Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Glad Game

Do you ever get excited when you rediscover as an adult a movie that you loved as a child? I just recently watched the movie Pollyanna, starring Hayley Mills, with my family and had this experience. However, my perspective was quite different today than it was when I was ten, and as a result, my take-away was different.

So how do you create a story that speaks to all ages? Two quick ideas from Pollyanna…


That’s a big word that means everyone can relate to what’s being said or done. There’s a universal appeal or application, truth that any audience can recognize.

Pollyanna invents a game for herself called the Glad Game that changes the population of Harrington Town. Simply put, no matter what has happened, you must always think of something to be glad about.

She tells the story of really wanting a doll but getting a pair of crutches instead. Pollyanna finds something glad about the mistake. “Well, at least I didn’t have to use them [the crutches].”

From Aunt Polly to Nancy to Mrs. Snow to Dr. Chilton, all the characters learn something from Pollyanna and her Glad Game. Find yourself in one of these characters, and you’ll find out what you can learn from this little girl.

Something Untold

The movie ends with Aunt Polly and Dr. Chilton taking Pollyanna to have a procedure done that will make her walk again.

As I child, I saw this as a happy ending. Everyone is smiling and waving and cheering.

As an adult, I saw the ending differently. My life experiences have shaped my perspective, and I realize that all stories do not end happily. I realize now there is no guarantee that this little girl whom the entire town has come to love will actually walk again.

And what if she doesn’t? Will she be able to keep smiling? Would I be able to keep smiling?

My Take-Away for Writers

No matter what story you’re trying to tell, it should have the element of universality. For example, are your characters believable? Do they have a backstory, or what are their struggles? If they’re perfect, it’s going to be hard to find an audience that can relate to them!

And finally, what does your story say – or what doesn’t it say? Whether the conclusion wraps up all the loose ends or leaves unfinished details, give the audience something to think about.

So what are some favorite movies – or books – you’ve rediscovered as an adult? What qualities make them worth revisiting?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Metrics and Keeping Your Writing on Track

Have you heard the saying, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure?” I realize this principle is primarily connected with the business world, but I believe there’s an application here for writers as well.

 I remember when I first started seriously writing fiction during my high school years. I’d sit down at my computer, work really hard and save my draft a couple hours later, feeling quite accomplished. But then, life would happen, and the demands of high school (not nearly as complicated as they seemed at the time), would get in the way. My progress was like an irregular heartbeat.   

With my first book – and especially with my second one – I established benchmark goals. Setting goals is certainly the first step, but without a way to track or measure progress, the goals lose their clarity.

That’s where metrics comes into play. Metrics, as simply defined by, is “the science of measuring.”

For example, my goal with my second book is to have my rough draft complete by June (yes, of this year). A goal has to be specific, so I estimated my target page and word counts. Then, looking at those numbers, I set up an Excel spreadsheet with formulas to calculate the difference between my actual and target counts. As I record my progress each week, I’ve been able to see the difference as I chip away at those goals.  

Guess what? My simple spreadsheet has helped keep me accountable, and I’ve stuck to my weekly goals. I’ve watched the difference between actual and target counts shrink and the percentage completion steadily rise, which has in turn helped motivate me to stay on track.

And what I’ve learned is this: Goals, metrics and motivation work hand in hand. You can’t have one without the others.