Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Character's Course Through a Story

A Character's Course
Through a Story

Summer is often about going light and airy--shorts and a breezy blouse, a salad or a slice of watermelon, a book on the beach with your toes in the sand, so let's take that route through character development.  Better yet, let's approach it with another summer pass time in mind, golf-- a character course in nine holes.

We'll take this course one hole at a time, adding a new hole a day!

Hole One: The Clubs You Bring Onto the Course AKA Backstory
In golf, you're swinging to hit the ball into the hole in as few shots as possible using different clubs, judging the lay of land, and doing the legwork to get that ball to the flag. Characters can work much the same way. You to create them in as few strokes as possible using the best tools and covering the distance from first page to last by judging the lay of the land in the fictional world that unfolds as you write it.

For your first tee shot, it's all about the clubs you bring onto the course and the metaphor is apt in more ways than one. In creating a character with compelling backstory, you have to remember that much of that character's story remains "under the rim" of the bag and the surface of the story until you pull a club out to take a swing. And each part of that story as a different purpose in your story like a driver is much different than a putter. With emotional situations that are raw and real and lead your character rash action, they are swung hard and fast like a driver. Emotional issues that are delicate and require diplomacy, you swing slow and easy with great care and aim like a putter.

For me, I come to the course with my bag of clubs aka backstory, but I allow my subconscious to choose the clubs.  I just pick the bag--the point when everything that changes, the incident that shapes who the character is at the beginning of the story--the storm that leads to a farming accident that takes away the use of a boy's leg (Worth), the end of slavery that frees a young boy to go find the mother who was sold away from him (Walking Home to Rosie Lee), and the adoptee who is terrified of water has to go live on a lake for the summer (Water Steps).  From there, I let the backstory unfold as the events do, asking myself "What would my character do now? Why?"

An understanding of character motivation and life-shaping events is essential here--study it in the books you read, the movies you watch, the people you meet, and consider a course in psychology via a book or an actual class. All of these things will be instrumental in helping you shape your character's past and remember--give everyone a past or the secondary and tertiary characters won't seem real.

Keep in mind, everyone plays golf differently, so everyone creates their character backstory differently. Find the way that works for you!

Here's an article from Rachel Ballon to offer you another perspective on developing backstory:
"How to Weave in Backstory to Reveal Character"

How do you incorporate backstory?

Hole 2: Swing with Distinction

Making your character unique is an essential of character development. You want your character to be someone your readers can relate to, but that can be as simple as making them a golfer--allowing them to have a hobby, need, or desire that readers in your target audience share.

Stake is an essential for your readers as well. That's the need/want that drives your character through the story aka keeps them on the golf course plugging away that little round ball. It could be a hole in one they're looking for here, but whatever it is, it should be internal and external. The hole in one is an external goal. Internally, the character may be trying to control their temper so they don't wrap their golf club around a tree when they miss a shot.

My dad frequently came home with bent clubs claiming that he was attacked by a heard of buffalo that he had to fight off with his club or get trampled.  Let's just say, I came by my ability to spin a tale naturally and my dad was a definitely a distinct character!

You also want your character to have a distinct voice. To speak in a way others do not.  Does your character constantly use shopping metaphors? Do they speak in as few words as possible? Run off at the mouth? Use a catch phrase like, "As long as no one swallowed a bug, we're good" is that because he swallowed a bee as a child and discovered he was allergic?

As I said, backstory is important and should be woven in.  You can also distinguish characters through the pasts you create, the clothes they wear, the pets who follow them, the things they do every Tuesday at 9:15 AM.

Let your character walk off the page by being a unique individual with layers, voice, and motivations!

But don't just take my word for it, here's
an article on giving your character a distinctive voice by fiction editor, Beth Hill
Variety in Character Voices

How do you make your characters distinctive?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

"Book Addiction": 
The Reads That Shaped This Writer
by Guest Blogger Laurie J. Edwards

A Reader Gets Hooked

Asking me to choose the book that had the greatest impact on me is liking asking me to choose my favorite child – it can’t be done. My mother’s favorite story is that, when I was eight months old, I would sit in my playpen and “read” Reader’s Digest from cover to cover, turning one page at a time and looking over one side and then the other, before turning to the next page. I may have been imitating my parents, who were voracious readers, but my love affair with books began then and continued throughout my life.

When I truly learned to read, I holed up in my room, ignoring my mother’s plea that I needed fresh air and exercise. My reading addiction led to flashlights under the covers and books hidden inside my school desk. I read an average of 20 to 30 books a week throughout my elementary, teen, and young adult years. I read my way through library after library, and my greatest joy was becoming a librarian with access to free ILLs (interlibrary loans) and no fines.

All of this makes it difficult to pinpoint one special book that turned me into a writer. The book I reread from cover to cover until it was tattered was A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. That book influenced my philosophy of life: I wanted to be Sara Crewe, to always be cheerful in spite of life’s hardships, to always look for the best in people, and to use my imagination to brighten any situation. If I had to give one book credit for inspiring my outlook on life and stirring my creativity, A Little Princess would win the award.

