To schedule writing time or not? #amwriting

In a writers’ forum, I was recently asked how a person can go full-time as a writer. I don’t have a good answer for that as you must be able to pay your bills, or no books will ever be written.

MyWritingLife2021Most writers are hobbyists. This is because if one intends to be a full-time writer, one must have an income.

I am a full-time writer. I have regular office hours for writing, and I’m retired from my career in Corporate America.

For many years I was a hobbyist, writing when I had a chance and devoting my life to my job and raising a family.

Some people manage to fit short bursts of writing into their daily schedule, writing at work while on break or at lunch. Others must schedule a dedicated block of time for writing by either rising two hours before they must depart for work or by skipping TV in the evening.

When I was working, I fell into both categories. A happy life is all about balance. My family always came first, so I arranged my writing time around their schedules.

When I am in the planning stage of a novel or story, I find myself stopping whatever I’m doing and making notes, quickly getting down any thoughts that occur. This is a habit I developed when I was employed outside my home.

Until 2012, I was like everyone else, with a job and commitments that took precedence over any writing I might have wanted to do.

I saw very little television in those days. Evenings and weekends were my only time for writing, making art, or reading.

Now that I’m retired from working outside my home, six in the morning until noon is my best time to write. However, being retired means you are always available when a crisis occurs.

blogging memeEvents occur, disturbing my writing schedule, but I usually forgive the perpetrators and allow them to live. At that point, I revert to writing whenever I have a free moment.

I’m a less than enthusiastic housekeeper even when not writing, but I keep things sort of under control. These are the tasks everyone does, chores that keep our homes livable.

I squeeze housekeeping chores into my writing time the way I used to fit writing into my working life.

Dinner at the table was the one meeting place for my family during the blender years of child-rearing.

I tend to do the cooking, and dinner hits the table at 5:00 pm. If you aren’t there on time, I will give you the evil eye for the rest of your life or the evening, whichever ends first.

Balance is the key to a happy life. We want to feel productive and creative, and we want to share our lives and interests with others.

Creativity applies to everything from making a meal, to painting, to generating a business plan—your spouse or child’s creative bent may be wildly different from yours, but you must be supportive.

Therefore, we who write must make time to write. This allows us to be creative and still support our families, who all have activities and interests of their own.

ICountMyself-FriendsAs I have said many times before, being a writer is to be supremely selfish about every aspect of life, including family time.

It also requires discipline and the ability to set aside an hour or so just for that pursuit, a little time where no one is allowed to disturb you.

A good way to make sure you have that time is to encourage your family members to use that time to indulge in their interests and artistic endeavors.

That way, everyone has the chance to be creative in their own way, and they will understand why you value your writing time so much.

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Character creation: attraction and repulsion #amwriting

This week we’re continuing our dive into character building. I’m putting my beta reader’s comments to work, trying to iron out some of the rough patches, and one that I must work on is attraction.

WritingCraftSeries_romanceWriting emotions with depth is a balancing act. This is where I write from real life. I think about the physical cues I see when my friends and family feel emotion. When someone is happy, what do you see? Bright eyes, laughter, and smiles.

And when we’re happy, how do we feel? Energized, confident. We’re always slightly giddy when we have a little crush coming on and even happier when it blossoms into a romance.

The trick is to combine the surface of the emotion (physical) with the deeper aspect of the feeling (internal). Not only that, but we want to write it so that we aren’t telling the reader what to experience. We allow the reader to experience the emotion as if it is their idea.

Fantasy is a popular genre because it involves people. People are creatures of biology and emotion. When you throw them together in close quarters, romances can happen within the narrative.

I’m not a Romance writer. I write about relationships, but Romance readers will be disappointed in my work. My tales don’t always have a happily ever after, although most do. Also, while I can be graphic, I’m usually a fade-to-black kind of writer, allowing my characters a little privacy.

I flounder when writing without an outline, and even though I’m in the second draft, I’m floundering now.

Writing intense, heartfelt emotions is easy for me. I begin to have trouble when I attempt to write the subtler nuances of attraction and its opposite, repulsion. I find myself at a loss for words.

The problem is, if you write intense emotions with no buildup, they come out of nowhere and seem gratuitous.

So, how do I foreshadow these relationships and show the buildup? I go to Romance writers and ask questions. I’ve attended workshops given by romance writers and learned a great deal from them. However, being autistic, I understand more from pursuing independent study.

Verbalize_Damon_SuedeAlso, I’m a book junkie—I can’t pass up buying any book on the craft of writing. I bought two books on writing craft by Damon Suede, who writes Romance. These two books show how word choices can make or break the narrative.

In his book Verbalize, he explains how actions make other events possible. Even gentler, softer emotions must have verbs to set them in motion.

Emotions are nouns, and so I need to find and use the right verbs to activate them.

