Friday, November 6, 2009

Writing Exercise - Revelations

Just skimming over the previous posts and the comments - I'll address those tomorrow. Here's my exercise:

I don’t often talk about the most difficult decision I’ve had to make in my life, for the simple fact that to talk about it is to admit that my husband cheated on me. Oh, he was contrite. Apologized profusely, promised me it was the only time he had been unfaithful, swore that he would never, ever fall to temptation again. And I almost believed him.

When you marry the love of your life it’s hard to think of life without him. We had been high school sweethearts and back then I was overjoyed to be seen on the arm of the cutest guy in school. Marriage and a happily ever after was a given – my friends were not surprised when he proposed. My mom was ecstatic. And I must admit, the reaction of my friends and family played a role in my decision. Crazy, eh? Here’s a man who has reneged on our wedding vows, most obvious the vows about fidelity, and I’m worried about what others think of my decision to leave him. So indictitive of my life, I’m a people pleaser.

Which is why my decision was so hard. I weighed the pros and cons in typical me fashion. I’m a scientist and my husband, ex-husband, always complained about my analytical personality. When I was younger, blinded by love, I thought his bitching was playful teasing. Later, when I realized he was truly unhappy with my structured ways, I tried to change. Looking back I see that I was trying to please him and the signs of our marital breakdown were as plain as the nose of my face.

I can hear you all out there, judging me – "Why would she even think about staying with a man who cheated on her?" It’s easy when you’re sitting in your living room, miles away from the situation. I wanted to believe the man I have loved for years. I wanted to believe that we could move past this indiscretion, a blip in our relationship and when all was said and done we would be stronger. But in the end, I knew I could never forgive such a violation on a sacred vow. Admitting that my husband cheated on me is hard, deciding to move out and begin life as a single woman again has been even harder. No matter how I am convinced I’ve done the right thing and my life will eventually be better, I still question my role in his infidelity and whether or not I’ve made the right decision.

I used my almost finished romantic comedy for this exercise. My heroine is Jane Greene and the story begins with her decision to take back her life after a year of living as a single woman – and mourning the loss of her marriage and identity. Revenge simmers below the surface of Jane’s rebirth. I knew of her backstory, the demise of her marriage, but I had never really thought about her making the decision to end the marriage. As she says, it’s so easy to say how could she not end her marriage when her husband cheated on her, much harder when she’s living the situation.

When I started writing about her difficult decision I knew I would have to weave those elements of Jane into the story. Her people pleasing personality, her analytical side, her almost unconscious change in how she lived her life. Those things will need to be played up as Jane takes steps toward rebuilding her life and becoming a strong, independent woman with much to offer. Then when another man becomes much more than just a friend, she will be tested again. Will she regress, morph into a person she believes he would love or will she be strong enough to be the person she loves?

Did I learn anything? Yep – gave me a glimpse into the character arc that will propel the story forward. And the internal conflict that Jane will need to resolve in order to discover love is possible again. It also gave me some great insight into the external conflict that will come between Jane and the hero (Ryan).

Every time I do one of these exercises I start out by creating a scene. A little story, a chance to flex my creative muscle. I end with some ‘aha’ moments and another idea to make my story stronger, more believable. I have done a similar exercise (although didn’t think of it like that at that time) when I was struggling with the murder backstory in Lady Bells. I had to actually write the murder scene in order to get all the characters who were involved in the right place and the timing perfect since the three people believe three different truths of that night. Only then could I sprinkle in the hints that leads Lady Bells to discover the truth. Only then could I, myself, really believe the events as they unfolded and understand the motives of everyone involved, including the murderer.

I love writing exercises. I think next time I get writer’s block (or struggle with laziness – still thinking about that ‘aha’ moment from the conference), I think I’ll look at writing short scenes based on a writing exercise. It will either be a scene I’ve been thinking about writing or a question on a character or event I’m stuck on. In fact – I think I’ll start right now. I need to drop in some other conflict at the beginning of Lady Bells (thanks to Lisa Rector-Maas’ workshop ~ don’t leave the big conflict/tension for the middle of the book, hook the reader early). I know what I want to hint at, just can’t figure out how. That’s my exercise – write the hint in this scene, then write the hint in that scene. I’m sure I’ll find that ‘aha’ moment and I’ll be able to move forward.

So, People of Blogland, did you enjoy our writing exercise week here on The Prairies? Did you play along? Have you used writing exercises to help you in your writing blocks? Have you ever made a difficult decision that others believed was a mistake?



Karyn Good said...

Aren't writing exercises great. I'm just beginning to appreciate the value of them. Sounds like this exercise provided you with great insight into your character and has given you ideas on upping the conflict. We can always use more conflict.

I like what you said about not leaving big tension for the middle. One of things I'm working on is not hording ideas and saving them for later but using them right now.

Glad to hear the conference had some 'aha' moments. :)

Janet said...

The conference was excellent - too bad you weren't there (but you were mentioned frequently, so it was just like you were with us). I think Suse sent a document summarizing Lisa Rector-Maas' workshop to us via e-mail - that's where I learned some important stuff for getting the conflict and tension on the page sooner rather than later.

