Spreading the Christmas and Chanuka Cheer

Your regular Wednesday blog series, Re-visioning Your Story, has been interrupted by . . . shopping . . . parties . . . shopping . . . baking . . . shopping . . . writing cards . . . and, you guessed it! SHOPPING! Since we’re all busy at this time of year, regardless of what holiday you do or don’t celebrate, I thought I’d share a few blog posts I found meaningful at this time of year. I’m spreading the Christmas and Chanuka cheer for you to enjoy.

a sprig of holly spreading the Christmas and Chanuka cheer

The following Christmas and Chanuka messages are brought to you by some of my very talented WANA friends*.

(*WANA = We Are Not Alone, by Kristen Lamb. Check out her class for building a writer’s platform using social media: Join this class or the pixies win.)

Susie Lindau’s holiday tradition parallels storytelling except for the cutting up part.

Don’t miss Julie Hedlund’s delightful look at Clement C. Moore’s classic ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas retold from the parents’ view.

August McLaughlin’s post about a teen’s high jinx at the holidays is hilarious: stealing Jesus.

Calvin and Hobbes fan Louise Behiel shares Calvin’s snowmen, some music and a present that will give you a Christmas smile.

I love the music that Coleen Patrick shares when she wishes us a Happy Chanuka.

And tooting my own horn, you may want to check out one of my other December holiday posts: A Christmas Cry Baby, Quotes in the Spirit of Christmas, or December Holidays by the Week.

Stay tuned! Next week we will return to our regular blogging schedule and topics. Thank you so much for visiting. And a special thanks to my WANA friends for cheering me onward and for providing such wonderful thoughts to share. In the meantime, in the spirit of the holidays please join me in spreading the Christmas and Chanuka cheer, or whatever the cheer or expression of your holidays.

Exposing the Humbugs at Christmastime

Image courtesy of Capsun Poe at Flickr

Have you gotten the idea that I love Christmas? Yes? You’ve probably also picked up that I’m not terribly politically correct about it, too. So beware, if being politically correct is important to you, you may not wish to continue while I am exposing the humbugs. *smile*

Exposing the Humbugs

Could there be anything worse than those who take out of spite or greed or stupidity? Still, we need to be aware that sometimes you do need to look a gift horse in the mouth. Please read The 12 scams of Christmas.

According to economist friends of Dan Ariely in this Wall Street Journal article, gift giving is irrational. Read his article Is it Irrational to Give Christmas Gifts? In my humble opinion, it is irrational to try to rationalize the idea of giving gifts! What do you think? Should you give rational Christmas gifts?

This next article is along the same lines, but more from the psychoanalytical arena. “‘Giving is almost more about the giver’ than it is about the recipient, says Tina Lowrey, a professor of marketing at the University of Texas-San Antonio who has studied gift-giving behavior.” She also ranks gift-giving into the following categories:
Procrastinator-worrier, Planner, Practical Giver, Do-Gooder, or Perfect Gift Giver?

What about you? What kind of gift giver are you? Does it really matter? If you are buying gifts in the spirit of Christmas, to give, to remember, to connect, then the recipient should rejoice.

Yes, I’ve gotten my fair share of things I would never have bought myself. Check it out, there actually is an Ugly Sweater Store.

Even so, as long as the giver’s heart is in the right place, say a most sincere thank you. The giver has given time, effort and money to gift you and to share a joyous season with you. That is the gift you appreciate and give thanks for.

Even Churches

Of course, we can’t point fingers at non-believers as grinches when even two churches can get into a debate about Christmas sentiments. Apparently, only Catholic Dogs Go to Heaven.

The biggest humbugs of all are those that insist on political correctness. Is it really degrading your religion, or lack thereof, if someone wishes you a Merry Christmas? This example of a politically correct Twas The Night Before Christmas demonstrates the absurdity of taking political correctness too far.

Restoring Sanity

Fortunately, I am not alone in my quest to restore a little sanity to Christmas.

In The Twelve Blogs of Christmas, each participant took on a different way to discuss Christmas: books, cookies, music, movies, Christmas toys, holiday foods, Christmas faux pas; decorations, Christmas memories. These posts are a lot of fun. You’ll find one here.

