Writing blogs can be difficult. Often we are talking to ourselves because the audience doesn’t hit the like button or comment or even breath loud enough to let us know they are there. But lucky for us, WordPress keeps stats of how many people viewed our posts. Maybe I don’t mean lucky. Continue reading
I’m making soup, tonight. Pumpkin soup with some other veg, turmeric and cayenne. I’ve made this soup several times over the past two months because I like it of an evening and it’s healthy. Why am I waffling about soup? Because the other day I changed my recipe – I left out parsnip and it changed the balance of flavours in a way I didn’t like. So today I’ve added it back in, with a bit more for good measure 😀
I think writing a story is about balance. We can add too much internal thought, or too little internal thought, and the flavour of the story will change. We can add a dollop of spice, or too much spice, and the flavour will change. So the questions must be asked: What kind of story is it? And do we want the story to fit genre, or not?
We need a balance of characters to represent different aspects of the story. Maybe we have a character who always sees the humour in a situation and maybe we need a pessimist to balance out the humours. Maybe we have someone who thinks they know it all only to find out they don’t, and someone who thinks they know nothing when, in fact, they know more than they think they do. Maybe we have a protagonist and antagonist, but do our other characters balance each other? Each character should bring a different flavour to the story, and, depending on how strong we want that flavour to be, we can enhance that quality or dilute it a little.
So, with balancing characters in mind, let’s play a game of word association. I’ll begin by putting a characteristic down, and let’s see where we go in the comments!
My word: ‘Know-it-all’
What comes into your mind? Or if you want to change characteristic, write a new one and we can all say what comes into our heads. This is a useful tool for adding depth to characters, too:)
Who are you writing for?
This is a question that gets asked a great deal on a writers’ site I frequent. I have always answered, rather flippantly, ‘for myself’. Yet I am now beginning to wonder if, by writing for myself, I am missing a trick.
After receiving multiple rejections from literary agents both in the UK and the US, I’m having to rethink my whole writing process. My novel is historical, it is romance, yet the two main characters do not get together at the end – and there will be a sequel. My novel is also long, at almost 100k words, and that doesn’t fit a romance publishing model either. It is not your regular, expected story for an historical romance and although I like the story and I wrote it for me, I wonder if I should now focus on writing genre fiction for the sake of publishing and earning a crust or two. Publishers seem to want only sure-fire bets since they are looking for the next big thing, and therefore unwilling to take chances on a lowly newbie. I don’t know why they are so intent on having books in nice, neat little boxes; I’ve always hated being put in a box, and now my novels can’t be either! Oh well.
I started writing years ago because I couldn’t find a romance novel that related to me and the life I have. I wanted to write about women who have precious few choices in their lives and the consequences of the choices they do make. I wanted to write about women who struggle with issues I struggle with (relationship issues where I have little choice, dreams and desires versus reality, e.g.) and see if they found an answer I could adapt for my life.
Should I keep writing the stories I want to read, or should I adapt my work to fit a genre in the hope I can make some money and increase the options I, and my children, have? It’s a dilemma I know that faces many an author, including Ottessa Moshfegh, and I don’t know what to do. Ottessa decided to write a genre novel, albeit one that turned out to be nominated for a Man-Booker prize…I’m a slow writer, so anything I do will take a while. Any ideas?
My Dad asked me what, as an author, I want to be known for.
What do you want to be known for in life?
Last year my hubs bought me a kindle for my birthday – a fab gift since I can’t access an English library or find English books at a decent price in Switzerland. So I merrily downloaded a load of classics because they are free, and I haven’t read Dickens in a while. Then I toured the freebie kindle downloads, and generally explored the world of reading on a small screen. Continue reading
I discovered the other day that I set some of my scenes in the same places My characters seem to eat a lot. Well, that’s not too bad, is it? I mean, we all eat several times a day, right?
But this means I have several scenes set in the dining hall. Two or three scattered through the novel might be ok, four, five, six or seven? Um.
The thing is, it not only gets repetitive, it gets boring and samey for the reader. They feel like they’ve already read this scene, so I took my characters out of the dining hall and into a market place instead. With a few tweaks and extra description added, the scene improved vastly. I have a scene set in the buttery (not the place for churning butter:
, a place where the ‘butts’ of ale were stored), one in a barn and another in a hayloft. I even have one (okay, two) in a graveyard.
The trick is in thinking about your character’s daily lives and where they have to go. Anywhere can make an interesting scene – front doorstep of a house, library, beach, bathroom, skilift, lighthouse – and if it’s somewhere the main character shouldn’t be, so much the better!
Some scenes need to take place in an enclosed space; this builds tension between the characters because they can’t easily get away from each other.
Other scenes are better suited to wider spaces. This can build pace and tension. Have the scene in the opposite setting your characters need. So, for example, if you have your hero desperately trying to find your heroine and they need to be together – then choose a wide open setting. They need to be together, and if they are far apart it creates tension.
If your heroine needs to escape a killer, have the scene in a tight space, thus building tension.
If a couple are have a fullblown argument, confine them to a
and see what happens.
What’s in a name?
Apparently, as I’ve been finding out, a lot.
As authors, we often like to use a pen name. And this requires a lot of thought, since the name is, or will become, part of your identity, part of who other people think you are and can say a lot about not only where you come from, but also the kind of person you are. Continue reading
I think too much.
Anyone else have that problem regarding their writing? Continue reading
I’ve been reading an interesting book lately on the fourteenth century and learning a huge amount – the kind of details you cannot find on the ‘net. So, since I am in the middle of my historical romance, I thought to apply some of what I’ve learned. Well, good, you might be thinking, that’s exactly what you’re supposed to do. Except.
Now I have my characters saying things like:
“Sire, God give you good day.” Or
“Dame, good day give you our Lord.”
Not just this, but I learned that when meeting a superior, they would kneel on one knee, including the ladies. So I had my fmc kneeling to my mmc, which is totally not right for her character in this story, especially since they have known each other for years. The more I wrote like this (trying to be realistic) the more I lost my characters. I lost my mmc, Egon, and he’s a vital character. Once I realised what was happening, I stopped writing, succoured myself with chocolate (for those who read my Lent blog post, ahem, forget I mentioned the word ‘chocolate’) and ranted at myself for a bit.
I’ve been trying to increase my attention to details, real historical ones that bring the prose alive (that’s the intention, anyway), and forgetting one extremely important detail. Too much salt obliterates the flavour. Over-salting the prose overwhelms the reader. I’m not talking about general historical details to do with weather or clothes; I’m talking about realistic speech patterns, manners and behaviour that might come across as alien to the casual reader. Either I need to reduce these details, or I need to completely re-write my ms.
Having been thinking about this for a few days, and trying to write another chapter, I’ve decided to include those details which currently feel natural for the characters, then when I edit, to add in a few more here and there. Build it up, so to speak, until I feel the speech has attained a natural balance. The problem with this is that it’s all so subjective and you can’t please everybody. I’ve decided I’ll please myself, since if I’m happy, the writing flows much easier. I think that is key. If I force the dialogue it will be unnatural. I need to familiarise myself with all of these tidbits that I’ve learned and incorporate them as and when I can do it in a way that feels totally natural.
Am I alone in getting bogged down with these details to the detriment of character and plot?
The good thing is – I find the more I write, the more I research, the more I learn, the better my first drafts are. Just, why does this whole process take so looooong:D Now I’m very glad I haven’t published my first historical. I would cringe deeply at the errors. It will be edited. Sometime…
Happy New Year to all you Happy Authors Guild Readers – and a big THANKYOU to reading and responding, and making this the wonderful Blog it is!
I was debating on whether to make this post about the New Year and what plans we may have, what we want to achieve, but then I thought, no. Let’s look back instead. Let’s take a moment to consider the past year and what we have already achieved.
What is your favourite memory of this past year?
What achievement are you most proud of? It can be big or small; sometimes it’s the smallest achievements that can have the biggest impact.
What book/s have you read that left a lasting impression?
What is the best/favourite line you have written? What’s the best line you have read? Post it in the comments below and maybe we can have a vote!
Sometimes thinking about a New Year and resolutions and all that stuff can make us feel inadequate, put pressure on us to out-perform ourselves in an unrealistic manner. Maybe this is why so many resolutions fall by the wayside; the burdens we lay on ourselves can be too heavy to carry. Of course there are things we want to achieve, but sometimes life happens and we don’t quite get there.
My general aim, for the last few years, was to be published by aged 40. Well, this past year I turned 40. I didn’t get published, and neither did I self-publish. I was very disappointed, and spent some time wallowing in misery about how crap a writer I am and how I’ll never be published. Then I thought, instead of looking at what I haven’t managed to do, I should look at what I did achieve. Boost my self-esteem instead of poking great fat holes in it and listening to the air whistle out until it lands on the floor ready to be stepped on.
So. I wrote several short pieces, edited my first novel and got half way through my second, all the while managing a family, giving English lessons and working on a copy-editing course. I have learned a lot about writing this year, and hope to learn much more next year. I set up a website all by myself, yay! Ok, I used wordpress templates, but I learned about widgets and all kinds of stuff. There were one or two hiccups, but overall I am proud of that achievement. I managed to keep the house from deteriorating into a rat-infested, dust bunnie, spider haven. I may not be living where I would like to live, I may be lonely a great deal, but I have two fabulous boys and a supportive husband.
So roll on 2015, I want to see if I can build on last year’s achievements and maybe, just maybe, get something published.
Happy New Year! Louise
How important are emotions in driving a character?
I’ve been mulling this over this past week and had a few thoughts. Feel free to disagree, this is just what was going through my head:)
There are many driving forces behind a character’s behaviour. Needs. Wants. Desires. Revenge. Behind these, either tagging along like cans tied to a newlyweds car or compressing a person until they feel like they will explode, are emotions.
The first three (needs, wants, desires) are often stepping stones into the depth of emotion a person will attach to one of these. For example, the desire to share your life with someone can morph into a want, which then changes to a need. The initial desire comes with the feeling that it would be nice, pleasant, normal. If the desire goes unfulfilled, then the emotions deepen. If the ‘want’ goes unfulfilled, emotions go deeper, and often start to deceive us. A character can think, ‘Why am I the only one not married? Why am I the only one struggling financially?’ It’s easy to slip into thoughts that slowly lead down into a maelstrom of self-pity, anger, depression and fear. (At this point, can I just clarify that not everyone is like this, but it can help to see where a character can go emotionally due to an unfulfilled need.)
Need is often associated with desperation and fear. If I don’t have shelter I may die of cold. If I don’t have enough to eat I will starve. If I don’t find someone to love me I will stay alone. Suffer alone. Age alone. Die alone. If a person cannot meet their own needs, then helplessness, hopelessness and depression can follow.
Want (when not a ‘need’) can be associated with selfishness and inconsideration of others, an assumption that others don’t matter. Some people want to be rich, and will do anything to achieve that – even if it means stamping others down.
Desires can take many forms. In romance novels, sexual desires can often be the main driving force (at first) behind a character. In a thriller, the detective will have the desire to catch a thief or a murderer. When this desire is unfulfilled, then it becomes a want, a need. The passion behind increases, the driving force impels the character to perhaps take more risks.
So emotions drive us in many ways.
Consider yourself. When you wake up in the morning how do you feel? Tired? Buzzing? Still upset at something someone said yesterday? Still slightly drunk???
I know when I wake up tired it colours my whole day a darker shade of whatever hue I feel. Our emotions and reactions colour the way we think and act, likewise with our characters. If some trauma happened when a character was young, that will affect almost everything about them. Even if they shut it out, the fact that they have shut down a part of them means a part of them is missing, regardless how broken up that part is. When does a character learn fear? Love? Consequences of various actions?
In the current medieval novel I am working on, I have a sixteen year old girl who had a traumatic experience when she was about 9. She has shut this out, yet occasionally has nightmares. I have struggled with her character because it isn’t rounded. Part of her is hidden from me, and until she comes to terms with what happened and is willing to remember, it will stay hidden. She has fears, and anxieties which come from this hidden place and these affect her, yet her emotions are dampened because she pushes them down. So it has been difficult to write from her pov, and the novel has turned into one more about her mother while Annie remembers. When she has remembered, she will be much rounder; I will be better able to write her because I know where she is coming from.
Do you know what your characters are feeling in every scene? Do you ‘soul-hop’? I find if I know what a character is feeling, then the dialogue and actions flow easily and naturally. If I don’t know, then everything feels stilted and awkward.
Experiences affect characters differently. One might shrug off an insult, another might take a swing. Another might bear a grudge and nurse it until the tree of bitterness bears the fruit of hatred. Yet all will then adjust their behaviour accordingly. The one who shrugs the insult off may well avoid that person. The one who takes a swing might end up in jail; the one who nurses a grudge may end up sinking into paranoia. A seemingly insignificant detail can end up having pond-wide ripples, which is why, for me, it’s so important knowing how they feel. If I can identify with my own characters, then I have the hope readers will, too.
What do you think? How important are emotions in driving your characters? What do your characters first desire, then want, then need? Is the carrot that is being dangled before them always out of reach, or can they take a bite every now and then, thus increasing the fervency with which they seek more?