Tag Archives: Character Voice

Prompt Group: Book Plot, Gangs, and Disney Villains

17 Jan

I went to my prompt group last night for the first time in almost a month. It’s crazy how awesome it was to see everyone. It was only Sonia and I from the Novel Girls and by the way, you can check out Sonia’s blog here. I’ll give you the prompts first and then give you my responses. If you want to do the prompts, please link back here so I can read what you wrote!

Prompts:

1. Write the title of a hypothetical book and the synopsis that goes with it (2 minutes)

  • Most of us thought this would be good practice to do during October to prepare for NaNoWriMo next year.

2. Write a short justification of the thought process of a Disney villain (5 minutes).

My Responses

  1. Penguins, Pot, and Paraguas
    John has always wanted to touch a penguin. It’s a childhood ambition that drove him to study zoology and take an internship on an Antarctic expedition. Finally within the reach of his un-flying aviary dreams, he meets Tomas, a Swedish sea-captain who befriends him and invites John to long sessions of ‘just hanging out’ in the hull of the boat. When his internship supervisor dispels him from the expedition days before they set off for the final leg, John is stranded in Johannesburg without a way to get back to his home in North Carolina. He has two months to kill and gets a job working for a Spanish immigrant in a tourist shop that only sells umbrellas.
  2. Cruella de Vil. (Written as a transcript of her civil suit trial)
    I think this case is focusing less on the issue of if stealing was wrong and more on the moral side of if killing 101 puppies for their fur is wrong. I want to redirect the jury’s attention to the decision of the law at hand and not the subject of my client’s moral fiber. She is no worse than yourself or your mother. Let’s be honest, Miss de Vil motivated by the same thing must humans are: money. She’s not seeing cute little Dalmatian puppies; she’s seeing dollar signs in their spots. We’ve all heard of puppy mills and seen ASPCA commercials that make us want to cry but the true reason they still exist is because someone can make a buck off of little Fido. So Miss de Vil is no worse than those men at the pound who you called to take away the scared little kitty you found in your back yard and though you think it’s cute, you’re still afraid it has rabies. In a culture that values entrepreneurship, why are Americans passing judgment on one of their own; a capitalist trying to pick herself up by her bootstraps and make a decent living. Shame on those who shun her. They can go have fair trade coffee at Starbucks while wearing Tom’s shoes and talking about volunteering in Namibia while secretly swearing to themselves they will never go to Namibia. Look at yourselves and think; wouldn’t you do the same?

I hope you enjoy, let me know how your prompts go. Happy writing!

Novel Girls: Anticipation, Dialogue, and Short Stories

12 Dec

We had a novel girls meeting last Thursday and I’m just now getting around to talking about it. That should tell you how many book’s I’ve been reading and how busy the holidays have been. I forgot to take notes at the time, but there are a few things that stuck in my head and I remember well.

KK brought the next section of her WIP fantasy novel. I’m in love with her concept and was very excited to read it. Her story flashes between present day and an event that was set in motion exactly 100 years before that affects the present (yes, this is vague but I don’t want to give anything away before it becomes a best-seller). To me, there is a lot of tension to see what happens in the events 100 years before and how quickly (or slowly) they are developing because there is a deadline for something dramatic to happen. The reader starts knowing the date in modern times when the event occurs and counting the days down in the flashback would build anticipation for the dramatic turn of events. KK loved this idea and when she is done writing will be able to go back in and add dates.

This had me thinking about building tension in general. In many stories, there is a looming event; something the characters are preparing for or dreading. Sometimes the characters don’t see it coming but the reader does. In The Hunger Games (first book), it’s the games itself. In the over-arching series it’s the rebellion. For Harry Potter, we have a looming event of the Tri-Wizard Tournament in Goblet of Fire and we also have the series-wide event of the final battle with Voldemort. All of these events must be built toward, either within the book or within the series.

How do you build tension/anticipation in your works? What have you read that kept you waiting on the edge of your seat for a particular event?

We read another excerpt from my YA Historical Fiction novel. KK gave me some feedback that made me feel warm and fuzzy inside; she loved my dialogue. I see so many writers who struggle to write dialogue and it makes me feel great that someone found my writing not only believable, but good. I’ve included a sample of this below. This is a conversation between my protagonist, June, and her best friend, Marty.

