Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘characterization’

How and why you should develop intuition in your characters

This morning, I was working out at the gym on an elliptical machine, not thinking of anything, when suddenly an intense sadness welled up inside me. Having lost my husband over two years ago, I thought it was another layer of grief so I allowed it to rise up and release but instead of releasing, the feeling became more intense and raw. Tears welled up as I continued to work out. I couldn’t figure out what had triggered the feelings and why they were so incredibly strong. And then a thought flashed through my mind—whose feelings are these?

From years of working with and helping people, I know that sometimes I’ll intuit other’s thoughts and feelings, but I’m usually pretty good at recognizing when this happens and setting up my boundaries. For me, this means doing a specific visualization.

This morning, the thought persisted that the sadness I was feeling wasn’t mine. I looked at the man working out on the machine next to me. He didn’t look sad. He didn’t look as if he was in pain. He seemed fine. Read more

Dialogue tips: the fastest way to improve any manuscript

In this 30-minute video below, author Joanna Penn interviews author and writing teacher James Scott Bell about his book on dialogue, “How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript.”

Bell gives some great tips to make your dialogue sing and catch the eye of an agent, publisher and reader:

  1. Characters shouldn’t be feeding each other information they already know. Example: Brother to sister: “Look sis, our mom, Linda who is a school teacher is home.”
  2. Don’t hide exposition or backstory in dialogue. Readers are savvy, will pick up on it, and won’t be happy. Bell says if you must convey the information, try turning the exchange into a confrontation. More information tends to be exchanged when people are confrontational.
  3. How do you differentiate dialogue between characters? Bell suggests keeping a voice journal for each main character. For more on this, see my earlier post, “Use a voice journal to capture your character’s original voice.”
  4. When using an action beat instead of the dialogue tag “she said or he said,” make sure the action is integral to the story — otherwise you’ll wear out the reader over the course of a novel.
  5. Read your dialogue out loud. Make it snappy and vital. Make it sing. Also read dialogue out loud from other novels and screenplays.
  6. Think subtext—what are the characters really saying underneath the words they speak?

For many more great tips on using dialogue to quickly improve your manuscript, watch the video here:

For you Nanowrimo peeps, try this exercise to increase your word count: Dive deep and write some dialogue runs between characters down the page without any tags or actions. Just straight dialogue. See if you can get into a rhythm and keep going. You can clean it up and add actions and attributions later.

Use NaNoWriMo month to hone your character’s deep point of view

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) begins tomorrow, November 1st, and is the perfect opportunity to hone your character’s deep point of view.

What is deep point of view? Author and writing teacher Rhay Christou says, “In deep point of view the character owns the page and the author becomes nonexistent.”

Deep point of view will hook your reader and keep them entranced with your character and story.

Why is NaNoWriMo perfect for diving into deep point of view? Because we’re focused more on word count and less on structure, it’s a great time to just let go and be in the voice of your character. Forget about “he said/she said” or filter words like “she thought/he felt/she saw.”

Get a feel for your characters by asking them questions and getting to know them. For a list of great questions and other tips for diving into deep point of view, read Rhay’s post here. If her ideas resonate with you, or deep point of view is something you want to work on, consider taking Rhay’s online course in November with me.

In my next post, I’ll share more tips for getting to know your characters and diving into deep point of view.

 

Fiction writing: A lie that tells the truth

“We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.” –Pablo Picasso

 

In his Ted Talk, “Why a Good Book is a Secret Door,” children’s author Mac Barnett quotes Picasso and says he loves writing for children because they make the best audience. Children are so willing to enter other worlds.

He says good fiction will leave us with the feeling that the characters are real even though we know that they are not.

As a kid, he loved reading fantasy stories like the “Chronicles of Narnia,” and he was always looking in the real world for doorways to the fictional worlds he’d read about.

He talks about a writing technique called metafiction, which is a story about a story but he says instead of the audience breaking the fourth wall into the story, he prefers to have his books break the wall and enter reality. He wants his fiction to open up into the real world, to create a doorway into our world. Read more

Don’t miss a beat: Get into the heart of your character

In a previous post I wrote about a little technique I learned from author and writing instructor, Rhay Christou, who teaches for the online Lawson Writer’s Academy.

