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Story Weaving on Steroids: Real People Create Real Characters

22 Oct

This is part of a series of post that gives you tips, tricks, and dirty little secrets that will help pump up your plot, and make your story an irresistible read! Today’s trick:

Using real people to make real characters.

A question authors are often asked is “are your characters based on people you know?” most of the time the author will answer no, but let’s be honest the answer is probably yes, because if there is one thing authors are good at it’s cheating at writing.

Basing characters off real people is cheating, and it’s also genius!

Using a real person as a base for a character much like you would use white as a base for paint leads to amazing things. How so? After all, real people generally don’t have lives that are spicy enough for fiction.

Well, take a person I know. Let’s call him “John”

John’s older now, but his whole life while living in the mid-west he struggled with a drinking addiction. He’s been divorced once, and had two kids with the woman, but he has now remarried and his kids grew up with his new wife and their mother. After his remarriage he found help with his addiction and now lives happily.

Okay, that’s all well and fine, but there is no plot to John’s life. You can’t just write THAT story. But you CAN write one with someone like him. Now comes the imaginative part.

Change John’s life. Make it more tragic, more weird, or more adventurous.

For instance lets pull John out of the mid-west and stick him in England. He’s a young 23-year-old drunken Englishman in (instead of the late 1980’s) (the early 1900’s )lets say 1910. His wife didn’t leave him because of his drinking, he killed her in a fit of rage during one of his many drunken bouts. Now he can’t stand the sight of blonde women. He placed his young daughter (instead of daughters) into an orphanage to cover up the murder. He dumped his wife’s body in the river and now slogs about the bar near the river’s bridge often looking out at the water pondering suicide, until…. he meets an extraordinary woman who….

Who what?

From there you take the story where ever it may please to go.

But, just from that paragraph you have an excellent idea about who your MC is. Granted, we embellished John’s life almost to the point of  being in-recognizable, but John is still real and still very much there, and that is what makes the character seem real!

I am totally in favor of stealing people’s lives for novels. Are you?

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My First True Love(s)

25 Sep

From the time I was little I was in love with stories. Movies, plays, books anything that wasn’t kindergarten napping and hopscotch I was into. I desperately wanted something exciting to happen to me, something that happened to characters in books. I wanted to sprout wings, or find out I was a missing princess like Anastasia.

Naturally then, I had my favorite stories, and my favorite characters. I had particularly bad little girl crushes on Peter Pan and Dickon from The Secret Garden.

To This day I’m not sure what the appeal of these two were as compared to the princes of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Maybe it was the fact that Peter Pan was utterly wild and incredulous, while the Princes of Disney had little else but their title.

Oh Golly! If you don’t find this adorable you’re on crack!

Peter Pan always held a special place in my heart. He was unruly and lets not forget musical (pan pipes). Not to mention an excellent leader (he could rally 12 boys under the age of 13 and that’s a tough job for anyone). Besides that he was an extraordinary fighter (beating up a  pirate 3 times his age and half his wit). And boy was he witty. Even at 7 years old I  couldn’t help but falling in love with people’s wit and Peter Pan’s was no exception.

Then there was the fact that he was utterly magically, and could freakin’ fly! If that wasn’t reason enough to want to marry him then i don’t know what is. So there is my explanation for being in love with Peter Pan. Makes sense.

Then there was Dickon. Oh Dickon, sweet, adorable, animal charmer Dickon! That should be enough to make any girl swoon right there. Let’s not even MENTION the fact that he has an accent (an adorable little scots-irishaccent)! Plus he’s all in love with animals and the wind in his hair and stuff like that and as a little suburbs

It’s like The Notebook for 10 year olds! 😀 *I’m squealing on the inside*

girl I wanted so badly to run out on the ‘Moore’ with him. Plus, he could tame a WILD PONY. Every little girl wants a pony and if a boy could tame a wild pony and give it to me I’m pretty dang sure I would marry him to this day. Nuff said.

Oh and on top of that he would Push Mary on the swing in the garden and that was just too cute! He was a perfect little gentleman, which is the complete opposite of Peter. Who in retrospect was a total player who flirted with Mermaids, and probably joked around with Wendy way too much. He will just never grow up. So immature (haha)!

What do my fictious love interests have to do with writing.

Well, just recently I realized that right there (those two characters) are excellent examples of how to make love interests interesting. They (even as children) had the makings of great men. And so I will now got pat myself on the back for discovering that I have great taste in fictitious boys. Their characters would be excellent models to form an MC or a secondary character with! Now, don’t you feel like you learned something?

