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1. Wednesday Writing Workout: "The Stakes Should Always Be Death," Courtesy of Maureen McQuerry


Today I'm pleased to share with you a guest Wednesday Writing Workout on creating tension in fiction from award-winning author Maureen McQuerry. Before I tell you about Maureen, a quick reminder that it's not too late to enter for a chance to win a copy of the 2015 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market (CWIM) edited by Chuck Sambuchino and published by Writer's Digest Books. See the link at the end of today's post.

Now, about Maureen McQuerry: I was recently introduced to Maureen (via email) through a mutual friend. Her first YA novel, The Peculiars (Abrams/Amulet) was an ALA Best Book for Young Adult Readers 2013, Bank Street and Horn Book recommended book, and a winner of the Westchester Award. Her most recent novel Beyond the Door (Abrams/Amulet), has been named a Booklist top Ten Fantasy/SciFi for Youth. The second book in the series, The Telling Stone, releases May 2015. Maureen has taught writing to children and adults and loves giving author talks in schools and at conferences.

I'm hoping to meet Maureen in person when she visits Chicago in a few weeks. So far, she's scheduled to do a signing at The Book Stall in Winnetka on December 6 and one at The Magic Tree Bookstore in Oak Park on December 8. For more info, check out her website. You can also connect with her via Facebook and Twitter.

Before I share Maureen's WWW on tension, here's a little about her newest novel, Beyond the Door:
        Between his love of learning and his passion for Scrabble, Timothy James has always felt like an outsider. The only person who really understands him is his older sister, Sarah, and he’s also fairly certain nothing interesting will ever happen to him. But one dark spring night, everything changes.
A mystery of unparalleled proportions begins to unfold, revealing Timothy's role in an ancient prophecy and an age-old battle of Light against Dark. Together with Sarah and the school bully, Jessica, Timothy must embark on a quest to prevent the Dark from controlling the future—and changing the past. Can the trio work together in order to fight the ancient evil that threatens our world?
      The first book in the Time Out of Time series, Beyond the Door, is a fast-paced adventure that combines Celtic myth, shapeshifters, and a secret code in a coming of age story.
VOYA described the novel as "jam-packed with twists and turns," a sure sign that Maureen knows a thing or two about creating tension. Here's her Wednesday Writing Workout on the topic:   

Wednesday Writing Workout:
The Stakes Should Always Be Death
by Maureen McQuerry

Story isn't about plot. It isn't about character or setting or a great idea. It's about how events change people. We keep reading because we want to find out how a character navigates all the struggles that come her way. In fact the most critical component in reader satisfaction is the protagonist's arc. And notice I used the word struggle, because struggle is what changes characters. It's what changes us.

Struggle implies conflict and tension. Tension keeps us turning the pages. But how do you add conflict and tension to a story without an explosion or battle scene on every page, maybe without explosions or battles in your book at all? Tension begins with the stakes. If you've ever been told your novel is too quiet, it may be that your stakes aren't high enough.  The greater the stakes, the greater the risk, the greater the tension and the more pages turned.

What do I mean by stakes?  Stakes are what your protagonist has on the line. In a dystopian world like Hunger Games, the stakes are personal survival, survival of people you love, of a community, of the world. But not every story will or should be dystopian or apocalyptic. The stakes may be the risk of emotional death. In my MG novel Beyond the Door, Timothy finds himself in physical danger, the type of danger that might result in death, but he fears failing to complete his challenge almost as much. He believes it's his one chance to prove himself in the eyes of his friends. His self-worth is on the line.

For the reader to be concerned, risk has to be real and the protagonists' motivation worthy. Worthy motivations involve noble concepts like: forgiveness, love, redemption, self-worth. For example, a character who wants a part in the school play engages us when the stakes are based on a motivation that is worthy. She wants a part in the play because she sees it as a way to connect with her estranged father who was once an actor, but has rejected her or because she's never once fit in anywhere, been bullied or is handicapped and it's her one chance to find a community. If she fails here, she may never try again. Hope and worry for the protagonist create tension.
  • A good beginning question to ask is what are the stakes for my protagonist? What is at risk? What will die?
Because a story is about how events change characters, you must have a clear idea of your character's arcs. In Beyond the Door, Timothy needed to evolve from an insecure observer to a confident leader.
  • Ask: What is my protagonist like at the start of this adventure? What do I want her to be like at the end of the story?
  • What will it take to get her there? What kind of gut-wrenching decisions, public humiliations, dark nights of the soul? What antagonists will she have to face?
  • Does each turning point create change? That's what moving a story forward means.
Below are some considerations for assessing your story for tension.
 
Assessing the risk in your story:
  • The risk of failure must be real and must be devastating—big consequences.
  • Conflict must be external and internal—your protagonist must struggle in her mind and heart and with external forces.
  • Tension must be relentless.
  • A clear antagonist strengthens the conflict.
  • The solution must require everything the protagonist has—the greater the risk, the more we worry.
  • The solution should be inevitable, but surprising (Aristotle).
A few time honored techniques to increase tension, such as those below, will keep readers turning the pages.

Techniques to increase tension:
  • Increase the stakes—as mentioned above
  • Withhold info from protagonist—mystery novels are a great example of how one missing piece of information can put your protagonist at risk.
  • Introduce doubt—Who can she trust? Were her assumptions faulty?
  • Limit time—the ticking clock.
  • Give and take away—just as your protagonist has everything she needs, the bottom falls out.
Whatever struggles your character faces, remember they are the engines of transformation and tension is the fuel.

 Writing Exercise Text © Maureen McQuerry 2014, All rights reserved.

Thanks for this, Maureen. I've already used your questions to assess (and up!) the level of risk in my current work-in-progress. Readers, if you try any of these techniques, let us know how they work for you.

Meanwhile, don't forget that time is running out for you to enter the drawing for the 2015 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market (CWIM) giveaway, Along with tons of great information and resources, the 2015 CWIM features my interview roundup article, "Writing for Boys (and other 'Reluctant Readers.'" To enter, see my last post.

Good luck to all, and happy writing!
Carmela

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2. Everybody Has an Agenda

Everybody has an agenda. We all have desires, hopes, and dreams. We all have principles. We all have goals, whether we formalize them or not. We all have a background and a historical perspective that shapes our actions and our outlook. In our interaction with others, we are at least somewhat aware that the person we are interacting has views and goals that may or may not be the same as ours.

Even the people we love, the people we support, and the people we usually agree with are individuals with their own way of thinking. Every interaction we have is colored by the perspectives and viewpoints of all people involved.

How often have you argued with somebody or watched two people argue when both sides are saying basically the same thing? That happens because we are all individuals and we each have our own agenda, and to some extent, we recognize that our agendas don't always agree, even when the points we are trying to make are the same.

So why should the characters in our stories be any different?

If you want your characters to ring true, they must each have their own world view, their own wants and needs, and their own goals. Their own agendas.

Characters on the same side take that position for their own reasons. Characters on opposite do the same thing. Your protagonist and antagonist might seem like enemies, and since your story is told from the POV of the protagonist (probably), the antagonist may seem evil. But from his point of view, he's probably taking his position as a matter of conscience, because he thinks it's the right thing to do. From the antagonist's point of view, and that of his followers, the protagonist is the bad guy.

But agendas are not limited to main characters. Every time a character appears in our story, even in the most minor of roles, we need to consider what that character wants. Maybe we don't need to create a detailed character analysis of our most minor characters, but we do need to know what each character hopes to achieve. Each character has a life outside the story, even if we don't know anything about it.

Too often, we write a character out of convenience, to fill a story need, without thinking about that character as a real person with hopes and dreams of her own. Usually, when we read and come across a character like that, we're unsatisfied. But still we write them.

Each person in your story world is there for a reason. Not just your reason, to fulfill a story need, but a reason of his or her own. Each character wants something out of his interaction with your other characters or your setting, or whatever he is there for. Even if the character is there solely to offer support to another character, he is offering support for his own, usually selfish, reasons. Even two characters who agree can have agendas that create conflict, and conflict creates story.

So remember that as you write. Every time a character is in a scene, consider why that character is there and what he or she hopes to get out of it. This is one of the most effective ways to turn characters into people.

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3. Bubble Trouble by Tom Percival (and how to breathe bubbles instead of fire)

9781408838761Even before I had finished reading Bubble Trouble by Tom Percival to the kids I knew this was a book we were going to have LOTS of fun with.

Have you ever had great fun playing with a friend but discovered things have got out of control when you try to out-do each other? That what was a shared and enjoyable activity became something competitive and a little threatening?

Bubble Trouble explores exactly this scenario, with two best friends who like nothing more than blowing bubbles together. In their desire to blow the biggest bubble, they become very inventive but some skulduggery also sneaks in. Will their friendship survive their determination to outplay each other?

bubbletroublereading

Percival’s lovely book thoughtfully and playfully explores the up- and downsides of competition and the value of teamwork. It also acknowledges that we don’t always learn from our mistakes straight away, something I haven’t seen often acknowledged in picture books. The “big issues” are hidden carefully in lots of delightfulness; the illustrations are soft and sweet, and there are lots and lots of flaps to play with. Percival has worked wonders with capturing that magic sheen of bubbles without resorting to foil or silver but rather just clever use of pastels and white.

