POWER – Imagined or Real

The solar eclipse happened yesterday afternoon here in Michigan. We were not in the total eclipse path, but we knew the sun would be partially covered. Knowing that it’s a bad thing to look directly at the sun at any time, when it started getting dark outside (not quite dusk-like; about fifteen minutes before the darkest it would get here), I decided to sit on our front porch to horizontally watch our neighborhood darken.

Earlier this summer, bees decided to build their hive under our porch. I’d often sat out on the bench, watching their busy goings to and fro. They’d never bothered me. But right at the height of the eclipse for our area, three of the little guys stung me.

This got me thinking about power. Actual or not, I figured the hive thought I was the one causing the disruption in their daylight. In other words, they assumed I, who was not normally that close to them for an extended period, had the power to block out the sun. It was imagined, an assumption. A misassumption, but one they acted upon. Then I felt their response in actual power, in their stings.

A gossip has the power to cause much damage with lies and assumptions. A result can be with actual power when people react to those lies and assumptions.

Think about your characters. What are their powers? Are they real or imagined? Is there a motivating stimulus and a character reaction? A villain and a hero? Bees and an innocent by-sitter? And where is the real power?

Old Friends — True Characters

This past spring, Chris, an old high school friend, discovered during a regular mammogram check up that she’d developed cancer. Although she has an exceptional support system with family and doctors, like any reasonable person facing the unknown, Chris wanted all the support and prayers she could muster. She contacted seven high school classmates to form a Circle of Friends around her, and let us know at the same time what is happening to her.

Even though it’s been decades since we’ve seen each other, even though we seven come from different family units, different faiths, different life experiences and philosophies, we wholeheartedly agreed to support our friend Chris through group on-line communication.

We are so unique from each other, it makes me wonder how we were ever friends in the first place. And yet, we were. And yet we are.

When I develop characters in my books, I sometimes pick traits from true characters–people I know. Someone who is bold. Someone who is betrayed. Someone who did something out of character (so, what lies beneath?). Also, I consider how characters view each other. Do they see someone who is unafraid on the outside, yet the character is actually terrified on the inside? The person’s reaction to conflicts (like cancer or life or death, or someone with an alternate view) prove a person’s true character. Observation and thought not only gives understanding in real life, but is wonderful writing fodder.

Though all the trials of life, and through all our differences, we in the Circle of Friends remain friends How contrary this is to the faceless Internet strangers who so easily stir up word-trouble with their comments. Can your characters be distinct enough from the others, yet retain their individuality, and yet be able to change? Ah, the wonderful challenges of writing!

Today’s Writing Challenge: Pick two of your characters. Make a list of five inner traits which make them unique. Pick two of the most polar traits between them, then put them into a situation where these differences cause feelings to escalate, i.e., conflict–something every good story needs today. Write a scene how they work out (or not) their differences.

Have a great writing week.

Write Alone, but Don’t be Lonely (the purpose of a critique group)

This past spring, I was at a book signing with several other authors. The woman beside me was part of the local Writer’s Guild and tried to get other authors to join. I asked if they did critiques with one another. Her eyes lit up and drifted off to the left and up before looking back down at me. “Having someone else read over your story first? What a wonderful idea!”

She is self-published, and was popular with the locals who came to the event, but as sweet as this woman was, I couldn’t get myself to buy one of her books  — without an editor or even other writers giving their imput before publication. I could be wrong. She might be one of those rare gems who is truly a word-wizard, and I missed my chance. I actually met an elderly woman once who caused my jaw to drop with her on-the-spot writings, but she wasn’t at all interested in getting published. How sad for the world.

For those of us who write and rewrite and delete and toss and revise, and revise a few more times, often doing all this before presenting anything to our critique groups, writing is a struggle. It’s time-consuming and hard work. I simply cannot imagine doing this all on my own. I need my critique group. I value their eyes and their thoughts. For me, I see five main reasons to participate in a critique group:

1. Someone other than your mother or spouse can look over the manuscript for plot structure or story arch or clarification.

2. They can point out where the characters work or don’t work, where the author has the character say or do something, but isn’t in that character’s voice or POV.

3. They can show where you’ve repeated a single word four times in two paragraphs, or have a convoluted sentence structure, or have told, not shown, etc.

4. Struggling alongside others, and each wanting to improve your writing, you can do group studies on various books of writing craft, or of books in your genre, and share the insights and promote discussions and then apply what you’ve gleaned to your own writing.

5. Critique groups keep you producing, month after month.

I’ve been in several critique groups, one for over a dozen years. I’ve also had beta readers checking word for word errors. And I’ve had editors who point out things which none of the others mentioned, and who strive to make my writing absolutely shine.

Writing is a lone business, but it doesn’t have to be lonely.

Writing AND Marketing — It’s All About Relationships

In fiction writing, character-driven stories are quite popular. These stories are about characters relating to other characters (as well as nature and self). All around you are characters from which to draw, each individual. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based Sherlock on an actual professor he had. When neighbors of Samuel Clemens read Mark Twain, they laughed as they identified which characters were based on people in their own town where the author had lived. “The Big Bang Theory” was created from real people the writer knew in grad school.

