Tag Archives: character

12 Nov

Online Video Course: 30 DAYS TO A STRONGER NOVEL

The course is now live on Udemy.com!

Each day includes:

  • A quote that inspires
  • Short, practical instruction from Darcy on a specific topic
  • A simple “Walk the Talk” action to take

9781629440408-Perfect.inddOver the course of the month, you’ll receive the entire text of Darcy’s book, 30 Days to a Stronger Novel (November, 2014 release).
We can’t guarantee that you’ll end the month with a publishable novel; but we can guarantee it will be a STRONGER novel.


We can't guarantee a publishable novel; but we can guarantee a STRONGER NOVEL!

We can’t guarantee a publishable novel; but we can guarantee a STRONGER NOVEL!




TakeThisCourseSign up now and receive $5 discount. Use this code: 5OFF30Days

VIDEO COURSE TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Watership Down with Armadillos: Titles
  • Search Me: Subtitles
  • Defeat Interruptions: Chapter Divisions
  • Scarlett or Pansy: The Right Character Name
  • My Wound is Geography: Stronger Settings
  • Horse Manure: Stronger Setting Details
  • Weaklings: Every Character Must Matter
  • Take Your Character’s Pulse
  • Yin-Yang: Connecting Emotional and Narrative Arcs
  • Owls and Foreigners: Unique Character Dialogue
  • Sneaky Shoes: Inner and Outer Character Qualities
  • Friends or Enemies: Consistent Character Relationships
  • Set Up the Ending: Begin at the Beginning
  • Bang, Bang! Ouch! Scene Cuts
  • Go Away! Take a Break
  • Power Abs for Novels
  • White Rocks Lead Me Home: Epiphanies
  • The Final Showdown
  • One Year Later: Tie up Loose Ends
  • Great Deeds: Find Your Theme
  • The Wide, Bright Lands: Theme Affects Setting
  • Raccoons, Owls, and Billy Goats: Theme Affects Characters
  • Side Trips: Choosing Subplots
  • Of Parties, Solos, and Friendships: Knitting Subplots Together
  • Feedback: Types of Critiquers
  • Feedback: What You Need from Readers
  • Stay the Course
  • Please Yourself First
  • The Best Job I Know to Do
  • Live. Read. Write.

Discount Code

Sign up now and receive $5 discount. Use this code: 5OFF30Days



TakeThisCourse

21 Sep

Don’t Plot Like I Do!

I’m warning you! Don’t plot like I do.

I’ve been working on the plot of a new novel for about six weeks and I’m still stumbling around. I’ll describe the messy process here and hope that you manage to shortcut your own process.

It started last year with an idea and a short story that gave backstory on the longer story. I’ve wanted to write a sf for a while and this idea has been germinating for a long time. Besides the problem of other projects, there’s the question of audience. I had to grapple with taking creative risks.

Take Creative Risks

One creative risk was the type of story I would tell. Would it be a character story or an action/adventure story?

I plotted out something, but my left brain kicked in and compared the plot to the 29 Plot Templates Regardless of which plot structure I looked at, there were so many holes in the story.

I got advice from Optimus Prime. Hey, I take help where I find it and Optimus was obviously handing out advice on plotting.

By now, though, I was getting bogged down. What was the purpose of all this plotting? I had to remind myself that I was telling a story.

The next disappointment was the worry about how slowly the work progressed.

Listen. I know a lot about novel structure, characterization, plotting, setting and many other topics about novels. I teach this stuff. But when I write, I struggle through the writing process. One of my strengths, though, is that I am open to switching strategies. It’s also my weakness, but while I’m in the throes of plotting, I feel like I am jumping from this method, to that paradigm, to yet another novel structure. In reality, I’m just checking out my story from multiple POVs.
Impossible

A Sixth Grade Aside

When my daughter was in sixth grade, she wrote an essay. The teacher asked my daughter to write an evaluation essay about writing the essay. Write down the process you went through to write this essay, the teacher advised.

And I shook my head in despair.

