you not notice the first time around?

Share: Which one gave you the least amount of  ‘information’? Why?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Connect With Maps

Connect With Maps
“Place in fiction is the named, identified, concrete, exact, and exacting and therefore credible, gathering spot of all that has been felt, is about to be experienced, in the novel’s progress. Location pertains to feeling; feeling profoundly pertains to place; place in history partakes of feeling, as feeling about history partakes of place.” Eudora Welty

As I mentioned in last week’s blog, a bridge is one of the unifying elements in Central Park Rendezvous, set in New York City. The concrete historic site links all four stories, past and present, as a meeting place and as a place to remember.

In the present day story, Dream a Little Dream by Ronie Kendig, it becomes an emotional magnet and map for the two main characters as they attempt to make sense of the letters and what they mean now. The letters provide a map going into history, and the bridge stands as a credible location to ground the present. It enables them to recognize and assimilate the reality of the past mystery that increasingly becomes a key to them personally. The bridge is a place of strength and comfort.

For Amy Cantrell, in Bridging Two Hearts by Michelle Ule, her bridge is multilayered. Crossing her west coast historic bridge is the only way to a new job and fresh opportunities, but to cross it brings on panic attacks as her emotional past threatens to sabotage her hope, literally and figuratively. This concrete and exacting place acts as both metaphor and map as Amy struggles physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Whether the author intended the internal map mirror or not, as a reader I found the juxtaposition of Amy’s struggle alongside Navy Seals in training an added resonant connection. They too were facing deeper commitments, physical danger and learning to overcome their fears.

Amy’s daily journey across her map zone built into her a growing strength to gather together her past and present. To her the bridge became captivity and conflict leading to confidence.

Journal Prompt:

            Your character returns home to visit after a long absence. Regardless of the emotional reasons for the visit, what is the first place she goes to when she can be alone for a few hours? Why? What solace or courage or grief does she attach to that location?

Share: What is one place you go to when you return to a familiar environment?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Build a Story World

Read With Impact (Three)

For poetry, read for language and metaphors. Practice studying for implicit and explicit examples and watch for the sound of words as well.

They are usually ordinary words that are fine-tuned for a clear purpose. Musicians all use the same notes, but one may write an opera and another heavy metal rock. The styles, the genre, the melody all impact the final result.  Likewise our words arise out of each project.

We fine-tune by deepened vocabulary. What needs to be highlighted? Where do we need to whisper or to shout? Do we make sure our reader has absolutely no doubt what we intend, or do we want ambiguity?

Exercise: Briefly 

  Journal your answers to these questions.

a.     Have you ever had to defer a dream (define)?

b.     What did it feel like?

c.      What images stay with you?

    Read           Dreams by Langston Hughes

                        Hold fast to dreams
                        For if dreams die
                        Life is a broken-winged bird
                        That cannot fly
                        Hold fast to dreams
                        For when dreams go
                        Life is a barren field
                        Frozen with snow


a.     What is explicit? What is implicit?

b.     Two prominent images are the broken-winged bird and the barren field. What are some feelings you associate with these images?

c.      What qualities make a writer’s voice distinctive and memorable?

Application: Practice Changing Clichés

1.Take well-known clichés and shift them around. Make a list of as many common ones that you can think of and then crisscross them just for fun. Some will be hilarious and ridiculous. And some might spark a new phrase.

2. Or make a list of metaphors and similes from one poem and then re-write them. Put your new version back into the original poem. How does the focus change?

3. This is really entertaining in a small group of writers and rather surprising at some of the images that can come to the surface.

4. Practice shifting old concepts around until they become new and fresh.

Share: Choose one or two of your favorites and share.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Build a Story World

Read With Impact

 Reading Logs

  1. Purpose. Read for content-fuel for ideas.

  1. Process. Read through. While reading mark it up. Underline phrases/words/ideas that catch your attention. Put question marks next to thoughts/topics etc that you are confused by or disagree with. Notice metaphors/symbols. What is the text saying?

  1. Part One. Write a quick reflective log. What do you think about this piece? What did you notice? What is your personal reaction? Just free-write your ideas without stopping for sentence structure or punctuation.

