You’re Invited to the Sisterhood Series at Fayetteville Public Library

63The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pen will present a series of six ninety-minute interactive workshops geared toward beginning/intermediate writers, both fiction and non-fiction. Each session will include handouts and exercises. The series will close in Week Six with a panel where attendees may ask questions and will be invited to read their works.

  • When: Tuesdays beginning January 8 through February 12
  • Time: 6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
  • Where: Fayetteville Public Library

http://www.faylib.org/content/sisterhood-traveling-pen

Week 1: JANUARY 8–Make ‘Em Smell the Coffee: Creating a Sense of PlaceA reader has five senses. Pamela Foster will discuss and use exercises to tap into the senses to create a world readers will enter and experience.

Week 2: JANUARY 15–Whose Head Are You In?—Claire Croxton will define point of view and demonstrate through discussion and exercises.

Week 3: JANUARY 22–Trimming the Fat from Your Story —Is your story flabby? Full of passive verbs? Too many adverbs or adjectives? Wasted words? Get ready for a writerly workout with Ruth Weeks!

Week 4: JANUARY 29–Interviewing Your Character —Learn to interview your characters, whether over martinis or coffee. Using demonstrations and handouts, Jan Morrill will discuss how to add dimension and depth to characters, so that readers will go beyond reading to experiencing the story.

Week 5: FEBRUARY 5–Thawing Writer’s Freeze —The road to publication is scattered with obstacles that freeze our brains and make our fingers cold on the keys. In this session, Linda Apple will address these problems and use exercises to help break through these barriers.

Week 6: FEBRUARY 12–Panel Question and Answer—Pam, Claire, Ruth, Linda and Jan will answer and discuss questions and invite attendees to read their stories.

 

Linda Apple, Pamela Foster, Jan Morrill, Ruth Burkett Weeks and Claire Croxton are authors who have been published in non-fiction and fiction genres including romance, paranormal, historical, inspirational and mainstream. Their writing activities include judging writing contests and serving as board members (including President) of organizations such as Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc., a multi-genre organization with more than 600 members from Oklahoma, the surrounding states, and around the world; Ozarks Writers League and Northwest Arkansas Writers. For more information, please click on the following links:

http://www.owfi.org/

http://www.ozarkswritersleague.org/

http://www.nwawriters.org/

To enroll for this series, please contact Fayetteville Public Library at 479-856-7000.

Plotting–All You Need is the Tip of the Iceberg

Okay, I’ll tell you the truth.  I’m in California at the moment.  And, yes, I know, the stereotype of the Golden State is that the entire land mass is one giant L.A.  But, you’re thinking of the wrong end of the state.  I’m from the far north and that’s where I am visiting.  With family.  Not a single one of whom has a computer.  I’m serious.  And it gets odder still.  Unless I borrow my mother’s Volvo and drive ten miles to the library, I have no Internet access at all.  Talk about off the grid.  I’m not kidding when I tell you I’m going into Bigfoot Country.

And I love it.

However, since it’s my turn to write The Sisterhood blog, and I’m off playing with Bigfoot, I am re-blogging an earlier post from my personal blog.  So, if you’ve already read this post, I apologize. If it’s new to you, then hop on over to my blog and sign up as a follower. See what you’ve been missing? (http://pamelafosterspeakerwriter.wordpress.com/)

But, seriously. . .here’s the post.

The way I plot is to have a scene or character in my head, sit in front of a computer and let that scene play out on the monitor.  I become the character and follow where they lead.  Very soon after starting a new book, usually within the first draft of the first chapter, I have a general idea of where the story is going.  This sometimes veers slightly as a character refuses my direction and goes off on her own, but within a few thousand words, the general plot is visible to me.  After that, I start each chapter with a clear objective in mind and then follow the character.

As I write, the plot becomes more and more clear.

I think of the story as ice that forms slowly in my subconscious until one day it breaks off and floats into my conscious.  I see only the tip, but the entire story is there.  All I do is allow myself to see below the surface in order to get the tale on paper.

 Of course, I go back and tighten the plot thread in the second draft.  Tighten it again in the third draft.  But all I have when I sit down and type that first word on the computer is a scene, an idea for a character, a vague image of a storyline.  

It has come as somewhat of a surprise to me that this is NOT the way most authors write.

Evidently, many people have actual plot boards and outlines and bar graph.

