Friday, July 30, 2010

Character Relatability

Continuing the character theme of my posts this week…

We want our characters to be relatable in some form or another. The best way to make them relatable is to make them real and interesting. We can’t achieve this if we make all our characters the same mini versions of ourselves. Writers instead need to seize the opportunity to explore the rich variety of the human race. We can relate to more than one personality type. We can cheer for more than one style of goal.

So, what makes people/characters interesting, relatable, and real? Below is a brief list of things that might help when you are creating characters.
  • No one reacts the same way in the same situations.
  • Most of us learn from our mistakes but some of us learn faster than others.
  • Everyone has a different history which will affect their responses.
  • We all look different. Even identical twins have variations in their appearance.
  • Not everyone is beautiful
  • Not everyone is intelligent
  • Even intelligent people have their blind spots
  • Even beautiful people have their faults
  • No one is perfectly good
  • No one is 100% bad
  • We all have differing opinions
  • We all pursue different goals.
  • We all have differing degrees of drive.

Can you think of other things that may make your characters more interesting, relatable and real?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Minor Characters are Real People Too.

Minor Characters are the forgotten heroes. They are the supporting actors who never reach the lime light. Because of their very nature, they require less detail and a lower word count, but they are no less important to a story.

Minor Characters have many functions. They are the cogs that keep the machine of your novel running. They are there to support the Main Characters. They are there to enrich the story. They are there to populate your worlds or to push the plot forward.

But they are more than just a function. Minor Characters are real people too and, like real people, they cry out for attention. They can have backgrounds and reactions and feelings. They can be unusual. They can have secrets. They can intrigue.

As long as we balance how much we give our Minor Characters, by making them interesting, they can help to breathe life into our novels.

Do you spend much time thinking about your minor characters? Has a character ever started as a minor and ended as a main character?

Monday, July 26, 2010

How to Write a Cardboard Character

If I lived in a one dimensional world with my one dimensional mind, I’d want to know how to create a one dimensional character. It would be a terrible thing if my readers should ever care about my characters. To avoid this embarrassing eventuality, I’ve written a guide to help the imaginative writer to improve their unimagination.

1. Don’t give your characters any goals to strive towards or any lessons to learn. Make sure your characters are the same at the end of your novel as they were at the beginning. The single dimension can’t pull off anything as engaging as – shudder – growth.

2. Stick to clichés like glue. We all know that builders, truck drivers and miners are burly men, so if your character is any of these, then he must also be burly. We all know librarians wear glasses, so why give your librarian character good eyesight? Your main character has to be beautiful and she must be good at everything. Don’t rock the boat in the one dimensional world. No one likes surprises there.

3. Avoid motivations. Who cares what may have caused your characters to react a certain way. No explanation needed.

4. Only write as much about the character as is required by the plot. Make sure they are only driven by the story you want to tell. Don’t waste the reader’s time with internal conflicts. Don’t try to add any extra dimensions. One dimension means one and one only.

5. Don’t smudge the borders of good and evil. Make evil characters evil and good characters good. If your character wears the proverbial black hat then he must not show any goodness in him. Let’s not confuse the readers.

What are some of the mistakes you might make while trying to create a cardboard character?

Friday, July 23, 2010

How We Write

Today is a great example of why I need to preschedule my posts for the week. On a Friday morning my WIP is whispering sweet nothings in my ear and I’m eager to get into it before the weekend distracts me. It’s currently 9am and I’ve usually posted by 7am. My writing day (for my WIP) starts in 30mins at the latest. Eek!

Rather than scratch my brain out with anything too involved, I thought I’d sit back a little and try to get to know you all a little better.

And so I ask: How do you physically write?

Do you sit at your computer with a cup of coffee or a pot of tea? I drink herbal tea in the winter and water in the summer.

Do you prefer the keyboard or the pen? I enjoy both, but I tend to head to the pen when the internet starts to distract me too much.

Do you go through copious amounts of chocolate and call it inspiration? I’m a terrible chocoholic. The darker the better.

Do you surround yourself with images that aid your scenes? I sometimes pull up images of medieval villages or dark forests if they are the atmosphere I’m trying to create for my story.

Do you surround yourself with inspirational quotes from other writers? I have bible verses attached to my monitor. I also have a quote from James Scott Bell’s, Art of War for Writers, “Every moment spent whining about writing is a moment of creative energy lost.”

Are you a messy worker with papers and notes strewn everywhere? Or are you ordered with everything in its place? I’m a messy one (see pic). I have notes all over the house.

Do you need a view to write? Or do you hide yourself in a corner? I find that views distract me. To be honest, everything distracts me.

