Home of Ane Ryan Walker, Teller of Tall Tales, Writer of Short Stories

Category: attitude (Page 2 of 4)

What’s in a Name?

New parents spend time and energy choosing the perfect name for tier offspring. Some writers spend a few hours choosing a character name, and rightfully so. This is a declension which can mean the difference between success and failure for your character, or maybe even your book.

You can choose a name that molds the characters personality, or reflects it, or based on physical traits. Old fashioned names in the modern age can and often do, reflect core strength, and character.  A name can instantly identify a characters ethnicity.

But every name has a meaning.

Consult the baby name books, online resources and even period reflective naming resources, if you happen to write historical or period set fiction. Using a name by its meaning to build your characters personality is an option, or naming him or her in contradiction to strengths is also an opportunity for additional conflict. Nicknames can also tell us quite a bit about a character, his background and his or her intentions.

I’ll cite the perfect contradiction, courtesy of Joss Whedon, the master of character development–a demon named Angel. ‘Nuf said. Conflict on a stick and arm candy to boot.

If you have the wicked twist of mind shared by some writers, you can even give a character the same name as a high-profile public figure, and let them endlessly try to explain, distance, or differentiate themselves. We all believe we’re individuals, right?

But when you sit down to create character, you can have fun with the name. Always remembers who is in charge. You create them and they are what your story needs. They are who you need them to be, in order to keep your readers engaged, and also dependent on what the plot you create requires.

Not only must you decide who they are, you must show us how they behave in terms of story. If you want us to believe your character is a workaholic, who consistently breaks promises to family and friends by choosing his his career over family commitments, then show us how he blows off those commitments, staying to work late when he should be home with his wife, tucking his baby into bed.

There are numerous volumes which will give you a step up in terms of starting to develop your characters. Remember every good trait has a downside, just like every blessing can also be a curse. Using an established method to define character is easily achieved by looking up Linda Goodman’s  Astrological signs, which will tell you the superficial positive traits and the negative traits, as well. It is a good place to start but you must always build your own unique characters.

Don’t use all the information right up front. Remember the 80-20 rule. You do not need to see the entire iceberg to know there’s trouble ahead. Naming a character can give a hint to potential backstory, and sometimes even make it more interesting.

How do I make that hero shine?

Interviewing the hero is a good start, if that works for you. If not, I’m going to give you some guidelines about what a hero should–and shouldn’t be, and how he might act.

Remember, writing doesn’t have a lot of “rules” per se, but if you want your hero to be likable, you will at least consider the following things:

  1. Heroes are strong people, not only physically, but emotionally. They don’t hold other people to blame for every misfortune in their lives, but they do hold the people in their lives accountable. So if your heroine makes a promise or a commitment to the hero, he expects the promise to be kept.
  2. Heroes have an excellent sense of humor. They do not make jokes in poor taste or at the expense of the weaker characters, but they often exercise a dry wit, and they know how and when to be able to laugh at themselves.
  3. During social encounters heroes are aware of their surroundings, and are not likely to be the center of attention, but are aware of the tensions in the room or situation. They are often the person who will diffuse a tense situation or control activities which have the potential to get “out of hand”.
  4. They do not wear flashy clothes or make odd or awkward fashion statements, but have a classic, quiet,  dignity which is always in style.
  5. While the hero is often aware of what others think of him, his actions, his choices, the opinion of others has no effect on the hero’s behavior.
  6. True heroes know the art of romance. They always treat women like ladies, regardless of age or station in life. This behavior towards women is what starts the ordinary man down the path to true hero.
  7. Heroes don’t typically seek out others to help them. They like to resolve their difficulties alone, but are strong and secure enough to ask for help when they need it.
  8. Heroes know how to say no. The have mastered the art of saying no rather than the art of apology. No means no.
  9. Heroes know what they want and are focused on getting what they want. They pursue their desires by doing what is necessary to achieve their goals.
  10. Heroes are decisive, not reactive. No knee jerk reactions. No panic. Again, heroes know what they want and focus on making their desires their reality.
  11. Heroes command respect. Others follow the hero because his is to be admired, not feared. He earns the respect of others by demonstrating the qualities of a true hero. Not by instilling fear into the weaker of the species.
  12. Heroes are problem solvers. The others in their social circle, friends and family know they can count on the hero in their time of need. Heroes are reliable.
  13. Heroes exhibit a calm and serene dignity. The trick to this is not to react, but rather to collect all the available information before making a decision, whether it is personal or advice to a friend or loved one. A calm and serene demeanor is the face a true hero shows the world.
  14. Heroes do not hesitate when a decision is needed. They assess the situation, and make a decision based on the need at that moment in time. They do not hesitate. They are not afraid of failure.
  15. Heroes command the attention of everyone when they enter a room. The exhibit excellent posture, make eye contact, give a firm handshake when introduced to others and always exhibit confidence. Their body language–confident, competent–tells everyone who they are as soon as they arrive in a room.
  16. Heroes know the secret of good communication. They speak less and listen more.
  17. Heroes assume the leaders role rather than wait for others to offer it to him. He is not a jerk, and is not aggressive, but he will stand up for what is right. Every time.

