James Scott Bell and the Magical Mirror Moment

Storytelling has a rhythm, a structure based on centuries of tales recounted wherever people sat together, around a fire, or a table, at a bedside or in a classroom. Three acts, a middle turning point, a crisis and a denouement comprise most. Simple enough, I hear someone say. Not at all.

Countless books on writing have dealt with the structure of novels, and now websites devoted to writing and bloggers eager to help other writers, do the same.

Until my current WIP(work-in-progress), I’d been a pantster, getting on with writing and worrying about structure later. This time, I plotted and outlined and followed my work count, making sure that the ends of the acts fell where they should, that there was a middle turning point, that a hook moment existed, not too far into the first act and so on, and so on. All great, until James Scott Bell wrote Write Your Novel from the Middle, a terrific(and short) book that defines a mirror moment, at the exact middle of the book, in which the protagonist assesses herself, and makes a decision based on her own psychology, what sort of person she is going to be, or assesses the forces against her and the certainty of her death, whether physical, psychological, or professional. From that, the writer develops the pre-psychology and post-psychology. So far so good. Then he writes about the two pillars, or doorways of no return. I was familiar with those. I’d read his excellent book Plot and Structure. So now the novel has three points: a first doorway at about 20% in, the mirror moment and 50% and the final act, again shorter at 20%. Other writers suggest longer first and final acts.

His description of the method is clear and freeing. Writing the mirror moment, the point of realization, means the first half must lead to this moment and the second half lead to the crisis and transformation.

My personal problem with this is that the WIP was more than half done when I read about the mirror moment. It turns out that this is not the problem, but part of the solution. I found my mirror moment, tucked into the middle of the book, where it belonged, and now I’m revising with a surer grasp of where I need to strengthen the plot or make the psychologic pressures clearer.

So yet again, I’m grateful to James Scott Bell, for his concise, entertaining and useful books about writing. I buy them on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/James-Scott-Bell/e/B000APSY8A or at Writers Digest Shops http://www.writersdigestshop.com/catalogsearch/result/?q=james+scott+bell

Disclaimer: No connection whatsoever with James Scott Bell, except that of reader and student.

A Community of Writers


I spent three days at Elmhirst’s Resort on Rice Lake with the group attending Writescape’s Spring Thaw. The purpose of the retreat is to allow time for writing without the distractions of every-day life: no meals to make, laundry to do, groceries to buy, questions to answer. Peace and time. I wrote 3000 words of my next Anne McPhail, Dangerous Journeys adventure! Productive days for me.
But that isn’t why I go as often as I can to Writescape’s retreats. I find a community of writers there, women who are open, supportive, affectionate and non-judgemental. Writing is a solitary occupation, but anyone who has worked without a community as I did as a solo paediatrician in a small town, knows that support from others  is invaluable.
Most of the women, except for one stalwart who flies in from the west, live and write in the communities to the south of mine—Ajax, Whitby, Pickering—but come together at the Writers Community of Durham Region. Time, perhaps for me to join them and grow my personal circle.

Below is a photo of a lovely morning on Rice Lake

Elrmhirst's Resort, Rice Lake

Eight signs of spring

Signs of spring.

1. A miniature iris is blooming, freckled purple beside the brown sticks of a miniature rose

2. Our landscaper dropped by.

3.The lawn has reappeared sporting mounds and trails created by moles, the entrances to their tunnels as big as holes at the golf course.

4.The river below our house, a stopping-off spot for migrating birds, has welcomed baffle-head ducks, loons, Canada geese, a Great Blue Heron, the returning ospreys and many gulls.

5. Returnees to the feeder include blue jays, cardinals, finches-yellow, purple and the orange variety of house finch, chickadees, woodpeckers.

6. Dogs of all descriptions and their humans have taken to slow ambles along the streets, instead of the head-long rush to get the business done before noses and tails freeze.

7. Ice has left the river.

8 The wild turkeys have left for their home in the bush.Image

 

Writing and reading and more writing

What with one thing and another, it’s been a while since a new blog appeared in this space. I haven’t been slacking but focussing on three projects.

Revision of A Child for the Taking for the tenth or eleventh time. I’m using AutoCrit to revise this time. The software’s frequency of words feature allows me to rework phrases and sentences, one scene at a time.

Reading Saving Fillide, my work-in-progress up until Christmas. I sent it to my Kindle and reading in book-format allows me to catch and mark errors.

Writing The Spanish Connection(tentative title)  my latest Anne McPhail mystery.

