The Loser


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

The Loser

By Nandy Ekle

Your character has a goal. This goal is something they really want. They think about it constantly. It is the theme of every decision they make, every thought they have, every moment of every day. They dream about it and this goal becomes the loftiest ambition they will ever have. And they want it so much they would give up everything in the world, including their own body, to get this thing they want.

So that’s where the adventure begins. It begins with a need that goes deeper than the ocean. The character begins to search for ways to get it.

As they search, their vows of “whatever it takes” begin to come true. They must begin to lose things they care about in order to get the one big thing they want. First they lose the small inconsequential things, like toys, grades, respect, or small change money. These are things the reader can identify with losing, but not be scarred too deeply.

But still they keep after their goal.

So then they must start losing higher stakes. The loss of more important things, like pets, jobs, good friends, vehicles, homes, loved ones, or fortunes—these things will dig deeper in the reader’s heart. They can understand the pain the character goes through, but they can still understand why he goes through it. The goal is just too great to worry about losing the things they have lost.

So then, we must be extremely cruel and take it all away. Our character should become totally alone, broken hearted, and starved. This is the point where the character will begin to wonder if their goal is really worth all the loss they have endured. Were they better off in the beginning of the story, or will they actually be better off if they reach their goal? “Happily ever after,” or “sadder but wiser”?

This is also the point where the reader’s heart is as broken as the character’s heart. The reader wanted to see the character reach his goal. They know how important this need is to him, but they also feel the pain he endures to get to the goal. The reader has become a either a cheerleader because the goal is very grand, or they want to discourage the character because the goal is not worth the losses.

So whatever the case, your main character must become a loser to become a winner.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

The Gift


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

The Gift

By Nandy Ekle

 

I’ve got the characters. I can hear their voices and see their faces. She throws roses into the arena. The bright sunshine glints off the sequins on his suit making him look like a glowing god. He bends down, scoops up one of her roses, and makes a big gesture of smelling it. In the background, the opponent beats against the toril, the gate to the arena. She sucks in a deep breath as the crashing of the monster’s body gets louder.

I have the situation. The female character and the male character are unable to deny their attraction to each other. Their love causes the conflict, and the monster behind the gate raises the stakes, as does the third character, her husband.

I’ve been researching my heart out. I’ve had to learn some history, some new words, a very different culture, and even different names. I’ve had to look up facts, rules, and definitions. And just when I’m ready to start writing, a new question comes up and I go back to Google.

I’ve worked so hard gathering information that I’ve gotten myself extremely excited to get this going. So I open the computer, put my fingers on the keyboard, and . . . . . . . sit there. You see, reality has happened. Overtime on the day job. Laundry piled up. Empty refrigerator. And then, the top of the list, a big time illness pops up.

So I’ve promised myself a gift. This weekend I will take my computer to a quiet little coffee shop and not allow myself to leave until I write the words “The End.”

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

 

Heart


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

Heart

By Nandy Ekle

The heart, the center, the core, the theme, the main idea. This is a very important part of your story. The heart is what the story is about.

Look at anatomy. On the outside we see skin, hair, fingernails. But we don’t see what’s under the skin. We don’t see the bones, the muscles, or the blood in its vessels. But we can look at the skin and see the evidence of those deeper body parts. Our skin has a firm shape because of the bones under it and it’s warm and has a rosy color because of the blood being pumped by the heart through the blood vessels.

Our stories are the same. We talk about story layers all the time, and that’s another good analogy—the onion theory. On the topmost layer of the story you have what’s happening at the moment. The next layer might be what’s going on inside the characters’ heads, and there might be a layer of tension between the characters because of the relationship between them. You could even have a layer of discovery and healing when the relationships change. But the very center of the story, the heart, is what the whole thing is really all about.

The other definition of “heart” I want to talk about sort of fits parallel with this one. Heart equals feelings. One of the best ways to connect with your reader is with emotions. You have a main character that wants something so much they are willing to risk everything to get it. You want your reader to feel this yearning and hunger as much as the character. You want your reader to feel every struggle, every disappointment, every victory with your character. When that happens, the center layer of your story goes right into the reader’s heart and they learn the same lesson the character learns.