A good-natured and honest exploration of some of the trials and tribulations of friendship, Bubble Trouble offers lots of room for discussion and a great excuse to play.

So yes, having shared Bubble Trouble lots of playing with bubbles was called for. We thought we’d try something different and so I taught the girls how to breath out bubbles, big and beautiful bubbles. Who wants to breath fire when you can breathe out bubbles?

bubbles4.jpg

We used this recipe to make our bubble mixture:

  • 1.5 litres of tap water
  • 250ml of Fairy washing up detergent
  • 250ml of cornflour (yes, corn flour isn’t a liquid, but we used our measuring jug and filled it to the 250ml mark with the corn flour)
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp glycerine (easily found in Boots/a chemist’s, probably in the sore throat section)
  • Once the bubble mixture was all stirred together, we left it for 24 hours. Everything I’ve read says that this stage is really important (though we haven’t checked what difference it makes ourselves).

    To breathe out bubbles here’s what you need to do:

    bubbles5

    1. Dip your hands into a bowl of tap water.
    2. Dip your hands into your bowl of bubble mixture. (The corn flour will probably have settled at the bottom of your mixture. This didn’t seem to be a problem)
    3. Rub your palms together smoothly and slowly a couple of times.
    4. Open out your hands to form a rough circle: Your fingertips and wrists/bottom of thumbs will remain touching each other, and you should see a film of bubble mixture form between your two hands.
    5. Gently blow through the opening between your two hands…..
    6. Gasp at your bubble blowing abilities!

    bubbles6

    You can also use this mixture to blow bubbles through a circle made using just your first finger and thumb (first make a fist, then slowly open out your finger/thumb before blowing), and also to make ENORMOUS bubbles using a home made bubble wand.

    bubbles2

    wandFor the homemade bubble wand you’ll need two lengths of dowelling. Screw an eye screw into each end and then put a large loop of string between the two eyes. It’s helpful to add a small weight such as a threaded button or a washer onto on side of your string loop.

    Dip your string into your bubble mixture (all the way, up to the start of the wooden rods), lift gently out and move the rods apart. You’ll see a film appear between the strings and then if you wave them from one side to the other you’ll create amazing bubble tunnels.

    bubbles1

    There’s nothing like a good bubble!

    bubbles7

    Whilst mixing up our bubble juice we listened to:

  • Bubble Factory by Recess Monkey
  • You and Me and a Bottle of Bubbles by Lunch Money
  • I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles by John Kellette but here sung by Vera Lynn
  • Other activities which you could pair with Bubble Trouble include:

  • Exploring the free activity pack to go with Bubble Trouble, downloadable from here. The pack includes colouring in, spot the difference and a different bubble recipe to try.
  • Painting with bubbles. Artful kids has 3 different techniques you could try.
  • Building and sculpting with bubbles. Did you ever sculpt with bubbles when you had a bubble bath?
  • Making bubble snakes, with this tutorial from Housing a Forest
  • Reading the marvellous Bubble Trouble by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Polly Dunbar. We reviewed it here (with a different bubble juice recipe, but we think our new recipe is better).
  • What are your favourite books which feature bubbles?

    Disclosure: We received a free review copy of Bubble Trouble from the publisher.

    4 Comments on Bubble Trouble by Tom Percival (and how to breathe bubbles instead of fire), last added: 9/22/2014
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    4. What Went Wrong? Story Conflict and How to Make it Stronger


    The ALIENS have landed!

    "amusing. . .engaging, accessible," says Publisher's Weekly


    In your story or novel, something must go wrong.

    Without conflict, there is no story. As you develop a plot, it’s helpful to think about what is the worst thing that could happen and then figure out if you can make that even worse?

    The absolute worst thing–the thing your character fears most of all–MUST happen in the climax of the story. That’s good plotting and storytelling. Building up to that point, you should have a series of conflicts that deepen, that reach out into every aspect of your character’s life, that affects friends, family, or even the survival of the planet or the human species. The series should have a logical progression from bad to worse to worst.

    Up the stakes. On way to escalate the conflict is to up the stakes by answering the “So-What?” question. This bad thing is going to happen. So what? Who cares? Who will it affect? How badly will it affect them? When the answer is that the worst thing will affect the most people, you have the stakes well in hand.

    Up the emotions. However, even for stories with the fate of the world in the balance are boring if the reader doesn’t care. This means you must provide a wide range of emotions for your characters from the most ardent love to the deepest sorrow. How can I make my character laugh? What would wrench his/her heart? What is the deepest emotion possible in your story? Create that emotional impact. Then take it one level deeper.

    Sacrifice. Characters who stupidly volunteer for kitchen duty aren’t sympathetic; they are stupid. However, a reluctant hero who only volunteers to save a loved one–that creates empathy. In HUNGER GAMES, Katniss volunteers to join the Hunger Games so that her younger sister won’t have to. This willingness to sacrifice herself for a loved one elevates here–and the ensuing conflict to new heights.

    Jeopardy. When a character is in jeopardy–danger is looming and drawing nearer by the second–readers are on the edge of their seats. Violence, just for the sake of violence, does little to create the emotions needed. Instead, a character must be in danger and must stay in danger for a long time. When I first watched the movie, ALIEN, my stomach hurt because I was so scared. That’s jeopardy. The aliens were coming–and the movie drew out that suspense and jeopardy forever!

    This marine is in jeopardy!

    This marine is in jeopardy!



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    5. Making World Refugee Day count

    By Khalid Koser


    There seems to be an international day for almost every issue these days, and today, 20 June, is the turn of refugees.

    When the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) releases its annual statistics on refugees today, these are likely to make for gloomy reading. They will show that there are more refugees today than any previous year during the 21st century, well over 16 million. They will demonstrate how in three years Syria has become the single largest origin for refugees worldwide – around one in seven Syrians has now fled their country, including one million children.

    The statistics will also show that solutions for refugees are becoming harder to achieve. Fewer refugees are able to return home. Palestinian refugees still do not have a home; there are still almost three million Afghan refugees, many of whom have been outside their country for generations. The number of refugees who are resettled to richer countries remains stable but small, while the number offered the chance to integrate permanently in host countries is dwindling.

    Afghan Former Refugees at UNHCR Returnee Camp. Sari Pul, Afghanistan. UN Photo/Eric Kanalstein. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via United Nations Photo Library Flickr.

    Afghan Former Refugees at UNHCR Returnee Camp. Sari Pul, Afghanistan. UN Photo/Eric Kanalstein. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via United Nations Photo Library Flickr.

    The risk of World Refugee Day, like other international days, is that it will raise awareness of these and other challenges for a few days, before the media cycle and public attention moves on. But there are at least three ways that even passing interest can make a lasting difference.

    First, a global overview provides the opportunity to place national concerns in a wider context. Many people and countries fear that they are under siege; that there are more asylum seekers, fewer of whom are recognised as refugees, who pose challenges to the welfare system, education and housing, and even national security. What the statistics invariably show, however, is that the large majority of refugees worldwide are hosted by poorer countries. Iran and Pakistan have hosted over one million Afghan refugees for over 30 years; there are millions of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. It is in these countries that refugees may have a real impact, on the environment or labour market or health services, for example, yet by and large these poorer countries and their citizens continue to extend hospitality to refugees.

    Second, World Refugee Day should be the day not just to take stock of refugee numbers, but also to ask why their numbers are rising. Refugees are a symptom of failures in the international system. There is no end in sight for the current conflict in Syria. The withdrawal of most international troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 is likely to make the country more insecure and generate a further exodus. Persistent and recurrent conflicts in Somalia, Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo continue to generate refugees. In all these countries poverty and inequality intersect with insecurity to drive people from their homes. Climate change is likely to exacerbate these effects.

    In an effort to bring forth the latest research and make this World Refugee Day count, Oxford University Press has gathered a collection of noteworthy journal articles addressing the latest policies, trends and issues faced by refugees around the globe and made them freely available to you. Simply explore the map above for links to these free articles.

    Third, World Refugee Day brings research to the fore. The statistics needs to be analysed and trends explained. The stories behind the statistics need to be explored. Why are so many asylum seekers risking their lives to travel long distances? What are the actual impacts – positive and negative – of asylum seekers and refugees? Researchers can also leverage passing media interest by providing evidence to correct misperceptions where they exist.

    This is what I see as the purpose of the Journal of Refugee Studies: to publish cutting edge research on refugees; to correct public debate; to inform policy; and to maintain attention on one of the most pressing global issues of our time. Refugees deserve more than one day in the spotlight.

    Dr. Khalid Koser is Deputy Director and Academic Dean at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and Editor of the Journal of Refugee Studies. He was also recently appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his services to refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.