Therefore, matching nouns with verbs is key to bringing that romance to life. I must get out the dictionary of synonyms and antonyms and delve into the many words that relate to and describe attraction. ATTRACTION Synonyms: 33 Synonyms & Antonyms for ATTRACTION | Thesaurus.com

So, now that I have all these lovely words, the next step is to choose the words that say what I mean and fit them into the narrative.

This novel was accidental, so I didn’t plan the relationships out the way I usually do. I have five people in this convoluted tale. I’m a bookkeeper, so doing the math, if we end up with two couples, one character will be left out.

Now my beta readers tell me that while the final matches work, I need to hint at sexual tension from the opening pages on to better show the attraction.

Also, they pointed out that the odd-one-out creates endless opportunities for a real roadblock to the final event. This is something I hadn’t seen, but wow–what a great way to inject some power into the finale.

poetry-in-prose-word-cloud-4209005Each of us experiences emotional highs and lows in our daily lives. We have deep-rooted, personal reasons for our emotions, for whether we are attracted to or repulsed by another person. Sometimes those interactions can be highly charged.

Both the protagonist and the antagonist must have legitimate reasons for their actions and reactions. There must be a history of some sort. Failing that, there must be an instinctive attraction/rejection.

Our characters must have credible responses that a reader can empathize with, and there must be consequences.

For me, this is where writing becomes work.

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#FineArtFriday: Corporal J.D.M Pearson GC (WAAF) by Dame Laura Knight 1940

Corporal_J.D.M_Pearson,_GC,_WAAF_(1940)_(Art._IWM_ART_LD_626)About this image via Wikipedia:

A three- quarters length portrait of Corporal J. D. M. Pearson, GC, WAAF (1940) – shows Corporal Daphne Pearson of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, WAAF, a recipient of the Empire Gallantry Medal, later exchanged for the George Cross. Although Pearson, at Knight’s insistence, sat for the portrait holding a rifle, the finished painting shows her holding a respirator. As WAAF personal were not allowed to carry arms on duty, Knight had to paint over the rifle. [1]

Joan Daphne Mary PearsonGC (25 May 1911 – 25 July 2000) was a Women’s Auxiliary Air Force officer during the Second World War and one of only thirteen women recipients of the George Cross, the highest decoration for gallantry not in the face of an enemy that can, or could, be awarded to a citizen of the United Kingdom or commonwealth.

Pearson joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) as a medical orderly shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.

In the early hours of the morning on 31 May 1940, Avro Anson bomber R3389 of No. 500 Squadron RAF undershot on approach to an airstrip near the WAAF quarters in DetlingKent, crashing into a field. Upon landing, a bomb exploded, killing the navigator instantly, and leaving the pilot seriously injured. Corporal Pearson entered the burning fuselage, released the pilot from his harness and removed him from the immediate area around the aircraft. After she was 27 metres (30 yards) from the aircraft, a bomb exploded. She flung herself on top of the pilot to protect him. After medical staff had removed the pilot, she went back to the plane to look for the fourth crew member, the radio operator. She found him dead. For her deeds, Pearson was awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal (EGM). [2]

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

Dame Laura Knight, (née Johnson), DBE RA RWS (4 August 1877 – 7 July 1970) was an English artist who worked in oils, watercolors, etching, engraving and drypoint. Knight was a painter in the figurative, realist tradition, who embraced English Impressionism. In her long career, Knight was among the most successful and popular painters in Britain. Her success in the male-dominated British art establishment paved the way for greater status and recognition for women artists.

In 1929 she was created a Dame, and in 1936 became the first woman elected to full membership of the Royal Academy. Her large retrospective exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1965 was the first for a woman. Knight was known for painting amidst the world of the theatre and ballet in London, and for being a war artist during the Second World War. She was also greatly interested in, and inspired by, marginalized communities and individuals, including Gypsies and circus performers. [1]


Credits and Attributions:

File:Corporal J.D.M Pearson, GC, WAAF (1940) (Art. IWM ART LD 626).jpg|

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Laura Knight,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Laura_Knight&oldid=1019091508 (accessed April 29, 2021).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “Daphne Pearson,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Daphne_Pearson&oldid=1000936279 (accessed April 29, 2021).

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Character Creation: The Character Arc #amwriting

We’ve discussed the many different aspects of our characters and the roles they have within the story. Some will be the hero, others a sidekick, and still others will be the villain. 

WritingCraftSeries_character-arcEach character should have an arc of growth and change as the story progresses. Heroes that arrive fully formed on page one are boring. For me, the characters are the story, and the events of the piece exist only to force growth upon them.

How people are changed by their experiences is what makes the story compelling.

Many times, the protagonist begins in a place of comfort. They’re a little naïve about the rougher aspects of life. Consider Bilbo Baggins, Tolkien’s protagonist in The Hobbit.