Here’s what I want you to take away from this post:

Each of us has a different writing process.  Find yours.  Try everything until you stumble on what works for you.  Then write.  Write everyday, even if all you have time for is to scribble a story idea on the back of a Walmart receipt.  No writing is wasted.  Everything you create will stay with you and, if it doesn’t fit in what you’re currently writing, it will find you again when you need it for the next book.  Stop trying to get it perfect before you touch fingers to keyboard.  You are a writer.

Write.

And, when you take a break, please share  with us how you plot.  Do you channel a character?  Design a spread sheet?  Fall into a trance?

THE WRITE MINDSET

Posted by Linda Apple

www.LindaApple.com

“If the desire to write is not accompanied by actual writing, then the desire must be not to write.” ~ Hugh Prather

 It seems lately that I’ve not been as concerned with the nuts and bolts of writing as much as the mindset of writing. After all, if your mindset isn’t right, you either are not writing or not doing your best work.

So today I want to know. Are you a writer? Or are you someone who talks writing? Do you attend conferences to rub shoulders with writers and talk the game or are you there to network in hopes of promoting and selling something you have already written? It’s so easy to talk the lingo and play the game. But what does that accomplish?

 Nothing.

 I know some writers who were rejected after their first few submissions. They were offended. Discouraged. So what did they do? They picked up their pencils and went home.

Then there are writers who refuse to accept constructive critiques. They argue defensively and eventually, when no one wants their work, they start talking the talk instead of writing the words.

Rejection and critique are not the writer’s enemies. Quite the opposite, they are the gym where the writer grows stronger. Avoiding the computer or pen and paper is the writer’s true enemy. 

Gene Fowler is attributed to saying, “Writing is easy. All you do is sit, staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

 It is discouraging and seems hard sometimes. I get it. But don’t quit. Get in the writing habit. Write a paragraph every day. Perhaps an observation about life or something you heard on the news. Start writing for contests. Even if you don’t win, you will have written. AND the entries that do not win are the bones for pieces that WILL win in the future or something you can submit. Don’t quit!

 My agent, Terry Burns, makes this promise: “There is only one guarantee in writing. If you don’t write, you won’t be published. So don’t be a talker, please. Be a writer! Don’t give up! Keep it up! Write!

My question is this, are you a writer or a one who talks about writing? Are you discouraged? What are you doing about it?

To all of you who have overcome discouragement, what words of advice do you have for those who are struggling?

www.lindaapple.com

www.lindacapple.wordpress.com

Purple Prose By Any Other Name

Posted by: Jan Morrill

www.janmorrill.wordpress.com

I love finding a new word–a unique word that I can roll over my tongue, maybe even blog about. Like this one:

pleonasm:

\PLEE-uh-naz-uhm\, noun;

1) The use of more words than are necessary to express an idea.
2) A superfluous word or expression

Synonyms: copiousness, garrulity, loquaciousness, verbosity

Isn’t that a perfect word for a writer? So much nicer sounding than purple prose. Though I’ve wilted at accusations of purple prose, I can almost say I wouldn’t mind being accused of purple pleonasm.

What is purple prose, or its more sophisticated cousin, purple pleonasm? Wikipedia defines it as:

… a term of literary criticism used to describe passages, or sometimes entire literary works, written in prose so extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw attention to itself. Purple prose is sensually evocative beyond the requirements of its context. It also refers to writing that employs certain rhetorical effects such as exaggerated sentiment or pathos in an attempt to manipulate a reader’s response.

There was a time when I thought this was precisely how a gifted writer should write. In fact, allow me to make a true confession. Here’s an excerpt of a story I wrote several years ago:

Photo by Mugly
WikiCommons

 
The rising sun bade goodbye to the night’s moonglow with a kiss of violet, pink, orange and finally golden yellow.  Earth accepted Sun’s kiss and blushed with color.
 
Here is the critique given to me by a prominent college professor/editor, whose name I will change to protect her innocence:
 

PROFESSOR HEMINGWAY:  “Oh. . . my . . . God.”

JAN: (Smiling and thinking to herself) I knew she’d love it.

PROFESSOR HEMINGWAY: (Pulling her hair out)  “No. No. No!! This is SO purple. I hate purple prose!”

 
Perhaps this is the slightest of exaggerations. But as you might imagine, I went pale and queasy all at once as I watched her tear my pages to pieces before she laughed maniacally and tossed them in the air. They drifted, down, down, down like giant snowflakes on a day that for me, had become as cold as the words she’d cast upon me, as misty as my eyes.
I digress. . .
 

Photo by Piotrus
WikiCommons

Some lessons are best learned the hard way. I think. . . I hope . . . my writing has come a long way. At least now when I read that passage, I feel the same kind of roiling in my stomach one with a tummy full of cotton candy might feel after one too many turns on a favorite swirling, twirling carnival ride. 

Photo by Andrew Dunn
WikiCommons

Still, I do kind of like passages of pleonasm. Though Wikipedia calls a phrase that “draws attention to itself” purple prose, I must admit, sometimes I like to be pulled out for a moment, to float in the art of how the words were put together. To me, it is akin to walking through a museum and finding one piece in particular that draws me to admire and wonder.

When I write my first draft, I let purple prose flow through my fingers to keyboard to my heart’s content. It’s the dancing, skipping, doing cartwheels of my writing. (See my propensity for purple?) But, as I described in my blog entry “Synonyms for Hate,” when I begin my editing process, I pull it from my manuscript like crabgrass from my garden–though a bit more begrudgingly, I must admit.

I like salt, too. Just a sprinkle. But too much, and the meal is ruined. It’s the same with purple prose. A little here and there adds an artistic touch. Too much, and the author might as well spill a gallon of paint over the story.

A purple prose is a purple prose . . . by any other name–even if you, like me, prefer to call it pleonasm. And it’s subjective. Every reader has a different tolerance level. My advice to myself is to use it sparingly. I’d much rather leave my reader hungry for more than feeling stuffed and bloated.

How about you? Do you use purple prose? Do you like to read it?

A few great links:

http://www.debstover.com/purple.html

http://www.fiction-writers-mentor.com/purple-prose.html

http://www.nytimes.com/1985/12/15/books/in-defense-of-purple-prose.html?pagewanted=all

Picture the Scene

This week’s question is by Pamela Foster:

Explain your process when you sit down to write a scene.  Do you enter into the mind of your character?  Picture the setting?  Fall into a trance? How do you turn pictures, scenes, in your head into words on paper that call forth images in the mind of your reader?

PAM:  I start with a lesson plan.  (That teaching credential pays off after all)  What do I want to happen in the scene?  How am I moving the action forward or developing the character?  Then, when I have a general idea of what I want the scene to accomplish, I move on to specifics.

First, I decide on the place the scene will take place.  Once I’ve figured that out, I move on to asking what would be the smells in this scene.  I’m a great believer in scent as a trigger for emotion.  If I can make a reader smell what the character smells, I’ve got them.  I want to know what time of year it is.  What time of day?  Where is the light coming from?  Light is another trigger for me, a way to place the reader right there in the mind of the character.

Then I move to the mind of the POV character.  Is she happy?  Sad?  Worried?  Confused? What, exactly, is she feeling?  I introduce the secondary character or characters.  A scene with two characters, one male and one female, is the easiest scene to write. The more people you put in a scene, the more movement and the more personalities there are bouncing off each other, the more difficult the scene is to write.  I would advise a new writer to perfect the two person scene, before moving on to the group shot.

All that takes very little time, it becomes natural after a while and I think this is one reason a writer needs to write every day.  Practice really does make you a better writer.  Once I’ve arranged all that in my mind, I get out of the way and let the characters lead the way.  Sometimes the scene leads in a completely different direction than I planned and almost always there are surprises before the scene is completed.  That’s one of the great joys of writing.

RUTH:  Wow, for some crazy reason I had a tough time answering this question.  Thanks a lot, Pam.

I’d like to say that I don’t consciously think about a scene, but that isn’t exactly the truth.  A hint of an idea might be hiding in the shadows of my mind that will eventually take over and consume me body and soul, but I do have to take the human footsteps and actually sit with my fingers on the keyboard before the magic happens.  Does that make sense?

Scenes play like mini-movies in my head. When I put them on paper I “watch” the movie and just type what I see. I suppose I’m in a trance-like state while this is happening, however I’m still conscious of the cats running like striped-ass apes through the house so I’m not totally in a daze.   If I have trouble finding the right words to bring the images forward to the reader, I act the scene out, often talking the dialogue as I type.

I do become the character.  Doesn’t every great writer?