Defining Characters

There are a lot of questions you’ll be asking about developing any character. Some writers like to sit down and “interview” the characters they’ll be working with over the course of a story.

I am not one of those writers.

Is is wrong to interview characters? Yes, and no. If you use this method to delay writing, yes. If you really want to get to know the character before you leave on the story journey, then no. It matters only if you use the interview, or the excuse of the interview, as a delaying tactic to put off working on the story. If the character interview is working on the story, then knock yourself out.

Some of the things you’ll need to know, or will want to ask those characters are what motivates them. In other words, why do they do what they do? In your story, each and every character has a reason for their behavior. That reason is motivation, commonly referred to as the cause and effect of the story. This is part of the conflict that drives your story forward. Characters, no matter how well crafted, are not believable without the proper motivation. For example, the work obsessed tycoon, who is ruthless in business dealings may come from a background of poverty, in which he never knew if he would get another meal. The background of extreme poverty of this type might cause a person to be judgmental of those who waste anything.

If you start out interviewing the character and find the process difficult, just hang in there. It becomes easier as the character takes root in your subconscious

Keep in mind, when the interview ends, the information is for the writer to use as needed. It should not be disposed of in an”information dump” on unsuspecting readers. This interview provides the background that allows you to show us, rather than tell us how a character grew into his role for this story. Like an iceberg, if we see the tip, we know the danger is there without having to view the 80% of the danger which remains hidden.

Gimme a Hero…

As soon as you open your novel, on the very first page, in the very first line…what your character does and says will make or break him/her –and by association, you–as a writer.

You only get this one chance to gimme a hero. He/she must be unique but ordinary, courageous but  vulnerable, strong and weak at the same time. This is the hat trick of writing a great opener. You need to show me and to tell your readers in so few words, the hero who can be real and storybook perfect even while flawed. Get it? Not many writers do. Those that do get it, find themselves in great company and consistently on the coveted “lists”. You know, the NYT, USA Today, and in line for prestigious awards, consistently.

We want the characters we love to be “real”, and what we mean is for them to be just like us. Ordinary people with whom we can identify. But we also need them to be heroes. The fictional characters who allow us to believe that we can step outside the box of “ordinary” and become the guy who saves the life, the child, the day.

So really, what we want is for you to make your characters, less and more at the same time.

Got it?

The most important thing for you to remember now, is that human beings hard-wired to resist change, even when it is for their own good. Your story, if you really have one, is about change.  Change is what brings conflict you cannot avoid. Sounds like a catch-22, doesn’t it? No, its story perfection at its best. It is everything you need to make your story great.

As humans we don’t like change and we don’t like conflict. But for story people, the well-rounded characters that induce others to read your books, conflict and change is excitement. It’s the adventure we seek without having to leave the safety of our living room, reading nook, or our comfy bed.

Again, it is conflict that drives your story forward.

Because the hero needs to grow, to change, to evolve he needs an arc. Show your reader how he meets the challenges your story provides, overcomes the obstacles, or recovers from his defeats, and grows in spite of his hardships and shortcomings. We grow when we win and when we lose.

Where do I start?

I’ll be the first one to say, in spite of the excitement which accompanies starting a new project or a new book, there is also an element of fear.

Fear is the one thing which diverts our attention from a project which we anticipated, and causes us to doubt if the endeavor will be successful. In fact, fear is the number one thing that can hold us back in many areas of our lives, including our stories.

When the time comes to begin a new project, no matter how vested I find myself in “the story idea”, I have a process I use to ensure there is in fact enough story to fill out the form to completion. The process is simple.

First, make sure the idea of story is engaging. What that means is, do you have a good place to start?

Knowing where to start is tricky. Some will say you must first set the stage for your story. Others will assure you that the story begins when the characters ordinary world changes. Only the author can decide how much stage setting is required. I like to combine the small glance at the hero or heroine’s ordinary world at the moment change tempts her to action.

So the real trick is then, how can I best show the hero/heroine’s ordinary world at the moment of change?

This is the point at which talent challenges endurance, when you write at least four to five rough draft story starts.

