Where do you find your characters?

On a recent flight to Las Vegas I was fortunate enough to be accompanied by a group of Pool players.  I use the word fortunate because I had given my muse the responsibility of coming up with a topic for my next blog as I settled back to enjoy my vacation.  I am finding that my muse has somewhat a sense of humor.  The group of gentlemen was on their way to Las Vegas to participate in a Pool Tournament.  They ranged in age from early 20’s to late 50’s or early 60’s.  Some were sons, fathers, boyfriends; but they were all men.  Men not accompanied by their mates.  They were left alone to their own vices.  Left to be the judge of whether or not their behavior was socially acceptable for public observation.  My muse decided to use this opportunity to take note of possible characters for future stories.

I was enjoying reading my latest book ‘Once Smitten, Twice Shy’ by Lori Wilde and my husband drowning out noise with his mp3 player.  The flight started out to be very uneventful with just the normal chatter between passengers.  There was an occasional joking reference as the stewardess’ did their normal cabin check for fastened seat belts and carry-on luggage correctly stored in the above bins or under the seat in front of you.  The most noise was baby babble coming from an infant in the rear of the airplane until the stewardess began serving drinks and snacks.  This group of Pool Players came alive. 

The rows of passengers lucky enough to be sitting within ear shot of this group of men were, needless to say, entertained.  One of the members of the group became the butt of their jokes when he fell asleep shortly after the flight took off.  I pity him when he views the pictures that were taken during his nap.  My muse kicked in.  He would be a great character for a murder/mystery novel.  Blackmailed with the pictures he could plot to get even somehow.  Maybe he was in hiding and didn’t want his picture taken.  The possibilities are endless.    

The gentleman sitting next to him became the funny, prank-playing character who is always the third wheel.  Eager to assists his friends into trouble with their mates, he was always there to fill the empty time they suddenly had on their hands.  He never takes the time to coordinate his attire which looks as if he had picked it up off the bedroom floor as he ran to catch the plane.  His hair is in need of a new style because the Weird Al look isn’t for him.  This is the character who can never understand why none of his pal’s girlfriends will set him up on a blind date.

Taking notice of the three characters sitting across from him didn’t escape my muse’s attention either.  There was one on the end of the isle who took great care with his dress and looks.  His hair perfectly coiffed, his shirt pressed neatly along with his shorts.   His sandals carefully selected to match his attire.  His fingernails perfectly manicured.  He was on the prowl.  Free from his wife for a few days of male bonding.  There is one rule which should have been explained to him before he began partaking in adult beverages during his male bonding session.  That rule is not to make barking noises at the young women walking up and down the aisle of the plane especially if her boyfriend is within ear shot.  If he is bigger than you, wearing a tight sleeveless t-shirt exposing his well defined muscles and has barbed wire tattooed across his massive bulging bicep.  (The boyfriend will be a character who will show up somewhere in one of my books.)

The oldest of the three gentlemen would make a perfect character captured in a scene in need of some comic relief.  He left his seat to ‘visit the facilities’ for the 3rd or 4th time.  Upon his return he began taking a poll of everyone on the flight going to Vegas.  Considering it was a non-stop flight from Des Moines to Las Vegas it was a little amusing how many people had to stop and think about it.  He returned to his seat after the laughter subsided only to declare he was drunk which was apparent to everyone but him.  Taking his cap off to rub his head he shared his discovery he was also bald.   

The younger gentlemen sitting close to my husband and I made the comment to another of the group “I wish I had a tape recorder that I could put right above his head because stuff like this you have to have recorded you just can’t write it.”  My muse took note of this comment and presented it to me sounding like a dare to a writer looking for an idea for her next blog and a few new characters for her future stories.

Deanne Williams

“Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.”
-Robert Bresson

Are you comfortable being “original”?

Back in 2000 I got deep into a story about selling antiques online. The premise of the story was that a young antique dealer was selling something online, and it turned out to be something more valuable than she knew, and many people wrote asking her to end the auction early and sell it outright. One man emailed telling her what she had so she’s know. They developed a relationship via long-distance, using mostly email as their communication method.
 
I was advised the story would never sell – an online relationship was unbelievable and too ‘out there’ – yet now there are lots of stories with a premise that involves the online world. And werewolves, shape-shifters and vampire slayers, too.

The point is, never let someone else dissuade you because something is too out there, too unusual, not mainstream, whatever. Take a chance, be the first. If it’s a good idea, hundreds will follow. If it’s a great idea, break the rules and show everyone that it can be done, and how it can be done.

Have you ever had an idea that someone else shot down? Did you keep going in spite of it or did you, like me, let a great idea fall along the wayside out of fear?

