STORY, Part 1

I've been reading Robert McKee's STORY. Though it's geared toward screenwriters, novelists can learn much about creating an engaging story. It gives example after example (from many different movies) about how to keep your audience riveted.

I'm not finished with the book yet, but when I do, I'll re-read all the penciled-in underlines, circles, and stars on the dog-eared pages.

Reading STORY has made me aware of many ways to make my stories better. I liked studying how to analyze a scene. I learned about the gap between expectation and result. I also like what he wrote about subtexting.

One thing I'll work on in my story is developing more clearly the gap between audience expectation and the on-screen (or on-page) result.

Next week, I'll post a practice scene to show what I learned.

Did I do something right?

There is a nearby Chinese restaurant that we frequent to pick up a bag of food and bring it home. In the big bag of food, they always include a small bag of fortune cookies. We've done this often enough for our kids to understand that you get to read your "fortune" when you break open a cookie.

This weekend, my husband and I brought home Chinese food again, and I left the paper from the cookie on the table. When the kids got home from school, they read it just out of curiosity. I looked at the paper a few hours later and there were words penciled on the back side of it.

The new fortune? "You will say No to your children."

My husband and I both laughed. Maybe we're doing something right.

Kids like to have boundaries, whether they realize it or not. They act better when they know the limits. Saying No is a loving teaching tool for little minds. When you do it well and relatively often, they learn to have appropriate behavior.

When I relate this to writing (you knew I would, didn't you), I look at the boundaries of the different genres. If I write a romance, it will not look like a psychological thriller. If my story wants to flee down a path that's not right, I'll have to pull the reigns and focus on the right path. I'm in charge of my story, although sometimes it doesn't feel like it. I need to let the story have the freedom it needs while staying within the genre boundaries.

Apparently I say No a lot. One of my children recognized that it was a word that would be said in my near future. She was right.

If I wait for the right moment, it's effective. If I say it too much, that weakens its power. I think that's true for most good answers.

I've already mentioned in a previous post about my rejection from an editor. Sometimes No is disappointing. Sometimes it proves that God is our Protector. No helps my children feel loved. No helps my story keep its focus.

There are times when parenting (and writing) feels really hard to do. And the other times - when I see the benefits of my efforts - give me the energy to press on.

The Tapestry of the Human Community

God heals, but not with only one method.

God reaches one person through the hands of another.

I have noticed that God weaves us into each others’ lives for a larger purpose than we can see. We connect with those around us, and whether we realize it or not, that connection is necessary to the connection of others.

The big picture is seen when the little pieces come together. No one lives his life untouched. Someone is always around to lead you or to see and follow you. God is the one supplying you with blessings. He is the one that created you to live in this day and time. Within your sphere of influence, where you go to be a blessing is up to you. Your obedience to God and enjoyment of the task He leads you to is up to you.

Focus on the people God has given you. How will you touch them, influence them, help them?

Should you blend in like a simple leaf on a tree or stand out like a red ball in green grass? The answer is not found in a whim or a list of likes and dislikes but in personal purpose.

If each of us does the job we were created for, our obedience will give pleasure to others while fulfilling our own purpose. The one who stands out like the ball was created to be noticed. The one who blends in like the leaf was created to give aid and comfort without being noticed. A boy runs into the back yard, sees the ball, and plays with it. When he’s tired and hot, he looks to the shade created by the leaves on the trees. Each purpose fulfilled. Each job appreciated.

If you are to stand out, remember no one stands alone. There are those who, like blades of grass, raise your feet onto their shoulders, enhancing your view. They support you in rest and catch you when you fall. If you are to blend in, there are those who will share with you their blanket of color. They add to your success, knowing one leaf cannot do it alone.

Do what’s in you. Do it with all you have. Do it knowing God is weaving you where He wills.

The Blue Ink Checkmark

What you can learn from a blue ink checkmark?

My only rejection letter was sent to me years ago in response to the only proposal I’ve ever sent to a publishing house.

I was writing a children’s book and asked a friend to do illustrations so the publisher would have a good idea of my intentions. I also worked on back cover copy and endorsements from real children. I thought I had covered my bases, so I sent it off.

After a while, my proposal came back to me with one sheet added to it. I read it slowly and carefully, hoping to glean as much information as I could from it. I don’t remember what the exact words were, but among them stood two fearsome letters: NO.

I got the message.

The sheet was a poor-quality copy and displayed a single blue ink checkmark hovering over one of the lines in a column of options. No signature. No suggestions. Only a single checkmark.

I was disappointed in my story’s failure to grab an editor’s attention, but I was more disappointed that all my effort was answered with so little ink.

Today, I know much more than I did then about the world of publishing. That checkmark sent me back to my copy of a writers’ magazine to look at the conference listings. I didn’t go to a conference right away, but ordered several conference tapes and listened to them. I took notes and listened again. I learned not only about the creative end of my chosen career, but also about the business end.

I eventually went to Glorietta Writers Conference. There, I got feedback on two other stories. The woman giving the critique told me much more than a checkmark ever could. No checkmark ever gave me a list of how to books to get me started down the right path. No checkmark ever challenged me to make changes and rewrite. All the checkmark told me was, “No.”

Now, as I think about it, I’m glad God gave me the stubborn attitude that urges me onward with, “When I see a NO, I’ll just turn it on its head so it’ll say ON.

I have pushed forward to other stories and other writers' conferences (Mount Hermon and ACFW). My current stories have proven that I'm growing. I only needed one NO to push me ON to the right path. I haven’t given up. I’m still learning. Maybe one day soon, an editor’s response will read, “Yes.”

Thanks, God, that You’re still leading me.