“There’s a rumor that after the dance hall, you and Tony went out for drinks and you stumbled home with your arm slung over his shoulder.”

“After the dance hall, my feet hurt and I limped home with him supporting me.” She giggled.

“All right, another story is that you spend your time at the library plotting how you’ll get your revenge on Sarah Hamilton.”

“I spend our time at the library doing homework assignments and plotting with Tony how we can be a convincing couple.”

“Have you ever thought of getting back at Sarah?”

“Not particularly.”

“But don’t you hate her? Don’t you want to get even?”

June considered this for a second. “No. I’ve realized I wasn’t happy with Donny. I don’t think I was ever important to him.”

When I write dialogue, I say it all in my head and try to create it like it’s a film. I picture the characters and the space they’re in and then I have the conversation with myself. So, for the third line, it seemed natural to me that the filler ‘all right’ would be used. Marty would need a second to think about the next rumor he wanted to talk about. When Marty asks June if she hates Sarah, he starts the question with the word ‘but.’ I’m very well aware this is not proper grammar, but I’m going to argue very few of us speak with proper grammar. It’s what I would say. It’s what I picture my best guy-friend saying. It’s natural. Similarly, if I were June, I would take a second to respond to his question so I have June take a second to respond. For characters I don’t want to sound at all like me, I’ll think about what my co-worker or husband or friend might say. I’ve considered having someone read the dialogue aloud with me to see if it sounds the way I want it to.

The piece Nicole brought was a short story with two characters we’d already met in another short story. It made KK and I curious how the stories could connect and if it would be possible to make a complete story out of the character arcs. Since our fellow Novel Girl SG worked on a collection of related short stories for NaNo and I’m currently reading a collection of short stories (The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury), this got me thinking about the difference between a collection and a novel. SGs work and my current book have stories that focus on different characters in each story but have an overall theme or setting. Other sets of short stories, such as Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories and the ones Nicole is working on.

I want your opinion, Reader, on what makes a group of stories a collection? What is the necessary joining factor and how does this differentiate from a novel?

Unfortunately SG was unable to join us, but we did go to her place for a holiday part this past weekend. I mention it because we played a wonderful writers’ game. It’s called Storymatic and I think it would make a wonderful gift for any writer in one’s life. SG’s non-writing friends were not as enthused at first but started to realize how fun it could be by our second game. If anyone’s looking for Christmas present ideas for a fellow writer, check it out.

That’s all I’ve got for today, folks. Until next time, write on.

Book Review: The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

10 Dec

Coming down the home stretch! I’ve got 21 more days to go and four more books to finish! Expect a good number of book reviews in the next few weeks.

Cover Image from Goodreads.com

Cover Image from Goodreads.com

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

This book was recommended to me by one of my supervisors at work. She said she really loved it and I put it on my list, figuring that I would get to it eventually. Well, it’s eventually. I almost read this sooner, but I’d just finished The Paris Wife and I needed a change of pace. I listened to this title on audiobook from the local library.

Anne Morrow was an ambassador’s daughter before she was the aviator’s wife. It was in Mexico City, visiting her dignitary father that she first met Colonel Charles Lindbergh. Seeing in Anne the co-pilot he’s been searching for, Charles doesn’t forget her and their quick romance is filled with airplanes and the wide open sky. Anne jumps into Charles’ world with two feet, earning her pilot’s license and learning to operate a glider. ‘The First Couple of the Sky’ is America’s favorite and the media attention can only be avoided when they’re together in the air. When their first child, Charles Jr., is born, the two don’t slow down. They seem to be away from their child more than with him and the couple finally buys their own house to settle down in and be a family. When tragedy strikes and their son is kidnapped, the results will break Charles and leave Anne grieving alone for the son she never really got to know. As her five other children grow and leave, Anne finds her self more and more alone as Charles leaves for war, conferences, and meetings. No one could accompany the lone eagle forever.

I tried not to, but I found myself comparing this book the The Paris Wife while I read it. Between the two, I’d say I liked Benjamin’s book better. They both focus on the wives of famous men from the 1920s and how the men outshone their wives in every way possible. I found Anne a stronger and more likeable character than Hadley and I’m glad I’m ending my foyer into 20s wives on a strong note.

