The People Speak – Part 4


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

The People Speak – Part 4

By Nandy Ekle

Tag! You’re it! 

That children’s game is an example of what we do in dialogue with tag lines. Tag lines are the little quips that tell us who is speaking. Tradition says to not use the word “said” all the time, but to use a variety of descriptive terms, such as “replied,” or “screeched,” or “blurted.” And then there’s the view that these terms can be distracting, especially if not used correctly. So we should stick with “said” because it’s kind of an invisible tag. But too much of the same word can also be distracting.

I can see the value in both of these points of view. However, there are other ways of making sure your reader knows who’s talking without getting in the way. While we never want our reader to have to back up and work out the order of he said, he said, and we never want to shock our reader out of the story by having our characters whisper when they should scream or purr when they should growl, we also don’t want to bore them with the same words over and over.

One way to do this without being so technical and having to think too hard is to use action during the dialogue. Think about when just and your best friend are having a conversation. One of you grins, the other chuckles. One of you wipes a fallen piece of hair from your face and takes a sip of coffee, the other scratches her ear lobe and sniffles because she has a head cold. Now watch a group of people talking. One speaker raises his hands and gestures the size of the fish he caught. Another laughs because there’s no way that idiot caught that size of fish in that lake. But the guy’s friend stands up in the scoffer’s face to take up for his friend, while another waves her hand in the air at all of them and tells them they’re all a bunch of geeks.

Another way of making sure your readers know your characters’ lines is with voice. I’m going to refer back to Liane Moriarty because I believe she’s a master of this. Each one of her characters has such a distinct voice we know immediately who’s speaking without tons of tags. And that makes a huge difference. Reading her books is like watching a movie. I can hear the difference in each character’s lines as if I’m watching them leave their mouths. 

tag words: n

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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.

Characters have Secrets


Characters have Secrets

Natalie Bright

 

Grey’s Anatomy has me captivated again. Since first premiering on ABC in 2005, I’ve got thirteen yeas of writing experience and I’m watching the show in a whole new frame of mind. A writer’s mind. And thanks to Netflix or Hulu, I don’t have to be patient for another season to begin. Binge watching is extremely inspiring for a creative soul.

The characterization in this medical drama television series is brilliant and addictive. This show is the perfect example of developing depth in fictional characters. One of the ways you can make your characters leap off the page is to give them secrets. Real people have secrets. We have things buried deep within us that we’ll never tell. What we say out loud is not always reflective of what we may be hiding inside.

You’ve probably heard the story craft tool of throwing everything at your character. Conflict keeps the plot moving and holds the readers’ interest. As authors, we are all border line sadistic when it comes to the things we put our characters through.

Let’s look at the characters and their secrets in the show Grey’s Anatomy:

Meredith Grey: central protagonist, is hiding her mother’s illness, who was a brilliant surgeon herself, and is sleeping with her boss while trying to succeed under her mother’s shadow.

Izzie: feels unworthy of her smarts and success because she grew up very poor in a trailer park.

Christina: sleeping with her boss and she has an almost unhealthy obsession with cutting people open.

Dr. Burke: begins a romantic relationship with an intern.

George: is secretly in love with Meredith and is extremely smart,  and not the goof-ball that the world sometimes sees.

Alex: cares deeply about his career and relates to patients on a deeper level, as opposed to the A-hole, shallow attitude he sometimes displays.

Dr. Webber: Surgery chief hides a medical issue with his eyes and had an affair with Meredith’s mom when they were in medical school.

Dr. Shepherd is married and does not tell his girlfriend Meredith, who is an intern.

That barely scratches the surface as the show develops, but you get the idea. The fun part is that we know their secrets as an audience, and we can’t help but watch to see if, and when, they will reveal all to each other. It’s very entertaining and can be applied to the characters in your books.

In season 2, Izzie prepares a Thanksgiving meal for everybody. She explains to Dr. Burk that she wants just one day where they can be normal and act like everybody else. Dr. Burke mumbles, “A day without surgery.” That one line says so much about him as a character and about the entire theme of the show. You have to watch carefully and pay attention to those one-liners. When I first watched the show every week thirteen years ago, I was caught up in the medical issues of the patients. Now I’m focusing my attention entirely on the characters.

As an added bonus, Shonda Rhimes explains her writing process and development of the series at MasterClass.com.

