Monday, August 26, 2013

Scene 5: Keeping your Muse alive

There are those that only write when their Muse demands their attention by hitting them over the head... with a hammer.  And then there are those that write and write and write, waiting for their Muse to arrive.  They think "if I write enough and show her I'm serious, she'll share her knowledge with me."  And she might.  But, I've come to understand my Muse in a completely different way.

I've come to realize that my Muse is always there, always at my side ready to speak... except when I refuse to feed her.  She needs sustenance!  She needs input.  She needs to be filled.  Like everyone else I know, she cannot give what she doesn't have.  Her hunger is voracious.  And she has a wicked fast metabolism.  Thus, the constant need for nourishment.  I must feed the beast or she will never purr for me.

Like the hippo rhino and the oxpecker some kind of bird,
I provide a constant buffet of nourishment
and she helps clean up the mess that is my thought process :)
It's beautiful, really.

I can wake early, or more likely, I can stay up all night, and write like mad.  I can spend hours staring at my computer screen, willing the words to flow.  I can sit with pen in hand and doodle countless flowers and stars and stick figures, listening for her wit and wonder to play across my pages.  But if I do not first feed her a hearty diet of living life and experiencing the world, a diet rich in humor and sorrow, in sights and sounds, in tangible knowing; if I do not fill her to bursting with a voluminous vocabulary of exposure, she will never speak.

So I read...  a lot.  I talk... a lot.  I observe... a lot.  I listen to music... a lot.  And occasionally, I watch movies... a lot.  And she is happy.

It's symbiotic.  When she thrives, I thrive.

*editorial note:  a friend just pointed out to me that is, in fact, a rhino and not a hippo at all!  Ha.  I was searching for a picture of a hippo and this was the one I liked best.  My brain has first-day-of-school fatigue, apparently.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Scene 4: Snippet

I thought since I shared with you a quick look at Margie's voice in my last post, I'd share with you another snippet from another character's perspective.

World, meet Luke.

The weights slammed against the stand again and again and again.  I knew better than to abuse the machines like this.  Coach would have my butt running suicides and hauling tractor tires until I collapsed in a puddle of my own vomit... if he caught me.  But the rhythm of metal on metal--wham, wham, wham--was steady, like hitting my sticks on the drums. And, right now, it was all that was keeping my rage in check. 

I couldn’t explain the heated steel of jealousy that had cut into my chest as I watched Dane with the new girl.  But there it was, unbidden, confusing and so da... so ef... frog-licking frustrating. Curse my mom for beating the swear words out of me! Sure the girl was cute and that accent... ahhh, it could drive any guy insane.  But I just met her.  Who was this five-foot nothing, nervous girl to me?  

I slammed the weights harder, faster as my irritation with myself increased.  No.  I wasn’t upset with myself.  It was Dane.  It had always been his style to sweep in and claim the prize before anyone else even had the chance to make it onto the field for the game.  I’d known that before I could even talk.  

“Dude, you’d better take it easy on that machine.”  Speak of the devil... Dane eased into the machine next to me.  “You know how Coach gets.  What’s eating at you anyway?”

It’s a good thing he’s my best friend.  Because when I looked over at him, I had the strongest desire to grab a twenty-pound free weight and throw it at his face.  What? Why?  

What’s wrong with me?  No girl had ever come between Dane and I before.  She wasn't about to now.  My arms were fully extended mid-press and I simply let go.  I needed to clear my head.  I cringed at the clatter of weights crashing to the floor behind me as I stomped over to the punching bag.  I settled into a quick rhythm of right, left, right... boom, ba, boom.  Much better.

What I picture Luke looking like... only not as tan and with very green eyes.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Scene 3: Voices

I've heard, rather I've read, of other authors hearing voices in their heads.  Characters insisting their story be told.  Conversations between characters.  Evil plots discussed.  Romantic sentiments shared.  Jokes and taunts planted in the mind.  And finally, I am among their ranks.

It's official.  I must truly be an author now.  I have voices in my head... and they won't shut up.

I have voices in my head... and I have been encouraging to speak up, speak louder.

Maybe that sounds crazy, like schizophrenia/multiple personality crazy, but I am so excited about it.  Hearing my characters speak to me is helping elevate my manuscript to a whole new level.  As such, I wanted to share a few tips for developing your own characters' voices.  Things I have learned along the way.

1) Character worksheets!!!  A must have in your character-building tool box.  Some of my favorites are:

You will find that they are each a little different, asking for different information or different angles on the same information (ie how they interact with others vs. have they ever betrayed anyone).  I've found for me, doing multiple worksheets for each character allows their voices to ring more clearly in my mind.  And it's worth the time and work.  It will show in your writing.

2) Personality.  They must have their own and be distinct.  This should naturally develop through the worksheets, but can also be enhanced with further thought and consideration.  

NY Times best-selling author Shannon Hale, recommends assigning each character an animal.  You then would use the characteristics of said animals to flesh out your characters.  She has a list of her characters and their animal counterparts on her website, Squeetus.   You can also use astrological signs such as Cancer and Gemini or the Chinese Zodiacs to help fill out your characters' personalities.  These are also great for finding compatible personality traits in relationships.

Furthermore, look to the world around you for people of similar dispositions as your characters... or even look to other literary characters or those in movies.  Hale has also stated that her character Sir John Templeton in her book Austenland--which has been adapted into a movie and will soon hit theaters--was inspired by the character of Mr. Hurst in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.  

