Posts Tagged Writing

WRITING CHRONICLE #18: A note on Contest Submission & other accomplishments

Via: Daily Prompt – Unmoored

 

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So Friday I finally submitted my story for the Amazon UK Kindle Storytelling contest, as I had mentioned in last month’s blog. My planned 20K-word novelette turned into a 34,480-word project. You must be thinking, ooh… an editing crisis, right? Not so much, I hope. I kept everything that was relevant to get the story to the finish. I stuck to the plot outline, scripted only the scenes necessary to develop my characters, and did not embellish on the descriptive narratives. I stayed 100% flourish-free. At least, I tried.

This is how I can break down my work on this submission:  Read the rest of this entry »

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#AuthorToolboxBlogHop 02: First Impressions

Last week, in the 17th installation of my Writing Chronicles, I discussed the various ways to “Punish Your Protagonist“. I thought this week, I would make up for it by talking about how to Save the First Chapter.

Wherever you look, literary agents and editors impart a few golden rules: research the agent/editor before you submit your query, provide an economic-yet-comprehensive synopsis of your story in the cover letter, and make sure your manuscript is ready when you send in those first three chapters. In other words, try not to waste this rare opportunity to be read by a professional. Your book’s opening will decide if your story gets picked or tossed.

Getting the first chapter wrong is a piece of cake. We’re writers – an absentminded-yet-observant breed riddled with insecurities throughout our creative process and beyond. Even when we get the story right, we know it could have been better. It can always be better. But with a few simple precautions, that first chapter can be GOOD. What is better than good?

Here’s my two-cents’ worth to a workable first chapter:  Read the rest of this entry »

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WRITING CHRONICLE #17: Nine Ways to Punish Your Protagonist

Via: Daily Prompt – Exposed

 

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Image: Wikimedia

My life is perfect. Said no one ever. If they did, they’re lying. Human beings aren’t happy until they are bogged down by burdens and bellyaching about it something awful. Be it loud as a hungry cat or as passive-aggressive as my mother. [Hey! I love my mother but she gives me plenty of reasons to complain.]

See? We are never entirely happy and without troubles and flaws. This includes a writer with all expenses covered and the only task to accomplish is finish composing novels to publish and sell. So if the author’s life isn’t perfect, and the readers’ lives aren’t perfect, why should the hero and heroine have it easy?

No one wants to read about people who have it made. Stories are driven by characters and their challenges. Having too much sympathy for your heroes and heroines is equivalent to tying the proverbial noose around the shelf life of your book. You were too kind to your protagonist while writing? Well, get ready to have your readers write off your protagonist.

The solution? Make it hurt and make it count. In other words, make your characters believable and garner enough sympathy – even for that evil douchebag – to make them memorable. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find causes for their miseries – after all, we humans manage to complain about even the best of gift horses.

Easiest is making life difficult for the protagonist. Heroes and heroines tend to hold very deep-seated values, even the anti-heroes/heroines. Ego and integrity raise the stakes for them. Here are some great ways to drive that stake deep enough to leave your character with a gaping wound (by the way, gender-neutral usage of the terminology ‘hero’ henceforth):  Read the rest of this entry »

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WRITING CHRONICLES #16: Finding Focus

Via: Daily Prompt – Root & Blanket

I have decided that procrastination might be the primary vice of my writing career. I used to think I was too preoccupied with my corporate responsibilities but. now that I have switched to writing full-time, I realize the problem is that I can find ways to become preoccupied with just about anything. The burning question is how can a person who loves writing as much as I do be so out of sorts with the writing itself.

Well, I know how. Fear is at the root of my problem. I keep stalling because becoming a novelist is something I always wanted to excel in. Even with my multiple fallback plans, I have stored all my eggs in this basket. Honestly? I don’t want to have to resort to those fallback plans. The pressure is real. Hence, even though I can, in theory, believe in my writing capabilities, living by that faith is a whole other ballgame. Even when what I write seems to satisfy me, I keep wondering what if it’s not good enough.

Resulting in all the bottlenecking of my creative endeavors.

