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!

The Writing Prompt Rorschach Challenge: Results part 1

I decided to post the first week’s results from The Writing Prompt Rorschach Challenge! Enjoy. I’ll post the second week’s results, plus the analysis next week. In the meantime, enjoy!

Monday:  I wrote this in the morning, before work. I was tired, but calm, and drinking coffee.

Prompt:  You arrive at work to find that something is missing and has been replaced with something else.

“Monday again.” the sigh could not help but escape me. I dropped myself into the desk chair and looked around the office. The light on the phone was blinking: a message.

I picked up the phone and pushed the blinking button.

“Are you there? Can you hear me?” It was a child’s voice speaking to me.

It was a moment before I could respond. I looked down again, and I was talking into the face of Spiderman, his eyes speakers and his mouth a microphone, and a little walkie talkie antenna sticking out over his ear.

Suddenly, it was summer, and I was eleven years old.

Tuesday:  I wrote this late at night, before I went to bed. I was tired, but in a good mood. It had been a fun day.

Prompt:  During your morning coffee, you open the newspaper and read something shocking about someone you know.

The story was amusing, truly. I laughed as I read it. Someone had gone into one of those stores you have to be eighteen to get into, stolen a rather elaborate marital aid, and ran from the shop. What made it even more entertaining, was the fact that someone else was waiting outside in the car. The car sped off down the street before the person who worked there could even get the number on the license plate.

The fact that it was planned, a sort of “heist” was what got me laughing the hardest.

I was still laughing as I related the story to my elderly grandmother, who had the taste for naughty humor that only comes with the sense of self old age grants. But, she didn’t laugh as I told the story.

She only blushed.

Wednesday: I wrote this on notebook paper during my shift at work. It was a slightly stressful shift, and I was tense and a little annoyed.

Prompt: You go swimming and while you’re at the pool, you meet someone from very far away, who is in need of your help.

It was the summer of 2012. What a vibrant and exciting summer, and one I will never forget. It was the first warm day, and the pools had just opened. I was happy to go. Singing to myself as I got into my swimsuit, I stood under the required shower and entered the pool area.

I could see that there was someone in the lane reserved for those who only want to swim laps. I’d always rather just swim around, so I ignored that part of the pool anyway. Yet, I noticed that the person swimming there was amazing.

He doubled everyone else’s speed, and his form was like something I’d seen on TV.

He came up to take a breath and shook the water out of his brown hair.

“You’re Michael Phelps!” I said.

He grinned a crooked toothed smile at me.

“I’m lost.  I’m supposed to be in London. Can you help me?”

Thursday: I wrote this after lunch. I was feeling a little sick, and had a headache that day.

Prompt: Write about the best possible way to meet the love of your life.

Today, I went to a writer’s group. I was bored as we shared our work. It was the usual range, nothing really bad, but nothing struck me as exceptional either. I include my own work in this assessment. A listless feeling was beginning to creep over me.

I was looking out the window, when I heard a poem that made me turn around and pay attention. The reader was a young man, about my own age. I could feel the smile spreading across my face without my willing it.

When the leader of the group asked up to divide ourselves into critique groups, I did not hesitate.

Friday: This is another late night one.  I was quite tired. Interesting to note: BCITW (Best Cat in the World) was on my bed. I believe he inspired it.

Prompt: It’s the end of a long work day. All you want to do is relax, but something keeps preventing it.

It had been an exceptionally difficult shift, at the end of an amazingly difficult week. I wanted nothing but to make some tea, sit in my chair, and watch my favorite TV show.

If you’d offered me the moon, but I had to work one more shift to get it, I would have had to respectfully decline.

I went to make the tea, but there I found my cat, Logan, on the counter. I put him gently on the ground and made the tea, sighing in frustration. I sat down and put on the TV, but I heard him meowing in the kitchen. I realized that I’d forgotten to feed him. After I filled his dish, I realized that the little jerk had coughed up a hair ball on the floor. So, I had to spend ten minutes cleaning up the carpet.

When people ask me “Why do you keep a cat?” I always answer “Because, he helps me relax.”

The Writing Prompt Rorschach Challenge!

If you’re reading this blog, you write. And, if you write, you probably use writing prompts.  Even if you’ve taken so much as a Jr. High language art class, you’ve probably used writing prompts. But, how does your mood affect the way you would respond to a prompt?

It’s a bit like the famous Rorschach test. What do you see when you look at the ink blots? What do you think about when you read the prompt? People in different emotional states will give different answers. So, it occurred to me, does my mood have an effect on what I write? Are my characters’ emotions subject to my own?

So, I propose a challenge. Feel free to take it with me and share your results.

  1. Take these five writing prompts. Write on one prompt a day, Monday through Friday.
  2. Each day when you write, make note of the time of day, your mood, etc.
  3. Take the weekend off from the challenge!
  4. Repeat starting on the following Monday. Do not re-read what you wrote the first time you wrote on the prompt, but do go back and look at the notes. Try to write on the same prompt, under the different circumstances.
  5. Compare! How do you write when you’re stressed versus when you’re calm? What is the difference between how you write in the morning versus in the evening?

I’ll post my own results later in September. I’d love it if someone else wanted to try it and shared their results with me. I expect some of them may be radically different, and some of them may be exactly the same. Who knows?

Now, to the prompts!

Monday: You arrive at work to find that something is missing and has been replaced with something else.

Tuesday: During your morning coffee, you open the newspaper and read something shocking about someone you know.

Wednesday: You go swimming and while you’re at the pool, you meet someone from very far away, who is in need of your help.

Thursday: Write about the best possible way to meet the love of your life.

Friday: It’s the end of a long work day. All you want to do is relax, but something keeps preventing it.