3) Theme song!  Everyone wants to have their own theme song, right?  Why not give your characters each their own.  Music is a must for me as I write and I have found that certain songs lend to writing in certain voices more effectively.  I have found music one of the most beneficial tools in my writing box.   I live my life by music.  So naturally, in breathing life into my characters, music is essential.   You can also use music to help set the mood of certain scenes and to help create the locations or sets of your story.  *side note: the location of your story can also become a character in its own right*  

To help solidify this example, I want to share with you one of my character's voices and her theme song.


I tried to sleep, but even in my dreams I cannot escape him… or her.  My dreams took me back to the day he passed on from this world.

As he lay there, his armor stained and rusted with his blood, his last words were of her, to her:  “I come for thee, love.  I am come home.”  In that moment, I cursed the world and all the creatures in it.  

I had saved him.  I had been born for this purpose, to heal him, to ensure his life was extended.  I had spent my life, my meager few years on this Earth, dedicated to learning the arts--countless hours of boring, dusty books and looking into my tutors frightfully askew eye.  To this end?  To be swept aside as if I were a mere servant girl?  Nay.  I will not have it so. 

I swore to myself right then and there to take matters into my own hands.  This would never happen again.  I will be seen.  I will be approved.  I will become the prize.  No.  I will not be a mere trophy.  I will be a Queen.  The Queen.  They will bow to me, fall over themselves to serve me.  No longer dismissed,  I will be the dismisser.  The world will fear my vengeance.

And her theme song?  Royals by Lorde

And the list goes on, I'm sure.  There are a multitude of characters development techniques out there, find the one that works for you.  And forget creating characters that are likable.  Not all people are likable and yet they exist.  Doubt me?  Read this article and get back to me.  Focus instead on characters that are real and fleshed out, four-dimensional.  Let people love to hate them.  Let people hate that they love them.  If your characters voices are clear in your head, they will be solid and real in your reader's mind too... well, that is if you can write as well as you can think.  But that's a whole other post entirely.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Scene 2: book review, "Good Ground" by Tracy Winegar

I loved Tracy Winegar's first book "Keeping Keller" and her second book "Good Ground" didn't disappoint either.  If you're familiar with Joanne Bischof's Cadence of Grace series (and like it) then you'll love "Good Ground".

Here's the publisher's description:
Devastated after the sudden death of his cherished wife during childbirth in the fall of 1908, Jim Hooper loses the will to continue. But God plants the seeds of hope, and a new life begins to take root following the unconventional adoption of Ellis, an orphan baby. As a result of Jim's love, nurturing, and care, Ellis grows into a fine man, the spitting image--inwardly--of his daddy.

Decades later tragedy strikes again, this time for Ellis, and he finds his life turned completely upside-down after rescuing a young woman, Clairey, from a dangerous blizzard and an even more threatening existence. If their relationship ever stands a chance at thriving, it will have to survive ghosts from their respective pasts, endure the many hardships of running a tobacco farm in the rural Tennessee mountains, and Ellis will finally have to face the truth of his controversial origins.

The first few pages of "Good Ground" had me close to tears.  Reading of Jim Hooper's tragic loss of wife and child and his raw emotions following their deaths was painful.  And it should be.  Tracy was able to beautifully describe true grief... and the anger that often goes with it.  Then later, the healing that can come when we allow it.

The thing I loved (about both of Winegar's books) is the social/historical details.  In "Keeping Keller" it was the backdrop of raising an autistic child in the '50s when the mindset was that such children should be institutionalized.  I could taste the soda at the pharmacy and feel the restriction of Beverly Vance's wardrobe and lifestyle.  In "Good Ground" Ellis and Clairey must contend with the social ideology that if your family's bad, then you're bad too; the apple doesn't fall from a tree.  An ideology that each of us can relate to as we all have past regrets or skeletons we're running from.  And I loved that it was set in Pickett County Tennessee, a place where many of my family are from, but which I've never seen.  I got to experience the world my great-grandmother grew up in and it was lovely.  Well, all except the overly-judgmental, unforgiving neighbors.  Winegar does a great job writing the dialect of the era and area.  It's all very believable and realistic.

And how could you not love Ellis and Clairey?  I love the determination they both have to work hard at whatever it is that needs done and to be their own persons.  I love that (eventually) they allow each other that same growth and development.  Winegar did a great job developing the world of "Good Ground", but also the characters and the relationships.  They were real.  They made me sad.  They made me laugh.  They made me indignant and so frustrated that they were so thickheaded.  I was completely invested in their story.  So much so that I stayed up all night reading.  Literally.  I finished the book at 5 a.m.  I couldn't stop reading.  I had to know what would become of them.

I pretty much want to be Tracy Winegar when I grow up.  She has mad skills when it comes to creating a world and people that you don't want to leave.

I will say, there was a brief spot near the last 2/3 of the book when I started to get antsy and felt like the story was dragging a bit.  Maybe that has something to do with the fact that I was reading it at 3 in the morning? Honestly, other than that, I think it's brilliant and well worth the read.

Click here for a short review/mention of "Keeping Keller" also by Tracy Winegar.
Click here for my review of Joanne Bischof's book "Be Still My Soul".

Friday, August 9, 2013

Scene 1: the Beginning

Every story must have a beginning.  At least, it needs a place to start.  And, funny enough, deciding where the to begin is sometimes a thing we can only do at the end.