No, there isn’t just ONE path through the writing process. It’s cyclical, curving back on itself to ask you to repeat this task or that task. Or perhaps describing it as a maze is a better metaphor. I follow false trails until they dead end. I get lost in the middle and can’t fight my way out. I start at the beginning one time and the next time, I start at the end. Somehow, though, the writing gets done. There are strategies, ways of approaching a draft, working habits, and so on. But for any given piece of writing, the process will vary and vary widely.

Messy Writing Process

This time, I’m doing well with trying to go from general to specific.

That got me to an eight-page outline. But the 29 Plot Templates revealed major holes. I realized that I needed to concentrate on sub-plots and figure those out before I returned to the main plot. I focused on the villain as the hero of his own story: why did he want revenge? I re-read articles about writing a revenge story and one comment struck me: “Killing him would be too easy.”

Of course! Revenge isn’t just about hurting or killing the person; it’s about making them suffer as the victim has suffered. I asked myself, “What would make my character hurt/suffer the most?” Of course, that is what I MUST make happen. Voila! A new plot twist grabbed me and I was off and running with the complications from that twist.

10 page outline. But still lots of plot holes.

Over the next few days, I’ll be looking at other subplots and milking them for all the conflict that I can. Will there be a romantic subplot? After an initial attraction, there needs to be deep reasons why they must stay apart. What reason is sitting there in my story already, just waiting for me to exploit it? It’s there. I just need an Aha! Moment to recognize it. I’m jumping all around, reading odd articles, re-reading the 10-page outline and looking for the right way to approach this.

I feel like I am being asked to carve a huge statue with a bobby pin.

I have at least three more subplots to work through and slot into the main plot. I’m sure there will still be plot holes then, but I expect there will be fewer.

Should I copy this process the next time I plot? No!
Each time, the writing process creates it’s own maze and demands a different path to story. I’m just trusting that the process will eventually spit out a viable story. I know that I’ll have to decide something about the audience and tone, and spend a while on characters and their back story. I know that some personal issues are likely to complicate the timing of the writing. I know I’ll make multiple starts before I really get going.

Don’t follow my writing process. It’s messy and ugly. Besides—it wouldn’t work for you. You must find your own way through the maze of words to find the story that only you can tell.

07 Aug

Tea Party or Fist Fights? Why Action Scenes are Hard to Write!

ActionViolenceIn my current WIP, I want to up the action and make this a physically exciting story. So, I bought a great ebook, Action! Writing Better Action Using Cinematic Techniques by Ian Thomas Healy. It’s great, as I said, and breaks down the actions into easy components that can be easily mastered. Even for me, it’s easy.

Healy says that great action scenes put characters into motion and the “effective description of that motion is what makes the difference. . .
I get that part. But here’s what stumps me: “At its most basic level, an action scene is an expression of plot or character development through violence.”

Violence. As in people hitting each other, shooting at each other, killing each other. Yep. That kind of physical violence.

It’s been a long, long time since I was in a knock-down drag-out fight. That was with my younger brother when I was about 15, and we were fighting about whether the overhead light was on or off while we watched TV. I never had the chance to play football, which is a pure Show-Don’t-Tell version of testosterone. When my daughters played soccer, I cringed when they played tea party on the field: Oh, you have the ball? Well, take your turn and when you are finished, I’ll take my turn. Teaching aggression (much less violence) to young ladies is hard.

Our society trains women to avoid violence. We teach our daughters aggression now on a soccer field, but step off the field and it’s tea party time again. Women writers are at a disadvantage in writing action scenes.

Because Healy says that a great action scene needs violence.
Heck, I can’t even work up a good case of Road Rage.

Motivation. The hardest thing for me is to motivate the characters. I can block out the action and get the characters fighting. I’ve seen enough action movies to be able to do it. (Go watch The Transformers latest movie if you want non-stop violence. Wow. It must take up 75% of that movie.)

But WHY are these characters resorting to violence? (See, even our language makes it hard to use violence: “resort” implies that violence is a last option and the choice to use it is not easy.) Why would the characters use fists, swords, guns or other weapons against someone else? Healy helps with blocking out the sequences of actions and building them into longer sequences. But he says little about the character motivations.