LINDA:  I daydream! Recently a speaker made this statement, “A writer is one who is working even when staring out the window.” How true! I let several scenarios play like a movie in my mind. Then I write it down and continue on with the story. Then after the first draft, I revisit each scene and let it play again. By now, I’m more connected with my characters and I know how the story actually ended (they don’t always end as we writers intended them to, do they?) I add twists, flavor it with more senses, punch up the dialogue and internalization, as well as sprinkle in just enough attitude and emotion.

JANWhen I have a scene in my head and I sit down to write it, I close my eyes and put myself in that scene as my character. What does she see, smell, hear? Move in. Closer. Closer. What is she thinking?

But in writing a scene, I also ask myself, what is the purpose of the scene? Does it move the story forward or is it fluff? I’ll admit, there have been a few scenes that I’ve liked so much, yet the scene had no purpose. But, because I couldn’t let the scene go, I created a reason for it to remain . . . a way to move the story forward.

If the reason for a scene is strong, but the scene itself is weak, just won’t go down on paper, I often “interview” my characters. There’s something about changing methods from trying to get a story down on paper, to literally asking your character questions. It’s amazing how much your character will “tell” you, if you ask the right questions.

CLAIRE:  My process is this: I wake up in the morning with an empty head (some would claim it stays that way.) I get something caffeinated—usually Diet Coke, but sometimes coffee—and sit down in front of the computer. I have no idea what I’m going to write or a goal for the day. I simply review what I’ve written the day before and let the words flow forth. If I get to a scene that is causing my writing to slow, I skip over it and continue to write. Then, I’ll go back to difficult scene and ponder it.

The pondering can last for days. I usually start another project, making a quilt or gardening or cooking, The entire time the scene is floating around in my head. As the day progresses, I’ll get the scene worked out in my mind and I’ll either finish writing that scene in the afternoon or I’ll wait until the morning. If I wait overnight, I have to take some notes so I’ll remember what I’d figured out.

It’s not a very scientific process, but it works for me. It’s amazing where and when the ideas come to me. Last summer while I was picking green beans, I had a conversation in my head between two characters that resulted in one of my favorite scenes in Redneck Ex. The other day, I was trying to figure out why my characters in Loch Lonnie were locked away in a storm cellar during a tornado. While weeding my roses, the answer came to me and boy was it a doozie!  So, out there that I thought I’d experienced sunstroke, but it’s a really good scene.

The most frustrating thing is when I quit writing for the day, but my characters continue their dialogue while I’m trying to do other things. I forgot to put sugar in an apple cobbler once because my characters were having one heck of a donnybrook. The cobbler was awful, but the resulting scene was pretty darn colorful.

Battling Your Evil Editor

This week’s question is by Linda Apple:

Do you have that Evil Editor perched on your shoulder like a buzzard squawking at every word? How do you overcome trying to make the first draft perfect and just get the story written?

PAMELA:  When I sit at the computer there’s nothing but the character and me. I never second guess myself when I’m writing.  It’s only words.  If I don’t like what I’ve written the next day, so what?  That’s why they make that delete button.

However, I begin each day’s writing by going back over what I wrote the day before.  That gets me back into the character and it’s the first time I edit. That’s when I hear the voices of the Northwest Arkansas Writer’s Workshop.  The members live in my head and whisper encouragement and suggestions in my ear.

I cut and paste, chop the heads from prairie dogs (the use of the same word in close proximity), add a line or two, delete a paragraph here and there. Then I flip the switch on the voices and get on with the day’s new creation.

Once I walk away from the computer, I agonize over plot, argue with the direction the characters have taken, jot down descriptions or ideas that invade my head, generally make myself crazy second-guessing myself until I sit down to write again. But, once I start to write, that all goes away.  My writing process is like watching an internal movie.  All I do is put the story down on paper.

CLAIRE:   When I sit down to write, I pack a sling shot and a Glock. I have to kill that dastardly buzzard every morning. He perches on my shoulder and squawks every time I misuse a comma and/or split an infinitive. Once I get him silenced, I’m able to write, to get those words on the page. What I find most interesting is that while I’m writing, I can’t get my internal editor to shut up; however, when I’m actually in edit mode, the only thing I can think about is the next story. Seems I have an evil editor and a wicked writer battling in my head all the time.

JAN:  The blasted buzzards are swarming over in my part of the world. I mean, I’ve already re-typed that first sentence three times. The darn buzzards . . . no, wait . . . the dang buzzards . . . nope, erase that . . . the blasted buzzards. Yeah!  . . . are hovering . . . no, wait . . . flying. Damn, what’s that word I’m trying to think of . . .oh! Swarming – that’s it!

