Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Craft’ Category

Deep editing: Make each word count

In July, I took Margie Lawson’s Immersion Master Class, an intensive three and a half day workshop on deep editing. My brain is still teeming with all the tips we learned to turn our manuscripts into bestsellers.

One day, as we reviewed one of my first-draft chapters in my current project, we came across a short paragraph about a character’s driving skills.

In the scene, my character is driving along a dark, windy road in the mountains at night when he comes across my protagonist walking along the side of the road after she’d just seen her maybe-boyfriend sucking face with another woman. (Every time I hear the words “sucking face,” I think of the 1981 movie “On Golden Pond,” where I first heard the term. The power of fresh writing!)

Anyway, the driver of the car offers my protagonist a ride home (she knows him—he’s the new man in town). She learns more about him and why he’s in town. He ends up giving her relationship advice and flirting heavily with her.

Here’s the paragraph in question:

“Hmmm,” he said, tapping his brakes before the next curve, then laying off them during the turn. He handled the vehicle as if he’d had years of experience coaxing the two-ton beast into compliance. “Any news on your grandfather?”

Questions that came up in class: Read more

Step away from your desk and fuel your writing life

It’s easy as writers to hole up in our writing caves. We’re busy operating under the influence of words and we don’t want to be interrupted.

But sometimes you have to get out into the world. It’s how you pick up telling details that add more authenticity and authority to your work. And then there are the times when you’re stuck. Stepping out just may spark an idea or epiphany.

Deborah Harkness, author of A Discovery of Witches: A Novel (All Souls Trilogy),wrote on her website about the act of trying to make conversation with a “living human” after a day of writing. She writes that if she could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, it would be this:

“Say yes.” The world is asking you to try new things, have fresh experiences, meet people, see foreign places, and learn things. Most of the time we say no. Say yes. Go for it. Try. Live. Dream. Refuse to be negative. Be generous with your own time and gifts. See what happens then.

Changing your routine routine can reveal unexpected insights. Read more

Does your protagonist have a life theme or motto?

At the beginning of each year, my writing partner Carly chooses a short phrase or sentence that she uses to remind herself of what she wants to focus on for the coming year.

She says she likes to keep the sentence short so it’s easy to remember and can easily be turned into a daily mantra. For the last several years, she’s developed a personal writing theme.

To read more about her idea, please read her posts, “My 2014 personal writing theme revealed,” and “Short story writing method reveals New Year’s theme.

I noticed while re-reading Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods,” that the main character Shadow has a motto that he lives by. In the first chapter, Shadow is in prison and we learn his survival motto is, “Keep your head down. Do your own time. Speak when you’re spoken to.” In other words, you do your own time in prison. You don’t do anyone else’s time for them. You don’t get mixed up in their dramas. You keep your mouth shut.

Later, after Shadow is let out of prison and he begins working for Mr. Wednesday and is kidnapped by men in black, he repeats his old prison motto to himself:

“He pretended he was back in prison. Do your own time, thought Shadow. Don’t tell them anything they don’t already know. Don’t ask questions.”

By the end of the story—well, I won’t put in any spoilers—but basically his motto gets turned on its head. And this is part of his growth as a character.

Does your character have a motto they live by or a life theme like Carly and Shadow that they can sum up in one or two sentences? Is there a belief that drives them from day to day? Having this theme firmly in mind while writing your scenes will help ground you in your character’s reality.

Exercise: Set a timer for six minutes and free write about what your protagonist’s life theme might be. Do the same for your antagonist and then every major character.

If you’d like, please share your character’s theme in the comments below.

 

 

How to create a great villain

In Award Winning Screenwriter Jacob Krueger’s short video below, he answers the question “How Do You Create a Perfect Villain?”

Krueger says we have to remember that the antagonist thinks he is the hero of his story. Most characters believe they are the good guys even if they are doing horrible things.