In one sense, this is an escalating of tensions. Almost any motivation would work: revenge, for example, could easily escalate into violence. Two rivals for a fortune in gold could escalate an argument into violence and death. For violence to take place, there’s a line that needs to be crossed. Polite society demands that people restrain themselves, and that self-control must break for your characters, shoving them into a no-holds-barred action. Violence. It’s an escalation and it’s a letting go of social restraints. It’s a willingness to take action and a determination to get something done—no matter what.

Sounds like a good way to increase the tension and stakes in a story. Yes, often action stories are physical stories, without much in the way of characterization. You’ve heard it said that you either write an action story or you write a character story. A cross-pollination though, could create an intriguing mix. This time, I’m shooting for a story with better balance between action and character.

Cinematic. In some ways, this mix will be more cinematic. The sights and sounds of the action are crucial to the success of the scene. And yes, as I am writing, I am trying to visualize the actions in my head; I’m trying to see it as if it is on the big screen. Healy’s title is right on, violence—action scenes—are cinematic.

Thanks to Healy’s advice, I am making lists of what he calls “stunts,” or isolated pieces of actions, that will build into “engagements,” or movement across a setting, which will ultimately build toward some climactic “resolution.” I am taking baby steps in building a chapter with interesting action, um, violence.

Look out. I’m strapping on my boxing gloves, er, getting ready to type the next chapter of this new action-adventure story.

28 Jul

How to Write a Book Series: 3 Crucial Decisions

To write a series of books, my biggest tip is to plan ahead. You may get by with writing one book on the fly—plenty of people do that. But for a series to hang together, to have cohesion and coherence, planning is essential. Here are three decisions you should make early in the planning process.

Decision #1: What type of series will you write?

Strategies for a series vary widely. For THE HUNGER GAMES, the story is really one large story broken down into several books. Or, to say it another way, there is a narrative arc that spans the whole series. Yes, each book has a narrative arc and ends on a satisfying note; however, we read the next book because we want to know what happens in the overall series arc. Jim Butcher’s ALERA CODEX is another series with an overall series arc; it was fun to hang out in this world for a long time.

On the other hand, series such as Agatha Christie mysteries (in fact, many mystery series fall into this category) are stand-alone books. What continues from one book to the next is the characters, the setting and milieu, and the general voice and tone of the stories. Once a reader gets to know a character, s/he wants to spend more time with that character. These readers just want to hang out with a friend, your character. A sub-category is the series of standalone books that adds a final chapter to set up the next book in the series and leaves you with a cliff-hanger.

I distinctly remember when I first read Edgar Rice Burrough’s John Carter series about Mars. Each story is a standalone novel, but he hooked me hard. I started reading at noon on a Saturday and found myself hotfooting it to the bookstore at 4:30 pm because they closed at 5 pm and I had to have the second book to read immediately.

Rarer is the series that crosses genres. This type series begins with one genre, but moves into other genres as the lives of the characters progress. For example, a romance might continue with a mystery for the second book. And the third might move into a supernatural genre. These are rarer because one reason a reader sticks with a series is that they know what they are getting. It will be this type of a story, told in this sort of way and will involve these characters.

On the other hand, some series unabashedly cross genres but they do it for every book. Rick Riordian’s Percy Jackson series is a combination of mythology and action/thriller with a dose of mystery.

Notice that this decision centers on the plot of the stories in the series. Will you plot each separately, or will there be an overall plot?

Decision #2: Characters

Besides plot, you should make decisions about characters, and as with plot, you have choices. One choice is an ensemble cast that will carry over from book to book. Here, you have Percy Jackson, his friends and his family as constants. Each book introduces new characters, of course, but there is a core that stays the same.

Another option is to have just one character remain the same. Agatha Christie had Hercule Poirot traveling around and the only constant was the gumshoe and his skills.

Whether you choose one character or an ensemble, you can add or subtract as you go along. But the characters must be integral to the story’s plot.

In developing series characters, think about cohesion and coherence.

Cohesion: Elements of the story stick together, giving cohesion. For example, if one alien in the family can use telekinesis (moving objects with your mind), then that possibility should exist for all members of the family. Of course, some might not have the power, or it may develop slowly for a child, but the possibility should exist.

