Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Writing 101

With my burning desire to be a published author going up and down like a roller coaster, I am always alert to anything and any books that are interesting and will help me to better hone my craft. In past blogs I have mentioned these books. One of these days I will shell out the money and attend a writing workshop in the City and hopefully develop even better skills. 
I currently have the very meager beginnings and character bios and outlines to a historical mystery that's swirling around in mind, but it's not even been drafted yet. I'm still gathering ideas for the plot...it could very well turn into one of those paperback 'gaslight' mystery series. I'm hoping on a series. 
The writing task for a mystery is much more complicated because of the big five 'W's. You have red-herrings, the plotting-How do you begin? At the scene of the crime? During the crime being committed? Flashback? Do you know exactly what the culprit did and how...only to go on the journey with the detective and observe how he/she figures it all out? All that and other plot twists and turns. It's definitely my favorite genre, along with the Historical fiction genre. Research, research, research, is your biggest challenge to getting the historical settings as accurate as possible. 
Sometimes it's okay to be a just a little skimpy, because it's still a world of your imagination...

You can take a few liberties, that's a writer's prerogative. Sword and sorcery and the majority of those bodice ripping romance novels always do. Just don't give your characters togas when they should be in a high-waist pants and button down vests. 
And here's a tip of my own, that I've learned through trial and error. I've kind of had it up to HERE with the plucky heroine/hero who totally differs from the norm, like they're so unique and out of their element. We have names for them in the world of fan-fiction. They are Mary Sue's and Gary Stu's...but that usually involves making the character totally like you and just changing the name and a few features. I think any one who's ever written a story had to overcome using this dreaded character. Here is a nice web definition.
A Mary Sue is a character in a work of fiction who exists primarily for the purpose of wish-fulfillment on the part of the author. She plays a prominent role in the work, but she is notably devoid of flaws or a complex personality, and she usually represents the pinnacle of idealized perfection. All of the other characters love Mary Sue, because she is extraordinarily helpful, talented, beautiful, or unusual, and she often drives readers absolutely crazy because she is one-dimensional and too idealized to be realistic. The male equivalent of a Mary Sue is a Gary Stu.
NOT COOL.
AYYYY...Fonzie could be a Gary Stu..but...he's just too cool for that. He's not one-dimensional. I can dig it.

 But seriously, oftentimes in a Historical novel, it's a lazy way of making your character modern, because you don't want to take time and research the social mores, culture and etiquette of the society in which he/she lived. Racial, ethnic, and social prejudices were rampant in the past, and your characters will have them if they lived in a certain era. They may not voice them, but their actions might show it. A person 'of color' may still be the slave beneath the heroine/hero, even if they are good and loyal friends. In most cases, that's just the way things were. It was what it was. Even if it was wrong by our standards.
I have a free email subscription to the writer's digest and every few days I get a new email with some good advice for writing. All you budding writers out there should check it out too-

I wanted to share their tips on a facet of writing that is of major importance. Character development.

How to Develop Your Characters
August 27, 2010
Here are 4 quick exercises to make sure your characters speak to readers (and agents).
1. Make a character study for each of your characters, defining the five traits discussed here: name, age, appearance, relationships and personality.

2. With a clean copy of your manuscript, get out a different colored highlighter for each character. Go through the manuscript one character at a time. Highlight whenever that character speaks and/or acts. If you try to do too many characters at the same time, shifting from one color to the other, I guarantee you will make a mistake at least once.

3.  Now read only the dialogue and actions of one of those colors. Does everything your character says sound true to her? What about her actions? If not, rewrite the passages that seem forced.

4. Did you notice one character, or maybe several, who appear in the beginning but not in the end, or vice versa? If so, they probably aren’t necessary to your story. Try deleting them or perhaps combining them with another character.

So, if you're writer, or a reader for that matter, what aspects of a well-developed story appeal to you? Characterization? Setting, authenticity? Description. Description is a biggie for me. I want my imagination and even my senses to be stimulated and I expect to be transported. I cringe when I read books or stories where, 'The man did this' and 'The woman did that' for a pages upon pages and you have no idea who's who, what they're wearing, how they speak, look, etc. 

