Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mary Jane Gordon, just plain old Mary Jane Gordon....

Today I realized that while I have written interviews with my characters, I have not posted an entry purely from one of my characters. And so today I would like to rectify that situation.

Let me introduce you to Mary Jane….yep just plain old Mary Jane. That’s her name and she’s proud of it. She’s an orphan in contemporary times who’s been forced into some pretty rough conditions. And this is the entry that brought her to life.

Sometimes, life is cruel.

That concept had been shoved down my throat. Painful. Raw. Stinging as I swallowed back all life shoved at me.

Sometimes, life pushes you down. Sometimes, life tramples your dreams. And yet, you are expected to move on. Stand up. Brush off the dirt. Breathe. Keep living.

Life teaches you to dream. But it also warns you to play it safe. To always have a backup plan. Don’t dream too big. Don’t dare hope for the seemingly unachievable. Stick with the well-known. Be content with the familiar.

That lesson was one I’d been forced to learn. And one I had since memorized. Yes, sometimes life is cruel. But love is even crueler. I’d dare to love. I’d taken that gamble and I’d lost. Lost more than I’d ever care to admit.

And yet, you have to stand up. Breathe. Keep living. But breathing is difficult. And living even more difficult. As my world continues to spiral deeper and deeper continually twisting out of my control breathing becomes nearly impossible.

Life has said I’m not good enough and pushed me down every time I attempt to stand. And not once has anybody ever offered to help me stand. No in life, you have to find the strength to stand without any help. That lesson I learned quickly.

Courage. Blind faith more like it. Blindly believing that your courage won’t be in vain and that by some miracle you will be rewarded for daring to dream. Now that’s the mark of a fool.

Courage. My dad had courage. Dreams. My dad had dreams too. But he had still died. His courage hadn’t been enough to save him. Frankly, I lacked his courage. Something I took comfort in. My dad’s courage got him killed. And as difficult as breathing is, I don’t fancy dying anytime soon.

And that's all for now! Hope you enjoyed it.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A cab in rural hicksville? I think not.

This week I read a few historical fiction novels. I love historical fiction, partly because I simply love history. And authors who dare write about historical events and historical people have always inspired me and been a source of awe.

Esther Friesner is one of these authors. She writes beautifully about historical people and events.

But she also dares to let her imagination run free. she doesn’t choose to write about the actions that made them famous. She chooses to write about them before they were famous. A brilliant idea if I do say so myself.

Her research before writing these stories must be immense, because her stories make you feel like you are flying back in time. Her novels about Helen of Troy and Nefertiti of Egypt are simply beautifully written. Egypt and Troy come to life. You can vividly picture the setting in each scene.

Plus, spunky heroines who outsmart the villains, danger lurking at every corner, and forbidden love that makes you wish you could rewrite history. What more could you ask for?

The point is that facts and the setting of a historical novel can make or break the novel.

When you write historical fiction, you must have a keen awareness for character development and the novel’s setting.

Good historical fiction authors put a lot of effort and time into making sure that their characters fit the time period they are writing about and that their novel realistically follows that time period.

You can’t have guns in the thirteenth century and electricity didn’t exist in that century either. And hmmm…I didn’t know they had watches in the middle ages.

My thoughts regarding historical fiction caused me to stop and reflect. I started thinking maybe if all authors spent a little time more developing characters and their settings that their novels would be better. That no matter what you’re genre is, you have to know what your setting is going to be like.

No cabs in a rural town. No cars in New York. The simple things. People from the places you’re writing about will get irked just as quickly as they do when you get a fact about the thirteenth century wrong.

And so I’ve decided that I’m going to pay more attention to setting and focusing on making the scenery come to life. The setting shouldn’t fade in the background. It should stand vibrantly on center stage.

The goal: make every scene come to live. That way readers don't feel disconnected. And as a reader, who likes that?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The art of the second draft.

The second draft.

Cringe. Wince. Yikes! Note has suddenly turned into “not.” Wait is her name June or Jane?

Wow! That’s not even a sentence.