Bilbo begins in a middle-class place of comfort. He lives in his family’s home, a comfortable, well-kept place. Bilbo has inherited a private income and has no need to work, so he devotes his time to writing and entertaining his close friends. He’s a little bored with his existence, but he’s a sensible hobbit and refuses to admit to it.

This is our hero in his comfort zone. He’s not unhappy and could have lived to the end of his days going along as he was. But he would never have developed any further as a person. He was stagnating and didn’t know it.

One sunny day, he’s just enjoying himself when along comes “the inciting incident”—Gandalf, a character who plays multiple roles within the Lord of the Rings story arc. In his first guise, Gandalf has the archetypal role of Herald. He is the bringer of change and unwanted dinner guests.

(The list of archetypes is shown in a picture at the bottom of this page—feel free to right-click and save it for your own files.)

the hobbitBilbo resents both the intrusion and being made aware of how bored he is. Secretly, he fears going into the unknown and resists Gandalf’s insistence that he must go with the dwarves. However, at the last minute, Bilbo realizes that if he doesn’t go now, he will always wonder what would have happened if he had.

Bilbo’s sudden irrational decision to accept the task of Burglar sets him on a path that becomes a personal pilgrimage, a search for the courage he always possessed but had never needed.

Fear of stagnation has overcome Bilbo’s fear of the unknown.

This begins the journey and events that shape Bilbo’s character arc. By the end of the novel, he has recognized and embraced the romantic, fanciful, and adventurous aspects of his nature. In the process, he discovers that he is competent and capable of bravery, winning respect by applying his wits and common sense to every problem.

People undertake pilgrimages for many reasons, often in search of moral or spiritual wisdom. Sometimes they will go to a location that has significance to their beliefs and faith. Other times, it will be an inner, symbolic journey, a delving into their own principles and values. One is always changed by the journey.

Events in themselves don’t change us. We are changed by what we learn as human beings, by experiencing how incidents and occurrences affect our emotions and challenge our values. Everyone perceives things in a unique way and is affected differently from their companions.

Each person grows and develops in a way that is distinctively them. Some people become hardened, world-weary. Others become more compassionate, forgiving.

the hobbit movie posterOver the next year, Bilbo experiences many things. Where once he was a little xenophobic and slightly disdainful of anything not of The Shire, he discovers that other cultures are as valuable as his, meeting people of different races whom he comes to love and trust. He experiences the loss of friends and gains compassion. By the time Bilbo returns to the Shire, he is a different person than he was when he ran out his front door without even a handkerchief.

A character arc should encompass several stages of personal growth. What those stages are is up to you and depend on the story you are telling.

In one of my current works in progress, my protagonist is a soldier of the Bull God’s world of Serende, an enemy sworn to conquer the goddess’s world of Neveyah. He has a religious conversion, and his story takes him on a journey that is both physical and spiritual.

Whether we write fantasy, literary fiction, comedy, sci-fi, or romance—our characters must be changed by their experiences. How they are changed is up to you, but stories and series where the protagonists are unaffected by what they have experienced fail to excite me.

The works that endure are those in which the events are the catalysts of personal growth for the reader as well as the protagonist.

Personal growth creates unforgettable characters. Great characters are why certain novels are considered classics despite having been written more than one or two centuries ago.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – Wikipedia

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – Wikipedia

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – Wikipedia

ListOf ArchetypesVoglerLIRF04272021


Credits and Attributions:

Dustcover of the first edition of The Hobbit, taken from a design by the author, J.R.R. Tolkien.

The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey, Theatrical release poster © 2012 New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, WingNut Films, Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, Fair Use.

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Character Creation: The Ally #amwriting

An archetype is an ancient pattern describing a type of character that exists across different cultures and eras of human history. In ancient times, we had no communication with other cultures. Yet, our myths and legends share these familiar, recognizable characters we call archetypes.

WritersjourneysmallThe Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler, details the various traditional archetypes that form the basis of most characters in our modern mythology (or literary canon). I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning more about archetypes and how they fit into the story.

The following is the list of character archetypes as described by Vogler:

  1. Hero: someone who is willing to sacrifice his own needs on behalf of others
  2. Mentor: all the characters who teach and protect heroes and give them gifts.
  3. Threshold Guardian: a menacing face to the hero, but if understood, they can be overcome.
  4. Herald: a force that brings a new challenge to the hero.
  5. Shapeshifter: characters who constantly change from the hero’s point of view.
  6. Shadow: a character who represents the energy of the dark side
  7. Ally: someone who travels with the hero through the journey, serving a variety of functions.
  8. Trickster: embodies the energies of mischief and desire for change.

Last week we discussed the Mentor. We also looked at one of the many aspects of a hero-character, the Sacrificial Lamb.

Now let’s look at Allies, friends and supporters, side characters who enable the protagonist to achieve their goal. Side characters are essential, especially characters with secrets, because they are a mystery. Readers love to work out puzzles.

f scott fitzgerald quoteOne thing I do recommend is that you keep the number of allies limited. Too many named characters can lead to confusion in the reader.