Even a redneck like Larry the Cable Guy understands political correctness can go too far. Listen to him read Twas the Night Before a Non-denominational Holiday formerly known as the Night before Christmas

Are there Humbugs in your life? Let me know, I’ll help you expose them, for once exposed they lose power to influence your Christmas.

I hope you had fun thinking about the absurdities that can accompany Christmas.

Christmas is about so much more than the absurdities. It’s more than the sights.

My Christmas wish is that everyone has a Linus in their life who can explain:

That IS what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Merry Christmas,
EVERYONE, even the Humbugs!

Exposing the Humbugs has been brought to you in the spirit of Christmas.

Bah Humbug image courtesy of Capsun Poe at Flickr.com

A Christmas Crybaby

Okay, I’m crying again. Sappy Tears. I do that a lot, especially in December. In December there are opportunities galore for tears, for giggles, and broad from-the-heart smiles. From Christmas music to Christmas Movies to Christmas TV Commercials, you can catch me being an emotional mess. I am a marshmallow – a soft touch for all things sappy, a Christmas crybaby.

Some people almost never cry. So then, why do other people (like me) tear up as if they have faucets instead of tear ducts?

Tears are Complicated

Tears can be an expression of frustration, pain, fear, or sadness. We shed tears when there is a need such as releasing tension, or grief, or simply a need to connect with someone else. They also express happiness, joy, and pride. But why cry at songs, movies, and TV commercials for goodness sake? Believe it or not, this very topic has been researched.

Scientists have found that tears contain natural antibiotics that protect our eyes and nose to keep us healthy. They have also learned there are three types of tears: Basal, Reflex, and Emotional. Basal tears protect the eye and keep it moist. Reflex tears flush your eye when it’s irritated. Emotional tears flow in response to . . . emotions. They release certain chemicals that build up in our bodies. Releasing these chemicals make us criers feel better after a good cry. If you’re interested in the science you can learn more about tears in the scienceline.org article, “Why do people cry?” or the WebMD article, “Why We Cry: The Truth About Tearing Up.”

No matter what the science, I am often embarrassed by my tears. Except at Christmas time. Everyone seems to understand that Christmas is a time of strong emotions, they smile and indulge me in my tears. And I indulge myself in every sappy movie and song of the season. How about you, are you a Christmas Cry Baby?

I know I’m not alone, but just to be sure, I thought I’d share a few tear jerkers with you. 🙂

This song says it all:

Christmas Makes Me Cry performed by Mandisa and Mathew West.

Talk about tears! This one gets me every time:

The Christmas Shoes by NewSong.

Really, the faucets are full on for this one:

Faith Hill sings Where are you Christmas?

If you’ve never seen Trans Siberian Orchestra perform, you have missed an inspirational Christmas Concert. This YouTube video of their song, An Angel Came Down, barely does this group justice. And yes, even rock opera makes me cry.

Kermit, while not the best singer, delivers another song that makes me teary.

The Christmas Wish.

I told you I was a sap!

And in the spirit of a Christmas Crybaby, I’d like to wish all of you a joyously tearful Merry Christmas! (and holiday best wishes to those of you who celebrate other holidays!) With a Special Shout out to all my fabulous WANA1011 friends!

Please take a few minutes to bond with other sobsters. Let us know we’re not alone. Share your favorite tear-maker here. Are you a Christmas Crybaby?

Are Your Character’s Goals Golden?

Last week you read your story without altering one single typo, didn’t you? This week you will need to review the notes you wrote about how your story made you feel. And you will need your story sentence and your scene sentences. Do each of your sentences include a hook, a protagonist with a need versus an antagonist with a need in an interesting setting? If they do, good job! But perhaps you had difficulty writing your story sentence or a particular scene’s sentence. If so, it may be that you did not establish clear character goals. Are your character’s goals golden?  If not, read on.

Lesson 2: The second installment in my “Re-vision Your Story” series.

Are Your Character's Goals Golden? Lesson 2 in Re-visioning your story discusses character goals.

A Goal Is

Whether this is the first story you’ve written or the ninety-first, you are most likely aware that your story and your characters should have goals. Goals are what drive your plot. Goals are what make your characters strong or weak, sympathetic or not, and finally, goals in opposition create conflict.

