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The W Plot

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I just read an article on yet another form of plotting. This one’s called the W Plot. My arsenal now includes the Hero’s Journey, the Virgin’s Promise, and the W Plot. I’m a pantser, but I’ve finally come to agree with writing coaches regarding the importance of plotting and finding the right one to fit your novel.

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I just learned about the existence of the W Plot today in an email from writing coach, Lynn Johnston. I then found an article that presented the W Plot’s bare bones on a Blog by Ken Strathy. Intrigued, I went to a video about the W Plot narrated by Mary Carroll Moore in 2011.

Writing coach Lynn Johnston believes that, “The W Plot is one of the most flexible, easy to understand plot structures you can use to plot gripping stories.” Johnston is offering an inexpensive (very) course on the W Plot, so, after reviewing the above information, I signed up.

writers block.jpegI do, however, realize the trap of investing so much time on the creation of plot charts that I never get around to writing or finishing my novel. In fact, spending so much time on the left side of my brain has started to give me right-sided writer’s block!

islands.jpgMoore offers sage advice for this dilemma: “If your storyboard blocks your writing, go back to your brainstorming list of topics and keep generating islands for a little while.” For fiction writers, Moore’s “islands” refer to scenes you generate for a story that may not necessarily connect to your storyboard plan or character arc – at the moment. Generating a list of scenes, and even fleshing out a few, can get the creative juices flowing once again. Moore continues, “Eventually, you need to organize your islands. Your islands must become continents. They can’t stay as islands and create a book.”

Update: I just completed a self-study course by Lynn Johnston on The W Plot. I believe it will help me work through the snags in my current WIP. My new project didn’t fit into the Hero’s Journey or The Virgin’s Promise plot structure. I think this might be it! Johnston has slides, videos, and worksheets available with the course. I highly recommend it!

Categories: authors, books, Hero's Journey, Story Structure, The Virgin's Archetypal Journey, The W Plot | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lines between Past and Present Fade

 

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Today I read in the news that, “Several days of civil unrest have rocked Poland as hundreds of thousands of people across the country protest the government’s bid to replace Supreme Court judges and the EU threatens to intervene.

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My YA historical fiction novel, Rising Hope, tells the story of six Polish teens who find hope, despite great loss, when their Boy Scout and Girl Guides troops fight alongside the Polish Underground Army against the Germans during WWII, culminating in the 1944 Warsaw Rising. Book two will follow the book’s fictional characters as they join a spy network NIE, during the Cold War, a resistance effort against the newly installed Communist government in Poland.

For the sake of Poland and its long struggle for freedom, I hope the current leaders listen to the protestors. After Poland overthrow Communism, it created a new constitution that called for courts and tribunals to constitute a separation of power, independent of other branches of power (Chapter VIII, Article 173). Political opponents, rights groups and the EU say that the changes the current ruling party has proposed will “undermine the separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary, a fundamental democratic principle” (UK’s Express).

For those wanting more background, the Express explains, “Since being elected in 2015, PiS [meaning Law and Justice, the current majority party in Poland] has tightened government control over courts and prosecutors, as well as state media, and introduced restrictions on public gatherings and the activity of non-governmental organisations.

“Last week, parliament passed another bill that ends the terms of current members of the National Council of the Judiciary, one of the main judicial bodies, and gives parliament powers to choose 15 of its 25 members.

“Political opponents, rights groups and the EU say the changes undermine the separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary, a fundamental democratic principle.”

What do you think? Let me know.

Categories: books, current events, in the news, Poland | Tags: | Leave a comment

Sleuthing & Subtext

I just read two thought-provoking articles that shared gems I hope to employ in writing the first draft of my next novel’s first chapter – hopefully by this weekend!

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One article discussed what the mantra of “show don’t tell” actually means. The writer boiled it down to the concept of “sleuthing” – creating scenes where readers must conduct a bit of detective work in order to figure out what’s going on with the characters. This makes readers feel more engaged in the story, helps them feel as though they’ve come to know the characters better, and provides them with a sense of ownership of the people and the scene. “Since the reader did some work to figure out what was going on, they now feel included, emotionally invested.”