It’s sometimes challenging to decide who should go and who should stay. What is the optimal number of primary characters for a book? Be kind to the reader. Introduce however many characters it takes to tell the story but use common sense.

When you give a character a name, you imply they are a memorable part of the story instead of a walk-on. Even if a walk-on character offers information the protagonist and reader must know, it doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be named.

Does the character return later in the story? When you introduce a named character, ask yourself if it is someone the reader should remember. Also, never name two characters in the same narrative so that the first and last letters of their names are the same.

For instance, having a Darnell and a Darrell with prominent roles in the same book could be confusing.

Make their names unique and give them a name only if they have a memorable role later. Also, as audiobooks come more and more into the publishing rainbow, spelling and ease of pronounceability are critical.

callMeGeorgeLIRF04252021How easy is it to read, and how will that name be pronounced when it is read aloud?

Certain tricks of plotting function well across all genres, from sci-fi to romance, no matter the setting. In most novels, one or more characters is a “fish out of water,” in that they are immediately thrust into an unknown and possibly dangerous environment.

Every core character that the protagonists are surrounded by should project an unmistakable surface persona, characteristics that are identifiably “them” from the outset.

From the moment they enter the story, we should see glimpses of weaknesses and fears. We should see hints of the sorrows and guilts that lie beneath their exterior personas. Remember, they aren’t the protagonist, so their story must emerge as a side note, a justification for their inclusion in the core group.

Old friends have long histories, and the protagonist knows most of their secrets at the outset. We don’t engage in info-dumping. Their backstory should emerge only at critical points, if and when it provides the reader with information they must know.

If these friends are new to the protagonist, their stories should emerge in the form of information the protagonist must have to complete their quest. However, it should come out only when the reader must know it too.

Twilight_Confidences_by_Cecilia_BeauxIn real life, everyone has emotions and thoughts they conceal from others. Perhaps they are angry and afraid, or jealous, or any number of emotions we are embarrassed to acknowledge. Maybe they hope to gain something on a personal level—if so, what? Small hints revealing those unspoken motives are crucial to raising the tension in the narrative.

As writers, our task is to ensure that each character’s individual story intersects smoothly and doesn’t jar the reader out of the story.

To do that, the motivations of the side characters must be clearly defined. You must know how the person thinks and reacts as an individual.

Ask yourself what desires push this character? What lengths will they go to in the effort to achieve their goal? Conversely, what will they NOT do?

Just as you have done with the hero of your story, ask yourself what the side characters’ moral boundaries are and what actions would be out of character for them?

Mood is a large word serving several purposes. It is created by the setting (atmosphere), by the exchanges of dialogue (conversation), and the tone of the narrative (word choices, descriptions). It is also affected by (and refers to) the emotional state of all the characters—their personal mood.

ICountMyself-FriendsDialogue gives shape to the story, turning what could be a wall of words into something personal. We meet and get to know our protagonists and the people they will travel with through the conversations they engage in.

Write nothing that seems out of character unless there is a good, justified reason for that behavior or comment.

We want to create empathy in the reader for the group as a whole, but the pacing of the story remains central.

For all characters, whether they are the protagonist or their allies, personal revelations should only come out when they are necessary to propel the plot to its conclusion.


CREDITS AND ATTRIBUTIONS:

Twilight Confidences, Cecilia Beaux, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

 

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#FineArtFriday: La Confidence by Elizabeth Jane Gardner ca. 1880

Elizabeth_Jane_Gardner_-_La_Confidence_(1880)La Confidence by Elizabeth Jane Gardner  (1837–1922) (Public Domain)

Date: circa 1880

Medium: oil on canvas mounted on aluminium

Dimensions: Height: 172.7 cm (67.9 in); Width: 119.7 cm (47.1 in)

About this painting, via Wikipedia:

Cultural Significance: One of Gardner’s most well-known works, La Confidence (ca. 1880) is in the collection of the Georgia Museum of Art. This painting depicts an intimate, whispered secret between two young peasant girls. The painting was given to the Lucy Cobb Institute, an all-girls school in Athens, Georgia. Hung in the drawing room parlor of the school, the work was beloved in the school’s collection and was viewed as having a “moralizing purpose” for the young girls enrolled in the finishing school. In 1991, painter, filmmaker and University of Georgia filmmaker James Herbert (director) appropriated Gardner’s painting and several others from the Georgia Museum of Art’s collection and reinterpreted the image in the video for Athens band R.E.M.‘s song “Low” from the album Out of Time.