Did anyone else have kiddie crushes?

Sorry this post is late… Microsoft is lame and windows live didn’t post it for me! UGH! Technology 😦

Genius and Thievery!

16 Sep

Hi everyone! I have been super busy today, and still have a ton of homework to do before I head into school tomorrow. So, for today’s post I’m totally cheating and re-posting an awesome idea from Brigid’s blog My Life as a Teenage Novelist. After you read her awesome advice below go ahead and check out her site!

Fun with Wordle

Howdy, y’all!

So, if you don’t know what Wordle is, let me briefly explain how it works. It’s a nifty little website, where you can enter a bunch of text, and then it creates a “word collage” based on what you enter. The more frequently you use a certain word, the bigger it is in the collage. Fun, right?

But not only is it fun, it’s also a useful tool for writers––because it shows you what words you might be using too much.

For example, here’s what happened when I entered the entirety of my book UNRAVELING:

 
Uh wow, the word “like” is freakin’ HUGE! Same with the word “know” … and there are a lot of other words that are relatively large. 
 
Now, this is what happened when I entered six of my books at once:
 
 
The results are actually pretty much the same. Looks like no matter what I’m writing, I use a lot of the same words. Particularly “like” and “know,” for some reason.
 
Well, I take this as a sign that I should go back through my manuscripts and take out some of those words that I’m using way too much. 
 
So, my question of the day is: What are some words that you use too much? Have you ever used Wordle to find out––and if so, did the results surprise you?
Isn’t she a genius? Check out her site!
Re-posted from My Life as a Teenage Novelist

When You have a Pile of Sawdust: BURN IT.

11 Sep

Day 1/17

The pathetic side of my life exists when I find myself at my desk staring at a color-coded planner and eating whole grain pop tarts. Why I even bother to get the whole grain I don’t know, because there’s no way they actually have nutritional value even with the added saw dust fiber. So, as I pathetically sit at my desk eating pop tarts I have decided to talk about keeping things real up in here, at Novel Ideas. After all, if I can’t be honest with you all who can I be honest with?

Honestly I haven’t written in over a month. Sad. Sad, sadness. *cries* The last thing I worked on was ABLAZE and oh god it’s terrible. It’s really, really ,really abominable and dreadful and.. ugh. Bad. I know I say this every time I write a first draft, but oh god it’s just THAT bad. But since I sad I would finish it, I’m going to, dreadful as it is. Now that I have that slime wiped off my chest we can get on with what to do when you have a large pile of ugh… saw dust (lets go with that since it ties in with my first paragraph which really had nothing to do with anything).

Saw dust is a messy substance. Difficult to create with, usually the product of work that makes you all sweaty, and on top of this it has the annoying tendency to blow up in your face. (Oh gee this is actually a very apt metaphor!) So, at this point I am knee deep in saw dust (ABLAZE) and it’s looking rather like… well saw dust. How do you get through the rest of the saw dust; that  if you see this project through (which you should) will surely bury you? Here are my tips:

1: Expect the Expected

That is to say don’t be surprised at the fact that there is so much terribleness in your novel. Its going to be terrible, and somehow everyone (even me) at the beginning of a new project expects this fundamental truth to suddenly evaporate and that glittery rainbows will ribbon from the skies and your manuscript will be all glittery and fantastic. NO. Don’t kid yourself, no matter how great the idea will seem it will eventually reach suck-age. Thus you will always end up with a pile of sawdust. Granted (depending on the level of planning) sometimes the pile will be smaller than usually, but it will still exist. Expect it.

2. Wear Goggles

Having things, particularly saw dust or a manuscript blow up in your face is a rather terrible experience. A good way to provent this is to have a fall back (or some goggles) to help you see straight. In other words have another manuscript to refresh your vision when you are are tired of the wind blowing the dust up in your face.  Having another manuscript to work on will keep you fresh. Hacking through parts of a novel will only lead to the accumulation of more saw dust. Take a break, wipe off your goggles and breathe.

3. Burn It

At the end of the novel just burn it. Toss the match over your shoulder and watch it go up. If it’s really that bad at least you learned what NOT to do, and you can just start over. Besides saw dust burning is rather fun. you can laugh manically and roast marshmallows! It’s fantastic and I look forward to doing it when I finish Ablaze.

So, sawdust. opinions? Anyone in the midst of the stuff?

