Monthly Archives: August 2011

Six Things You Need to Know About Your Characters

I’m sure you’ve seen those lists.  You know the ones I mean.  Those lists of 47 different things you need to know and describe about each of your characters before you start writing, right down to their shoe size and when they last had a haircut.  Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating just a little.  But only a little, mind you.

One such list sits right in front of me. Are there actually writers who fill out the information on such a list for each and every character?  (That seems to me an excellent way to put off the actual writing of your book.) In my opinion, it would leave precious little spontaneity in writing, if you have to figure out the character’s entire life story in advance.

Here’s an idea.  Instead of organizing the person down to the last detail, why not let things come to you as you write. As you finish with one scene, a brilliant “what if” may come to you, if you are not locked tight into a set pattern for your character. I don’t mean you shouldn’t know anything about the persons you are writing about. Here are six very important questions to ask yourself about each main character.  If you know the answers to these six questions, you have a good insight into what makes your character tick.  You can then fill in the minor details as you need them.

1. What is the character’s goal?  What does he want more than anything else?
2. What will happen if the character fails to get what he wants?
3. What is she willing to do to get what she wants?
4. What secret is each character hiding?
5. What is the character afraid of?  (Fear builds tension, shapes action, and changes the story.)
6. What problem must he solve?  How will he solve it?

I’d be very interested to know what you think about using these six questions as opposed to a detailed dossier of the character’s life.

The Importance of Living

Have you ever seen the film where some guy used a magical remote control to speed up his life? What a stupid thing to do. I would slow down my time. There are so many things I need to do in a day (laundry, dishes, cleaning) they take time away from what I want to do (spend time with my kids, writing, gardening, walking the dog). I am sure everybody knows this feeling, not just other writers.

The funny thing is that when I do have time on my hands, I often end up procrastinating. I read my favorite online-comics or dive into my TBR pile. I sit in the garden and enjoy the sun instead of doing something sensible (in Germany it’s of utter importance to do something sensible).

Just recently, I realized that reading and lounging in the sun are productive after all. How am I supposed to know what readers like if I don’t read? How am I supposed to write believable reactions for characters (bodily and mental) if I cut myself off of experiences. Life is so much more than work.

The few minutes my kids want to hug me are more important then a sparkling house to me. The cup of coffee my hubby and I enjoy in peace is more valuable than time spent uprooting brambles in my garden.

Be relieved all you writers and other procrastinators out there. You don’t have to be productive 24hrs a day, 365 days a year. Take a look at your priorities and live a fulfilled life by savoring every moment of it (including lazing around).

Inspiration and the Working Writer

As a published novelist, a question that pops up frequently in conversations is, “Where do you get your ideas?”

The world around me is a constant source of inspiration, though I rarely stay in the here-and-now for more than a few pages. I’ve published a few contemporary romance short stories, but they were flash fiction (1,000 words or less). If they’d been any longer, I’m positive something “unusual” would’ve crept in. So far, my longer fiction has always been fantasy or paranormal in nature.

I have a collection of short stories titled Red’s Magick that began on a cold winter day when the glass in the front door at my office fogged up. You could actually read a sign that had been removed as much as a decade earlier. The phrase “ghost in the glass” popped into my mind and simmered until I was asked to write those stories, and voila! Red was born.

Another question I’ve been asked regards whether my ideas begin as a vague idea or arrive fully formed, needing only to be transcribed and polished. In all honesty, my stories usually start from a seed—a phrase or a picture that intrigues me. The seed will germinate in my subconscious until it’s ready to work itself out through my fingers and onto the screen. I rarely know what I’m going to write until I’m actually in the process of typing. That’s part of the fascination for me—discovering what happens next!

Several of my published short stories began as writing exercises: Take three unrelated words and write for fifteen minutes with the goal of using all three words. Opening Her Eyes began as dragon-rickshaw-bifocals, though you’d never know it to read the final version!

Silver Casket-compressedOne of my current works-in-process was born during a drive with my husband to admire the fall foliage. A tree sprite popped into my head and asked what would happen if she married a human and they had a daughter? Because of that question I imagined Nimue—a feisty teenage girl who is stuck between worlds. She’s definitely not human, but she’s not quite Fae either. As if those teenage years aren’t hard enough…

Finally, there’s my novella, The Silver Casket, a story created by my fascination with my own Scots heritage. What would happen if a lonely, contemporary American woman were transported back in time to 15th century Scotland? I’ll never tell—you’ll have to read the novella to find out, but it was a blast to write!

So…Where do you find your inspiration?

Crossroad in my Head- or, What Would the Count of Monte Cristo Do?

This week my third online story from the Lands of Hope hits the ethereal shelves. When “Fencing Reputation” goes live I will have reached a goal I set myself back in January, to put three of my tales out to the world this year. And it’s been a fantastic experience.

