A Shocking Lack of Story

It’s everywhere. Last night I watched part of “On the Lot” again with my daughter. The contestants’ assignment: make a 1 minute comedy. The ones that got the rave reviews were the ones that were not only good filmmakers, but good storytellers. Several had no story at all. None. The judges were quite severe on this flaw.

I wish those judges had been around for the making of Pirates of the Caribbean 3. I wasted 3 hours and $7 on a movie with no plot. Just familiar characters doing familiar things but without real goals or direction. I hated it.

But before I point fingers, I have to say it is a weak point in my own writing. Over the years I’ve learned some things. I can use active verbs and vivid words. I can show instead of tell. Characterization and dialogue are becoming easier. But my story—my plot—is often weak. So I’ve been studying this weekend. I pulled out all the writing books on my shelf and read and took notes on everything relating to story structure and plot.

One quote I found particularly encouraging came from Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction. “It’s probable that your impulse to write has little to do with the desire or the skill to work out a plot. On the contrary, you want to write because you are sensitive. You have something to say that does not answer the question, What happened next? You share . . . a sense of the injustice, the absurdity, and the beauty of the world; and you want to register your protest, your laughter, and your affirmation. Yet readers still want to wonder what happened next, and unless you make them wonder, they will not turn the page. You must master plot, because no matter how profound or illuminating your vision of the world may be, you cannot convey it to those who do not read you.”

So I’m encouraged to learn to tell a story well, to make sure the plot is as strong as the other aspects of my writing. It’s something I’ll have to work at, but I believe it’s an attainable goal.


The Pitch

I sat down with my daughter to watch the premier episode of “On the Lot” the other night. This is the new reality contest show for filmmakers. 12,000 people entered short films. 50 were chosen to go to Hollywood. Their first task: the pitch.

This fascinated me. Each contestant was given a log line (a generic plot for a movie.) They had 24 hours to come up with a pitch for a movie. In other words, come up with characters, a setting, a plot and convey the essence of the story in just a few minutes. This is not unlike pitching a novel to an editor. But while I’ve listened to people talk about how to pitch and I’ve practiced my pitches, it was infinitely helpful to watch someone make a pitch. To watch not only the one pitching, but the ones being pitched to.

Here’s what I gleaned:

Excitement on the part of the one pitching is paramount. When the one pitching is unsure of the viability of their storyline, so are the ones listening. Eye contact and poise are a must. Even a bad or mundane idea impresses when presented with confidence—without wringing of hands or a facial expression that seeks approval from the listener. The pitcher has to believe in his story before the pitchee will take it seriously.

Only a well-thought-out storyline comes across without confusion. When the one pitching the story is unsure of the plot points, the pitch rambles, often becoming convoluted. The one hearing the pitch becomes confused and uninterested. Vague plot points become quite apparent.

Imagination and creativity in a storyline must still maintain a semblance of reality. Don’t take it too over the top. In other words, a completely wacko twist to a story, instead of lending interest, makes the one hearing the pitch question the experience—and sometimes the sanity—of the one pitching!

After this round, 14 contestants were asked to leave—about ¼. I’m sure in real life, the pitch weeds out more than that, be it in film or literary endeavors.

Pitching is one of my weaknesses. Watching these brave souls succeed and fail on national television made me determine to work harder on my pitch before attending my next writing conference. After all, the pitch is an editor’s first inkling that you have a story to tell and that you can tell it well.


Disappointing News

It’s official. I didn’t final in the 2007 Genesis Contest. I had such high hopes after last year, but, alas, I get the humbling experience of not doing as well this year as I did last year. I know this is not the end of the world, or even of my writing career. But it’s disappointing all the same.

It will be interesting to get back the judges’ comments. After I sent in the entry, I completely scrapped that beginning and started over. I like the new version so much better. Maybe this is just a confirmation that the first version wasn’t on the right track. Maybe it is an inkling that although I love to read historicals, perhaps I should write contemporary (last year I made the finals with a contemporary story.)