This book, more than anything, made me dislike Charles Lindbergh. He’s portrayed as controlling, manipulative, and very arrogant. His anti-Semitic tendencies were enough to make me dislike him, but forcing Anne to publish a book where she explained that she agreed with him was abhorrent. A man who would father seven children out of wedlock is not a very likeable character in any book. (According to Wikipedia, this is true. It’s not known if Anne was aware.)

Anne’s journey is to find herself an identity that is separate from Charles’s. She wants to be known as more than the Aviator’s wife and starts this by being an author. Anne studied English in school and always wanted to write. She ghost-wrote for Charles but wanted her own turn at the page. Her book was successful, maybe only slightly bolstered by her husband’s fame. After the youngest, Reeve, left home, Anne got her own apartment and her own friends. She became known among them as the writer of the group and relished in this identity. She had flirtations, one even more than a flirtation, and felt that finally she was her own woman. This was only solidified when she denied Charles the absolution he wanted regarding the European children. It took until her husband’s death, but Anne finally stepped from Charles’ shadow.

Besides his flight, the one thing people always remember about Lindbergh is the kidnapping. There was an afterward in the copy I had that Benjamin had written and she said that the Lindberghs have been affected more by the media than any other people alive, perhaps excluding Princess Diana. Their loss was so public and the search so wide spread that it took on a life of its own. They way its described in Benjamin’s book almost broke my heart to see the unusual struggle that the two had to go through because of their celebrity status. The writing really made me feel for the Lindberghs.

Writer’s Takeaway: I said at the beginning that I enjoyed this book more than The Paris Wife and I think I’ve deduced why. Hadley was a very unlikeable character while I was rooting for Anne the whole time. Hadley wasn’t to focus of her own story, Ernest was always the focus. The story ended with a change in Ernest, not Hadley. Anne’s story was wholly her own with a character arc not defined by Charles. I think this highlights a good lesson for writers. Our characters need to be more than a set of eyes. They can see someone else’s story, but they have to have their own as well. In The Great Gatsby, Nick is watching Gatsby’s story, but he is his own character and he is dynamic. When the protagonist and narrator are different people, one must make sure both change.

Three out of five stars.

Until next time, write on.

Book Review: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

19 Nov

I always feel good when I get to do a book review. It means I’m getting closer and closer to my goal of 70 books in 2013. I do advise against a goal this high, however. It means I’m stressing about time to read and not enjoying the books as much. I plan to do 36 next year, averaging three per month.

I added The Remains of the Day to my list after I finished Ishiguro’s other book, Never Let Me Go. I much prefer the latter and if you’re thinking of reading one of Ishiguro’s books, I would say Never Let Me Go is the way to go. More on that later.

Book Cover from Goodreads.com

Book Cover from Goodreads.com

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The story follows Mr. Stevens, the butler to Darlington Hall, on a vacation across England to meet the old housekeeper of the Hall, Miss Kenton. His diary during these six days of travel involves a great deal of reflection on his life serving Lord Darlington and the events he attended to during that time.

Lord Darlington was a great English lord leading up to World War II. He would frequently hold conferences for dignitaries and politicians in his home to help pacify the rough consequences of the Treaty of Versailles.

I’ll admit that I was not a fan of this book. I listened to the audiobook and I was three disks (out of seven) into it before I realized what was going on. Stevens feels he is having a great impact on the course of history through his running the house during Lord Darlington’s meetings. Because they seem to go well and Lord Darlington is usually pleased with the result, Stevens is pleased with his own work. What Stevens doesn’t know is that Lord Darlington is sympathetic to the German Nazis and feels they were given a bad deal with the treaty. He’s trying to find more sympathy for them in England and influence those high in power (including the Prime Minister) to consider renegotiating the treaty. I didn’t realize that Stevens was a biased and slightly unreliable narrator.

While this technique was masterfully executed, I was bored with the book until I figured that out. I felt like I was reading the diary of an old English gentleman (again, it was well done) and that there was no theme or storyline to these ramblings except to tell about his life and the things he had done and seen. It was nothing near captivating for me and I was frankly upset with all the hype around this book.