 

It’s difficult to write a mystery

I am writing a cozy mystery. I have never had the desire to write a cozy mystery, but I am writing one. I hope to have sequels to it, also. I didn’t realize how much I would learn writing this mystery.

I am what people call a “seat of my pants” writer. I sit down and write, then the story comes. I get to know the people as I write. I started writing this story and was well into it when I realized I needed something I didn’t have – clues. That’s when I started doing the research to find out how to do the clues. I found more than that. I found out how to write a mystery.

I learned that my story had major problems. It was set up as something other than a mystery. You can’t just write a story and then have the murder solved at the end. You need to make it a mystery. You need to have the police investigate the murder. You need to have your main character involved in solving it. I hadn’t done that.

I, the writer, am supposed to know the characters better than anyone else. I didn’t. In fact, I changed the person that was murdered. I involved a group that everyone would question. I changed the place the victim was found to be able to involve the main character in solving the murder.

Next comes the hard part. You have to know who killed someone in order to have the clues in the right places. You need to have clues suggesting the actual killer, but you also need to have clues indicating someone else killed your victim. Then, you need clues that don’t go anywhere. There is no way you can just sit down and write a murder mystery without having some sort of plan.

Having rewritten it once, I thought I was headed in the right direction only to find that I needed more suspects. It wouldn’t work to have just one or two suspects. It would be a very short, dull book. So that’s what I’m working on now. Getting more suspects, then new clues that make it look like any of them could have committed the murder. Of course, those suspects aren’t the killer. The killer is —–.

I’ll let you learn who the killer is when the book is published. But, I have to get it written first.

What’s Your Other Hobby?

Creative people are often creative in more than one way. In addition to writing fiction, I also do some web design and I dabble in jewelry-making. After a day of too many words (at work and on the page), it can be very enjoyable to to do some visual, tactile creating with beads. Heavy, charcoal hematite beads mixed with diamond-cut silver beads glitter on the bead board. Laying out the beads in orderly or random patterns is strangely soothing and satisfying. Working on new jewelry pieces also gives me time to think over plot events or character arcs.

Other writers with creative hobbies:

Lynn Viehl, author of the Stardoc series and the Darkyn series, draws, paints and uses graphic software to create settings and characters from her books and short stories.

Tamara Siler Jones, author of the Dubric Byerly series, creates gorgeous quilts.

Kara Lennox, author of over fifty romance novels, creates and sells wearable memo pads “for the foxy, but forgetful woman”.

What creative hobbies do you have beside writing?

Defending Dramatica…Against My Own Words!

Ok folks, I have a tendency to say whatever is on the tip of my tongue, or in this case fingertips, without thinking. I now find myself a bit chagrined by one of those previous slips. It’s true that Dramatica cost an arm and a leg or possibly some other vital body parts, but it is a good program.

At the time of said offense, I was struggling with plot twists and points it showed me that never would have come up otherwise. Yes, it annoyed me and I took it out on the poor defenseless program instead of where it belonged. Me! I felt like a complete moron for not seeing these things on my own.

Dramatica works from the writer’s perspective instead of that of the audience, look at this article by Chris Huntley to understand the why and how.

Dramatica lingo can be a little intimidating. When I first started using it, I was frustrated, mumbling about it being a waste of money. I guess I thought I was brilliant enough not to RTFM (read the f’n manual) as my adorable hubby so kindly puts it. It takes time to master, but there is help. I don’t mean the silly help files that come with every program. They give you explanations, theory, definitions and stories to compare as well as the online community. All very helpful.

There are neat little toys such as the Character List. Say bye-bye to all those index cards cluttering up your desk or getting lost, the info is all right there in your computer. You can insert pictures of how you visualize your character, a description, role in the story, gender…you get the picture.

Then there’s the Brainstorming tools. You spin the wheel and it randomly picks a storyform that matches the choices you’ve already made. The Character Generator gives you new characters to play with including name, gender and character elements or you can modify existing characters.

I use it as a safety net, to keep me on track, but it also serves another purpose, it makes you THINK! Do you have the answers to Dramatica’s Twelve Essential Questions for your story? Would you have even thought to ask them?

I took a moment and applied Dramatica Theory to some of the books I’ve read. Suddenly it made sense. My Main Character didn’t have to be the Protagonist (although she is) and the Impact Character didn’t have to be the Antagonist (which he is not) allowing me to see beyond the basic plot. You know, all those pesky subplots that heighten the experience.

I could continue with my biased opinion, but you should judge for yourself. Give the demo a whirl and tell me where I’m wrong or heaven forbid agree with me.