Coherence: Elements of a story are consistent from book to book. If Kell’s eyes are silvery in book one, they are silvery in books two, three and four.

Decision #3: How long do you want the series to continue?

Many easy readers series go on forever. Think of THE BERENSTAIN BEARS, who continue their adventures and lives throughout multiple volumes. For this type series, the story possibilities are endless. Or think of a TV series, where the situation set up is rich with possibilities. I Love Lucy ran for years and years on the premise of a slightly crazy wife of a musician.

On the other hand, some series have a finite life span. For stories with a narrative arc that spans a series, the life span is built into the plot. However even for these, there can be spin-offs into related series. Think of Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and Heroes of Olympia series. The A to Z Mysteries by Ron Roy and John Gurney had a built-in limit of 26 books.

The Buddy Files Series, Book 1, by Dori Hillestad Butler

The Buddy Files Series, Book 1, by Dori Hillestad Butler

Sometimes, the length of a series depends on the publisher and the early success of the series titles. When Dori Hillestad Butler’s first book in The Buddy Files series, THE CASE OF THE LOST BOY, won the 2011 Edgar Award for the best juvenile mystery of the year, the publisher contracted for more.

For Sara Pennypacker, author of the CLEMENTINE series of short chapter books, the answer of series length depended on something else. In a presentation about writing, she said that she had to ask herself what she wanted to say to third graders. She came up with eight things. Pennypacker focused on the themes of each book (friendship, telling the truth, etc) and found that eight was the natural stopping place for her. Of course, she reserves the right to many more, if other themes present themselves. But she deliberately stepped away from doing a Christmas book, a Halloween book, a 4th of July book, a fall book, a back-to-school book and so on and so forth.

9781629440217-Perfect-PB-CS.inddMy books, THE ALIENS, INC. SERIES, just released in August, 2014, is about an alien family that is shipwrecked on Earth and must figure out how to make a living. It’s been interesting developing these stories and thinking about these three issues.

They accidentally fall into party planning and each book features a different type of party or event put on by Aliens, Inc, the family’s company. KELL, THE ALIEN, the lead-off story, is about a birthday party and of course, it is an alien party. Can the aliens pull off an alien party? The second is about a Friends of Police parade, entitled, KELL AND THE HORSE APPLE PARADE. Book 3, KELL AND THE GIANTS, explored the world of tall and how to keep a giant secret.

Can you tell just from the description some of the decisions I made? There isn’t an overall series arc. Rather, the characters, setting and milieu are set up and there could be endless stories in the series. However, like Butler’s dog mystery series, I am starting with four books and their success will determine future titles. There is a main character who is surrounded by friends and family and, of course, a villainess. These characters weave through the stories and provide cohesion and coherence.

Plan ahead and your series will be stronger. For those who accidentally fall into a series, it will be harder to sustain coherence. You may realize in book three that it sure would be nice if your character had to wear glasses. Yes, you can add it—but you run the danger of it being obviously done for the story itself. So, in my series, early readers have questioned things like the art teacher who is from Australia.

They ask, “Does it matter that she is from Australia?”

“Not yet,” I answer. I just know that I have seeded these early manuscripts with possibilities. If the series goes to books 5-8, I will have hooks to draw upon. So, while I haven’t plotted those books, I have still allowed room for them.

Resource: Writing the Fiction Series: The Complete Guide for Novels and Novellas by Karen S. Wiesner (Writer’s Digest Books)

Want to write a series? What is your favorite series and how will your stories compare?

08 Apr

Complicated Dialogue: Keeping 5 Characters in Line

Today, I’d like to answer a question from a reader.
Shena asks, “I’m writing a story and I have five people who are carrying on a conversation with each other. How do I go about stating each person’s line without constantly using, he said, he replied or using the person’s name to say this person said after the sentence without it being an overkill of redundancy?”

Thanks for the question! You’re right to be concerned about repeating speech tags too often. It’s really a balancing act: on one hand, you don’t want to repeat too often, but neither do you want the reader to get lost. You have limited options, however, and you’ll have to work hard to keep this conversation interesting.

