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Character Development Cheat

28 Feb

When I started blogging, I would write posts on writer’s block, provide handy little tips on overcoming it to get you going. I even provided one during the early days of a cuppa.

Wow, so many people have so many ideas on what will work, but it really is each to their own. A bit of assistance along the way however can be helpful.

When I was writing this post, I got thinking that some may be a little alarmed that I had started with something so real for my characters and developed it. am I wrong to do this? Absolutely not.

We all, whether we like to admit it or not steal from those we know. A flick of the hair, a particular phrase, if it catches our imagination, into the pot it goes. some of us eavesdrop on the bus, some seem to be watching the world go by whilst in reality are mentally noting the small childs limp, the too tight jeans…

Some call it people watching, some make up a whole world for the people around them, creating each persons story. It’s not just writers, the teenage girl may note her peers latest outfit to recreate it, whilst the small boy dreams of the day he will be allowed to ride his bike to the shop alone.

I remember a task that we were set during a children’s writing session in university. it was simple, describe someone you know from the ground up. Have you ever tried this? It is simply the most intriguing exercise you can do.

I was unsure at first. How can describing someone in this way be beneficial? I opted to describe someone who I spend a lot of time with, not sure what I would end up with. I began with the shoes, tatty, too tight laces and faded. By the time I had reached the knees, I was no longer describing the person I began with. My imagination had started working without purpose, I didn’t know what I wanted to end with, I just started adding little details, simple rips and repairs…

I was left with a slightly eccentric, tramp like character that just begged for more questions to be asked. Why were the clothes tatty? Who was his family? Did he even have one? Was this a lifestyle choice? Was there a significant event in his past? Yes I knew the answers to these questions for the original person, but those answers no longer fitted what I had on the page. In short, I had a whole new character that just needed the story completing around him.

How do you develop your characters? Where do you start? Have any of your characters ever been identified by close friends and family?

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I Have A List For You

24 Sep

I have a list for you. A list of ten items, no more no less. With these words, I am setting you a challenge. Before we start, grab a pen and paper.

As you read through this list, ideas should start forming in your mind, small links, memories or perhaps connotations. Make a note of them. (I considered showing images of each of the items but decided this could blur your own inspiration).

Here goes;

Running Water

Roast Chicken

Lavender

Vase

Sand

Doll

Bicycle

Nail Varnish

Berries

Picture Frame

Get much? It doesn’t matter if you didn’t. Just take time to think about this list, could you write a story incorporating some or all of these things?

OK, that’s it. Now write.

Seriously if you have never tried this challenge then it is worthwhile just taking an hour out of your day to see what you end up with. If you don’t like my list, get someone else to write a list for you. Sure you can write your own, but I never think it is the same. Prompts from others can take your thoughts in a slightly different direction to what is the ‘norm’ for your writing – can make you consider the ordinary somehow extraordinary.

This is a writing exercise. It is there to get the slow writers brain back on track. However, I confess I have an ulterior motive for putting this to you today.

As many of you will be aware, I am involved in the new project ‘A Cuppa and An Armchair‘. We are calling for submissions of short stories of no more than 2,000 words. Full details can be found here, on our Facebook page. (Please do pop by and like the page – we welcome all sorts!). You can also follow us on Twitter using #cuppa.

I have had many comments back about the project. All of which are very positive. It would seem however, some people are slightly anxious to get submitting, or wary of their work. Well, don’t be afraid. Send us your story. We WANT to hear from you. This exercise, is for those of you who feel you haven’t got anything suitable. Can you create a short from my list?

Just a note: For those of you waiting for the post about the charity Equipe, it is on its way. Just some final tweaks to make. Oh, and no, not all posts from here on will be about the project, I have some others to tell you about also in the coming weeks.

Writing Is Like a Box of Chocolates

22 Jul

You came up with an idea, worked out your plot, detailed your chapters, created character bibles for even the guy without a speaking part, and then used the post it notes to move the characters throughout the plot.

You sit down at the computer, crack your knuckles, and allowing the creativity to flow. Wow, what an experience. The words are flying, the inspiration singing, at this rate you could have this novel done and dusted within a couple of months.

And with that thought you stop dead.

That, what, she,  no he…oh what was I going to say?

You read back what you have written, it’s good, it’s really good, but already you can see that your protagonist has started to show traits that you hadn’t really allowed for. As a result, the plot has twisted somewhat. But that’s OK, if you just make some tweaks…

STOP.

