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.

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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

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?

Excerpt From “Miss Bitsy”


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

Excerpt From “Miss Bitsy”

By Nandy Ekle

“We’ll keep working on that mystery. This cake is wonderful! and the caramel brownies,… I think I died and went to Heaven. Miss Bitsy, you’re amazing.:

“Oh, thank you, Dear. It’s just the same old recipe I’ve always had”

“Now you said you last saw Anton about a month ago?”

“Yes.” She stopped and looked up the stairs as if she’d heard a noise. Her expression changed to a dark frown, then back to her sweet, smiling self, as if a could had crossed her face.

“Miss Bitsy, are you okay?”

She turned back and smiled. “Oh, yes, I’m fine. I just thought I heard something. Must be squirrels up there. Yes, I think it was about a month ago. I’m afraid we had a little disagreement. You see, some of my things disappeared. Oh, nothing big, but gadgets I was fond of. I’m afraid I accused him of taking them. I just can’t imagine why he would want that stuff. He said he hadn’t touched them, but he was the only other person here.”

“Do you think he stole your stuff and left town?”

“Well, I don’t know about that. I certainly wouldn’t have dreamed of him taking anything from me. If he had just asked I would have given him anything.”

“What things were missing?”

“Let’s see… things missing… well, my rose colored Pyrex dish… my green apron… oh, my marble rolling pin, and my flour sifter.”

Jeremy looked at her, incredulous at the list of missing items. The Miss Bitsy he remembered would never have made a big deal out of losing something as inconsequential as a Pyrex dish. Surely she had plenty of dishes to cook in. “Are you sure Mr. Easley took those things? What kind of monetary value did any of that have for a college student?”

“Well, I don’t know why he would want them, but he was the only other person in the house; it couldn’t have been anyone else. He said he didn’t take them, but there was no one else here.” Again she looked up the stairs as if she’d heard something, and once again a frown momentarily creased her brow.

“Miss Bitsy, let me go look for the squirrel to pay you back for the cake and brownies.”

“Oh, Jerry, I could always count on you to do little jobs for me, but I think this is a job for someone else. Don’t you worry about it.”

He swallowed  gulp of milk and nodded. “Exactly what did Anton say when you asked him about those items?”

“He said he didn’t take them. He said I’m like his grandmother and he would never steal anything from me.” She turned back to the stairs, frowning, and after a moment she stood up, shook her finger at the rooms above her head and began to yell. “You can’t threaten me like that anymore, Eli Bevel! I know you’re dead ‘cause I killed you myself!”

An excerpt from the anthology, One Murderous Week. A book of seven short stories written by Nandy Ekle, available at a book store near you, or amazon.com, Barnesandnobles.com or from carpediempublishers.com. 

Excerpt From “Miss Bitsy”


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

Excerpt From “Miss Bitsy”

By Nandy Ekle

“We’ll keep working on that mystery. This cake is wonderful! and the caramel brownies,… I think I died and went to Heaven. Miss Bitsy, you’re amazing.:

“Oh, thank you, Dear. It’s just the same old recipe I’ve always had”

“Now you said you last saw Anton about a month ago?”

“Yes.” She stopped and looked up the stairs as if she’d heard a noise. Her expression changed to a dark frown, then back to her sweet, smiling self, as if a could had crossed her face.

“Miss Bitsy, are you okay?”

She turned back and smiled. “Oh, yes, I’m fine. I just thought I heard something. Must be squirrels up there. Yes, I think it was about a month ago. I’m afraid we had a little disagreement. You see, some of my things disappeared. Oh, nothing big, but gadgets I was fond of. I’m afraid I accused him of taking them. I just can’t imagine why he would want that stuff. He said he hadn’t touched them, but he was the only other person here.”

“Do you think he stole your stuff and left town?”

“Well, I don’t know about that. I certainly wouldn’t have dreamed of him taking anything from me. If he had just asked I would have given him anything.”

“What things were missing?”

“Let’s see… things missing… well, my rose colored Pyrex dish… my green apron… oh, my marble rolling pin, and my flour sifter.”

Jeremy looked at her, incredulous at the list of missing items. The Miss Bitsy he remembered would never have made a big deal out of losing something as inconsequential as a Pyrex dish. Surely she had plenty of dishes to cook in. “Are you sure Mr. Easley took those things? What kind of monetary value did any of that have for a college student?”

“Well, I don’t know why he would want them, but he was the only other person in the house; it couldn’t have been anyone else. He said he didn’t take them, but there was no one else here.” Again she looked up the stairs as if she’d heard something, and once again a frown momentarily creased her brow.

“Miss Bitsy, let me go look for the squirrel to pay you back for the cake and brownies.”

“Oh, Jerry, I could always count on you to do little jobs for me, but I think this is a job for someone else. Don’t you worry about it.”

He swallowed  gulp of milk and nodded. “Exactly what did Anton say when you asked him about those items?”

“He said he didn’t take them. He said I’m like his grandmother and he would never steal anything from me.” She turned back to the stairs, frowning, and after a moment she stood up, shook her finger at the rooms above her head and began to yell. “You can’t threaten me like that anymore, Eli Bevel! I know you’re dead ‘cause I killed you myself!”

An excerpt from the anthology, One Murderous Week. A book of seven short stories written by Nandy Ekle, available at a book store near you, or amazon.com, Barnesandnobles.com or from carpediempublishers.com.