Maureen pic from booksigningGreetings and Happy New Year! Maureen Pratt here with my monthly CAN blog on the craft of writing. Today, I'm going to offer one technique to help you find the right angle and tone for your story. Sometimes, fine-tuning these so that your intent is clear and your storytelling is compelling isn't a matter of vocabulary or sentence structure, or even pacing or flow.

Sometimes, it's how you frame your story that gives it its best final form.

Recently, I took two lovely watercolors to a frame shop. I'd purchased them awhile ago, and never liked the plain frames they'd come in. Each picture was of a stylized bird, wings outstretched, positioned amid some leaves and branches. Some of the colors were vivid – electric blues and bright pinks – and others were more muted – faint corals and fern greens, along with a more muted blue. 

As I tried one color of matting after another, and one frame after another along with the matting, I began to realize that, although the pictures remained the same, the overall effect and, even, the sense of beauty conveyed by the images, changed with each different color and combination. For example, if I were to use the same paler shade of blue as on the birds' undersides, the effect was not as eye-catching as when I tried to use a mat that was more vividly blue. 

The texture of the mats made a difference, too, as did the different shapes and widths of the frame pieces I tried. 

In the end, I settled on contrasting colors and a natural maple frame to set off the birds and draw the eye into the images.

As I left the shop, I realized that we do the same thing with writing. We begin with a story and characters that will populate it. Our stories have bveginnings, middles, and ends, subplots, and through-lines. Themes, too, and a writer's voice to tell the tale.

But even if we have unique characters and a never-before-heard plot, or, in non-fiction, even if we are writing about something no one has ever read about before, how we frame the work will make a difference as to whether we hold the reader's attention, draw him or her deeper into our story, and want to come back for more work by the same author.

The frame is made up of the world of the piece – what is around the characters (a town, a profession, a time period) and how vividly or faintly this world is portrayed.

The frame also has textures – within the time period, for example, how "gritty" will your scene-setting be? (distinct smells in the streets of London in the 17th century, for example, or a passing mention of the aroma of life there?) How much will you play with language to convey sounds, sights, and other "set pieces," such as weather? (for example: "Crack!"  or "Thunder exploded above her.")

The frame has size – How much space will you devote to setting your scene, and will you fashion subplots within it or graze only the surface on your way to your main characters and plot?

While trying to decide how I wanted to frame my pictures, I played with various combinations and also thought about where I would hang them. In our writing work, we can think about whether the book fits in with our current contract, for example, or whether it is the start of a whole new series or direction.

So, play with your frames and matting. Try an approach you've never explored before, even something you don't think will work. 

You might be surprised at what you discover as you experiment with different frames. Why, you might just find a completely new and exciting direction, a new creative canvass within which to paint your story.

Blessings in the New Year,

Maureen

www.maureenpratt.com

http://blog.beliefnet.com/gooddaysbaddays/

P.S. My publishing and production experience includes plays, a novella, several non-fiction books, devotionals, a regular blog and a syndicated monthly column. Playing with framing works in each of these categories and, I'm sure, many more.

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Hello! And a very Merry Christmas to you! Maureen Pratt here for my monthly blog which, this year, just happens to fall a couple of days after one of my favorite holidays – you guessed it – Christmas!

Maureen pic from booksigningWhat I especially love about Christmas is that we get to bring out many of our dearly-held traditions. Whether it’s in baking, decorating, music, or Scripture study “what was old is new again” as we celebrate the Season.

How does this relate to writing?

Well, it reminds me that sometimes I miss “old” traditions of the authorial kind. Writing long-hand, for example, and seeing how, as thoughts poured out on paper, the penmanship changed. Not that I’d like to go back and write an entire manuscript in that manner. Arthritis, you know. But the process  is certainly worth revisiting.

Another tradition or, rather, several with one purpose, was how we edited. Cutting and pasting, anyone? Erasing so much that a puffy pile of erasure residue wafted around you when you stood up from your desk? Or, that “old” stand-by – the smelly, sleek white liquid that dried to a crackle and gave any manuscript that “patchwork” look. “Brilliance in a bottle,” of sorts, because you had to be very sure of how and where you used it -It could get messy, and once you covered over something, you probablycouldn’t recover it intact, if it was a major revision.

Yes, nowadays, we have computer programs that automatically back-up our drafts to the “cloud,” so we will never lose a word. We have the ease of technology in erasing whatever we want and, for that matter, moving whole lines of text from one place to another. My! Have times changed!

But what hasn’t changed is the attention truly effective editing and revising require. “Back in the day” when revising could be physically painful (I did my MFA in Playwriting pre-computer, and well remember the agony of having to re-type page after page!), I and, I’m sure, many authors, spent lots of time thinking over just what needed to be altered once Draft 1 was finished. This thought process not only saved finger muscles, it also helped deepen and strengthen work; truly, the more levels you allow yourself to think through, the more full-formed the final product will be.

How do you get there without going back in time to write in a more “primitive” manner?

