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Posts tagged ‘developing characters’

STORYCRAFTING LIKE A PRO – First Monday Mentoring January 2016

Welcome to a new year of writing adventures. On the first Monday of every month, I answer your questions, invite you to share war stories, and help you along your writing journey.

If you’re a regular here, you’ll know one of my favourite tasks each year is mentoring the winner of the Valerie Parv Award, established in my honour by Romance Writers of Australia. For details of the 2016 award click on http://www.romanceaustralia.com/p/110/Valerie-Parv-Award.html

Previous winners are nearly all multi-published now, taking out dozens of Australian and international writing competitions in all genres along the way.

What every writer's conscience should look like

What every writer’s conscience should look like

This year’s VPA holder is CARLY MAIN with her Roman-set novel, Memento Mori. With Carly’s permission, I’m sharing some questions she asked as we worked on her current chapters.

Your contributions are always so helpful. I’ve tried a few critique partners before, but nobody has ever suggested new plot points or new ways of telling the story. Is it largely a matter of experience? Do published authors tend to view manuscripts in a different way?

I’m also starting to think about my next book. I have two complete drafts which I now realise – as a result of [the VPA mentoring] process – I need to flesh out in terms of character development, motivations, conflict etc. and I’m worried I won’t be able to repeat the process.

Carly, 2016 is a milestone year for me. My 90th book will be published by Momentum (Pan Macmillan), meaning I’ve had books published every year for the last four decades. I was, of course, a child prodigy.

So experience is obviously a factor. Plus I’ve studied the writing process – my own and others’ – to discover not only what works, but why. Cultivating this awareness solves your concern about repeating the process.
I also try to give my minions (the name the VPA alumni gave themselves long before the movies) tools they can apply to any writing project. They’re tools I use in my own books, and they work.

Minions take over world

SO HERE ARE MY TOP 4 STORYCRAFTING TOOLS –

1. Ask yourself what work the writing has to do
Whether it’s a sentence, a scene or a chapter, every piece of writing MUST have a job to do. It can be revealing character, moving the plot forward, deepening the conflict, filling in needed background or planting clues and red herrings (in a mystery). Even better if the scene has more than one job.
When you’re editing, if you identify the purpose of the scene, you open up dozens of ways to achieve your purpose, rather than simply rewriting the scene in different words.

If the scene is only “pretty” or titillating, consider deleting it or combining with another scene. In Carly’s case, she had a crucial character to introduce and chose to combine the introduction with a scene that, until then, was doing no identifiable work.

2. Explore as many story options as you can
Say you have a love scene to write and plan to set it in the hero’s (or heroine’s) bedroom. Fine as far as it goes, but can you do better? I suggest listing at least 20 ways you could handle this scene to make it more original. Is there a mountaintop, a cabin, a creepy basement, or other setting you can use? Depending on the story, could you play out the scene on a private jet, in an office, under a circus tent, in an opal mine? I’ve used all of these and had a ton of fun with them. Readers enjoy the freshness, too.

My lists sometimes run to 100 or more options, including the outlandish and plain silly, before I hit on something that excites me. The trick is to avoid self-censoring, just let your imagination run wild. Only when you’re written out, should you evaluate your list, combine or develop the most promising options.

3. Ensure your characters’ actions DO speak for them
It’s all very well telling readers that a character is kind, honest to a fault, and loves small children. But do you show us these qualities? For example, a single mother is desperate for money for her child’s medical treatment. She finds a bag of money by a roadside. Having her use this money, even fully intending to pay it back, creates a different image of her than the one you intend. Equally, if she lies to gain a job to earn the money she needs, what does this say about her? It’s okay to show her being tempted, but she shouldn’t give in. It may nearly kill her to turn the money in, but you can use this to show her honesty is hard-won. You could show her attraction to the detective who takes her statement, or have him protect her from criminals who stole the money and think she has it. Or he thinks she’s in league with the bad guys. Showing the character’s struggles is a great way to reveal their true character and can lead to some wonderful, character-driven stories.

4. Use fewer words to better effect
This definitely comes with practice. Sadly, the words generally have to be written before we can edit out the repetitions, the information dumps (when we tell readers everything we’ve researched), and the slow passages. Give yourself permission to write as much as you feel you need. Let the finished work lie for as long as you can, a few weeks is good. Then read with a fresh eye and a sharp red pen.

