Saturday Writers

Category Archives: Characters

In A Strange Roundabout Way

Long time no post…

Hey folks, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted. No, I haven’t forgotten my faithful readers—the one or two of you who exist—it’s just been hectic. So many things going on outside the wonderful world of writing in the real world, from the day job to household chores and family events. One very exciting thing is my upcoming class on hair and skincare for Prairieland Herbs. Wait a minute, isn’t this a blog about writing? What’s that got to do with writing? In a strange roundabout way it has everything to do with writing, at least for me.

First off, I had to come up with a simple, yet enticing blurb for their site. Think of it as a short, to the point pitch to sell your novel, in this case to sell a class. Then an outline of what I will be covering, just like outlining your book. You have an idea and you need a map on how to get from point A to point B. True, I’m not big on outlines but I still need some sort of course of action to keep me on track, whether it is in writing or teaching this class.

Next, there’s the whole getting up in front of people and getting your point across. Akin to an oral explanation of your book or practice for book signings and other promotional events, maybe someday you’ll be sitting on one of those fancy panels at a convention.

Last, but certainly not least it gets me back in the game of cosmetology practice in the real world instead of just my alternate reality. As some of you know, I’ve centered my story around a stylist and her salon. It’s been a while since I stood behind the chair and had to impart some sort of information or service to someone other than friends or family. Sure, I remember doing these things but it’s a far cry from actually doing them. Hands on is some of the best research when possible and the gals at Prairieland have made it possible.

Three Things I Learned from NaNoWriMo

November has been dubbed National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) by Chris Baty, a writer from San Francisco. For 11 years, he’s sponsored an event for writers, challenging them to write a novel (50,000 words) during the month of November. Thousands of writers have taken him up on the challenge and participated through the NaNoWriMo website.

I’ve been a part of the challenges for several years and I’ve learned some things in the process that I’d like to share with you.

Challenge Yourself

Use NaNo as an opportunity to challenge yourself. You don’t have to adhere to the “50,000 words on a new novel” rule. It’s more of a guideline, than a rule. The point of NaNo is to challenge yourself–stretch beyond what you think you’re capable of.

  • If you already have a story started, write 50,000 more words on it in 30 days.
  • If you’re writing short stories, instead of novels, write 50,000 cumulative words on a variety of stories in 30 days.
  • If your novel is done, edit 50 pages a day on it.
  • If you’re submitting, send out 5 queries a day for 30 days.

Think of what you could accomplish under normal circumstances and then double your output for a month. You don’t have to keep it up forever, just for a month. See what kind of a kickstart that gives to your writing.

First Draft Freedom

NaNo requires fast writing. For many writers, 50,000 words in 30 days is really fast. You don’t have time to edit, to fuss with point of view, to layer your characters. You just write and get it down on paper.

As a writer who gets stuck in perfectionism, NaNo is a refreshing change for me. I can’t fuss over the first chapter for six months, getting the words just right. Instead, I have to throw something on to the page and keep going.

Now, mind you, I’m not deliberately throwing garbage on to the page and calling it my novel. No, I’m writing the story the best I can without self-editing during the process. Forward motion is my goal. I’ve come across several writers who feel that writing the first draft is necessary for you to figure out what story you’re actually telling. Then in the second draft (and subsequent ones), you shape the story to that vision. Since I know the story will change (possibly radically), then getting my first draft perfect isn’t necessary. It’s kind of useless, even, since I’m going to change it. So write fast and get to the end of your first draft so you know your story.

Help, My Plot Has Fallen and It Can’t Get Up!

One of my favorite “tools” I learned from NaNo is the plot ninjas.

Let’s pretend that you’re writing along on your novel and you start to realize that your characters have been sitting in a kitchen, sipping tea and chatting for the last 30 pages. Drinking tea in a kitchen is the kiss of death for a novel. Where’s the tension? Where’s the conflict? You need to get those characters moving and reacting to something.

Suddenly there’s a knock at the back door. Your main character answers the door and discovers ninjas who immediately start attacking him!