One very solid way of letting the editing process unfold deeply is to give it time. Finish a scene or a draft, and then let it sit for days, or even weeks. Then, re-read what you’ve written and maybe even let it sit longer before you tackle the rewrite/revision. Yes, give it time.

Another helpful tool is one I learned in grad school. After you’ve finished a scene or a chapter, make a list of questions that relate to what just happened. These questions can be about the plot, character development, scene, or anything that you wonder about (Is it all clear? Is there something that doesn’t need to be there? Is the character unfolding, or too well-developed too early on?)

Third, to let our work “go deeper,” we ourselves must grow, too. It cannot be all about the writing, but rather the life you lead as you write should inform what you write about and how you write it. So, let your life happen, be active, be curious about the world, and, most importantly, pray for greater wisdom and insight so that that light may shine through the words you set to text.

It’s way too much of a stretch to say that I’m going to dig out my typewriter this year, and there won’t be a bottle of white erasing fluid on my desk. But as we approach a brand new year of writing, I’m going to try to hold onto one outgrowth of the traditions gone by. That is, I’m going to really think before I delete, and dig deeper than ever before when I edit and revise.

What a wonderful journey that will be! And, I hope that you, too, will find your writing journey as fulfilling and graced as can be throughout the New Year and beyond!

Joy and peace,
Maureen

www.maureenpratt.com

http://blog.beliefnet.com/gooddaysbaddays/

 

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Maureen pic from booksigningIt is poignantly fitting that National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month occurs in the same month as one of our most memorable holidays – Thanksgiving Day. Alzheimer’s is a disease that robs people of their memories. Thanksgiving Day is an occasion when people gather to celebrate, give thanks, and weave conversation from past to present to future memories. Photos, videos, and audio recordings will be made during the festivities. And some of these will make their way sometime in the future into the lap of someone who once participated and remembered, but now needs to be gently coaxed to even recognize the people, frozen in time, smiling up at them from a photo album.

As authors, we use our memories all the time. Even if the stories we write have nothing to do with what we’ve experienced in the past, we call upon certain elements of our lives to flesh out and inform our work. And it is here that my CAN blog for this month focuses. How do you capture things and people, places and events as you experience them? How do you recall them? Are they now as they were then? Or, has time colored them differently or your experience from then to now given you fresh perspective.

One example of the fragility of memory came, for me, rather unexpectedly (and humorously). Years ago, when sack lunches were PB&J and chips, there were those cupcakes. Ah, you know what I mean. Those chocolate cake, chocolate frosting-with-a-swirl-of white cupcakes that made sitting through boring classes worthwhile.

When news came months ago that those cupcakes would disappear from store shelves, many were devastated. But, they returned – to great fanfare and acclaim. So it was that I found myself scouting store shelves for those cakey, sweet treats of “yesteryear.” And, I found them!  But were they the same as before? Alas, no.

Or, perhaps they were the same, but I had changed. Adult now, and very conscious of eating healthfully, instead of ripping open the package and digging in, the first thing I did was locate the label – calories, sugars, carbs…yup. Then, I secured a napkin and contemplated a fork, not eager to make a mess on the placemats I’d just laundered. Only then did I nibble on the cake. The taste was there, and the delicious combination of frosting, creamy center, and cake. But I have to say that my inner grown up had squelched a bit of the inner child by approaching the grand moment as I did.

We might do the same thing when we re-read our journals, revisit old pictures, or try to get a sense of an historic venue or person. That is, what we remember might change a little, twist and bend a little, because we are approaching the memory not with the eyes of fresh experience, but with the years – and events – that have washed like waves on the sand. Something is bound to have faded or disappeared, but something new is in its place.

In a work of fiction, part of individualizing characters means understanding their present and their past – and what memories they carry with them that influence and inspire them. Another layer to this is to understand whether they remember things exactly as they happened, or do they skew them a bit because of who they are in the present?  Differences in memory can certainly flame conflict, especially if a character insists that someone did something or something happened one way, when it actually happened another.

The things a character remembers can tell much about who he or she is. Do they remember colors over shapes? Character over mannerisms?  Do they forget eye color, but remember how someone smiles or waves?

For many, the holidays, particularly Christmas, are rich with inspiration. Throughout these next few weeks, when you put on a writer’s “cap” and marvel at how many new elements you have to put into your work, think a bit, too, about how you will remember, and what you feel is most important, in your heart, to never forget.

Blessings and a very happy Thanksgiving!

Maureen

www.maureenpratt.com

http://blog.beliefnet.com/gooddaysbaddays/

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Maureen pic from booksigningHi! Maureen Pratt here with my monthly blog. Usually, I write in this space about the craft of writing. But today, I want to take a bit of time out to ask: Are you ready for the flurry of the holiday season? Or, more to the point, are you looking ahead to the next couple of months to make sure that writing commitments can be fulfilled in a quality way while the social and spiritual whirl of November and December move all about?

I find this time of year one of the most inspirational, but also one of the most difficult to keep working away steadily and with full attention. Yes, the music and festivities of these months are wonderfully moving. But they happen at just the time when I literally must not move for chunks of time…move, that is, from the chair in front of my workspace…Deadlines don't seem to disappear merely because we're celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's.