From Reading to Writing

The author that I most wanted to imitate, though, was Madeleine L’Engle. When I read A Wrinkle in Time, I dreamed of writing a book that affected readers so powerfully, that immersed them so deeply in a fantasy that they lost track of time and space, and that made them sigh in contentment when they closed the cover, knowing that the ending was not only inevitable, but perfect.

When I began writing, I took Madeleine L’Engle’s quote to heart: “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” I strongly believe children have an open-mindedness and a deep, innate understanding of what’s important in life, a knowledge that adults lose as they rush through their days worrying about to-do lists and other people’s opinions. Young readers are storing up knowledge and information they’ll use as adults, so children’s books have the power to influence their life choices.

I still remember the impact Madeleine L’Engle’s quote of Francis Thompson made on my young impressionable mind: “Thou canst not stir a flower / Without troubling a star.” Reading those words made me appreciate the vastness of the universe and the interconnectedness of all life. I realized the ripple effect even tiny acts of kindness can have on the world around me, and to this day, I can’t pull weeds without feeling a vast sadness. I’d rather have an overgrown garden than remove a plant, any plant – even a weed. To touch readers’ lives so deeply that my words positively influence decisions made decades later would be my greatest dream.

I may never approach Madeleine L’Engle’s greatness, but when a teen boy comments on Wattpad about my YA novel Grace and the Guiltless, “I've never been so moved by a book. You honestly made me cry…”  or a young teen girl says, “Reading this makes me stick up for myself and teaches me to boost my confidence,” I feel I’m heading in the right direction. Someday I hope to influence readers the way Frances Hodgson Burnett and Madeleine L’Engle affected me. These writers have taught me many things, but the most important is:
 "Thou canst not stir a reader
Without troubling a heart.”*

*an adaptation of poetic lines by Frances Thompson "The Mistress of Vision"

A Little More About This Book Loving Author

Laurie J. Edwards is the author of more than 2200 articles and 30 books in print or forthcoming. A student in the Hollins University MFA program in Children’s Writing and Illustrating, she also juggles editing and illustration careers, while writing fiction and nonfiction for children and adults under several pen names. As Erin Johnson, she writes the YA Western series, WANTED, in which her heroine, Grace, has been called “the Katniss of the West.” As Rachel J. Good, she writes the SISTERS & FRIENDS Amish series. Visit her at www.lauriejedwards.com and www.racheljgood.com.

Thank you so much for this lovely homage to the books that shaped you, Laurie.


What books shaped your life?

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Wandering and Seizing


                As the name of this blog reflects, I'm a bit of a wanderer, and this month, I wandered over to Molly Blaisdell's blog Seize the Day and offered a few ideas about blending realism and fantasy and frosting cakes (which I know surprisingly little about. Come check it out: 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Image-In This! Or Not

We've all heard the rules of imagery before--be concrete, be unique, be sensory, be partial, be specific and I've posted blogs on this before both here and on my Goodreads Restop blog: Wordy Wanderings Rest Stop, So, to cover new territory, I'm going to offer my final poems for National Poetry Month  a. In May and b. without a focus on imagery.

Because I'm a fan of looking at things from various angles and "showing the other side of things" knowing that few things have only two sides, here is an article from the American Academy of Poets that suggests we should move beyond concrete imagery: "In Praise of Abstraction".  

But to keep concrete imagery in the mix, I'll also share an article on imagery.  Here's an article that looks at imagery in the work of the poet and playwright Garcia Lorca:  The Imagery of Garcia Lorca

Now back to other forms of poetry. As we see in the work of ee cummings who famously brought the issue of sound, visuals, and abstractions to the forefront in modern poetry, imagery is not a requirement for poetry that could rely on experiential elements of abstraction vs. imagery.

To look at how this can work, I'll approach a subject in terms of imagery, then in terms of abstraction. Let me know which you prefer and why? Keep in mind, they will both be initial drafts that may lead to very different poems in the end.

(28 of 30)

A Desk

Images of an office supply store
come to mind
Yet that would not account
 for the books, piled spine in
spine out, 
genre graphic
to text book graphite
the gray dust
words bound
for discussion
sticky note pocked
question mark riddled
pile of unfilled papers
unpaid bill 
that I cannot account for
Coffee cup ringed with pen marks
but hosting only highlighters
a pair of scissors
and memories of the pens 
that marked it
Where are my notes 
for the lecture
I have to give
in an hour?

And now once more in abstraction!!

(29 of 30)

words withering waiting for a station in line
a memory of location a unleashing from the page
dogeared, shuffled, marked, stickied
read, reshuffled recalled
bound by glue by eyes that scan
follow the dotted lines of allusions
highlighters unused
pens off to parts on known
woodgrain printed on plastic 
glued beneath the weight of days
weeks semesters of appointments
lectures advising lunches with a half-life
computers with letters worn to memory
drafts written revisioned repeated
submitted rejected
for me
to find
them beneath the pile

Better 2 days late then never, right?

a dozen doubled days plus five
a poem in a shell 
each nested
in advice
wrapped in articles
set not in time
nor place
nor rhyme
but in flux
waiting for the 
aging process
to proclaim it
a heady bouquet
or vinegar fit
for naught