Now there’s tension and conflict in your story. Nobody stands passively by while ninjas are attacking.

Ninjas may not fit your genre, but you can adapt the plot ninja idea to other types of stories.

  • If you’re writing a mystery, someone totally unexpected is murdered.
  • In a romance, another man (or woman) shows up and claims to be married to your main character.
  • In a scifi story, aliens attack or a nanite plague breaks out.
  • In a crossover novel, the secret spouse of your main character’s love interest is murdered by aliens wielding nanites.

The only criteria for using plot ninjas in your story is that the ninja event be something unexpected and startling. Something that your characters must react to. Then they’re no longer in the kitchen drinking tea.

I’ve learned other things from participating in NaNo, but these are three biggies–enjoy the challenge, write freely in my first draft, and use plot ninjas to shake things up when my story has stalled.

What things have you learned from NaNoWriMo?

I’ll be participating in NaNo again this year. If you’d like to follow my progress, add me as a Writing Buddy.

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Writing Naked

My stomach clenches in fear.  Tears gather in my eyes.  Flames of anger threaten to engulf.  An unexpected snort of laughter slips out.  The breeze from an open window pulls me back reminding me of my surroundings.  It’s all there bare, exposed.  I’ve been writing naked.

When I write, I put my emotions on display.  I draw on those feelings and infuse them into my characters.  To those of you who thought I really did write in the buff…well what can I say?  To each their own fantasies or nightmares whatever the case may be.

It’s a lot like method acting.  There’s nothing wrong with borrowing something that works and using it to your own advantage.  Actors don’t own the franchise on channeling emotions.  Songwriters, poets and yes fiction writers can and do use the same technique.

Writing naked is not an easy task, it means dredging up painful memories or embarrassing things you’d rather forget.  Like the time I wore two different colored shoes to work.  Hey, at least they were the same style.  Remembering that humiliation made it possible to describe how a character felt in an embarrassing situation.

Writing naked also has its drawbacks, you need to know where to draw the line.  Some memories are too fresh or disturbing to explore.  If you can’t delve into a memory without hurtling into the abyss don’t go there.  You need to be able to return virtually unscathed with the information you went after and the ability to impart it into your writing.

In a world of show don’t tell, I find stripping down and baring my soul a useful tool.  The reader doesn’t need to know what I’ve based those emotions on, only what my characters are feeling.  If I’m lucky and they feel the fury, panic, misery or elation, I’ve done my job.

Come on I dare you, step a little outside your comfort zone.  Strip down and write naked.  Metaphorically that is, unless you have a more comfortable chair than I do.  The fabric on mine leaves the strangest little marks.

 

Interview With A Fey

Inspired by Virginia’s wonderful author interviews, I thought it would be fun to see one from the other end of the spectrum.  This month I handed my turn over to Iowa Star reporter Grace Emerson for a character interview (or would that be character on character interview?).  Grace was lucky enough to catch Keely Fey, owner of Fey Creations Salon, between cuts and she agreed to answer a few questions.

So Keely, when were you born?

A lady never divulges her age.

I was actually asking about your birth on paper, when did you first come into existence?

Oh, that’s a little more complicated but I’ll give it a whirl.  I’ve been knocking around in Her head for ages.

Her?

You know, the one that thinks She made me up.  Anyway, I started out in an epic fantasy.

I take it that did not work out.

You’re telling me.  Epic fantasy was definitely not Her bag.  She may like to read them, but writing one?  That would be a big ol’ no.  Forcing an 80’s girl like me into a quasi-medieval world was a no go.

What made ‘Her’ change ‘Her’ mind and place you in a salon in present day Iowa?

Me of course.  I just kept telling Her how wrong the whole thing felt.  I was born in Iowa so it was logical that’s where I belonged.  I’m also cosmetologist not one of those sword and sorcery chicks She’s so fond of.  The biggest blade I hold is pair of six and a half inch shears and as for sorcery, my talents rest in making others look good.  Once She got that through Her head it was smooth sailing.

