VideoPlay

Eighteen Years Ago, We Put a Crib Together

I remember this. We were so excited to be putting the nursery together for our first born.

(Forgive my insanely high hair – for some reason, I felt I needed to wear it that high. You wouldn’t believe how much Rave hairspray I went through on a weekly basis. But then again, if you’re a a product of the 80’s, maybe you would).

We still have that crib, it’s up in our attic. Whenever Kevin cleans the attic out, he always suggests we get rid of the crib and I always tell him, in no uncertain terms, that we will NOT be getting rid of that crib – ever. I want to use it for our grandchildren.

Some day. No hurry.

Our firstborn will be 18 in a few short weeks.

I’m not sure how that is possible, considering THIS just happened a few weeks ago.

ADDED: Wait. Kevin just told me that this kind of crib is now illegal because children can get caught between the mattress and the slats.

……………

Maybe we WON’T be using this for our grandchildren. *sad face*

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo Workshop – Plot

This post was originally published on Write Anything, October 22, 2008.

Welcome back to Write Anything NaNoWriMo workshop week!

Plot happens. Or in my case, it doesn’t happen enough.

I apologize for the lateness of this post, but plot … *insert heavy sigh here* is indeed my Achilles heel.

I normally have no problem finding ideas, settling on a (vague) character or finding that character’s voice, but plot … I have a problem with.

I think, at heart, I’m a short story writer. I can whip out short stories like nobody’s business, but when it comes to stories longer than 4,000 words? My brain completely locks up. I never know where to go, which way to turn and my stories tend to veer off the main highway and before long, I’m out in the middle of rural imagination land scratching my head and wondering how in the world do I find the road back to my original premise.

So, writing about plot? Is NOT an easy thing for me. However, I’ll try my best to make this post coherent and informative – for both you AND me. (And if you have anything to add, you’re MORE than welcome to do so!)

Plot, in essence, is the board, or frame, for your story puzzle pieces. You take an idea, snap on a few characters, insert them into a POV, border it with conflict and voila! You have a plot for your story.

Oh, if only it were that easy.

I’ll be referencing several areas from James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure because it truly is an invaluable how-to plot resource guide. If you don’t have this book, I recommend buying it – now.

You might be one of those writers who likes to have their story all worked out in your mind before you write your novel. You preplan, plan, revise the plan before writing. Perhaps you have index cards all over your wall or desk as you read this. (Guilty?)

Or, you might be one of those seat-of-the-pants writers who loves to plop down each day at the computer or over a pad of paper and just write, letting your story flow without planning, anxious to see where your story takes you.

Or, you could also be a ‘tweener (*raises hand*) who does a bit of planning but still seeks some surprises and spontaneity.

Which ever method you use, you have to ask yourself one question: Does it connect with readers? After all, that is the purpose behind plot.

Readers are subconsciously asking these questions when they open books:

What’s this story about?
Is anything happening?
Why should I keep reading?
Why should I care?

These are all plot questions, and if you want to make it as a writer of novel-length fiction, you must learn how to answer them.

There are a few basic plot elements, that if understood and applied, will help you come up with a solid plot every time.

Let’s talk about Bell’s LOCK system:

L is for Lead

A strong plot starts with an interesting Lead character. In the best plot, that Lead is compelling, someone we have to watch throughout the course of the novel.

O is for Objective

Objective is the driving force of fiction. It generates forward motion and keeps the Lead from just sitting around. An objective can take either of two forms: to get something, or to get away from something.

C is for Confrontation

Opposition from characters and outside forces brings your story full to life. Readers want to fret about the Lead, keeping an intense emotional involvement (and investment) all the way through the novel.

K is for Knockout

Readers of commercial fiction want to see a knockout at the end. A literary novel can play with a bit more ambiguity. In either case, the ending must have knockout power. A great ending can leave the reader satisfied, even if the rest of the book is somewhat weak. But a weak ending will leave the reader with a feeling of disappointment, even if the book up to that point is strong.