 

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The second article illustrates how we can create subtext in dialogue by taking into account all of the forces acting upon a character at a particular moment. Using the illustration of a crumpled ball of paper getting thrown into a trash can, she shows that, while the goal of the shot is to make the ball enter the receptacle, more forces come into play than just the person’s goal of making the shot. Other forces, such as the pull of gravity, the friction of the air, the breeze from the ceiling fan also come into play. The person making the shot makes an assessment (albeit subconsciously) of all those forces before taking the shot. In the same way, “With each line, we [need to] take into account all of the forces acting upon a character.” The protagonist’s goal “is not the only force acting upon the character, it is simply the most dominant. Like the fan breeze that bends the path of the paper ball, other forces will bend the behavior of a character. This is the source of subtext.”

I’m looking forward to creating scenes that invite my readers to do some sleuthing in order to discover my characters’ wants and needs. I also hope to take into account all of the forces acting upon my characters at a given moment in order to create plot points that utilize subtext. Sleuthing and subtext will add layers of dimension to my characters while also deepening my readers’ emotional connection to the characters and the story.

 

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Story Structure – The Virgin’s Archetypal Journey

I recent posted about a Webinar I attended that focused on story structure. The presenter, Beth Barany, has graciously provided a link to the Webinar that also included helpful slides. I highly recommend you take time to view it.

nail down.jpegI’ve recently struggled to nail down the proper structure for my current work in progress. After the Webinar, however, I resonated with a form Beth called “The Virgin’s Archetypal Journey”. Several of the structure categories Beth discussed were ones I’d never heard of before, including this one. Beth emphasized that the word “virgin” in this structure’s title doesn’t refer to a lack of sexual encounters. Rather, it describes a main character who experiences an internal change because he confronts the story’s conflicts and obstacles. These challenges cause the protagonist to discover a dormant, unproven potential that lies within. As the main character acts on this discovery, it changes not only the protagonist, but also the world  he inhabits. This structure differs from the Hero’s Journey where the central figure overcomes obstacles that lead to an inner change, resulting in the hero selflessly saving the community.

The differences between these two structures illuminated the darkness of my writer’s block as I realized that I was trying to make my protagonist a hero, when in reality, he was a virgin!

Beth outlined and described a list of thirteen beats that formulate the world of a character whose storyline fits the virgin’s archetypal structure. The originator of the Virgin’s Archetypal Structure, Kim Hudson, explains her understanding of this construct in an article titled,  “The Virgin’s Promise, a New Archetypal Structure“. I’m still trying to digest all of this new information and would love to hear your take on it!

Categories: authors, books, historical middle grade fiction, inspiration, links, Story Structure, Structure, The Virgin's Archetypal Journey | Leave a comment

How to Choose Your Story’s Structure

rolling up sleeves right.pngNow that I’ve agreed to value lessons more than successes, I’m rolling up my sleeves to make major revisions on my current work in progress. I participated in a Webinar last night titled “How to Choose Your Story’s Structure” (recommended by my writing coach).  The presentation opened up a whole new area of thought for me regarding “structure”.

Hopefully I’ll devote subsequent posts to topics covered in the Webinar, (you can email Beth Barany to ask if she’ll repeat this Webinar in the future) but I’m going to focus first on material Beth referenced from a book titled The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne.

recumbent bike left.jpgToday I watched the first of five (free) YouTube videos regarding Coyne’s Story Grid. They were easy to watch while I huffed away on my exercise bike for eight minutes. (No judging here – I’m slowly building up my stamina!). The material filled in knowledge gaps that I realize will make my WIP stronger. I just ordered Coyne’s book and will read that in conjunction with watching the videos.

One of Coyne’s major points that hit me over the head is the idea of creating “obligatory scenes”. This concept proposes that different genre readers have specific scenes they look for when reading a particular genre. If these scene types are not included, the reader will feel disappointed and probably not read more of your work (or may put the book down before finishing}! I never heard the idea  of “obligatory scenes” before. I asked Beth during the Webinar if Coyne covered obligatory scenes for historical fiction, and she did not think so since historical fiction can include either romance, adventure, mystery, or other specific genres. I believe historical fiction, despite its inclusion of some of these other genres, DOES have some specific elements of its own. I’m looking to discuss this further with other historical fiction writers. Any takers?

