Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Second City Chicago

Great news!  I made it into the advanced comedy writing classes at Second City!  The writing program is a year long.  The first eight months you get in by signing up.  The last four is by audition.  And I got in!  Yey!

I wrote about Second City back when I signed up for the second set of two months.

What does that mean?  Over the course of the next four months, my fellow students and I are going to compile sketches that we've been working on over the past eight months, audition actors and ultimately put on a show that will run for four weeks at Second City.

Zander (I'm also pregnant and that's the baby's name, short for Alexander) is due to be born about half way through that process, so that will be interesting.  :)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Exploring Theme

Theme is not just for literary work.  Genre fiction and mass market novels can benefit from the extra layer of dimension that theme gives a novel.  We all have unique points of view, and our characters ought to as well.  Even if your work is purely genre or mass market, a theme can add substance to your writing.  Theme is the deeper meaning underneath the events of your story.

My work actually starts from a theme or concept and bubbles out from there, but perhaps there is a theme buried within your work that you did not realize.  Prophecy's Promise is about how there is no true good side.  Another theme is that sometimes to save something we have to let it go.  The Lioness started from hearing a co-worker talk about his experiences as a Bosnian refugee living in Turkey.  I talk about war and genocide and honesty in relationships.

In both cases, I'm not trying to answer anything, but ask questions.  Is war ever okay?  Can you be truly in love if the other person doesn't know your past?

What is theme?
It's the overall message of the story.  I think Dean Koontz put it well when he said "Theme is a statement, or series of related observations, about some aspect of the human condition, interpreted from the unique viewpoint of the author."

Some examples of possible themes:
  • Ethical questions (death penalty, charity, honesty, etc)
  • Unrequited love
  • The importance of family
  • The importance of friends
  • Grief
  • War's impact

Why is theme important?
Even if you are writing something meant for enjoyment, you are still writing to communicate.  You are still expressing your thoughts and view points.  Theme is deeper than the events of your story.  It's what will keep your characters in your reader's thoughts.  It is also what can tie your characters and events more closely to your reader's life by giving your reader something to think about.

I would argue that a novel without a theme is small talk.  A novel with a theme is a conversation.  Theme adds substance to a novel.  And you may already have a theme without realizing it.  Readers will pull out themes from your writing, maybe even some that you did not intend, which is great. Your work is speaking to them.

Is there a deeper concept or theme that you are trying to convey in your current work?  Or even if you aren't trying to convey it, does one exist?

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Heroic Qualities -- or the Makings of a Protagonist

I don't know about you, but when I think of some of my favorite books, I remember the main characters.   They are different.  They are special.  Even if they seem normal, there is something inside of them that sets them apart.  That lets us root for them.  That lets us remember them.

Heroes are partially made by the events they come in contact with, but great heroes have special qualities that are apparent from the beginning of the story. These qualities help us care.  These qualities get us to care about the main characters.

Here are just a few examples of some of my favorite characters in books and two qualities that I admire in them.  These aren't necessarily the top or most obvious traits, but but I personally like about these characters.

  • Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird.  Driven.  Integrity.
  • Phedre in Kushiel's Dart.  Smart.  Sensuous.
  • Anne in Anne of Green Gables Optimistic.  Kind.
  • Dresden in Storm Front (Dresden Files Series) Honorable. Helps Others.
  • Lyra in His Dark Materials Cunning. Tenacious.

Also, many of these good traits end up getting in their way.  Dresden rushes into situations that are over his head in order to help people.  Phedre can be a bit too sensuous (well, she is a courtesan) which gets her in very interesting and dangerous situations and causes friction with her lover.  Atticus is so determined to do the right thing for a wrongly convicted man but this puts his children in danger.

Any strength taken too far can become a weakness.  Persistence can become obsession.  Optimism can keep people from seeing life's realities.  Integrity can become unbending.  Each character's strength taken too far can be their greatest weakness or if not a weakness, can add consequences and conflict.

  1. What are some of your favorite characters?  What are two traits that you admire in them?      
  2. Can you add one or two of these traits to your protagonist?
  3. How can each of these traits cause problems for the protagonist?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Clocking Writing Time

My first draft of The Lioness is complete at a bit over 50,000 words.  On the first draft, I'm a very sparse writer.  It's mostly dialog and basic movement information.  It's tons of action and very little reaction or internal motivation.  I'll more about that at some other time.

I am a very slow writer during the drafting process.  According to the notes that I have kept, I write at less than 500 words per hour.  That means that this first draft is over 100 hours of just writing time.  That does not count planning or thinking time.

