Characters and Friends

Writing is exciting. I wake in the morning ready to word-paint the next scene: characters lurk in the wings like actors listening for their cue, each fidgeting before they stride onto the page; foreshadowed plot twists beckon me forward and demand increased attention. Ideas and events originally planned for the first novel evolve into much more than expected when weaved into the second book, more complicated and harboring deeper, richer tones. The plot edges nearer surprises awaiting not only the reader, but me.

I wonder how I came to this exhilaration of creation.

In the opening novel, the first draft altered dramatically into what has become the completed version; so shall the second. Throughout the creating process, my characters and I conversed often, each conversation adding to the depth of their individual personalities. Sometimes I was surprised. I learned many things about human nature during those talks, nuances of perception, both mine and theirs. Now friends, each character holds true to their own nature, varied in all phases of their persona. Each character I developed is real to me; hopefully their faceted personalities will intrigue future readers. That’s not up to me, though: my task, first and foremost, is to joy in the act of writing.

In that, I have succeeded.

Characters are the foundation of all stories, the driving force that moves readers down the road the writer paves. The road will be pot-holed and dangerous, bridges fallen to deep chasms below, enemies charging from the surrounding forest, as it should be. The challenges and the pitfalls the characters encounter—even more important is how they react to the difficult times—shapes them as a human being and more than black marks on a page.

Just as when you meet someone new, your perception changes as you watch and interact, whether daily or only on occasion. The words people say and how they say them gives you insights into likes and dislikes, passions, fears, and hopes. And then they do something unexpected.

Think of the mild-mannered cook who suddenly screams obscenities at the wait staff and throws a cleaver into a wall; the all-business secretary uncharacteristically brought to tears by a gesture from a fellow employee; the hardened cop crying at the sight of an accident. People in the throes of human emotion make a compelling story, and in the midst of watching the event unravel, the writer wants to know why people act and react the way they do. What happened in their life that formed the secretary into an “all-business” type; what horrid things did the cop witness that forced him into a shell to hold back the emotion for fear it would destroy him, and why did this accident cause tears? Is the cook mild-mannered, or just shy? Or is he something else altogether?

Peel back the layers of a person’s life and you will discover what makes people the way they are. Characters are the same way.

The instances described (cook, secretary, cop) are the beginning of the story, the hook that lures the reader in. Show the scene that pulls the emotion from the character, how they feel, and then spoon-feed the reader the “what-brought-them-to-this” highlights. Highlights. Too often, there is a tendency to explain everything—a dead-weight that brings the reader to an abrupt halt. Just as a painter knows what to leave off the canvas, so should the writer know what does not need to be said. Knowing what goes in and what comes out takes place in revision stage when you don the editor’s hat, and the more it’s done, the better a writer will be. For me, that is later.

Now is the burning heat of the first draft when my “friends” are living their lives; all I have to do is watch and write it down. Excuse me while I do just that . . . .

We’ll meet again on the next page,

Rick


This Week’s Writing Quote:
Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say.” Sharon O’Brien


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Tilling the Field of Ideas

Fields of WheatSeldom, if ever, do story ideas arrive in full bloom. As mentioned in my August 1st post, “Where Do Writers Get Their Ideas,” any number of things can trigger an idea, and thereby plant the seed that may or may not grow to fruition. Sometimes the story is an idea beat to death (zombies, anyone?) or not worthy to pursue in the first place. As writer and creator, it is up to you to deem a project’s validity—therein the dilemma.

Is the idea unique enough to develop?

Prior to spending a year or more on a novel, a writer needs to feel compelled to tell the tale, and be willing to put in the necessary time and effort to complete such an extended project. The idea better excite you. The characters need to entice and intrigue you. For me, mystery draws me forward; I need to be surprised once in a while, and when I am, it’s pretty certain the reader will be also.

So, how do you know when an idea has what it takes to be viable? There have been times I have discounted an initial idea, only to have it keep reappearing, each time with either a new direction or perspective I cannot ignore. Let it happen; make notes. You never know where your subconscious might travel.

I have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating until ingrained: it is imperative to not let any of the possible ideas fade, and they will if you do not write them down when they appear. There have been times, much to my chagrin, when an idea “pops” into my mind (whether a word, sentence, or scene) and I do not have paper or pen. By the time I gather the tools of my trade, the idea is lost or watered down so that I have a poor reflection of the original. My heart sinks; never again will the idea appear in its purest form. Still, I write down what I have; an under-nourished seed perhaps, but a burgeoning idea nonetheless.

In addition to being excited and having a special affinity with the characters, you need to ask yourself a few questions: how is the story unique from other similar writings? What events and plot twists will make yours stand out in the crowded field of stories that cross the desk of an agent or editor? How is the character—characters are the foundation of all stories—multi-faceted and how does his/her flaws work against reaching the goals you set forth? Is the resolution believable and natural within the confines of the character(s) and plot? Again, we come to the three C’s of any story or novel:

CharacterConflictConclusion.

Because of the answers to these and other questions, a writer will know when he must write the story, deep in those private places where he converses with himself, that place where delusion is not an option, where emotions are flayed like from a butcher’s chosen blade. Tough questions, tougher answers.

Trust your instincts and you will know when that seed will grow to sapling, stronger still into a full-fledged tree, and then you will realize the fruit of your labors.

See You on the Next Page,

Rick


Important Note: Once again, the University of Iowa is offering their FREE online “How Writers Write Fiction” course. I participated last year, and will again; I learned a great deal about the processes of writing from fellow students . . . nearly a 1,000 from around the world, as I recall. Here is the invite I received and the link. There is no grading, no requirements; only honest feedback from other writers at various levels of skill. Recommended.


Greetings from the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program!

Fall is in the air here in Iowa City, and we are delighted to invite you to join our new MOOC, How Writers Write Fiction 2015! Opening on September 24 and closing on November 24, 2015, this online course offers an interactive progression through the principles and practice of writing fiction. The course is open to everyone in the world, free of charge, and we’re excited to be teaching it on NovoEd, an online platform designed for interactive and creative community learning. Join us!

Learn more and sign up here


This Week’s Writing Quote:

“There are thousands of thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen and writes.” William Makepeace Thackeray

 

A Week of Writing Accomplishments, and Fear . . .

This week’s writing has been like a pendulum, but I don’t mean the lazy swinging back-and-forth normally envisioned; more like wind chimes slammed one way, then another by frenzied gusts. One topic, another, back again (over and over) has been the last seven days.

Determined to complete the final re-read of The Returning, I read the last 100 typed pages in 20-30 page chunks, working on the Query Letter and Synopsis in between. When fatigued by those processes, I worked on the first draft of the second book in the proposed trilogy—back and forth with a harried pace determined by free minutes ticking away toward pending obligations. An eventful (writing) week, a good week by most standards, one that left me with a sense of accomplishment, an inner exhilaration at the amount of work completed, and fear.

The novel done (revised numerous times), the Query and 1-page Synopsis completed (each fretted over ad-nauseam), I peer through the haze at the prospect of sending the 3-part package to agents on my list. Although I have spent many hours researching the initial six agents selected to receive my package, with tensed shoulders and a dry-mouth I double and triple-check to make sure the formatting is correct (hoping the email arrives like it should and not a jumble of hieroglyphics as some of the ones I receive), and prepare to hit the send button.

No, Wait! Did I forget something? Is each directed to a “particular” named editor? Did I include the right number of pages of the book (some ask for 5, some 10, some more)? Which editors accept attachments and which do not? There is no taking back the query package once sent—is everything perfect, or is it just okay, which guarantees the indomitable rejection.

Deep sigh. At some point, I have to trust that my due-diligence will pay off. I think of now-famous authors whose books were rejected multiple times (Stephen King’s Carrie dozens of times, J.K. Rowling 12 times, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by 26 publishers—more Here) and remind myself that rejection is not the end of my world, writing or otherwise. I believe that, really I do.

rhino

Before I hit the button and send my “child” off like a 5-year old to the bus stop on their first day of school, I am going for a walk in the woods, and maybe I can locate my Rhino Skin that I seem to have misplaced.

To me and to you, I say, writing is a courageous endeavor and only the determined persevere to see their name in print. In order for that to become a reality, a writer must send their child into the world. Yes, there will be numbing pain, but there will also be great joy. Believe it.

Now, go hit that button and get to work on that other project that awaits your attention.

Rick

Important Note: Once again, the University of Iowa is offering their FREE online “How Writers Write Fiction” course. I participated last year, and will again; I learned a great deal about the processes of writing from fellow students . . . nearly a 1,000 from around the world, as I recall. Here is the invite I received and the link. There is no grading, no requirements; only honest feedback from other writers at various levels of skill. Recommended.


Greetings from the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program!

Fall is in the air here in Iowa City, and we are delighted to invite you to join our new MOOC, How Writers Write Fiction 2015! Opening on September 24 and closing on November 24, 2015, this online course offers an interactive progression through the principles and practice of writing fiction. The course is open to everyone in the world, free of charge, and we’re excited to be teaching it on NovoEd, an online platform designed for interactive and creative community learning. Join us!

Learn more and sign up here


This Week’s Writing Quote:
“Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.” Rainer Maria Rilke

Inner Necessity

Writing is hard. Getting your writing published is harder. Giving up writing is harder still; believe me, I’ve tried.

Many times I have stopped writing. Mostly it was not a conscious effort, but a result of a busy life, or more often, laziness. There have been times, however, when I have had this conversation with myself:

“Why not just stop trying to be a writer and read the hundreds of books on my shelf I long to submerge myself into? There’s so much pleasure waiting there.”

“But I want my books to set on people’s shelves.”

“Why?”

I stare out the window through a blur, then I put my glasses on—oh, that’s better. At least what I’m looking at is sharp and clear, but a true and clear answer to Why I Write remains hazy. I think of all the things I could do with the time I now spend in solitude at my keyboard—like reading or playing a game or going for a walk—and still a real reason eludes me. I know I don’t write to make a lot of money (only a small percentage of writers earn a living wage), or to be famous (like many writers, I am an introvert and shun too much attention), or to impress people (I’m too old to care about that). Still, the Why? pounds in my skull, echoing through a canyon of possibilities, then fades to a whisper buried in my sub-conscious.

There, the question waits, to be revisited later; right now, I am prodded to write about the characters that are pulling me into their world, and their hope I can get them out of the trouble I put them into.

Hope to see you on the next page,

Rick


This Week’s Writing Quote:
“Every word born of an inner necessity — writing must never be anything else.” Etty Hillesum, quoted in Ten Fun Things to Do Before You Die by Karol Jackowski

writing just do it