Sunday, November 16, 2014

+J.M.J.+

This post may be a little bit different than what I normally post…I don’t talk much about my writing, but I felt it only appropriate to show what God has done, since I’m only about 9,000 words away from the end of my first draft of my novel. To say the least, I’m in a bit of a giddy shock right now. Last night I typed the first 1,000 words of the climax of my novel. For those who may not be up on writerly terminology, the climax is basically the high point of the novel, where the main character and villain meet and clash for the final time; the climax decides the outcome of the novel. It is also the penultimate scene or scenes—the only thing left to write after the climax is the resolution, which only takes up a scene or two at the end of the novel. Just since August, I’ve written 6/8 of my novel. That’s 60,000 words. 60,000!!!!!!!!! I’ve been drafting since the end of April, but April was right before my graduation from college and getting all of that together. I spent some time at home with my mom and sister after graduation, and drafted some, but had to go back and rework all of my plot points. I was also trying to get on my feet at the beginning of June—I got my driver’s license, a car, and a job the first two weeks of June, and made my first road trip. So that was stressful. Then, as I got settled in at work and got used to being here, my drafting picked up speed. By August, I was confident in my plot points. I stopped every once in a while, studying writer Katie Weiland’s Character Arc series on her writing blog, “Helping Writers Become Authors.” She has some great books on writing, by the way, and I’m in the process of reading her novel “Dreamlander”—just what I needed to refuel my creative tank!

I’m using the 3-act method for character arc and story structure, using techniques and pointers from Katie’s books and her posts to guide me along the way. The first act takes up the first quarter of the book, and at the end the character will step through the door and set foot on the road to his goal, his change, and the final meeting with the antagonist. The second act is all about learning new skills, embracing the truth, at least partly, and making steady progress towards the goal. The beginning of the third act is a low moment for the character, as they lose their chance of getting what they want by choosing the thing they need. Then they rise up from the ashes of their low point and make their plans to defeat the bad guy. The Climax is that final battle, where the character will be given the ultimate test—will he stick to his guns and use the truth to defeat the baddie, or will he succumb to the lie he’s just shed? Of course, in the type of arc I’m writing, a very popular arc known as the positive change arc, the character will use the truth to wipe the floor with the bad guy. The exciting part is giving the reader just enough doubt to sit on the edge of their chair, biting their nails, thinking Will the main character do it? Will he survive this encounter?

This structure has changed my whole writing process. Before, I would launch in excitedly after typing up a few thousand words of an outline, the story idea fresh in my mind. But usually, when I would get between 40-60 pages in, plot problems began to arise that I would have to go back and solve before moving on. This frustrated me and created endless tangles of problems—sometimes the problems would require excavating entire chapters, reworking characters and backstories, and generally changing the entire story as a whole. As a ‘judging’ type of personality (if you know Myers-Briggs type personality tests, you’ll know what I’m talking about), I want to come to a plan of action and execute it. That’s what I do best. But when it comes to brainstorming a story and outlining it, it is essential to think of all the what-if’s. That means being more of a ‘perceiver’—thinking of all the possibilities. But this process, I think, frustrates me because it delays me from getting started. Still, I’ve realized the hard way (after 8 years of writing and re-writing and re-writing again) that that’s what I need to do. Frustrating? Yes. Worth it? Yes. It’s better because if I let out all the possibilities from the start, I can then execute my natural ‘judging’ function and choose the best ones, and arrange them to see if they’ll all fit together. Much less frustration in the long run this way.

In Katie’s book “Outlining Your Novel,” she walks you through an intensive outlining process that she uses, which is very effective. The great thing is that she gives a disclaimer that you don’t necessarily have to use all of the steps she lists, or stop where she does. I gave her method a shot, and found some things really worked, but others did not. I condensed her steps to a few that work well for me. Whereas she suggests outlining each scene in a bit of detail, and going through the whole novel with this process before you begin drafting, I’ve discovered that if I pin down my major plot points for the whole novel first, then dive into the first act’s requirements, using the plot points in the first act as my frame, I can jot down a few hundred words on ideas for what will need to happen in that first act, then arrange those few hundred words into a workable outline and begin drafting. Once I’m done with the first act, I work through the second act in the same way, then draft it. For some reason, this keeps me more sane than outlining the whole novel in detail from the get-go. I think I get intimidated by an entire novel’s outline, and that if I stray from it I will be shamed for 50 days or something crazy. In other words, I feel guilty if I expend all that energy on an outline that I know I will stray from later. So I take it in smaller chunks. Then, when I’m finished with the first act and I can see how it’s panned out, I can tweak anything that may no longer fit with the plot points in the second act and construct a more accurate outline for the second act, building on what’s happened in the first act. It’s a process that keeps me sane, because it saves me the trouble of having to rework an entire outline if I realize something in the second act no longer fits with the first, or the third with the second, etc. But I still have a decent roadmap for the entire novel before I ever begin drafting, because I have the major plot points (the inciting event, the midpoint, the third plot point, the climax) pinned down.

