My Plan, I Hope

There’s this blank spot on my living room wall, just to the left of the piano. It really needs something. But not just anything.

It’s got to be special. Personal.

Something that reflects me and my husband.

The sea is what daily calls to me and on one of my walks on the shore, I did what I usually do: look for sea shells.

Then the inspiration hit. Why not collect enough shells to make a shell wreath. I pictured how pretty the wreath would look mounted against a blue backdrop and hung to the left of the piano. I’d decorate the blue canvas with some Bible verses. Some sand coating along the borders of the backdrop to make the blue pop and to remind me of the ocean beach.

My thought had gone from a thought to a plan. I’d mentally made my craft store list and pictured how I’d go about constructing this magnificent project.

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As I drove home from Michael’s with my supplies, I thought how God, too, had a thought, concerning the creation of mankind. People would be His crowning creation. And before He even created the world, and the oceans, forests, mountains, animals, and mankind, God had a thought about me…and you.

The Bible (see John 1:1) speaks of Jesus as the Word. The Greek for this is LOGOS. There are many ancient and contemporary writings on the meaning of the word, Logos. But the essence is “the thought”, and the “expression of the thought.”

John 1:1-2 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”

Not only that, but verse 3 says, “All things were made through Him, and without Him, nothing was made that was made.”

Nothing.

My creative powers only extend to assembling a few objects, painting and glueing, then hanging on my wall. I’m not even sure if my creation will come out the way I envisioned it.

But God’s plan, through Jesus Christ, did and does not fail.

My artistic plan is to paint Bible verses across the blue canvas in white lettering. Verses that will remind me daily of the power and glory of God.

Hopefully, in another week, I’ll be posting a photo of my completed “Logos.”

 

 

 

 

Drop In Your Backdrop

Staging Your Scene, part 3 (Scenery)

Now that you’ve diagrammed your “stage” and have a very clear picture of how your characters enter, move around, sit, stand, exit, etc., it’s time to paintIMG_1866 your scenery.

Bring up a mental image of some favorite TV program with a habitual setting. I like to picture the old sit-com, Everybody Loves Raymond. Most of the scenes take place in the living room. The set design says a lot about the Ray and Deborah Barone family. The living room is typical of a middle class home with ordinary furniture, decorations, lamps, pictures. We note that Deborah, although an excellent mom, doesn’t have much time to organize the house since there are always toys and kids’ stuff piled up against the back wall and next to the staircase. She must be a busy lady.

On stage left is the main entrance/exit: the front door. That is a very important part of the set. It isn’t hidden behind a curtain or off too far from the main action. Because every day Marie, and sometimes her husband, and sometimes older brother, Robert, make their grand entrances through that door. And most of the time, their entrances do not make Deborah or Ray happy.

We tend to think of back drops and scenery as something not so very important, merely suggestive of the time and place. But scenery can also be an element that provides the characters fodder for some juicy situations. The condition of the room says a great deal about the mindset and the life of the people who inhabit that space.

Unfortunately for Deborah Barone, the messy living room provides opportunities for her mother-in-law to exert her power. And, although Ray is oblivious to the kid mess spread out over the room, he sometimes glances nervously at that front door.

Like Ray and Deborah, how can we add elements to our scene that help delineate the characters’ foibles and concerns, personality, and emotions?

Did you ever see the Hitchcock move, Rear Window? James Stewart plays a successful, driven journalist/photographer who has broken his leg and must sit around in his New York city apartment, staring out his window. That big window becomes a major player in the story when Stewart’s character witnesses suspicious happenings (possibly a murder?)in the apartment across the way.

Have you seen Casa Blanca? Remember Rick’s nightclub? Unnamed people sit at tables, talking, drinking, being part of the scenery. Above, a whirring ceiling fan suggests the oppressive heat of North Africa. Cigarette smoke wafts through the room. The walls are white stucco. German officers sit at tables. We feel swept into 1940s German-controlled Morocco.