Smooth sailing?  From what I have seen, your life is far from smooth.

Okay, maybe not smooth, but I’m more comfortable, or I would be if it weren’t for the obstacles She tosses at me.

Having witnessed yours firsthand, maybe you could clarify for our readers just what you mean by talents.

I’m not sure how to explain it, in simple terms I guess it’s what Uns would call magic.  Before you ask, Uns are those without innate magic, unlike Ens who have magic hardwired into our DNA.

I see you looking at your watch, am I keeping you?

I have a set under the dryer and a cut in about 15 minutes so my time is pretty limited.

Do you have time for one more question?

Sure, as long as you don’t ask me to reveal any deep dark secrets.

What do you see in your future?

I plan to do what I do best, wielding my mighty shears and irons.  Beyond that…well, it’s a little shadowy.  Now I’ve got to get Lucille from under the dryer before her ears burn with more than gossip.

A big thanks to both Grace for taking over this month and Keely for agreeing to participate, she’s not always the easiest person to work with.

It’s all about me! (or you? or them?)

Yesterday at our monthly Saturday Writers meeting we got into a really interesting conversation about point of view, as in “writer’s point of view.” Jean (you know her; she was one of our bloggers until recently when life got in the way – Hi Jean!”) decided she’s going to write in a new point of view, which is what prompted the discussion. And in the process, we learned a couple of things, including the fact that I can’t say the word “Omniscient.” (You try it. Not that easy!) There are three primary Points of View (and a few twists on each of them, as well):

 

First Person – “I” point of view. Seen strictly from inside the protagonist’s head.

Third Person – “He/she” point of view. Seen from one or more characters, one at a time, and experience only what that character experiences.

Omniscient or Narrative– A narrator, who can be external or a character in the story, presents the tale to the reader. They can show us anyone’s thoughts or actions. It’s the most difficult POV to master.

 

Personally, as a reader and a writer, I’m a big fan of third person omniscient. I like being able to tell my story through the eyes of a number of characters (with appropriate scene changes and indicators to keep the reader following along nicely). I think this form has a number of benefits; it gives the narrator (me!) reliability because it’s clear I know everything. It lets the writer layer experiences and views, creating a rich landscape. And it covers more ground, because the writer doesn’t have to wait til the one-and-only viewpoint character comes across something to share the information. And make the POV universal omniscient instead of third-person – and things become tricky: I the writer can share with the reader things my characters don’t know.

 

There’s been a POV trend for the last decade of so – first person narrative. The story is told exclusively through the protagonist’s eyes. What he/she doesn’t see, neither does the reader see. What he/she doesn’t know, neither does the reader know. In some ways it’s more person… we’re living with and through the character, so we’re as closely “along for the ride” as we can be. But it’s also very limiting, in my opinion. It prevents a story from having all the layers it might have with the addition of other characters viewpoints. Often I won’t purchase a book that’s written in first POV because for me they tend to drag a bit. But I’m trying to broaden my horizons, and I just finished Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris, and I admit, I liked it. I’m also reading Lois Greiman’s Unzipped, another 1st person POV, and I’m enjoying it, too. So maybe as with all things, it’s the writer’s ability to handle the technique well.

 

So, I’m going to give in and test it for myself. Sometime this week I plan to rewrite Gemma’s opening scene in first person, and see if it improves, or doesn’t change at all, the strength of the piece. It should be an easy scene to experiment on, since it’s relatively short, somewhat active, and full of emotion.

 

I’ll let you know what I come up with.

 

In the meantime, what POV do you find yourself most easily immersed in? 1st person? 3rd? Omniscient?