There are some ground rules I try to follow to jar me out of my whack. Mostly, it is to keep me from lulling myself into the fear sinkhole. They work too. Often enough to share the list of precautions with my fellow writers:

Read the rest of this entry »

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #16: Mr. Church starring Eddie Murphy, Britt Robertson, and Natascha McElhone

Via: Daily Prompt – Roots

mr-church-posterTitle     Mr. Church

Starring     Eddie Murphy, Britt Robertson, and Natascha McElhone

Director     Bruce Beresford

Writer(s)    Susan McMartin

Genre     Comedy Drama

Release Date     September 16, 2016

Filming Location     Los Angeles, California, USA

Parental Guidance     PG-13 for thematic elements

IMDB Rating     7.7

Synopsis: In 1971, 10-year-old Charlie Brooks (Natalie Coughlin) wakes up one morning to find “a black man cooking in their kitchen”. Mr. Henry Joseph Church (Eddie Murphy) is the cook Richard, her mother Marie’s (Natascha McElhone) ex-lover, hired to take care of Marie for the next six months that she has to live while cancer consumes her. Charlie, who is unaware of her mother’s condition, is immediately put on edge by the absent Richard’s overstepping their privacy to place this mysterious man in their home though his meals are “like a party all the time” and her friends all cotton onto the advantages of having a cook quickly. Mr. Church raises a lot of conflicting emotions in Charlie with his jazz and his books (that he offers to lend books to Charlie from like a library) and, especially, his cooking. Over time, Charlie gives in. Six months turn into six years and Marie continues to live while Mr. Church continues to take care of them. An older Charlie (Britt Robertson) is now an avid reader, a student who has been accepted to Boston University but might not be able to go due to financial constraints, and she is weary of expecting her bed-ridden mother to pass on any minute. She avoids her mother even as she checks her breathing to ensure she lives and finds solace in the presence of Mr. Church, to whom she has latched onto as the surviving parent. But Mr. Church remains a mystery as much as ever and protects his off-duty hour whereabouts determinedly. Friendship has bonded the three into a family and Mr. Church is ever-present to soften the blows while Charlie ventures onto adulthood and navigates its many curveballs.

Experience (a few spoilers): I have always loved Eddie Murphy, ever since I watched a re-telecast of Coming to America on TV when I was about ten/eleven. So I put on Mr. Church fully expecting him to live up to his acting prowess and he did not disappoint. Generally a comic actor, Murphy put on his drama mask with the grace and appeal that made me want to run a Murphy Marathon featuring all his classics.

From the get-go, he had me hooked. The quiet efficiency with which he chopped and stirred and sauteed in the kitchen to his gracious compassion for the young Charlie and her sick mother. The character is beautifully written and presented, not needing to be thanked but doing his best to fit into the lives of this pair without trying to do any more than his job. But behind his humility lurks humor, which peeks out whenever he presents a dish to Charlie and watches her battle with herself to continue rejecting him while devouring his food.

Here, I must say something about the child actor. I truly enjoyed Coughlin’s performance as well. Short as her part was, she brought that sweetness to the character that made me feel more sympathetic towards young Charlie than annoyed, which could easily have happened given the level of her hostility. Though often rude with the openly belligerent rejection of Mr. Church, Charlie was apparently a kind soul in her heart, if wary. And even though the movie did not explore the angle that the advent of Mr. Church denoted her mother’s inability to keep up with chores, hence harking her imminent demise, I believe Charlie’s distrust may have stemmed from such intuition. In any case, every time Coughlin’s big blues rounded at the sumptuous food laid before her, I felt like giving her the auntie-cuddle.

The older Charlie did not always inspire as much hold though I could also like her fairly enough. It must be the overall sense of goodness that emanated from Charlie’s character, from childhood to adulthood. I could feel sympathy for her teen self as she transferred her sense of security to Mr. Church while trying to deal with her mother’s (a woman she continued to believe the most beautiful woman on earth) impending death. Her withdrawal is real and her acceptance of life’s pitfalls also feels real. Robertson does a good job performing the role of the watchful-yet-retiring teenager and later the transgressing-and-learning adult. She is the character that has to grow and Mr. Church is the rock on which she founds herself.