But before you ever set out on this path, it’s important to know what you’re writing for. Sounds odd, doesn’t it? Really, this is the most crucial step. Is writing a hobby you use to pass extra time? Or is writing a business endeavor that might support you in the long run? Now is the time to decide. You must make this decision before you start.

Approach to a task will tell whether or not success is at the end of the road. If you write for your own pleasure, have at it. You need no further advice or direction from me or anyone else. Just sit down and start writing. Don’t let anything or anyone deter you. Writing is, for many of us, pure joy. It allows us to search through and examine the minutiae of our very souls.  This type of writing can bring insight, inspiration and sanity to an otherwise overwhelming areas of our lives.

If however, you write with the intention to be successful, then you must define for yourself what success means.

For some writers success is simply seeing their work in print or ebook. For others the feeling of success comes from recognition by others, such as “making the list” whether it is the NYT or USA Today. Other writers seek simpler affirmations of success such as monetary gain. No problem there. We all like to be compensated for the work that we do, and estimated by an hourly wage, writing income is low unless you enjoy best seller status where advance money is high.

If you determine success by income from writing, let’s say self-publishing and ebook sales, then you should first determine an amount of income that meets your specific needs. Next you should formulate a plan that will ensure the income you desire. This will require further work on your part to determine what the most saleable type of book you can write, and how you should promote it for maximum return on the time investment you make. The investment is made by every writer on the front end.  Only with advanced success will you be able to hire out or delegate the time and effort necessary to promote your book to success.

Apologies & Introducing a New Book

For the past several weeks I’ve been offline. Yeah, computer problems. Everyone has them and most of us suffer in silence, or just moan and whine a little but press on when the problems are resolved.

I won’t do that. I have decided this is an opportunity to strike off in a new direction and share a new start with all of you.

First things first. I will take you through how a novel is structured, how the idea seeds are planted and how the book is brought to full growth. A lot goes into planning and executing a novel and I will tell you exactly how to get started.

Week by week I will share how to structure the story, how to build a solid foundation and how to deal with the twists and turns that present themselves along the way. You will choose how your story will start and end, and also decide how much to write.

I hope that these step by step suggestions and guidelines will answer some of the many questions I receive about where ideas come from and how to recognize the fertility in the good ones.

So please don’t abandon me, because I certainly didn’t abandon you, and I will be sharing information you might find useful.

Thanks for reading.

Trust

We’re never so vulnerable than when we trust someone – but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy.”

― Walter Anderson

This post speaks to the issue of sharing your work with others. I know, I know. You write for the satisfaction of having created something from the sheer fabric of imagination. You want to see what materializes from the vapor of pure imagination, and if the story burning in your heart and mind can be told, understood, and shared.

Unless you take the leap of faith and share your story with others you will never know. Remember, it is a leap of faith. As creators of fiction we are timid in sharing our story for fear of our “baby” being deemed ugly. And keep in mind, not every one will love your story. Some may even dislike it. But the stories we write are not for others, but rather for ourselves and those who can identify with the story we need to tell.

Sometimes the most difficult people to trust with a story is our family and friends, who may feel compelled to tell us  our  stories are wonderful.   The people we love, and who love us, often feel compelled not to criticize, even in a constructive way. They don’t want to hurt our feelings when we truly desire to hear their thoughts in hope of finding our way onto the path of success. So who do we turn to?

Sometimes we need to approach and engage strangers to help us judge the merits of our work. We need to be selective in the approach, seeking out readers who will and can give constructive feedback.  This method will more likely ensure assistance in a forward motion rather than annihilate our hopes and dreams.

Beyond that we need to listen. Often, authors who are overly sensitive complain of being unfairly criticized. “They just didn’t get me.” “No one understands what I’m trying to say.”  Do we stop to consider that we, as writers, aren’t making our intentions clear? That editing, and possibly re-writes are in order?

Not every writer is fortunate enough to have a mentor. Not every writer can approach a critic–and every potential reader is a critic–and find the help her/she requires. We have to trust sometimes that the criticism we hear, especially commonly repeated criticisms, are true. When these criticisms are repeated, we need to assume they may be true. Trust your judgement.

 

Opinion vs. Reality

   “Don’t let someone else’s opinion of you become your reality.”

― Les Brown

 

Do you sometimes put too much stock in what others say? Spend too much time worrying what other think? These are the two foremost traits of the dreaded internal editor. They are deadly to the pursuit of a writing career.

I’ll be the first one to say we all need a little help from our friends. Critique partners, mentors, like minded aspiring writers, Beta readers, and of course the professional editor whom we hire to help us make our work …better. That is the end goal, a story that is just better. and that’s a good thing, right?

But there sometimes is just too much of a good thing. So we have to know when to say no.