Obviously, that Evil Editor is about to devour me and my manuscript right along with me.

But, I recently found comfort in an article by Jhumpa Lahiri, a Pulitzer Prize winning author. (See my Monday Mashup with a link to the article—oh, all right, I’ll give it to you here, too.) In her article, “My Life’s Sentences,” she states, “The urge to convert experience into a group of words that are in a grammatical relation to one another is the most basic, ongoing impulse of my life.” When I write, every sentence is an art form, a puzzle to be solved, a story.

So, for me, it’s a long, slow process. But I love every bit of the struggle.

RUTH:  When I was a rookie writer I was obsessed with getting the first draft perfect.  Every word that Spell-check underlined had to be fixed on the spot, my new thesaurus took a beating, and I’d be stuck for endless minutes trying to think of a name for a character or town.  I’d sit for hours at the computer, my head pounding, my butt numb and still have only a few paragraphs to show for my effort.  Creativity ran and hid. My writing was forced, flat, and well . . . boring.

That’s when I learned my first huge lesson in writing: trust the voices in my head.  My characters were itching to tell their stories and were interesting and exciting enough on their own without me trying to make them so.  I ignored the misspellings, the repeated words, and put blanks when names and locations didn’t come to right away.  I just wrote.  That’s when the magic happened.   The story flowed.  The second lesson I learned?  Write first, edit second.

Of course when all else fails, I find the most excellent way to banish the Evil Editor is with a tall glass of Dr. Pepper mixed with a shot of Captain Morgan.

LINDA:  From the first day I decided to pick up the proverbial pen and become a writer, a dark shadow loomed in the room and landed on my shoulder like a buzzard. I called this tormenting feeling the “Evil Editor.”

Why?

Because this feeling made me question every word I typed. I worried about having that perfect opening sentence. I worried about grammar, sentence structure, using a word too many times, clichés, purple prose, weak characters, unrealistic dialogue, telling instead of showing. Well you get the idea.

These worries literally froze my mind. I’d type and retype the first paragraph for weeks! Sure, I knew to just write the story and fix it later. But no one told the editor on my shoulder.

It has taken years for me to get through my thick skull that writing is in layers. First layer are the bones of the story. Spit out the bones!

Second layer: put flesh on the bones! It is okay to have skinny parts and fatty parts. The next layer will make all things balanced. Flesh out the bones!

Third layer: add the muscle and shape the story up. This is my most recent discovery. Because I knew the ending, I put foreshadowing in the beginning. It really gave my story depth and interest. Give some curves to the story!

Fourth layer: Fine-tune the story. Find all the little blemishes and clear them up. Clean up the story!

The Evil Editor doesn’t like this approach. I can attest to the truth of this because she left my shoulder and went to someone else who has yet to discover that writing a novel is done in layers!

What do YOU do to tame that Evil Editor?

The Business and Passion of Writing

This week’s thought-provoking question is by Ruth:

We all know that the publishing world is changing.  The big New York publishers are fading fast and electronic books are the future.   An author must become an expert in social media and spend endless hours on self promotion. Writing has become a small business. My question is: Why bother?  What drives you to keep on writing? 

PAM: I write because when words flow from my fingertips and a brand new world appears across a white page–little black symbols that trigger images in the minds of others, so close to the visions those squiggly lines created in my own head that we all enter the same world–it completes me.

I write because it’s my God-given talent.

I write because I don’t want to take Prozac and drinking makes me puke. (www.pamelafoster.blogspot.com)

RUTH: To conjure a character from the shadows of my mind, to breathe life into him/her or even it, to gaze in wonder as my fingers fly across the keyboard typing out their thoughts, hopes, and fears, to empathize with their faults, to excuse their behavior, to know they trust and have chosen me to bring their story to life to share with all mankind, is not only a great honor but creative magic at its best.

Thousands of people say writing a novel is on their bucket list but very few realize that dream.  Storytelling is easy.  Writing is hard work.  It’s commitment.  Dedication.  Endless hours of agonizing over the exact word or phrase that expresses my characters’ emotions and actions.  But the reward, the feeling of accomplishment, the thrill of holding that published book in my hand with my name as author in bold font, to be able to say, “I did it!” and to know I made a dream come true. These are some of the greatest feelings in the world.

