Saturday, April 30, 2011

Some characters just take on a life of their own.

There are some characters who stick out in your mind. As an author it’s impossible to have a favorite character. But there are characters I’ve created that I like more than others—there are about twenty that are distinguished above the rest.

One of these characters, I introduced earlier: Darcie Pay Warburton, Private Investigator with enough quirks for anybody.

Darcie is real to me in a way that very few other characters I’ve created have been. Most of my characters belong in fantasy novels and so there’s that separation of everything they experience is distant.

Then nearly the rest of my characters have pasts that make me want to cringe. Consequently, they are not as open. It takes a lot of prying to get any information. There’s that distance and that mystery of what they aren’t telling me. They are the characters that make me want to scream: Are you trying to make yourself miserable? Why must you destroy every good thing that comes your way?

 Darcie isn’t like that. She is one of the more open characters I’ve ever written. That is not to say she doesn’t have her own problems. Believe me she does. But she hasn’t shut down. She’s happy and willing to move on. She’s tough. In other words, she’s a character I’m drawn to.

I write about her and I just feel so involved in the story. I hope that the readers feel as attached as I do.

Darcie is quirky. She’s downright klutzy, she’s curious to a fault, and she has gotten more tickets than anybody could imagine. She likes to drive and she likes to drive fast.

While working a case, she stays up until three in the morning working on a case before she realizes that she hasn’t slept more than three hours in a week. During a case, she lives off of pie…it is fast and it’s her comfort food.

I’m working on the fourth book in the series. She came to life in the third book and I absolutely fell in love with her. Now in the fourth book, she’s the main character. I think that this may be the best novel I’ve ever written…I’m a fantasy writer, but I think my best novel is romantic suspense. That’s odd.

Darcie is one character that I look back on and think, “Wow. I created her. How did I manage that?”

The reason is she stopped being a character in my mind and took on her own life, her own story. I got inside her head and started writing. It’s a very rewarding experience.

I don’t think authors realize when they are treating characters as characters and not people. But that is a terrible mistake. Characters need to be viewed as people or else they are flat.

One of the best authors at viewing her characters as people is Anne Osterlund. Why? Because she is willing to use her imagination and let her characters come to life. She’s willing to explore her options and look at her characters as people. Her blog is one of the most entertaining I’ve ever read. For everybody out there, I definitely recommend looking at it. Go to the archives. Start at her first post and then work your way up. It will be very enlightening as well as amusing.

I found her blog this past March and found much to my surprise that our first blog post is very similar...strange. We both entitled it to blog or not to blog and were talking to a character/muse. And here I thought I was original. :)

The lesson I learned is I really do need to take more time and make my characters people, not just characters. I offer the same advice to any other writers out there. Look at your characters, chances are you won't find they are flat, but maybe you'll find some way you can make them more alive. It's definitely worth looking into.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Art of 'The End'

The adrenaline kicks in as you near the finish line. You know that the words are coming to an end. Your typing speed increases. The red and green lines start decorating your screen, but you don’t stop. You can’t stop. You simply keep typing. You'll fix the errors later.

Your heart is bounding, your hands are getting shaky (which doesn’t help decrease the amount of red and green lines that are appearing), and you can barely breathe.

You can feel it. It’s so close. The finish line is in sight and then finally you zoom past it. You type the two magical words ‘The End’ (even though it’s childish) and then you sit there and you still can’t breathe. You feel like screaming or dancing or calling everybody you know.

But you don’t. It’s a private moment and one that you can’t really share with anybody else. The clock inches past and you finally realize that perhaps you should go to sleep.

You walk to your bedroom to a trance not really coherent of what’s going on. You sit on your bed and then you realize you are too wound to sleep. You sit there for hours with two words replaying in your head. Those two magical, beautiful, poignant words.

The End. The End. The End. The End. It becomes a little chant in your head. The End. The End. The End.

And that is the art of ‘The End.’

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sorry but you need to die.

Killing off a character is a traumatic event. People don’t realize how attached you become.

You know every one of their thoughts, their hopes, their dreams, their fears, and the entire facet of their personality. You were their creator after all.

And then to just turn around and kill them—it definitely isn’t easy.

I still remember the first time I killed a character I had really grown to love. She was the motherly figure to my protagonist. The first person who loved her and then I killed her.

I cried for nearly an half hour. My mom walked in and asked me what had happened. I couldn’t begin to explain why I was so upset.

Years later, I still battle inside each time I make the decision to kill a character. It’s never easy. I fight it every time and the plot comes to a screeching halt. I can’t come up with any more words. Finally, I cave and write the death scene.

It’s never easy. Sometimes I still cry and other times I just sit in absolute silence wondering why that character had to die.

I killed off a character tonight. One that I've grown to love. It left me in a foul mood. I've spent all week trying to come up with any way to save her only to discover that nope she needed to die. It ticked me off. I wanted to cry, almost did. I wanted to punch something, I punched my pillow. I wanted to scream at something, I screamed at my dog...okay I don't have a dog, but if I did I would have screamed at it. I then sat on my bed and stared into space for two hours.