Now that you know the key points, you need to structure your plot. Plot is about elements, those things that go into the mix of making a good story even better. Structure is about timing – where in the mix those elements go. You need a three-act structure: beginning, middle and end.

For a breakdown of these three-act structures, you really must read Plot & Structure, but in essence, “a plot is about a Lead character who has an objective, something crucial to his well-being. The major portion of plot is the confrontation with the opposition, a series of battles over the objective. This is resolved in a knockout ending, an outcome that satisfies the story questions and the readers.”

But how do you come up with a plot that people will want to read about?

Bell suggests you ask yourself a series of questions. Here are a few to consider:

What do you care most about in the world? (If you care, you’ll write with passion. If you write with passion, that passion will transfer to the readers and they will care right along with you).

What is your physical appearance? How do you feel about it? How does it affect you?

What do you fear most?

What secret in your life do you hope is never revealed?

What is your philosophy of life?

“Answering these questions opens up a door into your own soul. From that viewpoint, you can better evaluate plot ideas. Does the story you’re considering hit a nerve inside you? If not, why write it?”

Here are seven of the twenty plots suggested in 20 Master Plots by Ronald B. Tobias:

1. Quest: as the name implies, quest is the protagonist’s search for a person, place or thing, tangible or intangible. (This will be the crux of my NaNoWriMo story).

2. Wretched Excess: people who push the limits of acceptable behavior, either by choice or by accident. This fascination for people who inhabit the margins of society is what makes this plot so interesting.

3. Sacrifice: your protagonist is sacrificing something from his/her life whether it’s physical or spiritual.

4. Forbidden Love: think Romeo and Juliet here.

5. Transformation: deals with the process of change in the protagonist as she journeys through one of the many stages of life.

6. Underdog: the protagonist is faced with overwhelming odds.

7. Temptation: the story of the frailty of human nature. If to sin is human, it human to give in to temptation.

We’ll cover constructing plots tomorrow, but for now, let’s talk about common plot problems and how to solve them.

Scenes That Fall Flat:

Always make sure scenes have tension in them. Even when characters are calm and relatively quiet, there should be an undercurrent signaling that things are not as calm as they seem.

Every scene should have that moment or exchange that is the hot spot, or the focal point.

Mishandling Flashbacks:

There is an inherent plot problem when you use flashbacks – the forward momentum is stopped for a trip to the past. If not used properly, the reader can get frustrated or impatient. The following are tips when using flashbacks:

1. Necessity – is it absolutely necessary?

2. Function – make sure it works as a scene. Write it as a unit of dramatic action, not as an information dump.

3. Navigation – getting in and out of a flashback can be tricky, so make sure it flows naturally. For example, write in a strong, sensory detail that triggers the flashback.

The Tangent:

The tangent is a side road that was not on your original plot map. It is a suggestion of your writer’s mind. You can ignore the tangent and move on, or you can follow the tangent for a while because it could lead to a better idea. Bell suggests that instead of continuing with your story, open up a new document and follow the tangent. If it fits with the rest of your story, copy and paste it into your story. If it doesn’t, keep it, it may come in handy for future stories.

Resisting the Character for the Sake of the Plot:

Sometimes, your characters will want to take over. Let them. See where they lead you. It could add a whole new element to your story.

Slogging:

The part of your story that slows down and appears sluggish. Here are some suggestions to get past this point:

1. Go back. Is there some place in your earlier pages that seems dull? Or beside the point? Have you lost sight of the Lead’s objective at any point? Keep going back until you find a spot where you felt good about the writing, about beingn on track. Come up with a better scene idea than the one that is already there.

2. Jump Cut. Jump to the next scene, move your characters forward in time, put them in a different location, if you wish. Sometimes jumping ahead can help you connect your story later.

Shut Down:

What if your imagination shuts down? There’s nothing there. Don’t panic – it happens to all of us at one point or another.

