Laura Montgomery: An Inside Look

I found a nice little character questionnaire on Pinterest and since I’m already doing some character work on the protagonist for my Farm Story I thought I’d do this like a Beautiful People post.

  • What would completely break your character?

Feeling completely unnecessary. Except for her brother Laura has been alone most of her life. She craves companionship like some people crave cake. But she is painfully afraid of being unneeded by those she needs or by anyone at all. To know that if she were gone the world would go one much the same, that would break her. She knows people would miss her, but would they need her?

  • What is the best thing in your character’s life?

The new friendships she’s forming. She’s staying at a rest home where her schizophrenic aunt can be properly cared for and that has brought several new people into her life. Felix and his sister Rory are also staying at the farm and in them Luara finally has friends her own age. And then there are the children on the next farm over. They’re in quite the pickle and Laura is trying to help them stay together, dragging Felix in to help her. 

  • What is the worst thing in your character’s life?

Aside from her own crippling fears the worst thing in Laura’s life is the worst things in the lives of those around her. Felix is fighting to keep the rest home from being closed down, the Morris children are fighting to keep their family together, and the village of Greywater is fighting its own battles too. The worst thing in Laura’s own life is her firm conviction that the guy she’s falling for belongs with someone else.

  • What seemingly insignificant memories stick with your character?

One time she and her brother found seven wild apple trees right in a row in the back woods. They ate as many of the apples as they could, played at naval battles in the branches and then got violently sick. Laura has a vivid vivid memory of trying not to wake their mother with their unwellness for fear that she’d forbid them to go back.

  • Does your character work to have free time or fill their free time to get back to work?

Laura doesn’t work for a living. She takes care of her aunt but when she’s not doing that she writes. Not so much lately as she used to. He definitely has a sense sometimes that she keeps busy just to fill time.

  • What is she reluctant to tell people?

That she no longer feels like a writer.

  • What would cause your character to make a scene in public?

Injustice or cruelty. Someone making her angry. Laura has a temper and has never been stingy about showing it.

  • What would your character give their life for?

I don’t think Laura has anything she would give her life for. I think if in the moment she had to put herself in danger to save someone else she would do it, but it would be an unconscious reaction.

  • What are your character’s major flaws?

Fear, over thinking, trying to control stuff.

  • What does your character try to care about?

Her aunts. Much as she loves her and wants to help her she has to fight feeling resentful that she’s her aunt’s caretaker while her mother runs about being a society lady.

  • How does the image she tries to project differ from the one she actually projects?

She wants to come off as a thoughtful, confident person who is genuinely interested in others. Instead she comes off as an absentminded, insecure sort of person, stubborn but caring.

  • What is your character afraid of?

Being completely vulnerable and having nothing whatsoever to protect her from another person.

K-I-S-S

Keep It Simple Stupid. Or if you’re more polite “Keep It Simple for Success”.

So this past week I’ve been trying to realign the two projects I wanted to give up. I think I have both of them in a good place now. How? Simple.
That’s it. I made it simple. Both stories were drowning in excess storylines. Things I thought would be cool or wanted to try out. But my goal here is not to write everything at once, it’s to write two good books and finish two projects.

Confronted with acres of storyline and dozens of characters I took a deep breath and tried to figure out what to cull. A talk with my boyfriend got me past thinking I needed to scale down the stories’ stakes. It’s funny how the first reaction when writing something gets hard is to make it less awesome. Stories with nothing happening may be boring but they are easier to write.

As with most things it came down to focus. What was the focus of these stories? What had I originally been excited about? I had wanted a story about what it means to matter, and one about what happens if Romeo and Juliet survive. Using that as a jumping off point I crafted central storylines that only had to do with those things.

I would encourage any writer who wants to take their writing to the next level to read Write Your Novel From The Middle by James Scott Bell and to listen to season eleven of Writing Excuses. The former is an excellent discussion of the absolutely necessary elements of structure without any extra trimming and the latter is almost thirteen hours of professional writers talking about how to promise your readers what you are planning to deliver and how to deliver it, essentially how to figure out what you need to create the elemental building blocks of your story.

You don’t want to write a story that is all over the place, unsure of what it’s trying to say, too unwieldy for you to keep it in your head. Finding the core thread of your story will help emensly and the best way to do that is by figuring out what you want to evoke in the reader. What is keeping them turning the pages? The answer to that question forms your elemental building blocks, or the genre your story is in. I am not smart enough to explain how awesome thinking about your writing his way is, you should really all go listen to Writing Excuses.

I have two very short and streamlined outlines now. Once I drilled down to figuring out what needed to happen for my main characters to go through the growth arcs I wanted, the external conflicts fell into place. And better yet, the unnecessary storylines fell away.