Oh I actually like that line. I had some good points here.

I like that scene….lots of imagery, but I can make it better.

Those sentences should be reversed…wait actually why not just combine them.

Retype. Rewrite. Set it on top of my "to look over in a few days" pile.

And that’s the thought process behind the second draft.

The second draft is one of the most difficult but rewarding aspects of the writing process. And then when I reach the tenth draft and send the story, the novel, the article, that’s when I know if my second draft was good enough.

You simply have to love the second draft.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Really? They have two thumbs. I had no idea.

 Physical features. When trying to describe a character what do you describe?

Well I noticed that my characters all have a specific trait they are drawn to first.

Without fail, the first feature Alana notices is their eyes. She firmly believes that the eyes are the window to the soul. First impressions are everything to her. The light in someone’s eyes or the lack of will instantly determine her opinion. And after that, it is nearly impossible to change her mind.

For Telyn, it’s hair. She has always hated her hair.

“Strawberry blonde. Not auburn. Not blonde. But something ugly in between,” she thinks. Not that you would ever get her to admit that. If you asked her, she would say she was the prettiest girl in the world.

Trying to convince her that her hair is actually quite pretty is a moot point. But that fetish has caused her to obsess over everybody else’s hair. That’s the first feature she noticed.

For Spiro, it is height and muscle mass. If he were to get into a fight with them, would he win? That is his only concern. And consequently, the first feature he notices.

Physical features tell a lot about a person, but so does what physical features an individual cares about the most. And so this critical question is one I’ll be adding to my character sketch sheet.

In my novels, I’m not going to take the time to describe all the features of my characters. I’m just going to point out what the character notices and any other abnormal feature. It will be more realistic that way.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The truth behind the mystery....

Today, I was asked the same question by multiple people.

The question: how do you make your characters come to life and make them seem realistic?

Granted, I’m no expert, but I’ll throw in my two cents.

The first thing you have to do is take the time to get to know your characters. They have their own likes, dislikes, fears, dreams: get to know all of these details. Find out who they are.

Yes, these details probably won’t end up in the book, but sometimes you’ll find treasures.

Like with my character Eva, I digged into her past and I was introduced to a new character that I fell in love with. Ciaron…now he’s an absolute stud and I just had to find a way to work him into the story.

Back to the point. Character sketches are invaluable. I’m not saying you need to create a chart and make all kinds of complicated data spreadsheets.

Just start talking to your characters and take the time to listen to their responses. That’s what I’ve been doing with this blog and it’s been very enlightening and rewarding

Just ask a question and then imagine how your character would respond and then write their response down.

After all, “the dullest ink is sharper than the brightest mind.”

So if you truly do want to make your characters seem more realistic, then take the time to talk to them. You’ll be amazed at what you find.

Monday, January 17, 2011

You have your story so please just leave me alone.

Two days ago, I wrote a short story called Three Shards of Glass and absolutely fell in love with the main character, April. I wanted to see if I could expand her story or tell more stories with her as the protagonist.

Trying to pry anything out of her is nearly impossible, so I knew it would be difficult.

But I hadn't anticipated the difficulty I encountered. I was met with absolute silence. She refused to tell me anything about herself. I tried to figure out her last name. No response. So her name is April, just April. 

I tried to figure out if the events that occur in the story happened in one year; she wouldn’t tell me. I tried to figure out how old she was in the story and still no luck. She simply refused to tell me anything.

I asked her a million questions and still no answers. I tried everything, every tactic I could think of and she still refused to budge.

April seemed to be telling me that I had my story. She’d allowed me into three of her most treasured memories and that should be enough to satisfy me. She had given me my story.What more could I want? 

And so even though April is one of my favorite characters, she will not be featured in any of my current or upcoming projects. She thrives in silence and that’s where she wants to remain.

And so as much as I’d like to push her out of her comfort zone, for right now I can’t. I simply have to leave her alone until she’s ready to talk again.

“April, will that be happening any time soon?”

Naturally, I’m met with silence. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

That will be twelve whole dollars. Really?

