Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Are you a sadist or a sweetie?

I vividly remember the moment when J.K. Rowling killed off Dumbledore. I thought, “She’s capable of ANYTHING!” It was the perfect set up for book 7 because I honestly didn’t know if she would kill Harry or not. I really believed Rowling might—which I guess she did :)

That is the kind of writer I want to be—the kind capable of anything. I don't want to write the kind of story where nothing bad happens and all of the characters are perfectly safe. If this is something you want too...I have tips.

Don’t pull your punches. If you write your characters into a bad situation DON’T bail them out at the last second. Let them show you what they are made of. They may surprise you.

Fears. Find what your MC’s greatest fear is and MAKE them confront it. Is it death, betrayal, abandonment? When confronted with our worst there is nowhere to go but up.

Consequences. Don’t skip the consequences, they are the unbreakable rules. If you do X than Y happens. If you do X and A happens you might lose readers. I know we love our characters and don’t want to hurt them, but if they don’t have to own their consequences the story can feel unjust. And injustice can alienate readers fast.

Write terrible things. If bad things happen to good people, it will keep your readers unsettled. They will never know what you are going to do. They won’t be able to trust your happy ending—and that will keep them reading.

Insert maniacal laughter here :)

Now just in case you think I’m a serial sadist, I want to say—I’m a fan of happy endings, with one huge caveat. HAPPY ENDINGS MUST BE EARNED!

If everything is all butterflies, unicorns, and rainbows, the happy ending is much less satisfying. But if your MC struggles, fights, and makes hard decisions—then the happy ending moves us.

How did you feel when Harry and Ginny put their kids on the train to Hogwarts? I’m not ashamed to admit I cried—see I’m not heartless.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Perfect Storm

I've questioned the sanity of combining NaNoWriMo with one of the biggest Holiday months of the year. For most of us, last week was a bust. We were eating pie, cooking turkey and visiting with friends and family. I was either too busy or too sleepy to even think about working out my next plot point or adding descriptive setting to my latest scene.

So, I asked Angie, "Why can't we do this in January? Or March? Why November; when Thanksgiving cuts into our precious thirty days and Christmas is knocking at our doors?"

Well, I have a theory. I believe November provides the Perfect Storm. Not only are we attempting to put our novels down on paper, but we embark on a great balancing act. We must write, and be a mother, perhaps a hostess, or a guest, a cook, an in-law, or a savvy shopper, a dishwasher, a wife, a father--the list goes on and on and on. We are put to the test during this month. The demands on our time and attention mount. The stresses and pressures of the season threaten to shake our resolve and our focus. But like Elizabeth Bennett, I believe our 'courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate..." us! I believe that we can accomplish more than we think, and this NaNo challenge is the perfect proving ground.

Whether we walk away from this with the full 50,000 words or not, we've done it! And if you're like me, you've stretched, grown and progressed during these last thirty days. I'm going to fall short of my goal, but I have no regrets. In fact, I'm full of gratitude for this experience. I've learned so much and made a humongous stride towards completing my next novel.

Congratulations to all of you NaNo-ites! We've nearly made it! Good luck on the next forty-eight hours! And good luck to everyone who is plugging away at your own goals that reach far above and beyond NaNoWriMo.

-- Sara Bulla

Monday, November 28, 2011

What do you need?

Two weeks ago I hit a snag in my NaNo WIP. I didn’t have enough conflict—and when I mean conflict I don’t mean fighting. I mean the kind of conflict that makes your stomach churn as you read.

The problem was that my MC had two needs that ran parallel throughout the story, and it was getting boring. So I got to thinking…what can I do to crank up the conflict?


Take my MC's two needs and make them in direct conflict to each other.  Make him choose between two things he wants—but he can’t have both. The physical and emotional toll these kinds of conflict have on our MC’s can be visceral.

My one warning with this type of conflict is that you MUST follow through. If you force your MC to make a choice only to suspend the consequences of that choice than you become a liar, and readers will start to see your conflict as false. I think everyone has read a book or seen a movie and you don’t believe for one second that the MC will really have to make a choice.

So if your MS is a little flat, try giving your MC competing needs. It can really spice up a dull story.


Pop on over to Afterglow Book Reviews and check out my review of The Next Door Boys by Jolene Perry :)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Gratitude Attitude

I’m taking the rest of the week off to overeat and shop :) But in the spirit of Thanksgiving I wanted to give a little thanks.