These are just a few questions to get an idea of what suits you as a writer. I’d love to hear what writing is like for you.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

8 Tips Actors can give Writers

For a brief time in my youth I toyed with the idea of becoming an actor. I went to acting classes, I studied other actors, I read, I practised, I yearned. And then I gave it all up because I was hopeless – truly hopeless – at learning my lines.

But it wasn’t all a waste. I learned so many great things from acting. Below is a brief list of tips that writers can gain from the skills of the acting trade:

1. We communicate in more ways than dialogue alone. An actor learns that emotion is also conveyed through body language. It’s shared through silences. It can even be shown through interaction with the environment. Remember that when you write and you’ll go a long way.

2. Actors show the drama. They don’t stand on stage and describe the emotions they are going through.

3. Study people. Great actors build an understanding of people: how they react, how they move, how they think. They observe and they remember so they can then emulate what they have learned in their art. So too writers need this skill to build on their characters.

4. Don’t overdramatise. The audience and readers alike only cringe. Over the top dilutes poignancy and smothers nuances.

5. Build self-confidence. It takes courage to stand up on stage and offer the audience yourself. It takes great courage to send your writing into the public. But not only that, it takes courage to spill out your heart and soul into your work.

6. Be thick skinned. Actors and writers will have to face criticism in their careers. Learn when to listen and when to shrug it off.

7. Practice makes perfect. The more an actor acts, the more a writer writes, the better they will become.

8. Be professional. No matter what you choose to take on in life, always be professional. Show respect for your craft.

Can you think of any other acting tips which might be helpful for writers?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Writing without Inspiration

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
– Jack London.

Lack of inspiration used to be my greatest excuse not to write. While I was happy to remain a hobby writer, it wasn’t a problem. But, now that I am making writing my profession, I realised that I had to write and I had to write without inspiration.

It takes dedication and practice to write without inspiration. There will be times you won’t want to write. There’ll be times you’ll dread the keyboard or the pen. These are the times that will test us. These times will make us feel like we are wading through thorns. But these are the times we need to stick to our schedules and just keep writing.

If we keep writing inspiration may come – or it may not. It may never be a dazzling halo of glorious revelation, but we can write inspired pieces without being inspired. If we keep writing.

So keep writing.

What’s your greatest excuse not to write?

Friday, July 16, 2010


I recently watched a skilfully animated movie called, “9”. I used to work in animation and so I could appreciate the art, colours, lighting and atmosphere of the whole film. It was no less than gorgeous.

The story hooked me from the start. I enjoyed the journey through adventure. I loved the characters. The action segments kept me guessing and gasping. But then the last segment of the movie fizzled out. It bombed. It was almost as if the writer didn’t know where to go. I felt cheated. All the good work the creators did in the beginning might as well have been tossed into the bin.

Well written endings leave the reader feeling satisfied. The reader wants to read more of your writing. This does not mean we must always write up-beat endings, but they must tie up loose threads, they must show a change in the internal workings of the main character, and they must be a comfortable fit for the story.

Avoid the cliché endings that leave the readers groaning. Avoid the twist endings that make no sense. Don’t let your endings fizzle. Make them explode with a bang, or end with a tidy satisfaction, or as a surprising eye opener.

Can you think of any movies or books with great endings? How did they make you feel?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Freedom of the First Draft

Trying to write the perfect first draft is a beginner’s mistake. Why spend hours on a piece of writing you could eventually toss? The trick to writing a successful first draft is to write it fast.

There’s no need to concern yourself about perfection. You can throw in as many adverbs as you want. You don’t have to worry about sentence construction. You don’t even have to worry about spelling. And, because of this, there is no place here for self doubt, guilt, or fear.

Just write.

The faster you write your first draft, the more chance you’ll keep ahead of that niggling voice that says you’re not good enough. You’ll be able to hold onto all the threads of your plot. You’ll be able to plunge into your story with abandon. You’ll have the freedom to explore different possibilities; they don’t all have to work because it doesn’t matter.

Things begin to unravel when we slow down, when we deal with the details at a microscopic level, when we continually question whether or not we are heading in the right direction.

The more you write, the better you will become. So keep writing and don’t give up. Give it everything you have. Give it your passion. Give it your heart. Give it your soul.

And then edit.

Do you agree? Do you have any tricks you use to stop yourself from self-editing during your first draft?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Research, Research, Research

As writers we are told to write what we know, but we can’t always do that. Of course, this doesn’t mean we are only limited to what we know. Research gives us the knowledge we need to gain plausibility and credibility in our writing.

There are many ways we can do research: we can read the novels in our genre; we can scour the internet; we can visit libraries, art galleries, museums, historic sites, specific destinations; we can ask those who do know, and conduct interviews; we can even go on work experience.

