Tag Archive | writing craft

What To Do If Your Characters Won’t Talk To You

Or do they talk too much?

 

Is there a “right” way to communicate with your characters?

I pondered this question late one night when I couldn’t sleep (the places a mind can go at three in the morning!). The topic was on my mind due to a Facebook discussion, where an author was concerned she had a problem because her characters wouldn’t “talk” to her. She had heard other authors say they had regular and vivid conversations with their characters, and she felt left out because she didn’t.

Many in the responses assured her she wasn’t doing anything wrong. Several authors, myself included, said their characters don’t communicate with them like disembodied entities. The consensus at the end of the thread was, like most aspects of writing, there’s no one right way. How your characters communicate with you is part of your writing process, and what works for one person may not work for another.

Whose Head Is This?

Personally, my characters don’t talk to me, they talk through me. I do a rough character sketch before I begin writing a story, but the characters, whether main or secondary, reveal themselves to me as I write. They don’t get inside my head, but I get inside theirs. When I am writing in a character’s POV, I am that character. I inhabit their mind, see what they see, feel what they feel. I think that is why I am able to write in deep point of view, and also why I can’t stand “head hopping” (alternating POV in the same scene). It may also be why I write slower than some writers, because it takes time to get into, and out of, character. The only downside is, when I write from the POV of an antagonist who is psychologically messed up, or a villain type, it sometimes creeps me out and takes a while to recover!

My reviews have cited “a wealth of character development” and now I know why. I didn’t even realize that I was, so to speak, “inhabiting” my characters until I thought about how other authors communicate with theirs.

Characters Are Crucial

Characters and their motivations, quirks, and personalities are extremely important in fiction. No matter what genre you write, character development is what makes the reader care about what is happening plot-wise. Some genres have more emphasis on character development and interaction than others, but knowing your characters is crucial for all fiction.
So, what can you do if they aren’t jabbering?

Here’s a few tips I have heard about getting to know your characters:

Write a character sketch– it can be a few paragraphs, a list, or a dossier. Some writers swear by this, and it helps them to know what food the character likes, what astrological sign they are, what happened to them when they were six, etc. Much of the information may not be used in the story, but serves as background, which helps to develop the character’s motivations and quirks.

Interview your characters– pretend you’re a journalist or a psychologist, and grill them with questions. Many writers find this helps when they are stuck, to ask the character what he/she wants to happen.

Try deep POV– even if you are not writing your story that way. Really get inside your character’s mind, and figure out why they behave the way they do. Writing a scene or two, which you may or may not use, can trigger you to discover aspects about that character you were missing.

Map it out– use a structural template, such as Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, or something similar, to map out your character’s development and arc. Sometimes breaking it down like that can trigger all sorts of ideas and provide insight into the character’s psychological makeup.

Brainstorm- talk it out with another author or a trusted beta reader. If you feel disconnected or blocked from a character, talking it through with someone else can also trigger understanding. Sometimes just voicing your concerns out loud can make the character more “real” and you can gain insight into what they want or should do in your story.

The bottom line is, there is no one right way to communicate with your characters. Whether they are noisy or quiet, how they get the story through you and onto the page is highly personal and individual. While it is a good idea to try new methods, don’t compare yourself to other writers. If your way makes you comfortable and works for you, bravo!

Do your characters talk to you? What’s your process for finding out what they are all about?

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What To Do If You Hate Blogging

Cute Little Girl Typing On Vintage Typewriter Keyboard

What? You hate blogging? That’s okay. Writing and maintaining a blog is not for everyone. It can be a lot of work, and many writers feel it takes away from time they could be working on other writing projects. However, I believe it is one of the best tools for writers available, and here’s how you can still learn from it, even if you never blog.