Bell suggests:

1. Recharge your battery. Write through it. Give yourself permission to be bad. Write first, polish later. (Hence NaNoWriMo. *smile*)

2. Relive your scenes. Not rewrite. Relive. Have you ever imagined yourself to be the characters? Tried to feel what they are feeling? Then try it. Let the characters improvise. Don’t like what they came up with? Rewind the scene and try it again.

3. Recapture your vision. What does you novel utlimately mean? What is it saying about life beyond the confines of the plot? How does it illuminate your vision of life? Every story has a meaning.

To outline, or not to outline? That truly is every writer’s question. And unfortunately, there is no fast and easy answer. It really all depends on you, the writer. You’ll need to experiment with both methods to find what works for you. Bell’s section on Plotting Systems (Chapter 10) offers some great advice for the NOP’s (the no outline people) and the OP’s (the outline people) complete with step-by-step methods you can try for yourself. But the bottom line is – what works for you? There’s only one way to find out – experiment.

Bell writes, “What makes a plot truly memorable is not all of the action, but what the action does to the character. We respond to the character who changes, who endures the crucible of the story only to emerge a different person at the end.

“So, look to create character change in your novels in a way that deepens the plot and expresses a theme. For when a character learns something or suffers because he changes for the worse, it is an expression by the author about the larger canvas – not merely what happens in the novel, but what happens in life.”

Lastly: Constructing Scenes

Day-By-Day

Roof Over Our Heads, Cap and Gown, Stupid Computer


(photo credit)

The insurance adjuster and the roof guy are here to assess our leaky roof.

Our roof was fine, until this past spring, and suddenly, we started noticing water stains on our ceiling. The fireplace has always leaked. Especially when the weather changes – the water seeps through the rocks, which tells us that we probably have a leak around our fireplace chimney, but the ceiling stains? Those were new.

In case you’re just tuning in, we’ve been pretty busy with home improvement projects: replaced old carpet with hardwood floors, bought new sofas, a new media center, painted the bathroom, (will) paint the foyer, replaced plumbing … when you live in a 40-year old house, there are always maintenance issues.

And at the bottom of the list? A new roof. We had talked about getting someone out here this next spring to take a look. But a roofing company made a cold call on us the other day, inspected it, said it was pretty bad (which what else could they say, they want the business, but the ceiling has been leaking and it’s 18 years old, we figured it was time anyway), and called our insurance company to come take a look.

That insurance guy is here now walking around on our roof. I’m curious to hear what he says about it. Is it as bad as the roof guy said? And more importantly, how much will they pay for a new one?

ADDED: The insurance company is recommending a new roof. Though it’s not as bad as the roof guys made it out to be (which is not surprising), it does have problems and of course, it’s leaking. So … looks like we’ll be getting a new roof in the next few weeks. It’s always something.

*****

We ordered Dude’s cap and gown the other day. I had to measure his height and weigh him in order to get the correct measurements for his gown.

I can’t believe this is happening. Graduation is that milestone, that light at the end of the tunnel you tell your kids they are working toward, the end goal, and here we are, being blinded by that same light because it’s that close.

I opted out of the graduation announcements. They were ugly. (No offense to anyone who orders their announcements through their schools). I will most likely go through Tiny Prints for his announcements. Which means, Kevin and I need to take Dude out to take some pictures so I have some good options when it comes time to order them.

After I placed Dude’s order, Kevin and I got to talking – did we pay for our cap and gown when we were in high school? It seems to me they were borrowed … we used them for the ceremony and then returned them? Does that sound right? I don’t remember paying for our cap and gowns, but then again, I likely wasn’t the one who paid for it, my parents did. I’ll have to ask them because now I’m curious.

*****

Dude’s 18th birthday is coming up soon. I’d like to do something special for him, but I have no clue what that might be. He hasn’t really asked for anything special … maybe I’ll shop some bakers and order a really nice cake this year as opposed to the cookie cake I normally order.