Develop your characters through dance” highlights a short video by actor Kevin Cox demonstrating how to unlock your body and mind in order to delve deeper into your characters.

Another tip I learned from Rhay is called, “Don’t Dance. ACT!” In this exercise, you pick a moment in your scene where your character is having (or is supposed to have) an emotional response to something. Choose one emotional beat. Now get up, stand in the middle of the room, and close your eyes. Picture yourself in your character’s setting. Become the character. What do you feel? Hear? Taste? Open your eyes. What do you see? Does your setting affect how you feel?

How are you holding your body? Tense? Relaxed? What is your body doing? Facial expressions? How do you feel? Angry? Sad? Frustrated? How does it show up in your body? Are you having a visceral reaction? A thought?

Now grab your journal and write as much as you can without stopping. If more feelings come up, write them down. Keep writing. Can you add anything to your scene to make it stronger?

In my chapter one, my protagonist, a veterinarian, struggles to save the life of a dog. Her boss forces her to use her mysterious powers that she has tried to run from ever since her mother died (she blames her powers for her mother’s death). When I close my eyes and become my character, I ask, “How does it make me feel that my boss has forced me to use my powers?”

Here’s what I wrote: “I’m angry. Pissed off. Want to hit something. My body feels tense, rigid, so tense my breathing is labored and tight. My chest feels like it’s in a vise, pressed together like a moth between glass. How dare she! She has no right to call on my powers. Total invasion. And what’s worse is she doesn’t realize the consequences. She doesn’t know that somebody could get injured or die. I never should have trusted her. Should have kept my mouth shut. Granddad was right—don’t trust anybody with my secret. Let this teach me…never again.”

Do I have any of these feeling in the chapter? Noooooo. After she saves the dog, my protagonist and her boss have a nice little chat about their dating life. Right. Revision time.

Ever notice how sometimes when you write, your brain kind of does a little hop-skip-and-a-jump ahead of itself? Mine does. Sometimes, I miss whole reaction beats. My character skips from one thing to the next without really processing what’s happening.

These exercises help me slow down and pay attention to how my character feels. They get me out of writer-brain and into the heart of my character.

I highly recommend any of the Lawson Writer’s Academy online courses. You’ll learn tons and meet some really cool writers. Check out their September classes here: www.margielawson.com or see the list below:

Master The Synopsis!
No. More. Whining.
MASTER THE SYNOPSIS! Starts Monday.
Instructor: RITA Finalist Jennifer Archer.
Sept 1-26;  Fee:  $50
http://bit.ly/MasterSynopsis

Submissions That Sell
Make your query SELL your MS.
Instructor:  RITA Winner Laura Drake.
Sept 1-26;  Fee:  $40
http://bit.ly/SeptSTSell

From Blah to Beats: Giving Your Chapters a Pulse
In 14 short lessons, learn how to make your chapter a lean and mean beating heart.
Instructor: Rhay Christou, MFA
Sept 1-30, Fee:  $50
http://bit.ly/GiveChaptersPulse …

From Homeroom to Last Bell:Hero’s Journey in YA Fiction
YA Writers: Fab class.
Instructors:  Jennifer McAndrews, Linda Gerber
Sept. 1 – 26;  Fee:  $50
http://bit.ly/HeroJourneyinYA 

Story Structure Safari
Instructor feedback, priceless. You’ll find your Story GPS.
Instructor: Lisa Miller
Sept. 1 – 30; Fee:  $50
http://bit.ly/SeptSSS

Getting Serious About Writing a Series
Lectures, plus tips from 18 fab authors.
Instructor: Lisa Wells
Sept. 1 – 26;  Fee: $40
http://bit.ly/WritingSeries 

Virtues, Vices, and Plots
Need a New Approach to Plotting?
Sept. 1 – 26:  Fee: $50
Instructor:  Sarah Hamer, MFA
http://bit.ly/SeptVVP

 

 

 

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

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.