That is not a matter of personal style, I find it a matter of not letting your brain really get to work and conjure up an image. I like to scour the internet for images (mostly actors and actresses) so that I can at least give my characters a face. It's hard to give personalities to non-descript people. There is something in everyone, no matter how deep you have to look, that makes a person's features and mannerisms, unique. It could be a slightly crooked eye, a snaggle tooth, or just a jutting lower lip. If it's in your brain...

PUT IT IN YOUR STORY! You crazy writer you!

7 comments:

  1. Ginger , I admire anyone who can write and I am sure that what you are writing will be really good if they are like your Voyagers stories. I hope you will still right more of those stories. I always wanted to try and write a childrens book , but I am not sure I have that talent. I love historical novels especially if its a mystery ! Best of luck. EmilyW

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  2. Hi Emily! Thanks so much for the compliments on my story. I do miss writing for Voyagers and I will get back to that eventually. My mind has shifted toward other 'fandoms' as they call it but it always comes back 'home.' lol.
    I'm sure you could write a children's book, what is the age level. Working in the library I've seen all kinds. I realize a lot of the books are 'picture' books, and it depends even more on the illustrations than the words. Then you have the level readers and books for pre-teens. They come in all styles and reading levels. You should pick one 'group' you want to write for, then read what's out there for them to see how it's done. That's the advice given to any writer. And even with a children's story, you could follow the same outline-Come up with a certain plot, and create your characters-and their biographies. Label each section-physical, sociological, and psychological background. Even children have all that. And even if you don't put all that info into the story, you know what's behind their motivations and that's what makes for a well rounded character.

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  3. Wow, you work in a library! That's a dream of mine! Librarians rule!

    Best of luck on your newest writing venture. If you know enough struggling writers, I suggest putting together a small writer's group. I had one a few years ago and it was mostly for screenplays (we did live in LA!), but I used it for my non-fiction movie reviews and interviews and my fiance used it for a graphic novel he was working on. It's a great way to get support and also it gives you deadlines, because we always had something due every Monday.

    My fiance is currently writing a fiction book and man, is it hard! So I admire you. I've only written a few short stories, I couldn't imagine writing an entire book. I know you can do it though. You're like a writing machine!

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  4. Hi Amanda, thanks for the support and confidence.:) I don't know any struggling writers locally, but I know there are tons of support groups online. I also know writers can be very guarded with their original works and would rather not share it. I can understand that. There's a website for books that I'm on from time to time called shelfari and they have such groups too I believe.
    I wish I were a librarian! I'm more like a clerk, but it's still cool, I'm surrounded by books all day (and sometimes it's much to my chagrin. lol) But it has allowed me to get back to reading more and inspired me to say, hey..if this Stupid story gets published why can't mine?? LOL. You really see the junk that's out there and the good stuff too of course. But to each is own, one person's junk is another's Shakespeare...
    I agree, writing fiction is HARD. I may be a writing machine, lol-love that!.. but everything is on the table for me already. Characters, basic plot, personalities, motivations etc. are all set in place and all I have to do is create a different scenario. lol.
    Writing fiction is from SCRATCH..arhh!! And then you also want to be as original as you can. In many of my fanfiction stories I do like Law and Order and rip from the headlines or borrow old plots..but then again, that's what tv and movies do all the time anyway. It's amazing. As long as you can make it unique, it's cool. I always say there are no new ideas, only new ways of presenting them. :D

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  5. Another online friend...I think it was Swordz, but I'm not really sure...once said, "Writing about characters you love flows like cream. Doing the research to get the history right pours like cottage cheese." The research is the hardest part. Developing your characters, I've found, is considerably easier, and then the story itself just pours from your pen, sometimes almost faster than the ink itself! (That is, if you're a semi-Luddite like me who prefers to do first drafts in pen and ink before converting them to zeroes and ones.)