Or maybe I’ll do both. HEY! I’ll order a nice cake and then order Dude his very own cookie cake …

I don’t know. I’ll have to Google some ideas.

*****

The book business is booming. One week, I mailed off close to 30 books!! The boys are being paid for the books they cataloged and if they sell any, then they are responsible for packaging them. If Dude sold more, then Dude drives up to the post office, if Jazz sells more, I take Jazz to the post office.

Orders are slowing down now, but I have about twenty more books to input (Kevin and I bought a bunch from the library book sale) and whenever I add books, that seems to trigger another round of orders, so we’ll see.

We are very grateful to my dad for giving us these books. We’ve made some pretty good money on the venture and though the boys haven’t been paid yet (it’s only a matter of days now, Amazon has started the transfer process, but it usually takes a few days for it credit to our account), I know they really appreciate the opportunity, too. Dude already has plans for some of his money, Jazz hasn’t really said much. Which is weird, because Jazz is usually the kid who can’t stand having money, it burns a hole in his pocket and he can’t wait to spend it.

Maybe he’s outgrowing that impulse. I hope so.

At any rate, the book store has been keeping us really busy.

*****

My main computer has been acting really squirrely, as in, it automatically reboots at random intervals, and now it reboots, but not completely before the system shuts down and starts the process all over again.

I just scanned for viruses today and found a few suspicious-looking things that I was able to clear off my hard drive, but I think I actually messed it up when I reformatted last time. I get a little delete happy and I tend to delete items that are necessary to the operating system. It’s never really acted right since I reformatted last time.

Then again, the power supply has been making some pretty weird noises, so it could be that. (I’ve been having terrible luck with power supplies lately).

So … now what? I will likely try and reformat the stupid thing again (doing it right this time) AND buy a new computer. The one I’m using is about five or six years old, which is ancient in computer world.

Now I get to transfer all of my important files to my laptop so that I can work on client sites. Like I really had time to fool with this right now! Aargh!

Technology is great … when it works, right?

*****

Kevin went to the doctor today. He said it was a bit stupid because they didn’t x-ray his pelvis or do anything other than watch him walk and ask him questions.

I was disappointed. I was hoping we could see how much he had healed in the past months, but no luck.

He’s no longer taking pain medication (actually, he hasn’t taken any pain meds in quite a few months – nothing stronger than an Ibuprofen), and walking a lot better. He still has a problem with his foot drop (he can’t bend his right foot as much as his left foot), which causes him to sort of clip-clop as he walks, but it’s getting better and I’m quite sure he’ll be walking normally again very soon.

In the meantime, the doctors don’t have to see him anymore, that was his last visit.

He was given a clean bill of health, which is pretty amazing considering the man was immobile a mere six months ago.

We have God to thank for his speedy recovery.

*****

Speaking of Kevin’s accident …

Kevin noticed that the woman who hit him and left him for dead? Was charged with a DWI back in August (the accident occurred in April).

We’re not really sure what’s going on, but it sounds like this woman, this dangerous woman who has no business being on the streets and still driving, is out there, free and roaming around.

She had a warrant out for her arrest at one point, but that has since been removed, so we don’t know if this means they have the woman in custody or just what the heck is going on.

Kevin signed some medical release forms so that the prosecutor could have his records on file and use against the woman who hit him, but again, we’re not even sure if she has formally been charged with leaving the scene of an accident.

Kevin has called the prosecutor several times, but they have never returned his calls.

We just want this trouble maker off the streets. She’s obviously a menace and needs to either have her license revoked and/or some jail time.

We just pray she doesn’t kill anyone before that happens.

Abundant Life

Audio Teaching: The Kingdom of God: Paradise Regained

by John Schoenheit
This teaching shows that Paradise, not “heaven,” is the ultimate destination for all those who ever believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. It shows that “the kingdom of God” is one of a number of synonymous phrases that refer primarily to the millennial reign of Jesus Christ, as it foreshadows the new earth, which is Paradise regained, the anti-type of Genesis 1 and 2. This teaching will significantly crystallize what is for most Christians a very vague hope of what happens after the gathering together (or “Rapture”) of the Church. It gives some of the biblical details of life in the new age to come, thereby helping you persevere in faith in this life.