Example: in “Star Wars” all Darth Vader wants is to rule the galaxy with his son–he just has a twisted way of going about it. Each antagonist has a story they are telling themselves that makes them feel like a good person every day. Their desires are as important to them as the protagonist’s desires are important to them.

Krueger also says a great antagonist comes at the world with a point-of-view that is so truthful it forces the main character to deal with something they’re not confronting in themselves. A great antagonist will force the protagonist to face their flaws, overcome them, and be changed in some way.

For more tips in creating a great antagonist watch Krueger’s video below:

Develop your characters through dance

Thanks to Rhay Christou, author and writing teacher at www.MargieLawson.com, for introducing me to this short video below showing a fun and creative way to develop your characters.

Actor Kevin Cox offers advice to other actors that can be beneficial for writers, too. He says we should be able to express our character physically. He suggests dancing out your scenes—try different styles of dance like hip hop, ballet, tango, salsa, waltz, etc. Give your dance the attitudes of your character. This will help unlock your body and open up your potential to connect with your character. If you have two characters in a scene dance out one character’s part then dance out the other character’s part. How do they differ? What did you learn?

Once you’ve got the dancing down and you’re still in your character’s skin, close your eyes and ask some questions. What do they feel in the moment? How are they moving? What do they taste and hear and smell? If they opened their eyes right now, what would they see?

Watch this 3-minute video and then read on:

I just tried this (in my side yard where no neighbors could see me) and discovered the following:

* My protagonist feels heavy in her body when she’s with the antagonist she is attracted to (she’s not overweight so this is a reflection of her emotional state);

* She feels lighter in her body and soul when she’s with her ex-boyfriend who she is also attracted to.

* The difference is the antagonist leans in on her energy, he is trying to get something from her and wants to control her. Her ex-boyfriend wants her to be herself and to fulfill her potential but only so that it completes her and not him. Wow. Love it. And this is just the surface stuff…I bet if I dig deeper into the dance, I find more.

Try the exercise and tell us what you experienced in the comments below.

How do you define the truth of your story?

In the short video below, author and screenwriting mentor Robert McKee answers the question, “How do you define the truth of your story?”

My main struggle as a writer is to express the truth of my stories or poems in a way that will also resonate with my readers.

McKee says that there are many levels of truth in a story. There’s the surface level—the how and why things happen. The facts of the story.

For example, my protagonist in my current work starts out as a veterinarian focused on healing animals with her science and medical abilities only but, as the story progresses, she is drawn deeper into the magic of her hometown and her own special healing abilities. This is the surface story.

But, McKee says, a storyteller is after how and why what happens on the surface happens. We are looking for the deep hows and whys even down to our character’s subconscious level.

In my story, my protagonist resists using her special abilities because bad things have happened to those she loved when she used her powers as a young girl. She carries this trauma forward and it is her truth.

In a good story, says McKee, you express the truth that you believe in. Someone else may see it as a totally different truth from their own experiences but this doesn’t matter. If you express your truths well and beautifully, the reader will resonate with your work. They will come away from your book or movie recognizing they are in the presence of the truth.

 

 

Character development: God is in the details

In her blog post, “Revealing Character Through Details,” Julie Eshbaugh quotes Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969,) who famously said, “God is in the details.”

A German-born, American architect, van der Rohe did not mean the more details the better. He meant it’s the small, subtle details that can give a building (and per Eshbaugh a book) the power to transcend the common.

In other words, look for telling-details that will relay worlds of information about your character to the reader. My character may have red hair, green cat eyes, freckles and a stand-out bosom but what makes her unique and memorable isn’t her outer description it’s the fact that she used to be a kleptomaniac and her eye is still drawn to bright, shiny objects, even when she’s having a serious conversation with somebody. Her eyes are greedy.

Reader Eshbaugh’s post for some fantastic examples and help in finding your character’s telling details.

You may also enjoy Carly’s related post, “Quirks make your characters feel real to readers.”

What telling details have you given your characters?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 346 other followers