Lessons Learned: Story Structure and Being Clever

Mike and I watched All is Lost, a movie written and directed by J.C. Chandor. The only star is Robert Redford, and the movie theme is about man versus nature. If you intend to watch the movie and don’t want to know the ending, here’s my spoiler alert. You may not want to read the last part of my blog.

All is Lost

For me, I was intrigued how the movie had little dialog. Only two scenes had dialog: the narrator (Mr. Redford) spoke in the beginning of the movie and then when calling for help. I thought it clever to film the story without words, and I was drawn to how the story structure unfolded. I think my husband nailed it when he said that it was like reading a book in scenery form. Books are all about detail to help form the story and setting. This story had both.

The first turning point of the movie begins when the man wakes to find that his sailboat is taking on water. His boat has hit and is stuck to a shipping container that’s floating in the middle of the sea. Who would have thought of that!! The container has left a huge hole in his boat. We watch as he painstakingly detaches from the cargo container, patches the hole, pumps out the water from inside the boat, and dries everything off. This includes watching him fix his radio that briefly works again.

The change of plans or the second turning point arrives with a rainstorm. The good news is the patchwork holds up. The bad news is the antenna on top of the mast gets disconnected. When the storm is over, the man climbs up the mast to reconnect it and sees another storm heading in his direction. This storm is a knockout. His sailboat capsizes and manages to upright itself with him inside the boat. It capsizes again when he’s out on the deck. Back on the boat, he now inflates the life raft, jumps aboard, and rides out the storm. When the storm breaks and he wakes, there is little left of the sailboat—the point of no return.

After taking food and water from the sailboat, he now has to survive on his raft. The elements are harsh as the days go by. The emotion is raw when the man sees two ships pass by and neither one, even with flares, stops to rescue him. The last turning point of the movie, the major setback, is when the man builds a fire out of pages from a book to draw attention to another ship off in the distance. The fire gets out of control and the raft burns to nothing. The aftermath or spoiler alert is when the man floats in the ocean with nothing left for his survival. As his body sinks into the sea, he looks up and sees a rescue boat and a light searching the water. The man swims up and reaches for the rescuer’s hand.

I liked how the ending was left to the imagination. The viewer could either believe that the man was actually rescued (the happy ending) or he was being drawn to the light in death. I’m not sure if that was the original intent of J.C. Chandor, but I thought it was clever.

My lesson learned is how you can take a simple story, one that’s been told before, and make it unique. Be a little creative, be clever, and you’ll have a story that pulls the reader/viewer in. This movie was good. We had to fast forward in a few places, but it’s still one that I’ll remember.

Lesson Learned: Getting Rid of the Dark Place

I was in a pretty dark place last week. I was withdrawing from those around me after having some health issues, and I knew that I had to snap out of it. I couldn’t let fear or anxiety direct my mood or life and I was letting it happen.

A couple ways that helped me get out of that dark place included:

Talking It Out
I let those close to me know what was going on. They shared my concern and gave me the support that I needed to make me feel better.

A Bike Ride
I went on a 17-mile bike ride on the Gandy Dancer Trail. Being with family, enjoying the outdoors, and exercising helped clear my mind. The scenery was beautiful, the light conversation was fun, and my thighs loved the workout. My darkness lifted almost immediately.

A Night Away
We spent the night at the “Osgood Campground.” It was a spur of the moment decision to stay at Denise’s place, and I’m glad we did. We made dinner and then sat around the campfire. The S’mores helped too!

Even though there are things that you can’t control, you can change how you react to them. When it’s bad or worrisome, you can go out and find something positive to do. Find family or friends who you can talk to. Go to an event or go for a walk. When the darkness lifts, you’ll feel better and think clearer. A positive attitude and a better outlook go a long way. Who needs or wants to be down and out? Not me.