    Journal of Refugee Studies aims to publish cutting edge research on refugees; to correct public debate; to inform policy; and to maintain attention on one of the most pressing global issues of our time. The Journal covers all categories of forcibly displaced people. Contributions that develop theoretical understandings of forced migration, or advance knowledge of concepts, policies and practice are welcomed from both academics and practitioners. Journal of Refugee Studies is a multidisciplinary peer-reviewed journal, and is published in association with the Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford.

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    The post Making World Refugee Day count appeared first on OUPblog.

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    6. Body Language: Eye Contact

    The eyes are the windows to the soul. They are one of the most expressive features of the face.

    Humans are not the only animal that finds eye contact important.  Staring at a cat conveys aggression. A slow blink conveys love. All the posturing male animals perform is a waste of time unless they have an audience watching their moves.

    Especially on first meeting, good eye contact conveys that you are confident, trustworthy, and in control. It can express admiration if accompanied with a smile. Good eye contact is a general indicator of self-esteem. Though, lowering one's eyes can be a sign of respect in some parts of the world.

    Eye contact during conversation conveys interest and connection. Engaging in eye contact shows that you are truly interested. Breaking eye contact can signal it is someone else's turn to talk.

    A gaze can tantalize, mesmerize, and hypnotize.

    Refusing eye contact can mean yourr character is angry, sad, guilty, or embarrassed. Keeping one's head down or averting a gaze can be a signal of insecurity, deceit, or low self-esteem. Widened eyes or narrowed eys convey shock, disbelief, and anger. People blink more when they are uncomfortable.

    A person covers his eyes when he does not want to see something or is afraid that someone will see an emotion he does not want to reveal.

    Eye blinks, winks, fluttered lashes, etc.can be a flirting game. He looks at her. She looks at him. They both look away. He chances a longer look. Does she look back and hold contact? Should he approach? The answer often lies in this exchange of glances.

    Fast blinking can indicate agitation. Slow blinks can indicate shock or exhaustion.

    The first part of the body a character looks at can reveal a lot about them. Do a male character's eyes always focus on a woman's chest? Does a female character always look at a man's ring finger?

    Staring is generally considered rude or stalker creepy, but could signal surprise, startle,  disbelief, trying to remember where you saw someone, or noting something out of place.

    If someone's gaze flits around the room, they are either looking for someone specific, or could be a spy, or cop on the job. Sherlock Holmes is the master of noticing small details others miss. A trained observer can tell a lot about another person with a single glance.

    Gazes can convey entire conversations and serve as signals.

    Public speakers and performers are taught to look out into the audience, picking specific people or cues, moving from one side of the room to another to make everyone feel included.

    Eye contact can become a battle of aggression. He who looks away first, loses.

    Normal eye contact for one culture could be considered rude to another. In Muslim countries, eye contact with women is discouraged. Intense eye contact between people of the same sex can mean the person is sincere and telling the truth.

    In the hierarchy of Asian cultures, subordinates should not make eye contact with superiors. Lowered eyes can be a sign of respect.

    In some African cultures, prolonged eye contact is considered aggressive.

    Utilize gestures appropriately, particularly when writing about specific geographic locations. Do your research. If you are making up a completely new word, decide what the normal parameters are and keep it consistent.

    The eye roll, while it is physically impossible, is a term that is generally accepted in American culture. Technically the orbit rotates within the eye socket. However, that is akward. Most people don't care if it is technically correct. They know what it means. Just don't use eye rolls in every chapter.

    Eyes close, fill with tears, open wide, blink, wink, and scrunch. Eyes cannot travel, roll, graze, skewer, etc. It is one's gaze that moves. Make sure you do a search and kill for the word eye and replace it with gaze when appropriate. Make sure the eye movement is essential to the scene and is not overused.

    Next time, we discuss lying.

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    7. Two difficult roads from empire

    By Martin Thomas


    Britain’s impending withdrawal from Afghanistan and France’s recent dispatch of troops to the troubled Central African Republic are but the latest indicators of a long-standing pattern. Since 1945 most British and French overseas security operations have taken place in places with current or past empire connections. Most of these actions occurred in the context of the contested end of imperial rule – or decolonization. Some were extraordinarily violent; others, far less so. Historians, investigative journalists and leading intellectuals, especially in France, have pointed to extra-judicial killing, systematic torture, mass internment and other abuses as evidence of just how dirty decolonization’s wars could be. Some have gone further, blaming the dismal human rights records of numerous post-colonial states on their former imperial rulers. Others have pinned responsibility on the nature of decolonization itself by suggesting that hasty, violent or shambolic colonial withdrawals left a power vacuum filled by one-party regimes hostile to democratic inclusion. Whatever their accuracy, the extent to which these accusations have altered French and British public engagement with their recent imperial past remains difficult to assess. The readiness of government and society in both countries to acknowledge the extent of colonial violence indicates a mixed record. In Britain, media interest in such events as the systematic torture of Mau Mau suspects in 1950s Kenya sits uncomfortably with the enduring image of the British imperial soldier as hot, bothered, but restrained. Recent Foreign and Commonwealth Office releases of tens of thousands of decolonization-related documents, apparently ‘lost’ hitherto, may present the opportunity for a more balanced evaluation of Britain’s colonial record.

    In France, by contrast, the media furores and public debates have been more heated. In June 2000 Le Monde’s published the searing account by a young Algerian nationalist fighter, Louisette Ighilahriz, of her three months of physical, sexual and psychological torture at the hands of Jacques Massu’s 10th Parachutist Division in Algiers at the height of Algeria’s war of independence from France. Ighilahriz’s harrowing story helped trigger years of intense controversy over the need to acknowledge the wrongs of the Algerian War. After years in which difficult Algerian memories were either interiorized or swept under capacious official carpets, big questions were at last being asked. Should there be a formal state apology? Should decolonization feature in the school curriculum? Should the war’s victims be memorialized? If so, which victims? Although the soul-searching ran deep, official responses could still be troubling. On 5 December 2002 French President Jacques Chirac, himself a veteran of France’s bitterest colonial war, unveiled a national memorial to the Algerian conflict and the concurrent ‘Combats’ (using the word ‘war’ remained intensely problematic) in former French Morocco and Tunisia. France’s first computerized military monument, the names of some 23,000 French soldiers and Algerian auxiliaries who died fighting for France scrolled down vertical screens running the length of the memorial columns.

    Paris monument

    Paris monument to Algerian War dead: author’s own photograph.

    No mention of the war’s Algerian victims, but at least a start. Yet, seven months later, on 5 July 2003, another unveiling took place. This one, in Marignane on Marseilles’ outer fringe, was less official to be sure. A plaque to four activists of the pro-empire terror group, the Organisation de l’Armée secrète (OAS), carries the inscription ‘fighters who fell so that French Algeria might live’. Among those commemorated were two of the most notorious members of the OAS. One was Roger Degueldre, leader of the ‘delta commandos’, who, among other killings, murdered six school inspectors in Algeria days before the war’s final ceasefire. The other was Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry, organizer of two near-miss assassination attempts on Charles de Gaulle, first President of France’s Fifth Republic. Equally troubling, it took the threat of an academic boycott in 2005 before France’s Council of State advised President Chirac to withdraw a planned stipulation that French schoolchildren must be taught the ‘positive role of the French colonial presence, notably in North Africa’.

    One explanation for the intensity of these history wars is that few France and Britain’s colonial fights since the Second World War were definitively won or lost at identifiable places and times. The fall of the French fortress complex at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954, the climax of an eight-year colonial war over Vietnam’s independence from France, was the exception, not the rule. Not surprisingly, its anniversary has been regularly celebrated by the Vietnamese Communist authorities since then.

    Elsewhere it was harder for people to process victory or defeat as a specific event, as a clean break offering new beginnings, rather than as an inconclusive process that settled nothing. Officials in British Kenya reported that the Mau Mau rebellion, rooted among the colony’s Kikuyu majority, was ‘all but over’ by the end of 1955. Yet emergency rule continued almost five years more. To the East, in British Malaya, a larger and more long-standing Communist insurgency was in almost incessant retreat from 1952. Surrender terms were laid down in September 1955. Two years later British aircraft peppered the Malayan jungle, not with bombs but with thirty-four million leaflets offering an amnesty-for-surrender deal to the few hundred guerrillas who remained at large. Even so Malaya’s ‘Emergency’ was not finally lifted until 1960.

    In the two decades that followed, the Cold War migrated ever southwards, acquiring a more strongly African and Asian dimension. The contest between liberal capitalism and diverse models of state socialism became a battle increasingly waged in regions adjusting to a post-colonial future. Some of the bitterest conflicts of the 1960s to the 1990s originated in fights for decolonization that morphed into intractable proxy wars in which civilians often counted amongst the principal victims. In the late twentieth century France and Britain avoided the worst of all this. Should we, then, celebrate the fact that most of the hard work of ending the British and French empires was done by the dawn of the 1960s? I would suggest otherwise. For every instance of violence avoided, there were instances of conflict chosen, even positively embraced. Often these choices were made in the light of lessons drawn from other places and other empires. Just as the errors made sometimes caused worst entanglements, so their original commission reflected entangled colonial pasts. Often messy, always interlocked, these histories remind us that Britain and France travelled their difficult roads from empire together.

    Martin Thomas is Professor of Imperial History at the University of Exeter. This post is partially extracted from Fight or Flight: Britain, France, and their Roads from Empire

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    8. Body Language: How close is too close?

    Cuddling, kissing, and hugging are often signs of affection. They could be signs of aggression if the character receiving the affection doesn't want it.

    There are situations in which a character must control involuntary responses, especially if Dick is a spy, a cop, or pretending to be someone he isn’t. If faced with an angry mugger or screaming toddler, Dick's initial primordial response might be recoil. His body might tense to strike. If it is a mugger, he lets the punch fly, unless the mugger is holding a gun pointed at his head. If it is a toddler, Dick overrides the urge to strike and deals with it another way, unless he has poor self-control or the child is demon-possessed.


    Every character has a different idea of how close is close enough when speaking to other people. We call it personal space. It's uncomfortable when someone stands too close. It is crossing a psychological boundary.

    Some characters are touchy-feely types. An extrovert is more likely to be a hands-on kind of guy. An introvert hates being touched by people he doesn't know very well. A character who has been abused may not want anyone to touch him, no matter the reason, loving or otherwise.

    Some families and cultures are big on physical displays of affection, others aren't. A character might hug every one he has ever met upon seeing them again. Others prefer a handshake or a bow. The reasons can be personality, culture, or life experience.

    Touch denotes a degree of intimacy. Someone touching Dick's shoulder could mean multiple things: desire, anger, or compassion. Little kids touch more than adults. A toddler is not self-conscious about where his hands land or where his head rests. The elderly can crave touch as much as toddlers. It may be decades since someone has hugged them or held their hand.

    Jane might not mind being touched by a lover or best friend. She might object to being handled by a stranger at a party. Friends and family touch Jane to greet her, tease her, get her attention, help her, or hinder her. How comfortable she is with them makes a difference in how well she tolerates it.

    Jane may normally love being touched by her husband until she is angry with him. How your character feels affects how she processes the touch and the person touching her.

    There are times when someone we don't know very well needs to touch us: massage therapists, hairdressers, doctors, nurses, medical personnel, rescue personnel, etc. A teacher may have to touch a child to direct him. A guard may have to touch Jane to direct her. It may make the character very uncomfortable. Children involved in sports are used to being tackled, patted, or punched by teammates. Others aren't.

    Characters that are deceptive, don't like themselves, or are ashamed of something may avoid touch. They are uncomfortable when someone approaches them, pats them on the back, or moves in for a hug. Pedophiles touch inappropriately.

    When a person touches Jane and it feels off, it sends a frisson of alarm through her system. Depending on the circumstances, Jane may subconsciously recoil, but consciously blow it off and make excuses for it. However, her subconscious remains on high alert until the danger has passed.

    When describing touch in your fiction, make sure it is appropriate for the circumstances.

    Make sure you tell the reader how the character feels about being touched. Is it a good thing or a bad thing?

    What kind of caress, hug, or handshake was it?

    Is Jane’s instinctive response to pull away when she knows she has to endure the hug?

    These small conflicts illustrate character, reveal relationships, and make characters very uncomfortable at scene level.

    Touch ignites an involuntary response, followed by a voluntary response, followed by a recovery. Illustrate the beats during critical encounters. The how and why are important. Was the touch appropriate or inappropriate? Tolerated or defended? Welcome or unwelcome?

    Next we will discuss facial expressions.

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    9. Heroes and Heroines


    Just in time for NaNoWriMo: How well do you know your characters? By now you might be familiar with their physical features, their taste in evening clothes, and what they like to eat for breakfast, but what about their personality quirks and motivations?

    One of my favorite writing how-to books to help uncover more about my characters' inner worlds and psyches is one by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever, and Sue Viders:


    Originally written for screenwriters, The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines, Sixteen Master Archetypes is a great tool for all writers, poets too, I can imagine! Based on the idea that there are 16 character "types" common to all fiction and mythology, the book is a great one to read just for fun as well as for research.

    The other day I thought it would be interesting to re-examine where and how the three heroines from my published novels fit into the various categories. I also used the templates to evaluate the Pinterest boards I had created for these books: What kind of pins could I add to each? I started with:

    The Great Scarab Scam

    See The Great Scarab Scam Pinterest Board!

    The Great Scarab Scam is my Egyptian mystery for young readers 8-12 years, so obviously there isn't the conventional male-female interaction you might find in a book for older readers. However, my  main character, eleven-year-old Lydia Hartley, definitely falls into the category of "The Spunky Kid," and not just because of her age. Her other traits and story difficulties include:
    • She's stuck between two brothers--one a little bit older and one quite a bit younger.  Although neither of her brothers are particularly "heroic" 
    • She's a reader--and even enjoys doing homework!
    • She's fiercely loyal to her father, a university professor and archaeologist.
    • Loves history, especially ancient Egyptian history.
    • She's curious about the world around her, but can be shy in social situations.
    • She's brave, but a little reckless too.
    • And she's very motivated when it comes to helping others. 

    Better Than Perfect

    See the Better Than Perfect Pinterest Board!

    My Young Adult novel set in New Zealand, Better Than Perfect, follows fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Haddon when she is sent from London to live with her wealthy relatives in Auckland. Elizabeth falls into "The Waif" category.  She's:
    • Lonely
    • Unwanted
    • The "poor relation"
    • Insecure
    • Smart, but without direction
    • Prone to envy, especially when she continually has to make do with second best
    • And she has a serious crush on an unconventional "bad boy."
    And although Elizabeth does manage to find her true north and come to grips with real life in the course of the story, she does so with all the handicaps of a victim and lost child.

    Overtaken

    See the Overtaken Pinterest Board!

    Written for an adult audience, Overtaken includes some of my most complex characters, especially my heroine of Sara Bergsen.  I had a bit of trouble discerning exactly which archetype she truly was, but in the end I decided she was "The Librarian."
    • She's essentially a loner.
    • Her chosen career as a portrait artist reflects her powers of observation and love of order. Abstract painting doesn't interest her in the least.
    • Her wardrobe, at least in the beginning of the book, consists of practical pieces in black and gray--great for work!
    • And this girl does loves work. She's disciplined and dedicated to deadlines.
    • At the same time she takes risks because she is confident in her own ability to succeed.
    • She's a reader--which has also led her to believe in the possibility of a happy ending.
    One of Sara's main challenges is to confront and understand the three men in her life: a Warrior, a Lost Soul, and a Charmer.

    Tip of the Day: The Complete Guide to Heroes and Heroines is an excellent reference for any stage of your manuscript, even your published stories. For your WIP's see where your characters match up to the suggested archetypes, and pay particular attention to the sections on how they all work (or don't work) together. For your published manuscripts, you can still use the book to help describe your characters in your marketing material. You may be surprised at what you find!


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    10. Priming the Pump

    Your characters enter a scene. Something happens, preferably conflict. Now, stop and ask yourself, "What primed the pump?"

    Hopefully one conflict scene leads to another conflict scene, but what if you are moving from one POV character to another or a great deal of time has elapsed in between scenes?

    After you write a scene, take another look at it and consider what primed the pump. No one enters a situation as a blank canvas. 


    1) What was Dick doing or feeling immediately prior? 

    It may be obvious if Dick is moving between consecutive scenes. Whatever happened in Scene 3 primes Scene 4. A plot hole occurs when something happens in scene 3 and is never addressed again. You don’t have to waste a lot of page time explaining what happened in between if it isn’t essential. However, if Dick was upset in Scene 3 and is perfectly calm when we see him again in Scene 7, then something happened to diffuse his mood. You should probably reference it with a line of dialogue or interiority during the opening transition paragraph of the new scene.

    2) What is each character’s mindset as the scene progresses?

    Every character entering a scene has thoughts and feelings. Are they having a good day or bad day? It affects their receptiveness. Whatever happened in prior scenes could have bearing on the current scene. Conflicting emotions and situations prime the conflict pump. If Jane is happy and Dick is angry, they could trade moods quickly.

    3) Has your scene been properly set up? 

    Have you brought up an important point that you let lapse? Are the characters conflicted over something that makes no sense because you forgot to mention it in a previous scene? You may have cause and effect plot holes. If so, you have some revision to do. Beta readers or critique partners can be invaluable in catching these. My groups calls it the "read the book in my head, not the one on paper" syndrome.

    4) Where does your scene take place? Why? 

    Settings are often bland and add nothing. You add value when you set the scene in a place that heightens tension. It has to be logical and organic. Don’t do it because “the script called for it.” If your couple is having an argument at home in the kitchen, it is realistic but is it interesting? Is the kitchen the best place for the argument? Can you make the setting more awkward for them? Say, a PTA meeting or on a crowded bus ride home?

    5) Who is present? 