Fiction Notes at darcypattison.com

Speech Tags

Speech tags are the “he said” and “she said” that often accompanies dialogue. Notice that when you use HE or SHE, they are pronouns and will refer to the person immediately preceding. That’s important. The pronoun antecedent must be the right person. In the case of five people talking, you’ll probably need to use the character’s name often.\

James said, “Get lost.”
Jim said, “No way?”
Jill said, “Why?”

In the example above, notice that the job is even harder when character’s names all start with the same letter. Make sure your novel is populated with characters who have unique names that stand in contrast to one another. Not Jill and Bill, because they rhyme. Not James, Jim and Jill because they all begin with the same letter and are all one syllable. Instead, choose something like this: James, Brianna, Marguerite, Ally, and Bob.

Actions in the Midst of Dialogue

Dialogue rarely stands alone, though. When you add actions to dialogue, it’s sometimes called beats. This isn’t the same as action beats in a scene, but instead just means the small actions that are interwoven with dialogue. Sometimes those are the same, but sometimes not.

Dialogue beats are the small actions. Scenes demand actions, not just interior thoughts. What are your characters doing? Changing a light bulb.

James took the light hub out of the package and said, “Get lost.”
Reaching in, Marguerite gently took the package from him and said, “No way.”
Ally stuck out her lip in a pout. “Why?”

Notice here that Ally has an action, but has no speech tag. Sometimes, you can just omit the speech tag, if a character does something right before or after the dialogue and it’s clear that it’s this character speaking.

This still sounds boring, though. Part of that is because we repeated the structure too exactly in the first two sentences. They have an “action and said,” structure, which doesn’t really work here. Vary the structure of your sentences, sometimes putting the dialogue first, last, or even in the middle of the action.

Bob shook his head in disgust.
James tore open the light bulb package and snarled, “Get lost.”
“No way.” Marguerite’s voice was soothing and gentle. She took the torn cardboard from James and patted his shoulder.
Ally stuck out her lip in a pout. “Why should I get lost?” She hesitated and added, “I don’t want to.”
Bob grunted, “Why? Isn’t it obvious?”
“James is just upset,” Brianna said, “But that doesn’t mean he should get his way.”

Notice the variety here.

  • There are some actions without dialogue.
  • Dialogue occurs at the end, the beginning or the middle of the dialogue.
  • After some dialogue, there’s a longer section of actions.
  • I’ve used two substitutes for “said”: snarled and grunted. I don’t like using very many substitutes. Many writers explain that “said” disappears and readers don’t notice it. If you use an alternate word, it should add something important to the story.

Character Tics and Tags

Finally, it’s possible to use character tics or tags to good effect. Perhaps, poor Ally stutters. And James has a high pitched voice.

Bob shook his head in disgust.
James tore open the light bulb package and whined in soprano, “Get lost.”
“No way.” Marguerite’s voice was soothing and gentle. She took the torn cardboard from James and patted his shoulder.
Ally stuck out her lip in a pout. “W-w-why should I get lost?”
“Especially you!” James squeaked.
“W-w-why?”
Bob threw up his hands. “Why? Isn’t it obvious?”
“James is just upset,” Brianna said to Ally, “But that doesn’t mean he should get his way.”

You can start to see how dialogue can be enliveded with actions, sentence variety and small characterizations. You can devise many more ways to distinguish one character from another and use those traits in creating interesting dialogue. Try varying the character’s typical word choices or dialect. Within a larger conversation, too, you might have one character addressing another, as in Brianna’s aside to Ally and Marguerite’s intimate moment with James.

What’s your favorite way to keep complicated dialogue straight, yet keep enough variety to be interesting?

24 Feb

False Teeth and Blue Eyes: Keeping Track of Characters

Traditionally, novelists have been told to keep track of their characters with a Character Bible. Especially for a series that features the same characters, it’s important that a blue-eye beauty in Book 1 is still a blue-eyed beauty in Book 3. To maintain consistency, authors often need to keep detailed lists of characters and his/her characteristics. Of course, it’s not hard to track main characters, but the minor characters can run together in a blur.

Enter, the Character Bible. Often this is a physical notebook that gives each character a page(s) where you jot down important notes about physical or psychological details, along with notes on his/her back story.