I am thankful for:

My husband being home. Because of economy issues and no jobs my husband spent the last year working in Texas, while I stayed in Utah with my kids. That was a very long year. But on Halloween my husband started a new job 7 minutes from our house! Having him home is positively luxurious.

Health. I just went through a bout of staph infections with my kids. They caught mrsa—the antibiotic resistant staph. People die from mrsa! I know I’m being dramatic, but it really scared me. But I’m so grateful everyone is healthy now, because I know there are plenty of people who aren’t.

Creativity.  Is it weird that I love being creative? Whether it is writing or art, creativity fills the empty spaces in my life. I’m so grateful that I have time to do what I’m passionate about and a husband and kids that believe I’m capable of creating worthwhile things.

Happy Thanksgiving


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cloudy with a Chance of Karen Carpenter

This morning I loaded my kids into our mini-van and began our Thanksgiving vacation. Our Destination: Grandma's house. It was snowing in Cache Valley when we left and the clouds followed us until we pulled into my parent's driveway.

I am normally a stormy weather girl, but today, it pushed my limits. I needed sunshine and was met with gloom. It just so happened that the only music available to me during this short road trip was Karen Carpenter. Normally, I have a limit to the ooo's and aahhhh's and la la la's that I can take. But not so today. Her voice was like balm to my soul. I hit repeat on "On top of the world" at least seven times. I'm not kidding.

Why this sudden change? I mean, I like Karen Carpenter, I do, but I usually avoid the songs like, "Sing, sing a song" and the other campfire, folksy-type songs and move right to her deep, darker melodies. Today, however, I drank them in and by the time our three hour drive concluded, I figured out why.

It's my WIP. This book that I'm writing for NaNo, is depressing. It's heavy. It's number two in a series of three. I start out with drama and crisis and I end with drama and only slightly less crisis. It's dark (which I like, but I'm in serious danger of overdosing)and it's loaded with stress, heart ache and hopeless situations.

Can I just throw this question out to those of you in our friendly blog-0-sphere: How do you keep a dark, heavy book doable? Likable? Readable? I have a good light-hearted character in there, as well as a bit of humor where I can squeeze it in, but I'm being honest when I say that I could have driven around the block four more times just to here Karen sing, "Not a cloud in the sky, got the sun in my eye and I, won't be surprised if it's a dream. (all together now) I'm on the, top of the world, looking down on creation and the only explanation I have found; is the love that I've found ever since you've been around, your love's put me at the top of the World!" I was aching for sunshine and love and happiness and birds singing in the air. My WIP is bringing me down, folks, and I'm afraid it just might sink the ship. :(

For a brief moment, I was on top of the world; I just don't know if I can transfer the Karen Carpenter warm fuzzies to my characters. What do you do to lighten it-up, propel the story forward, and bring a welcome ray of sunshine without spoiling the good, creepy, heart-wrenching darkness? Am I making any sense?

--Sara Bulla

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Make them weep...

I found this quote and it hit me hard. I needed to share it with you.

If your characters cry, your readers won’t have to;
if your characters have good reason to cry and don’t,
your readers will do the weeping.
—Orson Scott Card

I think this is brilliant. Happy NaNoWriMo!


Friday, November 18, 2011

A NaNo Poem

NaNoWriMo ate me whole,
And spit me out onto the floor.

My brain is mush,
My thoughts are slush,
My dirty house—it makes me blush.

My sub-plots all have run amuck,
To finish I will need some luck.

I do not sleep until I’m beat,
My children do not need to eat,
But—50,000 words are sweet!

Have a great weekend :)


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Instinct vs. Analysis

So you’re writing along. Everything is going great and then…BAM! Your story hits a snag! What do you do?

Do you analyse the problem, or do you act on instinct to fix it?

Myself—I’m an analyzer. I analyze when I write. I analyze when I read. I love to see how stories work. Why they work. I also love to find problems in books and see how I would fix them if it were my story. Why doesn’t the pacing work? Why does it?What is wrong with the characterization? How do you handle a flashback?

But there is a part of me that wished I was more of an instinctual writer. You know the kind of people who can “sense” problems. They can also “feel” the pacing and “discern” plot holes. It’s kind of like a super power. Super Writer to the rescue!

So what about you? Are you an instinctual writer or an analytical one?


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mid-Point Reversal

It’s mid-point through NaNoWriMo. How is the writing going? Great I hope!