    You can have intense dialogue between two characters while they are alone. You add tension when they are striving to not be overheard or are wearing forced smiles at a formal function surrounded by family or coworkers. When two people are focused on each other, the crowd has a way of disappearing. They sometimes forget that other ears are listening. Being overheard can create future conflict. Having to behave decorously can force them to resume the conversation at another time, thus priming the pump for a future scene.

    Consider not only the timeline of your story but how the timeline of the conflicts prime the pump. What happens immediately before can be as important as what happens during and immediately after.

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    11. 2013 06 07 Convincing Arguments

    There was a point in a work I was critiquing where a character completely changed her stance on the solution to the story problem without intervening scenes showing how or why. This is not the kind of plot twist you want to offer your reader. A good plot twist is set up long before it happens. 

    Let’s take a stroll back to beginning composition class to figure out how to illustrate a convincing change in character motivation. 

    When we first learned to write a paper, we had to come up with a thematic statement. We then came up with an outline listing key points to support or refute the thematic statement. Under each key point, we used paragraphs to expand each point. 

    How can you apply this to your plot? 

    Decide what the matter to be determined between two characters is. Perhaps Dick wants world peace and thinks if people worked together we could achieve it. Ted wants world destruction. He thinks the only way to achieve peace is to eliminate the majority of humankind and start over.

    The scenes between Dick and Ted should reflect, in word or deed, skirmishes over this deep divide. Don't beat a dead horse. Every encounter should contribute another point to the argument. This is true whether you are writing a Romance or a Thriller. In a romance, every encounter between protagonist or love interest should reflect something that brings them together or drives them apart.

    In once scene Dick makes a point. In another scene Ted makes his counter point. Each encounter they have is an attempt to sway or force each other to adopt the opposite way of thinking. A different point is driven home each time.

    This does not mean they make blatant clumsy pronouncements on a soapbox. Rather, everything they do and say in those scenes is motivated by their need to prove and enforce their point. Dick may believe that Ted can be swayed. Conversely, he may know that Ted cannot be swayed but must be stopped so Ted does not sway more people to his side of the argument or take action, such as nuclear annihilation, to achieve his goal.

    Ted's scenes illustrate why he wants humankind destroyed. Ted may think Dick is a hopeless dreamer. Dick may drive home a few points that make Ted reconsider.

    Dick's scenes address the reasons humanity should be saved. A few scenes could show him questioning his stance. Yet, it is Dick’s belief in the innate goodness of mankind that eventually gives him the tools or the access to stop Ted’s nefarious plan.

    In scenes that follow them individually engaging with secondary characters should also support or refute the thematic argument. Secondary characters should have a stance on the topic and their behavior should illustrate the goodness or evil of humankind.

    Ted may be surrounded by like minds, but perhaps one or two characters are on the fence. One of these characters could end up working against him. Perhaps Sally’s shenanigans reinforce Ted’s argument that humans are innately evil. She could be his poster child for why the world needs to end.

    There will be friends that fight alongside Dick to save mankind. There may be a secondary character that is on the fence. Perhaps he or she encounters Sally and wonders if Dick is fatally naive. Jane could have a perilous dilemma of her own and her self-sacrifice illustrates Dick’s point that humanity is worth saving.

    A secondary character’s arc could reflect one side or the other as they interact with tertiary characters.

    The audience is satisfied when the hero wins and the antagonist fails. However, an ending could come down on either side of the thematic argument, creating an up or down ending. An ambiguous ending could reflect that there are shades of gray or no correct answer to the thematic question.

    Whatever the outcome, stories with underlying thematic arguments are satisfying reads. When every character has a stake in the story, the reader cares what happens next. When each scene ties in to the thematic argument, you have a tight story.

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    12. Casting Mayberry

    When I was a child, I loved watching the Andy Griffith show. It was a sweet situation comedy about a small town sheriff keeping the peace in rural North Carolina. The setting was bucolic. The cast was full of benign well-meaning people occasionally beset by antagonists passing through or creating problems for each other.

    Let’s take a look at the functions of the different characters. 

    The protagonist was the widowed Sheriff Andy Taylor. He had a shrewd mind hidden behind a good-old-boy smile. That was his secret weapon. The antagonists always underestimated him. His role was that of caretaker to a town full of people too innocent to protect themselves. His weakness was that he was too nice, bordering on enabling.

    This was apparent when dealing with his sidekick, Barney Fife. Bumbling Barney meant well, but was often more of a hindrance than a help. He occasionally redeemed himself by luck rather than skill.

    Andy’s Aunt Bee acted as the sweet voice of reason, but she occasionally got it wrong and this offered mild interpersonal conflict.

    Otis, the town drunk, was usually a hindrance or complication to solving the story problem.

    Floyd, the Barber, was the town gossip with feathers for brains. His tidbits of information sometimes helped and sometimes hindered.

    Opie was Andy’s son and often posed important thematic questions. He occasionally got into trouble.

    Goober and Gomer Pyle were goofy gas station attendants who innocently interfered. Their station was the portal to the town.

    Andy was occasionally given a love interest who offered interpersonal conflict based on the occasional jealous pang or misunderstanding.

    The antagonists were a series of moonshiners and petty criminals passing through. Once in a while they dealt with a real criminal (bank robber).

    The characters not only offered local color, they were the source of interpersonal conflict. They aided or impeded and sometimes brought trouble to their door.

    Andy’s genuine love for them kept him motivated to save them from their own folly and the bad guys who passed through.

    There were no special effects, no guns blazing, no brutal murders. Sheriff Taylor was a loving but firm disciplinarian with Opie (and the rest of the town). Mayberry was a sweet place to pass a summer’s evening full of genuine love and kindness.

    I doubt storytelling will ever return to that level of innocence, but the world could use a little country comfort these days. 

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    13. Conflict vs. Connection

    One of the big rules we always hear about writing is that there must be conflict! Without conflict you have no tension, no stakes, and the story doesn’t go anywhere. Some say “without conflict you have no story” at all!  Therefore we should always be on the look-out for the conflict in a scene and use it to make our stories more intense, emotional, and keep the boring-police away!

    But, I have an admission. I’ve always had a problem with the idea that story revolves around conflict. I get nervous about how it limits what our stories can be about.

    Don’t misread that comment. Conflict can be an important and useful storytelling tool, and there’s nothing wrong with using it. But… do we sometimes create conflict simply because we think we are supposed to? Are our lives defined by our conflicts? Is it all Man vs. Man, Man vs. Environment, Man vs. God, Good vs. Evil? Is it always about desire and obstacles and the conflicts that stand in our character’s way?

    Is there not room for more?

    This emphasis on conflict has always made me think of the fabulous quote in Diane Lefer’s essay, Breaking the Rules of Story Structure, where she says:

    “The traditional story revolves around conflict – a requirement Ursula K. Le Guin disparages as the ‘gladatorial view of fiction.’ When we’re taught to focus our stories on a central struggle, we seem to choose by default to base all our plots on the clash of opposing forces. We limit our vision to a single aspect of existence and overlook much of the richness and complexity of our lives, just the stuff that makes a work of fiction memorable” (63).

    Gladiator

    Janet Burroway adds to this discussion noting that “seeing the world in terms of conflict and crisis, of enemies and warring factions, not only constricts the possibilities of literature… [it] also promulgates an aggressive and antagonistic view of our own lives” (Writing Fiction, 255).

    These quotes have always resonated with me. I find I’m not an action-and-conflict writer. But at the same time, I didn’t have any other guidepost to lead me. So, if it’s possible for stories to revolve around something other than conflict, what would that “something else” be?

    Connection.

    In Writing Fiction, Burroway goes on to discuss a narrative engine built on the human need for connection, rather than the clash of opposing forces. She says:

    “A narrative is also driven by a pattern of connection and disconnection between characters that is the main source of its emotional effect. Over the course of a story, and within the smaller scale of a scene, characters make and break emotional bonds of trust, love, understanding, or compassion with one another. A connection may be as obvious as a kiss or as subtle as a glimpse; a connection may be broken with an action as obvious as a slap or as subtle as an arched eyebrow” (255).

    This is an idea I can get behind!

    A pattern of connection and disconnection is a narrative guideline that feels rooted in truth, human desire, and hope. It’s a guideline that – if you need it to – can lead to conflict, should that be where you want your story to go. For me, the need for connection, and the movement between connecting and disconnecting, exists in a deeper space than conflict alone. Good vs. Evil sits on the surface.  Connection and disconnection is the pulse beneath the skin that motivates our characters. Can good or evil exist without it? This question excites me!  The possibility of small actions energizing a story excites me!

    Gladiator 2

    I believe in the little moments.

    I believe in the impact of an arched eyebrows and a subtle glimpse, may they have the power to grip our readers with as much intensity as a fight to the death.


    11 Comments on Conflict vs. Connection, last added: 5/5/2013
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    14. Conflict vs. Connection

    One of the big rules we always hear about writing is that there must be conflict! Without conflict you have no tension, no stakes, and the story doesn’t go anywhere. Some say “without conflict you have no story” at all!  Therefore we should always be on the look-out for the conflict in a scene and use it to make our stories more intense, emotional, and keep the boring-police away!

