Tuesday, August 24, 2010


"There's no 'magic secret'; writing is like everything else; ten percent inspiration or talent, and ninety percent hard work. Persistence; keeping at it till you get there. As Agnes de Mille said, it means working every day — bored, tired, weary, or with a fever of a hundred and two."
Marion Zimmer Bradley, author, The Mists of Avalon

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Hero's Journey - Ordeal

The ultimate showdown. The final battle. The central crisis. The Hero is delving deep within the Inmost Cave to do battle with the villain at its heart. There are many names for this stage of the Journey. Joseph Campbell calls it The Ordeal.

Contrary to what you might think, the Ordeal is not the climax of the story. No, the Ordeal is toward the end, but not the end itself. If you check your Road Map, you’ll see that there are four stages of the Hero’s Journey still to go. “But you just built this up to be the big fight!” Well, yes, because it is. The Ordeal is where the main battle is, the title match between good guy and bad guy. All the trials and tribulations earlier in the story have led to this moment of truth, when swords (or pistols, for you gun fanatics) are drawn and everything goes plunging straight toward the big fiery pit of doom. The Hero needs to show that those lessons earlier in the Journey were not in vain as he puts them to the test in a high-stakes battle against a superior foe. To continue that learning curve metaphor, think of the story as school and the Ordeal is your mid-term (and just as tension-filled, if done properly). Suddenly the label “Ordeal” is more than just a clever name, isn’t it?

This is probably as good a time as any to talk about the Shadow. No, not the pulp hero of the same name, we’re talking about the story archetype. The Shadow is everything the Hero is not. He’s an evil twin, a dark reflection, the figurative shadow to the Hero’s light. In fact, the Shadow often serves the function of showing us, the audience, what the Hero could become if he doesn’t learn the lessons of the story. A good example of this is Harry Potter’s Shadow, Voldemort. The Dark Lord is everything Harry could be if he had ended up in Slytherin instead of Gryffindor, and Harry finds himself wondering a few times in the course of that book series if he isn’t starting to walk the same path as that ultimate evil. The Shadow doesn’t need to be an external force, though. It could be the Hero’s own impulses and desires, warring within him for dominance in the story. It could be an old state of being that he’s trying to change, or a love that continues to burn him from the inside out. Any way you slice it, the Shadow is the archetypal villain for the Hero to thwart in the Ordeal.

Let’s see this phase at work in Rob’s Journey. When last we left him, he was gearing up to tackle his own Ordeal – writing his first novel. The novel isn’t the villain, of course. No, the Shadow he needs to fight is his own fear, self-doubt and old habits. His Inmost Cave is the room where he writes, and his Ordeal is thwarting temptation so he can focus on writing 50,000 words in one month. It’s not an easy task, not when he still has work occupying the majority of the week, friends who want him to sit down and game with them, and family to visit in the holiday toward the end of the month. The deck is stacked against him from the start, but our Hero perseveres and fights to meet his word count day after day. Back and forth he goes, the days ticking by as he sits at his desk (or coffeehouse, sometimes, with his trusty PDA) and lays out word after word. Finally, the clock strikes midnight on November 31, signaling the start of December and the end of NaNoWriMo. Rob sits back and looks at his final word count: 50,007. He did it. He wrote his first novel.

We’re not through with our story yet, though. To the contrary, the true climax of our Hero’s Journey is still to come. The stress of the Ordeal has been overcome, now it’s time to kick back, relax and enjoy our victory as we savor the Reward!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Day Two and Three of WriteOnCon

Okay, to make up for yesterday's lack of a Day Two review of WriteOnCon, I'll fold it into today's review of Day Three to make it an uber-post.

First of all, major kudos to the convention's founders/administrators/organizers - Jamie Harrington, Elana Johnson, Casey McCormick, Shannon Messenger, Jennifer Stayrook, and Lisa and Laura Roecker - for getting such a huge number of writers, agents and editors to take part in the first online convention for writers I've ever heard of. Blog posts, vlog posts, and live chats (both text and video) were presented in rapid fire and so smoothly to the eager writer aspirants in attendance. You ladies made it all look so easy!

Now to the meat of it. As a writer of YA (AKA young adult) fiction, it's always a good idea to know more about your community in the publishing world. WriteOnCon gives you the red carpet treatment as it welcomes you in, hands you your beverage of choice, and proceeds to roll out advice, tips and secrets of the kidlit world all from the comfort of your own softly humming computer. As much fun as it can be to go to a convention center and interact with people, getting caught in the press of the unwashed masses is something you'll never have to contend with here, nor will you have to leave one room to find another panel you want to sit in on at a different room. It's the ultimate in convenience - the convention quite literally comes to you at the click of a mouse button!

And what a convention! So much information is imparted from so many different sources in so many different ways, I'm still catching up on some of the posts from Day Two. Fortunately, the convention isn't going anywhere, even when it's over. For those of us who had to work throughout the bulk of the convention, all the information posted over the past three days will remain online for easy reference. As for the live segments, transcripts will be made available on the web site and video chats will be uploaded to YouTube. It sure beats having to scribble down notes in an overly air-conditioned hotel room, that's for sure.