No, Dramatica is not going to write the book for you. What it can do is take a barely alive story and make it better. Better. Stronger. Faster. Ladies and gentlemen, you can rebuild your story…you have the technology!

Blank Page-itus

I don’t know if you are like me but when it’s time to start something new, I always feel a little intimidated by the blank page. I’ve tried it both ways; by writing a single scene with no real direction and also by preplanned characters and plot. Either way, I have to come up with an original idea that can become a story. I understand that you can find ideas from all around you, newspapers, magazines, television, eaves dropping while at the mall, book store, PTA meeting, doctors office, in your cubicle at work, in the restroom, at lunch, and from your dreams, to name a few.  It isn’t that there are not enough ideas out there but, I guess I have a problem with organizing them.  I am working on that. In the meantime, I found a book that is already organized with hundreds of ideas.

I found this book amongst the library of writing reference books on my shelves that I’d forgotten about.  It’s Story Starters by Lou Willett Stanek, PH.D. He’s also written So You Want to Write a Novel and Writing Your Life.  Story Starters is a little paperback and I think that might have something to do with it getting lost on my shelves.  I had been struggling with coming up with a story idea and nothing felt right, so I picked this book up and started flipping through it. After reading the first chapter, I noticed that at the end was a list of story prompts. I pulled out a pad of paper and started copying down the ideas that called to me.  Finally I came upon an idea and I just took off with it.  A page and a half later, I realized that I had found my next story.  I am still in the beginning stages of this story but at least now I have an idea and a start.

If you want to check this book out – here is a list of the chapter titles and descriptions.

After the introduction, there are 18 chapters.

1 – What If – Establishing the Where and When. Developing Your Character, Show, Don’t Tell, Creating the Plot

2. Twice and Thrice-Told Tales – Allusions Lazily Used as Shortcuts, Stock Characters and Archetypes, Not What You Expect

3. Universal Themes and Symbols- Physical Descriptions: When to Provide Them

4. Overheard and Observed- Conflict

5. Current Events – Inherent Dangers in using Real-Life Events, Inherent Dangers in using Real-Life People

6. Omnipresent Family Affiliations- Motivation

7. Animals as Minor Characters – Naming Your Character

8. Objects to Start a Story – Symbols

9. Settings to Start a Story- Time and Place

10. Sports – Language to Fit the Story

11. Memories – Flashbacks

12. Art and Artists – Descriptive Details

13. Music and Musicians – Tension and Suspence

14. Professions and Just Plain Jobs- Point of View

15. Travel- Cause and Effect

16. Food – Figurative Language

17. Clothes That Make the Story – Description That Doesn’t Stop the Action

18. Words – Climax and Conclusion

My copy is dated 1998. The ISBN is 0-380-79552-3.  If it is out of print and unavailable at the usual places, I found a great website.  www.paperbackbooks.com.  You can share books and earn credits to receive books from other members.  It only costs the postage to mail something out to another member. And for a small donation to the site, you can print the postage and mail without driving to the post office and waiting in line, just drop it in a drop box.  You can set up a wish list and as soon as someone adds your requested book, you get an e-mail.  As a writer I want to promote the sale of new books but this is a great place for out of print books.

Enjoy and happy writing!

Virginia

 

 

 

 

 

Why we write

Now and then I receive an email which marks such a place in my memory that I can’t seem to put it aside. This is one of those emails.

Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room’s only window. The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back. They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, where they had been on vacation. Every afternoon, when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window. The man in the other bed began to live for those one hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlightened by all the activity and color of the world outside.

The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every color and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance. As the man by the window described all this in exquisite details, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine this picturesque scene.

One warm afternoon, the man by the window described a parade passing by. Although the other man could not hear the band – he could see it in his mind’s eye as the gentleman by the window portrayed it with descriptive words.

Days, weeks and months passed. One morning, the nurse arrived to bring water for their baths only to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep. She was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take the body away.

As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone. Slowly and painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the real world outside. He strained to slowly turn to look out the window besides the bed. It faced a blank wall. The man asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate who had described such wonderful things outside this window. The nurse responded the man was blind and could not even see the wall.

Author Unknown

This is what we are compelled to do as writers. Like the blind man we describe a scene, a character, a feeling, etc. We paint pictures with our words so readers can see what we are seeing in our minds eye. We strive to make our readers see what details we need them to see in order for our story to be intriguing enough to continue turning the pages. Better yet, buy our book(s).

What drove us to be a writer? What happened to us in our childhood? What act of nature effected our development in our mother’s womb which drives us to feel the compulsion to put words down on paper for other people to read? We have all asked ourselves these questions. Not only do we open our souls for other people to critic our inner thoughts but we leave them in written form for all future generations to access.