All I know is I’m a bit discouraged. But given a little while to process the information, I’m sure I’ll be fine. That tenacity that has been mine since the day I was born will rear its head and I’ll soldier on. After all, the Lord has only called me to write. The results of that are completely up to Him.


Bad News Bears Make Good

My sixth grade son is playing his last season of sports outside of school. In order to get the boys at our school ready, my husband compiled first a basketball team, now a baseball team. These are boys with a ton of confidence but negligible ability. Oh, a few here and there can hold their own, but for the most part, it is a matter of imagining their athleticism as quite different from what it really is.

So in basketball, they lost every game—but they beat the first place team in round one of the end of season tournament. You’d have thought they’d taken the NBA trophy! They next game, they received a trouncing. Then they moved to on—to little league baseball.

Yesterday they played their seeding games for the end of season area-wide tournament. They won both games, scoring 11 runs in one game, 12 in the other. After the second game, my husband gathered his team and asked, “When did the aliens come in and replace the team that’s played for me all season?”

And it was true. While they did win a couple of games this season, they mostly looked like the Bad News Bears. Remember? They had some pitching, but little else? Their efforts in the field were simply a series of blunders? (I won’t compare the two coaches. Needless to say, my husband doesn’t resemble Walter Mattheau’s character in the least!)

So suddenly our team finds itself catapulted into the quarter-final game. Yes, they may lose today. They may lose badly. But they will arrive at the game with two incredible wins to remember.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid it will only feed their overactive 12-year-old egos.


1664 words.

Not as good as yesterday, but still okay. At least I'm feeling good about the story.


3639 words today!

The secret formula? A suddenly free day, a diet Dr. Pepper at 3pm, and my husband out of town on business!


A Memorable Mother's Day

I’ve tried three times tonight to write a post. For one reason or another, I’ve deleted all my previous words. So here, in a few sentences, is an encapsulation of my Mother’s Day:

I ate too much Mexican food and laughed with my kids.

I watched as a major league baseball player originally from Japan stopped to sign autographs before the game. When time ran, short he made it clear (I’ve heard he doesn’t speak much English) with one word—kids—that he would finish with the kids that were in line. Adults were moved out of the way and the eyes of young boys (including my own) lighting up in appreciation made me cry.

I watched my two boys, among the older ones of those begging for pre-game autographs, notice two little boys standing behind them, both holding balls and pens. They scooted aside, brought the little ones up front, and the gracious player signed for them all. My boys are awesome!

As I poured a bowl of cereal for a light dinner, a bird swooped over my head and into my breakfast room! We finally got it shooed out the door after it ran into at least three windows looking for an escape route. How it got inside we’ll never know!

My daughter finished Les Miserables (abridged) for her honors English project. We discussed the book together, ending with her thanking me for helping her understand how to write a literary analysis of the book.

All in all, I’d say my Mother’s Day turned out to be one I’ll always remember.


It's been quite a week. Way too much going on. I have to rein in my schedule somehow!

But today was productive (finally!) 2445 words. AND I revised a short story I'm considering submitting.

All in all, I'm pleased. Now if I can just get in more than one writing day a week! Yikes!


Eight Random Things About Me

Two posts in one day! Have y’all fainted dead away yet?

I’ve seen other bloggers get “tagged” before. Now it’s my turn. My friend Mary tagged me in the 8 Random Facts game. Here are the rules.

1. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.2. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.3. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.4. Don't forget to leave them a comment telling them they're tagged, and to read your blog.

So here are my 8 things:

1. I attended three different four-year colleges (2 in Texas, 1 in Pennsylvania) before graduating—a semester early, no less!

2.I attended Texas Girls State the summer between my junior and senior years of high school.

3. My first car was a 1967 Mustang (a fact my daughter reminds me of—often.) I drove it for about four months until I was hit from behind and decided a big car was a good thing.

4. I never had any desire to go to Hawaii—until we got a chance to go to Maui five years ago. Now I can’t wait to go back!

5. I majored in history because my freshman English professor gave me a C (and a low one, at that) in my first writing class my first semester of college. Now I’m working at writing as a career. Go figure!

6. I worked in the campus library to put my husband through the last half of law school.

7. Laundry is my favorite household chore. It wins by default, because it is the only one I’m good at!

8. I have never had a broken bone.

So who to tag? Mary tagged most of the bloggers I know and read. So let’s go with Robin, Tina, and Richard. Tag, you’re it!

Internet Oddities

Sorry I've been so erratic posting lately. My DSL has been on the fritz. I'll be cruising along, reading blogs, emailing, when VOILA! No connection. I huff a bit, walk into my office, and see the angry red light blinking next to "DSL" on my modem. I unplug it, plug it back in, and wait. Sometimes it connects, sometimes it doesn't.

But here's the really odd thing: when I call my service provider, it reconnects--almost instantly! The first time, it just seemed like a Murphy's law thing. The second time, I chalked it up to coincidence. But now half a dozen times we have dialed the number--dialed the number, mind you, not spoken with anyone--and BLIP, the DSL and Internet lights blaze green.



What I Was Made For

We’ve been hearing teaching on spiritual gifts at church for the past few weeks. It’s been really good. It got me thinking (yet again) about the gifts God has given me and am I using them.

I’ve always pondered this question. When I was younger, I took several different spiritual gifts inventories/tests. But trying to life my life by those answers didn’t bring a lot of fulfillment. In fact, it often brought frustration. I wonder if I answered some of those questions with how I wanted to feel about and respond to situations, not how I actually did. But things are coming clear now, perhaps because I’m older and I know myself better or because this teaching has been a bit less convoluted than previous ones.

I used to mistake my love of study as a teaching gift. But I don’t long to impart my knowledge to others in a teaching capacity. Instead, my study of the Word allows me to encourage others with Scripture. I used to think I had the gift of administration. But while I am somewhat organized, left to myself, things often fall apart. I’ve learned to be organized. I encourage others to work at discipline and organization in their own lives. But it isn’t inherent in my makeup as a person.

So now I see. In everything I do, my underlying motivation is encouragement of others. When I write, my heart’s desire is to encourage my reader to press on, to grow in their faith, to the do the right albeit hard thing, etc. In my friendships and my family relationships, it is natural for me to say “you can do it” or “you’re doing great, keep at it.”

And I feel fulfilled and at peace knowing that this is what God has made me to do.

Case in point: I am not a cook. It just isn’t in me. When we were first married (in 6 weeks it will be 20 years ago), I tried. But on a $20 a week grocery budget, mistakes cost too much. When my kids were little, my best friend (Lucy to my Ethel) convinced me we could cook once a month and freeze everything. We did. For a few years, we had decent meals. But it wasn’t really due to me. If I hadn’t had Robin in the kitchen with me, it would have been a disaster! Then that, too, fell by the wayside. So for the past few years its been a rotation of baked chicken, tacos, spaghetti, a roast in the crockpot—you get the idea. Nothing creative. Nothing exciting. I felt like such a failure as a woman, a wife, a mother.

This past year, my daughter has discovered a love of cooking. She is creative, artistic, patient. She loves the process and the finished product. She is discovering gifts of giving and hospitality where her food is concerned. And we’ve been eating great! But the best part? I feel so at peace. She is using the creativity and talent God has given her and while I’ve been available to help when needed, I mostly encourage her to keep trying when she occasionally fails and voice my amazement at her every culinary accomplishment. Suddenly, I don’t feel like a failure anymore!

It feels good to finally be beyond the need to have a more visible gift. It feels good to use my gift with my family and friends, which, in most cases, is using my gift to build up the church (in a universal sense.) And it feels good to know that day by day, as I sit in my house and write, that too is a manifestation of the gift God has woven into the fabric of my life.



1458 words

Not what I wanted, but considering that I was supposed to be at a middle school track meet all day (praise God for rain), it's better than nothing.

It just feels so good to get a little bit of time to wrestle with words and story.