 

 

 

MARCH IS MY MONTH FOR MEN

     Today I could say two words that would be an instant conversation starter among a group of people no matter what their age.   The Bachelor.  What a putz.  The last night of this seasons show he chooses one of the two final women to be his bride then changes his mind.  After what seemed a dramatic heart wrenching decision which causes him to break down in tears he dumps the woman of his choice and goes after the other woman whose heart he had already broken.   And he wondered why he is single.  Why he has a hard time finding the right person.  Get a clue. 
     We as writers live for characters like The Bachelor to shape stories around, to use as villains in our stories.  They pretty much write their own plot.  Maybe he is the reason for conflict between our hero and heroine.   Or he could always be the hero of our story who has never had a steady relationship.  Someone who seems to go from girlfriend to girlfriend until our heroine comes into his life.  He is instantly taken with her and can’t think of being with anyone else but her.  Now you know what I mean about living for characters like The Bachelor.  There are so many possibilities and to have someone like him right in front of you week after week to see all of his faults, to be able to make note of them and change the ones we want is priceless.  We as writers take those faults and work them into our stories so our readers either learn to like, or at the least, except him or hate him even more.  
     I’ve gotten ideas for characters from a lot of places.  I have to admit some of them from the people closest to me.  Since it is March I have to recognize three of the men in my life that would make great characters in anyone’s story.  All three happen to have birthday which fall in the month of March. 
     First my brother Mike who above all is my friend.  He is someone who can make me laugh until my side hurts or milk comes out of my nose, who liked to drink until he became invisible.  We have never lived close to each other and there are times we go for months without speaking to each other, only sending emails, but he is always there for me.  Just knowing that makes my world a better place and I love him. 
     Next is my son Ryan who is one of the joys of my life.  He is someone who makes me proud with everything he attempts or accomplishes in his life; someone who has amazed me with his intelligence and charm since he was a small child.  All the medals and awards were great milestones in his life but he is facing one of the biggest milestones this month, the birth of his first child.  Watching him take on this responsibility with love and joy in every second makes me a proud parent.  To think he learned some of that from me.
     Last but not least is my husband Craig.  We have been married for 34 years.  We were high school sweethearts.  I can still remember the first time I saw him across the commons before school.  He still looks the same to me today.  We have taken care of each other all these years and hopefully many more to come.  We have had a lot of trials in our relationship but he is still the one I want to spend time with, feel comfortable with and would be one of the things I would take with me to a deserted island.   Love doesn’t adequately explain the feelings I have for my Husband.
     So there you have the Men in my life for March.  I fashion characters after them and use them to give me ideas about how a man would react to certain situations.  They are among my greatest supporters and I love each one of them.  Happy Birthday guys!

Road Rage? Or Road Lust?

     Just about everyone has heard of road rage, most have experienced or been at the receiving end of it. In these tough days of high stress and financial difficulties, it seems everybody is in a hurry to be somewhere and not always considerate of other drivers that may get in their way. Tempers collide when volatile traffic situations end in messy accidents and fender benders. You throw together a myriad of personalities while filling out a police report and things get real interesting fast.

     Now that we know how road rage works, what about a little thing I like to call road lust? Let me paint you a picture.

     I was be-bopping along in my car yesterday, plotting a story in my head and trying to come up with a hero for my current story. Then, suddenly, there he was!

     A big beautiful Ford pickup truck passed and pulled in front of me. Its shiny black body, sparkling chrome trim and tinted windows just screamed Alpha male. I put my foot on the accelerator and made it my mission to tail him until I had his character fully formed in my head.

     Not-so-subtle hints into his personality were plastered all over the back window of the cab in the form of decals. I took note of each one and the process of hero profiling had begun. As I assimilated each decal in my head, a new detail of my hero took shape.

     The first decal – and largest – was one declaring him to be retired Army. That told me he was a man of honor, duty, and respect. A strong man with good moral character. Okay, those are all good qualities for my hero. I can use those. On to the next decal.

     The second decal showed a German Shepherd and declared it to be his best friend. Very good. All heros should be animal lovers. I like that. On to the next decal.