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

Elizabeth Jane Gardner (October 4, 1837 – January 28, 1922) was an American academic and salon painter, who was born in Exeter, New Hampshire. She was an American expatriate who died in Paris where she had lived most of her life. She studied in Paris under the figurative painter Hugues Merle (1823–1881), the well-known salon painter Jules Joseph Lefebvre (1836–1911), and finally under William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825–1905). After Bouguereau’s wife died, Gardner became his paramour and after the death of his mother, who bitterly opposed the union, she married him in 1896. She adopted his subjects, compositions, and even his smooth facture, channeling his style so successfully that some of her work might be mistaken for his. In fact, she was quoted as saying, “I know I am censured for not more boldly asserting my individuality, but I would rather be known as the best imitator of Bouguereau than be nobody!”

Gardner’s best known work may be The Shepherd David Triumphant (1895), which shows the young shepherd with the lamb he has rescued. Among her other works were CinderellaCornelia and Her JewelsCorinneFortune TellerMaud MullerDaphne and ChloeRuth and NaomiThe Farmer’s DaughterThe Breton Wedding, and some portraits.

Gardner was very independent and feisty. Like the artist Rosa Bonheur, she applied to the police for a permit that would allow her to wear men’s attire so she could attend life classes at the famous Gobelins tapestry works. She was an astute businesswoman and an excellent linguist, switching easily from her native English to French, Italian or German in order to make her guests and potential clients feel at ease. She excelled in the social graces and knew how to manage publicity and nurture relationships that would help further her career. Her ability to work her way into the social networks in Paris earned her sales and portrait commissions.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Elizabeth Jane Gardner,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Elizabeth_Jane_Gardner&oldid=1007847173 (accessed April 22, 2021).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Elizabeth Jane Gardner – La Confidence (1880).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Elizabeth_Jane_Gardner_-_La_Confidence_(1880).jpg&oldid=540767709 (accessed April 22, 2021).

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Character Creation: the sacrificial lamb #amwriting

I rarely kill off my characters, but sometimes the only way to achieve a goal is for someone to die.

In the very first Star Wars movie, Obi-Wan deliberately allowed Darth Vader to kill him. He had several reasons for doing this, one of which was to spur Luke and Princess Leia’s Rebel forces to defeat the Dark Side.

WritingCraftSeries_sacrifical lambObi-Wan is a complex mentor, arriving on the screen with a past. He has lived and lost and made choices he wished he hadn’t. When he faces Darth Vader in his final showdown, you get the feeling that the old man planned his exit perfectly.

His death was a catalyst, lighting a fire in Luke precisely as he intended.

But there are stupid, gratuitous sacrifices that don’t advance the plot.

David Harth of cbr.com gives us this example of a meaningless sacrifice:

Batman was captured by Darkseid’s forces in Final Crisis and played a pivotal role in the final battle against the God of Evil. For his troubles, he was hit with the Omega Sanction and sent back in time. This was all part of Darkseid’s plan, as Batman would move forward through time, chased by the demon Barbatos, building up Omega radiation. If everything had gone as planned, his arrival in the present would have destroyed everything.

Batman put himself in this position, making a “heroic” sacrifice but he didn’t have to do this at all. He could have given the Radion bullet to one of the Flashes who were also fighting Darkseid at the time and gone and done anything else. [1]

I suggest you don’t resort to killing off characters because you can’t think of what to do next. In any story, the death of a character must have meaning.

The character arc of the sacrificial lamb has to be thought out in advance, or there is no real reason for their sacrifice other than the need to wring tears from the reader/viewer.

If shock value is what your stories are about, then that may be your purpose.

However, we spend a lot of time and energy creating characters. Why throw them away for nothing?

We form our characters out of Action and Reaction. This chemistry happens on multiple levels.

First, it occurs within the story as the characters interact with each other. At the same time, the chemistry happens within the reader who is immersed and living the story. The reader begins to consider the characters as friends.

Lord_of_the_Rings_-_The_Two_Towers_(2002)For this reason, every sacrifice our characters make must have meaning and must advance the plot, or you have wasted the reader’s precious time.

Good characterization offers me hints of an individual’s speech habits, history, and personal style. It will show me a person with values or sometimes without boundaries. There are things they will or will not do. They have secrets they believe no one knows, secrets they will deny to the grave.

In the books I love and refer back to, great characters dominate. They behave and respond to the inciting incident naturally, in a way that makes me say, “Yes, this is exactly how they would react.” As each subsequent event unfolds, they continue to behave as individuals. No one acts out of character.

Our task is to ensure that each of our characters’ individual stories intersects seamlessly. To do that, motivations must be clearly defined.

  • You must know how the character thinks and reacts as an individual.
  • What need drives them?
  • What lengths will they go to in the effort to achieve their goal?
  • Conversely, what will they NOT do? What are their moral boundaries, and what is out of character for them?

Now that you know these things about your character, ask yourself what would inspire this person to sacrifice themselves for others? We know the obstacles our characters face. The choices they make in those situations are the story. Write nothing that seems out of character!

In literary terms, agency is the power of an individual character to act independently, to choose their own path.

