Thursday, January 20, 2011

Lindsey Learns... to Be Prepared

This feature is based on whatever I am reading at the moment (so, yes, you are at the mercy of my readerly whims) and whatever I happen to learn as I am reading. My goal is to write about it and then open the subject up for discussion in the comments. Please come on along for the ride!

Tuesday was a bad day in first grade.  It was because everyone was a little off from school being closed on Monday and then Tuesday we had a delayed opening due to snow and icy roads and I had a meeting as soon as I got to school and didn’t have time to finish making copies and get prepared for the day as I would on a normal day when I get there early.

When you have taught the same grade for 13 years, you can certainly wing it for an afternoon – you know how to teach a concept backward, forward, inside, and out.  You have lots of different teaching methods in your bag of tricks. If you don’t have copies, no worries, you can pull out another way to teach the same thing.  But still, being unprepared makes me crabby, and in turn, threw my kiddies off.  I felt like there was no foundation to our day, and I felt like I didn’t teach things well, and I felt as the day went on like it was unraveling like a sweater. 

A seasoned colleague of mine who is retiring this year has all of these wonderful, funny truisms about life in first grade, and one of her famous ones is "the fish rots from the head".  She doesn't even know where the saying came from, but what it means is that if the class is having an 'off' day, it can be that they're taking their cues from you (the teacher).  In other words, if you're not feeling well, if you're stressed out, if your mind is elsewhere, if you're pushing them too hard... chances are you will see it reflected back in the kids' behavior.  On Wednesday, I didn't feel like I was prepared, and it threw me off, and in turn, my kids.

Immediately, when I stepped back to reflect on the day, I made the connection to my current writing situation.  Recently, Elana Johnson sang the praises of the book Save the Cat! on her blog.  It was within a post where she discussed how to start your book, and since I have my story idea all happily settled and the beginning has been a real bugger, I was all, HELLS YEAH and my fingers immediately did the walking and ordered the book.   Like, pronto.  Flames, on the sides of my fingers.  I typed that fast.

"Flames... on the sides of my face..."

Save the Cat! is actually a book about screenwriting, but as Elana said, the advice it gives is just as effective for novel writing.  It's a quick and easy read, to the point, makes things so clear, and on every page, it's like, YES, THAT MAKES PERFECT SENSE!  Trust me.  Go buy it.  I'll wait.

Back?  Ok.  So Save the Cat! arrived at my doorstep pretty quickly (for those of you who have been following for awhile, no one stole the package from my front door!  Bonus!) and I dove right in.  I kinda had to, because Handsome Hubby is a TV Productions teacher and I think he is chomping at the bit to steal my new little gem. :) 

Anyway... onward toward the point of this post, I promise... I have been gobbling up the book and in it, Blake Snyder wills us as writers to do some sensible planning before we dive into the writing.  To have a clear logline in mind.  To make our MC likeable, even if just a little, so the readers are willing to go on this journey with us, and to have the genre clearly focused in our minds because each genre has a set of beats that should be followed to make the story a success.  He tells great tales of why movies flopped, generally because the moviemakers spent lots of money on effects rather than a few dollars on bettering the script.

So what did I learn from this?  That the whole reason that I am having trouble with my beginning, even though I have a whole story in mind, and pieces of it written, is that there were small but immeasurably important steps I hadn't yet taken before flying into the writing itself.  In essence, I jumped the gun.

Ok, this is more like running but... yeah.

So I stopped.  And I thought.  And I storyboarded.  And I worked on a logline and a title that gave me a clearer vision of my own story (they are still works in progress, but I feel like I have a lot more direction).  I know now how my MC will "save the cat", or perform an act at the beginning of the story that will sort of set her character in the readers' eyes.  It makes sense, but I hadn't done it.  I carefully read the 10 genres of screenplays he wrote about (it fits books also) and the necessary beats and focus of each one, and better identified the type of story I am writing.  And it has made so much sense.  I'm a complete Blake Snyder convert.  (And I have a brand shiny new CP to show my story to once I spiff it up a bit! WOOT!)

So let's chat.  Are you a plotter and planner, or are you a gun-jumpin' pantser?  What works for you?  Have you read Save the Cat!?  Did it help you like crazy like it is helping me?  Let me know in the comments!

Oh and by the way... Wednesday was much better  in school.  So much so that I have a First Grade Funny to leave you with (yes, I know that's poor grammar, sue me):  So when your girls are being noisy in the hallway bathroom and you go in and ask them all sternly what they are doing, and you find that they are playing Rosa Parks and they show you how each stall is a bus seat.... You just kinda have to laugh. :)


Kristin Rae said...

Wow... I'm really going to have to look into this book!! I'm usually a pantser with a pretty good idea where i want things to go, but very very open to letting the story change as the characters develop. that's one reason i don't storyboard too much... i usually change my mind when I'm writing anyway.

and your first graders sound very creative :)

Rebecca T. said...

I think I need to get this book. After hearing both you AND Elena talk about it... well, it just sounds great.

I am usually a planner. All the way. But then I totally pantsed my NaNo novel. Now I'm going back and filling in some planning, but still writing pants style. I think it's working for this one.

Also, that story of your first graders is the cutest thing ever :D

Dangerous With a Pen said...

I used to have more of an issue where I'd plan a lot and then lose interest in writing the story because I totally knew where it was going. The thrill was gone.
Then I was a pantser for a while, but I didn't get much of anything accomplished past a chapter or two of any given story. This time, I am planning more but in a clearer and more purposeful way, laying out the story in beats- I like the storyboarding because it is fluid and allows for a lot of change as you go, which of course is happening. I don't have the ending fully planned out yet but a lot of the rest, and the book has helped a lot.

Donna Hole said...

Love the funny LOL.

I pretty well have to start my novel, get some character development, move them around within plot and setting, and then I can get a feel for where it is I'm going with my idea.

I've tried to plot things out first, but I can't get further than a few disjointed scenes. I hadn't of myself as this type writer, until I started submitting an actual WIP to my writers group.

I write the pages, then submit for critique. They point out all types of things I'm missing, and I'm like "yeah, I'll get there." Frustrating.

At least I learned some lessons about my own writing techniques from the submissions :)

Its so great, however, when you find a writing book that speaks to your writing soul. I know I've found a few that gave me those "aha" moments. And it does sound like an interesting book. I'm sure I'd get a lot of insights from it.

Thanks for the recommendation.


Old Kitty said...

I find beginning a story for me easier than the middle and end bits!! LOL!!!! I guess being a confirmed panster - I don't outline or plan but just go with it and then find I'm stuck as I get deeper into the story!!! I tend to do things backwards and inside out!! Thanks for the info on this book - worth a gander as it's got a CAT on the cover!!!! LOL!

Awwww glad the children are now settled down - but I do like that you have a Martin Luther King Jr Day!!!! Yay!

Take care

Andrea Mack said...

I just signed up to get the book at the library. Sounds like something I need -- especially since I'm about to begin a rewrite of one of my novels.

Carol Riggs said...

Now this book is definitely on my list! Thanks for the run-down. I'm really curious about the necessary beats and focus of each genre that you talked about. :)
Have a great weekend!

Carrie said...

Thanks for the book recommendation. I will add this to my list.

Elizabeth Briggs said...

Save the Cat is my favorite writing book. I would be lost without it.

Ghenet said...

I saw this on Elana's blog and have it on my list to check out. I outlined my WIP but the plot has changed so much already. It helped me to outline before starting my book, but it's already changed from what I originally planned.