Is this really what you want?

You see, that character you had decided was a milk chocolate fudge; sweet, creamy, desirable, is really a bitter dark chocolate coffee crème.

That would be the diet ruined...

Run with it, take that character to new depths that were beyond your planning. Once they are there in your thought, warts and all, they finally exist, ready to evolve and to take you on a journey. That’s the truth about writing, it is a box of chocolates, you will never know what you’re going to get.

I hear your cries of outrage. Sure, I know that you have to plan. I know what the books say, but really? Take a risk. Hey, don’t just take a risk with your writing, take a risk in life. Follow the little voice and see where it takes you. I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Developing your Characters – What do you recommend?

26 May

Much of what we do as writers is invalid if our characters are not strong. The text becomes difficult to follow, and the plot, no matter how dynamic, gets lost in the confusion of who’s who.

I have been lucky enough to be asked to offer feedback on another writers work. Gav and I have studied together, and I have been fortunate to read through the text from the original concept, up to what is now chapter ten. I have read the full synopsis, been privy to discussion about how the plot develops – and how it has altered when Gav was told, ‘I’m not sure about that.’

For me this has been, as with many people who have sat within writing groups, an experience to learn from. Writers will make mistakes, and it is down to the trusted few to help point out where improvements could be made.

Yesterday, I read through chapters 6-10, and provided my feedback. I decided, as our relationship can withhold brutality, to give my gut reactions, and not taking time to digest and consider my words sympathetically. The overall theme to my feedback was that the characters required further development. In this case, the plot is amazing. I am not just saying that, I mean it. It is engaging, intriguing, and twists hit you like an uncontrolled machine gun. But the characters (of which there are many – something many writers shy away from) had you writhing in awkwardness. Who is this person? Why are they relevant? When one even got killed I didn’t care! There just wasn’t that connection.

So how could this be improved? I have several tips.

  • Post it notes for plotting. I suggested before using post it notes to plot, with a different character in each colour. This way you can see where the characters need to interact with each other, and what strengths their need personalities to withhold their roles within the plot.

 

  • Character bibles. Using each of these strengths, makes notes of who each character is. If they are timid, with mousey brown hair, glasses and stammer, will the reader believe they are able to take on the government? If the answer is no, will we see a development in their persona to make it more believable, or have we just got the wrong man for the job?

 

  • Dialogue. Get your character talking. Again, if they are timid, would they have a deep voice? maybe so, but would that deep voice tremor with nerves?

One of the tests I used on myself to make sure I wasn’t being too harsh in my feedback was that I decided to describe the characters to Gav as I had envisioned them. Out of the seven main ones that featured within these four chapters, I was able to describe briefly two of them. When I said I imagined one character like a ‘Libby Kennedy’ of ‘Neighbours’ the response was: ‘No,my character is Spanish.’ Sure I had picked up on the name, but it hadn’t registered that it symbolised her origin.

Taking time to develop your characters is essential. I do not have all the answers, and would never presume to. Have you got a tried and tested method that has made the characters come alive? Have you ever read a book that left you feeling uneasy with your relationship with the protagonists?

* Just a quick note, one of my favourite authors is Jilly Cooper. Now there is an author that likes many characters and at times, this can leave you somewhat confused. However, each of the stories need a large amount of personalities, they just wouldn’t work if it was felt it would be too confusing for the reader. Cooper overcomes this by providing a couple of sentences about each character at the beginning of the book. This is a great source for referral, and allows you, the reader, to continue reading without too much cause for interruption. I for one detest having to flick back though and re-place a character and think that this is a fabulous idea that we should all use.

(If you would like to know more about Gav, visit his blog (he is just getting started), or pop by and say hello on Twitter @RebelliousGav.

What type of writer are you?

25 May

How many books have you read that tell you how to be a successful writer? How many times has someone said to you, ‘No you don’t want to do it that way.’

Image borrowed - linked to an article recommending great books for writers!

Yep. We have all been there. Everyone, as with everything in life, thinks their way is the best way, and you are simply doing it wrong.

What I have found intriguing lately, is I am not a stereotypical writer. I do not have a set way of approaching my work. It varies, as do each of my story lines.

So what are the stereotypical approaches?

* Writing of each significant scene and then back filling

* Planning each scene to the finest detail before writing

* Opening up a blank screen and throwing the words at it like a crazed artist just to get the first draft complete

* Simple synopsis brief, but each chapter polished within an inch of its life before moving forward.