Click the arrow to listen.

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Politics

Democrats’ (Not So) Greatest Hits

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One more week, folks.

ONE. MORE. WEEK.

Get out and vote November 2nd. Tell your friends, tell your families … this country needs to get back to core values and away from this crazy administration.

Did you hear that we, the people, AMERICANS, are now considered enemies of this administration?

How is that helpful, Mr. President? How is making offensive statements making our country stronger? How is suggesting that conservatives need to sit at the back of the bus and that we, the enemies, need to be punished helping those poll numbers? (Did you see Obama’s approval rating has dropped to 37%? Ouch). Those kinds of statements are what thugs say, not what the president of the United States of America says.

Nothing like preaching to our kids about the dangers of bullying and in the very next breath talk about punishing American people who dare to criticize and/or disagree with your crazy agenda.

The hypocrisy is absolutely mind blowing.

Seriously. THIS MADNESS MUST STOP.

{this moment}

Waiting to Paint

Kevin is trimming the bathroom; I’m waiting to go in and use the roller on the rest of the walls.

We’re quite the painting team.

UPDATE: The color is supposed to look like hot cocoa. In a word? No. We’ll see what it looks like after it dries but right now? It’s not looking very promising – may have to paint it a lighter color, which means primer and more work. *sigh*

UPDATE 2: Yep. It’s official. We hate it. It looks like a pack (?) of monkeys went wild and had a poo party in our bathroom. We’re heading back to Lowe’s after we pick up the kids to pick a more khaki color. Grr.

UPDATE 3: Okay. We went back to Lowe’s and bought a wheat-colored paint. We’re applying it now and we’re laughing our fool heads off because it looks YELLOW. As in HELLO! I’M YELLOW! Let’s hope it dries darker, a lot darker.

UPDATE 4: So it’s painted … and I think we’re going to like it. We still need to see what it looks like tomorrow but initial impressions? Doable.

UPDATE 5: The wrinkles in my neck are very attractive.

Band

Greater St. Louis Marching Band Festival – 2010 Version

Because I know you’re all waiting with bated breath to hear how Jazz’s marching band performed this past weekend … (*snort*)

THEY PLACED SECOND IN THE GOLD DIVISION! (The divisions are determined by band size – Jazz’s school is pretty large, so they fall into the Gold division).

Can I get a HOLLA!

My mom was able to switch days at work and got to go with me to St. Louis on Saturday. (This like NEVER happens, so I was VERY EXCITED that she was able to go. This was her first time watching the band perform and it’s sooooo much better than watching a video).

We (me, Jazz, Dude, Kevin and my mom), all met at Wendy’s for lunch. Then I dropped Jazz off at the school so he could get on the bus, took Dude back home (because he had gone with us the last two competitions and was quite burned out on the whole concept), Kevin took off for his gig (his band was scheduled to play at a private party … he wouldn’t have accepted the gig, but the guy who sets this stuff up told him the wrong day and since he had already agreed, he wasn’t able to back out), so that left just me and my mom.

(If my mom hadn’t been able to go, I think I would have gone by myself. I really wanted to see their last performance of the year).

(Side Note: When I dropped Jazz off at the school, the bus drivers were closing up the huge doors in the cargo area, preparing to take off. Jazz was almost too late!! Talk about stressed! Jazz hurriedly gathered his stuff and later texted me: “I was almost late!” I felt really bad about that but the schedule the band director handed out for the parents said they were going to depart at 1:30, not 1:00! Jazz said there were quite a few kids that got there late, actually. Can you imagine if he had missed the bus!?! That would have been really, really bad).

