2012 OWFI Writer’s Conference – Characterization

I had a blast at the three-day Oklahoma Writer’s Federation Conference this week. The speakers were overflowing with useful information. I was actually getting information overload at one point.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank OWFI for giving me a scholarship to attend. The experience was more than I expected and the board did a great job organizing the entire event. The conference showed me what an invaluable resource OWFI is in pursuing a writing career. The support I fail to find elsewhere can be found here among others who understand me and my writing aspirations. I feel truly blessed in having found them. I connected and was welcomed by my local chapter the Norman Galaxy of Writers, even though I haven’t attended my first meeting yet. I look forward to sharing my writing travails with them.

Okay, okay, enough with the mushy stuff, huh? Well, it’s all true, how they made me feel. I’ve been to other conferences for other things and don’t remember feeling quite as welcome as I did at this conference. Something like that deserves some recognition.

I can’t choose a best speaker but here are some things I learned that I’d like to pass along. Since I can’t fit all I learned on one post, and you don’t want to read a book in one post, I’m splitting up my post into four parts. This first post is about what I learned from Steven James on “Building Three-dimensional Characters.” Easily the most immediate information I’ll use on my current project.

Steven James opened my eyes to a whole new perspective on how to approach it. His perspective is instead of focusing on a character’s past, focus on what they want or desire and what they are willing to do to get it. The second thing to focus on is give the reader what they want. They don’t want a lot of backstory on a character. They want to be able to relate to a character’s desires and fears, their feelings and how they handle situations. We are writing for our audience, so let’s give them what they want.

I can’t rehash every detail of his lecture here (it was a three hour session) but these are the basics of building three-dimensional characters. His view on building characters we can relate to was really unique. There are ways in which we can convey whether a character is an alpha or not, whether they are strong or weak, and we always want to keep our protagonist strong throughout. If we make them appear weak, the reader loses interest in the character. No one wants to hear about a wimpy hero. There is no such thing, right? No matter the character’s weaknesses we need to keep them at alpha status. The same goes for the Antagonist. The Antagonist should be equal in status to the Protagonist. However, in order to overcome the evil Antagonist, the Protagonist needs to be slightly smarter. Otherwise, how would he outsmart the bad guy?

There were so many other great things to consider when building a great character, so many more details Steven James imparted. I wish I could list them here for you. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, I highly recommend you make every effort. If not, get his books. I plan to get them because I’m sure there is much more I can use than what I learned at the conference.

Next post I’ll share what I learned about building an Author platform with some tips I got from Dan Case, another great speaker who is a past President of OWFI, editor of Writing for DOLLARS!, and will be lecturing in Ft. Worth, TX in June 2012. I hear it will be on blogging. I’m going to try and make it.

I’ve got a lot of thinking to do in developing my characters this week as well as working on my outline which is due end of this month. One thing I did accomplish last week was laying out a schedule for completing my first draft by end of August 2012 and all revisions by end of year, 2012.

One last thing, I found some great blog postings on Steven James’s blog and other guest blogs featuring him as well. Great stuff packed with writing wisdom. Enjoy!

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The Writing Lifestyle (The Best Laid Plans)

PhotobucketClasses are winding up this week. With the month of May off until starting my next class in June, I want to try and get as much down on my story as possible. I’m also trying to get a leg up on my June class since it is sixteen weeks crammed into four. I expect it to be very fast paced and demanding on my time. Therefore, I don’t expect to get a chance to work on my novel much during either June or July (another short class).

So May is my “get it done” month. I mentioned before a book I’m using to outline my book before doing any further writing. It’s called 90 Days to Your Novelby Sarah Domet. The first four weeks is the process of creating an outline. Well, I’m going to do this, but I will change it up a bit due to my time crunch. I plan (I love that word) to continue to write whatever comes to mind. Right now that would be chapter four, which is already taking shape in my mind. And, work on my outline; my goal to complete it in two weeks instead of four.

We’ll see how it goes as I work through the month.

At the same time, I want to get a leg up on reading for my “Science Fiction/Fantasy” class in June. So I’m reading our text, How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasyby Orson Scott Card. While I don’t have much time, I think this will benefit me in two ways: it will guide me in writing my current novel (more ideas for the grist mill), and it will get me a head start on class.

