Tuesday, May 24, 2016

5 Tips for Creating Characters

Working on the development of characters is important for any writer and this weekend I received some wonderful ideas from super agent Donald Maass in his excellent workshop "Fire in Fiction" that I attended. He talked about how our characters can come alive through our work and it got me to thinking of different ways to further develop my characters and make them more individual. That is the excellent thing about his workshops. He gives ideas that the writer can then take and personalize and further develop so that their own voice shines through. 

One of the suggestions he had was to interview your characters and that really got me to thinking.  As a journalist, either working as a print reporter or as a TV news producer part of my job was interviewing people all the time.  While a lot of that work was more focused on getting information for a story, I always found that the most fun were the interviews where you got to just talk to people about themselves and their lives.  And that was what struck me about talking to our characters.

Don't we all run into situations where we suddenly are stuck in the story?  Usually when that happens to me I find that the character is being stubborn and maybe I need to work more on my characters.  What I realized as I listened to Donald Maass was that when this happens, it's probably the perfect time to interview a character.  Okay, well, then what do we ask?  And that is where I can refer back to my journalistic training.  Talk to the characters, ask them about themselves and get them to feel comfortable and then hit them with the tough questions.  Here are more tips for interviewing your characters.

1. Ask them what their hopes are for the present.  What are their goals for today and tomorrow.  Start small so that the answers will be easy to deal with.

2.  Ask what is holding them back.  Are they afraid of something in particular? Are they frustrated by something that happened the previous day.

3.  Ask them about their long term goals. That can bring some of the present goals into focus, but if you ask that first it might be too big to think about. Once they've answered questions about smaller goals, this question might be easier.

4.  Ask what their biggest fear for the moment might be. What are they afraid the other person in the story is going to do or the worst case scenario.

5.  Ask why they want a certain result.  Why do they need to achieve their goals -- both short term and long term.

These questions can't answer all the story questions you might have and you might even need to interview them a couple of times as the story goes along, but talking regularly to your characters can be a big help.

Monday, May 16, 2016

5 Tips for Accomplishing your Writing Goals

I am always looking for new ways to keep from hitting the doldrums with my writing and to keep the work flowing.  I see so many writers who have so many excuses for why they didn't write today or why they haven't been able to keep going.

When I consider what keeps me going, other than the need to write, I think of what I have heard from other prolific writers about what keeps them going. I always refer back to people like best selling authors like Nora Roberts and John Sandford.  I once heard her tell a writer in a workshop. "It's my job..Don't you show up at your job even when you don't feel like it?"  Of course if you want to get paid, you show up and do the job, just as she said.  John Sandford pointed out that when he was working as a reporter in Minneapolis he was expected to turn out stories of at least 750 words a day. At that pace, even working only 5 days a week, you could turn out a novel in 4 months.

So how can you accomplish your writing goals?

1. Set a realistic goal.  The goal to write a thousand words a day every single day might sound wonderful, but we all need breaks every so often.  Setting up the realistic goal of 750 words a day (which is only 3 double spaced pages a day if you think about it) can be done. That can give you a novel in four months.

2. Try using a timer.  One of the people in our local writing groups says she regularly uses a timer so that she doesn't feel overwhelmed. She works in half hour segments and does 5 of those a day.  She takes breaks between them. Depending on how long it takes you to write those 750 words, you should be able to do it in the 2 and a half hours she proposes.

3. Don't stop to edit.  I find that when I stop to edit I sometimes get lost in moving the story forward. However when I am writing thing just seem to keep flowing.. Things don't need to be perfect the first time around. That is what editing is for.

4.  Re-read old pages at the start of the day. Or perhaps you set aside a half hour in the morning to read over what you wrote the day before and edit then. I've heard a number of writers who do that -- rereading old pages as a way to get in the mood for the next day.

5. Give yourself time for a plot talk.  One of the other writers in one of my groups was saying when she runs into a plotting problem she sits down and keeps talking the plot over in her head. That gives her new ideas and also helps her keep the words flowing.

The key though is to keep Nora's words in mind. It's a job and if you want to get paid, you need to write.

Monday, May 2, 2016

5 Tips for Re-energizing your Writing

We all have the problem from time to time as writers... getting the blahs and going days without writing or even wanting to write. Some people call it writer's block, some find excuses for why they can't seem to get going on a project or finish a story.

Whatever the reasons might be we all face the difficulty of getting back on track every so often. So what can you do to get yourself jump started or to get going again. Since I'm just back from a trip to one of my favorite places I can tell you that a trip certainly helps. I'd been floundering myself with my writing, mainly because I need to do a whole lot of editing and that always slows down the process.

So what can you do to get back to the joys of writing.

1. Take that trip. Go some place you have been wanting to go. Yes, I know that trip you wanted to take around the world might be out right now, or even that prolonged drive across country. But try something quick, something short, something fun. In the past I've often done weekend getaways to re-energize myself and my writing. I've gone off to hotel rooms only half an hour away and spent a weekend sitting in my room writing or exploring the area during the day and writing all night. Whatever the location, just getting away can sometimes be a good way to re-energize your writing.

2.  Take a class.  I teach lots of classes so I have to admit I had a stake in that. However, I find that sometimes the ideas I get from other students gives me plenty of ideas for my own writing. Not that I copy their ideas, but I do listen for their writing tactics or pay attention to what works for them. I also find that sometimes their complains or problem areas get me motivated again. Sometimes I will take a class myself, just to get myself back into the student mode and learn something.

3.  Take a walk.  This is a good way to get the creative juices awakened. Sometimes a morning walk can give you time to think about your latest story and where it is going right or where it might be headed in the wrong direction. It's also an opportunity to clear your head so that you can come back to the keyboard ready to right away.

4. Take break. Sometimes it's not a walk or getaway that you need but just a break from your daily routine.  Give yourself permission to take some time off and spend it just watching a movie or playing games. Look for story ideas online or read a book.  Find again some of the old excitement in old pleasures you used to have. Recently a snowy day kept me inside all day and I sat down and worked on a jigsaw puzzle. But as I worked on it I also found myself thinking about my current story and how it might go in a new direction. By the end of the day the puzzle was nearly finished and I was ready to go back to work.

5. Take a bath.  If you're not into bubble baths, then find something else that relaxes you. It's like that suggestion from above about taking a break. But make this one something that is totally relaxing, whether it's sitting in the dark at a movie theater or walking around the block. Do something that is not related to your writing so that you have time to clear your head.

Mostly don't take it too seriously. Find time to think and reflect. But then don't let yourself lose sight of the overall goal and get back to work.

Getting off to a Fresh Start

At the beginning of every new year don’t we always look at different ways to start off fresh? We want to make our resolutions or set goals ...