Showing posts with label Writing Craft. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Writing Craft. Show all posts

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Real Life Characters

Where do writers get their characters from? As the leader of a church book club I've been asked that question several times. I can't speak for everyone else but I'm guessing they come from the same place mine do--real life. Now we all know that we're creating fictional characters but the inspiration has to come from a writer's experiences to make them real.

As my editor at Martin Sisters Publishing was finishing up the last of the galley edits, she asked what I would like on the dedication page of In A Pickle. It was a no-brainer. Here's what I wrote:

For my mother, who always said she seasoned her recipes with marijuana when she really meant marjoram. 

While my character, Annie Pickels, is not like my mother was in many ways, the way my mother mixed up her words led to the what-if premise of the story. What if someone really did use marijuana, by accident, in her recipe for pickles? 

One of the other things I have to credit my mother with was her never-judge-a-book-by-its-cover philosophy. My character, Annie, looks past tattoos and metal piercings on a young man to see the potential and good in him. 

So I am wishing Mom was still around to see what I've done. She would have loved it. Her sense of humor and storytelling is still alive and thriving in the words from my keyboard.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Thinking Outside the Box...With God

GIFT BOX© Jinyoung Lee |
There are times when I struggle with plot. Ha! Okay, the truth, I always struggle with plot. My mind gets all caught up in “that can’t happen!” The current book I’m writing has been started at least six times. All different beginnings. All because of plot.

When this happens, doubt creeps in. I ask God if this is what He has called me to do. He always sends a gentle word of confirmation through my readers. My spirits lift and excitement motivates me forward. Then plot stops me again. Something is wrong, so I regroup try to “think outside the box.”

I stare at the blank page. “Really, God? Did the calling to write come from You or am I being pulled astray by Satan?” Doubt and insecurity cripple my creativity. How can I think outside the box?

Then I realize what is wrong. I was keeping God locked "inside" the box. I forgot to turn to Him in prayer and ask for Him to give me the words to bring glory to Him. I forgot the most important thing about writing—for Whom I am writing. And the box is a gift box filled with His love.

God is never too busy to answer prayer. And He’s always listening, always holding out His arms and waiting for us to call on Him. When I do, He blesses me. And my plot problem is solved.

~Carol Ann Erhardt

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Such A Character!

On the streets of Canterbury, England

Seven continents and more countries than I can keep count of has certainly lent to my being called the Wandering Writer. Along the way we have encountered some wonderful people and some real characters. You don’t have to be a world traveler to find them though. Those characters are everywhere for you to observe, learn from, and insert into that wonderful imagination God provided you.

I remember when I realized my people watching had turned into character development. It was many years ago standing in line to register for some paralegal courses at our community college. There was a twenty-something guy standing a ways ahead of me who seemed in a world of his own. Dark, short cropped curly hair. He liked to keep things simple, I thought. He held a well-worn paperback book open in his hand. Likes to read. Buys used books? He scratched the back of his head several times. Dandruff or just a nervous habit? The observations went on until he made it to the head of the line, registered, and left. By the time I made it to the head of the line, I had written down all I could think of and tucked it away for future use.

Characters are all around us. Some of the best are found in our families although those need some disguising before you put them into your stories. My mother had a way with words. Actually it was a strange way of saying things that sometimes got her into trouble. She called the man down the street a lesbian when she really meant that he was Lebanese. My favorite though was always calling marjoram, marijuana. “Karen, get me the marijuana out of the cupboard so I can sprinkle some in this soup.” Those memories are the basis for my favorite character, my pickle lady.

Some people go to magazines and stock photos online to find a picture of someone to set in their minds the physical description of a character but I would suggest you take a break from writing now and then get out into the world and people watch. A two dimensional picture will not project all the nuances of body language, or the way someone talks, or a quirky habit. Those are the things you can only observe in real time. Real characters come from real people.

Have you met any real characters lately?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Do You Hear The Voices?