Categories: authors, books, inspiration, obligatory scenes, Story Structure, Structure | 8 Comments

The Silver Coin – The Aleppo Connection

Silver Coin Cover
John Dewey once said meaningful learning occurs when successive learning experiences “are integrated with one another. It [a learning experience] can be built up only as a world of related objects is constructed.”

That’s one of the tasks of volume 3 in the middle grade historical fiction series Ancient Elements –  The Silver CoinThis adventurous series about life in Ancient Mesopotamia relates to the 6th grade social studies curriculum.

The Silver Coin includes maps and scenes of Sam’s father on a caravan trip from Babylonia to Tyre in search of a treasure and revenge. Dagon’s caravan travels through the ancient city of Halab, known today as Aleppo. The teacher’s guide provides information helping teachers relate current events in Aleppo to Dagon’s 1780’s BC experience of the city, giving students, as Dewey suggested, a meaningful learning opportunity  where “successive experiences are integrated with one another.”

More information at: www.mariesontag.com and www.thebronzedagger.com

Categories: Aleppo, Syria, Omran, current events, authors, books, current events, historical middle grade fiction, social studies | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New WIP – All That Glitters – With STEAM

I’m excited to move forward with my new middle grade historical fiction work in progress, tentatively titled, All That Glitters. Yesterday I visited Oak Hill Memorial Cemetery, the final resting place for several people from the Donner party, including Virginia Reed, who was thirteen when she came West with her mother, stepfather, and siblings.

In my middle grade historical fiction story, All That Glitters, the thirteen-year-old historical character, Virginia Reed, befriends my (fictional) thirteen-year-old character, Daniel, and his ten-year-old sister, Hannah, orphaned siblings who travel West with a guardian, Jim Savage, in 1846 (Jim is an historical figure). Jim, along with his wife and my two fictional characters, Daniel and Hannah, travel with the same wagon train as the Donner Party, but before reaching the Salt Flats they leave Fort Bridger sooner than the Donner party, so Jim and my fictional characters don’t get caught in the winter storms as do Virginia and the other families. My characters later meet up with Virginia after the Donner Party survivors reach California in the spring of 1847.

In the meantime, Jim and my fictional character, Daniel, fight in the Mexican-American War, discover gold, run trading posts, befriend Indians, then lead a battalion into Yosemite to rout out marauding Indians who attack trading posts and miners – miners who have trodden the Native Americans’ lands and killed their people. The Mariposa Battalion members become the first white settlers (historically true!) to set eyes on Yosemite as they attempt to take the Ahwahneechees to a reservation. Friendships, prejudices, revenge, forgiveness, justice and injustice abound as Daniel and Hannah try to find their way in this middle grade coming of age historical fiction novel.

bancroft-libraryI recently visited the Bancroft Library on the UC Berkeley campus which specializes in housing first and second-hand documents from the 1800’s in California, especially the California Gold Rush period, to help fill in some holes in the research I’ve conducted so far.

I am about one-third of the way through the manuscript and am excited to continue. A friend who now works as a STEAM TOSA teacher (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math focus, teacher-on-special-assignment) suggested I include STEAM ideas at the end of each chapter. This will make the book even more useful to 4th grade teachers who want to include STEAM activities when they discuss US westward migration as part of 4th grade social studies, and also very valuable to home-schooling parents. I visited my friend’s classroom yesterday to see a STEAM project she created for 4th grade students. She has them making covered wagons, using the engineering design process. Very exciting!! I’m hoping to collaborate more with her as the manuscript develops. Stay tuned!

#VirginiaReed
#GoldRush
#Yosemite
#MariposaBattalion

Categories: California history, Donner Party, gold rush, historical fiction, gold rush,, historical middle grade fiction, social studies, Virginia Reed | 1 Comment

The Silver Coin

PhoenicianShipBook 3 of the Ancient Elements series is now in its final editing stage! This ship is one of the illustrations in the book by my wonderful illustrator, Marsha Ottum Owen. The book’s cover art is still in the development stage.We hope to publish by the end of June, or early July. If you’d like to be notified when it’s available, use this contact form. I can hardly wait! A 6th grade teacher at Kennedy Middle School recently read an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) to her class and sent me their comments. A sampling of some of their comments is below.