    But, I have an admission. I’ve always had a problem with the idea that story revolves around conflict. I get nervous about how it limits what our stories can be about.

    Don’t misread that comment. Conflict can be an important and useful storytelling tool, and there’s nothing wrong with using it. But… do we sometimes create conflict simply because we think we are supposed to? Are our lives defined by our conflicts? Is it all Man vs. Man, Man vs. Environment, Man vs. God, Good vs. Evil? Is it always about desire and obstacles and the conflicts that stand in our character’s way?

    Is there not room for more?

    This emphasis on conflict has always made me think of the fabulous quote in Diane Lefer’s essay, Breaking the Rules of Story Structure, where she says:

    “The traditional story revolves around conflict – a requirement Ursula K. Le Guin disparages as the ‘gladatorial view of fiction.’ When we’re taught to focus our stories on a central struggle, we seem to choose by default to base all our plots on the clash of opposing forces. We limit our vision to a single aspect of existence and overlook much of the richness and complexity of our lives, just the stuff that makes a work of fiction memorable” (63).

    Gladiator

    Janet Burroway adds to this discussion noting that “seeing the world in terms of conflict and crisis, of enemies and warring factions, not only constricts the possibilities of literature… [it] also promulgates an aggressive and antagonistic view of our own lives” (Writing Fiction, 255).

    These quotes have always resonated with me. I find I’m not an action-and-conflict writer. But at the same time, I didn’t have any other guidepost to lead me. So, if it’s possible for stories to revolve around something other than conflict, what would that “something else” be?

    Connection.

    In Writing Fiction, Burroway goes on to discuss a narrative engine built on the human need for connection, rather than the clash of opposing forces. She says:

    “A narrative is also driven by a pattern of connection and disconnection between characters that is the main source of its emotional effect. Over the course of a story, and within the smaller scale of a scene, characters make and break emotional bonds of trust, love, understanding, or compassion with one another. A connection may be as obvious as a kiss or as subtle as a glimpse; a connection may be broken with an action as obvious as a slap or as subtle as an arched eyebrow” (255).

    This is an idea I can get behind!

    A pattern of connection and disconnection is a narrative guideline that feels rooted in truth, human desire, and hope. It’s a guideline that – if you need it to – can lead to conflict, should that be where you want your story to go. For me, the need for connection, and the movement between connecting and disconnecting, exists in a deeper space than conflict alone. Good vs. Evil sits on the surface.  Connection and disconnection is the pulse beneath the skin that motivates our characters. Can good or evil exist without it? This question excites me!  The possibility of small actions energizing a story excites me!

    Gladiator 2

    I believe in the little moments.

    I believe in the impact of an arched eyebrows and a subtle glimpse, may they have the power to grip our readers with as much intensity as a fight to the death.


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    15. 2012 04 12 Antihero as Protagonist

    Today's post features a guest appearance by Luke Murphy, author of Dead Man's Hand. He explains how to make an antihero your protagonist by providing him with solid motivation. Luke Murphy describes his protagonist, Calvin Watters:



    The four most common character conflicts in stories are: man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. society, and man vs. himself. 

    The single most common character conflict in suspense/mystery novels is man vs. man. This is usually seen through serial killers, murder investigations, assassination plots, etc. One character is battling against another character in the story. 

    There's plenty of this in DEAD MAN`S HAND, but I also wanted to add another element to entertain readers. 

    The central theme of DMH is the plot built around framing Calvin Watters for murder. Calvin spends the story evading the cops, as well as a hitman, while trying to solve the crime and prove his innocence. (Man vs. Man, right?) 

    But I truly believe that the major character conflict in my story is Calvin vs. himself. 

    Calvin Watters was on his way to NFL stardom when a sudden, selfish decision destroyed any dream he ever had. He remembered when the rich had welcomed him into their group as a promising, clean-cut athlete bound for glory. Now he was just an outsider looking in. Just another thug. 

    Pain bolted through his right knee, but the emotional pain from a shattered ego hurt even worse. He was the only one to blame for USC's humiliating loss and his own humiliating personal downfall. 

    The press, always ready to tear down a hero, had shown no restraint in attacking him for his egotistic, selfish decision and obvious desire to break his own school record. One minute he was touted as the next Walter Payton, the next he was a door mat for local media. 

    Looking at him now, no one would believe that back then he was a thousand-yard rusher in the NCAA and welcomed with open arms in every established club in Southern California. Hell, he had been bigger than the mayor. 

    That the resulting injury had ended his college football career and most importantly, any chances of a pro career didn’t matter to anyone. By making the wrong, selfish, prideful decision, he’d made himself a target for the press and all USC fans. 

    The devastating, career-ending knee injury wasn't the quarterback's fault for missing the audible, or the fullback's fault for missing the key block. It was his and it had taken him some time to understand and accept responsibility for it. 

    After he spent three years building a reputation as the toughest collector in Vegas, no one even knew he'd been one of the greatest college running backs ever. To them, he was just “The Collector.” 

    Now Calvin has to rebuild his life and his future, eliminating the thoughts of his downfall, picking himself up, dusting off, and trying to live a respectable life he can be proud of. 

    But has his time as a leg-breaker made him corrupt beyond redemption?

    ________________________________________________________________
    Luke Murphy lives in Shawville, Quebec with his wife, two daughters and pug. He played six years of professional hockey before retiring in 2006. Since then, he’s held a number of jobs, from sports columnist to radio journalist, before earning his Bachelor of Education degree (Magna Cum Laude). Murphy`s debut novel, Dead Man`s Hand, was released by Imajin Books on October 20, 2012.

    DEAD MAN'S HAND "A fast, gritty ride." www.amazon.com/Dead-Mans-Hand-ebook/dp/B009OUT2ME

    For more information on Luke and his books, visit: www.authorlukemurphy.com






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    16. One Foot Out of The Door

    The expression one foot out of the door is used to express a condition wherein your character has mentally but not logistically moved on. It could be a job, a family, a relationship, or a place. They have already envisioned an alternative reality and are anxious to explore it. Certain personality types live one foot out of the door. For others, it creates a true dilemma. The conflict arises when they are not free to leave just yet.

    It’s so hard to stay when you desperately want to leave.

    1) In a Romance, one partner may be ready to move on. He or she may have envisioned what it might be like to be with someone else. Perhaps they have that someone already picked out. This creates the will they stay or will they go push-pull. 

    2) In a Mystery, this dynamic creates internal conflict when Dick must solve one last case when he'd rather be spearfishing in Fiji. His partner may be eagerly anticipating a promotion and chafing at having to finish the case.

    3) In a Literary or Young Adult Coming of Age tale, this dynamic forms the battleground of the young adult striving for autonomy while still coping with parental expectations and restrictions. Every parent and teenager has dealt with this rocky road from tweenhood through college. It could be told from the parent’s or teen’s point of view. 

    4) In a Historical tale, Dick may be trapped in a city or small town while dreaming of moving west. He is eager to go, yet something forces him to stay. Perhaps he dreams of being a sailor but must stay and deal with his sick parent while his peers take off on great adventures.

    5) In a Thriller, this can affect Dick’s dedication to solving the overall story problem. He may be ambivalent about the cause, the people involved, or his role in it because he'd rather be somewhere else.

    Use internal conflict scenes and internal narrative to illustrate the character’s impatience, impaired decision making, fantasizing about the new reality, anxiety, anger, and frustration. He can step forward then step back until a crisis forces the issue. You can close the door on your character, preventing him from ever leaving or you can set him free, allowing him to slam the door behind him. The artistic choice is yours.

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    17. Rising Resentment

    Somewhere deep in your character’s dark little soul lies a tiny nugget of resentment. How passive or aggressive your character is determines how he handles it. Passive, simmering resentment can blow up at the least convenient moment. Immediate reaction can throw flame into an already tense situation.


    Resentment can be an internal conflict your protagonist comes to grips with. It can be an interpersonal conflict between friends or foes. It can fuel the protagonist’s battle with the antagonist. There could be several layers of resentment between characters to complicate the story. 

    How to use it: 

    1) Choose a seed 

    The seed usually arises from your character’s deepest desires, fears, traits hidden in the shadow self, or childhood wounds. Use something from the character’s past that can create future conflict. 

    2) Fertile field. 

    Having chosen a seed, you must plant it in a scene. You don’t have to spend chapters telling the backstory of why Dick is jealous of his older brother or why Sally resents Dick for always finding a way to be absent whenever the family needs him most. You can effectively address it through dialogue or action in one scene.

    3) A little rain.

    Use future scenes to reinforce the resentment, making it grow taller and more bitter. Resentment thrives in darkness. Show your character feeling hurt, angry, disappointed, or sad. These scenes push your character toward a dark night of the soul. 

    4) Surfacing.

    A turning point occurs when the resentment is brought to a head. The situation can be cathartic or make the situation more thorny. Hostile reactions can fuel the cycle leading to the climactic moment when things are resolved. 

    5) Death/rebirth. 