McElhone did a great job in playing a woman trying to make the most of her last days with her daughter. The mother’s love is apparent and there is a particular scene in the bathtub that she performed superbly. The scene could easily have turned sappy but Marie’s struggle to make her daughter understand the importance of not giving up on life while waiting for death felt chokingly real. She depicted physical weakness while trying to muster emotional strength as she confesses her biggest regret is something beyond her control. I think that is the scene that dotted her t’s and crossed her i’s for McElhone’s take on Marie’s role.

The overriding themes of this movie, home, acceptance, and friendship, is so beautifully slipped into the consciousness that even when tragedies strike, it’s ok – reassurance is just around the corner. It is as though the Mr. Church’s personality permeates the plot. It is one of those stories where nothing much happens other than life, and we are reminded every phase of the film that in life, tragedy is part and parcel of happiness. It allows the audience to realize that it’s not so bad. I cried many times through the movie but there was a joy. I felt peace. And the lovely way the scenes were scripted and directed, it did not allow any of the actors to overstep their roles. The steadiness with which the story progressed, I could have watched it for hours more. Again, it was as though Murphy’s portrayal of Mr. Church toned the entire movie, even the frames where he wasn’t present. And Robertson’s character did its best to compliment, reminding us that home is where you can trust to put your roots down.

Recommendation: Oh, yes, you must! Whenever you feel a bit down on luck, this movie is sure to make you feel more grounded. Although I really missed Murphy’s toothy grins, it might be my favorite movie of his now.

 

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #15: Zootopia

Via: Daily Prompt – Chuckle

1yzlawykxzzhydogjcqovq0gvycTitle     Zootopia

Starring     Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman and Idris Elba

Director     Byron Howard, Rich Moore

Writer(s)    Byron Howard, Rich Moore, et al.

Genre     Animation Adventure Comedy

Release Date     March 4, 2016

Filming Location     USA

Parental Guidance     PG

IMDB Rating     8.1

Synopsis: Judy Hopp (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a bunny rabbit. She’s the daughter of a farmer expected to become a farmer but she’s also an anomaly. She has taken the motto of the city Zootopia to the heart and truly believes anyone can become anything, regardless of their species of origin. And she wants to become a police officer. Her sheer determination gets her through police academy with top marks and she is recognized especially by the Mayor Lionheart (J.K. Simmons) of Zootopia, with the Assistant Mayor Bellwether, an under-appreciated lamb, as her staunchest supporter. Unfortunately, Judy’s new boss Chief Bogo the ram is not as convinced of her capabilities of facing danger and sets her up as a meter maid. Undaunted, Judy takes the criticism, however uncalled for, in her stride and is determined to prove herself. Once on the streets, she meets a fox, generally distrusted, Nick Wilde, whom she unwittingly helps con an ice cream parlor to selling him a popsicle that he goes on to melt and sell in bite-sized ones to corporate hamsters. When she catches up with Wilde, he describes how he was always within the limits of the law and goes on to set her down about her dreams. One night of reflection later, Judy finds herself in a chase for a thief and, instead of receiving Bogo’s approbation, she is reprimanded for public endangerment. It is while in his office she meets Mrs. Otterton (Olivia Spencer) whose husband has gone missing and Judy volunteers for the task against Bogo’s orders on the condition of finding the missing otter within 36 hours. As Judy sets out on her adventure, roping in Nick through blackmail, she discovers that the missing otter is linked to a series of other predators that have gone missing. Along the way, she learns just how much prejudice exists even in the city where only 20% of the population are predators and how political agendas are achieved by manipulating public sentiments.

Experience: I really enjoyed this one. I have never been an advocate of mollycoddling children, believing that kids should receive small dosages of perspectives on the true evils in the world from an early age, so as to allow them to appreciate the value of integrity and inclusion as they grow older. This movie is just such an eye opener and in a very spirited and funny way so as not to completely disillusion the younger audience.

Even though the themes of the movie were very adult, they were presented in such a lighthearted manner that does credit to Disney’s trademark sentiments. Add to that Bateman’s natural comedic flair and the movie just sparked with spirit. Goodwin too performed her part in providing the voice for Judy with great aplomb, making certain scenes rife with poignancy while others as plucky as the character required.