The best of writers are readers. That’s common knowledge. And most often those writers read way too much for their own good.

I’ll whole-heartedly agree that I read way too much. When I should be sleeping, doing my homework, cleaning, or even working, I’ll have a book in my hand and a pile of books by my bed waiting to be read.

I go to the library weekly, but this week I found quite the steal at my local library. They were having a book sale. Normally just junk, but I decided to check anyway. And to my utter surprise, I find twelve books that were printed in the 1920s.

That’s right collectors items that are easily worth a few hundred dollars. And the library is selling them for a dollar each?

I stare not daring to believe that this is actually happening. But eagerly I grab the twelve books and walk to the checkout desk. I stand there terrified that she’ll tell me there is a mistake. That the books are actually worth hundreds of dollars. And as much as I love books, I can’t afford to spend that much money on books.

She stares at me and rings up the books.

“That will be twelve dollars,” she says.

I can’t believe my good luck. 12 dollars? Just twelve dollars. I hand her the money and walk away with my books still in disbelief.

How did I get my hands on those books? And why was the library selling those books for just a dollar each? But hey I’m not going to complain.

The truth of the matter is that maybe I know too many librarians and booksellers on a first-name basis. But hey there are worse things to be addicted to. And hey I now have twelve more valuable books on my bookshelf.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

What's in a name?

I am very picky about naming characters. Now to Shakespeare, names might just have been "a name that by any other name would have sounded as sweet." But not for me.

I struggle with names. You could even say I am borderline obsessive about names. I spend around twenty minutes coming up with names for even minor characters.

I’ll say a name and then go…oh I’ve already used that name or I hate that name. What’s another name I can use?

But do names even really matter? Heck yes, they do! Margaret Mitchell tried to publish her novel Gone with the Wind on multiple occasions. When finally somebody said, it’s a great story, but it’s not publishable. No way somebody named Pansy would do anything that she did. And so she was reborn as Scarlett O’Hara.

Names can make or break the story.

And here’s the current dilemma. In my current novel, The Chosen One I have all sorts of exotic names and then one that is just a typical average day name. But I love that name and don’t want to change it. However, I don’t want to change the other 15 names.

So what do I do?

I change the name that doesn’t fit despite how much I love it. Now I’m sitting here wishing that I didn’t have to change his name. I have struggled with this for three drafts...and well I keep going back and forth. But I've come to the realization that his name needs to change. :(

The bright side is that there will be other novels that I can use that name in. And hey that will save me at least 20 minutes next time I try to come up with somebody’s name.

What's in a name? A lot.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

That character sure ain't me, lady

I seem to have been having a lot of conversations with my characters lately. You admit that characters know best…and suddenly they all are dying to tell you something.

I was peacefully writing when my character Spiro interrupted my thoughts.

Spiro: Who is that lame character on the page?

Me (confused): You?

Spiro: Well that guy sure as heck ain’t me, lady.

Me: What?

Spiro: That guy is as boring as a cat, only responding when people talk to it. Just sittin’ around doing nothin’ all day.

Me: So you’re saying you that aren’t funny enough? That you’re boring?

Spiro: Yes! Listen, I’m a brat. Haven’t you realized that yet? I make jokes at people’s expense. I turn everything into a comical situation. It’s the only way I deal with the life you’ve given me.

I thought about what he had said a long time and realized that once again my character was right. I had created a flat character. He had a name and a face, but no personality.

And Spiro’s life was anything but pleasant. How had he survived all those terrible years? Spiro had given me the answer. Comedy. It was the only way he could deal with the pain, the heartache, and the suffering he had been through.

I thought that I hadn’t fallen into the trap of writing flat characters…but I had. Spiro wasn’t a person, just a name. Once again, I learned that you need to listen to characters, because chances are that they know more about themselves than you do.

And so I rewrote his character. And now he’s one of my favorite characters. He’s always good for a laugh no matter how tense the situation. He's evolved from a name to a person. It was an interesting that I'll never forget.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

That's not my happily ever after, you crazy lady

One night, I went to bed feeling peaceful, happy even. I had just resolved a lot of tension in my novel and momentarily given a character a happy ending (because how long do happily ever afters really last).

But a terrible realization struck me at three in the morning. Eva, the character, that I had just happily married didn’t want to talk to me...and hadn't in a long time. Seeing as she wasn’t typically quiet unless she was mad or sad, I was absolutely panicked.

I figured I’d better figure out what was wrong.

Me: Eva, we haven’t talked in awhile.

Eva: I know.

Me: Want to tell me what’s wrong?

Silence. Trying to pry anything out of her is nearly impossible.

Alana: You have gone and married her off to the wrong guy. I mean he’s nice and all but Eva can’t marry him.

So by this point, I’m absolutely floored. 1. Alana only speaks when she feels it is really important. And 2. She doesn’t even know Eva yet. But she was absolutely right (even though I didn’t want to admit it yet).

Me: What? I thought you liked him?

Eva: Well I do, but just as a friend.

Me: But you just married him? Why didn’t you say something sooner?

Eva: Well Alana is being difficult enough for the both of us. And I tried, but you didn’t want to listen.

She had a point there.

Me: Why don’t you love him?

And she told me. I sat and listened as she allowed me to delve deeper into her past, her childhood, her hopes, her dreams, her friends, and her true feelings for the guy I had mistakenly married her to.

To my surprise, I realized she was right. She couldn’t marry him, because she was in love with another guy and just didn’t realize it yet.

A year later, I’m still trying to bring them together. A little difficult considering he hasn’t been introduced in the novel yet and a epiphany that resulted in complete chapters being ripped up and rewritten.

But I learned an important lesson that day. When characters stop talking to you, find out why. Take the time to listen. Even if it takes months to follow the new idea, follow it. Because characters are typically right.

And whatever you do, don’t give your characters a happily ever after before they are ready for it. They won’t ever let you live it down.

In Eva’s words, “That’s not my happily ever after, you crazy lady.”

Saturday, January 1, 2011

To blog or not to blog? That is the question.

My muse tends to be kind of LOUD and OPINONATED. That is the polite way of saying she doesn’t listen to ANYBODY, including me. And she can also by very demanding.

 Lately, she’s been insisting that I start a blog and actually join writing communities.  And well she’s  kind of hard to ignore. She doesn’t take it very well when anybody tries to ignore her.

 I believe our conversation went a little like this….

Me: I have been writing novels, weaving stories my entire life. Maybe it’s time to take it to the next level. Whay do you think?

Muse: Of course it is! I’ve been trying to tell you this for years.

Me: But getting published is nearly impossible. And well the whole process sounds scary.

Muse: So? Get on with it. And whatever you do, don’t complain to me. 

Me: Hey, how about being sympathetic for just a minute…

Muse: I’m your muse. You want sympathy, go eat chocolate.

Me: Why do I have such a mean muse?

Muse: You created me.

Me: Maybe, but you have taken on a mind of your own.

Muse: I’ll concede to that point. But now you’re just deviating from the point of this conversation.

Me: What?

Muse: You want to get published. Then you actually have to try to get published! You can’t just dream about it.

Me: (sighing) I guess you’re right.

Muse: Well what are you going to do about it?

Me: Since you seem to have so many ideas why don’t you tell me?

Muse: Great idea. Leave the dark ages and join writing communities and start a blog. That's why there is technology.

Me: You want me to start a blog?

Muse: By George, I think she’s got it.

Me: About what? My life’s kind of boring.

Muse: You’re a WRITER! Aren’t you supposed to like writing? Write about WRITING and EDITING. Or your inability to listen to me when I'm right. Or reading, how many books have you read?

Me: Alright then…

So she won the battle.

I have started a blog and have joined writing communities. But is my muse satisfied? No, she’s never satisfied.

Muse: Nice start, but that’s only one have to do better than this. And have you actually tried to publish something yet?

Me: I’m still editing.

Muse: Well edit faster!

Honestly, what was I thinking when I created such an obnoxious muse?
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