But in these high-tech days, there are other ways to do this.

Spreadsheet. Create a spreadsheet with columns for important details. Rows are the names of the characters. One advantage of this is the ability to sort alphabetically. You can see at a glance if every one of your beauties is blue-eyed or brown-eyed or an interesting mix. It’s clumsy when every character’s name sounds like every other one. Just skim the names and try to make sure that names begin with different letters.

Wikis. Wikis are collections of information that allow collaborative editing. What you care about here, though, is that you can organize the data in any way you wish. Perhaps, you want a page for every character, for every family, for different chapters, or specific to one title in a series. It’s up to you. This article explains four options for a personal wiki.

Keep track of your character's false teeth and blue eyes with these tech toys.

Keep track of your character’s false teeth and blue eyes with these tech toys.



Evernote is a popular software that allows you to capture websites, add files and stay organized and synced across various platforms via the Cloud. Uber-fans of Evernote use it to organize their entire life: they store recipes, organize trips, and keep track of homework assignments. The novelist can use it only for work, or extend it into other areas of life. For keeping characters straight, use tags and keywords for eye and hair color, save photos of clothes that Sally might wear, and clip a website article about grieving. Read more about Evernote.

Scrivener is a writing software that allows you to write without worrying about formatting. But it’s far more than that, with the ability to use tags and keywords, to clip websites and store photos or other research materials. It has the added bonus of outlining with text or a simulated cork board with index cards. Though we’re talking about keeping track of characters, this program goes so much farther, even tracking daily quotas of writing. Writers swear by this one, too.

Intro to Scrivener Video

If you can’t see this video, click here.


Pinterest Boards. If you are visually oriented, try creating a Pinterest board for your series and Pin photos of characters, clothing, recipes, setting, etc. Here’s an example of a Character board, and another, and another. These also seems like great ways to promote your book. If you have a character Pinterest board, please leave a link in the comments.

HOW DO YOU KEEP TRACK OF YOUR CHARACTERS?

11 Feb

Idea to Book: Outline + Character

How do you take an idea to a book? I am just starting the process again and every time, it overwhelms me. I know the process works, but it seems so daunting at this first stage. So, I only look forward to the next task, knowing that taking the first step will lead me onward.

For this story, I’ll approach it on several levels at once:

Outlining. This is the fourth book in an easy-reader series, so I know the general pattern that the book will follow over its ten chapters. Chapter one will introduce the story problem and chapter ten will wrap it up. That leaves eight chapters and each has a specific function in this short format. Chapter 2 introduces the subplot, chapter 4 intensifies it and chapter 6 resolves it. That leaves chapters 1, 3, 5, 7-10 for the wrap-up. Chapters 9 and 10 are the climax scene, split into two, with a cliff hanger at the end of chapter 9. In other words, I can slot actions into the functions of each chapter and make it work. Knowing each chapter’s function makes it easier–but not automatic. I’ll still need to shift things around and make allowances for this individual story.

Character Problem. Making my characters hurt is the second challenge. Squeezing them, making them uncomfortable, making them cry, dishing out grief and mayhem–it’s all part of the author’s job. I tend to be a peace-maker and find this to be quite difficult. But if I can manage to bring my character’s emotions to a breaking point by chapter 8, I’ll be able to move the reader. I’ll be searching for the pressure points for the character as the outline progresses. Hopefully, the emotional resolution in chapter 9-10 will be a twist, something unexpected by the reader.

Back and Forth Between Outline and Characters. The nice thing about focusing on just this much at first is that it is interactive. I’ll go back and forth between plot, character and the structure demanded by this series until the story starts to gel. Will it be easy and automatic? Oh, no. I’ll be pulling out my hair (metaphorically) for a couple days. But by the end of the week (I hope) there will be progress.

How do you start your story? Do you free-write, create a character background, or outline? Which parts interact as you create the basis for a new story?

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bk/12392396893/

What Character Are You? Click to Enlarge. Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bk/12392396893/



31 Dec

13 Blast it Out of the Park Posts of 2013

It’s a time to look backward. What are the 13 most popular posts on Fiction Notes in 2013? Here’s the countdown!