The other characters too are not too complicated and make the experience heartwarming. To a great extent, each character pays a tribute to the stereotype of their kind, the hard-to-impress police chief, the donut-chomping info desk cop, the wily-as-a-fox fox who is essentially a good guy but jaded to the point of petty criminal, the scared-of-her-boss assistant mayor, the brave mayor who isn’t afraid to play in the mud for “the greater good”, etc. But each of these stereotypes also breaks character here and there to add dimensions. I felt this a clever way to show kids how individuals can be more than their traditionally expected roles and to also allow them to aspire to become their greater selves. All is not as it seems is a great tool for whodunit mysteries and was fully utilized in this movie – although my childhood conditioning to Nancy Drew mysteries helped me guess the villain’s identity before the movie was halfway to end. *cocky grin here*

I also felt that the movie was a very timely release for the great election last year since parents will watch the movie with their kids and a lot of people had very important decisions to make. Addressing themes of prejudice, political manipulations, finding the courage to admit one’s own wrong-doing, and pure deception went well with the contemporary mood of the world population in general. The end lessons very relevant to some audience’s learning process. And while adults learned, it could help children make more sense of the way the world is turned on itself too and perhaps find the courage to improve the conditions in their own time.

And since it’s a kid’s movie, I feel it is necessary to comment on age-appropriate content. Violence and bad words exist in real life so violence and bad words exist in the movie too. But it is kept toned down while also not made unrealistic. Words such as “stupid” and “jerk” are used but the harm of using such words are quickly followed so kids should pick up on lessons not to use it. An eye does go missing and chemical weapons are also used, but only to demonstrate the evildoing by the villains. Parents, watch the movie with your kids – a follow-up discussion might be necessary. The PG is there to alert you of your required participation.

Recommendation: Without a doubt, it should be watched, by young and old alike. With such contemporary themes, everyone should walk away with some positive reinforcement to important life lessons.

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WRITING CHRONICLE #15: Contest! & #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Via: Daily Prompt – Climbing & Jolt

kindle-storyteller

I have been very erratic about posting on the blog recently. It’s because I’m preparing for a writing contest! Amazon UK has launched a writing competition, the Kindle Storyteller literary prize, and I’ve decided to give it a go. Aside from the £20,000 cash award, it also offers the opportunity of being recognized in a well-publicized platform and a book marketing contract by the sponsors. The money is tempting but the glory would be nicer. That’s one way up the ladder, right?

Now, here’s the thing. No way am I delusional enough to believe that I’m winning. But it will ensure that the judges will read my story and who knows, I may pick up a contract anyway. The award program was announced last February but for some reason, I only received the reminder e-mail, which was sent last week. And the entry closes on May 19! It has to be a previously unpublished story of minimum 5,000 words (which is manageable). I had thought of putting in one of my short stories (we fiction writers always have a few completed works lying around) but decided I was to write a fresh one.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Wednesday Reflections #14 – The Witches of New York by Ami McKay