Dialogue that is short, snappy, and punchy, engages other characters as well as the reader. Dialogue is meant to be experienced, not studied. Halting over a line of dialogue can interrupt the reader’s experience.” ~~ Sol Stein

At a recent writer’s conference, an agent said dialogue could make the difference in making a request for more of a writer’s work. She takes the first five pages of a manuscript and looks for the white space created by dialogue. Then she puts the manuscript aside and picks up the next one.

Image courtesy of

From that conversation, I gathered dialogue is an important part of novel writing. Internal monologue is not dialogue. So, even if no one else is in the room the Character should talk aloud to himself, or to his pet.
Conversations in real life often have little or no purpose. In fiction, that’s a killer. What do you hear as the characters meet and greet? Is it meaningless chitchat? Or are they talking about anything and everything to avoid the deeper subject they know they should discuss? That’s great. Avoidance dialogue is called subtext.
Who’s talking? Do the characters sound alike? Are they predictable? Do they always say what you’d expect them to say?

If so, the writer’s in trouble. You see, dialogue has to sound natural but it also has to be more condensed and much more interesting than everyday language.

Info dumps are boring. Just as you don’t enjoy listening to a person who talks on and on without giving others a chance to get a word in edgewise, neither do your readers. Most exchanges in dialogue should be brief. Consider using five word exchanges or less in your dialogue. Avoid using more than three sentences without a break or at least an action tag on the part of the speaker.

Can the reader visualize the characters? Characters don’t talk in a vacuum. To avoid the talking heads syndrome show us what they’re doing. Is Mary cooking dinner? Is LeRoy chopping wood? And by the way, is the ax dull?

Speaking of what’s happening, in your own writing, don’t mix the actions of one character with the dialogue of another. Be sure each speaker gets his own paragraph. Even if the character only uses one word. Make it easy for your reader to know who is talking.

And while we’re on the subject of give and take between characters, teach them to give another character a chance to react. Short dialogue paragraphs leave that coveted white space and increase pacing.
Last but not least, dialogue should move the story along. Do the characters have an agenda? Does dialogue reveal the different sides of an issue?

For dialogue to do its job, it needs to create and emotional effect in the reader. How much of the dialogue reveals disagreements and misunderstandings that affect the other characters goals? Does it increase suspense and uncertainty?

Would you care to share a tip for stronger dialogue?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Have Confidence in Your Voice

I took writing classes, read and applied hundreds of writing craft books, and hired freelance editors. So ten years later, why did one freelance editor say I had no voice?

“It’s time,” she said, “to write a mission statement for your story. And stick to it.”

Then I read one more book, Finding Your Voice by Les Edgerton. I’d mistaken craft for voice, he said. And, as I honed my writing skills I’d lost my voice in the process.

But there was hope. On page 73 Les Edgerton gave me a signed permission slip to write in my own natural voice.

My voice reveals my unique perspective on life, including my assortment of beliefs, fears, hopes and dreams, memories of childhood disappointment and celebration, the embarrassing teenage years, followed by adult accomplishments and failures.

Some have said that writer’s block comes from editing out your natural voice before it even reaches the page. Yet when you=re >in the zone=, they say, words pour out freely, words that are in your natural voice.

By using my natural voice, I have a unique story. One that no one else can tell. I simply have to accept that not everyone will like my writing and not everyone is my target audience.

In fact, the reason why books are so different from the movies made from them, is that the making of the movie destroys the original writer=s voice. If you prefer the book over the movie, what you loved about it was that voice.

In my own writing, I like to read the printed pages of my draft while walking around the house. The body mind connection kicks in and I realize when the dialogue is off. AOoops. He wouldn’t talk like that.@ Layer by layer the character voice emerges.

You may find Les Edgerton=s book Finding Your Voice how to put personality in your writing here.

In closing, I’d like to leave this quotes with you.

When you sit down to write, allow God to flow through you to use you. Let His words inspire you to write the things He lays on your heart. You are unique, and therefore your voice is unique in speech and in writing. Your voice is a gift straight from God=s hands, speak and write for His glory, and your matchless qualities will touch lives that no one else can touch. ~~Lisa Buffaloe 

Q4U: How did you find the secret to unlock the personality in your writing voice?