 

Make Me Sway: Emotion on Rails

9 Aug

I think we’ve all heard it. That one piece of music, something about just gets you. A line, a melody, the ache in a singers voice. At some point or another you will find yourself swayed by the power of a song. Your body will automatically initiate a reaction. Swaying, tapping your foot, smiling, and on occasion crying.

Just like music books should sway a readers emotion. SOMETHING about the book needs to be powerful enough to intiate a physical reaction. Who hasn’t found themself laughing, sighing, kicking your feet impatiently, or crying on account of a book? Today I’d like to talk about a scene that caught me off guard and why it’s the perfect example of how to infuse emotion into a scene so deeply that your readers find themselves swaying to your current.

I’m going to be looking at the first chapter of Beth Revis’ novel Across the universe. So no spoilers! Though I do reccommend that you read the first chapter for free HERE to get the most out of his post.

Anyway if you read that or have read the book you know that the first chapter consists of Amy (the MC) getting ready to be chronologically frozen and put onto GODSPEED the spaceship with her parents. And I’m not going to lie to you I started having a minor panic attack during the FIRST CHAPTER! I actually cried a little bit, and this deeply disturbed and stunned me at once. I couldn’t understand why I had been so moved and upset without any back story. After-all, how could I possibly care enough to be crying when I’d only met Amy something like 10 pages ago?

It didn’t make sense. So I read it again. And again… and one for time just to make sure I knew what I was talking about.

And that’s when the light bulb went on.

All my writing life I’ve been told that creating emotional investment in a novel is entirely dependent upon characters. you must make characters we care about, they say. You must make them relate-able, that’s the key!

But reading this scene I realized that characters are just the train on the tracks of making emotional connection. Sure thats the part everyone pays attention to but what about the tracks themselves? The stop lights and stations?

And Beth Revis puts the tracks to the test in this first chapter.

Let me explain.The ‘tracks’ are our basic human fears and feelings. This whole chapter is so full of them that I could just

The rails are deeply grounded in all of us

choke and vomit and they all wouldn’t be able to come up at once! (sorry gross) Anyway, this chapter confronts several fears, some smaller ones being the fear of needles, cold, and small spaces. All of which Amy has  to watch her mother go through as she is put into a tiny freezing box of cryo-liquid, her blood painfully pumped out, KNOWING she will have to do this in a few moments. This anticipatory fear is also a factor in the sheer genius that Revis presents. (As anticipation of pain is often worse than the pain itself, remember shots when you were little? Kicking and screaming for a pinch!)

Basic human fear. Something we can relate to.

Amy also faces the fear on loneliness another ‘track that great emotional characters run on”. Many people are afraid to be alone.  Humans are naturally social creatures (yes even writers we are not a separate species despite some outsiders opinions! haha). Amy is forced with a decision (a stop light) of staying on earth or leaving with her parents her dad telling her before he is frozen that :

“I’m going next. Your mother wouldn’t agree to that—she thoughtyou’d still back down, decide not to come with us. Well, I’m giving youthat option. I’m going next. Then, if you’d like to walk away, not be frozen,that’s okay. I’ve told your aunt and uncle. They’re waiting outside; they’llbe there until I’ve. After they freeze me, you can just walk away. Mom andI won’t know, not for centuries, not till we wake up, and if you do decideto live instead of being frozen, then we’ll be okay.” (Revis, 6)

Not only is there a HUGE decision, but it is riding on the rails of loneliness. Amy must decided if she can live a life without her parents knowing she will die long before the realize she has left them (and live her whole life knowing this) or go with them and leave all her other family and friends behind. leave the safety and comforter of everything she is familiar with behind. She can not avoid an empty loneliness no matter which way she turns. Even if she chooses her parents she is forced to choose the icy slumber of centuries, perhaps a loneliness even worse than a life without her parents. It makes your heart sink doesn’t it?

Applying basic human fears, is the key to making emotionally strong characters.

Because we are all afraid of something and loneliness, Pain, and responsibility are all basic fears that Amy faces in just chapter one of the novel.

Learning how to use the rails of writing great characters is one of the most important tools a writer can have. What do you think? Do you know of a scene that shares rails with this one? What’s your most emotionally moving scene?

Just Add Water and a Fun House Mirror!

15 Jul

So yep… here is me. Back from my FINAL vacation this summer, I SWEAR! This was the last one. And the last prolonged blogging absence I will have in the coming months! So yeah, vacations over!

Wow… that sounded like an oxymoron.

Anyway, I decided to tell you all that vacation is a good thing for writers. Especially ones who don’t write on vacation (like me). Why? That sounds even more like an oxymoron than the last one.

