Wednesday, June 1, 2011

How Well Do You Know Your Characters?

After developing an idea for a story and sketching out a working plot, the most important area to concentrate on is characterization. How much time do you dedicate to creating your characters?

When I develop my characters, I concentrate on one at a time. First, I give them their name and physical attributes: skin tone, hair and eye color, height, weight, birthmarks and scars. Then I give them their personality and demeanor: shy, outspoken, friendly, bubbly, awkward, self-conscious, confident, persistent, or overbearing. I list their talents, strengths, weaknesses, addictions, obsessions, disabilities, occupations, and education, just to mention a few. Next, I delve into the environment they live in: friends, family, home, neighborhood, job and coworkers, pets, car they drive, and clothes they wear. Some writers stop here, but I find it beneficial to the layers of my story if I go a little further. I visualize this person I have created and concentrate on writing their history: birthplace, toddler years and any defining memories, elementary and junior high years, complete with the names of friends and pets. This sounds like an easy task, but if you do it well—make them believable—it’s not as easy as it sounds. The key to giving birth to believable characters is consistency. While an occasional quirk, such as giving a huge, tough, tattooed biker type a weakness for kittens or assigning a petite grandma to a huge four-wheel drive truck with a lift kit can make a character endearing, excessive inconsistencies such as these take away from a story’s credibility.

By now, you’re thinking I’m finished, right? Not quite. There are at least three questions I like to ask myself before I pronounce a character developed. Last Sunday afternoon, where was my character and what was he doing? Next Tuesday morning, where will he be? And if someone threw a glass of cold water in his face, how would he react? When I can answer these questions, this character has become real to me, and I feel like I know him well enough to tell his story.

How do you sketch a character? At what point do they become real to you?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Graduating Seniors Out There...This One's For You!

I have always appreciated a good story, and since reading my first Laura Ingalls Wilder book in the third grade, I have dreamed of becoming a writer. Poetry, however, never quite held the same appeal for me as a cleverly weaved tale. But during my teenage years, when hormones spiked my blood like gin in a good martini, I found myself in need of an outlet. Since illegal vices, such as tagging at the local Wal-mart or dipping into my parents liquor cabinet, wasn’t quite my style, my weapon of choice was a pen.

On the cusp of my high school graduation, when I was about to go off to college and give my wings their first independent flap, I found myself cycling through a torrent of emotion so strong that it almost gave me whiplash. Knowing I was about to leave behind the only structure I’d ever known, about to be ejected from my seat as class president, editor of the school newspaper, and captain of the basketball team, there were days I literally wanted to cry. Other days, I found myself riding a tsunami wave of euphoria. My hard work had landed me a full academic scholarship, my best friend was going to be my roommate, and I would be the only person I had to consult about any decision I faced. What else could any teenager ask for?

So for all you seniors out there who are about to climb on that roller coaster and ride into the future, I decided to repost a poem I wrote before my high school graduation. And for any of you out there struggling with confidence, as I so often did, I am including a poem I wrote when I felt I was at my lowest. Reading it always makes me feel better. Both pieces were published in Weathered Reflections, Volume II, 1987-88 Edition.


Then a beautiful sound,
now screams abound.
Past pleasures to live by
cause the soul to cry.
First, anticipation,
second, desperation.
Touching on light of tomorrow,
tripping on past days of sorrow.
Moving ahead faster,
hoping to avoid disaster.
Praying everyday,
wanting the memories to stay.
For when they are gone,
the future is all alone.


My moral spirit is low,
and my confidence is on the go.
If only my simple smile
could thrill you for just a little while.
I wonder if you know,
because you don’t let it show,
that just your casual glance
makes me want to dance?
But when my confidence is gone,
and I’m all alone,
I must go on.
Yes, I must go on,
because I know someday I’ll find
someone to be by my side.
Someone to say
he loves me everyday.
I still hope you are that someone,
but if you’re not, it’s okay.
Because I am me.
It may be hard to see,
but it’s easy to say.
Yes, I am beautiful
in my own way.

My wish for all you beautiful grads out there? Hang on to the memories! Be happy! And remember, the future will be whatever you make of it!


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Writing and Bigfoot

I had an electrifying experience last night that made me wonder if there are others out there who share my enthusiasm for the eclectic written word.

I was chatting on-line with a friend who once had a life altering experience. In 1992, while on a fishing trip in East Texas, he had an encounter with what he now believes was Bigfoot. Yes, you read it right. Large, hairy, stinky dog smelling, “Harry and the Henderson’s” type of primate, also known as Sasquatch, Bigfoot.

