Posts Tagged ‘writing technique’

Motivation and Your Characters

July 1, 2019

If the reader doesn’t understand why your characters do what they do, chances are she’ll close the book at a convenient stopping place – usually after your protagonist has behaved in a way that just doesn’t make sense. I am clearly not the target audience for a book I am reading now, and it has taken me a long time to figure out the main character’s motivation. Rather than being pleased with myself for being clever, I am angry with the character for feeling bound to a tradition that does nothing for her. I suspect that at the end – when I expect our heroine will finally be granted a place in her community – I will be hoping for a massive wildfire to burn the town to the ground. This, I am sure, is not what the author intended the reader to feel.

Since I write for a targeted audience, I am analyzing this book carefully. I’m trying to identify one or two places early in the story where I wish the author had shown me a time when the heroine was rewarded for her loyalty. I will use that insight to add a line or two in my novels so the non-quilter reading any book in the Chenille series will understand what motivates the characters. More important, I want that reader to believe this is a rational motivation, and bonds with the character. This will keep the reader invested in the book, and (one can always hope) happy with the ending.

Luck and wisdom!

What I Missed and How I Found It

June 24, 2019

 

How did I miss Good Omens? Okay, so I often have to ask myself a similar question when I come across something that everyone else knew about (the young Gary Cooper comes to mind). My husband and I watched the Amazon miniseries made from the novel after our son recommended it, then our daughter reminded us she owned a copy of the book and had left it when she went to graduate school. Even if you see the miniseries first, it is well worth your time to read the book. Aside from being darn good entertainment, the writing is fabulous. It’s the kind of book you read and say, “Self, this is what you should be doing with your story.” I was particularly impressed with how Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman wove in physical details about their characters throughout the story. I thought I had a good grasp of that technique, but I was wrong. This is the way it should be done. Read it for yourself and see.

Luck and wisdom!

Memoir, Turning Points, and Character Development

June 3, 2019

Linda Joy Myers has a lot of good advice for memoirists. The most useful (in my opinion) is to note the turning points in your timeline. We moved around when I was young, so those were both anchor and turning points in my list. Times when I said yes to a new challenge went in, as well as times when I ran for cover and thanked my lucky stars I got out before the (metaphorical) bullets started flying. Then I put in when I met those special people who befriended me and changed my life. That’s when I realized I was missing something.

My brother, mother, father, Dennis Franklin, and Hal Franklin (taken by me in 1966)

The man on the far right is Hal Franklin, who befriended my father and changed his life by teaching Dad about photography. Dad dabbled with photography, but having a mentor made all the difference in the world. It made all the difference in the world to me as well, since Dad introduced me to the camera. Because Dad and Hal explored creating art with their pictures, I learned – without really noticing it – that everyone can be an artist. Put in enough time to learn technique, train your eye to really see, and you can create beauty.

While I may not write a memoir with this epiphany, I will keep it in mind when I am writing backstories for my characters. Who they are doesn’t depend solely on the turning points in their own lives, but also on the turning points of those who have influenced them. Whether those influencers appear in the book or not isn’t the point. They may deserve a book of their own sometime. Can you say prequel?

Luck and wisdom!

Disaster and Character Development

April 22, 2019

I noticed a plane flying low into the local airport and, as I am wont to do, started thinking of the disaster story I could weave around that plane. That got me thinking about how any characters in my story might respond, and that got me thinking about whether I really need a disaster to fully develop my characters. It occurred to me that a poke is as good as a punch to get my characters to change, learn, and grow if I write it correctly. I suddenly realized why some novels and movies bore me – it isn’t despite any pyrotechnics in the plot, it’s because of them. If the plot is pushed along so quickly that the character doesn’t have time to respond, if the disasters are piled one on top of the other and the character seems to skate effortlessly through them, then I feel less tension, not more. So, on my next pass through my stories, I intend to look for evidence that the character is adapting to this particular situation in a way that will make the final resolution satisfying to the reader. I’ll write a disaster scene if that’s what’s needed, but I’ll look for simpler obstacles – on the order of a paper cut – if I can make that work.

Luck and wisdom!

What Are The Odds – Coincidence In Life And Fiction

February 11, 2019

This past weekend I was confronted with the reality of coincidence. Both events were of limited scope, but both made me ask myself what the odds are of getting a break when I thought it was a setback.

The first was buying flowers for a friend. I picked up some lovely blooms, and called to see if I could bring them over. Turns out she was out of town, but as it happened I was having a meeting at my house so I could use them as part of the decorations. Then I went to put them in a vase and discovered I had bought almost too much even for my largest vase, and the resulting display weighed a ton. Given that I have no idea what sort of vases my friend has, but I do know she’s been having back issues lately, this was definitely a case of the universe saving my hinder.

The second event was of similar magnitude in terms of the greater scheme of life. I had brought a donation quilt to the guild meeting. I planned to show it during Sharing before turning it in to Community Quilts. A friend asked if she could examine it, and as I took it out I noticed I didn’t put the Amador Valley Quilters label on the back. We always label our donation quilts, and in fact I HAVE some of those labels at home. I simply forgot to sew it on. Luckily, Community Quilts had extra labels and a hand sewing kit, so I stitched it on before Sharing started and was able to turn the quilt in as planned.

There are times in my writing when I wonder if the coincidence I absolutely, positively must have for the plot to work is all that credible. The last weekend gave me my answer – sometimes, the universe does provide.

Luck and wisdom!

Misdiagnosing Your Writing

July 30, 2018

Is it time to fix your words?

It isn’t often that a misdiagnosis helps my writing. A few years ago, a new doctor decided that the colleague who diagnosed the rash on my palm was mistaken. “The good news is, what he prescribed didn’t do you any harm,” she said. The better news is, I decided I could make that work for me.

Stay with me here. Diagnosis is hard, and diagnosing skin issues is one of the hardest. It’s the same with writing. You know something is wrong is with the story, but what? Is there a hole in the plot? Are the characters not playing together nicely? Is the subtext fighting with everything else?

Now comes the real hard part. You ask people you trust for help, but what if they misjudge the problem? What if you’re advised to rejigger the plot, but that doesn’t solve anything? Back to square one with different advisers?

I can’t tell you what the solution is for your problem piece. I usually let the words rest long enough that my inner critic shuts up and the inner genius can get busy (I’ve had one piece resting for six years now, so this isn’t exactly a quick fix). In the meantime, nothing I did has done any harm. Tweaking the plot, changing the characters, revisiting the subtext – that’s all important work which will help me be a better writer for the next project.

So, thank your advisers, beta readers, and critique partners for all their misdiagnoses. In the end, it’s worth it.