Monday evening, I attended an event courtesy of the Castle Rock Writers. They host a "One Monday a Month" workshop on writing-related topics.
Multi-published author Pam McCutcheon spoke on Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. Debra Dixon developed this concept and published it in a workbook type format. If you are a writer of genre fiction, this book should be on your shelf.
Some writing craft books have a philosophical bent. Goal, Motivation and Conflict (GMC) is meant to be put into service. Pam writes fiction, but she also sits on the other side of the desk in her role as an editor for publishers. A lot of the problems she sees could be solved with GMC.
The bare bones premise is that each major character needs their own GMC:
Goal - what they want
Motivation - why they want it
Conflict - why they can't have it
They have an internal and an external GMC. The one is on more of an emotional level while the other is tangible.
Sound simple? Try dissecting your own story, and clearly stating each character's GMC. Don't worry - the book gives plenty of examples from movies you have most likely seen.
Pam emphasized that motivation is the greatest obstacle she sees to creating a good story. She gave the example of the heroine all alone in a spooky house, armed with nothing but a candle, who goes toward the banging sound in the attic. Pam called this the "too stupid to live" heroine. Make the reader believe her motivation by making her flee something worse behind her, that drives her toward the sound in the attic.
"You can make your reader believe anything," Pam said, "if your character has a strong enough motivation."
Pam also discussed the Dominant Impression phrase. This is an adjective + descriptive noun to sum up each major character. For example, Han Solo in Star Wars is a cocky smuggler.
I thought I was almost finished with my newest work-in-progress. I see now that I need to go back and tweak my major characters' GMC. Doing the exercise in class, I realized one character was where she needed to be, another could be strengthened, and the third had several missed opportunities for stronger motivation.
The photo has nothing to do with my blog topic. I thought you might enjoy seeing one of the ice sculptures on display in Cripple Creek last weekend. Despite the warm temperatures, the ice sculptures endured. See more photos in the slideshow below.
How do writers spend an unexpected holiday from the day job? Working on their fiction, of course!
I had Presidents' Day off as a paid holiday yesterday. My husband had to work. I envisioned my usual routine when this happens, spending an entire day on the computer, grinding away on my fiction. I certainly have enough projects to keep me busy.
But one of my 2016 resolutions is to pace myself. I spent half the day working on my fiction. Midday, I met my writing friend and marketing mentor Liesa Malik for coffee in Castle Rock. We noticed an Italian restaurant next door, and opted for a real lunch instead of coffee shop fare.
Rose's Bella Cucina had just unlocked the door. The staff had not recovered from the Valentine's Day crowd the previous day. The waiter was extremely gracious, allowing us to sit at a table and chat while the restaurant readied for the lunch crowd. We spent over two hours talking about the craft and business of fiction while enjoying an amazing Mediterranean pizza and a salad large enough to feed a family.
When we first sat down, Liesa opened her satchel and extracted two writing books and a notepad. I was in for a treat as she shared recently acquired knowledge about making our websites more appealing and hunting for an agent. We discussed strategies for finding homes for our orphaned third novels. On the craft side of the discussion, I offered advice on learning the art of the short story.
Liesa is amazing at brainstorming marketing strategies. I felt lost as she began a quest to pinpoint our target audience. As authors of amateur sleuth murder mysteries, we are trying to attract the same readers. The attempt felt hopeless to me, but Liesa persisted. Before long, she had a list of qualities we think our readers share. Then the creative juices really began to flow. Liesa jotted down potential ways to draw readers to our websites. Readers visit an author's site to learn more about his or her books, sure, but a tedious buy-my-book plea turns people off. We're competing with other authors, and information overload. What will bring our readers back? You'll see some of these ideas implemented in the next few months.
Liesa has an infectious optimism, which is refreshing in the tough business of publishing. We discussed the pursuit of the next phases of our fiction writing careers. She pushed me to think of new possibilities. When she pitched one idea to me - writing non-fiction articles - I insisted it wouldn't work. I didn't have the time. As we continued talking, I realized I was already following her suggestion, in a different way. I write articles for Pikes Peak writers, and share informative blog posts on writers' loops. I do this for free.
Brainstorm - Liesa talked about self-publishing writing how-to articles. I have heard other folks pitch this idea. Definitely something to look into.
After our long lunch break, Liesa and I parted ways. When I arrived home, what did I do? Jump back into polishing a novel, of course!
Monday, February 1st - day one of a mammoth snowstorm in Colorado Springs. The schools are closed. My company, which has closed due to weather once in its twenty-five year history, sends workers home early.