Though I am skeptical about anything I can’t see, feel, taste, or touch, my interest was piqued. Maybe it was the writer’s curiosity in me, or maybe it was the “OMG! I don’t live far from that area!” thought rolling through my head that had me spellbound, but regardless, I was anxious to learn more.

But the interest I had in the subject matter soon became secondary. My friend of Sasquatch wonderment spoke with such animation that I could literally feel his delight pulsing through the keyboard. His dedication, his intense passion to learn more about the growling, rock throwing creature that had ruined his chance of reeling in the big one by forcing him to retreat to the roof of a nearby cabin had me in awe.

I could feel my heart rate increase, just as I could feel his excitement sizzling through cyberspace. All I could think was, “Wow. That’s exactly how I feel about writing.” Of course, now that I was cruising in overdrive, too, our conversation became so convoluted that it would have taken a team of decoders to follow us. I was throwing a list of my favorite authors at him, which he caught quite nicely while he was gushing about meeting Smokey Crabtree, the man behind the movie The legend of Boggy Creek. I was waxing poetically about character development while he was talking about campfire friends and Animal Planet’s six part series that is set to air June 5th. I was trying not to think about the possibility that the Boogie Man could be residing in the dense trees behind my house while I rambled on about cutting scenes and building suspense. He was teasing me with the knowledge that one of the national forests near my house had the most Bigfoot reportings in the state of Texas while admitting that he likes reading romance novels, too. The whole conversation was like…one…giant…headrush.

Guess you had to be there to fully understand the impact.

A couple of hours later, when my blood pressure was back within an acceptable range, and I was relaxing in the afterglow, I began to wonder if there were others out there who were equally passionate about books and writing. Even I, a normally “gotta see to believe” kind of person, felt somewhat apprehensive when I visited the site my friend referred me to and listened to the audio footage researchers have gathered on these “manimals”. So I don’t find it unusual for someone who has actually had one of these hair raising experiences to grow a little excited when they recount the event. But is it normal to get an adrenaline rush when you go to the mailbox and discover the latest issue of Writer’s Digest? Or answer in run-on sentences, afraid you might leave something out, when someone asks you how you got the idea for your latest project?

How about helping me out here folks? Am I the only writing junkie out there?

If you’d like to hear more about my friend's Bigfoot encounter, go to


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Is It Really Necessary To Be Mean?

I'd like to talk to you about your mean, malicious streak.

But first, I would like to welcome all the new friends to my page. I hope all of you find this site useful, or at the very least, interesting. Please feel free to ask me questions or offer suggestions in the comments section.

Now, let's discuss that cruel, God-like complex you have. I mean, you do have one, don't you? As a writer, it's essential, and the more sordid it is, the better off your characters will be. But don't just take my word for it. Here's what my friend, Mike Ruchhoeft, over at Cowboys and Dragons At The Cafe has to say about it.

"You have to be evil for the sake of the story. You must make your characters's up to you, as their god, to forge them with pain, disappointment and sorrow. You control their world, use that: floods, earthquakes, meteors, a rolling boulder, a toppling tree. You can arrange circumstances to rouse their greatest fears, use that: a loose lion, a raging river, an unstable rope bridge over a chasm. You can foster misunderstanding, paranoia, and hate. You can make their lives a living hell, and you must. It's for their own good."
So tell me, Great Nasty Manipulator, what is the worst thing you've ever done to one of your characters?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Determining What Works For You

When I first became serious about writing, it didn't take me long to realize I had a lot of studying to do if I wanted to master the craft. At first, it was fun, and I absorbed information like Bounty absorbs spills. But after a while, it seemed like the more I learned, the more I needed to study. I felt like I was caught up in a never ending cycle.

My head was spinning so fast that I almost missed my cue, the one that told me it was time to jump off that particular merry-go-round. The signal to stop cramming (or slow down) and start writing comes at different times for all of us, but for me, it was when I stumbled across a writing tip that had me asking, "What!? Are you serious?" (Never begin a sentence with an -ing word. I'm sorry, but to me, that's just crazy.)

The fact is, there's a lot of writing advice out there, and most of it is worthwhile and helpful. But some of it isn't. And some of it may improve one writer's style while it destroys another's.

So how can you decipher the good from the bad? Determine what will improve your writing and what won't?