 

SC_coin.jpg My class LOVED reading about Samsuluna’s adventures and as a teacher, I loved that there was so much about the civilizations woven throughout the narrative! – Ms. Yeung, 6th grade teacher

The Silver Coin will take you on a roller coaster of emotions with your adrenaline racing as you and the character merge to becomeone.— Mahati

Amazing end to the series of The Elements. Many twists and turns that keep you forever on your toes. — Will

The Silver Coin, the last book in the trilogy of the Ancient Elements series, is a great ending book. The plot has amazing twists and readers will really enjoy it. Dr. Sontag didn’t disappoint in any book, letting students learn while having fun at the same time.— Diya 

This final book to the Ancient Elements series is a mix of romance, adventure, surprise, and history all perfectly measured and combined into a single book.—Sophia

An epic conclusion to the Ancient Elements series, with tinges of romance woven into the gripping plot.—Victor

Mystery on top of mystery, an aching thirst kept me awake at night, dying for more.— Rachel

It kept the whole class on the edge of their seats the whole time. —Sophia

Educational yet thrilling, The Silver Coin thrills the reader with twists and turns all ending in one grand finale. A terrific ending to the tale of Samsuluna.—Nitin  

Dr. Sontag does an amazing job of entertaining the reader with a very intriguing plot with lively characters and devious plots, while also putting ancient civilizations into the mix, putting it all together to make a very intricate story of three perspectives slowly coming together in a spark of adventure. This finale, The Silver Coin, for the Ancient Elements series sure will grab you and won’t let you go.—Shreyas 

Exciting, gripping, and edgy are just a few of the words that can be used to describe The Silver Coin. Dr. Sontag perfectly combines and contrasts adventure and mystery in this stunning end to her thrilling trilogy. —Riya 

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Why I Write – Reason #1

fal bed.jpgWhy I Write – Reason #1: So I don’t fall out of bed at night.
At least, that’s my working theory. You see, this month I haven’t had time to write. My mom, who has lived with us for the past three years, has dementia that advanced to the point where we needed to find her a place to live where she could receive professional care. Getting this in place absorbed all my time and energy this month.

As a result, my story brain went into overload. The other night I struggled to free myself from gunmen (in a dream), but discovered my feet bound with a belt. I cut my bonds with a knife, but my legs still wouldn’t move. I had to will my body to roll over to avoid getting shot by my pursuers. The next thing I knew I was on the floor next to our bed with my husband looking down on me, asking if I was okay.

So if I don’t return your call or email right away in the next few weeks, it’s because I’m busy writing so that I won’t fall out of bed at night.

 

 

 

Categories: authors, books, inspiration | 4 Comments

Author Visit to Kennedy Middle School

 
Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 2.46.53 AMLast week I spent a day and a half at Kennedy Middle School in Cupertino  sharing with their  6th grade students (500 of them in groups of 60 at a time!) about my Ancient Elements series of books, The Bronze Dagger, The Alabaster Jarand The Sliver Coin. They also got to see and touch my ancient artifacts. What a sharp and delightful group of students! In sharing about the writing process, I talked about how becoming a writer was always one of my dreams, and compared having a dream or a passion to the process of making a hard boiled egg.  After discussing the comparison, I asked students to put this quote from Carl Sandburg in their own words, “Nothing happens unless first a dream.” One 6th grader said, “It means that when you have a dream about something it’s usually beyond what you think you can do, but if you really want it, having a dream helps you push past the hard things to make it happen.” I then asked students to share some of their dreams. They included becoming one of the fastest runners, becoming an inventor, an engineer, a teacher, and a writer, among other dreams.

chasing_dreams_10-15One student came in wearing this top. She was delighted when she heard one of our topics was about having a dream. I was disappointed I couldn’t take her picture because of privacy issues, but she surprised me when I returned to the school the following day by bringing in the top and letting me take a picture of it without her in it!

 

Categories: book marketing, books, school visits | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

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"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

Cathleen Armstrong

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

A Writer's Diary

Author, Educator, Consultant

Blissful Scribbles

Musings through the journey of writing my first novel

ACFW - DFW CHAPTER a.k.a. DFW Ready Writers

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

ACFW SFBayArea

Northern California Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers

Letters to Noah

Spoken words are fleeting, but written words last beyond a lifetime.

Sontag Writing Dreams

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

marsha ottum owen

I make Children's Books

Under His Wings

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

Cathleen Armstrong

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

A Writer's Diary

Author, Educator, Consultant