In my blog next week, we will look at ways to burrow down into a reader’s heart and make your story become their story.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

Let’s Get Emotional


Let’s Get Emotional

by Adam Huddleston

After reading an excerpt from the novel I’m working on to my critique group, the other members encouraged me to deepen the protagonist’s emotional connection to the reader. After looking through my submission, I couldn’t agree more. Here is why it is important and some ways to achieve it:

Readers have invested time and money into your story. They expect to experience a connection with the main character(s). They want to be immersed in every plot twist, conflict, and whatever else occurs along the way. If they feel cheated, they’re less likely to spend their hard-earned cash on your work in the future.

There are many ways to develop that connection. First and foremost, be sure to emphasize what your character is feeling inside in relation to what’s happening in the outside world. Also, don’t be afraid to let your character reminisce once in a while. As long as it’s not overdone, it can be a powerful tool to use. It’s important to remember that when writing, don’t confuse your emotional reaction to a situation with what the character would feel. Stay true to the story!

Happy writing!

Who’s In Control


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

Who’s In Control

By Nandy Ekle

 

Raise your hand if this has ever happened to you.

You are struck with a brilliant idea. You have the characters set, the scene, the plot, everything planned. You sit down and begin writing the story exactly as you’ve seen it play out in your head. You have a specific goal in mind and specific steps to get there. Your characters are strong living beings. Everything is falling in place and you’re typing like a maniac.

Suddenly you realize the characters have taken the story away from you and the whole thing has changed. You started out with a fun little romp, but the words that come out of your fingers have taken on a foreshadowing ominous tone.

I have to confess every story I’ve ever written does this. Usually I’m pleasantly surprised and just go with it. But occasionally I’m puzzled. I’m known for writing twisted dark stories. But sometimes I want to write something fun.

Stephen King spoke about a time for decision making when he wrote The Shining. He said he had to decide if he wanted to write it as a fun scary ghost story, boom, boom, boom. Or he could dig deeper and write from the soul. He made the decision to go deep and analyze each character to the very core instead of just having a ghost jump out and scream boo. The result of his decision was a masterpiece.

So, the answer to my question? I will probably listen to the characters. After all, it is their story.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

 

Painting From Corners and Cutting Off Branches


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

Painting From Corners and Cutting Off Branches

By Nandy Ekle

 

 

I love a good mystery show, especially if it has a twist. And sometimes the biggest twist is actually no twist at all. Here’s how it works.

You begin building the story in the usual way, introduce the character who is amazingly handsome and brilliant but who also has a sad little flaw. He reveals this flaw but justifies himself by listing the rules he has set for himself to control it. Then we go through a day or two of his life to see how it works. As the action/drama builds, we suddenly realize there is no way out for our character. He either has to break his own rules, or he has to give up. The more the story progresses, the tighter the noose gets and we are sure he’s about to be undone. Finally, at the end, just before he gives up, the light comes on and you realize what was forgotten. One of the smaller rules in his self-imposed control. As soon as that loophole opens up, he wins and lives happily ever after.

But then there’s the story line where he has to cut off his nose to spite his face. This is the character who does everything right. But the problems he faces grow huge enough and chase him out on a branch. You know he will have to do something, but everything he tries is thwarted. And in the end, he has to cut the branch he’s hanging from and drop to the abyss. But the twist is that he only drops a couple of feet. That’s when you gulp a deep breath of air and fall back in your chair.

This is great writing.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

Painting From Corners and Cutting Off Branches


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

Painting From Corners and Cutting Off Branches

By Nandy Ekle

 

 

I love a good mystery show, especially if it has a twist. And sometimes the biggest twist is actually no twist at all. Here’s how it works.

You begin building the story in the usual way, introduce the character who is amazingly handsome and brilliant but who also has a sad little flaw. He reveals this flaw but justifies himself by listing the rules he has set for himself to control it. Then we go through a day or two of his life to see how it works. As the action/drama builds, we suddenly realize there is no way out for our character. He either has to break his own rules, or he has to give up. The more the story progresses, the tighter the noose gets and we are sure he’s about to be undone. Finally, at the end, just before he gives up, the light comes on and you realize what was forgotten. One of the smaller rules in his self-imposed control. As soon as that loophole opens up, he wins and lives happily ever after.

But then there’s the story line where he has to cut off his nose to spite his face. This is the character who does everything right. But the problems he faces grow huge enough and chase him out on a branch. You know he will have to do something, but everything he tries is thwarted. And in the end, he has to cut the branch he’s hanging from and drop to the abyss. But the twist is that he only drops a couple of feet. That’s when you gulp a deep breath of air and fall back in your chair.

