Here are the 12 questions, all in one place!

I often throw around the statement “Writing saved my life.” But what does this really mean? Below, I’ll be talking about one very specific way that writing saved me, and how important it is to all humans. When I was a little girl I used to walk in circles around my backyard, twirling my curls around one finger and sucking my lip and, most importantly, telling myself stories. When I made a “mistake” I forced myself to start over from the beginning. Obsessive Compulsive or Aspiring Writer? You be the judge.

Jokes aside, later I realized that this activity served a very specific purpose for me as a child—it alleviated my anxiety. But why?

In WIRED FOR STORY, Lisa Cron argues that story was crucial to our evolution, providing templates for survival in a dangerous world. “Story is what enabled us to imagine what might happen in the future, and so prepare for it.”

So by telling myself stories I was “preparing” myself for my future. I was helping myself “survive.” But I wasn’t content just telling myself these stories. I wanted to become a writer and share my stories with others so I would feel less isolated and alone. But how can we “seduce” others to care about our stories? We need to write stories that guide them in their own lives, that teach them how to “survive” too.

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to  kill a mockingbird theme

Here are the last four questions. I hope they are helpful. See if you can apply them to your own work. Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas!

9. What is the biggest crisis of the book? (Dark night of the soul). How does it test the character? In TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, perhaps it is the shooting of Tom Robinson, when Scout realizes the corruption of the world. This serves to open her mind and heart.
10. How does the climax demonstrate a push toward the resolution of the character arc? When Scout is saved from Ewell by Boo Radley she realizes the true nature of good vs. evil and not to fear what she doesn't know or to judge someone just because they are different.
11. What is the theme? Can you state it as a cause/effect sentence? If...then... Can you state theme in terms of character arc (and survival?)? If we open our hearts and treat others with kindness and morality and as our equals, if we protect the innocent, we will mature into wise, content adults in spite of the evil in the world.
12. How does the resolution of the book reflect the theme? Scout is safe and loved with her family and she has a friend—Boo Radley—and an open heart, all of which will help her "survive."

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I met Kelly in the 90's at a video store where she was working. She looked exactly like Weetzie, with short platinum hair.  We became friends and she did my makeup for a photo shoot.  She's an amazing makeup artist, as well as fairy vegan mommy.  When I asked for models for the T's, Kelly, and her BF, Dylan, volunteered. Don't they look awesome?  Kelly and I discovered we both have gone through similar traumas with our retinas and both suffered some permanent vision loss.  But we've survived!  I love her.

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What style of writing will you use to tell the story? How is the character reflected in the style and through the POV? How is the story problem reflected? This is important because it will help us invest more deeply in the story so that we will be seduced into learning the things we need in order to “survive.” In TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, Scout's spunky voice can engage the readers, drawing them into the story without hitting them over the head with a theme or didactic message. 

 Think about style elements that seduce the reader into the world of your story.  Is your voice fresh and natural and uniquely yours? Does it reflect the tone of the story? Is your imagery sensory and rich and do you avoid cliches?  Is the POV you've chosen the best one to convey what you want to your reader?  First and close third are most common and share similar advantages. But don't be afraid to mix it up, as long as you are clear and consistent and be sure not to change POV's at random, but always for a reason.  Are your sentences smooth, do they flow, is your syntax correct? What about your grammar?  Do you have a natural rhthym between description, action, dialogue and interior thought? Some of these things can be improved in your second and third drafts but you should have a sense of your voice right away. Try to write in the voice that comes to you naturally at first. After a few chapters, take an objective look and see if the voice is working. Analyze what works best and what isn't as successful and then put conscious effort into tailoring the voice as needed.


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elementals sale black

This book was begun six months before I discovered my mom had cancer.  The mother in the book has cancer but I didn't know about my own mom's illness when I was writing this. I completed THE ELEMENTALS whilie sitting on the floor outside the room where my mother lay dying. It is the book I have been trying to write since I was in my early 20's and it is very dear to my heart. My influences were THE LOVELY BONES, THE SECRET HISTORY, Celtic faerie lore and, as always, my own life and especially my experiences at UC Berkeley.  I'm happy to offer you this special one time Kindle deal. Love, flb

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Our 7th question is: How does setting help define or contrast with the story problem? This is important because...

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It's interesting to me that many of my students don't know the answer to this question:  Who is the antagonist? Some people argue that the story problem or the protagonist's inner struggle is the antagonist but I would argue that this is not enough and that we must embody opposition in an actual physical foe. The story problem has to be expressed through character interaction and confrontation. The inner struggle is expressed through interior thought, dialogue and action but not inter-action. 

When we know our antagonist, and know him or her well, it is much easier to work on our novels.  A strong, dimensional antagonist adds tension, conflict and most importantly forces the protagonist to change.

Ask yourself How does my antagonist interfere with what my protagonist character wants? How does my antagonist force my protagonist to achieve what they need? This is important because it provides obstacles to the character goal, raises the stakes and gives the reader the dopamine rush as they wonder, what will happen next? Mr. Ewell is the obvious antagonist Scout must overcome in the climax of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Boo Radley is the false antagonist at the beginning, and even Atticus can be seen as an antagonist in that he forces her to change. In my opinion, a love interest or parent or best friend antagonist is the most complex and interesting and dimensional. If they are generally a positive force in the protagonist's life you will want to add a more overt antagonist as well. 


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