I thought the middle was the perfect place to talk about the mid-point reversal. It is what keeps your middle from sagging.

The mid-point reversal should be just that a reversal. A reversal of your characters luck. A reversal of your reader’s expectations. A reversal that shocks us.  A reversal that changes the direction of your story. A reversal that reveals a secret.

Don’t know where to start? Ask yourself a few questions?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen?
  • Is there a secret that could throw us?
  • What could happen to make your antag give up?
  • How could the antag get the upper hand?
  • What is something your protag needs to know to win in the end?
  • Is there a twist to send the story in a new direction? 

In my first MS the mid-point reversal is actually positive. My characters get help in an unexpected place. And that surprise is what changes the course of the story. So it doesn’t need to be negative—just twisty. 

Famous mid-point reversals (well semi famous):
  • Pride and Prejudice—Darcy proposing to Elizabeth.
  • The Hunger Games—Katniss finding out she and Peeta can team up in the hunger games.
  • Twilight—Edward confesses his feeling for Bella.
  • The Sorcerer’s Stone—Harry finds out Voldemort is looking for the Sorcerer’s Stone.  

Notice how in each of these examples the reversal changes the trajectory of the story.
Good luck with your middle, and happy NaNoWriMo!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


          The lights pulse faster than the skip of my breathing.
          It’s impossible to pull my eyes away.
          The television’s muffled glow filters behind me, but it can’t hold my attention while I’m watching the lights on their rhythmic trip around the tree.
          I’ve seen trees with only white lights. “It’s more sophisticated,” they say.
          I don’t care—I love the colors.
          They are like promises.
          No—that’s wrong. They are wishes.
          If you have bland Christmas wishes—stick with white lights, but if your wishes are deep and fierce—you need the spectrum of color to make them come true.
          Blue is for family and strength. The two are so tangled in my mind they feel like the same wish.
          And green is for peace and growth. I need both.
          Red will give you ambition, passion, and love. Who doesn’t want love for Christmas?
         Yellow is for happiness. How could it be for anything else?
          But purple—purple is my favorite. Purple is for all the wishes you can’t give voice to. The ones you keep so close to your heart you don’t know if you can part with them, because if you do—it will leave you empty.
          If I watch the lights hard enough they blur into a perfect haze of color. That’s the time to make wishes.
          If you can find each color in the vivid fog—you can push all you have into your wishes.
          And they will come true.

Thanks Jenny and Megan. This was such a fun break from NaNo :)
If you want to check out the rest of the entries—click here.


Monday, November 14, 2011

All aboard the Gossip Train

Have you ever played the game where you sit in a circle and one person whispers something to the person next to them? For example, you whisper, "The mayonnaise, tomato and lettuce are on the counter top." One person after the other whispers the same phrase to the person next to them until they complete the circle. The last person in the circle then announces the phrase that he or she heard. Usually it is a far cry from the original statement; maybe something like: "The Maze to Nato let us iron the hunter cops."

I've thought about the value of Gossip in my writing. I've decided that having a 'home town gossip' in our stories is an invaluable tool. Think about Rachel Lind in Anne of Green Gables and how her gossip and judgments propelled so many plot twists and conflicts. Or how about the Olsens? What would Little House on the Prairie be without Harriet, Nellie and Willie meddling in everyone's personal affairs? Aside from a sappy string of dramatic warm fuzzies, it would be boring.

Tonight I reminisced with my niece about our favorite episodes. Hands down the ones we liked the most involved Nellie or her mother. The pranks, the deception, the gossiping, the back stabs, the revenge, the tricks, the heartache--we owe all of it to the Olsens. One episode in particular displays all of the many plot twists and turns that can come about all because one person, intentionally or non-intentionally, gossiped.

In this episode, Walnut Grove puts in a phone line. Of course very few people other than the Olsens can afford it, and Harriet runs the switchboard. To make the story short, by the time the 45 minute show concluded, a marriage was almost ruined, Harriet bet her entire inheritance on a faulty investment and all over town, family secrets hung out to dry like wet laundry on clotheslines. It all ends well of course, but the depth of the episode increased as misunderstanding after misunderstanding rolled through the town like a giant snow ball picking up momentum. The gossiping brought out the best and worst in the characters, giving us a rare and personal glimpse inside their lives.