Is it seeing your name on something you have poured your heart into? Is it the feeling that your name will live on long after you are gone? I don’t believe so. I believe the reason we put ourselves in the position of being a writer, or as all of us hope a published writer, is because we can’t seem to stop the words from coming. In spite of writer’s block, having to work a full time job to pay the bills, dealing with rejection after rejection, we all love to write. We feel if we don’t get the words out into written form we will literally explode. Some of us feel more comfortable saying what we need to say on paper. Some of us appease our muse by putting down on paper a story which has kept us awake night after night plotting and giving characters life.

If you have a writer in your life please be patient with them. Learn to give them the respect they deserve but above all let them tell their story. Allow us to be the blind man in your life so you can see the world as we do expressed so vividly in what we love – our writing.

“Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.”

-Robert Bresson

Deanne Williams
 

Can Software Lead to Writing Happiness?

In my ongoing efforts to be a more organized writer, which in my fantasies means I’ll be a more effective writer, I’m test-driving various programs touted to help me structure my story, envision my plot, tackle my characters and organize my research. These programs hint that by using them, I’ll steer clear of the middle-of-the-book sag, the curse of the lifeless character and the gaping plot holes big enough to jump a herd of sharks through.

In my quest for organization, I’ve tested three programs, all in the $45-$80 range. I did not try Dramatica. As Amy, another Saturday Writer, so eloquently put it, “for the price you’d think it’d write the book for you.”

First up is Black Obelisks’sLiquid Story Binder XE. We try to pretend we don’t care about looks, but let’s make like John Edwards and tell the truth: we do. This is not a visually appealing program. In fact, whenever I open it, I feel a sense of dread because the page is so stark and demanding and cold it’s worse than starting a new file in Word. I don’t know how to explain it, but it makes me feel stupid and unworthy, that screen. Desperate to make it do something, anything, so I don’t feel so bad, I click on one of the pull-down menu options (Library, Files, Create, Open, Planners, Associations, Listings, Playlists, Workspaces, Shortcuts, Tools, Display, Preferences, About, aaaaaaahhhhhhggggggggggg! It’s just too much!). Under each menu option, there are at least a dozen more options. For example, under “Create” I can create a New Chapter, New Note, New Outline, New Checklist, New Builder, New Timeline, New Sequence, New Dossier, New Storyboard, New Image, New Song, New Gallery, New Playlist, New Recording or New Shortcut. Honestly, after muddling through all that I’m too tired to write. I want help, not a nervous breakdown. And what’s the difference between a Sequence, a Storyboard and a Timeline, I ask you? Even at the bargain price of $45.95, this isn’t the one for me.

Next up is Write Way. I like this program. It’s okay to look at… a bit on the Plain Jane side visually (and lord knows there needs to be a place for us Plain Janes of the world), but it’s well organized and not brain-scrambling in its complexity. It has many of the features I found helpful in the third program, with the added benefit of being able to write directly in it (you’d think that would be a core function of any of these programs but alas, it is not). This is a program for organizing your actual text more than designing a complete novel. One of the most helpful features is that you can store your book by scene, within chapters, within acts. This is great because if you decide to move a whole chunk around, you don’t have to retype, or cut and paste. You just drag it where you want it and et voila, it’s done. There are some cool printing features, too; you can choose Draft, Galley or Manuscript. The character charts are nice, again a bit plain to look at but plain has its place in the world. There’s a storyboard function but I haven’t quite figured out – so far it won’t play the way I like to play but I have hope. There’s a research area where you can store images, URLs, text, etc. Handy. Now, the good news is, this is the least expensive of the programs at $39 for the basic version. The bad news is that to get Outline, Storyboard, Synopsis, Research Folders, Future Book Idea Folders, the Galley print option and the ability to import your work from a word processor, you have to bump up to the Pro version which is the most expensive of all at $79.

Lastly we have Anthemion’s Writers’ Café, an attractive little program that can be had for under $50. Writers’ Café is attractive to look at. You wouldn’t think that was a big deal, really, but after working in Liquid Story Binder, you realize like size, it matters. At the main screen of the program, you have a number of tabs to pick from: Scraps (notes, photos, whatever); Storylines (visual and verbal storyboards that you can drag around, organize by plot line, color by character or scene type); Journal (doh); Notebook (a place you can type, but not like a word processor, unfortunately); Cookies (which are cute little quotes about writing and creativity – there’s a lot of cute going on in Writers’ Café); and Bookshelf, which is “help” plus the basics of writing, 101. There are templates for tracking character information. You can see your Storyboard in outline form. You can print it in manuscript form – but only the bits that appear in the Storyboard. Writers’ Café’s biggest flaw is a huge one, in my opinion: There’s nowhere to store your manuscript. It’s strictly a plotting and organizational tool. If it had but that one piece, I’d consider it as close to perfect as this sort of software can come.

