Posts Tagged ‘character’


Night Writes

March 16, 2015

Like many writers, there are nights I can’t sleep. I ruminate; think about my characters, my kids, my teaching job, and sometimes, I’ll obsess about the little things in life—like world peace. Other nights, I compose long letters or witty, creative comebacks that I’d wished I’d said to people, but never did. And during a few sleepless hours, like tonight, I get up and write.

The middle of the night provides a dark, quiet space where mysterious magic can happen. When I find myself caught in the web of midnight mania, I go with it, letting go of plot and voice and structure and other writerly work. Instead, I write my stream of consciousness, fingers flying. Eventually, my eyes tire and I wander back to bed, falling into a deep sleep. The next day I read my words, many of them silly and useless, but often I recognize a nugget of creativity, inspiring better plot and voice and structure in my working manuscript.

I don’t recommend nightly trips to the computer, but on occasion they can prove useful, at least more useful than the running to do list. That never changes.


Ornaments and Words

December 1, 2014

It was my aunt who first pointed out the differences in family Christmas trees. She loved to visit with people and took great delight in observing her friends’ prized pieces. I remember her telling met that a decorated Christmas tree often mimicked personalities. I think she was on to something.

My best friend’s husband didn’t have much of a warm and fuzzy childhood. Their Christmas tree is a pre-lit silver beauty with shiny, new ornaments. In an act of great compromise, my friend has taken to adorning a second tree in the basement with their kids’ homemade ornaments and her vintage collection that she’s collected over time.

As a kid I had a friend across the street who’s family decorated with flair, style, and perfection. Their tree was covered with homemade, purchased, posh ornaments. I thought it was beautiful, much nicer than our not-so-so perfect tree which was covered in homemade ornaments made from Styrofoam, glitter, and toothpicks. My aunt’s tree was overloaded, stuffed with ornaments, resembling her high energy and nonstop chatter. As an adult my brother had a tree trimmed with thrift store retro ornaments— nothing was ordinary. Nor was he.

A decorated tree gives insight to peoples’ lives. Writers take note of details, like ornaments, and carefully place them into the novel.

As a parent my tastes have changed, just as my character has over time. I now cherish the tinfoil stars framing the face of my six-year-old. I no longer mind an ornament made from toothpicks. I’ve purchased posh pieces on occasion, do have a few vintage ornaments from my best friend, and I fondly hang retro thrift store charmers in honor of my brother. I also love Victorian beads, glass icicles that reflect the white lights, and ski-themed wooden ornaments. I’ve even consented to my teen’s love of tinsel and my husband’s cheesy golfing Santa.

In the end a tree reflects family, history, and the ways in which people have grown over time. A novel should do some of the same things.



Videos or Books?

September 27, 2014

Each semester, I take a poll and ask my students, “Who reads?” Maybe one will raise their hand. Although I know college kids are busy, this saddens me. It’s difficult to improve writing, if reading’s not involved. So, I assign plenty of essays, hopefully interesting ones, and we write about them.

But I also show short clips from movies, videos, and many YouTube recording.

Although not every writing teacher would approve of the tactic, I think video plays an important role in the classroom. Not only does film capture the attention of the twenty-something set, but clips can be analyzed like a book.

How does a setting affect the mood of a movie? What’s the purpose? The inciting incident? How has the character grown? What are the details that remain with you once the film is over? Watching Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men or the Shining is an excellent example of voice and character.

Books are great. In my opinion, they can’t be beat. But movies and film can be useful tools when teaching students to write. Next time you hit the big screen, watch for the climax. See if you can plot the film like you would a book. The exercise will improve your own writing.


Puzzles and Organization

March 2, 2014

Each holiday season, mid-winter break, and sometimes during the summer, my family sets up a puzzle. We all have different styles piecing it together. My oldest daughter does none of it, so there’s that. My son doesn’t do much, but when he does, it’s small and specific. My youngest chooses sections by color, steadfast and determined. And of course, my husband dives in like a vulture to fill the last few holes. Watching them lurk around the board, finding their style reminds me of the way writers choose to organize their work.