I hope you like it! I can’t wait to see what results this yield!

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!

 

Fiction: A Different Dance

Originally Published on “Necrology Shorts.”

Her feet knew the steps and fell into the light and graceful pattern easily. Her little satin shoes carried her across the polished floor, their pink roses peering from under her pink and lavender skirts. They swam through the waves of music that broke across the spinning couples.

Still, her heart was even lighter than her steps. Everyone noticed her bright eyes and brilliant smile. Effervescent, her delight was contagious. The other couples smiled as she danced past, in the arms of a young man she didn’t seem to see.

The young girl’s partner believed that he understood the reason for her delight, but he was wrong.

*

The blow struck across his face. He tasted the metallic, copper flavor of blood as he hit the ground. He spat into the dirt floor and drug himself up onto his elbows. Fighting for breath, he worked to pull the dark room before him into focus.

He did not want to hurt the man in front of him. Leaping to his feet, he made a bolt for the door and the man lunged after him. He caught Michael around the legs, and together they fell against a rack of tools.

A heavy piece of equipment fell off the wall and landed against his assailant’s shoulders. The cry still in his ears, he made another break for freedom.

*

Freedom was the only thing Lucy could think about. Her partner had requested the next waltz for her. It was a melody by Strauss, one of her favorites. He had done it especially for her, to please her. The realization of this merely irritated her, interrupting her bliss.

He tried to kiss her, but she spun into the next step. She knew what he expected from her, but that didn’t matter anymore.

Soon she would be gone from here forever, and none of this would matter.

*

Michael spun to avoid the next blow. On his back now, he dug the heel of his boot into his attacker’s abdomen and flipped over, scrambling for the way out on all fours. He screamed as the attacker grabbed his ankle, pulling his leg from under him and he was sprawled out onto the dirt floor.

He felt the blow as the handle of a shovel was brought down across the back of his ribs. There was a crack, and the cold breath he sucked in through his teeth sent white hot sparks of pain down his side.

*

Lucy’s breath was beginning to come harder and faster as she kept dancing to the music. Noticing she needed a rest, her partner guided her to a seat and went to get her some punch. While she waited, her thoughts wandered.

She began to wonder if she would even feel married, what with only eloping and not having a proper wedding. Ever since she was a little girl she always thought she’d have a big wedding in a church. The white dress, the organ playing, her brothers in attendance; would she even feel married without these things?

Still, she told herself, her new life with Michael was worth more than a day in the limelight.

*

Michael swung the pitchfork handle and felt it connect with the man’s shoulder. He didn’t want to hurt him. He didn’t. Yet, all reasoning was gone. Growling in pain, the man lunged low, under the weapon and his shoulder connected with Michael’s gut. He dropped the fork and choked as his shoulders and the back of his head connected with the wall behind him.

*

Lucy heard an old maid whisper about how in love she was with her partner and how she’d never seen a young lady’s eyes glow while dancing like that. It made her laugh. She was in love, but not with him.

Her thoughts drifted to what Michael must be doing now. It would be time for her to leave the dance soon, time for them to be together. Her thoughts turned to freedom and her feet flew.

When she saw her partner speaking to her father and two of her brothers, she knew what it was about. Their expressions were so serious. Her dance partner even looked anxious. Her father smiled a dry smile, and pressed his hand against his shoulder.

The men looked pleased and shook each other’s hands. She knew that an agreement had been made and accepted. Under different circumstances, she would be horrified at the prospect. But now, it just didn’t matter anymore. Tomorrow, she would be miles away and none of them would be able to touch her.

She wondered briefly where her oldest brother was.

*

The man’s hands closed around Michael’s throat. He could feel the man’s skin tear under his fingernails as he clawed, but his grip remained. The breath stuck at his closing windpipe.

Michael was seeing red. Spots danced before his eyes as he choked. The back of his neck was warm and wet, and the world was dancing before him. The other man’s face was in front of him. He could smell sweat and blood and the gin on his breath. His hands finally sank to his sides.

In his last moment of consciousness, he felt his fingers grip around something. As he realized what it was, he smiled.

*

Glancing over her shoulder, she saw them talking. They wouldn’t notice her leaving now. As she opened the door and the rush of winter air touched her bare shoulders, she felt like a kite whose string had escaped the sticky hands of a child. Goosebumps rose on Lucy’s arms as she ran down the carriage path, but she didn’t mind them. She rubbed her little white hands against the exposed skin. Snowflakes hit her like little pin pricks, but she just laughed at them.

It was a long walk. She and Michael didn’t dare risk hiring a carriage for their flight, so they’d have to reach the train station by foot. She desperately hoped he’d be there when she arrived at the churchyard.

Cold began to tear at her, but her heart stayed light. It was as though she could see him, waiting for her. She imagined him taking off his coat and wrapping it around her. She imagined walking with him, his arm keeping her warm.

Time wore on and she shuddered in the cold. The church bell tolled, and she knew the wait was too long. She told herself that any number of things could have detained him, and that there was no reason to worry. She tried to smile and remind herself of the new life she was headed for. Humming a wedding march, she leaned against an oak tree, trying to shelter from the wind.

“He’ll be here.” Exhaustion began to take her, and she closed her eyes, resting her head against the tree trunk. She imagined his touch, his embrace, his kiss, and began to feel warm.

“Please forgive me, dear lady, for keeping you waiting.” She couldn’t see for a moment. The fog was thick, and it diffused the light into a dull gray pallor that washed out the surroundings.

“Oh, you did give me a fright. Why, what’s the matter? You seem so strange.” Michael’s face was before her.

“It’s nothing, nothing at all.” He extended his hand and helped her to her feet.

“Are you very cold?” He put his arm around her.

“Not now. Not one bit.”