You know you can do it.  Say it with me now. I appreciate your input, I honestly value the time and thought you gave to this, but I just don’t agree. But make sure you know the reason why you don’t agree and that the reason is justified.

Anyone can correct my grammar. Almost everyone does, because sometimes it’s necessary. I have a thought, and not being the best typist, it goes down hard and fast. Mostly hard, and often incorrect. In spite of that, I sometimes don’t take well-meant advice if I feel it interferes with “voice”.

You are always allowed to say no, even though many times you shouldn’t.  There are those writers who come seeking advice and encouragement who want you to approve their choices. And that is not always possible. When the writer refuses to listen to the reason for changes, they don’t approach– and are certainly not receptive to– improving their writing.

The opinion most authors have of aspiring writers who fail to follow advice is often quite low. If you don’t understand the reason for the suggested changes, ask. Listen carefully, sometimes it is simply a matter of structure or placement, not big changes in the grand scheme of things.

Happiness

Being happy doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. It means that you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections.

― Unknown

 

This week, I know exactly what happiness means.

My DH decided it was time for me to have a new desktop computer. I liked my old one, but it threatened to have a stroke and fall off the desk. It’s been threatening me in this fashion for many months now, and I just wasn’t willing to give up the ghost.

Earlier this week I found I couldn’t open any word program files at all.  So, I guess it has been a problem for much longer than I am willing to admit. I decided then and there a new desktop was in order. Also, if I hadn’t gone looking for those old word files, I probably didn’t really need to hang onto them. So finally, I got a new desktop computer.

Next time, I won’t wait so long to treat myself like I deserve something good.

The new desktop is sleek,  lightweight, shiny and pretty. It is also fast. Yea!

It did, however, throw me completely off my game. Wow.

Pay attention every minute because the technology moves so fast it is scary. I mean really scary. I like to think I keep up for the most part with new things, but I could be wrong. I have owned a PC since they first came out and so many people told me it was 1) a waste of money 2) a waste of effort and 3) pretentious.

I don’t dispute any of those things. All of them certainly may be true or were true at any given point in time.  But today I learned something new about the advancing technology.

You just can’t get in front of it.

Accept it. Move on. After four strenuous hours online and on the phone with the tech team, I found that you just can’t go back.  You’re going to have to renew, resolve and download all over again. Just do it.

And that folks, is the only reason this blog came late to the party. I promise you I will have inspiration words , or at the very least something else to b*tch about next week.

In the meantime, just keep writing.

 

 

Learning the Craft

   “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

― St. Francis of Assisi

In order to write that novel you always talk about, or dream of writing, you must start. I know you may not have the skills required to write the next great American novel. I get that, you know that, we all agree it’s not happening. But where do you start?

You just start.

Don’t stop by the Idea Store and purchase anything. Don’t ask your mother, father, girlfriend, boyfriend, or your best friend what they think. We all know they have opinions. Everyone has an opinion.Your opinion is what counts in the immediate moment.

A seasoned writer usually has developed a method for determining if they have enough idea to sustain a story, and what size of story (word count) the story idea can support. They have a good grasp of what it takes to make a story work, and this is why seasoned writers don’t always discuss their ideas until they’ve determined if the story has legs. Can it stand on its own?

For the beginning writer, there is no valuable advice –especially for a first novel–other than to start writing. That’s correct, just take a page from Nike, just do it.

You could of course, ignore this advice, and attend writing classes, make an outline, fill out character sheets or do character interviews, design a storyboard, ask for advice from other beginning writers and do any number of other things that only delay your writing. That’s correct delay your writing.

The number one reason unpublished authors experience a failure to launch, is basically simple; it’s a failure to write. We each have a certain amount of words we need to write before we can identify our own voice. Some experts say you won’t recognize your voice until you’ve written a million words. Now, I don’t know if it’s true, but I do know you need to start writing.

My first book was a fantasy novel, beautifully written with engaging descriptive backgrounds that made critique partners “see” the landscape of the novel. Yea for me! I’m good a world building. They told me the characters engaged the readers and all were anxious to see what would happen next. Yea for me, great character development. One critique partner described my passages as “liquid poetry”, and I was flattered, and amazed and felt so good about my writing. Except 400 pages into the story, the characters great adventure, no actual plot was found.

That’s right No Plot, BIG Problem.

I didn’t know what my weakness was until I started writing. Based on this experience, I never start a novel, novella, or short story without knowing the full plot. Every pinch point, every turning point, every reversal and big black moment is down on the sheet before the writing begins.

You have to determine what your own shortcomings are, and define your style, before you can learn the craft skills necessary to become successful. Once you have accomplished this, then the life long learning begins and you may have your feet firmly planted on the road to success.

 

 

 

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