When we give the protagonist/antagonist agency, we allow them to make their own free choices. They will sometimes take the narrative in new directions, surprising even you, the author.

The character of Spock in the Star Trek franchise is a classic example of a person who would and did sacrifice themselves. In The Wrath of Khan (via Wikipedia):

Star_Trek_II_The_Wrath_of_KhanMortally wounded, the antagonist, Khan, activates a “rebirth” weapon called Genesis, which will reorganize all matter in the nebula, including Enterprise. Though Kirk’s crew detects the activation and attempts to move out of range, they will not be able to escape the nebula in time without the ship’s inoperable warp drive. Spock goes to restore warp power in the engine room, which is flooded with radiation. When McCoy tries to prevent Spock’s entry, Spock incapacitates him with a Vulcan nerve pinch and performs a mind meld, telling him to “remember.” Spock repairs the warp drive, and Enterprise escapes the explosion, which forms a new planet. Before dying of radiation poisoning, Spock urges Kirk not to grieve, as his decision to sacrifice himself to save the ship’s crew was a logical one. An epilogue shows Spock’s space burial and reveals that his coffin is on the surface of the Genesis planet, foreshadowing the events of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. [2]

Spock explains his decision by saying, “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

Captain Kirk answers, “Or the one.”

When they have unique personalities, it becomes easy to give our characters an active role in choosing their fate. When I am first writing any story, allowing my characters agency is difficult to do. At this point in the first draft of my manuscripts, the motives of my protagonist haven’t quite come into focus for me.

I tend to allow a character’s choices to push their personal growth, so I create a personnel file that is updated as they evolve. I make each character known to me as an individual, down to their taste in clothing.

And yet, they harbor secrets to the end, things that surprise and shock me.

Within the plot outline, the individuality of the characters drives the story. I try to portray them as truthfully as possible because, to me, they are real.

You, as the author, must understand what drives and motivates even the walk-on, disposable characters. Are they “a red-shirt,” that iconic Star Trek symbol of the throw-away character? Why should we care if they die? Your job is to make us care.

When a character has history, has agency, and chooses to sacrifice themselves as Obi-Wan did for Luke or Spock did for the crew of the Enterprise, you see their decision is not out of character.

Their death raises the emotional stakes for both the protagonist and the reader, making a complex, memorable novel.


Credits and Attributions:

[1]10 DC Characters Who Sacrificed Themselves For Nothing, by David Harth  10 DC Characters Who Sacrificed Themselves For Nothing | CBR published February 18, 2021 Copyright © 2021 www.cbr.com (Accessed April 18, 2021).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Star_Trek_II:_The_Wrath_of_Khan&oldid=1015970109 (accessed April 18, 2021).

Images:

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Paramount Pictures: 1982); art by illustrator Bob Peak. © 1982 Paramount Pictures; Fair use under United States copyright law.

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (Lucasfilm Ltd. Distributed by 20th Century Fox: 1977), art by illustrator Tom Jung. © 1977 Lucasfilm Ltd; Fair use under United States copyright law.

 

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Character Creation: the mentor #amwriting

Wisdom is not about having all the answers. As we experience the sorrows and joys of life, we remain filled with as many questions as answers. Perhaps the questions aren’t intellectual as much as they are emotional—a longing for a lost time of contentment, a time of security and peacefulness that wasn’t appreciated as much as it should have been.

WritingCraftSeries_mentorMaybe that moment in time that we long for didn’t shine with the golden glow that the mirror of memory now gives it. Nevertheless, we hope to feel that innocent happiness that we will never experience again.

Wisdom—a word that represents so many things. In a mentor, it’s an implied knowledge of a fundamental human truth: naïve enjoyment of life is gone forever, and accepting its loss makes us feel old. Experience makes us wiser and can change us in two ways. We can become hardened and callous as a form of self-preservation. Conversely, we can become gentler, more understanding of human frailty.

Tolkien took much of the philosophy for his world of Middle Earth and the character of Aragorn from the 6th-century poem, The Wanderer. As a Professor of Anglo Saxon Studies at Oxford, he had translated it into modern English and had a deep connection to the epic story told in the poem.

In that poem, the speaker reflects upon his life while spending years in exile. He considers what he has lost but goes beyond his personal sorrow. For this reason, some scholars consider The Wanderer a “wisdom poem.” The speaker tells us that the disintegration of earthly glory is inescapable, supporting the medieval Christian view of the underlying theme: salvation through faith in God.

The sense of loss and resulting strength that the protagonist in The Wanderer offers us is reflected most strongly in the way Tolkien portrays Aragorn. He is wise as a mentor, more approachable than Gandalf, and is relatable because he has suffered many losses. Aragorn has spent most of his life wandering and fighting to protect people who look upon him with disdain. Now, as he approaches middle-age, he “looks foul but feels fair.”

