The Voice


POSTCARDS FROM THE MUSE

The Voice

By Nandy Ekle

Narration. To tell a story. This is the writer speaking to the reader. It’s like a one-person play. 

And this is where a writer’s voice comes in. The voice is the writer’s uniqueness, the choice of words, the rhythm of the words, more dialogue or less dialogue. Some writers are excellent at very detailed description, others just give you a general idea and let you figure it out. But each one is different.

One idea of narration is to write in such a way that the narration is nearly invisible. This can make a great story because the characters are the ones telling the story. 

But I think one of my favorite methods is when the narrator adds flavor. If you ever read The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, you’ve seen this work. The characters are indeed telling the story, but the narrator adds his bits of information, sort of like Adam talked about in his blog. Stephen King also used this method in The Eyes of the Dragon, and Lemony Snicket used it in A Series of Unfortunate Events. 

Using this type of narration adds flavor without getting in the way of what the characters are up to. It can also add a little humor. And there are times when I read a story written in this way that I almost feel the writer in the room with me.

Your assignment is to read a few pages of your favorite book. Pay attention to all the words of the story that are not dialogue or action. 

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Being Consumed


POSTCARDS FROM THE MUSE

Being Consumed

By Nandy Ekle

I know my job is to write about plot. Plot is very important because that’s the essence of the story. It’s the conflict, it’s how the characters react to the conflict, it’s how the conflict reacts to the characters, and it’s who wins in the end. In short, if you got no plot, you got no story.

Lately, something has happened to me that I crave to happen constantly. I am consumed by a story. This story popped in my head a couple of years ago while listening to a song on my play-list. This song is on an album I had as a teenager and I wore it out listening to it so much. Now, as an adult with the ability to purchase electronic forms of music, I found the album on-line and bought it. So all the songs were familiar old friends. 

But when this particular song played, it was more than just remembering how much I liked it back in yore. A seed opened up and a root shot out into my mind. I had to hear the song again, and again, and again, over and over. The root grew a stem, the stem grew leaves, and a bud began to open. And all the while, the roots took over more and more of my mind.

I am now so consumed by this story growing that every thought I have goes back to the song. 

Congratulations. You have just received a postcard from the muse.

What’s the Problem


POSTCARDS FROM THE MUSE

 

What’s the Problem

By Nandy Ekle

You have people and these people speak. But what do they do? 

I used to feel rebellious when someone said, “What do they want. They all must want something.” I always believed that a story was simply about what the characters were doing. But then I realized there was no depth to a story where characters just walk around doing things and talking to each other. There has to be a reason for that they do and say.

This reason is your plot. 

This thing the character wants is what drives the story. And it doesn’t even have to be a conscious thing. It can be a goal they don’t realize they have, like surviving a bad storm. But there is a goal. 

One of the best examples of goal-driven plot, in my opinion, is the Harry Potter series. At first, Harry has a goal he doesn’t realize he has, but this goal continues with him all through the series. The goal becomes more apparent to him through the story, and by the end, he is so committed to this goal that he’s willing to pay the ultimate price.

Your homework is to analyze your favorite story for the deepest goals. Tell me what you discover in the comments below.

DO THE TWIST


Do the Twist

Nandy Ekle

Once upon a time a handsome prince came to a faraway castle and met a beautiful princess. They fell in love instantly. Her father, the king, saw immediately how much the prince and princess loved each other and arranged for the two to marry at once. And they lived happily ever after.

Ho hum. We have to find some way to make this story more interesting.  Luckily I took a writing class about a year ago and I know exactly what this story needs. This drab little tale must have some twists and turns.

Every plot must have a character with a goal and lots of problems ranging from very serious to very minor. And there is a very nifty way to create these obstacles.

I learned in the writing class that if you write down everything you assume is true about a character and/or a situation, then change one of those things, you have a nice little twist. So in the story above, what do we assume?

Well, we assume the prince and princess are young unmarried lovers. We assume they are sweet and charming. We assume their courtship is smooth and romantic. We assume they are earthlings and that they are human beings. And we assume the time is long ago.

Which one of those assumptions would you change, and how does it affect the story?

Congratulations.  You have just received a postcard from the muse.

Nandy Ekle

Let’s Talk


Let’s Talk

By Nandy Ekle

 

“Hi. My name is Main Character.” He raised his hand in a wave.

“Hi, Main Character. My name is Nemesis.” He nodded toward Main Character.

Main Character smiled. “It’s good to meet you.”

“Thank you. It’s good to meet you too.”