Killing a character stinks, but when you’re a writer, especially an epic fantasy writer, it’s nearly unavoidable. But that doesn’t ease the pain. It’s tough, it always is. And somehow I don't think time makes it any easier.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Outrun. Outlast. Outsurvive.

I wrote the following excerpt based on a dream I had a few nights ago. I saw a teenage girl trapped on an island with a great stone wall running along the exterior, but for some reason I felt there was more to the story. Was the fortress physical or metaphorical? I didn't know and it bothered me. So I picked up my pen and frantically started writing.

I have no idea where I'm going with this, but I could see myself expanding it. It flows nicely with another piece I've been working on.

Run. Faster. Faster. Faster. Maybe if I run fast enough everything else will disappear. Maybe if I just keep running I can outrun every thought, every fear, every doubt, everything. If I keep running maybe I can just disappear all together. Maybe I could run until time stops and there isn't anything left. I could just run in circles forever and never stop, never look back.

Or maybe I could just be still and lie on the grass. Maybe I could block out everything and just remain frozen until I become one with the earth. Maybe I could just rest and tune out every thought, every fear, every doubt, everything. I could just slowly disintegrate and disappear all together. I could just close my eyes and never look at anything again.

But the truth is I can't run forever and hope that life doesn't catch up. The reality is I can't just be still and hope life ceases to exist. Nobody can escape time, me included.

Day after day I wake up and start anew. It's routine, but I like routine. It's familiar, and the familiar is comfortable, safe. But it's boring too. Sometimes I just long to throw out the routine.

But I don't.

I remain anchored to my safe haven. It's one thing I can always fall back on. It's secure, constant, and my oasis. But it's also confining, boring, and a prison.

Every now and then I dare to venture further away from my safe haven, only to be yanked back again. Safety. I used to be reckless and carefree until I almost drowned in the depths of betrayal, broken promises, and heartache.

But I fought to survive and I did. I made it to the shore and promptly anchored myself in. I protected my bay fiercely and posted guards and alarms at every entrance. I made sure that nobody would ever come close to my oasis, to the fortress I created.

I built up my fortress and strengthened ensuring it was impenetrable. I kept building it stone by stone. By the time I realized I had trapped myself inside it was too late. The onlye way would be to tear it down stone by stone and risk drowning again.

That simply wasn't a risk I was willing to take. In reality, I don't have a physical fortress or a safe haven. The truth is I built one around my heart. It's encased underneath layers of facades and defense mechanisms. My heart is guarded so heavily that even I wonder who I truly am beneath all the facades and the defense mechanisms. The reality is I'm not willing to risk heartache again. I've built my fortress and I don't dare tear it down.

That's all for now. I hope you enjoyed.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Quirks? Most definitely.

I like to write about quirks….yes quirks. An author I admire is Deanne Gist, who writes historical  christian romantic fiction. All of her main heroines have some funny quirk. One is an excellent mathematician, one is a bug collector, one is in love with riding bicycles, and one is a professional dog walker. Now I’m not suggesting that we should all be like Deanne Gist, but I do think there is merit in creating characters with tiny quirks.

In my current project, a novel that I’m revising, one of my main characters is Darcie Pay Warburton. I think she maybe one of the best characters I’ve ever created. She’s a private investigator who has a need for speed, is a true klutz, has atrocious handwriting, and is known for calling somebody and then carrying on a completely different conversation with somebody else until she remembers she is supposed to be talking with somebody on the phone.

Maybe these aren’t quirks that are overly comical and certainly not up to Deanne Gist’s caliber, but when rereading this work I realized that these tiny little quirks made a difference. They made her seem more realistic and relatable to real life.

Authors shouldn’t make boring characters that have no personality, because then nobody will want to read about them. It’s something I definitely need to remember. Characters should be more than just characters they should take on a life of their own.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

You write? Why don't you find a real job? What good is an English major?

Eventually nearly every writer (English major) hears the all too typical: “You really want to be a writer? Why don’t you get a real job and major in business or law?” or better yet, “Yeah just writing down your thoughts now that’s a really hard, viable job.” Or even better, “Are you sure you don’t just want to teach English?”

Those questions have all been thrown at me lately and have set my teeth a little bit on edge. For a long time when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said a teacher because that’s a respected profession and nobody asked any follow-up questions.

BUT I realized that was a copout and in recent years decided to come out of the closet. I want to be a writer and I’ll announce that loud and proudly to anybody who asks me what I want my future career to be.

Not only do I want to be a writer, but I am a writer. I write for five different newspapers, (three are paying jobs), I write novels, short stories, etc. I’ve been published by various websites. I am a writer.

I do realize that most writers need to take a second job, because the odds of making enough money to support yourself and a family are slim, but I don’t care. I want to write and that’s what I’ll do. Even if I never get paid or published, I’ll always answer that I’m a writer.

Granted, I dream of walking into a bookstore and seeing my novel on a shelf. But it’s more than a dream; it’s a burning desire and passion.

Writing isn’t as easy as people think.

So to those who say: You really want to be a writer? Why don’t you get a real job and major in business or law? Yeah just writing down your thoughts now that’s a really hard, viable job? Are you sure you don’t just want to teach English?

Yes, I’m sure I want to be a writer and no I don’t want to major in business or law. Writing is harder than you think and it may not be a viable job but that’s what I’m going to do. And no, I don’t really want to teach English. It’s a good viable secondary job, but I want to be a writer and that’s what I’m going to be.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sometimes you have to break the rules

I recently read two books that refuse to leave my mind. I can’t stop thinking about them. So now I'm going to blog about them!

The first one is entitled Because I am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas. The whole story is told in fragments, short sentences, and incomplete sentences. Yet somehow Chaltas managed to convey as much emotion in those few words than some writers can in a whole page full of writing. This book really made me reflect upon the message I get across in my own writing. Does every sentence in my novel really add to the overall meaning or have I added fluff?

It’s an interesting question…one that has stuck with me.

Next I read Wintergirls by Laurie Anderson. I read Speak, another one of her novels awhile ago, and that book still resonated within me. When I heard she had a new book, I jumped on reading it. Wintergirls was also poignantly written, but in a different way. Anderson’s writing style is slightly unconventional. But I love it. She writes with raw emotions. You feel like you are seeing into the heart of a person and not just reading a book.

These two books have stuck with me and influenced my own writing. I’ve realized that being a novelist means taking risks and exploring with different styles. Novel writing isn’t like writing an essay, an article, a report, or a review. It’s completely different. It’s okay to use fragments. It’s okay to break the rules—as long as you have a reason and you aren’t obnoxious about it.

Laurie Anderson broke the rules.
Thalia Chaltas broke the rules.

But their novels have stuck with me. Sometimes writing means taking a risk. I’ve been experimenting with a new style of writing.

I absolutely love it. This style seems more personal to me and the characters have become more than characters after only three pages.

Sometimes taking a risk it worth it. Writing is about experimenting and figuring out what works. Don’t be afraid to experiment. That’s the lesson I’ve most recently relearned.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Screnzy...and all the madness

For those who don't know what Screnzy's a writing challenge sort of like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) where you are supposed to write 50k in one month. Except in Screnzy (Script Frenzy) the goal is to write a 100 page script in one month.

Now, I don't hold any ambition of becoming a professional screenwriter by any means, but I never say no to a challenge, especially a writing challenge, and I love exploring different types of writing. Poetry, blogs, journals, essays, reports, short stories, novels, journalist writing--you name it and I'll try it.

Writing a script is certainly an adventure to say the least. It's all dialogue and if your dialogue is wrong, then everything else falls apart.

That's one reason I like trying my hand at screenwriting: it forces you to look closer at your dialougue and that is something that will definitely help in novel writing.

So here's the challenge I'm issuing to myself and to anybody else who cares to join me. Take a look at your dialogue. Is it forced? Do all your characters sound the same? Take the time to make sure each character has a unique voice. You won't regret it.

 Here's to a month of madness. 100 pages in 30 we go.

Friday, April 8, 2011

It's not you, it's me applies to writing. Who would have thought?

Today I was sitting on my bed with a notebook in hand and started writing when I realized I haven't worked on any of my novels lately. I've been working on a lot of short stories, but no novels. Sigh! That needs to change. 
Needless to say my characters weren't really thrilled with me or at least they shouldn't be.

Especially Alana the protagonist from The Chosen One,  which has been a ten year project. I finished my last draft years ago, and then recently decided to rewrite almost the entire novel due to some major changes I wanted to incorporate.

 Now Alana is way too nice to tell me she is upset, but I know she is. In her mind, I've clearly abandoned her story. I then had a little fictional conversation with her:

Me: Alana, it's not that I don't want to finish your story. It's just there has been a lot on my mind lately.

Alana: I understand.

Me: It's nothing personal. It has nothing to do with you. (The cheesy line, "It's not you, it's me" immediately enters my mind.)

Alana: You're just trying to make me feel better. I've learned that it always has something to do with me. As egotistical as that may sound it is the truth. I seem to always cause some disturbance.

Me: You don't cause problems.

Alana: I am not blind. Just look at all the lives I've screwed up.

Me: It's not your fault.

Alana: That's not the point.

Me: Alana, I promise you I'll redouble my efforts and work on your novel again.

The truth is I needed a break to figure out what direction I wanted to take her story, or in other words, how I want to mesh the two different story threads together.

Finally, I've found my answer and now I'm ready to dive in headfirst and tackle this story. I will finish Alana's story.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Rejuvenation of my soul

No matter what happens there are always two things that I can turn to: reading and writing. In many ways they are two friends that will never abandon me. When life gets difficult, they are one of the things that I turn to.

This week I depended on reading and writing just to get through everything that's going on. I read and wrote every free moment I had and I feel so rejuvenated. Suddenly I have that reassurance that life is going to be okay and somehow that everything will work out.

 I am a writer--writing is what I do. And that's what I did.

I wrote about grief, about hope, about love, about overcoming fears. I wrote about just everything that came to mind. I read about those same topics and I feel happy and at peace.

Reading and writing is what I love. I feel bad for those who haven't discovered the power of reading and writing.

They simply don't know what they are missing!
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