Posts Written in 2013

13. 63 Character Emotions to Explore When your character gets stuck at sad, even sadder and truly sad, explore these options for more variety.

12. 5 Quotes to Plot Your Novel By. We always like to know what other authors think about writing and how they work. These quotes are a tiny insight into the writing process.

11. 5 More Ways to Add Humor. Ever popular, but hard to get right, I always need help being funny.

10. Nonfiction Picture Books: 7 Choices. What types of nonfiction picture books are popular now, especially with the Common Core State Standards.

9. Why Authors Should Believe in Their Websites. This was a response to a posting on Jane Friedman‘s website that challenged why authors need a website at all.

8. Help Me Write a Book. A list of suggested resources that will help you write a book.

7. 7 Reasons Your Manuscript Might Be Rejected. A discussion of the rejection cycle and how to defeat it.

c.2013 Dwight Pattison. All rights reserved. My favorite picture that my husband took this year. Pelicans along the Arkansas River

c. Dwight Pattison. My favorite picture that my husband took this year. Pelicans along the Arkansas River


Classic Posts


6. 9 Traits of Sympathetic Characters. How to make that protagonists a nice-guy or nice-girl.

5. 29 Plot Templates. Lost on where to start plotting? Consider one of these options.

4. 30 Days to a Stronger Novel. This series continues to be popular. It’s 30 days of tips for making your novel into the story of your dreams.

3. 30 Days to a Stronger Picture Book. Likewise, 30 days of tips for writing a picture book is hugely popular.

2. Picture Book Standards: 32 Pages. The most frequent question people ask about picture books is how long should they be. Here’s the standard answer, with explanations for why 32 pages is the standard.

1. 12 Ways to Start a Novel. 100 classic opening lines are categorized into twelve ways of opening a novel.

This list reflects the range of topics that consume me and that I want to write about. But it’s not just about me. Please leave a comment with one topic you’d like to see discussed this year.

12 Nov

3 Simple Ways to Use Photos to Establish Characters

boy1

I need my characters to come to life quickly for me and this time, I’m trying a shortcut. Photos.

It’s easy to go to google.com/images or flickr.com and search for images that might fit your characters. Start with a gender (male/female) and age (child, teen, adult, senior, 30s, 40s, etc).

Ethnic background. For my story, I knew that one character had a mixed-ethnic background, combining Asian and Caucasian heritage. What I didn’t know was how strong the genes might be on either side of that, and how they might change for different Asian/northern European mixes. Even better, I found personal stories of growing up multicultural. Sites like this make it easier to add a unique richness to a character, avoiding stereotypes that might result from a specific ethnic background.

Physical description. Frankly, my physical descriptions have gotten stale. I’m not particularly visually oriented and inventing characters physical looks is usually last on my list of writing chores. I keep thinking, “But it’s the inner character that matters.” Of course. But physical looks matter, too. I took several photos and really observed closely, trying for fresh descriptions. Here are three boys. How would you describe each one to make him come alive as a character?
boy1


boy2


boy3

Historical photos. Photos are gold when you are writing historical fiction. Notice details of clothing, shoes, hair styles, setting, surroundings, etc. and use these details as you write.

1971 Tallahassee Civil Rights march. Notice the variety of clothing--great stuff to add to your story.

1971 Tallahassee Civil Rights march. Notice the variety of clothing–great stuff to add to your story.



What’s your favorite way to use photos to establish characters?

06 Nov

Point of View: Inside a Character’s Head

Ivan

How does an author take a reader deeply into a character’s POV? By using direct interior monologue and a stream of consciousness techniques.


This is part 3 of a 3-part series on Point of View: Techniques for Getting Inside a Character’s Head. Read the whole series.

