Posts Tagged ‘writing technique’

When Writing What You Know Works

December 9, 2019

The short story “SeeApp” (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Nov/Dec 2019) is a brilliant illustration of why we are advised to write what we know. James Van Pelt taught for 36 years; he may have never been in a school like the one in his story, or met anyone like his characters, but everything feels right. The descriptions are in his bones, and the words flow off his fingers. This is why my co-author Ann Anastasio and I set our first book in a quilt store, and grounded all our books in the quilting world. We know those places like our own kitchens, and we know the people in them. It was easy to create the settings and characters when we had our combined lifetime experiences to draw upon. Once that was on paper, the stories took off on their own. I’m convinced everyone has at least one story to tell, so give it a try. Put the world you know best in words, and see where that takes you.

Luck and wisdom!

Titles and Where to Find Them

December 2, 2019

I have a file box of quilt, story, and title ideas. When inspiration strikes, I’ll write the idea on whatever scrap of paper is closest to hand. The trick is to keep an open mind for the odd turn of phrase, have something to make notes at all times, and be prepared to give your conversation partners fair warning when you intend to steal something they said.

If I don’t use the idea immediately, I’ll keep the scrap in a pile. After a few months or years, if the idea still appeals to me, I’ll write it on a 3×5 card and put it in the box. I’ve actually used those cards, although there are more ideas than I’ll ever have time to use. Nevertheless, it is comforting to know if a good title doesn’t reveal itself immediately, I have a resource. Even if none of my backup titles fit the project, they will often lead me to the proper one.

Luck and wisdom!

The Sewing Guide to Character Development

November 18, 2019

As a fiber artist – whether for art quilts or garments – I let the fabric tell me what pattern to use. I realized I also use the same technique when I’m creating characters. Like the titles of my two favorite sewing books suggest, I repurpose people and mix and match traits to create the characters I need. Treating the plot as if it were fabric, I adapt the material at hand (ie, my friends and family) to suit the needs of my art. There are a couple of advantages to this, the first being if I blend traits well enough no character of mine will be recognizable as a real person. Just because I think I am using the best parts of folks I know in my characters doesn’t mean the actual people will agree, or like the way I’ve portrayed them. I love all the people in my life, and wouldn’t hurt their feelings for anything, not even the possibility of being on The New York Times best-seller list. The second advantage is no one I know has ever fought shape-shifting aliens invading Earth disguised as bolts of beige fabric, or gone to another planet to stop a civil war, or tried to lure a renegade alien soldier with spumoni ice cream. Using bits and pieces of the life stories of people around me turns out to be the ideal way for me to begin developing my characters. Then, like my quilts, the piece takes over and tells me where it wants to go. What is your ideal method of character development?

Luck and wisdom!

My Vision, My Opinion, My Fiction

October 21, 2019

I ran across two notions about vision and opinion this week – “no self-respecting animal moves before it looks” (Kay Hogan) and “whenever you go someplace, you not only see the environment, but you develop an opinion about it” (Camille Minichino). The first comes from a teacher of The Alexander Technique, a method to retrain the body into healthier posture and movement. The second is from a prolific writer and teacher who was explaining how to give the reader more information while building suspense. Since I’m not the kind of writer who wants to explore dysfunctional characters, I am delighted to have these comments in my toolbox. I like both my heroines and villains to be rational, sensible, and ultimately concerned with the common good. The idea of moving from what you think you see to what actually exists is more interesting to me than trying to fight ultimate evil. Either/or situations usually lead to never-ending conflict, while trying to be of the most benefit to the most people holds the promise of cooperation. While I tell my friends it is a very good thing indeed that I am not Queen of the Universe because the bloodbath would be appalling, I don’t really want to wreak havoc. Violence only produces resentment, resistance, and another round of purges. Cooperation requires hard work to find common ground, which promotes understanding, which can lead to compassion. That’s where hope lies. So, while I will use the first impressions of my protagonist to give the reader information, I’m think in order to make the character change, learn, and grow I will focus on expanding her vision and modifying her opinion.

Luck and wisdom!

Pain and Plot

September 9, 2019

I come from a family that is blessed with unusual health. My mother has never had a backache or a headache, rarely catches cold, and manages what few aches or pains she might experience with a brisk walk and a wry joke. I’m not quite that lucky, but still the gods have been kind to me. The downside of my good fortune is I can be completely oblivious to how pain can debilitate a person, how chronic illness can upend a schedule, how managing medication can consume one’s time. I mention this because what a character doesn’t experience can become a plot point. What if your character insists on driving 400 miles straight through, never realizing that at the end of the trip his shy companion with the bad back will be bedridden for days? What if your character who routinely shrugs off colds neglects to ask if the cancer patient she is interviewing can tolerate another medical stress? Don’t forget the opportunity for character development if your heretofore healthy protagonist suddenly develops shingles.

Luck and wisdom!

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!