I have found a system that often works for me, and it's a version of the indisputably best writing advice out there: read. Read what you like, read what you write.

When I have a writing question, I go to my bookshelf and randomly grab five or six books by different authors I love to read. Then, one by one, I open each book to the middle and read until I figure out how that author approached the issue I'm curious about. You should pick a number you're comfortable with, but if five out of six of my favorite authors are doing something a certain way, I feel it will also work successfully for me.

While this may not answer every question that comes up, I think it's a technique that can benefit a lot of writers. Not only can it help with writer's block, but it also helps personalize the information we take in to help us with our individual needs, especially if we are reading what we write.

I am not telling you to question all the advice out there. But should you come across a tip that doesn't sound quite right, I am suggesting you put it to this test, and determine its true value to you.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day and Chocolate Pie

My Kids are so great! This year for Mother's Day, they have given me the kind of gifts I absolutely adore.

Don't get me wrong; I love getting all kinds of gifts. When someone thinks enough of me to present me with a token of their affection, large or small, it always makes me feel special. But for me, one of the greatest expressions of someone's love is the gift of time. My life is so hectic. Time is one of the things I never seem to have enough of, and I bet all you writers out there who work by day and write by night can relate to a shortage of time. So when someone spends their time to make me something, it just makes my heart sing.

And today, my heart is singing a very happy tune. Loudly.

I can't share all my totally awesome gifts with you (breakfast in bed and a spotlessly clean house), but there is one I can spread around.

This year, my first grader presented me with a cookbook entitled "Recipes for Mom", and I know all you mothers out there will appreciate it as much as I do. It is a humorous reminder that our children do pay attention to what we do (at least a little bit). Below is the recipe my daughter, Leo Conner, added to the book.

Chocolate Pie

Sometimes we make chocolate pie.
We get those round things.
Get pans. Get the dough.
Mom makes it. You can make it.
I don't know how but you just do it.
She puts the dough then she puts the chocolate in the pan.
Then she cooks it. Probably like, I don't know how long.
Then she puts the whipped creme that is supposed to be little poked things.
Then you put the cherries beside it.
My mom just does it this way because she likes it.
You can put the cherries any way you want to.

My thanks go out to Mrs. Powers for coming up with this wonderful idea and for taking the time to bring it all together. If anyone would like to see more of the recipes in the book, let me know.

What totally awesome gifts have you received this year?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Is Patience Overrated?

I was browsing through one of my favorite stores this weekend and came across a display of refrigerator magnets. Amid the humorous and opinionated ones, I found one that made me think "ain't that the truth"! Afraid of what it might say about me, I left it in it's place and continued looking at the others. But my attention kept coming back to the same one.  Finally, I gave in and bought it. It was just so me.

As I slipped out of the store feeling like a teenage girl buying her first personal care item--afraid of being seen--I asked myself, "What's the big deal? It's a refrigerator magnet!" It took me a few minutes to realize my discomfort came from the fact that the view the magnet expressed, "patience is such a waste of time", went against everything I'd ever been taught. Have you ever heard the saying "good things come to those who wait"? Or "patience is a virtue"? And have you ever read a glowing recommendation about someone, whether personal or professional, that included the attribute of "patient"?

But when you get down to it, is being patient always a good thing? Sure, I understand the importance of it when you're teaching a kindergardener to tie his shoe, but should the same courtesy be given to a teenager who has been told three times to pick up their shoes?

I'm not advocating being rude here. Being respectful of others can go a long way toward a peaceful existence, toward getting what you want. But when I think about all the time that is wasted in the name of patience, I can't help but feel it's overrated. Have you ever stayed on hold on the telephone for an obscene amount of time because you felt you had no other choice? On a deeper scale, have you ever been on a non-productive path but stayed the course because you thought being patient would pay off in the long run?

It's a fine line, but there comes a point when being patient becomes lazy and gullible. Lazy because you don't want to make the effort to do what's necessary to ensure "good things" come your way when there's still a chance that waiting patiently could bring them to you. And gullible because you have bought into the belief that, other than being patient, there is nothing you can do to make things turn out the way you want.

It makes me think of my senior year in high school when we were taking pictures for the yearbook. Our Journalism teacher asked each of us, "Of all the students, whose picture is the most important?" The honest answer, of course, is "mine". And when it comes to being patient, I think the same scenerio applies. Whose time is more important?

Sorry for the rant, but I appreciate your patience.