How do I know this?  I track my writing time and my word count increases during that time.  I'm trying to notice patterns in when I am more productive.  Here is my log from September through this weekend.

  • I mostly only write on the weekends.  But, I could tell you this without tracking my time!
  • Sometimes I am very bad and miss almost a month of writing.
  • Word count per hour is slightly higher if I've written within the past few days
  • If I write every day, the count per hour does go down after a few days (I think because I've not spent as much thinking time in between)
  • Some scenes are just easier to write.
  • Dialog is fastest for me.

Do any of you track your writing time?  Do you notice any patterns?  About how many words per hour can you add to your WIP?

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Year Wrap Up

This was a big year for me.  Here are just a handful of highlights.

February - Finished my first novel to what I think is print-ready.  Took four or five years, with many starts and stops.

May - Visited China

August - Decided to self publish once I have three print-ready books.

June - Started second novel, The Lioness.

September - Found out I'm pregnant with my first child

October - To Maine and back road trip for fall foliage

December - I'm within spitting distance of finishing the first full draft of my second novel.  It's at 45,000 words right now and I have three chapters that need plot.  Well, two and an "epilogue" chapter.  Maybe I can do it today!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Bun in the Oven

The base of my pun for my blog title is actively true.  There is a bun in the oven!  I'm 16 weeks pregnant.  The baby is due May 18th.

It has slowed down my writing clip.  NaNo became a 5,000 word month rather than a 50,000 word one.  But, it also gives me some motivation to wrap up my novel before the kid shows up.  Last weekend was the first time that I had the mental energy to write since early October.  It's been tough.

My WiP is about 30,000 words done.  My goal is to have it 100% complete before the baby comes.  I'm a slow first drafter, which is very blocky and the revisions is where I really start to add words at a decent clip.  So, I'm feeling pretty good about that goal.

I'm not sure how much I'll be able to write with a newborn. 

For any of you writing Moms out there, how long after giving birth until you were back to a writing habit?

Thursday, October 31, 2013


Welcome to day T-1 of NaNoWriMo, a month where writers make a goal to write a 50,000 word novel.

I'm not doing that.  I'm going to try something a bit different.

My goal is to revise my very rough first draft.  My goal is to polish up a chapter a day, starting today.  I've got 31 chapters, so starting a day early will let me get through everything by the end of the month.

I'm a very basic/outliney draft writer.  I don't write much prose.  I write tight dialog with a few sketches of who is where.  So I need to go back and fill in the lines.  Also, all of my battle scenes current read something like A fights B or A fights and wins.  As I said, basic/outliney.  It's just my process.  I even still have a few chapters that are a couple sentences long.

So, one could argue that I'm not even done with my first draft.  But, I'm excited and ready to take it to the next level using NaNo as my driver.

Anyone else out there doing a modified NaNo?  What are you doing?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sketch Comedy -- Behavioral Interview

From the Second City Website
I'm starting to take a Writing Class at Second City, an improvisation/comedy venue in Chicago.  Second City alums include Tina Fey, Steve Carell, John Candy, Mike Meyers...actually many of the Saturday Night Live cast members studied at the Second City, including John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Gilda Radner.

I'm not going there to change my career nor my writing focus, which is fantasy.  I'm just hoping that it will add a new dimension to my writing.  Even though this class focuses on Sketch Writing, there will still be some improv. I'm hoping that it will translate to faster writing and better dialog.  I took Writing I almost a year ago and then didn't continue with it.  I've also taken a couple of Improv Classes as well.  After seeing a Second City performance on Saturday, I decided to look into continuing.  Low and behold...classes start today.

Here's my first and only sketch ever, it's what I wrote in Writing I.  What do you think?  If you like this, I can post all of my sketches as I write them.  I'd love to hear your feedback!

As an aside, Second City offers an online writing class if you feel sad that you don't live nearby the LA, Toronto or Chicago training centers.

Please note that this contains expletives.