If your plot needs an unexpected twist or complication, or if you need to flesh out one of your MC's, might I suggest you throw in a misunderstanding or two, preferably with a snotty nosed, villain like Nellie Olsen at the root of it all. Guaranteed you'll crank up your
*Romance and
*Overall intrigue.

Good Luck! I'm not the only Little House die hard out there am I?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Do you need a NaNo break?

Oh my goodness...I totally do :) So instead of plugging away at my own story on Tuesday November 15th I'm going to join in on Jenny Morris and Megan Dolan's Holiday Blog Hop

It is still early enough to join in. They are giving away 4 great books. Want more details? Click here


Friday, November 11, 2011

If I only had an agent....

I'd be more suave than this!

I found this on Katie Dodge's blog--Katie on Fiction, a few months ago. I just had to share. Thanks Katie.

Have a great weekend. Good luck with NaNoWriMo :)


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why should I care?

I just watched a movie that should have been amazing but it just wasn’t. This is what it had going for it:
  • Period drama
  • Death
  • Vengeance
  • Romeo and Juliet-esk family troubles
  • Gorgeous actors
  • Scheming
  • War
  • Lies
  • LOVE

Sounds great right? So what went wrong? The story failed to make me connect with the characters. I could tell that they tried, but here is where the story failed.

Hot is not connection: Sometimes I think writers believe if someone is good looking everyone will like them. This isn’t true. I may melt a little, but unless you give me something more I just won’t care.

Little to no background: I knew NOTHING about the heroine in this story—and neither did the hero. When he confesses his undying love for her, I kept exepexting her to ask him, “But, why do you love me?” Because she was pretty? Boring!

Conflict doesn’t make me care: It sounds so cold hearted, but it’s true—conflict is only interesting if I’m interested in the people who are stuck in the conflict. You can’t throw people into a civil war and call it good.

Too many characters: This movie kept adding in more and more characters that I was supposed to care about. This problem is that with each new addition, time is taken away from the others and I just end up with a whole group of boring people.

I want to care about the characters. I want to cry with them. I want to bleed with them. I want them to win.

What about you? What keeps you from connecting with characters?


Side Note: The talented Chantele Sedgwick interviewed me on her blog today. I think I may have made a fool of myself. Come check it out and laugh at me :)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Telling Words—Part One

I struggle with editing. I have to turn off my creative brain and turn on my critical brain. But I am getting better at it. Editing my own MS and beta reading for friends has helped me learn what to look for.

So in the spirit of NaNoReviMo, which a lot of my friends are doing...this post is for you :)

I want to show and NOT tell! It’s a goal of mine and I would love to get better at it. As I edit I make lists of words or phrases that tend to give me problem. Here are 5 of the worst (at least for me):

I hate this word. Sometimes its use is unavoidable, but usually we can rework it.

She was astonished. This is an obvious tell. When I come across this in my MS, I try and substitute “was” for a stronger verb and add in a little action.

She swallowed her surprise and worked to keep her face impassive. Not perfect, but you get the idea.

This word almost always implies telling. It is usually an observation from outside POV.

He seemed angered by the news. I’m telling here. Let’s show instead.

The vein in his neck throbbed as he glared at the woman standing in front of him. “You aren’t serious?” his voice growled. A little description + a little dialogue = SHOWING.

Seemed is a huge culprit that I see in telling. Kim Karras at—Confessions of a Bibliophile wrote and excellent post on this recently.

Felt is a crutch word. We use it when we are being lazy.

She felt sick at the thought of the problem. Boo—terrible, right?

“We won’t make it in time.” The worry curdled in her stomach, and she fought the urge to vomit. When you show and not tell, you can feel how your character feels.

Sometimes realized is okay. But when it is used to explain how a character came to a conclusion—it’s telling.

He stepped on the soggy carpet and realized the toilet had over flowed again. There are two problems here. First you are telling us the carpet is soggy before the MC realizes it. Second you are telling us what he realized.

He stepped into the room and the carpet squelched under his feet. What the…? He stared at his soggy socks. Really…the toilet’s over flowed again? I bolded the internalization so you can see it. Show the MC reacting to his environment and show his actual realization.

Noticed or Could See
By default everything your character describes is something she sees. You rarely need to tell us this.

She could see the sun breaking the horizon. Instead of this show us what she sees.

The sun broke the horizon, spilling golden light on the treetops. Because your MC is the POV they don’t even need to be the subject. This tell is easy to fix.