In Favor of Blogging

I have learned so much from the almost three years I have been writing my blog posts. A recent post on Anne R. Allen’s blog, explains why blogging is still one of the best things an author can do, including 10 ways blogging can help your career. Whether or not her post inspires you to start or revive your own blog, there is still something to be learned. For example, how having a blog helps to get your name recognized by search engines. Connecting on social media is fine, and a following can be built using whatever social media outlet you prefer. But if you don’t have an actual website, a blog is a great way to get your name out there.

Another aspect of blogging I’d like to add is, since you’re in control, you can discuss any topic you like. This will help attract followers who like what you like. I enjoy discussing New Age/Supernatural topics from time to time, and I’m also a big fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. A friend of mine, Tasha L. Harrison, is passionate about diversity in books, and romance novels in particular. So she addresses that topic in some of her posts. Anyone who has an interest in the subjects you discuss may become a new follower, or a fan of your books, and hopefully, a friend.

If you are a new writer, you don’t have to blog about the subject of writing. In fact, it is probably better if you hold off on that until you have more experience. But you can talk about certain aspects of your journey, as I have on such topics as writing a first draft, how lack of confidence can affect your writing, trends you notice in the marketplace, etc.

Targeted Learning

It is okay if you still find blogging is not for you. What you can do then is learn from other writer’s blogs. There are tons of blog posts about pretty much any topic you can think of, especially writing tips. If you are a new writer, blogs can be a great educational tool. Supplement your craft studies and conference going by subscribing to the blogs that speak to you. That is what I did, and it was easier to learn that way, in small doses, than to try to get through an entire book of writing instruction.

Build Your Own Reference Guide

Here’s my tip: subscribe to the writing tips/instruction blogs that you like, and they will send you an email when they post. If they are discussing a topic you want to read later, or feel you may need to refer to at some point, move it to a file in your email. For example, I have files broken down by topic: Plotting, Character Development, Dialogue, etc. I also have files pertaining to marketing and the business side of writing, such as: Formatting, Web Design, Covers, Advertising, etc. I have amassed a trove of information, available at my fingertips whenever I need it.

My Favorite Blogs

I have a few blogs I subscribe to, but I also find relevant posts through social media. Writers are great about sharing helpful information on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. You can also bookmark posts you find by searching on a particular topic. How cool is that? Anything you want to know can be found in a few keystrokes.

Here are the blogs that I subscribe to for writing tips and instruction:        

Anne R. Allen’s Blog

Kristin Lamb’s Blog

Janice Hardy’s Fiction University

Jami Gold’s Blog

 

What blogs do you subscribe to? Do you enjoy writing your own blog, and has it helped your career?

 

 

 

 

Sh*t I Tell Myself While Writing A First Draft

Finishing a first draft is always an important event for a writer, whether it is your first or fiftieth. The good news is it does get easier to get to that finish line with practice. The not-so-good news is, from what I have heard and read, even a superstar author’s first drafts will require at least some revision.

The ecstasy and the agony....

The ecstasy and the agony….

The Truth of Memes

There is a meme going around the Internet that perfectly captures the difference between the joy of writing that first draft and the discomfort (okay, let’s be real and use the right word, “agony”) of the revision process (rewrites and editing). The message is: writing the draft feels triumphant, like a god or goddess who has created the world; going back to begin fixing it (and it will need fixing) is a bloody, messy pit of despair.

Okay, this may be an exaggeration but writers are prone to such, even if it doesn’t show in their writing (the final product). I am proud to have finished a few drafts so far in my writing journey, even though they are all still in various stages of editing. And it has become easier to get through to the end with each project.

That Moment When It Hits You

But something shifted in me recently, an awareness of how much pressure I have been putting on myself with each new story. I felt tremendous pressure to make each first draft “right”, the best it can be. After all, who the hell wants to go back and do it all over again, and again, and again? It was as though I had to get the first draft perfect, and if I didn’t there was no reason to go forward after that. And then the urge to start a shiny new story would start, bringing with it the hope that this would be ‘the one’.