    Having written a couple of original stories myself (one of which I'm slowly getting put up at fictionpress.com), I've found that your main characters, however you develop them, come from within yourself. Some psychologists have actually said that they may be considered aspects of yourself. Sometimes its blatant: Temperance Brennan, whom some of you may know either from the TV series Bones or from Kathy Reichs' books, is stated to be based on Reichs herself. NCIS fans know that McGee's writings are based on his own cases. Kay Scarpetta's adventures are loosely based on Patricia Cornwell's own career as a coroner. The list goes on and on. Other times, the relationship between character and writer isn't as obvious; it may come more from the subconscious. In either case, once you develop your characters, you can't help but love them.

    Once you get over the mountin of research involved in almost any kind of writing, the story itself is easy. The hardest part of all is getting that first book published. Ginger, you're in for an uphill battle when you get to that point. One of my brothers is at that stage now, trying to get a five-volume sci-fi story he's written, published. He's actuallly spoken to several agents, trying to engage one, and they've all turned him down because he's an unknown. One of them took the time to explain to him that it's because each agent has a number of authors; he has to read each manuscript and give the author some feedback to improve it for publication, and then there's the publication process itself. Since there are only so many hours in a day, most of them CAN'T take the time to read and review a first-timer's manuscript. You may get some tips on how to get around that hurdle in those workshops you're planning on taking.

    Earlier in my own lifetimes, you could submit a story to almost any magazine; Life, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, etc., etc., all used to publish pieces of fiction in serial form, and they were from nearly every genre, not just romances. I read some wonderful adventure stories in those magazines. Sadly, most magazines stopped doing that sometime in the 1970s, and you're left with the special interest magazines. I don't think most agents or publishers consider anything you may have published yourself or had published in a fanzine...except for one. It's an online outfit called Agent with Style. They carry fanzines, but will also publish original works. I think they're still pretty much a small market, though, so I don't know how much weght anything published through them would carry with other agents/publishers.

    Basically, what I'm trying to say is, writing from scratch used to seem like an impossible task, but one day the idea came, and suddenly I couldn't keep enough paper and pens on hand to keep up with it. (This happened in late 1970s and early 1980s, when a home computer cost thousands of dollars, far beyond the reach of most people, and you really had to be something of a geek to use the thing, because user-friendly operating systems like Windows and Mac hadn't been invented yet.) So don't shudder at the idea of writing from scratch; someday, it could happen to any one of you, and then you'll really understand what I'm talking about. ;D

    In the meantime, keep writing!

    ---Jake

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  6. Hi Jake, Thanks for all your insights and suggestions. That's a great quote on writing and research it's so true! We do get a lot of practice with all the Voyagers stories, don't we? LOL.
    I have read in many places that the publishing is the hardest. There still are magazines that publish stories, but as you said, special interest- like Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, but I don't know if they do historical mysteries anymore. I have been told I should try and write for fiction press, but at the time I had nothing to write about.
    And I agree with you about the relationship between the character and writer. Even if you're writing for the opposite sex, you are bound to put in your own views, thoughts, ideals, etc. into them. You do pick and choose different qualities from yourself. I suppose the Mary and Gary Sues are more for the novice fanfic writers than anything. lol.
    I was thinking about self-publishing, but that is still a small market, however it's growing more and more, because so many newcomers are being turned down by the majors. Which is really unfair sometimes. But these old writers whose by the numbers works are warping bookshelves are coming to an end. James Patterson is always using ghost writers and co-writers, Steel keeps pumping out books at breakneck pace but I often wonder about that. It's time to make room for new writers! lol.
    Well, as I get further into my book, I'll probably do future posts.

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  7. Hey Ginger, I really have found all these comments fascinating, and it makes me admire people who can write! I also like Jake's new story and can't wait til the next chapter. I do hope you will do more posts. Emily W

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You smart kids give me a pain…
Comments, thoughts, and ideas are appreciated!