A kind of Holiday Letter – 2013

Dear Friends,

Welcome to my annual “multiple-choice” Holiday Letter. As you may recall, I began writing in this format because (1):

  1. I enjoy ambiguity.
  2. Everyone loves a quiz.
  3. As a teacher, this format has become 2nd nature to me.

Yet again, I find that my life is ridiculously fun and rewarding. I owe this primarily to my wife and children, though my students, surprisingly enough, make me smile every day (thanks, guys!). There is so much for which I am thankful, including (2):

  1. That I get to spend so much time with my family.
  2. The good news about my Illinois teacher pension.
  3. That I still have winning the lottery to look forward to.

I am also happy to report that my wife (3):

  1. Has fallen in love with a younger man who our kids just rave about.
  2. Continues to make me laugh (not at her . . . usually).
  3. Has been asked to quit working for United Airlines and work exclusively for Air Force One.
  4. All of the above.

Our daughter has entered kindergarten and (4):

  1. Is learning in a bilingual school—most of her education is in Spanish.
  2. Has made several new friends.
  3. Still loves to give her daddy several hugs a day!
  4. All of the above.

While our son is only three-years-old, he (5):

  1. Has the destructive ability of a zombie dinosaur army.
  2. Speaks fluent French and Japanese.
  3. Is a cute, funny, and charming heartbreaker.
  4. Both A and C.

Life remains a blast—providing our family with new and plentiful reasons to celebrate. While we occasionally have a tough break or curve ball thrown our way, we stay happy because (6):

  1. We get shiny new toys that bring true enlightenment.
  2. Our fame continues to spread and our adoring public can’t get enough of us.
  3. Gold coins fall at our feet when we snap our fingers.
  4. None of the above is the key to our happiness.

We hope you have had a wonderful year and that the next one brings you (7):

  1. Adventure.
  2. Laughter.
  3. A few surprises.
  4. The time to do whatever it is you truly want to do.
  5. All of the above.

Happy Holidays!

Sincerely,

Craig

ANSWER KEY: 1 = 3.     2 = 1.    3 = 2.      4 = 4.     5 = 4.     6 = 4.     7 = 5.

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Stagnation is Always the Enemy

As writers, stagnation is always our enemy.

This is true in several ways. Consider:

  1. We always seek to improve our craft—we are never fully satisfied.
  2. Our stories and characters must constantly grow, adapt, and change.

Although it may not seem like it, we grow every time we write. We think of new phrases, try new sentence structures, attempt new rhetorical styles, etc. The more you write, the better your writing will become. Of course, you can push yourself by setting yourself goals, attempting new styles, etc. Even if such exercises never see the light of day, they are valuable methods of improving your craft. We know this. You will keep the stagnation enemy at bay so long as you are writing and trying your best. If you are writing, you are evolving.

But it is equally true that our stories and characters can’t stagnate. They must evolve as well. In the past, I’ve written that a protagonist MUST change in the story (my two posts about “Transformation” in the Hero’s Journey). Change is inherently interesting. So if your character is stagnate and doesn’t change, you’ve written a boring story that violates perhaps the most fundamental principle of storytelling—that your characters will learn or be changed by what they experience.

In fact, every scene must involve change. If things are the same at the end of a scene or chapter as they were at the beginning, then that chapter should be cut or at least fixed. If nothing changes, there is no need for the scene.

When editing, go through each scene and identify what changes. If you can’t find something, ask “do I really need this in the story?” If you don’t absolutely need it, then you might just delete the whole thing (which might help your pacing). If the scene is necessary, at least re-work it so that something changes (arguing characters agree by the end, agreeing characters disagree by the end, have learned something that changes how they think or feel, something unexpected happens, etc.).

Keep it up! Keep working! Keep the enemy at bay!

Best of luck!