An excellent short talk on the original medieval poem can be found on YouTube here: WANDERER | The Profound Anglo-Saxon Poem that Tolkien Used in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

The first scene where Aragorn is introduced adds a new character into the mix, a man of mystery and one who feels a little dangerous. Yet, we sense there is more to him than we see in the dark, smoky taproom of the Prancing Pony. Aragorn is only known as Strider, and in that role, he offers them the information they need.

In that chapter, titled “Strider,” Frodo reads Gandalf’s letter. Having read it, Frodo says, “I think one of his (Sauron’s) spies would – well, seem fairer and feel fouler, if you understand.”

“I see,” laughed Strider. “I look foul and feel fair. Is that it? All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost.”

Lord_of_the_Rings_-_The_Two_Towers_(2002)In the scene at the Prancing Pony, Aragorn is quoting a poem that is later revealed to reference him as the Heir of Isildur. He is the prophesied king who will once again wield the Blade that was Broken. These are wise words from a poem-within-the-story, a signature literary device Tolkien used regularly.

“All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”

By quoting those words, Strider (Aragorn) cautions Frodo to look beyond the surface and see the strength that lies beneath. He also implies that the converse can be true, that beauty can disguise what is evil.

In Aragorn, we have a mentor who is later revealed to be the heir of Isildur, the last King of Gondor. Yet, he may as well be heir of nothing, for all the good it does him in the first half of his life. He leads the Rangers, the Dúnedain of the North, the descendants of his ancestor’s knights. The respectable landlord of the Prancing Pony looks down on him, seeing Aragorn as little more than a vagrant.

In the guise of Strider, Aragorn is a good mentor from the first moment we meet him. This is because he is shown as having history. While the history is only implied, and Frodo knows nothing about him, he knows Strider is a friend of Gandalf. Frodo senses the knowledge that Strider possesses, the wisdom he has to offer. Frodo feels he can trust Strider’s guidance, even when he disagrees with him.

When we create a mentor character, we must give the reader reasons to believe in them as having wisdom our protagonist needs. Strider arrives in his first scene with the impact of unspoken history, an immediate sense that here is a person who has seen much and survived many things.

Here is a person who knows what secret Frodo carries but won’t try to steal it. He understands the comfortable life Frodo has sacrificed to take the Ring to Rivendell and knows what the hobbit faces further down the road. Here is a person who genuinely wants to help Frodo escape the Black Riders.

At the outset, when we find Strider in the Prancing Pony observing Frodo making his worst blunder, we feel there is more to this unkempt vagrant than we see on the surface.

Lord_of_the_Rings_-_The_Two_Towers_bookAs I create my mentors, I hope to convey a sense that they have history without beating the reader over the head with it. I want to evoke a feeling of rightness, that this person knows things we don’t, that this person has knowledge our protagonist must gain.

Creating a mentor with depth and a sense of history without dumping info is tricky. This is where getting good insights from my writing group really comes into play. Their thoughts and opinions nudge my creative mind to find solutions for rewriting muddy characterizations and confusing passages.

Hopefully, their insights will guide me to write memorable narratives filled with characters who leave an impact.


Credits and Attributions:

Quote from The Two Towers, by J.R.R. Tolkien, Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Illustrated edition (February 15, 2012); Fair Use.

Wikipedia contributors, “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Lord_of_the_Rings:_The_Two_Towers&oldid=1018153423 (accessed April 18, 2021).

Images:

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers theatrical release poster. Release Date December 5, 2002.  © 2002 Production Companies New Line Cinema, WingNut Films; Fair use under United States copyright law.

Wikipedia contributors, “The Two Towers” first edition book cover, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Two_Towers&oldid=1006164402 (accessed April 18, 2021).

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#FineArtFriday: Twilight Confidences by Cecilia Beaux 1888

Twilight_Confidences_by_Cecilia_BeauxTwilight Confidences by Cecilia Beaux  (1855–1942)

Date: 1888

Medium:  oil on canvas

Dimensions: 23 1/2 x 28 inches, 59.7 x 71.1 cm

Inscriptions: Signed and dated: Cecilia Beaux

About this painting via Wikimedia Commons:  

Cecilia Beaux was a leading figure and portrait painter and one of the few distinguished and highly recognized women artists of her time in America. Her figures are frequently compared to Sargent’s, but her style relates also to other international leaders of late-19th Century portraiture, including Anders Zorn, Giuseppe Boldini, Carolus-Duran and William Merritt Chase. She was born and lived mostly in Philadelphia, traveling frequently to Europe, especially France from a young age, and exhibited widely in Paris, Philadelphia, New York and elsewhere. Her first acclaimed work, Les Derniers jours d’enfance, a mother and child composition, was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1887, and Beaux followed it there the next year, spending the summer of 1888 at the art colony at Concarneau in Brittany. Here she painted her remarkable Twilight Confidences of 1888, preceded by numerous studies, which are in the collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Lost for many years, this much admired canvas is Beaux’s first major exercise in plein-air painting, in which the figures and the seascape are artfully and exquisitely juxtaposed, and sunlight permeates the whole composition.