Now if I can find software that’ll keep my butt in my chair and temporarily lock me out of any other program connecting me to the outside world (DSW is having a sale? I’ll just take a quick peek! I have got to unsubscribe from Harvey’s Horse Hut before I get one more hay sale email…)

Sara Ennis

Writing With Speech Recognition Software

antique typewriterBeings as I am that “second family” that comes so late in a couple’s life, I had fun playing on “antiques” as I was growing up. I used to sit and push the keys on an old, old typewriter. It took forever to type one sentence.

Portable TypewriterWhen I went to college I was given my first typewriter. It was a portable, manual typewriter. It was a graduation present, and the electric models were too expensive. I was so proud of it. Some of my friends thought I was spoiled because they didn’t have one. About as many students had television sets as typewriters.

Skip to 2008. (I used to say fast forward, but that is becoming outdated with advent of CD’s)

What I am trying to say is that I’ve been typing most of my life. It’s second nature to me. The only problem is that I had surgery on one of my fingers a couple months ago and I can’t type with that finger. After all these years using 10 fingers (well, actually 8 fingers and 2 thumbs) I can’t use one of my fingers to type with.

My laptop has Windows Vista on it. I was looking through the help file when I saw something that sounded interesting – speech recognition. My mind jumped to alert status. Speech recognition. Did Windows Vista actually have that built into the program?

HeadphoneI played with it, but couldn’t get it to type as good as I thought it should. I bought a better set of headphones to use, but it still didn’t do what it should. Sometimes I started the program and it wouldn’t recognize anything I said. (I wasn’t drunk or high on pain pills.) I dictated something into a story I was writing, and it typed about the Civil War. Nothing related to what I said. I then had to restart the program and sometimes it worked better. Sometimes it didn’t. When it worked decently, it would suddenly stop recognizing anything I said. I told it to “refresh speech commands,” but it asked, “What was that???” Those are the words the instructions told me to use. So much for that solution that didn’t work.

I googled for a speech program and found Dragon Naturally Speaking. Research said it was one of the better programs. I bought it, installed it and found it to be much better. It still isn’t perfect, but it is acceptable.

MicrophoneSometimes I don’t want to sit straight up when I dictate. When I’m in a recliner, I don’t want to sit straight up. I want to recline. And other places. The headphones made that impossible. I googled microphones. I found a decent one that works. It comes with Session Music Producer. I haven’t installed the music program, but the microphone works great. The only thing I have to watch is where I position it from my mouth. If it’s too close, the computer doesn’t recognize anything I say. It seems that it needs to be about two feet away.

Now that I have everything I want and need to write my story, all I need to do is stop procrastinating. Anyone know how to do that?

Less Guilt, More Fun

One of the things I like most about our writers group, the Saturday Writers, is that we are each at different stages with our writing. And because of that we each bring unique insights to the group.

For me, I’m still in the hobby stage of writing. Writing has been with me for many years, but it is still a dream, not a goal. I dabble in it, I don’t seriously pursue it. And knowing that about myself I can throw off the guilt that we women take on too easily.

No “I should be writing more.” No blame, no guilt trips. Just writing for fun. Writing for the sake of writing. Because I want to work on a story, not because I have to. And that is an okay place to be. When I’m ready to make writing a bigger part of my life, it will be there.

But like any good hobby, I spend a lot of time thinking about writing and studying books on writing. If I pack enough writing knowledge into my brain, then when writing takes center stage in my life, all that learning will be there, ready to use.

The book I’m currently reading is One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers by Gail Sher. I really like her four truths. They are:

  1. Writers write.
  2. Writing is a process.
  3. You don’t know what your writing will be until the end of the process.
  4. If writing is your practice, the only way to fail is to not write.

I understand #2. After all this study and reading on writing, I understand that writing is a process. You don’t just flip a switch and instantly become a bestseller. It takes time and effort, like any occupation or hobby.

#3 also makes sense. You have to finish the story to see what it actually becomes. It certainly never looks like the story I had in my mind when I started. But if it bears some resemblance, I’m okay with that.

#1 and #4 are my sticking points. I don’t have the daily practice of writing. When I did write daily, even just in a journal, I found that my “official” writing, whatever story I was working on, came out so much easier. So my challenge is to get back into the daily habit. Because I want to work on my story daily, not because I have to. Less guilt, more fun, more writing.

Where are you at on your writing path?