Monday, August 27, 2012

Introducing Memorable Characters

At one point or another in your story, you have to let a few characters out of the bag. They don't all arrive at the starting line together, but are introduced one or a few at a time. It can especially be hard on the reader to keep track of things when he/she meets a roomful at a party or classroom. Let's keep some commonsense tips in mind:

1. Keep immediate introductions down to three or fewer. We typically don't need to know the whole boatload. If it becomes important to learn more about others in the area, do so after the reader has lingered on the first characters enough to get a picture of something about their personality or physical description. Let the first characters soak into the mind before moving on.
2. Give the characters different enough names/nicknames from one another. Don't have them all rhyme or start with the same letter. I'd rather not meet Amanda and Mandy at the same time.
3. Give something memorable about each character in a quick way so we can connect it to that person. The senses are good for this. Visual--The crooked way he wears his hat, walks with a cane or other prop. Sound--Maybe they speak with an accent or are unusually silent. Smell--Her delicate perfume reminded him of Aunt Martha. Touch--I wanted to reach out and smooth the boy's wiry hair that wouldn't stay in place.
4. Repeat a word from a previous used list of descriptions to later trigger more from the list. For example, I'm introducing Jimmy to you and say, "He's such a good kid. A real boy scout. I'll bet he never told a lie in his entire life." The next time you meet Jimmy in the story I might say, "You remember Jimmy--the boy scout?" It all comes to recall.
5. Do make it memorable, but don't info dump on each character as we meet them. Let us discover more about the important ones as the story evolves.
6. Minor characters like the waitress or bus driver can be given their 15 seconds of fame. One memorable thing about simple character roles can enrich the setting.

You're invited to leave a comment introducing yourself or to share a tip.

Monday, August 20, 2012


Boundaries. They need to become visible, definable at times. A librarian, stocker, or customer needs to know where to shelve or find what book they want. Publishers label in genres to fit our expectations. Marketers use genre to advertise to their target audience. Boundaries make good reference points but can become muddy or inconsistent in the book world. Writers need to guard awareness of their intended genre as they write. Perhaps that is why there were so many genre questions at the writeoncon workshop. Agents and editors answered many questions to define the differences between Middle Grade (MG) and Young Adult (YA). A few mentioned New Adult (NA), a bridge between YA and Adult books. You can read all the great articles, but, since you’re here, enjoy my summary on the topic.

1. The agents were especially asking to see more manuscripts in MG.
2. Basic Differences between MG and YA are seen in both the voice and sentence structure. The voice of the MG story shows kids discovering, learning how they fit in their own world, being part of a group, growing up is the main experience. The YA voice shows youths who are learning to stand out in their world, learning to fit in a world that it bigger than themselves, they can look back on growing up experiences because they’ve already lived them.
Author Claire Legrand gave us a list of things to consider in MG vs YA:
  Age: Tweens or Teens? Avoid that between age of 13. Another boundaries problem.
  Romance: Kissy-Kissy or Kissy-Kissy? Innocent discovery of romantic feelings, no lust vs undertones of     sexual awakening.
  Swearing: Darn or Damn? Swearing doesn’t fit the MG voice, even if real life might. Don’t insert just to be edgy, needs a purpose like fitting the tone, setting, or emotion. Remember, schools and libraries buy books too.
  Violence: PG or PG-13?
  Experience: Internal or External? How they experience or perceive the world.
  Journey: Only just begun or Finally getting somewhere?
  Awareness: Observing or Analyzing?
  Language: Simple or Complex? Both in dialogue and sentence structure.
  Voice: 3rd Person or 1st Person (Or Does it really matter)? Do what works best for the story.
3. New Adult generally contains college-age or post-high school characters for high school and beyond readers. NA isn’t big enough yet for its own category, causing the headache of where to place it—YA or Adult? Yeah, that’s a Catch 22 situation.
4. When querying or pitching, an author needs to give her book’s genre. Pick the biggest one that fills the bucket. Don’t name it a YA futuristic paranormal romance with a western flare. Which one dominates? Who is the core audience? Let the other elements come out in the story without mention.
5. Don’t write specifically for the new trend you see. Chances are agents have searched through hundreds of manuscripts in that genre’s theme to find one or two they love enough to take on. By the time a book is sold and published, the trend will be worn out. Just write a great book! Strong voice, strong characters, emotion, high stakes—all that good stuff. Yeah, no one said it would be easy.

