Archive for April, 2009

More on Characters

Recently I stumbled upon a blog entry by an Editorial Consultant, Pat Holt, that I found interesting and wanted to share. It’s an article of ten common mistakes in writers’ manuscripts that are also easy fixes.

The points in the article are not new, but worth repeating, as writers often miss these errors simply because they are so close to their manuscript. I particularly like Pat’s instruction to “Show, Don’t Tell,” number 8 in her list, as she relates it to describing character. Showing a character through actions and dialog can conjure up images better than actual narrative description.

I am a visual person. As I read, my mind forms an image of each of the characters. The same with writing. In fact, I have pictures of my characters embedded on their character description forms. I visualize the character, his actions, mannerisms, and gestures, which portends the following question.

When is the right time to describe a character?

Is it when the character is first introduced? How much or how little description is ideal? Is it better to offer descriptive pieces throughout a narrative, revealing fragments of the character intermittently? A twitch, inability to make eye-contact, or gnawed-off fingernails speaks volumes, but is it right to deluge all this information in the character’s first appearance?

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One of the benefits to belonging to a strong writers group is the opportunity to learn and advance in writing techniques. Recently one Humble Fiction Café’ (HFC) writers group member, Kelli Meyer, gave a presentation on character development.

Understanding and knowing who your characters are, what motivates them, and why they do the things they do are important details for any writer. If the writer doesn’t know, how in the world can they convey a fully developed character to the reader?

Some of the questions we have to ask ourselves as writers are:

  • Who is your character?
  • What does your character desire (the real desire)?
  • Why does your character have that desire?
  • How does your character change over the course of the story?

Kelli graciously shared with the group some fabulous questionnaires to complete and build character. Following are three links to character questionnaire forms, but there are numerous other questionnaires and information available online.

Gotham Writers’ Workshop

The 100 Most Important Things To Know About Your Character (revised)
by Beth Kinderman and Nikki Walker

Elizabeth Terrell
Online Writing Workshop

For Hope and Faith, I started with a character development form I received from a short story writers’ course given by Glenda Baker of NEWN Magazine, and added/combined questions from some of the forms Kelli provided to create my own questionnaire.

What other resources are there for writers in developing character? As a reader, what is most important to you in character development? When is a character developed enough to feel real?

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My friend and fellow HFC writer, Gary Denton, has an enjoyable blog that chronicles his journey of writing a modern-day sea-faring adventure novel. His most recent post contains a must-see film clip for anyone that realizes the importance of chosing the correct words. Visit his blog, Journey to Good Hope to watch the film. And while you’re there, take a look around Gary’s blog for any and everything nautical.

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What Genre is it Anyway?

It’s funny, but sometimes it’s easier for me to communicate in writing, and especially when it comes to talking about my book. I know that one day I’ll need to be able to “pitch” the story in an effective and concise manner, and I think it’s going to take lots of practice for me. There’s plenty of time though, as first I need to get the book finished!

In the meantime, people ask me what type of book I’m writing and what genre, and I’m having a hard time deciding where Hope and Faith belongs. Here’s a list of the possibilities.

1. Historical Fiction – The novel is set in a particular place (Olney, IL) and at a specific time (late 1970’s/early 1980’s), which is supposedly enough to classify it in this genre. This is not a high possibility on my list though, as the story itself doesn’t emphasize any historic events or people.

2. Romance – This category is a large possibility as Hope and Faith is a story about the love and relationship between two characters. The ending of the story is still up in the air, and it may, or may not, have the “happy ending” so often required in this genre.

3. Inspirational Romance – A subgenre of Romance, Hope and Faith also contains a subdued Christian element.

4. Christian Fiction – Another possibility as it is through one character’s beliefs that she is able to overcome difficult obstacles and move on.

5. Young Adult – The main character in Hope and Faith is an adolescent. She grows up dealing with family dysfunction, which affects the choices she makes in her life, including marriage.

Hopefully this will help answer some of those questions about the story. Based on what you know of the novel, have I missed a potential genre?

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Prologues – Good or Bad?

Are prologues good or bad? There is certainly argument on both sides of the camp, but rather than rehash here, Nathan Bransford has done an excellent job describing Prologues on his blog post, Prologues.

I have debated on whether or not to start Hope and Faith with a prologue. Right now, there is a prologue, but of course, this is a work-in-progress so it may not stay. My reasons for including a prologue are:

  1. It gives a feel for the protaganist’s childhood and family. Since the story starts with the protaganist leaving the childhood/family situation, the prologue gives insight into what that life was like.
  2. There is a major story element that is not re-introduced to the plot until much later in the story, and without the prologue may feel like it was coming out of nowhere.

What are your feelings about prologues? Can they work or are they a distraction? Is it asking too much of the reader to start reading from a prologue and then start again at the 1st chapter? Would love to hear your thoughts.

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