According to The American Heritage Dictionary, a goal is “the purpose toward which an endeavor is directed, an objective.” Notice, the definition says the purpose, an objective, toward which an endeavor is directed. In other words for it to be a goal, there must be an endeavor, an action taken, that moves one toward a single definable objective.

But, my characters’ have complex goals, you say. They have many goals and those goals change in the course of the story.

In his book, The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass refers to goals as character needs.

‘Most authors would like their characters’ needs to emerge more artfully, to infuse the action of the scene rather than squat atop it like an elephant on an egg. . . . . But this restraint is too often a convenient excuse for not working out what a character wants or needs at this particular moment.
“Working that out is essential to shaping a scene in which everything that happens has a meaning. At the end of a scene, we want to feel that something important occurred. . . . We won’t get that feeling unless we get, in some way, a prior sense of what we’re hoping for — a hope that in the scene is either fulfilled or dashed or delayed.”

Readers want to feel that spending hours of their time reading a novel was worth it. So you, the writer must know . . .

What Your Story Is About.

Have you identified your story’s central theme? What is your character’s primary goal? Does your story sentence convey those things? If it doesn’t, your story goal needs to be clarified. Ask yourself: Why did you write this story? What is it about this story makes your heart sing? Be specific. Don’t say, it’s a story about a fisherman and the honor of struggle, defeat, and death. That’s too vague. Instead use specific nouns, action verbs, and defining adjectives or adverbs. If I were to write a story sentence for Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, it would be something like ‘Eighty-one days fishless, an old Cuban fisherman battles a magnificent marlin to exhaustion and then must fight off sharks attracted to his kill, finally arriving ashore with a sixteen-foot carcass and his honor as a fisherman restored.’

Types of Goals

Goals can be internal, external, short-term, long-term and somewhere in the middle.

Internal goals may or may not be something your character understands and is able to articulate. But you, the author, must know it. The internal goal shows what motivates your character and frequently this goal is a long-term goal.

In the Old Man and the Sea, the old man has an outer goal and an inner goal: to catch a fish and to restore his honor as a fisherman. The character is not able to completely articulate his inner goals. Hemingway hints at the internal goals with references to how the old man is considered unlucky and that the old man’s sail resembles “a flag of permanent defeat.” Other hints are in the old man’s observations of how it didn’t matter if you were a marlin or a shark, onshore each was gutted and prepared to eat.

The old man’s long-term goal was to prove, to himself as much as to the others, that he was a fisherman, that he was not bad luck.

Goals Must Be Actionable

If your character has goals but only sits and worries about them or about how something else will affect his goals, your reader will not care.

Hemingway takes care to show us the old man’s desperation in his interactions with the boy. The old man’s pride drives him to refuse to accept defeat but he does accept a beer and some sardines. These situations set the reader up to feel sympathy for the old man. Then he acts. He takes his skiff far out into the Gulf. He does it alone because his longer-term goal is to restore his own honor. The marlin takes his bait and the battle begins. The old man’s battle is physical and internal. He battles the fish for days, testing his physical strength and his determination, but he also battles his pride when he fears no one will be worthy of eating the fish.

One way to make goals actionable is to make goals that are opposites.

In The Old Man and the Sea, the main character’s internal and external goals could be called oppositional. He needs to catch a fish successfully but instead of fishing with the others, he goes out beyond them, alone. The distance and the fact that he has no one to help with his battle are due to his pride.

If that kind of opposition of goals isn’t clear to you consider these: Greg must trust his girlfriend with his life, but he also must protect himself from getting hurt by getting too close to her; Sally has no job or money and she needs food for her kids but she has a moral objection to stealing and taking charity; or Charlie needs to feel worthy and thinks to do so he must exact revenge for a wrong done to him but he must keep his enemy alive in order to prove he is deserving of his birthright. Goals can also be in opposition between two people: Joe must win the race because he needs the prize money to pay for his mother’s operation but Tom must win the race in order to qualify for the championship race so he can pay off his bookie.

Goals must be Meaningful

The reader feels the old man’s struggle as worthy because the reader identifies with the old man. We identify with the old man because we’ve all suffered one defeat or another. We understand the need to restore one’s honor, pride, and dignity. He’s heroic because he is determined and he takes action despite being defeated.