For me, my thought process for a manuscript is similar to the way I organize a puzzle. I start by looking at the big picture, gathering ideas and plotting my method. Deciding where to start is most definitely the most difficult. Edge pieces? An obvious easy section? Develop one particular character? Outline the plot? There are many options, but usually, I go with organization as a good starting spot.  At some point, frustration sinks in, and I move location on the puzzle and in my book. Sometimes I pause to re-organize, look at what I’ve accomplished, and plot a new plan of attack. I celebrate finding the lost piece, both on the board and in the writing. I walk away. I come back. I walk away. I come back.

The writing, of course, requires much editing— an extra step in the process. But when I’m in the final stretch; when the puzzle is almost complete and the manuscript is almost ready to pitch, an odd, unsettled flow of emotions roar through me. I’m scared and sad to be at the end, yet thrilled at the same time. I sit with my feelings and then move forward.

And just like that, the final piece is snapped into place and the final word typed on the screen. Voila! I sit back, smile, and take some time—then I begin again.


An Invitation

February 5, 2014

When I  teach my English comp class, I ask my students to create an invitation for an event of their choosing. It must include a time, a location, the purpose for the party, and who will be attending. Invitations have included aliens, families, foreign dignitaries, and birthday bashes in Bermuda. It’s always a fun start to a semester, but the reason I do it is to help them remember the five elements to writing. An essay or a first chapter must include the five w’s: who, what, where, when and why.

Who? At a minimum the main character must be introduced, or if writing an essay, the reader needs to know who’s involved.

Where? Setting is crucial.

When? Is it a current story or historical? Maybe it’s dystopian. If writing an essay, dates can be critical.

What/Why? These two questions are the crux of the essay and the piece of fiction. What does the main character want or need and why is it so important to them? If writing an essay the reader must know what’s at stake.

Editing can be made  easier by thinking of an invitation to remember the needed elements.

Do you have your 5 w’s in your own work?


Character Names

February 2, 2013

Samantha. Olivia. Ashley.

Jacob. Tristen. Jessie.

Do these names mean anything to you? If you’ve recently had a baby, they might. Samantha, Olivia, Ashley, Jacob, Tristen, and Jessie were last year’s most popular baby names.

How do parents choose names for their kids? Maybe they want a family name continued. Perhaps it’s important to them that their child be named after a biblical figure. Then again, Mom might want to remember a secret crush. Okay, hopefully not.

Choosing names for your characters can be fun. Maybe you want revenge on your worst teacher and give your villain her name. Sometimes authors combine names of people they know, secretly adding private information into their manuscript.

The point is, lots of reasons are factored into naming a baby. The same can be said for naming characters in a story. Often, names can play a role in the tone or time period of your book. If the book is set in 1975, likely names could be Amy or Mike, but if the story took place in 1940, the author might choose Sally or Frank.

Some names become iconic, providing new meaning to a word. If you call someone a Scrooge, you know what he or she mean. Charles Dickens gave a lot of thought to the names he created. Mark Twain choose names like Huckleberry and Tom Sawyer to fit the time period and location for his books. J.K. Rowling reigns as a master for contemporary characters. Not only is Harry a quintessential British name, but Voldemort can’t be beat for a serious bad guy.

While it might be fun to name your hero after an old boyfriend, think again. Research the location, tone and time period for you novel to choose appropriate names.




Character Sketch 102

November 18, 2012

Last blog I provided a character sketch to help you develop your characters. This time, I’m putting a different spin on it. Besides the basics, like what a person is wearing or where they live, most character sketches ask questions about what a character likes, wants, and hopes. In this character sketch, think dark. What would your character never do? Then, think about what would happen if they did it. Right there, you have yourself a scene full of emotion and tension.

Here’s a start…

Where would your character refuse to live?

What would your character never eat?

What would they never wear?

What political party would they not support?

What magazine would they not pick up at the airport?

What kind of doctor would they refuse to see?

What ride at an amusement park would they not get on?

How would they react if they did any of these things? Ready, set, write!