Of course, we all know the best laid plans often are never realized. I’ve never really wanted to make concrete plans because I knew inevitably they would change. But as a writer you have to accept this will happen, but still plan in order to stay on track. I have come to accept this trade-off as a given in the writing process.

Another thing I’ve contemplated lately about the writing process is when to work; what should my schedule look like?

I got some great feedback from my classmates on this topic and something one of them said really clicked. He told me that I shouldn’t think of working in terms of hours; my goal should be maybe 1,000 words a day, or maybe neither hours nor word count but just writing until my brain is empty. After writing chapter three I found this to be true. I didn’t have any clue what to write next, like my brain was empty. But after a few days, chapter four started to take shape in my mind.

My past jobs have given me a mind-set that says you have to use hours as a measure of accomplishment. Not so in writing. When writing, it’s how much you get done; what you produce.

Part of becoming a writer for me is transitioning my mind-set to this different work style. Something I will no doubt continue to experiment with for some time to come to find the right fit for me.

How do you cope with your writing schedule? What has helped you to get more done? I’d love to know your secrets on this topic and any other lessons you’ve learned.

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Allergies, Bananas & Dramatic Suspense

Imagination At WorkWhat do allergies, bananas and dramatic suspense have in common? Well, read on to find out…

Quite often I find myself watching or reading a news article and asking myself “what if?” What if I put my characters through this or that? What if this happened to them? What would happen next? How would they react or overcome this problem? Where would it take my storyline? Best of all, how would it create tension or drama in my story?

I’ve seen quite a few things on TV lately about peanut allergies. I didn’t really pay much attention since I don’t have that problem myself. That is, not until I had my own allergic reaction to bananas last night. This got me thinking about using something similar either food or some other type of allergic reaction in my novel.

Think about it. It would add several admirable elements to an exciting story. Tension, protagonist bonding, drama; these are important elements in any great novel. There are many ways to do this and there are ideas that surround us on a daily basis that can provide the fuel for the ideas we use to create this dramatic feel.

For my own novel, which is Sci-Fi/Fantasy Romance, it got me thinking how I could use some type of allergy idea and if it would fit. Despite an advanced technological society, if you are not located someplace with access to it, you could still perish without human intervention. My protagonists are traversing a jungle to reach the main city. While they have medical and technical advances, they are far from civilization. So, an allergy could fit in to my story very well. I have the setting to create tension with this idea.

This idea can also create a bonding experience between my main characters. It is an opportunity to build their relationship and rely on each other for survival.

We’ll see how I use it…or not. My brain is perking as we speak. These situations can provide some much needed tension and drama. The possibilities are endless. This just goes to show, there are ideas permeating our surrounds every day. All we have to do is keep our eyes open and our imaginations humming.

By the way, I promised more relationship article links. Here’s one that just popped up today.

15 Things Men Really Wish We Knew

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A Whole New World

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In writing my Sci-Fi/Fantasy novel, I am finding a lot goes into building a novel. But the building of a fantasy novel goes so much further. There is a lot of preliminary work. You have to construct a whole new world, a whole new society, a whole new universe. Then you need to get to know who your characters are and how they would react in that world.

I have only one more week to finish another chapter of my novel. I struggled to figure out where I should go next with my characters, then just yesterday inspiration struck and I outlined my next chapter.  I hear repeatedly in my classes that you should just write. No outline or planning is necessary. However, I am seriously questioning this advice the deeper I get into my novel.

I started out with some great ideas and built on top of that to some extent, imagining the environment, the main characters, and how their situation might play out in the beginning. But, after this chapter, what will happen next? How will it end? These are questions that still concern me as I continue to write, somewhat blindly along.

I love the library. I always find such great information there. I mentioned in my last post that I recently picked up another stack of books. There are two books in that stack I believe will help me get to the end of my book without any detours. The first is by Sarah Domet, 90 Days to Your Novel,and the second is The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Referencepublished by Writer’s Digest.

