Tuesday, April 29, 2014
What the heck do your character want and why should/shouldn’t they get it?
That’s the question.
If your characters want or need something and there’s something ‘out there’ that stops them from getting it, that leads to frustration and frustration leads to better stories.
Think I’m wrong?
Think about this. Jack and Jill meet in high school, decide to go to the same college, later get married, have a couple of kids, get great jobs and carry on…
So you’re gonna have to work with it. What might characters want that they can’t get? Maybe one wants to uncover a murderer, another wants to save the planet, or at least his neighborhood, another wants money, lots of money, yet another is desperate to save a dying loved one who needs a transplant and can’t get one. Whatever it is it needs to be something the character wants/needs very VERY badly.
So what might stop the character from getting what he wants?
Could be another character. The other character has different goals, ones that conflict. Could simply be differing goals (like in the movie UP; big corporations want to build on land where ‘hero’s small house stands – he intends to stay and his frustration ultimately causes havoc) or other character could have evil motivation. Could be both are evil. Maybe neither. Characters regularly come into conflict when both feel they are ‘right’ and their goal ‘noble’ but those goals are opposites or simply methods of getting there are at odds. And of course it doesn’t have to stop with just two characters, there can be many viewpoints and influences.
There are also external events for characters to contend with, things that happen out of their control and can be very frustration. Weather happens. Tornados, hurricanes, storms, floods, blizzards, earthquakes (if that last can be called weather). Terrible snows can cause avalanches, floods can float houses away and take out bridges, earthquakes, well, earthquakes…!
Also on the ‘external’ list are things like a cell phone that won’t get service, a car that breaks down (could do it of its own accord or perhaps someone sabotaged it). A plane has minor problems delaying its departure from the gate, changing everything and frustrating protagonist. If it’s historical a horse could come up lame, a buckboard could lose a wheel, a train could be derailed, the telegraph down, the ship sinking.
Well, you get the idea. There are many frustrations your characters can enjoy. But one word of advice. If you supply something along these lines you need to hint of it before. For example, if there’s a hurricane coming and you intend a bridge to be taken out, it could simply give way before the powerful force of pounding water – but what if a contractor is responsible for shoddy construction? Then perhaps it’s necessary to give an idea of what shape the bridge is in before the hurricane. But do it subtly so the reader gets a hint, but doesn’t have it thrown in his or her face. The ideal is to catch your readers by surprise…but not too much surprise. By that I mean the event may be surprising, but when the reader digests it all, he thinks, “Oh, yes, I suspected there’d be a problem because_______.”
Tease your readers, keep your characters in character and let them fight for what they want.
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Love to Read Thrillers? Love to Write them? Either way, go check out the Official Website of the International Thriller Writers - definitely worth your time for a look around. Want to join? You can - membership fees vary.
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
How many of you writers are guilty of having one of your characters describe him or herself by looking in the mirror?
How many of you readers have been massively annoyed by that little trick?
Yep, today we’re talking about a major no-no in writing. It could work with a screen script – at least the guy could look at himself in a mirror though he wouldn’t be reeling off self-description – but it sure won’t work where written in a book. Really. Just don’t.
Why? Do I really have to tell you? Ask the above-mentioned readers, but well, sigh, okay, here goes
It’s boring. Really, really boring. (again, ask above-mentioned readers). Readers today aren’t so concerned with the character’s appearance as they are with the character’s character, the character’s personality and maybe a bit of what created that personality. Of course you want to throw in a few details, then let the reader fill in the blanks. The reader really doesn’t want to read pages of, “he stared at himself in the mirror, tracing the deeply etched worry lines that furrowed between his brows and carved the deep crags in his richly tanned face…..” and on and on. Get over it. Don’t do it. Boring.
Oh, and by the way, don’t think your readers don’t realize this is nothing more than a writer’s information dump and either start reading faster, to skim past it all, or just give up and put the book, YOUR book, down and walk away – probably never to return. If the writing isn’t advancing the plot or giving us some real insights into character then dump it. And may I add ‘mirror-gazing’ never does that.
And if that’s not enough the act of ‘mirror-gazing’ and then relating all one sees within the silvery depths combine to make that character you’re trying so hard to create with some interest and depth basically self-absorbed not to mention possibly obsessed with his/her own appearance. Do YOU stand in front of the mirror, ever, and replay in your head your dazzling eye color, the lovely fall of your red hair, the arch of your eyebrows, the cleft of your chin, the depth of your tan and your general handsomeness? Not to mention every little detail like the twinkle in your eye, the loss of an eyelash and the quirk of your lips when you smile? Ummm, I hope not.
It’s contrived (don’t you hate that word when an editor throws it at you?) and one way to avoid hearing that word is to avoid doing things like using this kind of trick to get the info out there. There are many more creative ways. Plus some of the description information you think is so vital may not be needed at all. Writing is constantly changing. Read; think about what you’ve written. Then think about great books you’ve read. Have you seen such a technique used in the writing of them? I doubt it.