This next week my goal is to rewrite the beginning of both stories and get the {simplified} casts introduced. Hopefully this will include foreshadowing the stories’ main themes in preparation for the main conflicts.

I AM FINISHING THIS and NO SERIOUSLY I MEAN IT 

So I never finish things. Oh sometimes I push all the way to the end. I’m just always convinced whatever I’m working on stinks (it probably does) and if I could only try something different it would work out. 

I’m an ENFP. That means I need a constant supply of people, understand big picture much better than details, make decisions based on my emotions, and hate boxes and rules. Writers are generally solitary, have to decide details constantly, can’t stop writing because they don’t feel like it, and (generally) need structure to keep themselves or their stories from going mad. 

Why on God’s blue earth (it’s mostly blue, peeps) do I do this? I’m truly, truly– almost hilariously– bad at it. I can’t remember the rules of punctuation, I still forget how to spell things, I have no grasp of how to make things flow, I get frustrated and take shortcuts, and above all I NEVER FINISH THINGS PROPERLY.

ENFPs are known for it. We’re supposed to be some of the most idealistic, creative people you’ll ever meet, who have the attention span of goldfish and who are more interested in a passing butterfly than in the project we’ve poured sweat blood and tears into for months. 

  Now obviously MBTI doesn’t determine our lives. But this picture fits me to a T. I am boundlessly curious, constantly bouncing from idea to idea to idea, and then I get so discouraged with the terribleness of my work compared to the glory of what I imagined and I move on to something else.  I know, I KNOW that this doesn’t work. And yet I keep doing it to myself. 

I’ve thought about stopping altogether. I’m not old enough or experienced enough to have much of importance to say anyway. Who needs my voice added to the thousands out there already screaming their opinions. What could I possibly have to say that would add anything to the discussion? 

But I love books. Plain and simple I adore books. I love stories and I want to make what I love. I love children and I want some of my own. I love well made food and I want to cook well. I love communities and I want to be part of them. But those are things that come very very easily to me. I know how to take care of children, I know how to figure out how to cook something, and I’m an intuitive feeling extrovert, moat hiding with people is just about as natural as it gets for me.

But I also love art. I adore it. I love the conversation of it. Artists speak to each other and build off each other and steal from each other and really good art it just… Gosh there are no words. It’s so so important. God made us in his image and into a story and so our natural instinct is to make things and stories. Books, visual arts, music, dance; I adore these things and to some extent I’ve tried to make all these things. And when it gets too hard I always move on to something else.

I’ve label two new documents in scrivener I AM FINISHING THIS and NO SERIOUSLY I MEAN IT. They are for my Romeo and Juliet retelling and my farm story. I do’t know that anyone really reads this blog anymore and if you do you’re used to my crazy. I’m just going to track my progress here. 

Step one is brainstorming two endings that are good and solid and not just lead ins to other books. I tend to leave my endings with openings for the book to turn into a series. Partly that’s because I always have ideas for a series (heh) and partly because endings are hard and leaving it open is easier. 

By this time next week I want endings, low points, midpoints, fateful decisions, and inciting incidents worked out for both these stories. And not just the first thing that pops into my head either. If you don’t know what those terms mean. Go look up the Hollywood formula. 

Novel Endeavor 

This is mostly just me rambling. Getting my thoughts out because when you can’t think of the words you want and you write anyway the words eventually come. 

So I write novels all the time. I think I’ve written somewhere between nine and fourteen in the past five and a half years. 

Most of them have had two main flaws. They were poorly written, and they were far too dramatic. The first only gets fixed with practice. The second I am making a concerted effort about.

For right now Romeo and Juliet is on the back burner and I have three projects two of which are undramatic. A story about a small fishing village dealing with refugees told through the eyes of of some orphans who have misplaced their guardian, a blocked writer, and a young man trying to get over the death of his parents. 

This story has some slightly gritty conflicts. I have a young unmarried mother, a woman with schizophrenia, and death in this story.  But the events {barring a short flight in a dirigeable} are decidedly undramatic. My setting is not exactly England during WWII but it’s a very close copy. 

Over the past few years I have followed a course of “read what you want to write”. Instead I am tying to write what I love to read. My favorite books are The Help, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Mitford, Pride and Prejudice, The Gurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and Gone With the Wind.  Only one of those is a genre book and most of them have very undramatic events indeed. 

It was hard for me to realize that I don’t really truly want to write about dragons anymore. At least not in the serious vein I was before. 

I want very badly to write something that matters. The trouble is it takes a great deal more wisdom and experience than I’ve got to that. I might as well try though. 

Genre books matter, of course, but the way I was writing them they didn’t. 