Lessons Learned: Stillness

My husband and I went RV’ing this weekend with the intention of spending time at the campground to relax instead of going into town, sightseeing, or hiking. Usually we’re always on the move. We’ll spend a few hours here and there to chill or a few minutes in the day to unwind. But an entire day of stillness? Did I make it? Somewhat.

I did slow down and let myself come back to the present. In the morning we took a little walk around the campground and by the river. We couldn’t stay at the river too long because the mosquitoes were nasty. I had ten blood bombers on one leg, and they weren’t giving it up. Back at our site we chilled, talked, read, and watched the other campers. We plugged in a fan to an outside outlet to blow the bugs away which made it comfortable. In the afternoon we went swimming to cool off and then to the bar (the campground had a bar and grill) to have a couple drinks and view our emails. This is where the somewhat comes in to play. I hadn’t gone through my emails for a while and needed to make sure that there wasn’t anything that I needed to immediately respond to since we had limited cell phone service if there were an emergency. I know I was bad, but it was less than an hour.

My take away from the day is that I was able to enjoy the moments where I sat and watched the clouds roll by. Where I watched a fox dart back into the woods from the road. Where I admired a red-headed woodpecker in a nearby tree, a Monarch butterfly flutter near the ground, and a swarm of gnats hover in the air.

Sometimes they say that it’s not until a crisis or an emotional crash occurs before we take these moments. I can relate to that. I remember when my mom had her stroke and time seemed to stand still when we had to make the decision of letting her live or letting her go. You’re only there for that moment. I’d rather take the time to make the choice for one of our camping days to relax and be in the moment than when in crisis.

I know I’ve written about this before in other blogs, and I believe that it’s worth repeating every so often to remind people to take time to feel the stillness.

Lessons Learned: Happily Ever After

What does happily ever after mean? In fairy tales, it’s about the man and woman going off into the sunset and knowing that their life will be perfect and the most wonderful thing in the world forever and ever. As we all know, this is like winning the lottery—something pretty much out of reach. Relationships are work with many ups and downs in life. I love how the princess always dreams of her prince coming to save her when something evil cometh. There’s turmoil and conflict yet there’s also hope and determination to get the end goal…that prince.

Fairy tales provide the GMC – Goal, Motivation, and Conflict – that every story needs. But what happens after? Once the guy gets the girl or the girl gets the guy? I don’t know one person who really has had the happily ever after. And I’m not being pessimistic. The heart of a relationship is about sharing events together. By being strong for each other when life takes a downturn, to weep and comfort each other in sorrow, and to find humor in each other’s idiosyncrasies. It’s also about sharing odd moments that make you realize how much you love your partner, when you get encouragement or spend a moment in a kiss; when you see the love within your circle of family and friends that you’ve created together. It’s about the good and the bad.

At the end of the day, it’s about wanting to be with each other because you’ve had the fights and the laughter. Things won’t always be perfect. And even though there may be other dreams out there, don’t think that it’s the happily ever after. Don’t keep searching if what you have fits. The saying “happily ever after” means that you have a challenge to meet. You want to grow old together.

Lessons Learned: Relief in Big Packages

Today we closed on our lake property. Sold. Finally. Who knew that it would take almost a year to sell the place? But then, it was our lake property, meaning mine, my sister’s, and my parents. Our property was special. I’ll indulge more on that in future blogs. For today, I’ll just say how relieved we all are that it’s off our plates, shoulders, and whatever else goes with the saying.

When we had a buyer, a relative of our neighbor, we decided to go with a real estate lawyer. This was going to be a nice, simple transaction.

We should never have thought that…shame on us.

The buyer couldn’t get a bank to loan him the money. Something with co-signing on a loan had sent red flags to all banks. He asked if we would extend the date on the purchase agreement while he put his other land that he owned up for sale. We agreed. This was only a minor setback. Besides, winter was coming, and our dad needed more focus than the property.

In March, we received the call that he had sold his property so he could buy the land. We started the process again. Well…the life estate on our property threw us for a loop when the lawyer provided us with all the closing paperwork. Not what we expected, but we could work with it. And then our dad passed away. We needed time for him, for grief, and for family. And time for the lawyer to re-do the paperwork with his passing.

