Category Archives: Jo Schneider

Tension

If you pull on an object with a rope, the rope will stretch slightly (often imperceptibly). This stretch in the rope will cause the rope to be taut (e.g. under tension) which allows the rope to transfer a force from one side of the rope to the other.

We’ve all seen movies or read books that had us either figuratively or literally sitting on the edges of our seats. Those crazy action sequences where you can’t see a way out for the hero, or the moment when the love interest has to come clean about lying to the heroin in order to win her heart, or that breathless heartbeat right before the couple’s first kiss.

As a writer, your reader’s emotions become ropes, and your story the force pulling on them. Not pushing, but pulling. Drawing them in, keeping them wondering how the guy can date two women on the same night and get away with it, or watching as the characters step farther and farther into the haunted mansion.

I remember reading Fellowship of the Rings for the first time. It was early in the morning and I was in my creepy basement on the treadmill. I only turned one light on so I could read while I walked. This particular morning I found myself in the section of the book where the fellowship enters the Mines of Moria. The prose is of course beautiful, the language masterfully chosen to set the air of fear, suspicion, and abandonment.

By the time the party reaches the room where Balin made his last stand, I was on the edge of my seat. They find the book and begin to read about how the dwarves were overwhelmed by the orcs. Then the drums begin.

Boom.

Doom.

My heart was pounding far faster than it should have been, and I kept turning the speed up on the treadmill.

Seriously, I was practically running. It was at that moment I understood what an author could make a reader feel with tension. How Tolkien slowly pulled on that rope, tightening it with each page while at the same time giving the characters just enough hope to keep them going.

This month we’ll be sharing some of the ways to put tension into stories. From romantic to action. There will be something for everyone. Stick around, it’s going to be good.

Today Could Be That Day!

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Does anyone else think that their creative process is about as effective as trying to walk on Jell-O? Sure, you can do it, but the trip is precarious, and the outcome is iffy at best.

January is usually a time to reflect on the past year and look forward to a new beginning. Many people make goals without having an actual plan for change, while others simply don’t bother, knowing themselves well enough to understand that writing it down won’t change their daily run to the gas station for a doughnut or a soda. Or both.

I think most of us are good at spotting our big picture goals, but where we stumble is with an actual plan to get from here to there. And once we throw ourselves off the wagon, even just for a moment, the goal is then forever out of reach.

Well, I’m here to offer a different approach. Because why is it that January 1st is the only day we all feel like we should maybe change something in our lives? Or start down a new path? What about, oh I don’t know, tomorrow? Are we allowed to start over tomorrow?

Back to my creative process. I go through spurts. I can write an entire novel in a month, then I have two months where no matter how much I try, it seems that nothing will work. Not creating, not editing, not fixing, not even eating lots of chocolate in order to make everything better. Sometimes even my trusty Diet Coke fails me. I can throw hours and hours at a plotting problem, and I’ll get exactly nowhere. Then, the stars align and suddenly I’m once again a writing machine. Nothing can stand in my way as I masterfully fill all of my plot holes with the perfect puzzle pieces and my novel is a work of art!

And then I go back to the slums of my process to wallow while I take another few weeks to figure out how to fix the one little problem a beta reader pointed out. It’s exhausting, and it makes me feel like a total looser.

Like so many others, I need to be more healthy this year. I said this last year as well, and nothing really happened except me feeling guilty about nothing happening.

I once heard a brilliant mantra that I’m sure this man stole from someone famous. “Nothing changes if nothing changes.”

I’m not going to lose weight if I don’t modify my diet. My writing process isn’t going to get smoother unless I change something. And instead of saying I’m going to put out five books this year, I’m going to take things day by day.

If today fails in the writing department, then I get up and start again tomorrow. I decide to jot down fifteen ways that won’t work with my plot, or ten horrible ways to fix the problem that involve ninja monkeys. My goal is to have a goal each day—something more than “I will fix this!” or maybe get some Sonic for lunch. No, instead I’m going to take a moment each night before I go to bed and decide how I will tackle my problems the next day.

Starting over is difficult under any circumstances, but each day can be a new chance at success. Don’t waste it! Decide tonight how you will approach your problem tomorrow, and at least you will be moving forward, not lying on the treadmill as it unceremoniously dumps you back on the ground at the end of the belt.