BTW - I commented on your exercise. You did a great job :)

Silver James said...

I've been sadly absent from comments this week. *hangs head in shame* I have been reading and learning though! Wow! Chicks, you all did some amazing writing this week. I'm going to add just a bit here, from Duncan, my hero in FAERIE FIRE.

"It seemed easy at the time, walking away from Moira. She was safe, there in the room across the hall with doctors and nurses looking after her. Safe for the moment. I knew though, that if we might ever have a future, I had to deal with the past. To do that, I had to hunt down and kill Boru." He shrugs, no apology in his expression or his posture. "He left her tied in a burning barn. He meant for her to die."

He rubs a calloused hand over eyes reddened from lack of sleep. "Life on the run isn't easy. The Americans want me for that incident at Faerie Glen. Interpol wants me, too. They think I've killed those others. Boru did it. Or someone in his cell. Not that it matters. This ends here. And now. My life for hers. When it comes right down to it, that's the way it's always been, the way it should have been back the very beginning."

Pushing up from the chair, he shrugs into a battered leather jacket. "When you see Moira, tell her..." His voice breaks and he has to clear his throat before he can continue. "Tell her I love her. And that I'll find her. I will find her. This life or the next."

Anita Mae Draper said...

Janet, I was caught up in Jane's story. 'Nuff said. Good job.

I'm not one for doing writing exercises unless it's at a writing group mtg or retreat because it takes me away from the actual business of writing.

Having said that, this exercise was very useful to me and now I'm wondering how I am going to come up with one when my month comes. Hmm.

Siler, kudos for giving us a piece of your work. It took me until the 3rd paragraph to realize you were writing different than normal. 'He shrugs...' 'He rubs...' etc. I don't believe I've ever read anything like this. There. Now I've shown how illiterate I really am.

Silver James said...

I haven't been in Duncan's head in awhile, Anita. I wrote that quickly, as if I were sitting across a table from him, listening in present time. But that was the hardest decision he ever made. He had to walk away from the woman he loved more than life in order to keep her safe. He would have to kill to keep her that way. And he likely would never see her again.

Janet said...

Silver - long time, girl! That was a great insight into Duncan's dilemma. And I'm glad you popped back to give us more information - I was going to ask if you gained anything from the exercise. Sometimes, I like doing an across the table visit with my characters - gives me some insight as to how they move, react, their quirks which I can then use when I'm in their POVs.

Good luck with NaNoWriMo, Silver.

Janet said...

I like to think that any kind of writing helps the creative process. Pen on paper is a way to hone the craft, try out different genres, POVs, descriptive words without having to commit it to the work in progress. That's why I try to keep up with my journal writing, dabble in poetry every now and then, and take on writing exercises knowing that my 'business' writing will be stronger for the practice.

Good luck coming up with an exercise. I had a hard time finding this one - but if you google 'writing exercises/practice/prompts' there are some great things out there you can either use or adapt.

And thanks for the compliments on Jane's story. Her decision and how she came to that decision will be very important to her 'now' story.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
I'm looking forward to reading all of Jane's story some day soon. Can't wait! You must have been writing like mad the last week if you are nearly done. Good for you.

I hadn't appreciated the power of writing excercises either until I tackled this one. I think I found the "arc" of my story as you said. I have more insight now into what is motivating Bridget. I think I need to do something similar for her hero Jack. Maybe he'll tell me something new about himself.

Silver I'm loving the little snippet you've given us here. Can hardly wait until Faery Fire comes out. Wait, is it Faery Fate or Faery Fire in April 2010?

Thanks for the exercise Janet. I hope the one I picked for next month will be as successful.


Hayley E. Lavik said...

Janet, I absolutely loved the voice in your exercise. It drew me right in without even knowing what the story was, who this character was, or anything. Just a little exercise, but it shows the power of voice, and of course a compelling conflict like a cheating spouse.

I'm trying to get caught up on blogs and get back to more regular checking/posting, but at the moment, the sky outside has turned an absolutely gorgeous dusk hue, and I must find my camera.

Will try to catch you online sometime soon, and assault you for details on the conference :)

Silver James said...

Thanks, Jana! FAERIE FATE comes out first. I just finished up edits on FAERIE FIRE, which is why Duncan was on my mind. I have hopes I'll get a release date for FIRE not too long after April 9, 2010.

(Why yes, shameless self-promotion, why do you ask?!? LOL)

Janet said...

Hey, Jana! Thanks - I have been writing like mad, but on Lady Bells trying to get those first 30 pages in tip top shape. I'm thinking of doing something radical and I'm forcing myself not to - but in my attempt to bring conflict and tension and a deeper POV, I think the story is that much stronger.

I really hope you try this with Jack. I think once you have his primal conflict Welcome to Paradise will step into the next level and you'll have an even more intriguing story.

Can't wait for the next exercise :)

Janet said...

Wow, Hayley - that means a lot. You know how much I've struggled with voice in my writing and to have you compliment this exercise in that way...thanks.

Looking forward to chatting with you. Surrey was amazing.