So you don’t have to do a lot of making up of individuals from your own imagination. There are unique characters all around you. And they make for very interesting characters. However, you may want to change the identity to protect yourself. For instance, that mean neighbor who terrorizes the willy-nillies out of you? My,  how he’d make a lovely troll. That boss who accuses you of things you never did? She’d make a great character who whines and screeches and threatens, “I’m gonna tell the teacher.” The ordinary boy who did a small kind act, like stopping in the hallway to help you pick up your books? Oh, yeah. He’ll make a nice YA love interest.

Relationships for writers is more than just our characters. How could I continue writing another word without the encouragement of my critique group or other writers I’ve met over the years?

And now that I’m published and involved in the crazy world of marketing, I’m finding relationships continue, but in an entirely new area. I have multiple contacts and relationships with school and library visits. What a joy it is to work with these people who want the best for their people and believe I am the best for them.

I have multiple contacts and relationships with booksellers which have developed over the years. Just last week, I met an indy bookseller who has regularly reordered my books since the first one was published in spring of 2013. Even though her store is in a delightful touristy town, it’s still ninety minutes away from my home. In the past, she was always gone when I was there. This last week, meeting Pam Haferman face-to-face was a delightful and emotional experience and I left her store bouncing from cloud to cloud — a feeling which stayed with me all the way home.

So whether you’re experiencing potential characters, writing about characters, or working with others to make an event be superior, it’s all about relationships.

Bkst owner Pam H 'n Sandy 4-2015

Pam Haferman of Black River Books, South Haven, MI, and Sandy Carlson, April, 2014

Book Review of WRITING IRRESISTIBLE KIDLIT by Mary Kole

Every so often my critique group from circa 2003 takes time off from our weekly sub-and-crit schedule to explore the craft of writing. This past week it was all about reading and discussing the book Writing Irresistible Kidlit, The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers by literary agent Mary Kole (2012, Writers Digest Books).

Do you need to write only for the 8- to 18-year-old to glean information on how to be a better writer from this book? Absolutely not. Kole is a master at setting a chisel on the calloused fallacies of writers for all ages. Does she cover the major three issues? Character, plot and language? You bet, but in a refreshing way which caused this author to sit back, scrutinize her writing revealed in this new spotlight, and say, “Oh, fiddle sticks!” At which time she sends me straight back to Thought- and Revisionland. She covers much more than the major three and delves deeply in.

There are many books available on the craft of writing, many wonderful books. Most are for beginners. Kole does an excellent job, taking the writer deeper. It’s not just “know your characters,” but know their core identities and views on the world. It’s not just about raising stakes in your plot, but raising the stakes for the purpose of seriously affecting your protagonist. And if just reading about improving your writing isn’t enough, Kole throws in exercises for the braver readers. It’s a great study book on the craft of writing.

Character Changes in Past 50 Years

 Literature Blogs

This week I caught up on some ancient reading history. I read a couple of Newberry books from the 1960’s.

Okay. I know this epiphany should not at all surprise me, but it did. Before these latest reads, I’d been doing what “everyone” says to do — read the latest books in the field in which I want to get published to see what IS getting published out there today. There are many great reads. Too many books, too little time. However, I noticed that in the books of the ’60’s the main characters experienced a lot of what main characters in today’s writing world do, too. (There is nothing new under the sun.) Only, back then, the kids were fifteen years old or older; today’s main characters who do the same actions are nine or ten years old.

This can only mean that in another fifty years, we will be reading of two and three year olds fighting off villans with mad sword skills, and dashing through streets or forests to rescue the fair maidens in distress or find the enormous lost treasure. Good thing I’ll be dead by then.

Day 22 NaNoWriMo — Lost Friends’ Encouragement and Characterization Ploy

Literature Blogs

Okay. Twenty-two days into this challenge and I just decide today to procrastinate in yet a different way. Isn’t it amazing what variety procrastination can take on when you really, really want it? I checked my NaNoWriMo mailbox this evening for the first time this month. I discovered four unread messages, two from the first week of November. (BAD Sandy! Way to turn away writing friends!) Thing is, one friend wrote me three times, each time not only encouraging me, but telling me how I encouraged her by my word count — although I’m still behind about 3,000 words from the daily count. I’m around 33,500 words, and may have yet more in me later tonight. I’m thankful for friends who do not give up on me even when I’ve been ignoring them.

Group hug to my writer friends, old and new.

Half of writing is just sitting down and doing it, which is what this month is all about. The other half is hard, hard, hard work of plotting, characterization, twists, word craft.

I got rather excited this weekend with this brilliant new idea. Because many of the writers I know doing NaNoWriMo are cheating — as in, not doing straight writing from beginning to end of story in novel format — I decided my 12-year-old MC needed to write an autobiography for his English class. Very cool. I found that he wrote his autobiography in his own voice. His family filled in. His hobbies and interests developed. Then I had him talking about his best friend. I thought to myself, “Gee, they’re in the same English class.” So there came another autobiography through this very different voice. WHAT FUN! I was on a roll. I’ve done two other autobiographies, and can hardly wait to do more. I have in my possession lots of characterization lists and charts and prompts, but this autobiography thing was slick. Plus, it gave me lots more words which I’m using for my word count, even though they probably won’t go into the story as is. (Cheating, but it’s still about the story, you know.)

I’d like to say that I’m ready to type away for the rest of the night and get caught up to today’s count, but supper and a DVD with DH is calling. BTW, that is not procrastination; family always comes first. Feeding the writer now and then isn’t such a bad idea, either.