Writing Tip: Story Trumps Structure

“Tell the story that’s been growing in your heart, the characters you can’t keep out of your head, the tale that speaks to you, that pops into your head during your daily commute, that wakes you up in the morning.” -Jennifer Weiner

Story always trumps structure. Outlining and plotting a story are necessary steps in writing; however, they can end up derailing the process if they are the driving force. Follow the organic process of story shaping, and let the story inform the direction of your writing. Spend time on your character development and they will tell the story for you. Fear and uncertainty will always drive you back to the outline, but part of the artistic process is learning to how to channel that fear into creativity and not confine yourself because of it.

#ruthegriffin #studiogriffin #reader #writer #publisher #selfpublisher #selfpublishing #writingtips #publishingtips #writingprocess #journaling #creativesuccess #storyteller #quotes

What About Me?

As a Latin woman, I have experienced racism and discrimination, some at the hands of my stepfather who was of Dutch German ancestry (i.e. white). There’s another VERY LONG and SORDID story there, but I remember hearing him speak negatively of my Puerto Rican father and being confused. I couldn’t understand how anyone could espouse the mindset that they were better than someone else, just because they had less melanin in their skin.

Then I met his dad, my step-grandfather. He was a hard man with no kind words for anyone, including family. He made my stepdad look like a bleeding-heart, liberal, snowflake who bucked the establishment by shacking up with a woman of color to prove a point. It was an uncomfortable visit, because, you know … racism. He had an obvious disdain for brown people, but I would say that at the core his issue was about something else: it was about self, it was about “What about me?”

Numbers 12:1-2 Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses because of the Cushite, woman he married (for he had married a Cushite woman). They said, “Does the Lord speak only through Moses? Does He not also speak through us?”

I read this Bible verse many times but it never really made sense to me. I mean, here you have Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ older siblings and co-leaders with him, criticizing Moses’ decision to marry an African woman. Their OPEN response to him was racist (working with family is always fun <insert eye roll here>), but their argument was, “Has no God also spoken through us?”

To understand this, you have to look at their backgrounds. Moses had lived the life of an Egyptian prince, while his family languished in the Jewish ghetto. He had everything provided, while they suffered. He was chosen, while they had to wait. And now he has the audacity to bring home a foreigner. I think Miriam and Aaron were less concerned about her skin color and more concerned about what this meant for them.

“What about me?” they were saying, even as they criticized the woman for her ebony skin and African features. “What about what we’ve done in the service of our God?”

Maybe they feared being set aside once again, being forgotten, being replaced. And she was the one who represented the loss of their moment, the loss of their glory, the loss of their spotlight. So they shot her down to raise themselves up.

“What about me?”

Suddenly she was the reason they were soon to lose their jobs. Or soon to lose the praise of the people. Which then spirals into the reason everything was going wrong in their lives. And then her and her kind were only there to get a handout, while they had done everything right …

“What about me?”

Racism, at its core, is about selfishness. It starts with selfishness, then evolves into the evil we see today. The abuses, the slurs, the mindsets, the lack of human empathy. Because when you repeat, “Me, me, me,” long enough, no one else matters. Nothing else is as important. It’s about a focus on what happens to me, what can be done for me.

Unfortunately, we’ve let this go beyond the point where we can nip it in bud, but even as we protest to bring about change, we can raise our children, bring up this next generation, and live according to our purpose as Christians — really, as human beings. If we love one another, if we are kind to each other, then our response ceases to be, “What about me?” That is something we can preach, something we can model.

Black lives matter.

Period.

My stepdad never changed, but I did. Following that episode (plus a few years to mature my thinking), I learned how to feel sorry for my stepdad and how he was raised. His mindset was wrong on every level, and his words and actions were hurtful, but I understand that he was repeating what he was taught, and that, to me, is sadder than anything else.

Eating Out

“If you cleanse it, will they come?”

I heard that on 60 Minutes and to be honest, since I had nothing else on queue, that’s what I’m going to write about.