Making Your First Page Sing

Ah, that elusive special something. Do I have it? Can I get it? In hopes that it would instantly magnetize to my fingers over the keyboard (or at least in hopes of becoming a better writer), I participated in writeoncon—an online writers conference that spurred me on once again. You can still head there to check out what you missed. Today I’ll share some things discussed about those first few lines, including through the first page.

I loved this analogy: Sarah Davies (Greenhouse Literary Agency) on writer potential and quality:
“I often know very soon – like a few lines in – whether a new writer has that ‘something’ or not. Obviously I have to see how the story/characters will develop, but that sense of voice and the moment is often there from the start. It’s like listening to a young musician. You can hear the musicality even if they just play a simple scale of C.”

Voice. The character’s voice, not the author’s. That’s a tricky one to define and a hefty topic I’ll cop out on and save for another post. “A good first page has an engaging voice, an introduction to the character, with hints of what type of story is to come.” – Sarah LaPolla (Curtis Brown)

Honing the writing craft to the ‘musicality’ level typically starts with a first draft that sucks. Some parts are salvageable. Then comes multiple revisions. It takes practice and hard work. With perseverance we can achieve what agents, publishers, and readers are looking for. Go for it!

Let’s look at what is NOT wanted in those first few lines: Don’t start with a dream. Agents repeatedly put this as one of their pet peeves. Readers want to know the real world as it exists for the main character and dreams don’t give that. Same thing for flashbacks. Don’t start with a car crash either. They get that one a lot, too. Think fresh, unique. Oh, and don’t start off with dialogue in the first line. It assumes we understand a character and voice that we haven’t yet met.

Take a look at some Dos: Do give readers something unexpected. Like the orphan getting shipped off to live with her great aunt whom the girl hopes is mean and ugly. We would want to know why the orphan didn’t wish her future caretaker was kindly. We would want to read more to find out why. Surprises don’t need to be action-packed. Action impacts readers stronger when they know something about the people who are about to be blown up, for example. Start setting up a simple conflict where questions tug at a reader’s mind, willing him/her to read further to find the answers. Do use something specific rather than generic to the main character or the story. Do make a quick connection with the reader through something familiar but stated in a new, interesting way. Do make it the best that you can. Write that first page until it sings!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Think Fresh Cliché Quiz

I’m going to visit something I’m not supposed to. Clichés. I'm going to throw in some stereotypes too. Instead of avoiding them (in our writing), let’s welcome them into our heads for a moment just so we know what not to use (or at least for a little fun). The easiest place to use these offenders is when giving physical description. Picture a tech geek character. Do you see . . . a male . . . with glasses? If you visualize/anticipate the word or phrase that comes next, it's time to trash it and think fresh. Let them flow in your first draft but try to catch and replace them later.
See how many of these you can get:
1. Birds of a feather . . .
2. He's as big as . . .
3. Eyes as deep as . . .
4. His muscles . . .
5. Time . . .
6. Clumsy as . . .
7. Her skin/eyes/hair was as black/dark as . . .
8. His/her touch was as cold as . . .
9. The best is . . .
10. I'm trying to get you to think outside . . .

1. flock together. (Hence the photo, taken at Santa Cruz, CA)
2. a refrigerator. Or an ox/elephant.
3. pools.
4. rippled.
5. waits for no man, stood still, froze.
6. an ox.
7. night.
8. ice.
9. yet to come.
10. the box.

Seen any common or crazy ones in a book recently?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Just Do It

I allowed a day to feel sorry for myself last week after withdrawing from my critique group because our long distance relationship wasn't working. It was ironic, actually, after my previous post below on support in which that group had played a major part. After all I had done to keep our live critique group going, it surprised me that some where not more willing to put up with the inconveniences of my temporary separation from them. Sigh.

It got me thinking about those who lose theirs or have no support group at all. Some deal with anti-support. I know of a dedicated writer whose family members tell her she wasting her time. How do we cope with that? How do we stay strong? Has the Olympic athlete who comes in short of a medal wasted all that time? Of course not!

Believing in one's self is reinforced as we meet milestones and receive small validations along the way. It's harder when you are the only or main one giving that validation. There has to be stuff inside us that gives us the guts and drive to do our best at what we love, living without regrets, in spite of someone else's measure of success.

Here are two quotes worth posting near your computer that could spur you on:
"That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the task itself has become easier, but that our ability to perform it has improved." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"The whole idea of motivation is a trap. Forget motivation. Just do it. Exercise, . . . (writing a book), . . . or whatever. Do it without motivation. And then, guess what? After you start doing the thing, that's when the motivation comes and makes it easy for you to keep doing it." -- John C. Maxwell

Please share your inspiration. (Then get back to work!):) And thanks for visiting!