     The third decal had the profile of an eagle on it, and not in a grab-a-gun-and-kill-whatever-moves-in-the-woods kind of eagle. This was a let’s-save-the-species-before-it’s-totally-extinct kind of thing. The absence of a gun rack was good, too. I didn’t see a deer or pheasant decal so that told me he wasn’t an avid hunter – but, hey, this is my fantasy so I’m free to believe what I want to. The next decal confirmed his status as a “real” man.

     The fourth decal had a horse on it. Excellent! What woman doesn’t like a cowboy?

     The fifth and final decal on the back window of his truck was one of those E85 ethanol stickers. That told me he supported environmental efforts and energy conservation.

     Wow!

     I hadn’t even met this guy and he already packed a powerful punch! So he’s tough, proud, sensitive, and environmentally conscious. Now I had to figure out what he looked like. He pulled over into the left lane. I took that as an invitation to pull up beside him on the right. Time for me to check him out.

     Dang!

    Those tinted windows!

     I looked but couldn’t see anything. He slowed down and made a left turn, leaving me to continue on my way without him.

     He probably thought I was stalking him.

     Maybe I was.

     Oh well, I now have a hero for the story I’m writing. I never saw what he looked like but I can picture him in my head. Tall, dark and handsome, of course. A smile that crinkles at the corners of his eyes and deep brown eyes that turn your legs to Jello when he looks at you. Strong muscular arms, tight butt, and hands…oh, those hands! His hands are strong enough to crush a coconut but gentle enough to soothe a scared kitten he has just rescued from a tree.

     If it had been a minivan or compact car passing me in traffic yesterday, I don’t think I’d have my hero. Interesting how the car he drives can define the man in a writer’s mind. It’s all about setting and description. Admit it, ladies! Would that guy be as hot if he were driving a Yugo? I think not!

Showing Your Private Parts

There’s glitter on my laptop keys. Hmm. Wonder how that happened.

I’m knee-deep in the fleshing out of my latest humorous women’s fiction piece, tentatively entitled “Gemma.” I’m really digging where the story is going. The book idea came from a great opening scene that I’ve had forever, it just took a couple of years for the scene to tell me what it wanted to be when it grew into a novel. I know what Gemma’s arc needs to be, and I have other characters talking in my head telling me how they plan to contribute to her growth in both supportive and not-so-supportive ways. (*Note to self: Next month’s blog post to be about the challenges of starting with characters rather than story.)

Interestingly (to me), the more I work on this idea, the more I find that parts of my actual, real, often boring and sometimes comical life are making their way into the story. Of course there are autobiographical elements in nearly any work of fiction, even if they’re minor, like a character’s tendency to use a certain expression. But this time I’m taking big bits of Sara and assigning them to Gemma.

Starting right in the title, in fact. Gemma = Gretchen Elizabeth Mary Mueller Arnold (although her name was actually Mary Miller Arnold Mueller). That’s my mother and my grandmother’s initials, conveniently arranged. There’s a reason for that: my mother hid from life, and my grandmother chased life, and Gemma is the story of a woman’s progress from meekness to boldness.

There are more tangible connections. My grandmother makes an appearance in the story, setting into motion the external conflict. There are “Sara” details: during the two years my mother and I were on our own, we pretty much lived on breakfast. Since that was one of the happier times of my life, breakfast is something I hold dear and turn to during times of stress, and I pay homage to my love of all things breakfast by collecting waffle irons. Gemma, I’ve decided, also collects waffle irons, and there will be a scene with her having breakfast with her mother as a small child. I also have an unfortunate tendency to have funny but somewhat ego-bruising public calamities – ask me how I broke my leg in 9 places, or just last week ended up sandwiched between the treads of my staircase and a 300 pound sofa – and I’m assigning that talent to Gemma, as well.

In many ways, Gemma may be my James Frey novel, although I think there’ll actually be more truth in mine than there was in his. (My root canals have involved lots and lots of pain meds.)

As all this became more concrete in my mind, I began to wonder: how comfortable are you as writers really putting yourself in your stories? Could you put an emotionally raw personal experience on paper for the world to see, if you knew they might discover it was based on fact? What are you personal boundaries?