Main Character looked past Nemesis’ shoulder and Nemesis looked down at the floor. The clock ticked an awkward moment.

Main Character jerked his face back to Nemesis’ face as a flash of thought passed through his mind. “We’re supposed to inspire writers to write a believable dialogue.”

A light snapped on in Nemesis’ eyes. “Oh. Do you mean, like, actually sounding like two people having a conversation instead of sounding like two sides of the same person?”

“Yes. That’s right.” Main Character smiled while his head moved up and down.

“I see.  How do you think a good writer does that?”

Shrugging his shoulders, Main Character said, “Well, I think they have to just almost actually hear two different people speaking and write what they say exactly the way it’s said.”

Nemesis’ eyes darken slightly. “Ya’ know, Mainy, I do b’lieve you jes’ hit da nail rat own its big ol’ head.”

“Yes. And that means the writer needs to know his characters very well.” He took a coupe of steps backward.

“Yore galdern rat ‘bout dat dar rule.” Nemesis took a couple of steps forward toward Main Character.

Main Character turned his head and looked over his shoulder for the door behind him, then he looked back at Nemesis. His brow was lined with worry. “So, do you have any advice to add to that?”

Nemesis stopped moving and lookd up into space as if an idea would appear like a light bulb. “Well . . . yeah. They prolly need to make shore dem readers know who’s tawkin’ when. ‘Cause, like us? We ain’t just standing still flappin’ our gums. We’re acchully doing’ sumpin’”

“That’s right,” Main Character said.

Nemesis grinned a dark toothy grin. Yeah.” He turned to look at the person reading their dialogue. “Got that, reader? Now.” He paused and leaned forward until his nose nearly touched the reader’s nose. The dark light came back to his eyes. “Go do it!”

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

The People Speak – Part 2


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

The People Speak – Part 2

By Nandy Ekle

How many of you readers out there never talk to yourselves? You never have a running conversation in your head, never ask yourself questions, never tell yourself your opinion, never remind yourself of your to-do list? 

The inside of my head sometimes sounds like a throng of voices. I don’t mean, like, hearing voices telling me to do bad things, as in schizophrenia or psychosis. I mean it’s like the two sides of my brain talking to each other, so much so that I need to listen to music with lyrics while I work my day job, just to keep the creative side out of the analytical side’s business.

Our characters, who we want our readers to believe are real people, are exactly the same. They have inner thoughts the same as we do. And these inner thoughts can be very important to our story. It can tell us more about the character, it can move the story along, it can even be a fantastic vehicle for flashbacks and important back story. 

There are some types of story where inner dialogue is critical. I read a story once about a woman with a mental syndrome causing her problems. She desperately wanted to heal from that, so she took a trip in order to come to terms with this. The problem I had with the story was there was very little inner dialogue to show her healing, her metamorphosis. The author didn’t set the problem up very well as far as symptoms in the beginning, and suddenly, at the end, she was well. I didn’t feel like had made that emotional journey with her.

Another thing to remember when using inner dialogue is to keep your character’s voice, speech, personality, and view of the world intact. If your character has a secret side to them, that’s wonderful, but give us a clue to this secret in their outside layers. Then, with the inner dialogue, you can let it out flamboyantly. But always remember their view of the world.

Back to Liane Moriarty. In Big Little Lies, one of the main characters has this secret side to herself. She’s seems a little scatter-brained on the outside, a little, like, “whatever . . .” But through her inner dialogue, we learn she is guarding a terrible secret that she doesn’t know how to handle. For excellent examples of all kinds of dialogue, read Big Little Lies. 

The People Speak – Part 1


POSTCARDS FROM THE MUSE

The People Speak – Part 1

By Nandy Ekle

Believable characters have believable dialogue. Your characters should sound like real people, not the narrator. The narrator (you, the writer) has their own voice, rhythm, and way of putting words together; the characters do too.  

This is critical. Without effective dialogue, the characters remain paper dolls. And this is another place where your people watching skills and whatever knowledge of psychology you have is key.

We are writing words for people to read. And since those reading our words cannot hear the words as they come out of our mouths, we have to rely on the readers’ imaginations to fill in the sound. And this is why it is critical to make the characters sound like real people.

Each character has a distinct and personal way of speaking. You may have someone who speaks boldly enunciating each syllable of each word as if they are on a stage and want the entire theater to hear everything said. You may have a character who is timid and hates to be seen or heard. You may have a comic who turns everything into a joke. 