So, each year at about this time, I try to look ahead. I scan my calendar for key dates, then work back and assess just how much time I need leading up to those benchmarks to comfortably complete my writing work while making progress on Christmas cards, menus plans, and all the other activities for this season. I do this with my "optional" works, too, those pieces not under deadline but no less important creatively.

Writing too quickly, or too distractedly, can erode style and depth of any piece, fiction or non-fiction. Being mindful of the unusually busy next couple of months also ensures that the quality of the work will be preserved. 

One other thought on the subject: Heaping holidays on top of pressing deadlines can lead to the exclamation, "How will I ever do it all?!?" If you need encouragement in that regard, you might find some inspiration in a recent radio interview I gave on Relevant Radio. There's a link to it on the homepage of my website – www.maureenpratt.com

Next month, I'll get back to talking about the "how" of writing. But I hope that this departure from the usual will help with planning for the rest of the year. And I hope that, with better time management, you'll have oodles of hours to enjoy all the beautiful things that this very special time of year brings!

Blessings!

Maureen

www.maureenpratt.com

http://blog.beliefnet.com/gooddaysbaddays/

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Maureen pic from booksigningIn the Book of Genesis, God created the world – all of it! - in 6 days and rested on the 7th (and I daresay He's been busy ever since)!

Was it then that began humankind's fascination, or perhaps sometimes obsession, with things "faster, bigger, greater?"

Biblical reference aside (God is, after all, above and beyond us mere mortals), all around us, we hear of the things people accomplish in seemingly, amazingly brief periods of time. As workers in the written word, we marvel at bookstore shelves where certain authors take up whole rows, or whose volumes even ripple down to a second or third shelf, too!  How quickly their fingers must lightning over their computer keyboards! And, even more quickly, how their minds must race to the next project and the next!  They are incredible, these super writers! It's only natural to aspire to just such achievement, such work.

But, wait.

Whether written quickly or slowly, lasting books, stories, and other pieces of writing do not have, at their core, a time clock as the central attraction. Indeed, the reader or audience member probably has no idea how quickly something went from idea to fruition. He or she also probably doesn't care. What is important is the truth of the matter, the depth, breadth, heart and soul of the piece. And this can only be achieved if the story is allowed to unfold in its and God's good time.

I once wrote an entire screenplay in one weekend. Yup. Fade in to fade out in less than 72 hours. But I can say in all honesty, it was not a very good screenplay. An exercise in speed typing, perhaps. But just not fit for the silver screen. I did not let that story unfold as it should, giving it room and time to breathe. Reading back on it, I recognize some "flashes of brilliance." But otherwise..I'd like to say I could keep up at that pace and turn out good work, but it just isn't, well, me.

As each of us moves farther along the writer's journey, we begin to realize not only what we want to write about, but how we work best. Some produce truly good work after good work at a quick clip. Some have multiple books in progress, or other projects at various stages of developement at the same time. Others turtle along with one book and cannot start another without completely finishing the work at hand.And still others, some authors who have written one amazing work and others like them who are to come, might write everyday, but will only have one book in print for years and years. Think Margaret Mitchell. Think Charlotte and Emily Bronte. Think John Kennedy Toole. Ones and twos each of  them – but, oh! What books!

Besides discovering and nurturing our unique writing pace, another task that is crucial to allowing stories to unfold as they should is to as effectively as possible manage the externals – deadlines, agent/editor/marketing rep expectations, reader demands. These can easily propel us onward with energy (theirs) and frustration (ours), if those demands do not match our inner "clock" for writing. Yes, it's hard to stand up to people who are so eager to see what we're writing (and to publish and read it). But, if, for you, quantity does not beget quality, pray for courage and the right words to say in response. Play Mama Bear, if you must, so that you "cub" develops (unfolds) into a great grizzlie of a work!

I'm reading through a book of letters written by Flannery O'Connor ("The Habit of Being"). O'Connor is considered by many to be one of the greatest American, Christian-themed writers. Early in her career, she had been writing short stories that were the chapters of a novel-in-progress. O'Connor had won an award for the work, and a few of the stories had been accepted for publication in literary journals. In a query letter to agent Elizabeth McKee, O'Connor writes, "The novel, except for isolated chapters, is in no condition to be sent to you at this point…I am a very slow worker and it is possible that I won't write another story until I finish this novel and that no other chapters of the novel will prove salable. I have never had an agent so I have no idea what your disposition might be toward my type of writer"

Talk about an author who understood her process! And, who had the courage let others know what it was! McKee agreed to represent O'Connor, and to great success for them both.

Whether you write quickly and produce volumes, or you have one book to gift to the world, allowing the work to unfold in time and deepen with nurtured ripening will undoubtedly yield great fruit,stories that are true, and books that last.

Blessings of joy and peace!
Maureen

www.maureenpratt.com

http://blog.beliefnet.com/gooddaysbaddays/ 

 

 

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