    Coming to terms with resentment is a way to illustrate character growth. At the climax, the relationship either mends or dies. If you want an up-ending, the relationship is healed. If you want a down-ending, one of them can decide to hang onto the ill-will while the other lets go. If you want an up-down ending, they can put it behind them but realize there is no way to continue on together.

    A satisfying story arc includes all the phases.

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    18. Sorry, I Can't Hear You ...

    Conflict occurs between characters when there is a breakdown in communication. You don’t need a broken cell phone or a disabled internet to create problems for your characters. When someone’s life or emotional welfare is at stake, breakdowns in communication are treacherous. 


    Use communication failures to ratchet the tension and create obstacles that are resolved in future scenes. 

    1) Mental block.

    If Jane or Sally offers an important bit of information, Dick may dismiss it outright because it doesn’t fit within his belief system. They can talk all day. It won’t matter. Use this to point Dick in the wrong direction. Later, when he is more willing to listen, their information could save the day. 

    2) Different meanings.

    Terms such as coward/courageous, allowed/ forbidden, acceptable/unacceptable, relationship/friendship, good/bad could have entirely different meanings for Dick, Sally, and Jane. Misunderstandings in this realm create hurt feelings, perhaps the desire for retaliation. Use this misunderstanding to turn a friend into an enemy or a helper into a hinderer. When you want to turn the story around, resolve it. 

    3) Too much information.

    Sometimes less really is more. The more options and information thrown at Dick, the harder it can be for him to decide or act. He can’t possibly keep it all straight. Friends and foes can later supply Dick with information he overlooked or details he forgot. Plant the seed in one scene, sprout it in another, perhaps appreciate the fully beauty of it in a third.

    4) Distraction.

    Dick may not listen when his mind is on something else, missing the fact that Sally or Jane offered him an important piece of the puzzle. They can later remind him of it when it is crucial, with or without the “I told you so.”

    5) Time crunch.

    If Dick is in a rush, he might forget to say the right thing, tell the correct people, or leave out important facts. His terse delivery may chafe. This can infuriate and confuse Sally or Jane. It could leave them unwilling to help him or create negative backlash in a future scene.

    6) Emotion Commotion.

    If Sally or Jane approaches Dick in a heightened state of emotion — be it anger, passion, exhaustion, sadness, or drunkenness — Dick may dismiss the content as irrational. In a later scene, you can make Dick wish he had listened.

    Communication breakdowns create interpersonal conflict at scene and overall story level and believable tension between characters. Have fun with it, but make it count.

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    19. Where's the Plot?

    My illustration is intentionally messy. Many writers would
    give the middle-end a steeper slope. Credit: Elizabeth Humphrey

    Now that school is back in session, I’m getting geared up to play editor-mom. That is, reading drafts of stories and reports, trying to be supportive without, well, rewriting the some of the work. I love reading the beginning stories, but it continues to astound me that we read countless stories to children, but if you ask them to tell you what happened in a story, the storyline seems bland or flat. The stories don’t seem to go anywhere.

    Often the flat story is how the children process the stories, as well--even if the story involves a boy, his dog, kidnappings, and international spies. If I ask my children what happened in TinTin (the movie or the comic books), I may get the response about the cute dog and nothing about the story’s plot.

    The plot of a story may be compelling, but it is not necessarily what we notice all the plot points as we learn about storytelling. (After all, when was the first time you diagrammed a novel’s plotline?)

    As we develop as writers and readers, we start learning about plotting our stories. It helps us to discern what writers we like—fast-moving books generally have tightly written plots with conflicts that crackle from the pages. But even so, plots can still be a confusing muddle.

    How do you plot a story? How do you ensure the plot points are strong and build to the middle and bring the story to a good conclusion? Take your time.

    Often the stories our children tell—and ones that we attempt to write—are missing the dramatic question and the conflicts that advance a plot. The question and conflicts help to tease out what the story is really about and helps to answer the question: “So what?”

    Work those out as you work with your draft. It’s not a one-time happening, but something that is massaged along your novel or short story’s journey.

    Sure, the cute dog is important, but he’s vitally important because he and his actions help move the plot along.

    Do you sketch out your plot points in an arc in the beginning, middle or end of writing your story's first draft?

    Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in North Carolina. She enjoys using various colored pens to plot her novel’s storyline, but sometimes gets carried away and starts doodling instead.

    2 Comments on Where's the Plot?, last added: 9/2/2012
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    20. Never judge a book by its cover?

    It’s been a while since I fell in love at first sight, but that’s precisely what happened when I saw the front cover of Red Cat, Blue Cat by debut author/illustrator Jenni Desmond.


    The cats’ gorgeously grumpy expressions, the boldness of the image as a whole, the delicate detailing of the birds in flight – it made me catch my breath, nod and smile.

    And on turning the pages my sense of excitement and delight only grew. Red Cat, Blue Cat (published later this month in the UK) turns out not only to be beautiful but also witty, original, and jam-packed with joie de vivre; a gentle and humorous exploration of identity, envy and friendship.

    Red Cat is fast and bouncy whilst Blue Cat is clever and creative. They share a house but the only other thing they have in common is a secret wish: to be more like the other. Try as they might, all they end up doing is fighting and getting in a big mess. Finally it dawns on them that not only is imitation really the sincerest form of flattery, but happiness also comes more easily if your comfortable with the skin you’re in. A friendship is born based on acceptance and appreciation of difference.

    Desmond tells a great story, full of giggles (regular readers of my blog should be delighted to know there are more pants on heads!) as well as having a more thoughtful side. Her illustrations are clean, fresh and eyecatching. Definitely a talent I hope to see much more of in the future.

    Inspired by the terraced housing on the title page of Red Cat, Blue Cat we set about creating our own street scene with cats.

    We each had a bunch of plain white postcards onto which we drew house fronts. We use origami paper for the roof tiles and added telegraph poles and wires made from barbecue skewers and yarn, and chimney smoke made from toy stuffing fibre.

    M added TV aerials made from paper clips and passport photo booth images of us looking out of windows.

    I particularly like the bird nesting in the chimney of the house below, and the bicycle in front on the road.

    Whilst making our street collage we listened to:

  • Cat Quartet by James Gill and Frank Young – out of tune but definitely made us smile:
  • Boy Who Turned Into A Cat by Ladysmith Black Mambazo
  • Cat in a Bathysphere by The Hipwaders

  • Other activities which would work well alongside Red Cat, Blue Cat include:

  • Colour collecting (each cat collects and eats things of the other cat’s colour in an attempt to change colour) – using this idea from Crafts’n'Things for Children you could go an a hunt for red and blue treasures. Older kids might enjoy a similar photo project, like this one described by Family Blog Tips.
  • Making your own cat softies – I like this one from Sew Delicious and this one from Hoogli Art.
  • Eating food which makes your tongue change colour – you could try powerade, blackjacks, beetroot or M&Ms. Go on, you know you want the excuse to play and pull silly faces with your kids in front of a mirror…

  • So what’s the last book you judged by its cover? Was it one you didn’t read because of the way it looked, or one you bought straight off because the front cover spoke to you?

    Share

    3 Comments on Never judge a book by its cover?, last added: 9/8/2012
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    21. Bride and Prejudice


    I don't usually write movie reviews--in fact, I don't think I've ever written a single one, but I couldn't resist blogging about how much I enjoyed watching "Bride and Prejudice" two weekends back.

    Made in 2004 and directed by Gurinder Chadhu of "Bend it Like Beckham" fame, the movie was one I've wanted to see for some time but never seemed to get around to it. Recently, however, I've been on a bit of a Jane Austen tangent, so when I was at the library the other day and saw the film on the DVD shelf, I knew it was the right time for a little fairy tale fantasy.

    It turned out to be a serendipitous choice--I absolutely LOVED this movie. For those of you who haven't seen it, it's a modern-day version of Pride and Prejudice set in rural India. Aishwarya Rai (aka "the most beautiful woman in the world") and Martin Henderson play the parts of Lalita Bakshi and Will Darcy, or as we might recognize them from the original Austen text: Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.

    Moving the story up a few centuries and taking it from the English countryside to Amritsar was an incredibly clever interpretation of a much beloved classic. The Bakshi family was the perfect remake of the Bennets; Will and Lalita were just as conflict-ridden as their original counterparts; and the chemistry between all the characters--including Jaya (Jane) and Mr. Balraj (Bingley) was almost better than the book!

    I've always been a big fan of Bollywood: lots of bling, embroidered silk veils and saris, singing and dancing for no reason whatsoever, dreamy couples who seem to have all the money and time they need to fly around the world to gaze wistfully at sunsets and each other, and of course the 3-hankie happily-ever-after ending. Bollywood is the ultimate escapist, love-conquers-all movie moment. "Bride and Prejudice" was no exception.

    Which got me thinking about what makes a great romance book or movie. And this is what I've come up with: two strong, intelligent characters overcome their very real differences so they can learn to work together. Yep, it's all about work. Kissing is the easy part. Getting to the altar takes courage. And a lot of singing and dancing.