One step closer became another step back. There were errors in the title. One error in the land description and something about a previous, previous owner not submitting the divorce papers for his ex-wife who had owned the property with him. Huh? That was two owners ago. Nevertheless, the papers/record needed to be fixed. But wait. The title company, even though we had title insurance with them, said they admitted to the error but wouldn’t fix it. They gave us a letter of indemnity. I guess most title companies will accept the letter of indemnity. However, not the title company that the seller chose. Heaven forbid! We either had to fix the errors or find another title company. A new title company was easier.

Okay. We’re back on track once again. Except there’s a slight issue with the trailer that was on the property and sold separately to the future owner. The neighbor said that the tile had split. Mike and I went up to the property to check it out. She was right. The tile in the kitchen and bath had split. Really? It couldn’t wait? After thirteen years of having no trailer issues? Luckily the floor underneath was fine. No water damage or warping. We reduced the price of the trailer to help with the cost of fixing it.

On Friday, we scrambled for signatures, notaries, and Fed Ex delivery. Today, we waited for the buyers’ turn to sign and close. At 1:10 this afternoon I received the call that the closing was complete. Hallelujah. Tonight I’m celebrating.

Lessons Learned: Nothing Can Mean a Whole Lot

Every year our WisRWA Chip Girls go to the WisRWA Write Touch Conference, or we head out for a weekend retreat to learn and ask questions about writing, to network, have fun, and to laugh. We like to invite Jean along, someone who shares in our passion for writing and a long-time friend to the group. Every year, at one of the events, Jean brings us a gift to help us accomplish our goals for the next few months. Here’s an example of what we’ve received:

A goal booklet with inside pockets. One pocket contains goal sheets to write down what you’d like to achieve, while the other has 20 different scene ideas that you could include in your story.

Jean 2 002

Jean 2 003

A box to hold postcards and a matching goal booklet.
Jean 2 001

And this year we each received a personalized box to store trinkets, goals, or whatever we like.
June 2014 Camping and Bday 018

Jean handcrafts each gift, and she does an amazing job with the design. Not only are they beautiful, but they have purpose. And best of all, we know they come from the heart. Thank you, Jean! You always say they’re nothing. To us, they mean a whole lot.

WisRWA Write Touch Conference – The Experience

This year’s theme for the WisRWA Write Touch Conference was Publish, Polish, and Promote. The sessions for the conference fulfilled all three “P’s” and then some.

Publish
I learned about the trends in publishing. Contemporary is waning, paranormal is dead, and SciFi is taking off. Right now there’s displacement in the market due to everyone in the world self-publishing. Saturation is coming next, we haven’t hit it yet, but it’s coming. Once the playing field evens out again, it’s the hybrid authors, both published and self-published, who will be the most successful.

Polish
I learned how Liz Pelletier, founder of Entangled and an editor, will read a manuscript for edits. There’s three passes that include the full read, the line edit of the story, and a line edit of the craft. She went through the detail of what to look for in each pass. There was a lot of detail.

Promote
I learned about street teams and how important they are to the success of an author. Street teams are not just for spreading the word about you or your next book; they are about relationships and having fun. Gina L. Maxwell has a street team called the Maxwell Mob and she has fun with her romance mafia. She’s also a great speaker.

The conference began Friday evening and ended Sunday afternoon. Not only did we learn how to publish, polish, and promote, we also learned how to use the Myers Briggs personality profiles when building characters, how to plot for the heart of romance, and what’s needed for a self-publishing business.

My brain went into overload, and I’m still processing all that I learned. Some pieces I take with a grain of salt and others are like “Oh yeah, I can’t wait to try it!”

But for all conferences, the best part is spending it with friends, meeting new people, and being aspired. I’m looking forward t next year’s conference. WisRWA has something fun in the works.