The second project is a series of very short retellings of fairytales. No more than five thousand words each. Each one has the potential to turn into a novel but I am studiously keeping them short. I am unsure of what exactly it is I’m trying to write and I want to try out several different things in hopes of hitting on it. These are dramatic but I’m hoping that by keeping them small I can avoid a lot of the bloated “what’s the point of all this” feeling my longer works were giving me.

The third project I’m not ready to talk about. But it is made up of a little lens looking at enormous things. 

My life has changed a lot recently. I fell in love with the most wonderful man in the world. I’ve been trying a lot of things lately that I thought I could never do. Music, trying to get stronger, conquering long held fears, getting my drivers license {seriously you have no idea how terrified I’ve been of driving} and that on a much larger scale is what love is, I think. Letting go of fear and the selfishness it brings. Loving is about the other person being far more important than anything that could possibly happen to you in pursuing their happiness. Being loved is reaching out in faith and taking what you are given. 

That’s what I want to write I think. Something about fear. Something about love. Something with summer in it and the smell of apples and music and the feeling of running even though you think you can’t possibly possibly give any more.

 Laura dipped her tired feet into the brook and let out a sigh. Sweat stuck her hair to the back of her neck. She had never worked harder in her life and they were still behind where they needed to be. In the back of her mind her pulse still throbbed Hurry, hurry, hurry.
Felix lay back in the grass and two seconds later was snoring. Laura slid his shoes off and pushed his hair back from his forehead. Of course he’d worked even harder than she had. Grover came out of the house and walked down the lawn towards them, feet making little shuffling sounds on the still warm grass. Moonlight spilled luxuriously over everything. 

“Miss Faith’s crying in her room again.” said Grover. 

Felix was awake, mid snore. “Bring her out here, Laura. Tell her I’m getting the telescope out and she’s just got to see the twin star I’m going to show you.”

Laura wanted to tell him he was too tired to be star gazing tonight, too tired to be making Faith forget her problems. 

Grover began to leap about like an enormously overgrown rabbit. “Can I carry the telescope Mr. Felix? Can I?”

Felix dug his wrists into his eyes. “Go right ahead, Grover. It’s at the floot of my bed.”

Laura watched Grover bound off. “Aren’t you afraid he’ll break it?”

Felix laughed. “If he does I won’t have to set it up.”

Emotion: the core of your story

An elevator pitch is a condensing of one’s story into one to three sentences so that it  is short enough to tell someone in the time it take to ride an elevator. There are books and articles written on how to find the salient point of your story and craft them so that they hook the person you are pitching to. It’s a difficult skill and most writers hate it, but it’s important and learnable.

The elevator pitch is what makes people go “ooh tell me more!” Sometimes it can be as simple as “Shakespeare with Dragons” or “a bunch of teens accidentally kidnap an emperor”. Or it can be a longer description like “Six orphans arrive at their new home only to find that their intended gaurdians have completely disappeared. In order to avoid being sent back to the orphanage the children must keep the local villagers from finding out. But with local politics heating up over a refugee crises and mysterious machines appearing in the woods, it’s hard for six well meaning children to stay under the radar.”

But much as I’ve come to enjoy crafting those kind of pitches I think there’s another kind that is more important; the pitch  you make to yourself. 

You want your reader to be interested enough to pick up the book? Get yourself a good elevator pitch. You want him to be interested enough not to put it down, you need an emotional pitch.

The Princess Bride is a spoof of a romantic fairytale complete with pirates, duels, and snarky comments by two separate narrators. But the thing that makes it such a great story is the dogged perserverence of the characters. No matter what huge unbelievable problems come in their way they just get up what they need and surmount them. That story works because he presents you with a clear goal for each of the characters and then had them practically kill themselves trying to reach it.

What makes you book matter? Find what makes your book interesting and you have a pitch, find what makes it matter and you have a story. 

When your readers put you book down what do you want them to feel? What do you want them to think? What do you want them to walk away with? This doesn’t need to be a lesson like “war is bad” or “monsters are not evil” rather the best stories leave you not with a thesis statement but with an emotion, or mix of emotions. 

To Kill a Mockingbird is not about racial prejudice being bad, or even that people shouldn’t make judgements about others. You get to the end and you are left feeling many bittersweet things and all of them make you want to be a better person. 

Find how you want your reader to feel and then don’t preach them a sermon, tell them a story that ends with that emotion. 

So I haven’t posted in forever

But I was playing around recently and came up with some snippets. These are from the Romeo and Juliet Story. Also in the works (but not pictured here) are a story for children and a story about children (which are not the same thing at all).

“I happen to be human!”

She stretched. “How dull, darling.”

“Eh but what are you then, Tabby-girl?”

“I haven’t decided between hellcat and angel.”

A soft chuckle. “Let me know when you choose.”

“We ain’t dying today. Sword point up, chin down, Mousling.”

