The Devil’s In the Details

This isn’t the first article I’ve written about characters. Characters are important! All of the action and plot twists and witty dialogue in the world won’t do you any good if your readers do not feel a connection to your characters and care about what happens to them. People read to see what will happen to your characters. End of story!

I know many of us have some pretty strong emotional investments in our characters. Some of us even feel as though they have their minds of their own, and have taken on their own lives and make their own decisions and we are simply taking dictation.

We are all adept at making our characters live and breathe for us. But, what makes them live and breathe for the reader? Well, when I think of characters that really came alive off the page for me, I think of Robert Langdon;  I think of his fear of elevators and his Mickey Mouse watch. When I think of Harry Potter, I think of his glasses, trainers, and his scar. In other words, the devil is in the details.

When I’m writing and trying to bring a character into focus, I start thinking about details. What cereal does this person eat for breakfast? What stores do they shop at? I’ve frequently been amazed by how working out these tiny details can make the big ones come into clear and brilliant focus.

Of course, overwhelming your reader is something to be careful of. You’ll bore your readers if you fill your page with descriptions of meal preferences and nail polish shades. But,  that doesn’t mean it won’t help you to know them yourself or pay for you to spend some time thinking about them.

And, picking a few key ones to share, like a Mickey Mouse Watch, can really make your character stand out.

What are some of your favorite character quirks and details? What details about your characters endear them to you?

I’d love to hear.

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Non Fictional Feelings about Fictional Characters

Valentine’s Day has come and gone. Chocolate is half price, and many of us are thinking about love in one form or another. And, it made me think about something I’ve seen circling the internet. fictional

 

Have you ever had an emotional attachment to a fictional character? While we all know that “the real thing” requires a real person, emotional attachments to fictional characters are pretty non-fictional. Whether it’s one of ours or one from our favorite story, I think most of us have fallen in love with a fictional character.

 

My own crush is a common enough one. I saw Les Miserables on stage when I was thirteen years old, and read Victor Hugo’s sweeping novel shortly afterwards.  Since then I’ve had a very deep emotional attachment to the character of Enjolras. It’s funny, my view of him has changed over the years, from a teenage girl seeing him as heroic and noble, to an adult woman seeing him as idealistic and naïve, but with a touching innocence and purity to his absence of cynicism and faith that his revolution would bring about change.  But, while my view has changed, my feelings haven’t.

 

How many fictional character crushes have you had? Do you think that it is normal and healthy, or is it strange? Do you think that fictional character crushes are devices used to market mediocre fiction to young readers, or does it take talent and skill write a character that a reader can fall in love with?

 

What characters do you love?

 

I’d love to hear about it.

Writing Resolutions

Hello, everyone! The combination of stress and joy that is the Holidays has passed. 2012 is gone and 2013 has begun.  New Year’s is always a time for goal setting and newfound optimism. This year isn’t any different.

New Year’s is also a time for resolutions. In addition to the usual personal improvement resolutions, involving work and social goals, I’ve also made a number of writing resolutions. I thought I’d share them.

  1. Write something every day: It doesn’t matter if it’s a character sketch or a random snatch of dialog, as long as it is something. There is no minimum word limit here, just to write something.
  2. Spend more time in character development: Let the characters speak their own minds to me. Let the plot develop organically from their personalities rather than trying to make them jump through hoops and fit into boxes I make for them.
  3. Set a writing schedule: Schedule time in the day that will be my writing time, and stick to that schedule.
  4. Read more: Nothing helps my writing like reading good writing. Also, I have a lot of craft books that I have not read yet. I resolve to read those before I acquire more.

I realize fully that these are fairly standard suggested resolutions that one will see in any given writing book or blog. None of this is original. But, I hope that publishing this here will help me keep my resolutions. I always believe that telling people about your resolutions makes you more accountable to them. Don’t you agree?

I would like to know what some of your writing resolutions are.

Have a great 2013!

Writing the Olympics

Hello little writers!

Between my my fiverr.com gig and the August’s Camp Nanowrimo, I’ve been so busy lately! And on top of everything else, BCITW (Best Cat in the World) and I have been mesmerized by the Olympics. It’s been a very dramatic two weeks, hasn’t it?

But, the coverage got me thinking. They spend quite a lot of time talking about the athletes, telling us who they are, where they live, what their successes and failures have been in the past, and how they came to be on the world stage we see them on now. If medal counts and rankings and the events themselves were all that mattered, why would they spend so much time on biographical information?

Because, even in a sporting event, characters matter.

Victories have no thrill and defeat is robbed of its agony if we do not know and care about the people involved.
It got me thinking, even if it’s not fiction, even if it’s sports journalism, the audience has to care about the characters involved. Otherwise, they do not care about the events that happen to them. Sometimes the events motivate the plot, sometimes the characters do. That’s just the way fiction goes. But, at the end of the day, nothing is more important than getting your readers to care about your characters.

Here are some quick tips:

1. We’ve all heard “Show, don’t tell.” This goes double for your characters. Don’t tell us how your character feels. Describe their reactions, their posture, and their body language. Then we’ll feel your characters’ emotions with them. Images of the Olympic athlete’s emotional responses are what we remember. Create those images with your words!

2. Allow your characters to make mistakes. Watching your character fall and get back up again is so much more beautiful and moving than a perfect score.