 

Your Set Controls the Behaviors of Your Characters

If your scene is set inside an expensive restaurant, how would that affect the characters’ dialogue or behavior? Would the tone and dynamic of a conversation be different than, say, a city park or a police station?

Remember Beverly Hills Cop? Axel, the clever and funny detective from Detroit shows up at a ritzy Beverly Hills restaurant, definitely not dressed for the occasion. Already, we’re nervous because we know that his conscious decision to wear a tee shirt and jeans in a suit and tie establishment is going to spell trouble. The environment told us Axel is going to get it.

 

How Your Set Creates Mood

Ever read To Kill a Mockingbird? It’s the south during the depression. Tramp and Jeb wonder about the occupant in the creepy and dilapidated house down the street. Each day the two children must pass that awful house, and as they do, they speculate about the rumors they’ve heard about Boo Radley. How he stabbed someone and ever since, they’ve kept him away from other people. When the wind blows, Boo’s screen door squeaks and bangs against the door jam. Sometimes the porch floor boards creak. Now that’s a setting that sets the tone for most of the novel.

 

Take advantage of every opportunity to use the environment of your scene to say something about your character or the situation. Try to imagine things you can place in your scenery that might create emotion. It doesn’t have to be negative emotion, either. Some sets make us feel good, or ready to laugh.

In conclusion, here are some questions to ask yourself as you create “scenery” that will help your readers gain insight into your characters and their story:

  1. How does your scenery suggest time and place?
  2. How does your scenery suggest the mood?
  3. Do elements in the set foreshadow events?
  4. What does your set say about your character(s)? Is is super neat, or messy, like the character? Or is it sparcely furnished, to suggest poverty? Are there art works on the wall? Are they expensive and tasteful, or something the character would have purchased from a re-sale shop?
  5. How does your set or scenery control or influence your character?

Last words: if there is anything you can place in your scene environment that will add some spice to the forthcoming dialogue or shed some light on one of the character’s personality or motivations, do it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Useful Alone-time

I just started a new Bible study at my church about David. In my readings of 1st Samuel, I was struck by how God referred to David as “a man after His own heart.” At this point—1st Samuel, chapter 13— Samuel had not mentioned David.

All I knew from these early chapters was about Saul, how tall and majestic he looked, how the people selected him partly because he looked the part.

But later, God rejected Saul as king because he had disobeyed Him. Then God uttered a devastating statement. “Your kingdom will not endure.”

When the prophet Samuel went to Jesse with the intention of selecting and anointing one of his sons to be the next king, he rejected each of the older sons. The youngest son, David— whom Jesse didn’t even feel was qualified to stand up with his brothers— was brought before Samuel. God said, (I’m paraphrasing here) “This is the one. Anoint him, because I, God, do not look at the outward appearance, but at the heart of the man.”

In our culture, we spend a lot of time and money on our outward appearance, hoping that an improved body will make us acceptable, even admired, or promoted, or place us higher on the popularity list.

But, as the Word of God says, “God does not look on the outward appearance of the man.”

Teenaged David was relegated to the lowest position of sons among Jesse’s tribe. He spent his days watching sheep, guarding them from predators.

A lowly task, though essential. Kind of like washing dishes or cleaning toilets.

But while David watched those dumb, but important sheep, he was also learning the ways of sheep:

  1. sheep can’t handle turbulent water
  2. sheep wander
  3. sheep are pretty stupid
  4. sheep sometimes eat what they shouldn’t eat
  5. sheep are pretty defenseless
  6. sheep need a shepherd to strategize about movement, food, safety

 

And while David sat all by himself, doing this shepherding job, he had lots and lots and lots of time for thinking. Doubtlessly, he remembered his father’s teachings about God and meditated on them.

He made up songs about God and played them. Does that sound like what lots of contemporary teenagers do up in the solitude of their bedrooms?

And all that time, God was using that alone-time to do a preparation in David’s heart. David’s knowledge of shepherding sheep later helped him shepherd people.

(I know of another shepherd, about a thousand years later who got to know God during his days alone in the fields. This man, Patrick, was later led by God to evangelize the Irish people.)

My husband is a social guy. He loves to connect with other guys. Unfortunately, his busy travel schedule keeps him from being able to spend time with other men from our church or to do something with any consistency in the local community.

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He comforts himself with the thought that this travel schedule will only last a few years. Besides praying for him every day, I tried to encourage him by saying, “You probably have no idea how God is using this alone time to prepare your heart for a future work.”

The same can be said for all of us when we place our lives in God’s hands and wait for Him to give us the “get-going” prompt.

Sometimes we have to wait a long, long time—at least in our opinion.

Hang in there! Think of David. Think of Saint Patrick. Oh, and think of Abraham and Sarah, waiting a hundred years for a son.

I’m sure you can think of your own examples.

Be a “man after God’s own heart.” Then ask God each day, “I’m here, ready for what you’ve got for me to do.”

Before you read this closing Bible verse, bear in mind that after Samuel anointed David, it was another 22 years before he was crowned king!

“So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power.” (1st Samuel 16:13 NIV Bible)

 

Staging Your Scene 2

Part Two

As promised, I’d like to continue with our talk about how to use theatrical elements from a real-life stage to make your novel or short-story scenes dynamic.

When you create a scene, it helps to visualize a physical place. I know, some of you are probably yawning. But, really, if you see your stage clearly, you will likely impart that clarity to your readers.

Some writers take photos, some take notes, some do a general sketch.

Because I’ve directed theater and music theater for a long time, I’m in the habit of imagining my story scenes as if they were set on a real stage.

My characters enter and exit at specific places on stage, move to their “spots,” handle props, and react to their environment: lighting, music, other characters, scenery, etc.

Nothing gets me out of another writer’s scene quicker than a confusing “place.” For example, I once read a scene where the main character was having a conversation inside an old hotel. During the dialogue, the main character and the secondary character moved outside to the city street. Only problem here was that the writer didn’t clue me, the reader, into the move from Point A to Point B, a very different environment. I was still picturing the interior of an old, elegant hotel, and was kind of jolted when the writer said that a nearby workman on a ladder dropped a can of paint which splattered all over the sidewalk and startled a horse, tied up at a hitching post. Obviously, the writer “saw” the scene change in his mind, but forgot that readers had not formed the same picture.

This is why I recommend constructing a makeshift stage (some writers actually build a diorama), or drawing a diagram for each new scene so that you don’t forget to include all the essential physical components so necessary for the audience.

The diagram also helps you remember to include how your Charlie or Miranda will enter the scene, where they move to, where else they move, who else is on stage during the scene, how they end the scene (in place, or exiting).

I know these points seem basic, but the “stage” helps you, the writer, create realistic and logical movements for each character.

Here’s a basic diagram of a stage:

 

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Note that “stage right” and “stage left”  are for the characters on the stage, not the audience.

After you’ve familiarized yourself with your stage, take little pieces of paper with your characters’ initials and place them where they begin the scene. I know a writer who uses game pieces to represent her characters

Are there other characters on stage?

Where are they situated?

Consistency in action

I read another scene where the writer had the main character dash from his car in the hospital parking lot, enter an ER admitting room, then hurry over to the nurse’s desk. Suddenly, two other sympathetic characters began to converse with the main character, with no mention of how they came into the scene. The three then had their conversation while seated in the middle of the waiting room. Wait! Weren’t they just standing at the nurse’s triage desk? Then, the main character stated that he needed to return to his car, got up and walked in the opposite direction of the entrance and…exited.

It’s easy to make these kinds of mistakes if we don’t clearly envision our scene. I know, I’ve done it, too.

Blocking

Now physically move your characters to the places they need to be. In theater terms, this is called “blocking.” Take into account the obstacles in their path: other people in a crowded store, tables and waiters in a restaurant, rocks and trees in a mountain scene, for example.