  • Outside
  • Outside/Inside
  • Inside
  • Going Inside a Character’s Head, Heart and Emotions

    IvanOmniscience.Jauss says, “In direct interior monologue, the character’s thoughts are not just ‘reflected,’ they are presented directly, without altering person or tense. As a result, the external narrator disappears, if only for a moment, and the character takes over as ‘narrator.’” (p. 51)

    Here, “. . . the narrator is not consciously narrating.” In much of IVAN, he is consciously narrating the story. Sometimes, it might be hard to distinguish the difference because the character and narrator are the same, and it’s written in present tense (except when he is telling about the background of each animal). This closeness of the character and narrator is one reason to choose first-person, present tense. But there are still times when it is clear that IVAN is narrating his story.

    But there also times when that narrator’s role is absent. In the “nine thousand eight hundred and seventy-six days” chapter, Ivan is worried about what Mack will do after the small elephant Ruby hits Mack with her trunk:

    “Mack groans. He stumbles to his feet and hobbles off toward his office. Ruby watches him leave. I can’t read her expression. Is she afraid? Relieved? Proud?”

    The last three questions remove the narrator-Ivan and give us what Ivan is thinking at the moment. The direct interior monologue gives the reader direct access to the character. With a third person narrator, those rhetorical questions might be indirect interior monologue; but here, because of the first person narration, it feels like direct interior monologue.

    Or, in the “click” chapter, Ivan is about to be moved to a zoo:

    The door to my cage is propped open. I can’t stop staring at it.
    My door. Open.

    The first two sentences still feel like a narrator is reporting. But “My door. Open.” feels like direct access to Ivan’s thought at that precise moment. He’s not looking back and reporting, but this is direct access to his thoughts.

    A last technique for diving straight into a character’s head is stream-of-consciousness. Jauss says, “. . . unlike direct interior monologue, it presents those thoughts as they exist before the character’s mind has ‘edited’ them or arranged them into complete sentences.” (P. 54)

    When Ivan is finally in a new home at a local zoo, he is allowed to venture outside for the first time. The “outside at last” chapter is stream-of-consciousness.

    Sky.
    Grass.
    Tree.
    Ant.
    Stick.
    Bird. . . .
    Mine.
    Mine.
    Mine.

    What the reader feels here is Ivan’s wonder at the great outdoors. It’s a direct expression of Ivan’s joy in being outside after decades of being caged. We are one with this great beast and it gives the reader joy to be there.

    Or look at the “romance” chapter, where Ivan is courting another gorilla.

    A final note: Sometimes, an author breaks the “fourth wall,” the “imaginary wall that separates us from the actors,” and speaks directly to the reader. This is technically a switch from 1st person POV to 2nd person POV. But it is very effective in IVAN in the second chapter, “names.” Here, Ivan acknowledges that you—the reader—are outside his cage, watching him. It was a stunning moment for me, as I read the story.

    “I suppose you think gorillas can’t understand you. Of course, you also probably think we can’t walk upright.
    Try knuckle walking for an hour. You tell me: which way is more fun?”

    Do stories and novels have to stay in one point of view throughout an entire scene or chapter? No. Not if you are thinking about point of view as a technique to draw the reader close to a character or shove the reader away. You can push and pull as you need. You can push the reader a little way outside to protect his/her emotions from a distressing scene. Or you can pull them into the character’s head to create empathy or hatred. You can manipulate the reader and his/her emotions. It’s a different way of thinking about point of view. For me, it’s an important distinction because my stories have often gotten characterization comments such as , “I just don’t feel connected to the characters enough.” I think a mastery of Outside, Outside/Inside, and Inside point of view techniques holds a key to a stronger story.

    In the end, it’s not about the labels we apply to this section or that section of a story. These techniques can blur, especially in a story like IVAN, written in first person, present tense. Instead, it’s about the reader identifying with the character in a deep enough way to be moved by the story. These techniques–such a different way to think about point of view!–are refreshing because they give us a way to gain control of another part of our story. These are what make novels better than movies. I’ve heard that many script-writers have trouble making the transition to novels and this is the precise place where the difficulty occurs. Unlike movies, novels go into a character’s head, heart and mind. And these point of view techniques are your road map to the reader’s head, heart and mind.


    This has been part 3 of a 3-part series on Point of View: Techniques for Getting Inside a Character’s Head. Tomorrow, will be Inside: Deeply Inside a Character’s Head. Read the whole series:

  • Outside
  • Outside/Inside
  • Inside
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