I planned ahead, bringing my computer home just in case. Good foresight. As I sit at my dining room table, watching out the window, several neighbors diligently shovel walks and driveways. More snow is predicted.
Tuesday, February 2nd - day two of a snowstorm that has shut down the city. During a respite in the falling flakes, it seems every man in the neighborhood, or his teenage son if so blessed, is outside shoveling. Not being sexist here, folks. I don't see any women outdoors.
My husband joins them. Three fellows have snowblowers. He is among them. The driveway and sidewalk have filled in from yesterday's battle. The shovelers are the foot soldiers, while the snowblowers sound like tanks driving over the frozen battlefield.
The young man next door shovels more than his own sidewalk, working his way uphill. His boxer is delighted with the activity. He trots along behind, stepping where the walk has been cleared. Only a foolish dog would leap into the snow, piled several feet high on front yards and in the street.
The three foot drop from our lawn to a gravel flower garden is invisible, buried under a drift. The flakes are still falling. The teenager across the street plows on. I watch, horrified, as his father shovels snow off their roof. Poor kid. All his hard work is being buried as he watches. Oh, there he goes, clearing the driveway from the rooftop assault.
The battle will be lost, until warmer temperatures in days to come. One lesson we have learned is that snow packs hard under tires. If we don't shovel the driveway, we suffer from mini-glaciers that refuse to melt until the temperatures reach the fifties. Impervious to shovels, these serve as badges of shame, a testament to laziness. There can be no negotiation with a driveway piled high with snow.
The snow continues. The battle rages. A hot cup of tea awaits the return of my tank commander.
The final tally for the storm - eighteen inches. A few more inches greeted us Thursday morning, as if to remind us winter is not over yet. The streets in our neighborhood were still nearly impassable four days after the storm. We are hopeful the heat wave of forty and fifty degree weather predicted for the next few days will thaw out the piles of snow remaining. Despite our best efforts, a glacier developed in the shady part of our driveway.
The arrival of gardening and seed catalogs remind me that it will be spring again, someday.
The email broke the news as gracefully as possible, considering the circumstances. Five Star is ending their mystery line.
The good news is that two novels in my Rock Shop Mystery series found a home with the publisher: Stone Cold Dead (2013) and Stone Cold Case (2015). Both will be available indefinitely as e-books on Amazon, and for now may still be purchased in hardcover.
The bad news is that the third, Stone Cold Blooded, is stuck in limbo. I missed being in the last batch of mysteries published by Five Star. This is disappointing because I had planned to conclude the series with this novel.
Working with Five Star editors Alice Duncan, Deni Dietz, and Tiffany Schofield was terrific for a first time author. Like your first real job in the working world, it should be an exciting learning experience. It was. Now I can take those lessons to my next job.
Big Changes require a new game plan. Here are the lessons I will apply to my next move.
#1) Always have a backup plan.
Smart people do not settle comfortably into their careers. They keep their resumes updated and maintain business contacts that could land them their next job. For authors, these are your peers in professional writing groups, and the editors and agents you meet at workshops and conferences.
Even people who are happy with their current position are constantly scouting for the next opportunity.
#2) Don't put all your eggs in one basket.
Gone are the days of going into your first job and remaining there until retirement. It happens, no doubt, but the current job market encourages mobility. If you want to move up, move on.
This applies to the publishing world, too. Sure, there are those rare exceptions who make a career on one novel. Most of us have multiple stories to tell, and ambitions that go beyond book one.
I would be devastated if the Rock Shop Mystery series was my only fictional egg. After completing Stone Cold Blooded, I began rewriting a novel that has been sitting on a shelf for several years. Now that I have two published novels under my belt, I have the confidence that I can turn this new story into something exciting, and find it a publishing home.
I also write short fiction. My second Charles Harrison story, "The Chemistry of Heroes," is scheduled for the May 2016 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, which goes on sale 3/29/16. I plan to devote more time to writing short stories this year.
3#) Keep Calm and Carry On.
Five Star authors have commiserated in person, on blogs, and in online writing loops. Trying situations cause different reactions. Most have responded with the attitude that they are writers first and foremost. The desire to create new stories will find a new outlet.
Many of us were caught in the middle of a series. Other publishers may be reluctant to pick up a series in progress. There are small presses that might like to take a chance on a continuing storyline. Another possibility for Stone Cold Blooded is self publication. People want to know what happens next. I intend to get the third and final book out there for my readers.
Final Thoughts: Frequently, what at first seems like a setback turns into a step up. For former Five Star mystery authors, the key is to make that next career move with deliberation. Create your new game plan, and carry on.
If you've been wondering about the origin of Keep Calm and Carry On, here is an article on its history:
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