In between I read Will Ferguson’s 419, a brilliant novel until the ending. Although the ending is dramatic and memorable, I didn’t believe it as I had the rest of the novel. The character as I understood her was too clever to make the decisions Ferguson detailed.

Fun reads over this time have been the latest Penny Brannigan mystery set in Wales: Never Laugh As a Hearse Goes By by Elizabeth J. Duncan and a series by Susan Shaber—The Louise Pearlie Mysteries. The latest is Louise’s Dilemma. Great period detail of WWII Washington.  Her Majesty’s Hope , the latest in Susan Elia MacNeal’s Maggie Hope Mysteries is set in Britain during the same time period.

I’m looking forward to attending Writescape’s Spring Thaw with Ruth Walker and Gwynn Scheltema in April at Elmhirst on Rice Lake: great company, opportunities to learn about the craft and free, uninterrupted time to write.

Queen’s Quarterly

Queen’s Quarterly, the magazine of Queen’s University Alumni Association, was established in 1927 and continues publishing today, articles of interest both to alumni/alumnae and to the general public. The current issue includes

Eight years after his first visit to China, PROF. JOHN P. SMOL, PHD’82, one of the world’s foremost environmental scientists,returned to that country to deliver a series of lectures. The Review invited him to report his impressions of China.”

The principal purpose of the Quarterly is to keep alumni up-to-date with the news from the university and each other.

Brian McFadzen an alumnus and friend wrote an article about me and my books that appeared in the latest issue as well.

You can find it here: http://tinyurl.com/qhsxorq

The Dog Days

The Dog Days

An August morning. A  house finches flashes ruby, resting on a daylily stem beneath a yellow flower before attacking the feeder again. The grey squirrel climbs the post and holds on with his hind legs, extracts seeds from the portholes and then feasts while his body sags earthward.

The birds fly away, unwilling to do battle with such a large creature, knowing there’s more food just a short distance in my neighbour’s back yard.

The dog days are supposed to be hot, fit only for lying about on the patio, drinking beer or coolers or wine or gin and tonic, but today opens like a day in September, after a cool night. The yellows and oranges and whites of the August garden, with a hit of vivid mahogany from a daylily whose name I have forgotten turn the cool white and green of early July into a county fair of colour.

All ready we’re thinking of what we should move, where we should cut back, how we should reorder the plantings.

Is it time to simplify? Now that we’re older and the garden is too, do we need to cover some beds with grass and leave the garden to the lawnmower’s whine?

Perhaps some day, but not yet.

The front of the house is more difficult—a smaller space but out-of-control. The heat from the grey stone that encloses four squares and lines the new bed turn the garden from a mid-Ontario zone 5b into something approaching a Mediterranean climate. In June the purple of the lavender loomed over the mauve of mother-of-thyme, set off by stands of daffodils. The lavender and thyme seed everywhere: into the cracks between the pavers, at the edges of other plantings, one tiny grey-green spike of lavender popping up amongst a clump of alyssum. We didn’t plant the alyssum, not this year. Another volunteer who found the winter mild enough to survive.

The roses suffer. Too much heat for varieties bred for a northern climate, like us, perhaps, struggling across the country with weather more suited to southern locales.

Thoughts on Rejection

Should rejection of a piece of writing arrive mere hours after submission, or after months of waiting?

I submitted the same novel to two publishers, one in the UK and one in Canada. The UK publisher is a new enterprise, the Canadian one a press that has been going for years. The UK publisher rejected and notified within a day. I’m still waiting for the Canadian publisher. It’s been 79 days.

I think a month or three of waiting is preferable to a rejection by return e-mail. The latter suggests to me that only the query letter has been read and perhaps not all of that. I purchased a query letter assessment from Writers Digest and the doctored version is the one I send.

Noah Lukeman, in The First Five Pages, states  that agents and editors are looking for reasons to reject, beginning with the presentation and will only read those first five pages. If they can’t find anything there, they will move on to page 99 or read other random selections.

His book details the reasons for rejection and proposes solutions. Each chapter ends with exercises to address the problems.

So what should I do?

Take the first chapter to my critique group? Done.

Ask writing teachers to assess it? Done.

Revise and rewrite? Done.

Ask a beta-reader’s opinion? Done.

I’ve considered posting the first chapter online at Wattpad and inviting comments, but hesitate because some publishers won’t look at anything that has been published in part by others, even oneself.

Should I decide that the manuscript belongs in a drawer? Perhaps, but not yet. I have a few weeks until I want to start serious revision of my work-in-progress, and I think that I will spend them revising A Child for the Taking. Noah Lukeman’s book will be my guide this time.