3. The road to gold is never smooth. The obstacles and setbacks that your characters have to overcome are as important as the victory. They make the victory that much sweeter.

It’s been an amazing couple of weeks. Keep reaching for the writing gold!

 

Spend Time with Characters: Since I found Serenity!

Now that I’ve had some time away from the Nanowrimo insanity, I’ve been re-visiting one of my favorite TV shows. I’m a big fan of the “short-lived but well-loved” show “Firefly” by Joss Whedon. I’m sure plenty of you are,  too. Am I right?

I’ll give you a few minutes to recall your favorite quotes. Post them in the comments, if you like.

And then, there’s the film “Serenity” which we all know and love. Although, I would think that a majority of you would agree that it falls short in comparison to the television show. But why? They had a larger budget, superior special effects, more locations, and fancier settings than the television show ever did. With all that glitz and glamour, why does it fall short of its more subdued counterpart? For a moment, let’s leave off fan disappointment of the killing of a major character, please. (For the sake of people who have not seen it, I will refrain from saying who.)

This brings us to the question, why do we enjoy one more than the other? What makes the television show more compelling than the film in this case? Well, I believe the answer is that, on the television version, we are allowed to spend more time with the characters.  In between the gunfights, the narrow escapes, and the big damn acts of heroism, we get to spend time with the characters.

We see them eating, playing, resting, and interacting. In fact, the strength of the characters and their interactions with each other are things that make the show memorable. Joss Whedon’s punchy and quotable dialogue doesn’t hurt either. However, this entry is not about how much I enjoy the show. It’s about what makes the show good, and that, my friends, is the fact that we get to see strong characters in their daily lives interacting with the other strong characters.  The pacing in the film is much faster, telling a story that probably would have unfolded over the course of multiple seasons as the show went on. What suffered from this was we no longer got to spend time with the characters.

Even the character death from the movie would have been tolerable to me, had we gotten to spend time with the characters and seen them grieve and respond to the tragedy.

What can we learn from this? It’s ok to just let your characters simply interact sometimes.  Let them spend time with each other, and let your reader spend time with them.

A New Project and Camp Nanowrimo

Badge courtesy of CampNanowrimo.org

Fifty thousand words in thirty days.

That feels like a lot to write in a short time.

Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month, is something that I throw myself into every November. It’s always such an insane and wonderful month. It’s always full of creativity, joy, stress, character love, character hate, friends, competition, alcohol, and randomly deciding to write sex scenes until I figure out where I want my story to go next, because I used up all my plotting notes in the first twenty thousand words.

Yeah, it happens.

But, I really do love it. So, this month I have decided to embark on “Camp Nanowrimo.” For those of you who don’t know, it’s when they do the regular November insanity in the summer months.
This decision was made rather suddenly. My current project is one I’ve had in mind for some time, but it was the concept behind the novel that I’ve been thinking about. The plot and characters are much less solidified in my mind than they usually are when I start writing. So, this project has taken me from being a “Plotter” (someone who plots everything out before they write) to a “Pantser” (someone who flies by the seat of their pants.)

When it comes to the “Plotter” vs. “Pantser” debate, I don’t believe that there is a right or wrong way to write. It’s merely a matter of personal preference. The only advantage I think “Plotters” have is that “Pantsers” have to do more re-writes to make the finished project more cohesive. Although I’ve never had a “plotted” project where I didn’t deviate from the planned plot. So, maybe that’s not even true.

As I said, we’re all different.

But, be that as it may, “Pantsing” is a very different experience for me. And, maybe writing in a way that I’m not used to is good for me. I think I’m writing a lot of things that will get scrapped in the very next draft. But, that doesn’t matter. I feel like I’m stretching myself, and going outside of my comfort zone.

It’s stressing me out terribly, but I’m enjoying it. I’ll write more about my new project in the next blog entry.

Now, I wonder if I can count this entry towards my Camp Nanowrimo word count…

Date your Character

Tell me the truth. You’re in love with at least one of your fictional characters, aren’t you?

As writers, I think we all have intense emotional relationships with our characters. Whether you would describe it as love, or hate, fascination, or even feeling that your characters are running the story and you’re just taking dictation, we’re all emotionally invested in our characters.

We know what our characters like and want. We know their tastes, and their whims. So, here’s a challenge for the writers out there:

Date your character!

We’re all busy trying to work our writing into our daily lives. But, putting some time aside to get in touch with your character can be a fun way to recharge your creative batteries, find inspiration, and end writer’s block.

Let’s look at a “What If…” scenario.  What if your character traveled across time, space, death, and reality to spend the day with you. You, my friend, are taking them out on the town. Character not of your preferred gender? That’s fine! They’re now your best buddy!

  1. Determine your character’s choice of music.
  2. Pick your character’s favorite color. Wear it! If you have an outfit you know your character would want to wear or want to see a date in, that’s even better.
  3. Figure which restaurant would be your character’s favorite, and what dish they would order.

Play the music, get dressed, go out and order the meal, and ENJOY!

I realize this may seem silly to some of you. Try it anyway! Remember, you’ll only get out of it what you put in. If you put thought, planning, and emotion into this, it can be a fun way to kindle a new sense of excitement and enthusiasm for your character and your story.

So, go ahead! I won’t wait up!