I think back to how low I felt then, dragging around this enormous manuscript and trying to get an agent’s attention the old-fashioned way. I even sent a few letters on paper! IN ENVELOPES WITH STAMPS! And I have a couple of quaint, old-fashioned paper form-rejection letters to show for it, along with a few dozen one-liner rejection emails in my queue… somewhere…

Point is, I was very depressed; putting the chronicle of the Lands on paper made me happy, I couldn’t wait to get some free time to do more. But just one month spent chasing representation had drained that happiness away like the dregs of my bathtub, complete with the alarming low-gurgle sound at the end. Chasing the dim hope of an agent’s attention was like being in prison (he said, the way people who’ve never been in jail often do).

But if you keep going, you get better; I meet a great group of online authors trying to improve via mutual critique/chat/grousing, and my first week onboard I see a thread about New Year’s Resolutions… Poof! Six months gone in a flash, and here I am with resolution fulfilled. Did not honestly think I would make it (maybe one, I figured). So once again I’m feeling pretty good.

Along the way I discovered I have a book on my phone. I was trying to learn about e-pub, and somehow my smartphone (which is definitely smarter than I am) showed me I had downloaded a free book from the Kindle store. And not just any book, that deathless classic “The Count of Monte Cristo”. I read it again (tenth time?) start to finish, as I chronicled and learned and exchanged thoughts and encouragement with my new friends. And the parallels were everywhere. What were my sufferings compared to those of Edmond Dantes? My newfound wiser friends guided me, like the Abbe Faria, out of the horrid dungeon of the Chateau d’If into the light. And in finding my voice, in publishing on my own however humbly, I truly felt as if I had risen to wealth and power beyond mortal imagining. I’m more fortunate than Edmond Dantes in another respect- I have no enemies on which to take an unspeakable revenge. Though on second thought, some of those agents were a bit smarmy…

The question this week for me, as I take a small break to visit everywhere from Vermont to South Africa, is- where next?

I have begun the series “Shards of Light” and the next tale “Perilous Embraces” beckons me. I also have the germ of a novel idea, actually the first half of a novel for which the LAST half is already drafted and done; who wouldn’t want to write a story Merlin-like, from back to front? And then there’s always the monolith of my epic fantasy novel “Judgement’s Tale”, looming like a shadow over my future and patiently waiting for me to bring back the skills I’ve learned. Ooh, dramatic.

Don’t worry, I’m not planning to put it to a vote. “Perilous Embraces” is about a woman considered the most beautiful in the city, and my inner voice tells me I have to really think about what I want here. The backwards novel involves a slew of heroes, I mean a boatload, so it would be like “Game of Thrones” except without such a high concentration of jerks. And “Judgement’s Tale” would involve an enormous demand on my critique partners; it’s 202k words and I don’t believe it will get much shorter on the polish.

So what am I saying? I’m saying I need a vacation to think, pausing here at this lovely crossroads in a quiet glade deep inside my mind. Three paths lead onward, only one retreats. One thing I know for sure, I won’t be here long. And I’m never going back. Thanks to luck, perseverance and the saving grace of good friends, I am a chronicler now, until the day I die most likely. Happy days are here again for me. And I wish the very best to all of you, struggling writers (or, if you’ve bought one of my tales, struggling readers). If you keep going you get better.

And I have just finished re-reading “The Count of Monte Cristo” once more; the advice at the end is as good as it ever was: Wait and Hope.

See you on the other side of the glade.

What Are You Willing to Give Up?

Do you ache and yearn for something to be different in your life?  Anything?  What?  Most of us want.  The trick is, how to get what we want.

What do you want?  Do you want to be a writer?  A published writer? A best-selling writer?

Or maybe you want a better relationship with your spouse? Or child?  Do you want peace in your life?  Or maybe you want excitement or to travel?  Do you want to learn something?  How to play a musical instrument?  How to speak another language?  Do you want to be happy?  Have your children respect you? Your spouse to love you?

What are you willing to give up to get it?  Ah, there’s the rub.  Stop and think.  If I want this, what must I do to get it?  What do you give up? Time? Money? Privacy?   Or even more difficult to give up: Your anger.  Your arrogance.  Your self-righteousness.  Being right all the time, even when you’re wrong.  Blaming others.  Refusing to say, “I’m sorry.”

Tradeoffs.  We can’t have it all.

If we want to be a writer, then we must write.  Time must be taken from the day and set aside for writing.  Not playing computer games.  Not doing Twitter.  Not marketing.  Writing.

If we want to be a published writer, then we must hone our writing skills, learn to revise and edit, edit, edit.  Time again.  Perhaps money, too.  Taking courses to learn new methods.  No matter how good you are, you can always learn something new.

If we want to be a bestselling author?  If I knew the answer to that one, I’d be rich!

What are you willing to give up?

%d bloggers like this: