Friday, July 18, 2014

Author's Road Interviews Cara Black



By our very nature, we are storytellers. And most of us have experienced going to someplace new and hearing a story we thought would make a great poem, short story, novel, maybe a movie. Perhaps we’d note it in our journal, re-tell it to a friend, and sometimes go that one more step and draft the story.
Our latest interviewee, bestselling mystery writer, Cara Black, went all the way. It required several years, dozens of classes and critique groups, reams of drafts, but she managed to write a novel about a mystery in her favorite city, Paris, solved by her heroine, Aimée Leduc and Aimée's friends.

Since that first novel Cara has managed each year to add a new, compelling mystery centered in different neighborhoods (arrondissements) inside The City of Light. She’s now published her fourteenth novel in the bestselling series, and she is working on mapping out her future works.

We were thrilled when she agreed to meet with us in her home overlooking San Francisco. And we were even more excited when towards the end of the interview she shared a literary surprise that spans across the series of her novels.

But have no fear, this isn’t a spoiler alert. You have to watch the interview to learn what it is.

George, Salli & Ella

Next Up: Bestselling popular science writer (and lecturer), Mary Roach

Thanks for . . .

. . . joining us . . .

. . . on the road!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Remembering a Story's Details



In the July 2014 issue of Discovery Magazine (Hold That Thought, p 30-33), scientist Elizabeth Phelps, a past president of the Association for Psychological Science and a psychologist at New York University, is interviewed about memory. She speaks in the article that recalling memories shows activation in two parts of the brain. Recalling details about ‘physical locations and layouts’ activates the posterior parahipocampus. When we recall the feelings associated with memories, ‘we see more amygdala involvement.’

In tests, Phelps found that ‘we’re set up to capture time and place.’ That makes it easier to recall such details, an evolutionary advantage.

When I work with struggling authors, I often find a focus on those details and much less a focus on the feelings of characters. I believe the way our brain functions makes it easier for new writers to come up with those details. Such a focus risks becoming tedious, however, reducing a story to a series of descriptions of events. I call this writing style ‘watch the movie and write down the details.’

A bigger problem with this style of writing is that readers often access a story’s characters through the feelings events generate. To leave out those feelings denies readers a prime entry point into a character’s inner life and goals. This is especially true when a main character becomes a kind of automaton, recording visual details.

To help such writers, I have them write out beside each paragraph the feelings of the main character in the scene and how the events of the scene impact and change that character’s feelings. If those feelings don’t change, nothing has happened in the scene to impact the character and, generally, not the reader, either.

The subtle trap here is that those situations and places might evoke feelings in the author, which makes them symbolic to the author and meaningless to the reader, evoking nothing (except perhaps irritation).

All hugely successful stories are journeys of feeling for readers, supported by details of time and place. If you’re telling a story, take care to convey those feelings in a way your readers can share the story journey.

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To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook.