Towns


Outtakes 368

Towns

By Cait Collins

 

When setting the location for your story, what do you look for?  Do you choose an actual place or is it from your imagination?  What draws you to the city or town?  Where is it located?  If the location is in the United States, which state are you considering?  Are you familiar with the city or town and the state? What’s the population?  Who are the biggest employers?  Is there a college or university in the area?  Is there a historic district?  Did any major, historic event occur in the area?  Describe Main Street.  Where are the popular hang outs:  a bar, a diner, the library?  Is there a well-known landmark?  What is the major building material:  wood, brick, native stone?

Are the locals affluent, middle class, under privileged, or a mixture of all classes? What are the major ethnic backgrounds?  Describe your antagonist, protagonist, and major supporting character’s homes.  Where’s the best place to buy an ice cream sundae?

Does it matter if your setting is real or from your imagination?  Not really because all of this information, and more, is necessary to build the setting for the story.  While the location is essential to the work, it should not take over the tale.

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Try living with your character


Try living with your character

When creating a character try this exercise.

As you build a character or characters, you should be able to see them and answer questions about them. As you take action and make choices during the day, do the same with your character.

What do you eat for breakfast? Does your character eat breakfast? What foods do they like or dislike?

Do you wear a particular style of clothes? What does your character WEAR? Why do they like to wear them?

Do you go to the store? Where does your character shop and what do they buy?

What do you do for fun, sports or hobbies? What about your character?

What’s important is NOT what the character did, but what you learned about what you know about the character.

Rory C. Keel

CHARACTER


CHARACTER

Natalie Bright

 

“What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?” HENRY JAMES

 

As David Morrell reminds us in his book LESSONS FROM A LIFETIME OF WRITING, plot and character are intimately related. Every character that comes on scene has interaction with your main character and will establish a relationship with that main character. Your protagonist will interact with each of those minor characters in some way, and their actions and dialogue move the plot along. Is that relationship from the past or a new one? (Be sure to add Morrell’s book to your writing reference library.)

According to E. M. Forster, main characters are multidimensional. They surprise us, they are complex, and they are difficult to describe succinctly. They are defined by who they are.

The iceberg theory is a style of writing coined by American writer Ernest Hemingway. “The dignity of the movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above the water”. Same is true for characters and their stories. What is obvious to the reader implies a much larger truth and depth. That is why the majority of your character profile will never appear in your story, but you know your characters intimately. As one workshop instructor explained, the writer should know what is in the main character’s closet.

What does your character want, and what obstacles can you throw in their way to prevent them from achieving that goal?

THE WAY I SEE IT


THE WAY I SEE IT

Lynnette Jalufka

One day, two of my coworkers were pushing carts down a walkway, heading toward each other.

One shouted, “Whoa!”

The other kept going, until the carts collided, spilling their contents on the floor. “Why didn’t you say ‘stop?'” he asked. “What’s ‘whoa’ mean?”

Obviously, one coworker has had experience with horses, and the other has not. I can relate. Because of my equine background, I say, “whoa” instead of “stop” all the time. I also respond faster to “whoa.” It’s part of who I am. It’s part of how I connect to the world around me.

The same goes for your characters. Their background and experiences should color how they see the people, places, and objects in your story. In my upcoming novel, I show that my protagonist is a horsewoman by how she constantly does comparisons to the equine world. She evaluates people by their horses first.

Drawing from your character’s own experiences will give them depth and personality. In short, making them alive to your readers.

The People – Part 2


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

The People – Part 2

By Nandy Ekle

If you’ve ever dealt with people—any amount of time at all, even just a moment—you know every single person in the world is made of many layers. Even newborn babies. I remember watching my babies, just a few hours old, sleeping and wondering what they were like. 

Your characters must have layers just like real people do. If they don’t, they won’t be believable. They won’t connect with your reader. Your reader will close the book and say, “Who cares.” So inventing a character takes careful work.

You have the outside layer, the surface. This is what the world in your book sees—not necessarily what the character looks like (unless your story is about overcoming a physical condition). This is the part of your character, your person, that starts the story.

The next layer is something that maybe is not so evident right away. 

Here’s an example. One of my favorite books is The Shining, and the layering is exactly why. When the story begins, we see a man in a job interview. The interviewer is talking away with Jack, explaining the job, and explaining that he knows about Jack’s past problems. The very first line of the book shows us Jack’s attitude toward his prospective employer—he’s arrogant. He’s angry that the problems of the past are drug out into the open when he thought he slayed them. And he’s angry that this prissy little man talks to him as if he is intellectually challenged. So immediately we empathize with Jack. We all know what these things feel like.

But we find out later, only a few pages into the story, that the anger and the arrogance are only shields he has built as defense mechanisms. His inner layers are far more complex and far darker than we have any idea about. 

And we can identify with that as well.

Next week we’ll talk about the deep stuff. 

Homework: Describe in the comments below how your favorite character appears to his/her world. Then describe the first sign that reveals a deeper layer, and what that layer is.

Favorite Literary Characters


Favorite Literary Characters

by Adam Huddleston

Since the theme this month is characterization, I wanted to mention a few of my favorite characters from classic fiction.  Of course, this list is by no means comprehensive.

One of my most beloved book series is The Dark Tower by Stephen King.  While many fans of Mr. King’s magnum opus would site the main character’s side-kicks as their favorite characters, I have to go with the protagonist, Roland Deschain.  He is simultaneously endearing and frightful.  His gun-fighting abilities are fascinating as is his doggedness at pursuing the story’s ultimate goal.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien hosts a literary ton of characters.  Of all of them, my favorite is Aragorn (AKA Strider, AKA King Elessar).  He is the prototypical hero and Tolkien provides him with excellent dialogue, great actions, and a wonderful arc.

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the author presents the tale in a story-within-a-story format.  In other words, one character is telling their story to another character, who in turn is telling it to another, who in turn is telling it to the reader.  My favorite character is actually Dr. Frankenstein’s creation, often referred to as the monster.  He is intriguing and pitiful.  The creation’s murderous actions are horrifying, but he is also a sad character that the reader feels empathy towards.

What are your favorite literary characters?  

Under the Bed


Outtakes 367

Under the Bed

By Cait Collins

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to clean the junk out of my house.  I’ve made a start by cleaning out the closet in the master bedroom.  Then I started to focus on the closet in my study.  About a third of the upper shelf is loaded with boxes containing my “under the bed shopped but unpublished works.”  I’ve started pulling down boxes and found some promising pieces as well as some real duds.  The duds are in the trash, but the promising works I’ve decided to hang on to for a while.

If I have multiple copies of a manuscript I’ll trash the extras and keep just one copy.  That way I can reduce the number of file boxes on the shelf.  Once the clean out is complete, I’ll take a good look at the remaining pages and decide if the work is salvageable.  If I determine the work to be worth saving, I will type it into a new Word document make making updates and changes as I go.  Then I will destroy the paper copies.

Should I decide the story is no longer interesting to me, I will shred it, and then I will pack the empty file box into a larger box to take to Goodwill. Hopefully I will have an empty section of shelves when I’m through.

I don’t know about other writers, but cleaning out the mess and organizing the storage spaces helps me focus.  My desk and work area at the office are relatively cleaned off.  I don’t keep many photos and nick-nacks on my work station. I really do work best that way.  If I trash the junk,  I think more clearly.  I can work smarter and better.  I make fewer mistakes when I my work area is neat.  However, the same does not hold for desk drawers.  What I can’t see doesn’t bother me.

The People Surrounding You


The People Surrounding You

Rory C. Keel

For a writing exercise, take a few moments and make a list of your closest friends, relatives, your boss, and co-workers.

Choose the person you like the most and the least; the person who has had the most positive and most negative influence on you; the person who has changed the most and the least since you’ve known them; and then write a write a brief paragraph on each of them explaining why you feel this way.

Notice any quirks they may exhibit such as, do they constantly jerk their head back to flip their hair out of their eyes, or do they run their hand throughout their hair?

Do they chew their food quietly, or smack their lips loudly?

These are the kind of details that add life to your story characters.

roryckeel.com

Characters & The Five Senses


Characters & The Five Senses

Natalie Bright

 

The main character Hassan in the movie The Hundred Foot Journey, is a culinary genius whose talent propels him to a world-renowned chef.  The title refers to the distance between Hassan’s family who relocates to France because of a tragedy and opens an Indian restaurant across the road from a traditional French restaurant. I have watched this many times, and I always tear up at the same scene.

The Power of Taste and Smell

One of my favorite scenes is the perfect example of how the power of taste and smell can be used to create powerful emotion.

While sitting in his darkened, closed restaurant overlooking the Paris skyline, Hassan hears a young co-worker on break. He raises his head, pauses, and then slowly rises from the floor. The young man is eating. “Do you want some?” he asks.

As Hassan dips pieces of fried bread into the dish, the young man explains that his wife cooks the traditional Indian way on an open fire in the courtyard of their apartment using spices from their homeland. Tears well up in Hassan’s eyes and you can see the emotion and internal conflict on his face. His mother, who had died in a fire, was the one who had taught him the use of spices. The family’s relocation from India to France had been a struggle of cultural differences. All of this is visible as Hassan buries his face in his hands and sobs. You understand the conflict that is going through his mind. There is no dialogue. He doesn’t voice his pain, but you know. It is a very powerful scene triggered by smell and taste.

INCLUDE THE SENSES

Characters should experience several of the five senses in every scene. This pulls your reader into the emotion and setting and reveals the conflict that the character is experiencing. During the editing process, I find it’s easier to deliberately focus on enhancing the five sense during one pass. As I read every scene, I think about the reality for that character. What more can be revealed? For example, the smells of food, the sounds of nature, the feel of satin fabric, etc. Dig deep into the slightest, most minute detail of what that character is experiencing. Maybe it’s good as written, but maybe it can be better.

Here’s Your Homework

Think of your favorite movie and watch a scene that triggers emotion based on any of the five senses. If you have a particular scene in mind, be very specific with your search terms to find it on YouTube.

Watch the scene several times. Now, turn off the video and write that same scene. Be descriptive about the senses that trigger the emotion. Fill your pages with emotion and rewriter the scene.

WHO CARES?


WHO CARES?

Lynnette Jalufka

 

I was flipping TV channels one day when I came across the beginning of a movie. A small boy was ordered to fix breakfast by his aunt and uncle while his selfish cousin bullied him. I immediately cared for this orphaned kid with the big round glasses. I wanted to know what happened to him. He ended up at a strange school, with a mystery to solve and a villain determined to kill him. By the end of the movie, I was applauding him.

Apparently, other people liked him, too. I watched more movies about him, and when I ran out of movies, I read the last two books of the series. I wanted to see how he prevailed against this villain. I eventually bought all the books and all the movies. I even went to a midnight premiere showing of the last film. All because I cared about this character.

Such is the power of a sympathetic hero. So, have you guessed who he is? He’s the famous Harry Potter. And the movie that started it all? Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Your protagonist must have something your readers can relate to, sympathize with, care about. Without it, why would they finish your story? They need someone to cheer for to the end. Who knows what can happen after that?