Friday, April 29, 2011

Advice from the Past

I found a notebook from my college days at the University of Houston. It's from a creative writing class I took in the fall of 1971 from Dr. Karchmer, my favorite professor. The notebook is filled with lots of basic -- but still good -- advice, as well as short story ideas and first drafts.

Here are some of my notes from my first class 40 years ago:
  • Learn to PROOFREAD! Make it neat -- 1" margins; make it look professional.
  • Write as many short stories as you can. Read as many short stories as you can. Develop your own insights. Read for your own pleasure.
  • Cultivate regular writing habits. Set aside 1-2 hours every day for writing, a time when you are relatively composed. (I laughed at this one -- composed? A play on words?)
  • Write whether you are inspired or not. You must force yourself to write; must discipline yourself. Work every day.
  • Get the first draft down before starting over. Believe in what you're writing. Don't let the critical part of your mind over-rule the creative part.
  • "Emotion remembered in tranquility"
  • Keep a notebook and work in it every day. Keep a journal of your observations and impressions. Character analysis, feelings, emotions, ideas for stories. Can pour out feelings of hostility, bitterness, love, happiness, etc. in journal to clear your system. Vast depository of your thoughts. A storehouse of knowledge for future use. (I had put a big star by this one in my notebook...and this notebook proves that I took his advice. I've been doing this for the past 40 years.)
  • Write letters. Use lots of description in them. (Obviously, this was before email and text messages, but I still love to write letters and send cards.)
  • "Memory is the one paradise from which the writer cannot be driven."
  • "Time destroys; memory preserves." (I'm not sure if what I have in quotation marks are quotes from Dr. Karchmer or from someone else.)
I'll share some more of my notes later. Right now I have to go write.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

There will be no hurting of bunnies today.

Unless they happen to be chocolate.

And then, there may be some nibbling of the ears.

There is nothing that I can do about that.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

When to Hurt Your Bunnies

See that cute bunny dancing with a giant carrot? You know you have to hurt him, because otherwise there'd be no story. You also have some ideas on how to do it. But when should you do it?

Often! Whenever you can!

Poor bunny. Happy reader!

Every scene has three parts: goal, conflict, disaster. You can hurt your bunny during the conflict part; that's obvious. he has to fight a bully, scale a mountain, or survive a hurricane. You can also hurt your bunny during the disaster. That, too, is obvious. A bomb goes off, the boogie man jumps out of the closet, he gets a huge pimple on his nose just before his big date with the head cheerleader. Youch!

Every sequel has three parts: reaction, dilemma, decision. You can also hurt your bunny during the dilemma, as he tries to decide what to do. That, again, is obvious. You can make him agonize over what to do. Does he pull the plug on his brain-dead son? Does he confront the bully? Does he run into the burning building to save the child?

You can hurt your bunny as soon as he's made a decision about what to do. How? Make that decision a poor one. Perhaps he's made the choice to have it out, once and for all, with the fellow employee who is always stabbing him in the back. But, perhaps, that choice is the wrong one because he doesn't know yet that he doesn't have all the correct information, and it's the wrong fellow employee being accused. Perhaps the information he's using is out of date, so the choice to not vaccinate his child is based on incorrect data. Perhaps he assumes the head cheerleader won't mind the huge pimple and will like him for who he is inside.

What about hurting your bunny during the goal? Perhaps your bunny in the previous sequel has made a decision about what to do next. His goal now for the next scene is to implement that decision. So how do you hurt him? By allowing him to have the wrong goal. What follows will hurt him. He's decided to confront the bully, which is a good decision, but his goal to do it during lunchtime when the bully's friends are there to help him, is a bad idea.

You get the idea. Hurt your bunny often. Chase him up a tree and throw rocks at him. Remember, though, that your bunny must grow stronger during each time of "hurt." You're hitting him with his weaknesses, his flaws, his fears. As he works out how to survive each onslaught, he gets a little stronger. So, by the end of the book, your bunny has grown as a person, has grown into a stronger, wiser rabbit. What didn't kill him will make him stronger. And at the end he can dance with the giant carrot. Or maybe eat it

Monday, April 11, 2011

How to Hurt Your Bunny

Now that you've decided that it's in the best interest of your story to hurt your bunny, your main character, how do you do it?

1) Physically
This is the most obvious way. You can make your character sick with the flu or pneumonia. You can break his leg or sprain his ankle. You can give him a rash, a bee sting, or allergies.

2) Psychologically
This one can be divided into two closely related illnesses: mental and emotional. I'm not a psychologist, but I've watched one on TV. So, you'll probably have to do some research on these to be sure you're calling the illness the correct name.

a) Mentally
Your bunny could have a mental illness, such as multiple personalities (and since bunnies multiply rapidly, your bunny might have a dozen or so before your story is over) or an eating disorder (too many carrots). Perhaps it's depression or OCD or post traumatic stress disorder.

b) Emotionally
You might have your bunny suffer from a bully who steals his lunch money or has low self-esteem. Perhaps your bunny can't tell the truth and just has to exaggerate everything he says. Your bunny might be a hypochondriac. Maybe he fears small spaces or is afraid of tornadoes.

3) Spiritually
That's right; you can even hurt your bunny spiritually. Things can get so bad for him that he may doubt God...or the conflicts might turn him toward God or toward something else.

Now, when you hurt your bunny, don't do it randomly. Plan on ways to hurt your bunny that will also advance your plot. Before you write, it's a good idea to do a character sketch of your main bunny. Figure out what your bunny's strengths and weaknesses are, what his dreams and fears are. Now you hit him where it hurts: confront him with his weaknesses and his fears, make his dreams appear to evaporate, turn his strengths against him.

Your reader will love you for it!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Why Hurt the Bunnies?

Look at that sweet bunny. Could you really hurt it?

I coined the phrase "hurt the bunnies" after reading so many stories where there was no problem to be solved, no conflict -- nothing happened. It started when I judged a contest and every single entry was a picture book/short story about bunnies...except one that was about groundhogs (and this one actually had a problem to solve). The bunnies basically hopped around all day holding hands, picking flowers, and remarking on what a wonderful world they lived in. I have to admit that after reading dozens of stories like that, I really did have an urge to hurt those bunnies.

But the phrase "hurt the bunnies" actually is for the writers, to remind them that stories aren't interesting unless we can in some way identify with the main character -- or main bunny -- and feel sympathy for him. We have to care what happens to him. If nothing happens, then we feel as if we've wasted the time we invested in that character/bunny. So the writer needs to "hurt" that character/bunny in some way. The "hurt" doesn't have to be physical. It can be a need, a desire, a wish, a goal...but it can also be a physical or emotional "hurt." A "bunny" without a problem is a boring bunny, and no one wants to read about boring bunnies.

So the answer to the questions that introduced this blog post is: Yes! I can hurt that bunny!