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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Character contrast

Here’s another great quote from Dwight Swain on characterization:

The key to effective character presentation is contrast.


Think about it. If your heroine is just like a typical heroine in your genre, she’ll be boring and two-dimensional. If she’s just like a minor character in your story, she’ll again be boring and two-dimensional.

Contrast your characters both against other books, and against other characters in your book.

The first is harder, but I keep in mind Donald Maass’s advice to make your characters larger than life. Make them do things you wouldn’t do. Make them better than who you are, make them even better than your real-life heroes.

I’m not saying to make them perfect, but to make them richer. The most memorable characters in fiction are those who are out of the common mold, with multiple facets and a dominant impression on the reader.

Also make sure your characters aren’t too much like the other characters in the story. The most obvious method is to make sure their dialogue differs.

I’m not saying to give them different accents or dialects, but vary their sentence structure and vocabulary. Make it obvious to a reader who is speaking even without speaker attributes.

Contrast your characters, and make them jump right out of the page.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Take care of your body

As a writer, you need to take care of your body. If you are in good health, your blood is feeding your brain so it buzzes faster and the writing comes easier.

I know it’s hard when you’ve been chasing kids all day and/or working a full-time job, but a few minutes and a couple small changes can make all the difference between blazing creativity or writer’s block.

Take a ten minute stretch or walking break every hour. This can not only help a bad back, it will get your heart pumping lightly to send more oxygen to your brain cells. Another option is to stand as you work, whether with your laptop on a shelf or elevating your monitor and keyboard so you can stand at your desk.

Drink lots of water. Keep a water bottle by your writing area so you can remember to drink enough. If you’re hydrated properly, your brain works more efficiently and fuels your creativity.

See? Just a few small changes can help your writing tenfold!

Character development and stress

Dwight Swain made a point in Techniques of the Selling Writer that is a truth which endures today.

How do you shape development of your characters?

Stress is the formative factor, the thing that makes or breaks a man.

So, plunge your people into conflict. Let pressure strip away the gloss and reveal them as they really are.


No matter how much writing styles have changed through the years, this still holds true for all characters. Conflict and stress is what reveals their personalities to your reader.

A character who seems rather two-dimensional can often be fleshed out more by putting him in an extreme situation. What are your character’s hot buttons? What are his fears? What are his weaknesses? Slam him with one of them in a difficult scene.

Readers tend to root for the underdog, so putting pressure on your character can add to her appeal. Pressure can reveal more about the character’s inner depths and motivations as the character reacts to the conflict, which helps the reader understand her better.

Do your characters seem flat? Put them in a hard place and let them act.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Too many characters?

After I was contracted on my Asian chick lit novel, I had what’s called macro edits or developmental edits. And one of the biggest problems I had to address in my macro edits was TOO MANY CHARACTERS.

Trying to be cute—well, as cute as I thought I was being, anyway—I had named practically every person my heroine interacted with, from the receptionist to the talent scout she had to call.

I had a quandary, because while I could get away with writing, “Lex talked to the talent scout on the telephone” in a synopsis, it was hard to make her dialogue with Mr. Nameless Talent Scout in the actual manuscript.

Lex dialed Talent Scout, who picked up on the third ring.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Talent Scout. My name is Lex Sakai, and I work for SPZ Sports Zone.”


The problem with too many characters, however, is that if you drop names of people who are never heard from again, it can confuse the reader and make the story seem “crowded.” They’ll have a hard time remembering the names of the minor characters who are important to the story because there are so many peripheral characters mentioned.

Most writing teachers recommend to only have as many characters in your story as you need to directly impact the plot. If they don’t play a highly significant role in the storyline, they should be cut.

I had to drastically cut names where I could, and combine characters where I couldn’t.

The two different coworkers Lex interacts with became one. Lex’s three brothers became just one older brother, Richard. One of her brother’s friends makes several appearances rather than having three different friends show up with Richard.

The young girls on the volleyball team she coaches became nameless girls. For example:
One of her outside hitters limped toward her with her face scrunched up in pain. “Miss Sakai, I think I busted my knee.”


Where can you cut characters? Where can you cut mentioning names? It’s a bit difficult, but it will make your story tighter and less crowded.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Character names

Names mean something. Everybody knows that. Your reader, however, will not always know that Amaterasu means “shining over heaven.”

Be sensible in naming your characters. It’s good if you can pick a name that means something significant to the story or the character’s personality, however don’t go overboard. Most readers don’t really know what most English names mean.

Also think about how that name falls in a historical context. A name like “Agatha” was popular many years ago, whereas “Kaitlyn” is more modern. Therefore, the initial picture in a reader’s mind when they see the name “Agatha” might not be the buxom teenager she actually is (and my apologies to any buxom young teens named Agatha).

Don’t take alliteration too far. It can be humorous, but don’t make a name that will cause your readers to stumble in their reading flow. “Petunia Petrucci” might be funny, but if your reader is taken out of the story every time they see the word Petunia (especially if she’s some hulking Nurse Ratched), that’s not good. More important than a name is a smooth, riveting reading flow.

Remember that names can always be changed, too. The “find” and “replace” feature on word processing programs is wonderful.

Get input from your friends, whether writers or normals—er, non-writers. They can tell you if they like a name or not for your character.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Character occupations

When creating your characters, make every aspect of their lives mean something to the story. That includes their occupations.

A person’s job says a lot about their personality, their likes and dislikes. One of my Sushi Series heroines, Alexis “Lex” Sakai, chafes in her engineering position. However, when she’s offered a job working for a huge sports information website, she jumps at the chance because she’s a sports nut.