Via: Daily Prompt – Pleased

20053031Title     The Witches of New York

Author     Ami McKay

Genre     Historical Fiction, Paranormal Fantasy

Publisher      Knopf Canada

Publication Date      October 25, 2016

Format      eBook

Setting     New York, 1880

ISBN     978-0-307-36678-8

Synopsis: In the year 1880, as suffragettes roamed the streets of New York demanding civil rights and Cleopatra’s Needle slowly made its way from the banks of Hudson River to Greywacke Knoll, witches and witch hunts were far from being a thing of the past. But just as the settlers of Salem misdirected their fear and abuse, the religious fanatics of the Gilded-Age failed to appreciate the value of suffragettes and witches alike, in differentiating them as well as realizing their commonalities. At a time like this, Beatrice Dunn, a country orphan living with her spinster aunt responds to an advertisement placed by two self-sufficient witches, Eleanor St. Clair and Adelaide Thom, to help around their shop of alternate solutions to womanly woes, St. Clair & Thom: Tea & Sympathy. Beatrice’s arrival in New York City coincides that of the Egyptian Obelisk and her first adventure in the city is to touch the monument, her innate magic only serving to draw from its magic. Sensing her as a kindred sister, she is hired by Eleanor immediately, though Eleanor had first objected to Adelaide’s ad. Adelaide is slower to be convinced and only accepts Beatrice when the younger woman demonstrates an ability to see and communicate with netherworld dwellers. Adelaide takes on Beatrice as a show-stopper for their enterprise while Eleanor sees the girl as a magical apprentice to be honed and cherished. As the more experienced witches go about passing on their wisdom and craft to the newly initiated, and Beatrice tries to navigate between the two people looking out for her “best interests”, a sinister predator lurks in the background. Reverend Francis Townsend is a preacher revered by his parish for his austere regulations, but when no one is looking, he takes it upon himself to punish and rid the world of “devil worshipers”. And he is on the warpath to save the lovely Beatrice who has been “bewitched” by the ladies of the tea shop.

Experience: The first thing I noticed while reading this book was McKay’s unique writing style. With descriptive short sentences, she very economically sets up and explores the setting of the novel, flitting from scene to concise scene. It gives the readers glimpses of the various active characters (minor as well as major) of the plot from the get-go. At first, I was not able to comprehend why so many different characters were being introduced at once (I lost my place in the novel numerous times) but, eventually, the bigger picture began to form. It helped me, as a writer, to see how completely unrelated characters may go through the world [i.e. of the novel] to coalesce in a series of events that provides deeper exposure into the main characters of the plot. Once I managed to settle down with the book, I could appreciate the nuances of the various heroines, their counterparts, and the villain better. But it took me a while to settle down.

I think my favorite character of the novel was Adelaide Thom, who is apparently the heroine of a previous book, “Moth” in The Virgin Cure. Adelaide is not a typical heroine of all goodness. She has been abused by life, having lost an eye and been left with the scars from an acid attack by a jealous mad woman, and this has left her heart riddled with cynicism. She is often self-serving and refuses Eleanor’s (who really is the mothering type of good sort) advice as well as her magical visions when it suits her immediate agenda. This brews the main conflict of the novel and inadvertently propagates the climax. But essentially, she has a good heart and can be kind to those in need of kindness. What makes her interesting is her wholly unapologetic claim to procure that which she believes she wants and deserves, perfectly in line with the background activity of the suffragettes. The happy aspect is that while she runs from romance, she manages to find the perfect hero for herself in this book, a man with an equal number of imperfections but an open-minded and perhaps more compassionate spirit.

However, the novel is not without flaws. I felt that although the various glimpses into minor characters added to the main character developments, effectively the mystery of the novel was lost a little too early in the novel. While the arrangement of the chapters was such that it jumped from character to character so that each aspect of the story developed parallel to the others to accommodate the passage of time, but it left me a bit frustrated to have to keep breaking off just when things start to get interesting. Perhaps it also intended to keep the pages turning but it, in fact, made me slower to adhere to the novel with any form of gusto. I could easily put aside the novel and pick it up later (in fact, at one point I completely left to read another book), and by the time the story returned to one character development, the interest was lost. The whole business made it a very slow read.

Recommendation: This is a tough one. Although I found the story pleasant enough, if the purpose of reading is to be enthralled by a page-turning plot, I say leave off. Our TBR lists are long enough and those seeking entertainment are better off without this book. However, if you are a writer and wish to explore new writing styles and voices to find your place in the authorship, this might provide an interesting experience.

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WRITING CHRONICLES #14: Mysteries of Life

Via: Daily Prompt – Heal

If ever I coveted a superpower, it would be omniscience. I hate not knowing. Absolutely hate it. Each time I learn something new, my sense of accomplishment is so overpowering that I walk around and go to bed with a smile that would give Mona Lisa a run for the money. My engine runs on knowledge and I think it is what keeps me alive. I think this is the reason why I have a fondness for heroines with active brain matters.