I had a taste for Mexican food this past week and my daughter and I stopped at our favorite Mexican restaurant to get some carry-out. This was my second time ordering out since the pandemic started so I was excited and then surprised to find that this restaurant was actually open for dine-in. I considered sitting down for half a second. Then my daughter said, “No,” in that special way that teenagers say no that tells you you are about two inches tall in their sight. And so we took our meals home.

I miss eating out. I miss going to restaurants of different cultures and varying tastes and sitting down at someone else’s table to enjoy foods I don’t necessarily have the talent to cook myself.

I realize that a lot of restaurants are open (conditionally) but with no COVID-19 vaccine yet, I hesitate to return to what was. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that frequenting restaurants during the pandemic, which I guess is still going on, will help them. In fact, I have done my part to support a local coffee shop in my neighborhood (to the point where they now know me by name and favorite drink), but even walking into that shop to pick up my drink has been difficult. This was the place I would hang out in to get work done, to read, to edit, to create.

Sigh.

So, let’s go back to the original question—if you cleanse it, will they come? I think so. We drove through a neighboring city this weekend and saw many, MANY people enjoying their meals at various restaurants. Does that mean I’m being overly-cautious? Probably. I mean, society has to reopen at some point, right?

I guess we can only do what’s best for each of us. Maybe I’ll venture out again or maybe I’ll wait a few more weeks, who knows? We’ll find out when I get another craving for vegetarian fajitas or bean arepas, with arroz con frijoles and platanos.

I’m Not The Introvert I Thought I Was

So I’m not the introvert I thought I was. Don’t misunderstand me, I am still happy being at home, hanging out by myself with myself, or having minimal contact with humanity, it’s just not as fun as it was before.

You can liken it to a kid being given permission to do that thing that they normally aren’t allowed to do. Like staying up. It’s a novelty the first couple of times, but eventually, you just end up going to sleep at or near your bed time, because the result is not something you bargained for. No, you weren’t tired when you were sent to bed, but you were  the next morning, as you dragged yourself out of bed and forced yourself to get ready for the day, even though all you could think of was going back to sleep.

That’s how it is for me now. As an ‘introvert’, I’ve always looked forward to the weekend, because that meant I was able to stay home and chill. Yes, I had chores – a house to clean, a car to vacuum, laundry to do, books to edit, manuscripts to write – but I could stay home, avoid people and do them. And because it was only two days a week, the idea of staying home and doing this, day in and day out, was an illicit fantasy, something I could dream about, something I thought I wanted.

Then corona virus happened. For the first week or two, the stay-at-home time was great. I worked and kept my routine, reveling in the time I had to myself.

But it kept happening. Suddenly my office was too small, the exterminator who stopped by to give us an estimate was standing too far away for my taste, and I was actually starting to miss going into work.

And still it keeps going. It got to the point where I had to take a mental health day this past Friday, which is funny, because I was already home. I should have been able to relax, but even that had changed: there was no movie or social media to help me unwind, just a couple of hours of sitting on the porch, something I wouldn’t normally do during pollen season.

I know that I’m not alone in this. We are all going through this, in one way or another. And we’re going to make it through this pandemic, it just won’t be unchanged. We’re all going to walk away with the realization of how much we need each other – family and friends, but other humans as well. We were made for each other, and if we’ve learned nothing else, then we’ve learned this.

So that’s where I’m at right now. How’s your stay-at-home time going?