Lex’s job reflects her interests, and her coworkers and responsibilities at work impact the storyline in various ways. The job is not just “a job,” but also a plot point and almost a character trait.

Think about your characters’ jobs, and brainstorm how they can influence the storyline in some way. That will make a more tightly woven story.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Synopsis writing—external goals

The key thing an editor will want to know early in the synopsis is each major protagonist’s external goal. This should be obvious within the first 1-3 paragraphs.

The external goal must be concrete and specific, not something vague like “Jane wants to become a successful rock star.”

A good external goal has a definite end to it, where there is a point when the protagonist knows exactly when they’ve succeeded or failed. An external goal is typically something physical that can be touched or held, although not always.

For example, a good external goal for Jane would be “to get my picture on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine” because that’s the point at which she knows she’s become a successful rock star. Then all her actions in the story will be aiming toward that goal of getting her picture there.

The goal is not always specifically stated like this in the manuscript. For example, in your manuscript, you might show Jane fingering Rolling Stone and dreaming about her picture there, vowing to herself she’d make it big and see herself there. However, the external goal must be specifically worded for the synopsis so that the editor knows what your protagonist is aiming for: “Jane wants to get her picture on the cover of Rolling Stone because then she knows she’s finally made it.”

Friday, January 12, 2007

Tip#11 to trim a synopsis—eliminate dialogue

Do you have any lines of dialogue in your synopsis? Even if they’re key lines, cut them and tell what’s going on instead. You can usually trim by telling instead of showing. For example:

Luke hangs on the overhanging metal strut, armless and vulnerable. Darth Vader reaches out to him and says, “Luke, I am your father.” “No! That’s not true!” Luke denies, then falls down the duct to what he believes will be his death.

Vs.

Luke hangs vulnerable on the metal strut. Darth Vader insists he’s Luke’s father, which Luke denies. Luke drops down the duct.

Be careful about the climax of the story—that’s usually the place where writers are tempted to include key dialogue lines which the story pivots upon. However, in trimming a synopsis, it’s better to cut those dramatic lines in favor of “just the facts” and a shorter synopsis.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Novel Journey interview with Sue Brower

There was a two-part interview with my Zondervan Senior Editor, Sue Brower, over at Novel Journey with Gina Holmes.

Sue used to be Senior Marketing Director before she became Senior Fiction Editor, so she brings a lot of extra background to her editing. She thinks not only about the writing, but also the marketability, the author's brand, etc. She's been really great to work with.

Check out the pearls of wisdom from the woman who “discovered” me. ;)
Part One
Part Two

Monday, January 08, 2007

Set writing goals

If you have something you’re aiming for, then it can motivate you to be efficient and productive.

I’m not talking about goals like “get an agent” or “get a publishing contract” which are not things you can control. I’m talking about concrete goals for you to achieve.

Things like “finish my manuscript this year” or “research and query ten agents.”

Set deadlines, if you can: “finish my manuscript by December 30th, 2007” or “research and query ten agents by January 31st, 2007.”

If writing is something important to you, then spur yourself on in your writing career. Set goals and work toward them.

This is kind of funny, but this type of setting goals is just like giving your characters external goals. The goals are concrete, with a deadline, and not something dependent on things out of the character’s control.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Marketing for writers—the Mad Genius Writer e-zine

I just got this e-mail from Randy Ingermanson, who publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine:

Hi all,

For nearly two years, the most popular feature in my Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine has been my monthly column on marketing.

Some of my readers don't even write fiction! Some of you read this e-zine only for the marketing information.

I'm delighted to tell you that I'm launching a new free e-zine dedicated to teaching advanced internet
marketing methods to writers of all stripes, whether you write fiction or nonfiction, whether you have been published or not, whether you are techie or not.

The new e-zine will be called THE MAD GENIUS WRITER. (My friends came up with this name, and I defer to their near-unanimous opinion, the wretches.)

THE MAD GENIUS WRITER is for writers ONLY! (And your editors, agents, publicists, and publishers.) I do NOT want anyone else reading it.

I hope to unleash your inner "mad genius" to help you market your work as effectively as possible.

The first issue of THE MAD GENIUS WRITER will come out in less than 6 days, on Tuesday night, January 9. The regular schedule for each issue will be the second Tuesday of the month.

Each issue will have one article on Strategic Marketing and one article on Tactical Marketing.

* Strategic Marketing involves long-term planning.
* Tactical Marketing is something you can do right now.

For more info about THE MAD GENIUS WRITER, please visit my new site at:
http://www.MadGeniusWriter.com

Check out the free "Mad Genius Manifesto" on my web site and find out why I believe that all writers
everywhere should be...rich! (Rich in proportion to how well they write.)

Am I full of bull, or am I on to something Xtremely cool? Read the "Mad Genius Manifesto" and then decide!

Best regards,
Randy Ingermanson, Ph.D.
http://www.MadGeniusWriter.com

Camy here: If you haven't been getting the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, you've been missing out on great writing craft tips and marketing info. Now it seems the marketing info will be put in his Mad Genius Writer E-zine instead. I highly recommend Randy's e-zines--very informative, entertaining, and practical.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Barbour Editors blog

The three Barbour editors, Rebecca Germany, JoAnne Simmons, and Susan Downs, have a blog! It’s called The Edit CafĂ©, and it’s FABULOUS. The blog posts offer great insight into the action behind the editing process, and they answer questions, too! Head on over and say hi. Tell them Camy sent you!
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