And that’s why I bother. (www.truthsbyruth.blogspot.com)

JAN:  For me, writing is both a selfish act and a giving act. Anyone who knows me knows that I am kind of reserved by nature. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t have the same feelings that someone who’s more demonstrative and gregarious might have. Love, hate, passion, evil, temptation, regret, envy . . . every human emotion. Writing is and always has been, my way of expressing myself.

I used to write in journals, until they were discovered and read. Now, I write fiction. It is a way for me to create characters who are tiny parts of my innermost feelings, fully-developed on paper. The creation sometimes is and sometimes is not, my sharing a piece of who I am. The reader can decide which it is. Even in my writing, I sometimes hesitate to express a feeling through my characters. But, when I do, and when someone thinks, “I understand,” or “I’ve been there,” it’s like my soul has connected with another.

It’s true that writing is a small business, and it’s terribly distracting because I love the building a platform via social networking. Honestly, I’d social network even if I didn’t have to build a platform–that’s the problem. It takes me away from my writing. But today, this is one of the challenges any writer who wants to “get her work out there” must face. (I discuss this challenge more in my blog post, “My New Writer Space.”)

A writer must not only be creative, but disciplined. It brings to mind one of my favorite quotes by Thich Nhat Hanh: “No mud, no lotus.”

LINDA: There are several reasons I bother with writing. First, because it is cathartic to create worlds that contain the same frustrations and disappointments as I feel, and then give solutions. Being an inspirational writer, it is my hope that somehow I can connect with my readers and perhaps encourage them, maybe even give an idea for solutions to help them in “their real world.”

Secondly, I love social networking! I love people. And it is also great research. I note how different people think and express themselves. So I consider it a part of my creative process. Some in the social networking world may wind up in my novels.

Finally, it is a small business. But it is that for everyone. Even Steve Berry. I spent time with him and his wife Elizabeth. They are constantly working the business and the social networking world. STEVE BERRY! One would think his publisher would do it all, and of course Ballantine Books does a lot. But Liz and Steve do too. So if they do, how much more should I?  (www.daydreamonpaper.wordpress.com)

CLAIRE: That Dixie comes up with some hard-hitting questions. Why bother with social media? What drives you to keep on writing? I have a contemporary romance (Redneck Ex by Claire Croxton—The Wild Rose Press) on the market at the moment and another, Santorini Sunset coming out in May. I can’t tell you how frustrated I was when I started working on my third romance. It seemed like every time I started to write, I’d get sidetracked by social media—Facebook posts, blog entries, Twitter feeds, etc. I cursed all technology and vowed to go back to writing with a chisel and stone tablets. Then, I started watching my sales ranking on Amazon. That really opened my eyes.

When my book was released, the sales were pretty good. After a couple of weeks, sales started slacking off. One of the wonderful authors at The Wild Rose Press asked me to do an interview for her blog. The day that interview came out, my sales ranking rose. Sure, it wasn’t in the top 100 in romance sales, but it was pretty high. I was thrilled and my loathing of social media lessened. Sure, it’s tedious and time consuming, but it really does make a difference in sales and getting your name out there so new readers can discover you.

As for the writing part, if I won the lottery and had enough money to buy that castle in Scotland I have my eye on, I’d still write. It’s what I do. Those stories are inside me and they have to get out. I’ve dabbled in writing my entire life. It took me way too long to get to the point where I actually pursued it seriously. Now that I’ve done that, there’s no turning back. I love it. It feeds my soul and I’m hooked.  (www.clairecroxtonromanceauthor.wordpress.com)

We’d love to read your comments about why you write, and how you balance the business side of writing with the passion of writing.

The Birth of Our Characters

There are many different paths on the writerly journey, and perhaps we can all learn from the successes and failures of other writers. This post begins a weekly feature where one of the Sisters asks a question on writing for all to answer.

We’d love to hear your answers, too. Please feel free to leave a link to your own blogs or websites with your comments.

This week’s question is by Jan Morrill.

How does a character come to you? Does it come as a dream? A voice in your head? What methods do you use to develop your character? 