I can't even begin to tell you how helpful the information imparted through this convention has been to me. There are questions I didn't even know I had that got answered, in addition to my own curious musings. I have to admit, I'm looking forward to seeing my name pop up in the transcripts as my questions were posed to the professionals. (Even got a few of my humorous comments past the moderators and into public view - score!)

What were my favorite topics? I'm so glad you asked! Er, you didn't? But you were thinking it, right? Right? Right. Anyway...

Day Two was a racy day at the con, what with such topics like "Romance in YA," "Sex in YA: The ABC’s of Hooking Up," and "Authentic/Edgy YA" spread throughout the day. In addition, I gravitated instinctively toward the "Writing Genre Fiction," "Creating Memorable Characters," and the live chat where the topic was voice - both author's voice and character voice. For the record, though it's not written exactly as I posted it, the final question of that panel was one that I'd put through at the last minute, and got some good responses and a couple of books named as examples of my particular character voice question.

Day Three attempted to cover everything else that hadn't been said, and I'm still poking through a lot of it. The first topic I read about the moment I got to the site today was "Creating New Mythologies," not surprisingly. Beyond that, I was drawn into such topics as "Writing a Complete Story as Part of a Trilogy," "Writing Realistic, Captivating Dialog," and "The First Five Pages," which gave a sobering peek into how those first few pages of your manuscript will either net you an agent's request for more or a solid pass. The convention wrapped with the final chats, and I snuck in some comments and questions there, too. You'll just have to wait for the transcripts to see what made it and what didn't.

Now that it's over, I have the time to go back and read over every topic and revisit the ones that impacted me and my writing the most. As much research as I've done over the years on writing and publishing, you never really stop learning, and these three days presented me with a lot more ammunition to bring to bear as I get my trilogy up and running. I feel like I'm part of a grand community of writers going through a similar journey with their own manuscripts. More importantly, I feel like a successful writer for having made it this far. I may not be published yet, but I'm farther along than I've ever been, and I call that a win.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Day One of WriteOnCon

Now that I've finished watching "Working With Agents and Editors: A Live Video Workshop with Literary Agent Mark McVeigh," I can officially declare that I've fallen in love with online conventions. Sure, there's nothing quite like meeting someone in person and shaking their hand, but the next best thing is hosting a free convention that is accessible anywhere there's internet service. That's what WriteOnCon is, a 100% online convention for kidlit writers that is totally free to attend. It's just like a regular convention - you have guest speakers, panels and the like, all geared toward a particular topic, all laid out over a few days - only you don't necessarily need to bring pen and paper to jot down notes, most of it is presented in a convenient text format! (You may want to jot down notes for the live video chats, though. While the questions are presented in text, the answers are given over live video chat!)

Most of the topics are geared specifically toward writing for a younger audience ("Illustrating Children's Books" and "Writing Middle Grade" stand out there), but there's also a lot of material that applies to every writer, such as "Questions to Ask Yourself Before a Revision" or "Give Yourself Permission." If you fancy yourself a writer, you owe it to yourself to check out the convention here and bookmark it for future reference. You'll be glad you did!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Trilogy Update

Among all the other excitement of this weekend, I have new word on the progress of The Inanimate Gods Trilogy - the second act of Book One has been revised!

Yes, technically, Book One has been completed, but I was never entirely satisfied with the middle part of the book. With the new opening and ending, it became the weakest part of the story, failing to measure up to the strength of the rest of the novel. I blame Alex, that spotlight hog, who wanted to be the sole main character of the series.

Well, Elonia had some things to say about that. Not content to remain a secondary or support character, she wanted to be a main character in her own right, to step into the spotlight instead of remaining at the edge of it. We had a long talk about it (because I converse with my characters from time to time to get a measure of their role in the narrative) and I agreed that her Hero(ine)'s Journey was just as important as Alex's Journey. I went back to my chapter outline - the road map of this insane undertaking that has consumed my life for the past few years - and reworked it, changing chapters already in place and adding new ones. Elonia is happy that she has more to do in the book, Alex is happy that he gets to join in on the fun, and I'm happy that my story is all the stronger for it.

So, once I'm done adding in all the new goodies, the second act of Book One will be just as strong as the rest of the narrative. I'll need to change a few of the details in the last part of the book for consistency, but it's a small price to pay for a great story.

More on the progress of my trilogy as it develops!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Quick Take on WriteOnCon

I've never heard of an online convention before. So when I found out that an upcoming writer's convention would be held entirely online instead of at a convention center or hotel (like they usually are), my interest was definitely piqued. WriteOnCon is a convention specifically geared toward kidlit writers, but a quick glance at the first day's schedule reveals quite a few topics that could apply to writers of many genres. Best of all, it's FREE! If you're a children's or young adult fiction writer, or just a writer in general, check it out!

Special thanks go to Karly Kirkpatrick and her blog, without which I would never have stumbled upon this gem.