I was once accused by a man that I cannot commit to a relationship because romance novels have filled my head with ideas of an implausible hero. This is an unjust accusation to both me and romance novels. First of all, romance novels are awesome and therapeutic. They set standards for both men and women as individual human beings and not for the sake of a relationship equation. There are no ratios to romances and each story is as different from the other as the two persons it comprises of.

Second, I have no problem committing to a relationship. My current manfriend was once my boyfriend, i.e. when we started dating 12.5 years ago he was still in his early twenties resisting to relinquish his late teens. So I think for a person who remained in a relationship without demanding to be made an honest woman out of, I deserve not to have gamophobia thrown outright in my face. My problem is not knowing what will happen after. I don’t fear divorce, I don’t fear unhappy endings. I just can’t abide going into anything without knowing the end result, whatever that may be. When I used to sit in exam halls, I would grade my own paper before handing it in – and I was pretty accurate in my gauges most of the time.

All this doesn’t mean that I’m a person who enjoys using knowledge to put others down, as know-it-alls are prone to do. Nope, I admire people who ask questions to blot out ignorance because I’m one of them. It also doesn’t mean that I go nosing in other people’s business. Other people’s businesses have generally interested me very little throughout my life, to the point where when I recently visited my grandma, I was shocked to learn that my youngest cousin from Mom’s oldest sister now has a two-year-old daughter. And this was not the only family news I had been oblivious to. I couldn’t apologize enough when the level of my callous indifference towards my relatives unfolded at the dinner table where four generations of labors of love were gathered. I’m just a bit interested in the general stuff – you know? knowledge stuff.

You can say my craving for knowledge borders on OCD. I eat peanuts out of a bowl even after I have lost any taste for it just to discover that perfectly sweet crunch. In fact, I cannot open any pack of snacks without hitting the bottom. That motto for Pringle, “Once you pop, you just can’t stop”? Yep, I’m the poster girl for that commercial. I just have to reach the end, even if the ending has been tried, tested, testified to be invariable. Now, thanks to boxed DVDs and Netflix, I also do not watch TV series until the season comes to a conclusion.

Why am I revealing my greatest weakness to the general public? Because it is also the source of my love for reading and writing novels. I love reading romance novels, instead of living one because I know the damn ending. Even if Will Traynor died and conveniently left Louisa Clark all that money to make her dreams come true in Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You, at least we know he will die. The knowledge that the end holds is at our fingertips. And the only place where I may be omniscient is a novel of my own creation, right? Ah, sweet relief.

Must be nice to be God.

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Andy’s Green-eyed Monster

Via: Daily Prompt – Denial

 

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Image: Pixabay

“I think the table is slanting on your side, love,” Bob observed. “Yep. Look at the water in my pitcher. It’s definitely tipped towards you.”

Andy squinted at Bob as she chewed her burger and swallowed. “C’mon, Bob. Let me push some of this stuff onto your side.”

The table was laid in halves. There was Bob’s side, which contained a big bowl of salad – full of crisp romaine, shredded roast chicken, and diced watercresses in a blue cheese dressing – a glass, and a pitcher of ice water, immaculate as his appearance. He would be having a black coffee later. Then there was Andy’s side, laden with a dish of tomato soup, a double patty cheeseburger with the works, a large basket of fries dribbled with salt and vinegar, and a whipped cream topped peach cobbler, the list ending with an ironic Diet Coke. She had an extra plate to pilfer some of Bob’s salad onto. She couldn’t go without her daily intake of the greens.

“No bloody chance,” Bob now shot down her wheedling with a chuckle. “Serves you right for ordering more than you can eat.”

“Oh, puh-lease! I can easily pack away all of it, you just watch. I worked up an appetite in the ring.”

Bob arched an eyebrow, his usual firm smile in place. “Yes, kicking my butt should do that.” He didn’t look like he minded in the least having his butt kicked by a woman as he forked up some lettuce and crunched into the freshness.

He had such great teeth, bright, straight, strong, healthy. Like the rest of him, Andy muttered to herself as she bit into the only type of beef she could allow herself to enjoy. It was the first week of the month. Her period was due any day now. Must explain why she was feeling so… ravenous.

“Tell me what has you so worked up?”

Andy started at his question, blushing profusely. “W-what?”  Read the rest of this entry »

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