**I suspect there are many more approaches that I am yet to come across. Tell me yours..

As I say, I am not a typical writer, I do jump about depending on my needs, and I think time plays a large role in this, however, I have discovered the most amazing thing EVER!. You can swap about within a piece that you are writing. One day you can write like a crazed person. The next day you are meticulous, and on the following day you can back fill the flaws in your plot. It simply doesn’t matter.

You know what? Its your writing. Its your story. You can do whatever you want!

However, you do need to approach your writing professionally. Being slap dash will not get you anywhere. Acting the crazed writer but not taking the time to be exact when you edit will only result in you falling flat on your face.

I would be more wary however of the writer who is overly meticulous at planning, writing, editing, and…well just never truly lets go. We all know of someone who wrote something several years ago…it still needs final tweaks…maybe one day it will be finished…

That kind of attitude will never see you finished, and I do question the merits of that writer. Maybe I am wrong to say that, but I can only compare this to my limited experience in art class. I wanted to draw. I wanted to paint, to sculpt, for people to say wow, that’s really good. It was never going to happen. Quite simply at best my skills in that department should be described as limited. However it didn’t stop me trying. I must have gone through more pencils and erasers than the entire school put together. The worst part was, it wasn’t necessary. rather than accepting that I had done my best, I kept striving to be as good as the others. As a result, my picture has walked out the room in disgust before I had sat at the desk.

The worst part of this is I actually enjoyed trying up to the point that I realised it was all wrong and scrunched the paper, nobody said to me, it’s OK, just enjoy the session for what it is – don’t beat yourself up.

If only I had used colour paper I could have created something like this instead of heading for the recycling bin. Seriously, this would be pushing my ability. (Needless to say I have borrowed this image).

We can’t all do everything well. It would be pretty boring if we could.

We are all very different, in what we write (if we write), and how we approach our writing. We are all the same in that no matter how much we copy we will fail. Be yourself, accept you for you, and you shall succeed.

What type of writer are you? Do you even consider yourself a writer? I would love to hear your thoughts on this. As I say, no way is the right way, but it is fun trying.

Character Names

5 Feb

Character names are a struggle for some writers, luckily for me, unlike titles, I never have any problems.

I remember once sitting in a lecture, it was back in the early days, where there would be at least thirty pairs of eyes, staring straight ahead, thinking about what to do as soon as it was all over. Anyway, we were told if stuck for a character name, pick up a baby naming book, followed by the phone book, and collect a random name for each. There you go, one character name, simple.

Maybe I remember this wrong. Maybe it was because out of those thirty pair of eyes, it was obvious it was only a handful who actually cared. I’m not sure, what I do know is I have never named a character in this way, and I am pretty certain I never will.

I’m not being a snobby writer, but I do think that if you are in tune with your character, really understand the, then a name is just natural. I won’t say like naming your baby (my daughter was a few hours old when I settled on a definite name  – I dread the days when she finds the baby box and asks who this other daughter is), but I do think you just know. You see them, you hear them, you know them.

What do you think? Do your character names just flow?

Finding the right title for your book

4 Feb

 At what point do you create the title for your book? At the beginning? Whilst writing? At the end as an after thought? Perhaps you have a working title?

For me personally, coming up with a title is the one thing I struggle with every time. Even a working title gets me all panicky. It’s like committing to the project before you even know the outcome…and shouldn’t it be witty? Thought provoking? A play on words?

For my crime novel I am working on now, I am using the working title ‘trapped’. It’s horrendous. It makes me want to shudder. It seems so amateur. So….

In the past three years, I have written seven poems, a picture book (hardly writing I know), three scripts, two teenage boy fiction novels (incomplete), a children’s story, a short story and what I class as the most amazing first chapter ever written (by me, naturally). That is not to mention all the other bits that were abandoned along the way.

Of these, I have only had two titles I liked. ‘No way out’, a title that I could apply to many of my pieces, and ‘Magpies’, which just summed up the story. Now I know you can’t judge these titles, not without having read the text, but trust me, these were good.

They were lucky, they just happened. But what if I never get lucky again?

I would really appreciate some advice on what you do to get that title? Reading more often than not it is easy to see where the author gathered the inspiration for the title, but me, my mind just goes blank.

Does anyone else suffer from this? What are your remedies?