There are two things I think Ishiguro is trying to say. One is about loyalty and the loyalty that Stevens showed to Lord Darlington is steadfast but perhaps a little overzealous. No matter what his Lord asked of him, Stevens was happy to comply, even when it was firing two chambermaids only because they were Jewish. When Stevens’ father was dying in a room of the house, he was helping with an important dinner. I would say that Stevens had his priorities out-of-order in the worst way. While loyalty is commendable, it should not come at the price of one’s own wellbeing and morals.

The other point that Ishiguro makes is about history and how it frames heroes and villains. At the time of the action, no one knew what the Nazis were doing to Jews in concentration camps. It was pretty obvious that the Treaty of Versailles was causing economic problems in Germany and Lord Darlington took it upon himself to help remedy these issues. At the time, he could be seen as a good Samaritan. However, with the foresight of the Holocaust, no one could call Darlington a hero and humanitarian for what he tried to do for the Germans. History decides who will be remembered.

One of the things that I was reminded of while reading this book was Elie Wiesel’s work to bring the plight of Holocaust victims to light after the atrocities commited by the Nazis were in the dark for so long. I wrote about this in my book review of Night. It was people like Lord Darlington who needed to hear Wiesel’s message.

Writer’s Takeaways: I read in a review and I will agree that this is one of the best examples of first person narration I’ve read in a long time. Some books can feel burdensome when narrated in first person, but Ishiguro’s book read smoothly. I’m blown away at his talent.

I also liked the bias the narrator presented and how this skewed information for the reader. It took a while for me to figure this out, but I enjoyed the way Ishiguro obscured facts through Stevens’ eyes until the end.

Two out of Five stars.

Until next time, Reader, write on.

Prompt Group: Vessel of Place, Using Other Senses, and a few Tips

10 Oct

Time for my prompt group yet again!  We did some exercises this time that were not exactly prompts, but were designed to teach us to write better.  The first was one my friend MB did at a writer’s conference.  It was: Imagine a situation with a strong emotion attached to it and pick an object to describe it.  This is called Vessel of Place, a way of saying that an object can have more emotional memory attached to it than the memory of an event.  (I hope that makes sense.)

The second one was a two part exercise.  We first were instructed to describe a place we had recently visited.    The second part was to use other senses.  Specifically, we had to take out all references to sight.  Mine didn’t have that much, so I worked instead to add more senses into the prose.  I’m including only the second here.  Please criticize me if I used too many visual references.

The final prompt was to take an object from the second prompt and do another vessel of place exercise with it.

Please post your exercises as well!  I’d love to see them.  I’m posting my responses below and then will end this post with some brief writing tips we went over.

Prompt 1

The wine glass was half filled so by default it was half emptied.  I stared at it and saw the reflections of the lights from around the dining room glaring back at me and hurting my eyes.  Looking through it, I could see him sitting on the other side of the table, his own glass of wine in his hand.  He swirled it around and around, mixing the sweet wine with a bitter bite to it.  I took a drink myself and what had previously seemed sweet and aromatic now seemed bitter and ashen.  It was funny how a few words could change the taste of a vintage wine.

I’m not certain but I’m pretty sure I lost more than my taste for wine that night.  The glass slowly drained in the same way the life slowly drained out of him.  What was before savory had turned ashen.  Link the life blood draining out of him as he left this world, the red wine into my mouth and disappeared forever.  The reflections in the glass faded as the night ended and the light in his eyes slowly went out over months of illness.

The pattern on the tablecloth that night reflected strangely in the base of my wine glass and looked like a cross.  I now believe it was a plus sign.  It was telling me, “It’s a plus that you’re with him now.  It’s a plus that you get to see this happen to him before it happens to you.”  But it was a plus for HIV positive, which is always a negative.

Prompt 2, Part 2

The ground was soft and muddy.  Most of the sites had ground the consistency of a baby’s diaper and the ones that weren’t were none too common.  When we finally found a place, the rain let up just enough to make us brave enough to venture out of the car.  Only one site had both a grille and a fireplace, both critical things in our opinion that the site director didn’t seem to find important.  A square of flat land had a few sticks that we threw into the woods so that they wouldn’t poke us in the back all night.  We should have considered that we’d want them later for firewood.  My husband opened the trunk and we got out the small tent, only then realizing that I’d forgotten the big tent at home.  This isn’t exactly what you want to realize 3.5 hours from home when you’re on a budget camping trip.