I certainly hope my realization that the above theory will never work shows I am making progress and am no longer a clueless Newb.

My First Draft Rules

For a few years now, I have been devouring blog posts, craft books, articles, and taking classes in an effort to improve my skills as a writer. When the light bulb went off in my head about how I should be approaching first drafts, a list came to mind which I promptly typed and hung above my desk. It is a summation of things I have heard countless others say, so I can’t give credit because it has all coalesced in my mind. Anyway, this is what works for me and I am sharing in case it may help you:

  1. The first draft is NOT “The Book”. It is a blueprint.
  2. The first draft is you telling yourself the story.
  3. The first draft is for getting to know the characters.
  4. The first draft is to set the stage with setting (location) and world building.
  5. The first draft is a springboard for necessary research.
  6. The first draft is the exploration of an idea, not a finished product.
  7. Outline first before writing, but be flexible and open to changing directions.
  8. Make changes if needed, but resist the urge to edit.
  9. It is important to get in the zone and let the words flow. It can all be fixed later. Repeat: IT CAN ALL BE FIXED LATER!
  10. The first draft is for you; your story, your voice. Editing will later prepare your story for the world.
  11. When the first draft is finished, walk away for at least a month.

You may find some of these rules do not work for you. So find some that do, and get those drafts written! Nothing else can happen to your work until you finish it, and the first draft is only the first step.

As for me, I am slowly making peace with all the other steps that follow, and hopefully one day soon, I will have conquered those, as well.

What rules would you add to this list?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Art vs. The Craft of Writing

Word Art

Word Art

Is writing fiction more of an art (an innate talent) or a craft to be mastered? Which is more important for a writer to possess- creative talent, or the ability to construct structurally competent manuscripts?

I know, the optimal answer is “both”.  But from what I have observed, there is a tremendous amount of emphasis on the “Rules” of becoming a successful writer, and very little emphasis on being successfully creative, that is, creating a work of art with words. What makes a story memorable is the intangible- the premise, the plot, the characters, the theme, the imagery, and the setting of the story. The technical framework of grammar and composition, punctuation and structure, should ideally be so well done as to be invisible to the reader.

I ask this question because it is easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of “The Rules” of writing when you are working on mastering the craft, and what’s worse, much of it is contradictory. There are tons of books, videos, and blog posts on nearly every aspect of writing, be it a novel, short story, screenplay or script. Just search “Rules For Writers” and see what comes up!

I did, and I also searched “Rules For Artists”. There were a few books, some blog posts that were outdated. A few of the articles I found were technical, some were anecdotal.

Rules for Musicians” turned up even less, except for a Musician’s Union rules post. With the exception of learning to read music, and specific instructions on playing various instruments, there are no overall “Rules” on how music should be created.

Rules for Dancers“- a studio had their rules listed, things like what to wear or not to wear to class. (There was also an article on Rules For Strip Club dancers, but I opted not to read that one).  Another blog post on dancing recommended things like “Dance to the Beat” (ohhhhh….that’s how they do it), and “Be comfortable”. Who knew?

Is writing the one art form where structure is tremendously more important than creativity?

The question of “Art VS. Craft” in regards to writing has been discussed probably as long as writers have been trying to turn the images in their heads into letters on the page. Michael A. Stelzner’s Blog, Writing White Papers, covered this topic. Guest blogger Sharon Hurley Hall examined writing from both the art and the craft sides, after taking a seminar on the arts where writing was considered something akin to a “Poor Relation”, the implication being it was not “really” an art form.

Another blog post, this one from Yotzeret Publishing, takes the view that though fiction writing is an art, the act of publishing (or pursuing publication) is a business, and that is how it differs from other art forms, such as painting, sculpting, etc.

“Painters and sculptors and potters don’t submit their work to galleries with the expectation that the gallery owners will come back and say, “We’d love to display your art, but you’ll need to make some revisions with an editor first.”