4.    Part Two. Analysis. Write critique notes. Develop a closer look. Ask questions.
        “Is there a connection between…? Why that POV? What effect does the  

5.    Part Three. Connections. Now think of what your opinion or new insights are    
 after sharing with others.

a.     For example, “What are the implications of the author’s POV?” “Did the author effectively accomplish their purpose?” “Did you learn anything?”


b.     When helpful write out a generic plot line but be careful not to leave too much out for the sake of clarity. “A young man, seeking to avenge the murder of his father by his uncle, kills his uncle, but he himself and others die in the process.” (Not sure everyone would recognize Hamlet from this plot line)


1.     Go back to your favorite scene in the last book you read and apply these questions.

2.     Note what tugged at your heartstrings. How can you adapt/apply the same techniques to a scene in your novel?

3.     Hand out a copy of this reading log or another version to your reading friends and all read the same book. Then share your insights.

Share: The generic plot line for the book you read.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Compose Through Metaphor

“Besides furnishing a plausible abode for the novel’s world of feeling, place has a good deal to do with making the characters real, that is, themselves, and keeping them so.” Eudora Welty

Some of the richest metaphors come from the most ordinary plausible details. They parallel the external realities alongside internal hopes and dreams, and transform the common with translucence.

Some excellent examples of several mythic influences can be found in the recent release of a romantic Four-In-One Collection, Central Park Rendezvous. This contemporary/historical threads three common details throughout a century plus time span: letters, a coin and a bridge, each of which also mirror and complement each other. To the passerby—nothing of importance. To the participants—a heart aching search.

In A Love Meant To Be, by Dineen Miller, the valued coin, a keepsake,
is a link to the past and promise to the future, yet becomes the catalyst for miscommunication, strained friendship, a broken heart and failure. Just the act of passing the coin from one hand to another explodes all preconceptions of family dynamics forcing the characters and the readers to re-evaluate everything. The concrete coin becomes a spinning metaphor for plot, characterization, theme and atmosphere. Plausible. Ordinary. Real. Translucent.

Journal Prompt:

            Your main character needs to pack and move with little notice. A friend comes to help and discovers a small box in a drawer or in a closet. Overcome with curiosity he, or she, opens it. What do they find inside?

Share: Which of the items does your character choose to hold?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Build a Story World

Read With Impact

Whatever our field of interest is, we all consume tons of information, sometimes by assignment and sometimes as hungry passion. Often, however, specific elements of reading can get lost in the quantity. A few months ago I had the privilege of co-presenting at an ACFW mini-conference in the Bay area and as this reading sequence brought several responses I’m going to share it as a sequence for the month of April.

And I hope you’ll share your insights as well. Also for those who live in the Bay area check out some great upcoming workshops from Golden Gate ACFW Northern California at In the meantime—happy reading.

The methods used to interpret literature can also be applied to other arts such as film, music, dance, architecture, paintings and photography. The difference lies in the purpose, or focus, of your intent or search. Like other forms of analysis, interpretation requires making observations, connections, inferences and conclusions.

Reading As Process 

What is the process involved in understanding a communication?

What is being said or what is it? A summary.
What does it mean? Why? An analysis.
Is it good? An evaluation.

1.     Questions of fact: recall questions. These are essential to form the basis of our support.
Ex. What time did Cinderella have to be home from the ball?

2.     Questions of interpretation: can only be answered from the text
Ex. What motivated Cinderella? How would you characterize her stepsisters?

3.     Questions Beyond the Text: connections to the real world
Ex. Is there such a thing as happily ever after?           

Suggestion: For fiction, look for main elements and then track the information in a journal. Plot, theme, structure, character, setting, point of view, style, symbols all work together in a novel. One method of reading is to use different color highlighters for different threads.

                     For your beta readers, after they have read your manuscript and given you their feedback, give them these three questions. As readers we all focus on the aspects that touch us personally. Not only will this give you some insight into how others perceive your story, but also you might discover some nuggets for interviews and marketing.


1.     Choose one main character from the most recent book you have read and answer the above questions?
2.     Note how they tracked throughout the story line. Did all three aspects weave together or were there place where it seemed disjointed?
3.     How would you fix it?

Share: Did you notice any new details? 
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