The Classic, and Not So Classic, Fairy Tale

I’ve heard it said a thousand times that there are no new ideas, just old ideas recycled, rehashed, recajiggered and repackaged. Maybe that’s true, but there’s one niche of stories that never seem to get old, no matter how many times they have been retold. Classic fairy tales.

You know the ones I’m talking about: Alice in Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

This is only the tip of the iceberg.

Not only have moscinderellat of these been turned into movies—including classic cartoons by Disney—but each of these stories have been rewritten again and again.

I won’t take you down the proverbial Rabbit’s Hole, but Google “Alice in Wonderland Adaptations” and go to Wikipedia. You won’t be disappointed.

For now, let’s stick with Cinderella. I once sat next to a single mother turned author at a book signing that told me if she saw a gap in finances approaching, she would write a quick Cinderella retelling and put it up on Amazon. Instant cash. Unfortunately for me, Cinderella is generally free of fist fights, action scenes and random ninjas, so I have yet to try this tactic, but she swears by it.

Then again, what must a Cinderella story include? A lonely, mistreated young woman, living with an evil step mother, who only wants to go to the ball. I could work ninjas into that. Now that I think about it, Prince Charming is a bonus that comes with the ball. Hmmm.

Movies seem to be a good platform for adaptations. Here are just a few that feature the Cinderella story:

-Disney’s classic Cinderella. I grew up on this one, and was wary of shrinking pumpkins for ages.

The Slipper and the Rose. A comical, musical retelling that harnesses the charm of a young Richard Chamberlin dancing in his own mausoleum, and the fantastic idea of a bride finding ball. (There’s a song about that too.)

Elle Enchanted. Put a curse on Elle that forces her to do anything anyone tells her to and see what happens. This one was a book first.

Into the Woods. Insert a handful of fairy tales, squeeze, twist, shake and pour. This is what happens. It was a stage production before it was a movie, by the way.

Ever After. Set in historical-ish France, this version brings modern ideas (independent women, education for all and inventors) into the classic story. Funny. Snarky.

There are plenty of novels as well, Cinder being among the most recent and the most unique. A science fiction backdrop, cyborgs and more.

As the world moves on, these adaptations will keep coming. What if Cinderella had access to social media? #evilstepmotherssuck #opressedstepsistersunite #sneakingouttonightnomatterwhat

It can, and will, go on and on. Bring it.

Light and Dark: You Need Both

At its root, art is designed to influence people’s emotions. It is especially poignant when the art leads the viewer/reader down a path of emotions they may not have trod before. I’m not saying that some people have never felt remorse or anger or pure bliss. No, it’s the combination of emotions that can strike in black-and-whiteunexpected and brilliant ways.

In the Netflix series, Daredevil, the character of the Kingpin is, shall we say, a little disturbed. We get a glimpse into his past when he buys a painting that is all white. A few different shades, and some texture, but for all intents and purposes, it’s white. Later we find out that it reminds him of white wall in his childhood home. It brought him comfort in a dark and twisted way. Because what’s not light and fluffy about killing your dad for beating your mom when you’re ten?

I’ve thought a lot about this painting and the Kingpin and light and dark. A photographer will tell you that to have a good picture, you need both light and dark. It is the contrast that brings out the small details and uncovers the wonders that lay waiting to be captured in our world.

So how can this work? This white painting.

Look at it from your vantage point. You’re the reader/viewer of the story. You get to see the whole picture, and not just the white painting. With that scope, the Kingpin himself is inserted into the equation, and we easily find the contrast between light and dark. Innocent—the wall—and guilty—the man who will do anything to keep his father’s abusive memory at bay. Comfort—the white—and dissatisfaction—his feelings of ineptitude.

When you are creating art, in our case writing a story, remember to keep contrasts vivid. The light will shy from the dark, and the dark will run from the light. But in the end they will clash, and one will win. The story you want to tell will determine which is more powerful, and all too often, the characters must slosh through a swamp of grays before they find which is their destiny. Don’t be afraid to give your characters dark secrets, insurmountable conflicts and/or a point of view that might not be popular. But also, don’t be afraid to let them experience both light and dark before they become something new.