In my opinion there is no substitute for getting out there myself to experience a different kind of life. There is only so much I can learn from looking up references on the net, or pawing through the library. As much as it is possible, I search for the “experience”.

On the weekend I visited the National Maritime Museum in Sydney. They have on show two magnificent tall ships: The Endeavour, and the James Craig. (The James Craig is pictured above). It was my hope to soak in the look and feel of the ships because my current WIP is set on a similar rigged ship. I’d already done a lot of research via books and the net, but I was startled by the impact of the different sizes of the two ships. Size mattered in a way I hadn’t considered. The ninety-four people crammed in on the tiny Endeavour would have lived a completely different life on a ship the size of the James Craig which seemed two times larger. And so my trip, I hope, has added an extra dimension to my novel.

What other methods of research have you found helpful? How far have you gone to do research for your book?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Adverbs: the Scourge of Prose

The heavy-handed use of adverbs is the beginner’s writing crutch. When seeking emphasis, it’s easy to slip up and throw in an adverb. The end result is weakened text.

Adverbs are really bad.
Adverbs are bad.

The second sentence of the above example is stronger without the adverb.

Adverbs add weight and length to writing which should be short and tight. The use of adverbs show a lack of confidence and they often restate the obvious:

He ran quickly.

Running is a quick motion. If you want to emphasise the quickness then it would be better to say: ‘He bolted’, or ‘He dashed’. This puts a striking image in the reader’s mind and makes the writing more interesting.

She was very small.
She was tiny.
She was so small she was mistaken for an M&M.

This is not to say adverbs can’t be used at all. Just be sure when you do choose to use them.

Can you think of any amusing examples of the poor use of adverbs?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Making Sense in Description

I went to Spain a few years ago and wandered the streets of Barcelona. Ancient buildings crowded the warren of cobbled alleyways. I could hear someone playing a flamenco guitar in the distance. Lilting notes drifted through the space and seemed to dance with the wafts of freshly baked bread. I felt like I’d walked into a living, breathing slice of history.

I took copious photos but none caught the essence of Barcelona. Photos couldn’t record the sounds, or capture the shifting light. They couldn’t preserve the distinct smells or share the feelings I experienced.

This is because photos are blind to all the senses except sight.

If we only describe a place by what it looks like, then our writing will end up being as boring as having to spend hours watching someone else’s holiday snaps. We’re only able to transport our readers when we allow them to feel the place, to taste it, smell it, hear it. It’s through these senses that they can step in and live the experience with you.

Remember this when writing description, and you’ll become a Master Guide into the worlds you create.

What is it about your favourite holiday destination that you remember the most? What are the things that trigger those memories?

*I couldn't find my old photos of Barcelona so this photo is one I took in Macau, China. It's part of the Portuguese quarter so it looks surprisingly similar.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Criticism vs Praise

People ask for criticism, but they only want praise.
--W. Somerset Maugham

As writers, we are an insecure lot. We need praise to validate the time we pour into our craft. We need someone to tell us we are getting it right.

But the problem with praise is that it won’t push us to do better. Praise won’t give us any new insight. We can’t learn from praise.

We also need to seek out constructive criticism. If we approach this kind of criticism like a learning tool, then it will push us to improve. It will help us to grow as writers. It will teach us where we might be getting things wrong. It will open our eyes to other perspectives.

Even established writers benefit from being open to criticism. We never stop learning.

What’s the worst kind of critique you’ve ever received? What’s the best?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Twetiquette: Twitter Etiquette

All writers who want to get published should work on building a platform from which they can promote themselves and their work. One way of doing this is using Twitter.

Twitter is about promoting yourself and your work, but it’s also about community. At first it can seem daunting. Your tweets can seem to get lost like the chirps of a single bird in a flock of other chirping birds. How then can you get noticed? How can you get it right?

Some basic rules of etiquette need to be followed:

It’s not only about you. If you only post about yourself, your work, and what you are doing, then you will be noticed, but not in a good way. With any kind of community involvement, it takes time and interaction to build your place within it.

Seek moderation. Be a shooting star, but don’t storm the twitter sky with your tweets. If you post a tweet every five seconds, you will lose followers. No one wants to be bombarded.

Be creative. Regurgitating endless quotes from famous people doesn’t help to promote who you are and it doesn’t help anyone else either. Make your tweets interesting to read. Make them positive. And mix them up.

Be polite. Never ever, ever burn anyone in a public forum. Ever. It’s easy to gain a bad reputation and so much harder to build a good one from there.

Be helpful. The thing about any community is that you are best loved when you share. Retweet other people’s tweets. Be generous. Link helpful sites - not just your own.

Can you think of other helpful twitter etiquette rules? Do you even like twitter?

picture taken from here