It’s helpful to read some theater scripts to see how they give directions in between dialogue, such as:

  1. Susan enters up stage right immediately after the scream.
  2. Harry takes a seat center stage.
  3. Guadalupe exits down stage left after placing the loaded gun on the coffee table.
  4. Vlad tiptoes toward up stage left.  

Consistency of Stage Direction

 

Another mistake I’ve made in my outdoor scenes was not having a clear idea of compass directions. For example, one of my characters drove south from Denver, yet saw the Rocky Mountains over her left shoulder. Hmmm. Well, I guess she could have been sitting backwards while driving with her hands behind her back. Not! Thankfully, I caught that gaffe before the scene went to my writer’s critique group.

10 key questions for your stage diagram and blocking:

  1. Where does your scene take place?
  2. What does it look like?
  3. What physical things need to be in this scene, and where?
  4. Who’s in this scene?
  5. How do they enter the scene?
  6. How, when, where do they move?
  7. Where do you see them on stage: upstage, downstage, off to the side?
  8. Do characters enter or exit during the scene? When, how, where?
  9. Where are your characters at the end of the scene?
  10. Are all elements of this scene consistent from beginning to end?

These theatrical elements seem kind of obvious, but by drawing a diagram and checking off your scene elements, you are, in essence, proofreading your scene.

After you’ve made sure you haven’t left anything out of your stage diagram, you can begin the more challenging and enjoyable aspects of theater. Stay tuned for that.

I wish you blessings on your writing.

 

 

Staging Your Scene

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Part 1

I’ve been in a lot of writer critique groups. I love to get feedback on my latest scene. Sometimes, in my earlier days of writing,  I was surprised by what other writers did or didn’t “get” in my submission. Funny, I thought I’d made it quite clear what my protagonist was doing, feeling, thinking. And the environment: I’d described that well, too, right?

Apparently not, sometimes. Because, if my readers didn’t see it, I didn’t do a good job of setting my “stage.”

Since then, I’ve critiqued other writers’ scenes. Sometimes I failed to connect with the characters and their emotions because some important aspect was missing.

With my background in theater I like to think of my novel’s scenes in terms of how it would appear on stage.

A good theater director leaves nothing out when setting the stage for a scene. After all, the magic of theater is in creating a sensory experience that will transport the audience to “another world.”

I’m not saying that you, the writer, should “tell.” Horrors! But some writers are so afraid of narrative that they shy away from describing the environment. Setting the stage is not necessarily the same thing as describing.

Think about the last time you attended a theatrical production, whether a play, an opera, a ballet, a musical, even a musical review.

A few years ago my husband and I saw “The Phantom of the Opera.” As we waited for the show to begin, I glanced up and saw an enormous chandelier hovering over the orchestra pit. On stage sat something big, entirely draped with a gray cloth.

Later, at the same moment that the gray cloth was whisked off that large object—revealing the organ—dramatic and creepy music that personifies the main character, the Phantom, filled the house. It made the audience exclaim, “Oooooooooh.”

The bare stage, the covered organ, the icily lit overhanging chandelier foreshadowed  murderous events. The organ music described, without words, the sinister character of the Phantom.

Sound had been wired throughout the auditorium. At certain times during the performance, voices and whisperings of the actors could be heard so near that we started in our seats. “Smoke” permeated the theater. Sets moved, lighting adjusted, actors made costume changes. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music at times thrilled, then hinted at, then made us weep, or sink down in our seats. Characters moved on and off stage, climbed rickety wood steps, appeared in places most actors never deliver lines.

Yes, the lyrics and dialogue moved the story. But had the environment not “spoken,” the audience would have missed so much of the mood, and thus, the emotional experience.

Oh, if I’d had the money I would have gone again and again to see the show. I loved being startled, creeped out, moved, amazed, perplexed. (How in the world did the Phantom get away when he was tied to the chair?!!!)