For excellent examples of distinct dialogue which reveals the characters deep down, read anything by Liane Moriarty. Ms. Moriarty is an Australian writer, and her culture and language are different from mine, but humans are humans. Her stories are about characters who act, react, and speak to each other. And they are all very different. And there is never any doubt who is talking when they talk. 

In Big Little Lies, you have the older, brasher, standing-on-a-stage character; the timid, shy, don’t-look-at-me character, and the strong, intelligent, caring character who carries a terrifying secret. Even though this is printed word instead of pictures, we know exactly who is speaking as soon as they open their mouths.

Next week we’ll look at the importance of inner dialogue.

Your homework: Watch and listen to people having a conversation. Pay attention to body language, words, dialect, facial expressions, and tone of voice. These are just some of the things that makes every person’s speech unique.

The People – Part 4


POSTCARDS FROM THE MUSE

The People – Part 4

By Nandy Ekle

This week, let’s spend some time in that mysterious realm of psychology.

I am not a psychologist, never took more than one or two classes college, but I am observant. And when I need to know something, I know how to find out. Plus, I have spent a lot of time since before graduating high school reading about different theories. And, as a confirmed introvert, I am a people watcher on the highest level. So take my views as you will.

There are a lot of theories that, in my opinion, are pure silliness. If you think long and hard about anything, you can turn it into a huge overpowering mountain. But there’s also a lot that, again, my opinion, are wrapped in truth. 

It helps to know what kind of personality your character has. Sometimes I don’t even realize the depth of my character’s soul until I am well into the story (being an avid “pantser”). But when you think about it, it follows that a person with a serious goal will make the decision to do whatever it takes to meet that goal. But we also know that every single personality type that has ever drawn breath has issues and hang-ups. And this is a great place to draw conflict from. 

Back to The Shining (if I ever taught a writing class, that book would definitely be the text book for my class). Jack’s surface goal is to keep his family afloat. Having lost a job because of his issues is the surface conflict. But it’s so important to him he is willing to take a menial job just to make sure his family is taken care of. Not only that, he puts up with being humiliated to even be in that position. Now, deep down there’s even more to it. He is humiliated with himself. He has not been able to keep his family afloat because of his own bad decisions, and he knows this. Which feeds his “demons.” 

But deeper down, it’s more than his family at stake. Because of the “demons”, he will forever fight (not trying to be a spoiler), but his actual goal is his own healing. And we all know that healing comes from pain. So he must go through ultimate pain to get to the healing. And this terrifies him. (READ THE BOOK)

Your homework, think about your character’s surface goal and what will he give up to attain it. What inner issues stand in his way? Is he covering up something deeper? Is there one last little shred of himself he is not willing to let go of to reach the pinnacle?

The People – Part 2


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

The People – Part 2

By Nandy Ekle

Last week we talked about giving our characters layers. We talked about the surface layers. So, as promised, we will go deeper into character development. A little knowledge of psychology is helpful, but the main tool is to know people around you. And people watching is an excellent way to gather information.

For one of my short stories, My Sweet Prince (in the anthology One Murderous Week, available in print from any bookstore), my main character came to me after driving home from a weekend trip. I stopped at a convenience store for a cup of coffee and the store clerk was sitting on a stool behind the counter, chewing a wad of gum and reading a romance book. And suddenly I could see several layers behind her eyes. Here was this young woman working all night long in a store. She likes to read romance books, probably as an escape from a dull job pulling a boring shift. The gum smelled like bubble gum. Personally, I like to chew gum to help stay awake when I need to. But I also noticed a bruise on her arm. The bruise could have come from anywhere, and that was the whole point. I really knew nothing about this woman other than the little clues I could see in my fifteen minutes in the store.

So, back to Jack Torrence from The Shining. His surface layer was arrogance and anger. And Stephen King made the statement later that he didn’t like Jack’s arrogance. But really and truly, the arrogance was necessary because it hid a deep well of layers that would only work if there was a hard shell to cover them up. He has guilt, anger, shame, confusion, sadness, and self-loathing. And every single time I read the book, I stumble on a layer I had not seen before. The reason it all works so well is if arrogance is all there was, we would never be able to sympathize with Jack. However, if the story opened with all the deeper darker layers instead of the surface, Jack would not have been a believable character.

Next week we’ll talk about some of the psychology involved in creating a believable, likable character your readers will cheer/weep for.

Your homework, think about a situation you’ve been in recently where you meet a group of people for the first time, like a party. Think about one interesting person you met. List the clues you see to tell you something about this person. What is it about this person that stands out in your mind? How can this become one of your characters?

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.