I went and picked my mom up (their house is on the way), spent a few minutes admiring the new tile in their bathroom (they are redoing it and it looks really good – the tile fits my mom PERFECTLY), and then we got onto the road.

The time up there zoomed by. We hadn’t had a chance to talk to each other in months – we’ve both been so busy with our lives … which is sad, because we live in the same city! We stopped at Steak-N-Shake to grab some dinner and made it into St. Louis around 6:00 p.m. We walked into the stadium (they played at the St. Louis Rams’ Dome) as the first band in the Gold Division was playing so we had to wait until they finished playing before finding our seats.

(Side Note: They don’t allow anyone to leave or enter when a band is playing out of respect for the kids. It’s distracting and rude, quite frankly).

As I mentioned, this was the first time my mom has watched a marching band competition. I think she really enjoyed it. We commented on each band’s performance (like we knew what we were talking about HA!), and we picked our favorites (after Jazz’s band, of course).

Jazz’s band was the last to play, and the kids did really well. It was one of their best performances. I really enjoy the last performance of the year because by that time, the kids could do the routine in their sleep, they have perfected the music and their confidence shines.

I was SO proud of all of them.

The program was really sweet and fun and I know mom really enjoyed it. Again, there is NOTHING like watching it live. It takes your breath away what with the drums, the color guard (the dancing girls), the music and of course, all of the little extras the band does during the routine that is often missed in the videos.

When it came time for awards, mom and I had a pretty good idea who would likely win it. Though we wanted to say it was Jazz’s band, we thought another band’s music might have been a bit more sophisticated and it was beautifully elegant. Jazz told me that 60% of what the judges judge is the music … so, we wondered.

They started with the outstanding music, performance and visual awards and whoever wins those awards are usually a pretty good indication of who is going to win first place.

They began with fifth place and when it came time to announce the 1st and 2nd place winners, we were a nervous wreck.

Our kids placed second and the band that won first? Was the one mom and I thought would win it.

Quite honestly, they deserved it. It was a spectacular show.

We walked out exchanging notes and laughing about how nervous we had been. It was nerve wracking not knowing if they were going to place at all, so it was a huge relief when we heard their name called for second.

We navigated the crowds back to my car and worried that it would take us quite a while to actually make it back onto the highway because there was so much traffic, but we got out surprisingly fast and before we knew it, we were on our way back home.

I stopped for gas, mom bought some water and before long, we had to make a bathroom stop.

I wasn’t quite so worried about making it back into town before Jazz did because Kevin was home and he could always pick him up, but still, it would have been easier if I could do it, so though we stopped, we didn’t stop for very long not knowing how far back the kids were.

We got back into town (and I talked so much that I almost missed the exit) a little before 2:00 a.m. I dropped mom off and was on my way to the school (figuring I’d just hang out until the buses came in as opposed to getting home and then turning around to get back out) when Jazz called me.

We beat them back by about fifteen minutes.

The kids were exhausted, as per usual, and they stumbled off the buses. I located Jazz, took his uniform and his duffel bag off his hands while he secured his instrument in his locker inside the school.

I quietly congratulated him on his 2nd place win and we rode the rest of the way home in silence. (Jazz is simply too tired to do much chit-chatting).

We all slept in quite late Sunday (Jazz slept a solid ten hours) and spent the day in our PJ’s.

(Side Note: Jazz told me that on the way up to St. Louis, he ate the entire package of Twizzlers that I gave him [his favorite candy] and made himself sick so that by the time they were supposed to perform, he was swallowing bile back in an attempt not to upchuck all over himself and his band mates. Now maybe he’ll understand the whole “you’re going to make yourself sick” argument I give him whenever he wants to eat more than he should. Ahh, sweet justice 🙂 )

And that concludes this marching band season. I’m a little bummed because I love this stuff so much, but Jazz is quite sick of the routine and is ready to move on to something different.

Like Jazz band.

(Hence the reason I’ve nicknamed him “Jazz” on this blog).

Thanks for indulging me.