One that really struck me though, and seemed to answer my original question of which was more important, art or craft, was this blog post at Write To Done. Entitled “The Art Vs. Craft Gap- A Writer’s Paradox”. It was a guest post by none other than Larry Brooks, author of Story Engineering, as well as several popular thriller novels. To quote:

“The art resides in the design, the craft resides in the execution.”

He compared two houses, one a tract house in a crowded neighborhood, the other on the cover of Architectural Digest.

‘At the design stage, both houses are nothing more than the sum of a bunch of concepts and ideas, just like a novel. To simply stand upright against a stiff wind – the metaphoric equivalent of getting published in the case of a novel – there must be solid ideas and concepts in play which are executed with a sufficient level of craftsmanship.

But the essence of the truly artistic house is the originality, energy and beauty of the form and shape of the structure. Without something exciting, fresh and thought-provoking, you risk your story being perceive as yet another tract house in a neighborhood full of mediocrity.’

Designer drawing a light bulb, concept for brainstorming and ins

I brought up this question of Art VS. Craft because, like many of you, I get frustrated. I have been seriously studying the Craft of Writing for many years now. I have read numerous Craft books; taken classes, seminars, webinars; saved every blog post with How-To Tips; networked and critiqued; read countless novels; beta-read for other authors; wrote three completed manuscripts and have several partials in progress.

When will I be ready? Is learning the mechanics of the craft enough, or is there some elusive Artistic Quality that must be present? If so, how does one develop that?

What I do know is this- the Artist in me won’t let me quit, no matter how long it takes to master The Craft.

How about you? How much emphasis do you place on artistic ability in writing? On honing your craft skills? What do you consider to be the right balance?

Talent Needed yellow road warning sign to illustrate a need to f

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watching Writers Grow

flowers 004

 

I don’t have a “green thumb”, but I have learned how to keep most of the plants in my back-porch herb garden alive. In fact, last year I branched out (pardon the pun) to growing fruits and vegetable in pots, enjoying fresh strawberries and peppers, even a miniature eggplant. This from someone who was previously unable to keep any houseplant alive.

What changed? I finally reached a point in my life when I was able to devote some time to cooking, and had a strong desire to use fresh herbs and veggies, thus the garden. In a parallel manner, I also found time to devote to one of my first loves- writing.

In 2011, I had settled into my new home, my new town, and began looking for writing groups in the area. I was lucky to find one that more than suited my needs, organized by a published writer, not far from where I lived. I attended the first meeting of the newly formed critique group, and still belong today.

Our group of about 10-15 writers (it fluctuates) has been through a few format changes, but our core purpose is support. We critique as members submit projects, either samples or even full novels for beta reading. We give presentations to the group on craft, style, industry info, etc. We share links, resources, and attend conferences together. We celebrate successes- at our last meeting we toasted a member’s entry into the NYTBSA list (Congrats, Annabel Joseph)!   And perhaps more importantly, we help each other cope with the inevitable rejections, endless rewrites and other stumbling blocks writers must face.

I have definitely grown in my writing skills as a result of their influence- this blog itself is proof. Not sure whether I would have launched it if I was on my own. Now I have a full novel in edits and am deep into the first draft of Book One a four book series. Their feedback, encouragement and support have been a major factor in my growth, like sunlight, watering and nutrients have helped my garden to grow.

I have also had the pleasure of watching my fellow writers blossom. Seeing a first draft transformed into a full novel ready for publication is exciting. Taking part in the shaping of the final product by providing opinion and suggestions is an honor. Our group has talented writers in various genres, Romance, Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, and Erotica, to name a few. Some of our members have already been published or are very near to being published. So watch out, world!

So excuse me while I go tend to my garden of word-projects. First you plant the seeds (outlining), then you write (watering and feeding), then you prune and weed (editing and revision). With luck and love, you will reap the final harvest- a finished novel, ready to send out to the world.