I have other words on my “Telling” List. After NaNoWriMo is over I will post more—just in time for edits :)


Side note: On Monday Agent Vickie Motter held a mini contest for writing advice on her blog, so I left her a comment. I'm always full of random "writerly" thoughts, and I won :) How fun is that? Check it out here. My advice: Twists aren't just for the end of the story. Use them from the beginning so readers never know what to expect.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Deep Thoughts

Do any of you post quotes, thoughts or scriptures on your walls? Mirrors? Refrigerators? I do. I also have a journal where I file away little gems and quotes that inspire me, lift my spirits, or help me smile.

Well, today is day eight of NaNo and for a variety of reasons, I needed a little pick me up; something to elevate my thoughts. Incidentally, my quote journal is missing and so I had no choice but to forage for some new material. In my search for inspiration, I happened upon a few gems and thought I'd share. I also invite you to share a few with me and anyone else who peruses the comment board. I LOVED all your comments last Tuesday regarding your 'Thoughtful Spots' and I'd love to glean some of your favorite quotes or inspirational thoughts as well.


"I wonder if we'd be less cavalier about cutting down trees if they could scream; unless they screamed all the time for no reason." --Jack Handy, Saturday Night Live
"I know of no more encouraging fact than the ability of a man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor. It is something to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so make a few objects beautiful. It is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look."
--Henry David Thoreau

"Too much of a good thing can be wonderful!"
--May West

"To live is so startling, it leaves little time for anything else."
--Emily Dickinson

"Life is just like an old time rail journey ... delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride."
--President Gordon B. Hinckley

Happy Writing Everyone!

--Sara Bulla

Monday, November 7, 2011

Down Time

Okay, bear with me—that seems like a ominous way to start a post :) 

A few months ago I read a book called OUTLIERS by Malcom Gladwell. It is all about what makes people successful. It’s thought provoking—even if it is a little dry (non-fiction isn't my thing).

There's an entire chapter about the differences between the Chinese children’s school year as opposed to the American children’s school year. A little random background: the Chinese work in rice paddies year round, while American farmers let their fields rest in winter.

The American school year is built around the agricultural idea that just like fields need time to lie fallow, so do minds. Educators believed that children’s minds need a break. The Chinese do not believe this. Work, work, work.

The Chinese have higher academic scores than American’s.

Gladwell's conclusion: Down time is bad for the mind.
I can see Gladwell’s point, but I just want to say:  I get my best ideas I am doing mindless things; cleaning, waiting in the car, mowing the lawn, showering. I need down time. My mind needs down time. I do my best work in my down time.

Take that.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Eating my words

A few Fridays ago I complained about lame fortunes in fortune cookies. Now I have to eat my words because I got a great one yesterday:

The sky’s the limit…
this month.

NaNoWriMo appropriate don’t you think :) I’m so glad to know I have this month to reach my potential. Nothing like a deadline to light a fire under you. Thank you random fortune cookie.

Maybe I should complain I never get a million dollars :)


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Do you “Heart” Book Club?

I am a giant fan of book clubs. I take offense to the idea that book club is a time to drink wine and grip about men. For me book club is a time to have intelligent conversations about books—at least for an hour—and then we grip about men :) No, we don’t—we gripe about kids :)

I love to hear what my friends have to stay about stories, because everyone has a different perspective. Sometimes I go into book club with an opinion of the book, only to change my mind after talking about it.

I love book club so much that I’m belong to two. One I’ve been in for seven years, and even after I moved away I couldn’t give it up—but I didn’t move far…only 6 blocks. The other book club is one I started in my new neighborhood—we’ve been at it for two years.

I’ve found that book club is the best way to get to know people. You can tell a lot about someone by what they like and dislike in books.

So does anyone else belong to a book club? Do you love it? Hate it? I’m so curious.


Books I’ve read in book club this year:

Faith Precedes the Miracle by Spencer W. Kimball
Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
A Room With A View by E.M. Forster
Outliers by Malcom Gladwell
A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel
Ever by Gail Carson Levine
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
65 Signs of the Times by David Ridges
A Girl from Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
When the Tripods Came by John Christopher
Seven Miracles that Saved America by Chris and Ted Stewart
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
The Infinite Atonement by Tad R. Callister
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Actor and The Housewife by Shannon Hale
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
These is My Words by Nancy E. Turner
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
The Mansion by Henry van Dyke

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