$106 later we were back with the roomiest tent in the site and were happily setting up for our other friends to arrive.  The sun was finally coming through the clouds and the humidity started to dip below 100%.

Prompt 3

The car smelled like a wet dog.  The carpets had mud rubbed into them from the college friends who didn’t bother to wipe their boots after hiking.  I found an entire McDonalds meal under the passenger’s seat.  It seems someone didn’t listen when I asked them to take their trash out when we left the car.

The squished bug on the inside of the back windshield will still be there six months later and the smell of spilt beer will never really leave the trunk.  The back seat still smells like river and the driver’s seat will always feel like shiver exasperation at the follies of men and boys.  I saw the ‘emergency tent’ we bought when I went to put my summer beach bag away for the winter.  It reminded me that even if you forget the shelter, you can remember to bring over 5 gallons of beer, as long as you have your priorities straight.  That’s enough return money to buy another 12 pack, in case you’re interested.

 

A Few Tips

I won’t be too long winded here, but we discussed a few tips and techniques for writers to utilize.  The first tip was to start with a list of names so that it’s easy to grab a name for a throw-away character while writing and you don’t have to stop and look around for one.  One member of our group suggested BehindtheName.com to look for names based on origin and meaning.  I’ve used this site for a piece I’m working on and it’s very helpful, I highly recommend it as well.

The second is something most writers know already; that every detail about your character and the words they say should give meaning to the character.  For example, I can say that Joe ate breakfast.  All that says is that Joe’s hungry.  If I say Joe ate a cold Poptart, you might think “Joe’s in a hurry and a bachelor.”  If I say that Joe had bacon and eggs you will probably think “Joe’s a family man with a wife who wakes up really early.”  Either way, the detail of what he ate tells you who Joe is.  All details should tell us about the character.

The third trick might sound like my earlier post about strong language, but it’s not to use ‘lazy’ words.  For example, everyone wears shoes.  ‘Shoe’ is a lazy word.  A woman wears stilettos or boots.  A child wears tennis shoes, a grandpa wears Oxfords.  ‘Shoe’ is a lazy word that doesn’t give us much description.  Someone can be ‘nice,’ but it’s better if they’re friendly or pleasant.  Try to stay away from very general words when a stronger noun would do better.

The last is one that I think is critical for good characterization and it’s to use a ‘language bank’ for each character.  We each have a vocabulary that’s uniquely our own and when we speak we say something differently than someone else would say it.  Also, individuals have phrases that they use a lot that another person might never use.  My example of this is Jay Gatsby who always says ‘old sport.’  Once it’s established that Gatsby is the one saying this, Fitzgerald could even leave off dialogue tags because the reader knew that was part of Gatsby’s vernacular.  I plan to do this with my WIP characters.  I want to take any scene in which a character talks and put the dialogue into one document.  It should read almost like a stream of consciousness from that character and individual quirks about how the person talks should be evident in each one.

I hope these tips are useful to you.  Please leave a comment and let me know or leave a comment with your own tip.  Thanks for reading. 🙂

Novel Girls: Revision Process

16 Sep

One of the writerly topics I’ve been contemplating is the revision process. When I was in school, nothing I wrote ever needed major revisions; I could get away with changing a few words, at most a paragraph. Now, as I write entire manuscripts, I realize that I’m not so lucky.

Nicole and I met up to work on our novels yesterday. After my Novel Girls meeting on Thursday, i realized I had a lot of major updates to do. (Many times we meet, KK and Nicole will give me some major things to change and I usually put them off. They’d caught up with me.) These major changes hanging over me, along with a blog post I read by Emily on Adventures in Fantasy, made me start thinking about my own revision process.

For the WIP I’m currently on, I’ve done a re-write and I’m now going through chapter by chapter in a workshop, which is bringing out a few scenes that need another re-write. This weekend I’m going to do a read-aloud to help point out a few more scenes that sound weird/are inconsistent that need a re-write. I have a plan to take all of my dialogue and make sure that each character has a unique voice as far as idioms and speech pattern. I have a writing workbook that I’m thinking of going through as well. After that, I have a few betas lined up, which should lend itself to some more re-writing. Hopefully I can micro-edit from there and call it ‘done!’