 

The Writing Process

I was perusing the internet the other day and came across an advertisement for the Master Class courses out there, that include guest teachings from Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood and the like. This one included Dan Brown and I took the bait and clicked on it. While it was the normal, “Hey, you’ll learn this and that when you pay us this much money,” I found the sound bites from Mr. Brown interesting. This is one of them:

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When I started out writing, I mostly guessed at what I was doing. Now I understand there is a process, which helps us beyond the initial idea. That’s where the (actual) writing process comes in. This process involves anywhere from three to seven steps, depending on who your ask, but the key steps are these:

  1. Pre-writing is anything you do before you write a draft of your document, including thinking, taking notes, talking to others, brainstorming, outlining, and gathering information.
  2. Drafting or writing occurs when you put your ideas into sentences and paragraphs. In this stage, you concentrate on explaining, supporting and expanding your ideas.
  3. Revision is where you think more deeply about your readers’ needs and expectations; and you rearrange, add, take away and or replace your words so that your message is clear.
  4. Editing involves grammar, mechanics, and spelling. But you should not edit until the other steps have been completed.

Like I said, there are other steps out there, but these are the ones everyone can agree on. And they are the road map for writing. I’ve been guilty of skipping a step or two in the past…or at least trying to, but when a step is omitted, or it’s out of order, it throws the whole process off. Trust the process. In writing, but also life. That’s how Mr. Brown ended his talk: he said, “There were days that I wasn’t sure how I was going to do this. That’s when the process saved me.”

#Writing #Be #BePositive #SilverLinings #Writingtips #Journaling #Process #Writing Process

The Sexy Hero

Let’s talk about the male protagonist (a.k.a. the sexy hero). For romance writers and readers out there, what makes the hero sexy? Given the choice, which of the following three would describe your ideal hero?

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L to R: Fabio, the original poster boy for steamy romances; Jim Hopper from Stranger Things; or Leonardo Montenegro from Overboard (2018)

As a (former) connoisseur of romance and erotica books, most of the male characters I read about were devastatingly handsome, with chiseled abs and a smoldering look. They were bad boys with good hearts, or good guys in bad situations that only the female protagonist could resolve. They were usually rich, had a complicated backstory; and all of them, regardless of age, had the stamina of a race horse <wink, wink>.

So if we’re going from the pictures above, Fabio is the obvious answer. But here’s the thing: after a while, I got tired of reading about these perfect specimen of men because they were all the same character. It was a formula – there was nothing of substance to them. These men were the reverse of the voyeuristic sexism we see in films, where women are cast as bimbos in bikinis, who are only there to be seen, not heard.

But obviously I included the other two men in the line-up for a reason. Yes, romance and erotica appeals to the sexual part of women so often denied. But the truth is, when it comes down to it, women need more than just looks. Yes, a handsome man with hard-core abs is a sight to be appreciated, but at the end of the day, what defines sexy? Is it appearance or something else?

I watched the first season of Stranger Things a year after it came out. It took me a couple of episodes to get into the show, but once I did, I was obsessed. When the second season premiered, I binged all the episodes in the first couple of days. There was a particular scene in the end when Hopper was in the parking lot of the school with Joyce, the adult female protagonist, and while his feelings her were obvious, he was sensitive to the fact that she was still grieving over the loss of her boyfriend. He put his arm around her and pulled her into an embrace. No abs and certainly no Swiss bank account, but very sexy.

In Overboard (2018), Leonardo Montenegro was a rich playboy, so he fit one of the traits, but he wasn’t particularly tall, ripped or devastatingly handsome. On top of that, he was a promiscuous jerk. Kate had no plans to fall in love with him, but when he started caring for her, cooking dinner and babysitting the girls so she could study for her nursing exam, he went from playboy to sexy hero in her eyes and captured her heart.

Neither one of these two men were sexy in the classical sense. They didn’t fit the formula, but they were sexy nonetheless. Why? Because it wasn’t about them, it was about the women they aroused sexual desire and interest in. That is the definition of sexy after all. Yes, looks might be a part of it, but when it comes to the sexy hero, it’s about the female protagonist and what turns her on. It is the woman who determines what makes him sexy.

So as you write your story (or simply read it), keep in mind what the female wants. Not in the sense of a fantasy, but what fulfills her. Abs are great, but in the end, it might be his willingness to do the simple things, to alleviate her load, to lift her up…those are the things that makes him sexy. So you could say, all three of the above are sexy, but only in the sense that it’s the woman making the calls.