Because we need brain food. Seriously.

Where do you think you get all your ideas from? They aren’t coming out of thin air despite how it may seem. All ideas come from other ideas. Everything you’ve ever written (and will write) is a collection of every movie you’ve ever seen, every book you’ve ever read, every piece of art you’ve ever seen, and every experience/conversation you’ve ever had.

And since we writers write everyday (ehm. Yes everyday… *cough*) we are constantly pouring out those experiences and taking less of them in by comparison. Things that we do everyday like go to work or school, eating breakfast, or riding a bike, those often times don’t give us any new information. Without new information how can you create anything new? You are drawing from the same stagnant pool of ideas 24/7! Without any new flow of information to mix up the waters (shall we say) you end up with a bunch of new but similar ideas or rewriting old ones.

Not good.

That’s why it’s important (in my opinion at least) for writers to be getting as much new information as possible at all times. And it doesn’t have to be something big. Sure, going on a weeks long vacation to Oregon (a place I’d never been before) that is great! Fantastic! But, you can’t do that all the time. So, getting new information needs to be more accessible, and you can make it that way just by enacting small changes in your life.

For instance:

Instead of watching an old favorite switch on a new movie or show

Likewise for books and music

Take a walk/ride your bike to a neighborhood you haven’t been in before

Try something new: pick up a guitar or play a piano, take some photos,bake something, play a sport, or get your hands on a sketchbook

Re-paint your room to give you a new outlook on your life

Clean out a bookshelf

Try reading a different genre (you might just like it!)

Basically, just do something new, something that will spark new neuron pathways in your brain because it hasn’t experienced it before!

Being creative is about taking in as much of your surroundings as possible and then warping them into something else entirely. Like fun house mirrors! So, there you have it, your job is to become a fun house mirror!

So what have I done in this post? Mostly I’ve made myself feel better about not writing, and you know, maybe I imparted some useful advice. Maybe…

Books that Made Me a Writer

26 Jun

Painters learn what a good painting looks like by studying other paintings. Film makers learn how to structure a movie by looking at other movies. It would stand to reason then, that writers learn to write by looking at other writers works (AKA books).

Today I wanted to talk about books that not only inspired to be a writer, but books that have made me a BETTER writer.

The first novel I ever remember reading that made me think: This is what I want to do, was Double Identity by Margret Peterson Haddix. I read it in third grade and after that I started writing my first novel… or book with ‘chapters’ which I thought was a novel at the time! After that I just knew it was what I wanted to do. I wanted to make an experience for people just through a few words. I still have my copy and keep it up on my shelf for when ever I need inspiration. I still read her newer books.

Next, many years later, I read WAKE by Lisa Mcmann. I checked it out at my local library, and was totally hooked! I can’t tell you how many times I read that novel. After checking it out for the fifth time my mom finally just bought it, because she got tired of its reappearance every-time we went to the library. That was me at 13.  Lisa taught me a lot about novel structure now that I’m thinking about it. Anyone who has ever read anything by her knows her style is very sparse, and almost choppy, in its bluntness. Lisa is a no frills kind of gal. And that was really beneficial to me as my 13-year-old writer self. At the time I was ALL frills. I never finished anything I started, and got lost in globs of purple prose that would make your eyes burn if you saw them. Wake showed me I didn’t need all that, and it made for easy display of how plot was supposed to be set up. Their were no extra words to muddle what she was saying, and that’s when I really started understanding how novels really worked, or in my case didn’t work.

At the point I started taking writing more seriously, and I got into reading non-fiction writing books. That brings us to The Forest For the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner. This novel really put publication, and writing for readers into perspective for me. Up until this point I was just writing for me, and while that’s always great, if you plan to get published you have to write for the public too. This is an awesome novel for any writer who wants to improve their craft, or just learn about the publishing world.

Finally, and most recently is Shades of Grey by Jasper FFordes (no the two F’s are not typos). I read this just a few months ago. Shades of Grey is an Adult dystopian novel. Until then I’d (this is embarrassing) always been a bit afraid of modern adult literature. The only thing I’d seen of it was my Father’s Clancy novels, some really boring biographies. After I read this novel the line between Adult and YA  fiction really blurred for me. Even though you are technically writing for two different “groups” you are still writing for PEOPLE, and it made me realize that a good story is just a good story no matter who is reading it!

These novels were big turning points for me as a writer. What about you guys? Anything change you in a writerly way?