Be creative. Be original. That’s what writing a great story is all about. And let’s just skip the look in the mirror technique.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Yes, today we address insecure writers. Is that you? It is for most writers, especially when they're staring out, but even when they're established. Here's a website for the insecure among us - Insecure Writer's Support Group.
Get writing tips, info on publishers and self publishing, marketing and more.
Let me know what you think and how you like it. If you're a reader but no writer you may find the site interesting.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
“We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little.”
Anne Lamott, author
Interesting thought, don’t you think? Nice to know sheep lice don’t write much. I don’t think they’d find a market anyway.
On the other hand that first bit, the statement that we are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are, that’s food for thought.
I admit, every once in a while when I’m writing I get to contemplating why I do write. I enjoy it for sure. I like creating other worlds and stories about them. But at the core there seems there is more. I’ve been writing since I was barely 12, and I mean seriously so with the goal of publication. So why? What was it that spurred me to do that at an early age?
Throughout history, since man has been able to think and process information, stories have been exchanged, first verbally, passed from one to another, passed down through the years, then via the written word (whether actual words or illustrations). (And now you know the origin of the graphic novel and comic books and movies). Well, maybe. Seems logical to me.
If you’re a writer, or a reader for that matter, think about it. Her statement that we want to understand who we are. I have to agree. I grant you we can’t read other animals’ minds and they can’t talk to us directly, so we can’t be absolutely, 100% positive, but it appears we’re the only animals (or insect?) on the planet who are self-contemplating. Who give thought and story to who we are and where we’ve been and where we are going.
Again, one has to wonder why that is.
Writers write to explore new worlds. Readers read pretty much for the same reason. Together we’re creating those worlds, wandering through them and in that journey questing to understand a bit more of who we are, why we’re here and what the heck we’re supposed to be doing. The confusion can expand to large proportions.
That exploration, in fact, IS part of who we are. Our explorations and storytelling will no doubt give us even more answers as time goes on. They’ll probably raise a whole lot of other questions as well.
So who is this Anne Lamott who gave us this quote? You can read a bit more about her by clicking on her name. She does a lot of biography, some novels and some non-fiction. She’s also the author of many books, one in particular that’s a great read for writers. BirdBy Bird. She’s on twitter too if you want to follow her - @AnneLamott
Explore yourself – go write – or at least go read.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Heather E. Wright's Wrighting Words - resources for teens and young teen writers. Lots of great info to get you going. Prompts, where to get published, info for writing teachers and more. Her sight is definitely worth a visit.
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Hey folks - it's true - there's a limited time availability on the Stormrider at the London Book Fair T-shirt! Grab yours before time runs out!
As writers we all use our brains – a lot. But truly, how often do we give some consideration to that – to our brains, how much that brain does for us, how tricky it can be? What’s going on up there. Even when you’re thinking you’re thinking about other things. There are many things going on at many levels all the time in our brains. Many conversations co-existing inside your head.
But what I want to mention today is the brain’s desire for accomplishment (for want of a better word). What do I mean by that? Well, I’ve done some reading and what I understand is your brain loves short, easy-to-achieve goals. In fact it’s vital that you supply those.
And once you supply that and the brain is happily releasing dopamine (it’s actually a drug) into your system (the reward sector of your brain where we find pleasure, learning and the motivation to strive for higher goals) you’ll enjoy greater ability to concentrate and be more focused. But even better, the chemicals in your brain inspire you to want to experience again whatever the activity was that caused that chemical to release. See where I’m going with this?
It’s addictive in that each success (no matter how seemingly small) leads to another and another and soon it’s a feeling you don’t want to live without. And when that happens you’ll discover you begin to succeed on a daily basis and enjoy what you’re doing.
So how does this apply to writers? Well, think about it. Perhaps you don’t want to get too technical, too detailed as you’re creative, right? Nonetheless if you set simple to achieve goals at first (say you’ll write 1,000 words a day or 500 or even 250 or maybe a bit of research on a town you’re creating for a story) and you achieve that goal and then another and another, many times over you’ll find you can concentrate on your work more fully and you’re more and more eager to accomplish the goal you set. If it’s a goal you can quickly achieve then each time you accomplish it that dopamine will release providing that ‘feel good’ rush.
The key is to make those goals short and fairly simple. Once you can easily accomplish.
Yes, your bigger goal is probably to write a novel or maybe finish writing a screen script. But the smaller goal of writing a fixed number of words per day, or doing needed research, or formatting a page, will get you there. And there’s nothing to stop you from exceeding your goal as long as you don’t confuse things by having your goal be to exceed your goal.
So today I’m telling you to set goals. Set small ones, ones you can easily reach. When you do, give yourself a pat on the back and stop – OR continue on knowing you’ve accomplished what you intended.