Behavioral Interview
by me...Lauren Amundson :)

(Sara is sitting in a chair behind a desk.  There is another chair on the other side of the desk.)
Sara – Send in the next candidate.
 (Jimmy enters; both look shocked to see each other)
Jimmy and Sara (nearly together but not in unison) – What are you doing here?
Jimmy – I’m here for an interview.
Sara –I’m the hiring manager.
Jimmy – Oh, shit.
Sara – Please, sit down.  HR should have given you a folder.  Please hand it to me.
(Jimmy sits and hands the folder to SaraSara flips through it.)
Jimmy – You look well.   It’s been, what, four years?
(Sara keeps flipping through the papers for a few more moments.)
Sara – Fine.  Let’s just try to be professional.  Describe a situation when you were able to strengthen a relationship by communicating effectively. What made your communication effective?
Jimmy –Come on, that’s not even fair!
Sara –  It’s on my list.  I have to ask it….but I think I know the answer to that one.  Excessive vocalization; poor listening skills.  (pause to take notes)  There are times when we work without close supervision or support to get the job done. Tell me about a time when you found yourself in such a situation and how things turned out.
Jimmy –  Well, back at ABC Corp, I was a member of a team that --
Sara(Interrupts) I think you know the unsupervised situation I am referring to.
Jimmy – I admit, and have on multiple occasions, that sleeping with your friend, Tina, while you were out of town was wrong.  And I apologized.  And bought you that necklace.
Sara – Give me some specifics on your decision making process in that situation.
Jimmy – I dunno.  I was drunk.
Sara – You were not.  You were stone-cold-sober.  I walked in on you.
Jimmy – Oh, I got confused about which time. 
Sara –Tell me about a time that you had to work with difficult people and give an example what you did to make the situation better.
Jimmy – I usually try a direct approach.  In one situation, your mother was butting in about my expenditures.  You had complained to her rather than having a direct approach with me.  See, I like directed communications, not trap ones.  I explained to her that she needed to mind her own fucking business.  Successfully, she never came to our apartment again.  Much better.
Sara - Can you give me an example of motivating those around you?
Jimmy – I used to tell you that you gained a lot of weight, but now you’ve lost most of it.  That must have been motivational.  You look great.
Sara -   I see that you describe yourself as a ‘people person’.  Can you give me an example?
Jimmy – Tina seemed to like me.
Sara – Great, I think I have everything I need.  (shuts folder) We’ll be in touch about the next steps.  The receptionist will see you out.  Thanks for your time.
Jimmy – So, I’m not getting the job, huh?

Sara – No.

Friend Makin Mondays -- School Days

friend makin mondaysThis is something that Kenlie at All The Weigh does.  Basically, you answer a few questions and link to it at All The Weigh.  

School Days
1.  What was your favorite subject in school?  Math and Science.  I always doubled up in at least one of them.  My friends used to joke that I was Hermione from Harry Potter...back in the day when it was only books) and needed her device for taking my extra classes.  I also enjoyed English, especially the assignments that required writing...go figure :)
2. Did you attend elementary school and high school in the same town? Yes, but I was homeschooled in Jr High.
3.  Are you still friends with anyone that you met during school?  Just one girl.  We have been friends since the 5th grade.  She and I and our significant others are going on a road trip to Maine in October.  But, she's the only one.
4. What activities were you involved in as a student?  Rock Climbing Club, Spanish Club and a couple other things that I don't remember anymore.  
5. Did you bring your lunch, or did you get it at school? I used to work on homework in the library at lunch at least a few days a week.  I went a semester where I only ate candy while at school.  That wasn't very healthy.  Outside of that, I'm pretty sure that I bought my lunch most days, but it was a long time ago.  We had a very nice cafeteria with an amazing salad/taco/potato bar.  I ate that quite a bit.   We were quite lucky with the quality of our lunch food.
6. Did you enjoy shopping for clothing and school supplies?  I've never been too big into shopping.
7. Name a song or a band that reminds you of high school.  Dixie Chicks.
8. Did you like school?  I enjoyed learning, but I did not like college my first time through.  I went back a few years ago to finish my college degree and I enjoyed it much more as a non-traditional student.
9. How long have you been out of school?  I graduated High School 12 years ago.  I finished college nearly 4 years ago.
10.  What did you like most about school?  What did you dislike most about school?  I enjoyed the socialization part when I was not homeschooled.  I didn't mind the homework.  I felt that it was a challenge.  Although, I typically did the homework for one class during the class before (thus the doing homework in the library, those were the days that I was falling behind!)...

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Binge Writing

First off, I want to state that I am a fan of the "Write Every Day" camp, but I'm thinking about trying something a little special for the Labor Day Weekend.  I'm going to set at 30,000 word binge writing goal.  I'm going to cancel all plans and am trying to get my husband to go away for the weekend or at least make a bunch of plans with his friends.

It will start Friday night and end Monday at midnight.  So, three and a half days.  I plan to have the work outlined and ready for the binge so that I'm not just floundering.

Has anyone out there tried a binge writing weekend?  Any thoughts?

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