Another thing that gives goals meaning is that they must be large scale. Large-scale does not have to mean that if your character does not achieve his goal the world will end. It means that it is not easily solved. It will cost something to pursue it. The old man’s battle is large scale (life or death), it’s immediate (the battle is present on the page), and it is not easily solved (he battles the marlin for days and the sharks through the night). And there is a cost to him. He is physically tested and injured. And in a sense, he loses because he loses all the marlin’ meat to the sharks.

Ultimately the old man acknowledges his pride, the strength, and dignity of his opponent, the marlin, and the natural behavior of the sharks. And although he comes home without a fish to sell, he has restored his honor as a fisherman.

Do Your Character and Story Goals Jive?

Villain or heroine, your primary characters must have goals. Every scene must have goals. In order for your story to have depth, to have a deeper meaning, every scene’s goal must have something to do with your characters’ goals and with the overall story goal. In order for the goals to matter, there must be opposition. The only way successfully weave those together is to create clear, actionable goals that matter.

After you have identified your overall story goal, review you sentences for your scenes. Does every scene fulfill, dash, or delay achievement of the short-term goal? Does the scene’s resolution move toward fulfilling, dashing, or delaying achievement of your long-term story goal?

Your Assignment

Again, this week you want to identify things that are working and things that are not working. Reach for the Golden Goals that will make your story well integrated. Identify if the goals are internal, external, long term or short term. Indicate which ones are oppositional. Make notes on how to make them more oppositional, more meaningful and immediate. Make notes on 2-3 different actions your character could take to achieve this goal. And write down 2-3 possible outcomes of this attempt: reached the goal, didn’t reach the goal, or delayed that goal. Do not attempt to rewrite. Let your muse chew on what you’ve learned. Make notes as you need to, but do not rewrite.

I’d love to hear from you. Won’t you share your story sentence? What do you find difficult about goals? Is there something that helps you identify them? Do you have more external or internal goals in your story and characters?

Lesson 1: Re-Visioning Your Story

Lesson 2: above

Lesson 3: Twist the Knife Slowly

Lesson 4: Do Your Characters Play Well With Others?

Lesson 5: As the Plot Turns

Lesson 6: Is There a Time and Place in Your Story?

Lesson 7: From the End to the Beginning

Lesson 8: Putting the Pieces Together

Robots, Mermaids, & Dogs – Inspirations and Fascinations

Wow, the blogosphere and internet have been full of news and blogs that offer weird, wonderful, and soul-touching bits and pieces that captured this SF writer’s attention. I hope you are as fascinated with these robots, mermaids, & dogs as I am.

Would you move to Mars? Scientists think this might be possible in the near future.

How about if you had NASA’s R2 to help?

courtesy of NASA

Marcy Kennedy (an awesome WANA1011 classmate) also spoke of Mermaids in this touching tribute to her friend: Who is Your Unicorn?

You already know I am a marshmallow when it comes to dogs. Dogs and heroes – I’m toasted :). These two links demonstrate that our canine friends can suffer right alongside us.

He had me at Hero. 🙂 Hero, the dog.

Combat service dogs diagnosed with PTSD.

Demonstrating that writing ideas can come from anywhere is the following story about an endangered Salamander. Just the name of this creature brings to mind fantasy and horror: First Ozark Hellbender Raised in Captivity. If that isn’t a story title, I don’t know what is!

K. M. Weiland exhorts writers to mimic the masters and gives us clear guidelines on the difference between mimicry and plagiarism. Four Reasons to Mimic Masters.

Finally, I am not the only writer offering tips on revision this week (see my Re-Visioning Your Story Writing Wednesday post) Larry Fix offered tips on rewriting your nanowrimo story. Make December Your Nanowrimo Revision Month.

Generally what is here is good and useful, but I disagree on one point. Larry states that “Depending on the nature of the difference between your original idea and the one you finished with, you may or may not be able to salvage it.” I disagree. First, whether it’s fixable or not, depends upon how much work you are willing to do. You can always mine a totally failed story, figure out why it failed and use the salvageable parts to start over. You learn from revising. Most importantly, you learn about your writing process, your strengths, and your weakness when you revise your story.

Well, that’s all for this week. I’d love to hear from you. What inspirations and fascinations have you found on the web or in life this week? Did you enjoy these stories about robots, mermaids, and dogs?