Credits and Attributions:

Twilight Confidences, Cecilia Beaux, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Twilight Confidences by Cecilia Beaux.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Twilight_Confidences_by_Cecilia_Beaux.jpg&oldid=355146645 (accessed April 16, 2021).

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Writing the Short Story part 5: The Narrative Essay #amwriting

We’re working our way through a series on writing short fiction. However, we’re not done—yet another short form of writing to explore is the essay. For Indy authors who wish to earn actual money from their writing, the narrative essay is often easier to sell to reputable magazines. This is because they appeal to a broader audience than genre fiction does.

narrative essayNarrative essays are drawn directly from real life, but they aren’t necessarily factual or accurate representations of events. They often detail a fictionalized experience or event that affected the author on a personal level.

One of my favorite narrative essays is 1994’s Ticket to the Fair (now titled “Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All“) by David Foster Wallace and published in Harpers. Told in the first person, it is a humorous, eye-opening story of a “foreign” (east coast) journalist’s assignment to cover the 1993 Iowa State Fair.

At the outset, Wallace states he was born several hours drive from the fair but had never attended it. A city boy, he has no knowledge of farms, farm culture, or animals. After high school and college, he had left the Midwest for the East Coast and never looked back. When the essay opens, Wallace hasn’t really thought about the fair beyond the fact that he is getting his first official press pass for covering the fair for Harpers.

Wikipedia summarizes Ticket to the Fair this way: Wallace’s experiences and opinions on the 1993 Illinois State Fair, ranging from a report on competitive baton twirling to speculation on how the Illinois State Fair is representative of Midwestern culture and its subsets. Rather than take the easy, dismissive route, Wallace focuses on the joy this seminal midwestern experience brings those involved.

The primary purpose of an essay is thought-provoking content. The narrative essay conveys our ideas in a palatable form, so writing this sort of piece requires authors to think. You must consider both content and structure.

Just like any other form of short fiction, a narrative essay has

  • an introduction,
  • a plot,
  • characters,
  • a setting,
  • a climax,
  • an ending

oxford_synonym_antonymChoose your words for impact! Writing with intentional prose is critical. A good essay has been put into an entertaining form that expresses far more than mere opinion. Narrative essays sometimes present deep, uncomfortable concepts but offer them in a way that the reader feels connected to the story.

Good essays offer a personal view of the world, the places we go, and the people we meet along the way. Names should be changed, of course.

Literary magazines want well-written essays with fresh ideas about wide-ranging topics. Some will pay well for first publication rights.

If you want to be published by a reputable magazine, you must pay strict attention to grammar and editing. Never send out anything that is not your best work. After you have finished the piece, set it aside for a week or two. Then come back to it with a fresh eye and check the manuscript for:

  • Spelling—misspelled words, autocorrect errors, and homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently). These words are insidious because they are actual words and don’t immediately stand out as being out of place.
  • Repeated words and cut-and-paste errors. These are sneaky and dreadfully difficult to spot. Spell-checker won’t always find them. To you, the author, they make sense because you see what you intended to see. For the reader, they appear as unusually garbled sentences.
  • Missing punctuation and closed quotes. These things happen to the best of us.
  • Digits/Numbers: Mis-keyed numbers are difficult to spot when they are wrong unless they are spelled out.
  • Dropped and missing words.

Don’t be afraid to write with a wide vocabulary. With that said, never use jargon or technical terms only people in certain professions would know unless it is a piece geared for that segment of readers.

Above all, be intentional and active with your prose, and be a little bold. I enjoy reading David Foster Wallace and George Saunders because they are adventurous in their work. Saunders’ style is always approachable, but others may find Wallace wordy and difficult to wade through. He was often accused of being too “literary” in the arrogant sense of the word.

real-writers-writeAnd on that note, we must be realistic. Not everything you write will resonate with everyone you submit it to.  Put two people in a room, hand them the most exciting thing you’ve ever read, and you’ll get two different opinions. They probably won’t agree with you.

Don’t be discouraged by rejection. Rejection happens far more frequently than acceptance, so don’t let fear of rejection keep you from writing pieces you’re emotionally invested in.

This is where you have the chance to cross the invisible line between amateur and professional. Always take the high ground—if an editor has sent you a detailed rejection, respond with a simple “thank you for your time.” If it’s a form letter rejection, don’t reply.

And when you receive that email of acceptance—crack open the fancy cider and celebrate! There is no better feeling than knowing someone you respect liked your work enough to publish it.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=A_Supposedly_Fun_Thing_I%27ll_Never_Do_Again&oldid=815132504 (accessed January 9, 2018).

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