This is great writing.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

Heart


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

Heart

By Nandy Ekle

The heart, the center, the core, the theme, the main idea. This is a very important part of your story. The heart is what the story is about.

Look at anatomy. On the outside we see skin, hair, fingernails. But we don’t see what’s under the skin. We don’t see the bones, the muscles, or the blood in its vessels. But we can look at the skin and see the evidence of those deeper body parts. Our skin has a firm shape because of the bones under it and it’s warm and has a rosy color because of the blood being pumped by the heart through the blood vessels.

Our stories are the same. We talk about story layers all the time, and that’s another good analogy—the onion theory. On the topmost layer of the story you have what’s happening at the moment. The next layer might be what’s going on inside the characters’ heads, and there might be a layer of tension between the characters because of the relationship between them. You could even have a layer of discovery and healing when the relationships change. But the very center of the story, the heart, is what the whole thing is really all about.

The other definition of “heart” I want to talk about sort of fits parallel with this one. Heart equals feelings. One of the best ways to connect with your reader is with emotions. You have a main character that wants something so much they are willing to risk everything to get it. You want your reader to feel this yearning and hunger as much as the character. You want your reader to feel every struggle, every disappointment, every victory with your character. When that happens, the center layer of your story goes right into the reader’s heart and they learn the same lesson the character learns.

In my blog next week, we will look at ways to burrow down into a reader’s heart and make your story become their story.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

Stories from A Third World Country


Stories from A Third World Country

By Rory C. Keel

During a missionary trip to Nigeria, I observed a stark contrast in two different cultures.

On a street corner in the city of Aba, two young boys wrestled in the heat of battle. Each one flailed their arms, wielding tightened fists in order to land the most decisive and final blow. Words spewed from their lips with the intent to damage the mind and weaken the heart of the opponent. Each one kicked wildly, trying to topple the other in order to gain the advantage. An elderly gentleman slowly hobbled his way through the crowd that formed a circled arena around the two fighters. His Silver hair framed a face wrinkled by the frustrations of life and time. Bent at the shoulders, he steadied his feeble stride with a cane whittled from a branch that had fallen from a tree.

Raising the stick, he jabbed both boys to gain their attention as he yelled above the crowd, “Stop it! Stop this nonsense!”

At that moment, I became afraid for the old man.

In the American culture, this is the point where the cell phone videos of the old man poking the boys would be put on trial in the media. Newscasters on the hour, every hour, would instruct their listeners on what to believe about the situation. The parents of the boys, not knowing or uncaring about the location and activities of their children, would suddenly become violently concerned about an old man harming their sweet innocent children. Lawyers seeking riches or fame would immediately volunteer to file lawsuits on behalf of the boys. In America it would be the moment when the crowd would turn to heckle, mock and torment the one who had interrupted their gladiators. The two combatants would join forces, cursing with vile phrases to humiliate a new common enemy. They would claim self-defense and laugh as they struck him down in his feebleness.

I stood in this third world country located northeast of the Cameroon Mountains on the African continent, and watched with amazement as this event unfolded. The crowd immediately grew silent and stared at the two boys, who now glared directly into the eyes of the frail elder and said, “Yes, sir!”

And we want to Americanize everyone else!

Write interactions

What contrasts do you see in those around you? Take time to watch how people interact. Go to a mall, restaurant or park and observe different people, then write what you see and hear.

These differences will add depth to your characters.

Stuck


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

Stuck

By Nandy Ekle

Writer’s block. It’s almost as scary a word as “spider.” In fact I’ve used the image of a huge hairy spider to describe writer’s block.

This time I discovered an exercise to help cut a hole through the wall between me and my words. I wrote a little essay describing my plight.

“I’m looking through a window in a door and I see all the characters I ever wrote. They’re all frozen just like the commercial about digital photos that are never downloaded from the camera. Some are frozen in mid jump, some are frozen in mid dialogue, some are frozen in their tears. What a painful way to freeze. I see pleadings in their eyes, pleading me to set them free and let them live out their stories, but I am helpless.

Maybe that’s why this coldness is so frightening. I can’t do anything to help them. The words I have played with all my life are locked up in the toy cabinet across the hall and a huge spider guards them. I must find the key to get them back out!”

As soon as I finished the essay, I wrote a character sketch for my latest story. In doing so, I worked out the problems with the plot.

If you have a wall between you and your words, write something. It will break the wall, allowing your story to write itself.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.