Hey, you can’t argue with results, right? I fell in love with Katie’s method; I took extensive notes, studied it for hours, and honestly filled an entire notebook trying to accomplish it. But I ended up doing the same thing with the outline that I used to do with my drafts—I wadded it up and threw it away and had to start all over. So in my creative writing classes at college, I spoke with my professor (who happens to be the same four-letter personality type as me) and asked her about her process. She confirmed my intuition about working from plot points rather than an entire, lengthy outline—her process is similar to mine. Plot points, character backstories and goals, and a good knowledge of your setting are all you need to get started. And using this, combined with a bit of extensive brainstorming when I’m pinning down the plot points, and God’s grace, I’ve almost got my first, finished, rough draft of a novel.

To be honest, I didn’t know if I was ever going to finish a project. I kept writing because writing is just what I do, and kept hoping that maybe something would happen and I would discover the way to finish a draft. Discovering this process has helped me so much, and I know I’ll keep refining the process—I know it may not be exactly the same for each project I work on. I’m so grateful to God for His grace and for giving me this gift of writing, and showing me how to put it to work more efficiently and effectively.

I don’t know if I’ve ever blogged about what my book is actually about. The main theme is of uniting faith and reason, and the two main characters in the novel are representatives of faith and reason, so to speak. It is fiction in the spirit of Tolkien and Lewis; somewhat allegorical, but also exploring the personal changes and cruxes that the characters have to accomplish and overcome in order to reach the ultimate fulfillment of the theme, and of their journey as human beings. It has a more modern style to it, more like Ted Dekker than Tolkien, but it is sort of a high fantasy as well—all about the quest! And yes…it will probably end up being a trilogy.

So yes. I apologize sincerely if any of this has bored you, dear reader, but I haven’t journaled about my writing for a while, and I felt the need to share all the exciting discoveries and progress God has helped me to make. Thank you for reading and sharing this exciting time in my life with me!

+Deo Gratias! Maria Gratias! To God be the glory!+

Advertisements

Sunday, November 9, 2014

+J.M.J.+

Last weekend I didn’t post, and I apologize for the lapse. But I got to experience something last weekend that I wanted to share with you all. As you already know, last Saturday was the Feast of All Saints. We go to Mass about two hours away, and so one of the families from our parish graciously took my boyfriend and I in for Saturday night so we could go to Mass again the following morning. This family has six children, the oldest of which is 15, the youngest of which is 21 months. You see, my boyfriend and I grew up in either a Protestant home or a somewhat indifferent home when it comes to religion. We’d never seen or experienced a traditionally Catholic home. So coming into this home truly opened our eyes and showed us a few things about what it means to be Catholic in this day and age.

Besides our initial awe at the beauty of their home, one of the first things we noticed was the absence of a television. There was no television in the large and welcoming great room, nor in the living room, nor in any other room that we could see. Instead, the walls were covered with bookshelves sporting literature of all varieties (good varieties, of course). And the eldest girl, when she was finished with her supper, asked very politely if she could be excused from the table so she could continue reading her book. I tried not to gawk at her and thought to myself, Wow! So polite, and seeking such good recreation! Rarely do we meet children with both of these qualities!

Next we noticed their lovely classroom, probably a converted den. A big whiteboard covered the wall, and four clean little desks sat ready for their pupils in the center of the room. More shelves with lots of instructional books lined the walls; my boyfriend, being the teacher-in-training he is, was most interested in this room and the curriculum they taught.

When I was shown upstairs to the room where I’d be sleeping, and where all the bedrooms were, I peeked inside the open doors of all the children’s rooms. The oldest and youngest children were both boys, but all the children in between were girls. Amidst all the pink and flowers that decorated their rooms, I could see sacred images on their walls; of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts, and various images of Our Lady.

Probably the most touching part, and the part of their house I hope I will have the space to create, was their prayer chapel, which they’d converted from a side room. Inside was a little family altar and a kneeler, with many lovely figures and statues of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and prayer sheets made up personally for each of the children with their names on them.

After our ‘tour’ of the home, my boyfriend and I spent a few moments in the great room with three of the girls. The eldest chatted politely, holding her book, and the two middle girls sat close to one another on the other end of the sofa, making conversation with another friend of ours who’d been invited to stay for Mass on Sunday. It was a bit overwhelming to be in the company of so many Catholics, and such well-behaved Catholic children. Keep in mind here that the eldest girl was middle-school age.

Then, of course, the 21-month-old boy ran through the house, babbling and shrieking as infants do, and the girls kept a patient and watchful eye on him, not calling him names, not sighing or complaining, just simply watching him, getting out toys for him to play with, talking to him. The mother, this whole time, was upstairs helping her husband pack for a business trip. She didn’t have to worry about her youngest, or the younger girls. They all knew their duties to be her helpers, and it was a wonderful thing to watch.

I also noticed that even their at-home attire was modest—though the girls were all in their nightgowns, they were long-sleeved nightgowns with an appropriate neckline, and most of them wore leggings beneath.

This was my first experience in an established Catholic home, and it was a strikingly different atmosphere than most homes that I’ve ever walked into. My boyfriend and I discussed everything we’d seen and learned, as we are taking our cues from the Catholic families who have gone before us. Hopefully God will give us more opportunities to discover what being a truly Catholic family looks like, and how we can implement these lessons no matter what our own circumstances may be (because it’s not looking like we’re going to have much to work with financially!). We do know a family closer to our age who have just had their second child, and we’ve visited their home before, so we know it’s possible even on a low income to make a home that is warm and welcoming and full of faith and prayer. I am thankful that God has given us this opportunity—we will need all the lessons we can get!

+Deo Gratias! Maria Gratias!+