“I’m taller than you shrimp-boy.”

“Aren’t we a bit old for the tortured prince bit?”

Julius snorted. “What an offensive and unnecessary thing to say.”

“Your hair is like silk at midnight… Julius you must stop writing poetry on the backs of the briefing memos. It’s giving everyone indigestion.”

Julius grinned. “Speaking of. Mia made dinner!”

“Every play needs a villain. Look! I come with my own evil smirk and apple.”

“I thought we were raging against fate and the stars.” 

“Do that next month.”

“And the worst of it is I have to  keep going out there day after day  and pretending that nothing has happened.” Julius flung another rock and this time there was a sound of breaking glass.

Baltazar swallowed. “Ay up. Stop skipping breakfast you’ll be grand.”

“You’re the sort that rattles the stars, Mia.”

Mia rolled her eyes and gave her skirts a last flounce.  “I’ll settle for giving the moon a good shake. Getting cheeky, that one.”

We rode hard. I thought about the chairs that should have held us instead of saddles, their arms empty and grinning. I grinned too. The sheep had run from their wolf-King.

“Caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaleb!”

An angry fox-colored mop of hair appeared around the edge of the chair’s wing. The man attached to it scowled. “My name isn’t a meal, girl! Talk to me and then shut the grey-goose-hound up!”

Bran swung the watch slowly back and forth, back and forth, it’s arc becoming a golden spiral, mesmerizing me. I almost didn’t notice when he began to speak.

“Now the mist. Now the raven. Now the bell and the grey mailed glove.”

I recognized Glys’s Chaos but dimly. It really seemed like the words of the legendary knight were meant for us and for our time.

“Grind teeth and settle, Feymire.Thunder comes down the valleys of Clae.”

Slowly, like a swimmer pulled from murky waters, I understood what he was suggesting. 

My startle knocked over the fire irons.

She looked like she wasn’t quite sure how you weren’t getting it. I wondered what “it” was and then realized that of course that was the whole point.

“We made a dragon out of stone, and tried to kill it with fire.” 

Snippets of NaNo (so far)

So we’re several days into NaNo and I have about 20,000 words written. I am loving this story and also completely terrified because I’M WRITING ROMANCE PEOPLE, WHAT IF I MAKE IT TOO MUSHY AND SOMEONE READS IT AND I DIE OF SHAME?  

But yeah other than that I’m having fun.

This is definitely the best book I’ve written in a long time. It might not be good but it’s better than my previous work and that’s got me over the moon. So I’m sharing snippets!

“A curious way you have of showing your reverence and esteem for the prince’s royal person,” drawled Luther, “attacking it with your own steel.”

“I would not harm a hair on his highness’s head.” Greyholm straightened. “However if the prince is worried I will not compel him to keep his bond. These affairs of honor are purely ceremonial.”

“I’ll bash your purely ceremonial head in for you,” said Julius. “Let me at him Luther.”

“You really have to stop interrupting people my prince. People will start thinking you’re more important than they are.”

Ins spite of himself Julius opened his mouth. “You look very lovely tonight Paris, your parents must be pleased with their investment.”

Paris curtsied deeply, “I hope you never say such things to the other girls my prince.”

“Not jealous, are you my lady? Are you afraid my affections are engaged elsewhere?”

Paris dimpled. “Oh I know they are, your highness. But I’m afraid you’ll hurt their feelings.”

“But not yours?”

“I don’t leave my feelings anywhere near your grubby hands your highness.”

“Son,” his father looked up from his paper strewn desk.

Julius blinked. He couldn’t remember the last time his father had called him son. 

“Come here.”

Julius mistrusted his appearance of kindness but he came there.

“Roses are roses even if you call them something else.” Julius called. 

Luther’s voice rumbled from inside the room. “Very poetic, my prince.”

“No I’m serious. “ Julius picked up another rock and flung it, this time aiming too high. It flew over the wall. “Suppose there were a law against roses. If I decided to grow a rose but call it a lily I wouldn’t be breaking the law but the Rose would still be a rose, right?”

“Your wit is startling.”

“Shut up, smart mouth. I mean if roses are roses no matter what you call them why hate something just because of its label?”

Luther came out onto the balcony and put his hand on Julius’ shoulder. “She’s not going to stop being Selkineese.”

Julius tossed a rock from one hand to the other. “When I spout poetic nonsense it’s not always a metaphor for my real life.”

Mia couldn’t see either boy’s face, both were in shadow, but she imagined Luther was raising his eyebrows sarcastically. She decided she liked Luther. 

He opened one eye and glared at her. ‘Back me up Luther, potatoes are Gods greatest gift to man.”

Luther continued to work. “Mind if I don’t look up while I recite the speech? It no longer requires my attention to say.”