90 Days to Your Noveltalks about creating a road map for your novel up front before you begin to write one word. You use an outline and get to know your characters through pre-writing and other exercises designed to provide the foundation for your novel. The idea behind the planning is to allow you to write your novel in just ninety days. While I’m not sure my first novel will be completed in ninety days, I’m allowing myself permission to take a little longer on the timeline. I’ll try for ninety days, but I won’t beat myself up if I don’t meet that goal. The true goal is creating an imaginative and entertaining novel.

Some of my initial ideas need some development. The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Referenceis helping me with this. It’s not about taking this information and using it verbatim. It is allowing my imagination to merge my ideas with the information in the book to create something totally new and fun.

For instance, my new world is based on magic and magical abilities. My heroine has the ability to travel on the “astral plane,” although she doesn’t realize it yet. There are several references to the “astral plane” and this subject in The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference,but several things caught my eye as I read. “Astral travel” is about more than just travel. It is an actual place, which the book describes in detail, sparking my imagination to a higher level, and you can work magic in it. Two things I never really thought about before.  This book gives me more grist for my imagination mill.

Then other things I’m learning about magic have sparked other ideas in my mind. As I read, my new world comes together to create a more complete picture. The more developed this picture, the easier it will be to tell my character’s story. The more clear I can make it in my mind, the more real and convincing it will be to my readers.

It’s also a lot of fun to imagine a whole new world. If you could build your own world, what would it look like? Think about it. I am. And it’s a blast!

Lastly, I need your opinion. My class questioned which category my novel falls into: science fiction or fantasy. When I said both, they questioned whether that made my novel idea too dense. What do you think? Can you mix science fiction (technology) with fantasy (magic)? Or is that just too much going on? Let me know what you think.

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Inspirational Author’s Journey – Peg Kehret

I read Peg Kehret’s small, but inspirational book, Five Pages a Day: A Writer’s Journeythis week. It made me laugh and cry and totally relate to some of the things she went through in her journey to becoming a published author. While the length of time it took her to get published was rather discouraging, her perseverance was very inspiring.

As with any profession, it takes perseverance to succeed. I could totally identify with her desire to write. While I don’t want to go back to computer programming or working for someone else, I don’t think it would be such a hardship to do so knowing that I will never stop writing. On the other hand I really want to devote all my time to pursuing authorship.

Peg went through a lifetime of trying different types of writing, trying to find the one that fit her. In the process, she found she had talent at doing just about anything with her writing. However, in the end she found the form of writing she was best at and in which she found the most joy, writing children’s books.

I too started out thinking about starting with this genre, I still think about it. Trying different forms of writing is one thing I love about my classes. Where Peg took a long time to find her passion, I’m using my classes to explore my options. I just hope it doesn’t take me as long to find my favorite, but if it does I hope I have as much fun in the journey as Peg.

I finished my second chapter for class last week. I wasn’t very happy with the chapter, but everyone thought it was better than my first chapter. There are still some changes I will be making, possibly even rewriting these chapters completely. But for now, I’m happy to be making progress. Everyone thought I had improved in showing and not telling. My next chapter is my next challenge. I have no clue where it’s going at this point. We’ll have to see what develops in the next few weeks.

I took out another stack of books from the library this week as well. One of them is the 2012 Writer’s Market. If you haven’t checked out these books, you should. I always thought they were just directories of publishers, so I figured “I don’t have anything to send in, so I don’t need it right now.” But to my surprise it contains more than just a directory of publishers. It also has articles on writing and publishing related issues. It is a storehouse of information for writers at any stage of their writing. I highly recommend you take a look at these books even if you are just starting out.

Peg Kehret’s book gave me a lot to think about for my own writing journey. I thank her for writing her legacy down. If I’m lucky maybe one day I’ll share my own journey with other beginning authors, and hopefully it will be just as inspirational and eye opening as Peg’s story was for me.

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Relationships and Characterization

Intimacy and Relationships

This may seem obvious to most, but as a new writer exploring romantic fiction, it became glaringly apparent last week how important the subject of relationships is when coming up with convincing romantic characters. I mean, let’s face it. Romantic fiction is about the relationship, right? We love to see how the hero and heroine get together; fall in love, and make things work despite overwhelming difficulties and differences. It’s the development of their relationship that makes us want to read to the end of the story.