Nano is about more than just words

Since many of my writing mates wrote about Nano, I’m going to get in on the action, too. But from a different perspective. I’m going to write about the unexpected things I got from Nano. Hint: it wasn’t 50,000 words. Not this year.

                The first thing I got was the knowledge that I have some great writing friends. They’re supportive and knowledgeable and ready to jump in with an answer to some unexpected research questions or a plotting problem or to offer up a heartfelt yet simple “You CAN do it!”

                The second thing I learned was that I can, when motivated, write very quickly. If I always wrote as much and as fast as I wrote during timed sprints, I could have a book done in weeks. Which would be great, if my plots were ever cohesive the first time around. And that leads us to discovered item #3:

                The plot of my current WIP was MIA. I had a good grasp of my character, a potential premise, but absolutely nothing happened to her. She had experiences. Lovely, uplifting, life-affirming experiences. All great things, but not the things required to make a book. At least not a book anyone but my grandmother (who is passed, unfortunately) would find gripping. Come to think of it, even she would tell me it was crap and to figure out how to make it a proper book.

                So, in my Nano experience, I wrote a lot of scenes (23,000 words worth!) and in the process realized more than anything I was getting to know my character rather than actually putting steps into place. I’m not the least bit unhappy about it. Now I know what Gemma’s story is, and now I know what needs to happen in the other 75,000 words I need to write (and then cut, cut, cut and add, add, add).  

                The point is, Nano may have been intended to get a book out in 30 days, but I think you can consider yourself a winner if your novel benefits from the experience, 50,000 words or not. Building writing relationships, learning about your own writing capabilities, and finding the core of your story are as important as getting those words on paper (or in my case, screen).

Musical Muses

Have you noticed how more and more writers are giving ‘playlists’ that correspond to their manuscript?  Nearly all the writers I follow have these music playlists mentioned either in their books or on their websites.

Rachel Caine mentions her musical muse, Joe Bonamassa, in both.  Taking it a step further, Barnes & Noble cashes in with a display of CDs next to Stephenie Meyer’s books.  Nothing wrong with that, everyone profits, author, musician, bookseller and the fans.  Two forms of entertainment helping each other out.  Hollywood has been doing it for years, with music soundtracks and book to screenplay or vise versa.

The topic of this post maybe music, but writing is the focus of our blog, so back to the writing aspect.

The first short story I sold is based on a song.  At the time I didn’t think twice about it, who am I to question where the ideas come from?  I just played Shilo by Neil Diamond over and over, letting the story magically appear on the screen.  There were a lot of raised brows when I explained where it came from, no one got the correlation.  Not that I could blame them, the story doesn’t resemble the song in anyway.  It wasn’t supposed too, it’s Mr. Diamond’s song.  The story was something I pictured.  For those who ask where ideas come from this is a prime example.

I don’t feel the reader of any manuscript truly understands the meaning behind the words or where they come from.  I don’t even pretend to know what an author was thinking at the time.  When a writer explains what ignites an idea leading to a story, there’s a moment of oh, I can see that or that’s not what I thought it meant.  Once the words are on the page they are left up to the interpretation of the reader, how they feel about it, what it sparks in their imagination.  Just like listening to Shilo sparked mine.

At the time of that story, I didn’t think about how what I listened to affected my writing.  You don’t always notice environment–where you write, when you write, everything around you, all things that impact what and how you write–when you’re deep into a story.  The longer I’ve been doing this the more I pay attention.  Listening to something slow and weepy conveys depression and pain.  Classical makes me want to write epic fantasy.  Listening to country or southern fried rock can give my characters an easygoing attitude, at least on the surface.  Toss in hard rock and you probably will get some anger or violence.  I gravitate to certain artists or songs, each defining character, place or mood.

Look at your own music habits.  Is music one of your muses, or do you prefer silence or the sounds of nature?  Does it help you with characterization, motivation, inspiration, perspiration?  Does a certain song ignite a bonfire that can only be put out by becoming a story?