In the coming weeks I’m going to present the theater behind a scene. What can we do as writers to create an emotional experience for our readers? I’m not going to discuss dialogue. Instead, we’ll explore the elements of effective stage-setting. How can we incorporate them into our scenes? We’ll think about sensory details: blocking, backdrops, props, sound, lights, music, temperature: the kind of elements we usually take for granted.

See you next Monday!

 

 

Writing On The Wall

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I was thinking a month ago about the creepy account of King Belshazzar, that wicked and arrogant ruler of the ancient Babylonians. During a feast, he and his guests suddenly saw a disembodied hand writing on the wall: “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.”

The Israelite prophet, Daniel, interpreted the words to the King: “God has numbered your kingdoms and finished it; you have been weighed in the balance and found wanting; your kingdom will be given to the Medes and Persians.”

That very night, King Belshazzar was deposed and his kingdom conquered by the Medes and the Persians.

And I thought, if God were to write on my wall, what would He say?

  • Would He remind me of my pledge to speak life into others rather than criticism or condemnation?
  • Would he project precious memories on my “wall”?
  • Maybe he would put some friend on my heart who’s struggling with illness, discouragement,  or a difficulty in their family, or job, and urge me to pray for him or her.
  • Maybe my wall would contain dream and goals, and creative ideas for future stories.

So there was this blank spot next to my computer just screaming to be filled. What would I put there? Another print? A small shelf?

And I got this idea from the Whatcom County Pregnancy Clinic. They have this lovely bulletin board in the meeting room with inspirational thoughts, photos of beautiful babies that have been born to clients, thank you letters from clients.

Why couldn’t I do that, too? So I told my son and daughter-in-law that I wanted a plain but fairly big bulletin board for my birthday. When they came out to visit, Carissa and I went to Michael’s and found the perfect size. We also bought lots of tiny decorative things to hot glue onto the frame.

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This is it so far. What do you think? Can you see the words I’ve glued to the top and the bottom? “Speak life” on the top, and “faith,” “hope,” and “love.”

I’m sure, as time passes, there will be letters, photos, business cards, more timely inspirational thoughts and scriptures.

Things for me to meditate on each day: what my life is about.

A daily reminder to me “speak life” into other people’s souls and to do so in the power of the Holy Spirit empowered by the faith God had given me, and the hope and love He supplies. His, not mine.

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure,whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” (NKJV, Phil. 4:8)

 

 

 

 

You Might Be A Writer If…

  1. You love to go to the mall, not to shop, but to watch people.
  2. You love to hang out in bookstores and wish you could buy every book there.
  3. You love to go to coffee places, not necessarily for the coffee—although you’ll enjoy some of that, too— but because other writers tend to hang there, and even though you don’t know any of them, you gain inspiration from their proximity.IMG_0573
  4. You love to take walks by yourself so you can rehearse scenes out loud. (You also get very good at talking without moving your lips so no one can tell you’re talking to yourself!)
  5. You keep a notebook so you can write down favorite phrases or sentences from a great writer. “It was the best of times; it was the worse of times.”
  6. Anything around you could become a potential novel. Including your chair.
  7. You lose track of time when you’re working at your computer on a scene in your WIP.
  8. You do weird and potentially incriminating searches on your computer for strange viruses, untraceable poisons, exotic places, foreign languages, interesting names, personality disorders, how to elude a stalker, etc.
  9. The sound of rain, the scent of the sea, the touch of a leather-bound book, and the mist tumbling down over the hills all make your imagination kick into high gear.
  10. You wish fervently that you could interview the couple  at the next table in the restaurant.
  11. You’d rather write than do just about anything else.
  12. Rejection stings, and you want to give up. But you can’t. You just can’t.

So there are my twelve “you might be a writer if.” I’m sure, if I interviewed ten authors that they’d each give me twelve of their own.

How about you? Care to share some of your own “you might be a writer if…”?

Seeking the Creator in nature and the arts

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