Personally, I’ve had few if any romantic relationships in my lifetime. Not that I haven’t wanted any; things just never seemed to work out to that end. I think like most I have dreams and ideas of the kind of man I’d want as a mate. Maybe someday I’ll meet “Mr. Right.” But for now, I have my imagination and my romance novels. Don’t feel sad for me. It’s not so bad. I am a very independent woman who enjoys her solitude…at times. So for me, the right man would not be intimidated by my independence and be intelligent and strong enough to stand on his own while allowing me to do the same. Of course, he’d have to be a real hunk too. LOL. But enough about my dream man, let’s get back to our subject.

As a writer I think it’s important to gain all the tools you need to write the best fiction/non-fiction you are able. Tools, like in any profession, are necessary to do your job right. Understanding relationships is just another tool, especially if you are writing any type of romantic fiction.

To sharpen this tool and add it to my arsenal, I’ve taken to exploring this subject and plan to make it a weekly if not a daily practice. Last week was spring break for me, but it didn’t slow me down because the fact is I need to write and keep pushing for my goals no matter what. So I took the time every day during spring break to research relationships.

Here are just a few of the articles, blogs, and websites I found. I’ll try to remember to include a few more in my weekly blog. They have already given me some great ideas for characters and their development.

AskMen.com has some really great content about men and what they are thinking, especially about women.

KD Neumann has her own website but also writes for DatingDivaDaily.com, a blog on dating.

Everyone knows about match.com. They have an archive of articles on the subject of dating and relationships.

Whenever I see a news article on yahoo.com that involves something I think might be related to or an example of dating and relationships, I read it. Here are a few articles I came across.

What men and women notice on dates

The truth about the lies men tell

5 Bad traits that make him a good partner

I hope you enjoyed my blog on relationships. Please, share your comments or other resources you’ve found helpful whether on this subject or something else entirely.

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Show, Don’t Tell

Epiphany

There is no right or wrong way when it comes to writing. But as my teachers at UCO have told me, you need to learn the rules so you know how to break them.

One of the things I’ve been trying to comprehend and work on in my own writing this week is ”show, don’t tell.” This is a rule that is a basic skill taught in writing classes. For some reason I’ve been having trouble with this concept. So I’ve paid special attention to it this week and this is what I’ve discovered.

When you are writing about a character, it is critical to keep in mind that you are not necessarily describing what is happening to the character from a narration perspective. That often lends itself to telling. You need to get into a mindset where you are inside the character’s head and describing things from their perspective. This is showing.

Once I saw storytelling from this perspective, “Show, don’t tell,” finally made sense to me. Here is how I came this is conclusion.

This is the one criticism I got from my instructor after reading my first chapter in class that really stuck with me. I had struggled with this concept last semester as well. So I went back to my books from last semester’s “creative writing” and “writing the short story” classes and reread the material on this subject. I understood the material, but something was missing that I just couldn’t get a handle on.

Not finding any new answers there, I paid attention to the novels I was reading and noticed something interesting. The authors were showing, not telling. If there was any telling it was from the character’s perspective and was cast in the light of being something the character was thinking of, like sharing ones thoughts.

Making this observation, it still didn’t really click until I discussed my findings with my teacher in class this week. That is when the epiphany struck.

I’m not sure I still totally understand showing, but I’m getting there. I now have a better understanding of how to write my novel with showing and not telling. I just need to get inside my character’s head and write it from their perspective. Showing and not telling will take care of itself if I keep this in mind.

Of course this is only one aspect of showing. If you are storytelling from a third person perspective, that can be a little tricky, but doable. My teacher suggested I read Kurt Vonnegut Jr. for an example of showing using this perspective.

I really value my creative writing classes at UCO. If you ever need a group to critique what you are working on, I highly recommend taking one of these classes. Any of the CSDY 4910 classes will provide some critiquing. I’m thinking of continuing to take these classes even after I graduate just for this reason.

I’m working on my next chapter to read in my critique class after spring break. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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