Every writer is different and not all tips work for everyone. But it’s the old story about giving a woman a fish and feeding her for a day, or teaching her how to fish and feeding her for a lifetime.

You never stop learning. I still read how-to books on writing, seeking to gain even one new insight. Last week, it was Not Just a Piece of Cake: BEING AN AUTHOR by Hazel Edwards, author of the Australian childrens’ classic, There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake
Writing is a never-ending learning curve.

Feel free to comment or share your experiences below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam. If you’d like your comments to appear right away, click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. What are your best storycrafting tips?

Valerie

Member of the Order of Australia
Australia Day Ambassador
http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

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First Monday Mentoring for November – 3 spooky things characters do that smart writers allow

It’s First Monday again, when I open this blog to your thoughts and questions to do with any aspect of writing and publishing. With Halloween just over and even the Australian shops still full of treat-sized chocolate and witchy products, I’m looking at our characters, the weird things they do to us – and why it’s okay.

1. Characters spring surprises

Long ago, I learned that a good character takes on a life of their own. I’ll do all the preparatory work, know their hair and eye colour, and what they want from life. Then I’ll be writing a draft and that same character will quietly let drop that they have a sister, a pet dog or an unusual hobby I didn’t know about.

Experience has shown me that this is part of my mind telling me what the story will need later on. The sibling or the hobby will turn out to be a vital part of that character’s story. I leave it in place with a side notation to check it again at the editing stage, and keep writing. Almost always, that detail will be essential to the story development.

2. Characters talk to you
A fully realised character will have their own thoughts on their world. How do you find this out? By asking them.
I learned this method from Gene Roddenberry, creator of the Star Trek universe. He took a sheet of paper – it doesn’t work as well on a screen – and drew a vertical line down the middle, creating two blank columns. On the left-hand one he wrote a question he wanted to ask the character, then wrote the character’s answer in the right-hand column.

At first this will feel forced and you’ll be aware of playing both roles, but if you persist over however many pages it takes, a spooky thing happens. The character starts to answer in their own voice, giving you insights that you hadn’t considered. Or more accurately, weren’t aware of knowing.

This process isn’t metaphysical. It’s your own subconscious revealing itself through the character, but it feels as if you really are in touch with this person, and you’ll find out far more than their physical description. Sometimes “their” insights will astonish you.

Gene Roddenberry said he used this process to create the logical Vulcan, Mr. Spock, so it’s definitely worth a try.

One caveat – writing is hard work. It’s common for a minor character to insist that you write their story as well, and you may start to imagine a series featuring all these people. Whether or not this ever happens doesn’t matter. The competing ideas are your brain’s way of dodging the work ahead. Make notes on whatever comes up, then finish the current book.

funny-pictures-cat-dont-tell-me

3. Characters know what they want
Woe betide the author who doesn’t listen. You’ll end up with cardboard-cut-out people who do your bidding but have no life of their own.

In my Beacons science-fiction series, my three main characters are all aliens living on Earth. Elaine Lovell is a Watcher who can see whatever she chooses, wherever it may be. Her day job is media psychic. Garrett Luken is the beacon’s Listener, a former US Air Force pilot, now a best-selling sci-fi writer. Adam Desai is the team’s Messenger, a scientific genius who doesn’t know his alien history until he meets the other two.

My romantic side wanted them all partnered by series end. Elaine was the easiest, and found herself a Hawai’ian multimillionaire. Adam could only ever love the capable governor Shana Akers, who is more than his match mentally and physically.

My problem child was Garrett, gorgeous, talented and single. In three books and two novellas, I tried matching him with several other characters and he’d have none of them. Naturally, the only woman he fell for was the one I’d considered the least likely.

No spoilers, but when Garrett did let this person into his life, I wondered why I hadn’t thought of her. He knew who he wanted; I just had to take notes.

There it is, three spooky ways your characters will – like Pinocchio – become real, if you let them. Now it’s over to you to share your experiences.

Comments are moderated to avoid spam, but if you want your post to appear right away, click on “sign me up” to subscribe. I don’t share your details with anyone. How do you develop characters? Do they talk back to you? How does it affect your writing?

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
See the new cover of Valerie’s Beacons book, Birthright, at http://tinyurl.com/mxtmbx6

Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer in You

at http://valerieparv.com/course.html

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