RUTH: Where does any writer’s character come from? Real life? Imagination? The dark place lurking deep in the soul? Each writer conjures characters from various places.  I’m lucky in that I don’t consciously develop mine. Charles Ely from The Soldiers From the Mist, for example, was a ghost of a Civil War soldier who haunted my house. The Rook from The Rook and The Raven came to me in a dream two years before I wrote the book. Dixie Dandelion was me in a previous lifetime. Charlie, Roark, and Dixie tell me everything I need to know to flesh them out. All that is required from me is an open mind, silence and patience. Perhaps subconsciously that’s the way it works for every writer. But no matter the process, creating an unknown character from a snip of an idea is truly magical. Learn more about Ruth’s writing adventures at http://www.truthsbyruth.blogspot.com/.

PAM: My characters come to me through alchemy.

Seriously.

Observations, emotions, needs and desires are heated in a magic kettle, spiced with imagination, and released through my fingertips on the keyboard. Let me give you an example. The protagonist of Redneck Goddess is Georgia Barr, better known as Goo Goo.  She’s an amalgamation of every self-confident, intelligent, beautiful young woman I’ve ever met or observed. Starting with this group.

Forty years ago, at a company picnic I watched a group of young women, most of them less than ten years my junior, playing co-ed volleyball. Not once did any of those women appear to moderate one single aspect of themselves in order to fit more closely into a mold of femininity that I, on the other hand, found so constraining. Those women, along with the brilliant red hair of my childhood best friend, Sandra Caudle, became Goo Goo Barr. http://www.authorpamelafoster.com/

Samantha Foster, the protagonists of Bigfoot Blues, is simply me as I exist in a parallel universe. http://pamelafosterspeakerwriter.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/are-you-a-believer-2/

Characters develop a mind of their own almost from the first stroke of the keyboard. Go over there and do that, I think. And they come over here and do the exact opposite. Once they draw that first inky breath, I simply do my best to herd them toward the plot line and get out of their way.

LINDA:  I draw from interesting people I’ve known. I have a rich heritage of diverse personalities who have crossed my path. As my story develops, I think about the people I’ve known or know now and think about what they would do, how they would respond or react.

Another thing I do is look at pictures. I Google actors and actresses and look through hundreds of photos. Inevitably some speak to me by their expression. I just had that happen. A very minor character in my novel, Daphne, came alive when I saw her picture, I knew her right away and now she has earned a secondary character role in my next novel!

Read more about Linda’s writing journey at http://daydreamingonpaper.blogspot.com/.

CLAIRE:  To be honest, the first thing that comes to me on any novel I’m writing is the names of the cats. For example, in Santorini Sunset (May 2012, The Wild Rose Press,) the cats are Sherlock and Mycroft. Then, I figure out what type of person would use those names for their pets.

One of these days I hope to develop into a writer who knows her characters before she starts writing. At the moment, I start with a name and a profession or a particular situation and go from there. It makes writing the story interesting since I have no idea what’s going to happen, but it also results in writing more than necessary. I tend to let my characters run free and wild. Once I figure out how the story will end, sometimes I have to rein those pesky free-thinkers in and make them do what I want.

Three things have held true in all the books I’ve written. The support, humor and frustration of the best friend in all the books is based on my best friend, Pearl. The bitchy, horrible woman who gets killed off in every book is based on a supposed friend who betrayed me and scarred me to my very core. And the hero. The hero is always my husband, Kevin. I didn’t even realize that until a friend pointed it out. Then, it was so obvious it was embarrassing.

JAN: My characters in Broken Dolls are all tiny parts of me. I took an emotion, a thought, or a person who made an impact on me and developed characters. Sachi is the emotional child in me who was always told to behave, but who lets her feelings show, whether outwardly or through internalization. Nobu is the duty-bound part of me, who does what’s expected of him, and who represses all his feelings. Mama is a fictionalized version of my maternal grandmother, who I never really knew, though I did hear stories about her. Jubie was based on the beautiful, free-spirited black girl who lived across the street from me when I was growing up.

Since these characters are a part of me, they were often stubborn to tell me their secrets. Sometimes I actually traveled to places they would have lived, such as the internment camp at Rohwer. There, Sachi whispered a secret to me that changed the course of the book. http://jansthoughtsovercoffee.blogspot.com/2010/02/rohwer-whispers.html

As you might guess, Nobu was the most stubborn, as he would not tell me anything he “shouldn’t” say. But, all it took to get him to open up was a few drinks over an interview at happy hour to expose his secrets, too. http://jansthoughtsovercoffee.blogspot.com/2011/08/happy-hour-with-nobu.html

Leave us a comment and let us know how you bring your characters to life!