Happy writing, and thanks for following WordSmith Six!

 

Fictional Characters with Family Traditions


Fictional Characters  with Family Traditions

By Natalie Bright

As you develop your characters and identify their quirks and traits, consider their past family experiences and traditions. These incidents shape their personality and can add depth to your story.

Holiday traditions can leave heartfelt memories or tormenting heartache. Is this something that can play into your characters motivations, or become a component of your plot?

Dig Deep and Draw From the Things You Know

Holidays always make me think of my grandparents. I never realized how much I would treasure those memories. For my mother’s family, it was a bustling affaire of preparing the meal, watching football, and opening gifts with cousins. My grandmother planned the menu months in advance, and my aunts and mom arrived early to help.

My in-laws, on the other hand, arrive right at the appointed meal time and leave shortly thereafter. Plans are made at the last minute. The holiday with them seems strange and awkward, leaving me feeling that something is missing. After 28 years of marriage I’m still not used to their way of doing things. The experience only makes me miss the holidays of my childhood even more. So does that past memory affect my attitude? Of course, it does.

What about you and your memories? How can past experiences create tension, either external or internal, for your characters? These past memories might cause resentment, deep depression, intense joy, or a myriad of emotion.

A Past Life

Think about creating a past for your character. Where did their parents come from? How did their parents meet? Where did their grandparents live? Did they even know their grandparents? If not, why?  Maybe the main characters’ mother wasn’t welcome in her family home, and what if your character has to know why. This might not be your primary plot, but it could be a component of your character’s make-up and motivation as to why he/she acts they way they do. You see where I’m going. The possibilities are endless. You may not use even a fourth of this information in your story, but you need to know these details about your main characters and major villain.

You’re on a roll now, so keep going. Childhood experiences? Most frightening time? Most embarrassing time? Childhood friends? Worst enemy? Favorite uncle? Hated aunt? What about that evil sister-in-law who joins a cult and becomes dependent on pain killers? Self-centered brother-in-law? Famous cousin? Wealthy grandfather? How do these people influence your character’s moral fiber?

Write On My Friends!

2013 was a great year. Goals were realized, I garnered a few thrilling publishing credits, and received several devastating rejection notices which means my work is getting out there. I leave you with the most inspiring message for me, one that I heard repeated many times during 2013: keep writing. Finish. Submit.

Thanks for following Wordsmith Six.

nataliebright.com

Raw Emotion


 Raw Emotion

by Natalie Bright

In your mind, the characters of your fictionalized world are real. That means they experience emotion the same as real people would, and it’s that component that makes them come alive to your readers. Emotion is what elevates your characters above the problem of having flat, card-board type characters. If the story seems bland and the plot seems to drone on with no excitement, maybe you need to pump up the emotion in your characters; take them over the top.

For example, let’s think about loss. Whatever it is your character is experiencing as the plot develops, whether it is the absence of a thing, person, or familiar home, the emotion to apply is defined by social workers as “Stages of Grief”.  Everyone experiences these kinds of emotion when dealing with a devastating loss. Keep in mind that people may not experience every one of the states defined below, and it might not be in the order they’re listed.

The Stages of Grief

Denial – this isn’t happening to me.

Anger – why is this happening to me?

Bargaining – I promise I’ll be a better person if…

Depression – I don’t care anymore.

Acceptance – I’m ready for whatever comes (usually last).

As a real human being, you have probably experienced some of these as some point in your own life. I remember my mother going through every one of these emotions after my father died. We decided she might need a change. We moved her into a beautiful retirement village with many other widow ladies, thinking she was settled in and healing, and then after several months she found a picture of my dad in an unpacked box. The picture took center-stage on her dresser in her lovely new apartment and I recognized my mother going through the states of grief all over again.

Emotional Behaviors

The writer’s rule of “show, don’t tell” can be demonstrated by physical traits or habits of your character.

Numbness – mechanical functioning

Disorganization – intense, painful feelings of loss

Recorganization – re-entry into a normal social life

Application to Work in Progress

My WIP western opens with the funeral of my main characters’ father. What types of emotion would a young boy experience? I’m thinking much the same as an adult would, except based on the experiences of a fourteen year old. Most definitely he’d be angry about being left alone.

I hope this helps you in developing your characters to their fullest potential. Keep writing!

www.nataliebright.com