    I've always thought Pride and Prejudice is essentially a story about marriage. The relationship between the parents--the Bennets in Pride, and the Bakshis in Bride--truly intrigues me. Mismatched on the surface but made for each other; their bond is what has made Jaya and Lalita the heroines they are. My favorite line from "Bride and Prejudice" is when a distraught Mrs. Bakshi is scolding her daughters on being so concerned about marrying for love. She turns and points to a sheepish-looking Mr. Bakshi. "Where was love in the beginning?" she chides. Where indeed? And yet here she is, with four pretty girls, a home of her own, and a husband who obviously cares for her. Awww. As the girls sing after dinner with the endearingly awful Mr. Kholi: "No Life Without Wife!"



    Tip of the Day: Watch this movie! Afterward you might like to think about your other favorite romantic films or books. What makes for good chemistry between the characters? Anything you want to change in your own writing? And now it's time for some more singing:                                                                   
    
    

    1 Comments on Bride and Prejudice, last added: 9/27/2012
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    22. Take the Conflict Novel Test

    Every novel needs conflict and tension. No, EVERY scene. If it doesn't, than your manuscript may need more revision. Take this test pasted below to find out:


    Test by author Kathleen O'Reilly
     

       1. Does one of the characters have to change in order for the conflict to be resolved?

     Yes, Score 1
     No, Score 0
     Both characters change, Score 2


    2. Can conflict be resolved with a good, honest heart-to-heart between your characters?

     Yes, Score 0
     No, Score 1


    3. Is it believable the one character (or both) would be leery of a relationship because of your conflict?

     Yes, Score 1
     No, Score 0
     Ask this question to someone else who's read your story. If they say yes, add one bonus point
    .

    4. Is conflict resolved because of sacrifice on one character's part?

     Yes, Score 1
     No, Score 0
     If BIG sacrifice, Score 2


    5. Must one character abandon their story goal?

     Yes, Score 1
     No, Score 0



    6. Does conflict occur ONLY because one character does not trust the other character enough to have a heart-two-heart talk?

     Yes, Score 0
     No, Score 1



    Score 9: Perfect SCORE!!!! Your conflict is right up there with Shakespeare or Lorraine Heath!

    Score 5-8: Good job! Thorough, consistent, believable. Character development is entwined with conflict. Grisham could learn from you!

    Score 0-4: You are too nice a person. Watch the evening news, go stand in line at the post office, or try to go through the express line at the grocery story with too many items. You must learn how to truly torment your characters properly.



    Bestselling author, Kathleen O'Reilly wrote her first romance at the age of eleven, which to her undying embarrassment was read aloud to her class. After taking over twenty years to recover from the profound distress, she is now proud to announce her new career - a romance author. Kathleen lives in New York with her husband and their two children who outwit her daily.

    You can visit Kathleen at www.KathleenOReilly.com


     Quote:  
    “I’m turned off when a writer feels the need to fill in all the backstory before starting the story; a story that opens on the protagonist’s mental reflection of their situation is a red flag.”—Stephany Evans, FinePrint Literary Management

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    23. Organic Conflict

    by Deren Hansen

    Some time ago Julie Danes pointed out that conflict should not be contrived.

    What is a contrived conflict?

    In comic books, bad guys are bad because they're bad. Slap on a label like, "Nazi," or, "Terrorist," and your job is done. Other examples include oppressive clergy, greedy corporations, and government conspiracies. It's conflict by definition, which is the height of contrivance.

    Another kind of contrived conflict is what I call irrational conflict: characters at loggerheads whose differences could be resolved with a rational, five-minute conversation. Romances are particularly liable to this kind of contrivance when the author can't think of a better reason to keep the leads apart. Yes, misunderstandings occur in real life, as do coincidences, but as a general rule (because you don't want your readers rolling their eyes) you're only allowed one of each.

    Of course, it's not that some kinds of conflict are contrived and other are not. Any conflict where the reader sees the puppet strings, or worse, the puppeteer (author), is contrived. Readers need and want to believe that the conflict in the story arises organically from the mix of setting, plot, and characters, and that the conflict couldn't have played out any other way.

    When I think about organic conflict, whether it arises from characters or plot, I imagine the parties to the conflict as forces of nature. Picture what happens when a surge of the restless sea meets the immovable cliff. Or when the speeding car meets the brick wall.

    The most compelling conflict feels inevitable: notwithstanding everyone's best efforts, the collision occurs.

    Unlike the watered-down food label, "natural," organic conflict is a much healthier, and a much more satisfying choice.

    Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. Learn more at dunlithhill.com.

    2 Comments on Organic Conflict, last added: 3/7/2013
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    24. Conflict: Inner, Personal, and Universal

    by Deren Hansen

    In a discussion about narrative conflict, someone suggested that there are only three kinds of conflict: inner, personal, and universal, where personal is conflict between persons and universal is conflict with forces larger than your social circle.

    As I played with the idea, I hit upon the exercise of characterizing the kinds of stories you get when the protagonist and antagonist come into conflict in terms of the nine combinations of the inner, personal, and universal dimensions.

    In the following table, read from the protagonist's row to the antagonist's column. For example, if the protagonist's concerns are primarily internal and the antagonists are personal, you have a coming-of-age story or a story about establishing one's place and identity.



    Antagonist

    InnerPersonalUniversal
    P
    r
    o
    t
    a
    g
    o
    n
    i
    s
    t
    InnerPsychologicalComing-of-age; Establishing one's place and identityThe socio-path or super man
    PersonalIntervention and healingRomance, mystery, thriller, speculative fiction, etc. (i.e., Most kinds of narrative conflict)Rebels and underdogs
    UniversalFatalist and extremistsOrder vs. chaos (anti-rebellion)Epic and political struggles

    What I found most interesting about this exercise is that the primary locus of conflict in most stories falls in the center square (personal vs. personal). Many other stories fall on the diagonal (inner vs. inner or universal vs. universal). Asymmetric stories (e.g., personal vs. universal), are rarer.

    I suspect this is because as social animals inter-personal conflict is the easiest to understand. Even if your story depends on another kind of conflict, your narrative will generally be most effective if you can put a face on the enemy for your readers. Your band of freedom fighters may be up against an empire, but your readers will identify with the dark lord who makes finding them his personal quest than with the legions of faceless soldiers he deploys. Similarly, readers will find a psychological struggle more accessible if there are other actors who symbolize the inner conflict.

    It's also interesting to consider where different genres cluster in the matrix. For example, romance and mystery generally land in the upper left quadrant while speculative fiction and thrillers land in the lower right (with all, of course, overlapping in the middle).

    Stories, clearly, aren't limited to one kind of conflict, so this analysis is only useful when we're considering the primary mode of conflict. Still, the moral of this story is that conflict is best when it's personal.

    Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. Learn more at dunlithhill.com.

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    25. Internal Conflict: Sine Qua Non

    by Deren Hansen

    There's an entire set of words and phrases which have come down to us from Latin that we're slowly losing because a knowledge of ancient languages is no longer a hallmark of a good education. Even Harry Potter hasn't been able to resurrect more than a few spell phrases from that dead language.

    It's unfortunate because some ideas are best expressed in other languages. For example, sine qua non is a Latin legal term that we must translate into the more awkward, "without which it could not be." Sine qua non, captures the notion of something so necessary it's definitional.

    I thought of that phrase when in a comment on Non-character Antagonists and Conflict, Anne Gallagher said:

    Sometimes I think dealing with internal conflict makes a better story. Character driven narrative rather than plot driven.

    I'm also under the impression (in my genre I should clarify -- romance) there ALWAYS needs to be internal conflict for either the hero or heroine. One must always be conflicted by love.
    Anne is right: internal conflict is the sine qua non of story.

    Some of you, particularly if you equate internal conflict with navel gazing or whiny teenagers, may roll your eyes at that assertion. You may say, for example, that your story is about action and plot and your characters neither want nor need to take time off from dodging bullets to inventory their feelings.

    I understand your objection, but answer this question: what's the common wisdom about characters and flaws?

    If you said (thought) something along the lines of flawed = good (i.e., relatable and interesting), perfect = bad (i.e., boring or self-indulgent), you've been paying attention. (And if your answer includes, "Mary Sue," give your self bonus points).

    So why do we like flawed characters?

    Is it because they allow us to feel superior?

    No. It's simply that flaws produce internal conflict. That's what people really mean when they say they find flawed characters more compelling than perfect ones.

    Internal conflict gives us greater insight into character. There's nothing to learn from a perfect character: if we can't compare and contrast the thought processes that early in the character's development lead to failure and later to success, we can't apply any lessons to our own behavior.

    Internal conflict also creates a greater degree of verisimilitude (because who among us doesn't have a seething mass of contradictions swimming around in their brain case).

    Internal conflict and the expression of character flaws arises from uncertainty. If your characters are certain about how to resolve the problem, you don't have a story you have an instruction manual.

    Ergo, conflict is the sine qua non of story.

    That said, stories where conflicts at different levels reflect and reinforce each other are the most interesting because their resolution can be the most satisfying.

    Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. Learn more at dunlithhill.com.

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