Being the planner I am, I already developed a plan for my NaNo. The obvious first step: write a 50K+ word novel in 30 days. Easy enough. After that I plan to leave it alone for at least a month if not two. I then plan on doing what I call ‘the notecard thing’ which is where you write your major plot points from each chapter on a notecard. Then, you throw the notecards in the air and put them in an order that makes sense. You might have notecards you can take out, or might move the order of the plot to something more logical. (You can also have someone else put the notecards in order. They might be able to come up with something you missed and needs to be added a bit better.) Then, I’ll do a re-write without even looking at the first draft. I figure that at this point, I’ll know my characters better and this re-write will have more character consistency and development. I’ll go back through the rough draft and do what I’ve decided to call ‘digging for gold’ where I highlight sections that I absolutely love in the rough draft and re-write scenes to bring them into my second draft. Depending on how useful I find the workbook and dialogue pull from WIP 1 revisions, I might try those. From there, chapter by chapter workshopping, specific scene re-write, betas, and micro-editing before I’m done.

I’m a very methodical person and I need to have a plan to work to. What’s your process? Do you have a standard process you go through before you call a manuscript ‘done’ (or at least ready to send out)? Do you have suggestions for me? Please leave a comment and let me know!

Novel Girls: Voice, Description, and Motivation

7 Sep

I’ve been fortunate enough to find a group of other females around my age who are also aspiring writers.  Because we’re all working on long-form fiction, we decided to call ourselves the Novel Girls.  (It’s a novel idea, HAH!)

We try to meet weekly on Thursdays to have dinner and critique each other’s work.  There are four of us, NJ, KK, and SG.  SG’s been on an extended business trip for the last six weeks, so it was just NJ, KK and I last night.

There were three main writing points we went over last night that I wanted to note here, either for my later reference or to help another writer.

  1. Distinctive voice: KK shared a great piece with us last night that rotated between three settings and four characters.  The opening scene was a female character and she used some wonderful description, internal dialogue, and flashback to give the character a very distinctive internal voice.  The next time we saw this character, she was in a scene with three other people and her voice was a little lost in all the action.  The other characters were busy having a conversation and this female was standing by, listening.  It almost seemed to me like KK had rushed through writing that part because she didn’t give the character the distinctive voice she’d worked so hard to give her in the first scene.  This helped me remember that my characters have personalities and will react to everything around them.  It’s important to be sure this personality shines through in every scene and that they have an appropriate reaction to the things they hear and see. even if they’re not narrating that scene.
  2. There’s a limit to what one line of description can show: NJ shared a piece that started with two female co-workers at the end of the day, getting ready to leave for work.  NJ described one as having a large shoe collection that matched her outfits each day and the other as having a wrinkled business suit.  A few lines later, she wrote that unlike the first, the second character didn’t care about her appearance.  This one took me a second to process because to me, a business suit with wrinkles at the end of the day didn’t imply slovenliness.  With one or two lines more of description, the character could be more developed, come across as a careless dresser, and it might not even be necessary to say she didn’t care about her appearance.  This made me realize that my character’s clothes aren’t even described very much in my text and that how a character dresses can tell a lot about them.  (For reference, my book takes place in 1920s Chicago.)  I recently was invited by an acquaintance to visit her grandmother’s old house, where she still has some of the clothing worn in the late 20s and early 30s.  I hope that after seeing these clothes, I can find a way to show my character’s personalities through their simple clothing choices and be a little less ‘show-y’ and more ‘tell-y.’
  3. Character motivation needs to be strong, even if the character isn’t speaking: I have a scene where my male protagonist is trying to evade a female character he doesn’t like AND the scene is narrated by my female protagonist (confused a bit?).  KK’s comment was that she didn’t understand why the male protagonist was doing what he was doing; she couldn’t find his motivation!  Our ultimate decision was that I should switch the order of a few scenes, but it made me realize that in scenes where the non-narrating character needs some motivation, it takes a lot of attention to detail to make sure that motivation is clear.  It could be done with dialogue, description, etc., but it needs to be there.

 

I’m not sure if this helps anyone else, but it sure helps me to think through it!  What’s some advice you can share about writing?  Maybe it will help me with my next critique group!  Please leave a comment and share.