Showing posts with label Shirley Corder.. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Shirley Corder.. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Writers' Journal


Every year, when I was a child, my mother gave me a diary for Christmas. Perhaps she thought if I spent some time writing about my daily life, I would experience some sort of epiphany and change into a better person.

I always loved my new diary. I would stroke its cover and lift it to my nose. Mmm. I'd close my eyes and think of all the wonderful, exciting things I would do during the coming year, and how I would record them in my diary. And of course the knowledge that no one else would read it made it even more promising.

Every year, my diary started out with, "It's Christmas! Today I got . . . " and a list of all my Christmas presents. Sometimes I made it to New Year's day, or even a few days beyond. Usually my diary ended on about the 27th of December.

I think one of the reasons for my repeated failure in the World of The Diary, was the thought that diaries had to be a record, a very full record, of my entire day. And of course, that was impossible. I spent far too much time climbing trees, rushing to finish my homework (that was in the days when I still did homework) so that I could go and play, avoiding my parents wrath over the latest misdemeanor, and going for long walks with my dog in the monkey-infested bush near our home.

Childhood was great, full of adventures, mainly of the made-up kind. There wasn't time to write in a diary. That felt too much like homework.

I grew up and stopped getting diaries. I knew I wouldn't write in them. There wasn't enough time in the day.Then I got cancer. I had so many things I needed to remember, I got myself another diary. Only this was bigger, and had the times listed down the side.

In an attempt to get away from the picture of long hours of filling in my day's events, which I knew I wouldn't do, I decided to call it my journal.  I started jotting down thoughts, events, and how I felt, next to the appropriate time. It was incredibly self-centred. Folk that have been through aggressive treatment for cancer know how your entire life concentrates on survival. And that's what my journal was. A survival manual.

There are countless different ways of journaling, but if you're a writer you do need to keep records somehow. Here are a few simple thoughts.

  • Get yourself a large page-a-day diary with slots for each hour.
  • Don't even try to write your life's story—unless you have visions of publishing a trilogy on your life. And beware! Bribing family members to read it could be a costly business. 
  • Keep it short and to the point. Jot down an event you want to remember, preferably soon after it's happened. How did it make you feel? Any particular memory? The smell?
  • Miss out days if nothing happens. Trust me, the world WILL continue to turn.
  • I find the blank pages really useful when I need to suddenly brainstorm an article that won't fit in my day's page. I just scrawl down "See Jan 12" and flip to that blank page and fill it up with my thoughts.
  • As a writer, if you think of something inspiring that you want to write more about, draw a block around it so that you won't lose track of it. 
  • Don't try to write well. Just get it down. You'll be surprised how often you can use those memories which you would have forgotten if it wasn't for your dia . . .        journal.
I didn't know it at the time, but my "survival manual" became my main resource when I started to write about my experiences during cancer. Out of that journal has come more devotional messages than I can say, several articles, and a book about to be published. 

How about you? Have you used a journal to help you write? Do you keep a journal or daily diary?

SHIRLEY CORDER lives in South Africa with her husband Rob, a hyperactive budgie called Sparky, and an ever expanding family of tropical fish. Hundreds of her inspirational and life-enrichment articles have been published internationally. She is contributing author to nine books to date and her book, Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer is due to be released in America by Revell Publishers in October.  You can contact Shirley through her writing website, her Rise and Soar site for encouraging those on the cancer journey, or follow her on Twitter

Monday, February 20, 2012

Getting Into Your Characters' Skins

How do we avoid creating cardboard characters, so that they become real people? Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could just "become them" for a short time.

According to some articles I've read, all animals shed their skin, some faster than others. We humans evidently shed 1,5 million skin cells an hour, giving us a new skin surface about once every 28 days. Snakes, tarantulas, stick insects and some lizards are in more of a hurry. They climb out the old skin and walk / slither away, leaving the skin intact.

Wouldn't that be such a great gift for us as writers? Yet we can learn to do this to a degree. We can step out of our own skin and into the skin of our character. We can then talk like them, think like them and feel their emotions. The secret is to really know our characters

Take a moment and think: How much effort do you put into your conversation with your spouse, your children, your next door neighbour? Do you give any thought to the words you choose? Do you stop to wonder when you should take a breath? Do you agonise over your correct choice of words and phrases? No, you just talk. Right?

So the key to writing good dialogue is to stop trying. Stop trying to figure out what your character would say. Rather concentrate on getting to know your characters so well that you can slip into their skins. Become them. Feel their emotions. Then you will react to situations as they see them. The words they say will be natural. And when you move onto another character? As long as you really know your characters, all you need to do is to change skins, and you'll change your voice. It's that easy.

If you spend enough time getting to know your characters, you may even experience one of those exciting (and frustrating) moments when your character refuses to do what you want them to do. Or they do something you hadn't planned, causing you to change the script! Why? Because they have become real characters.

This doesn't only apply to human characters.

I once wrote a story about a time when my young dog ate poison and had to be rushed to the veterinary surgeon in the middle of the night. I described how she reacted and looked—as I saw the situation. I was pleased with the story and submitted it to first one magazine then another. Several rejections later, I read advice similar to what I've given here. I needed to try and see the whole evening's drama as if I were Sheba, our fun-loving Alsation pup. I had to look at the ordeal through her eyes, feeling what she experienced.

I stopped describing how I thought she felt. I imagined myself to be her. I looked at the events from her point of view. I began to see the confusion in "my" mind at the reactions of my human family when they tried to make me vomit. I felt the distress when they allowed a stranger to poke me with needles, then gave me away. (We had to leave her overnight on a drip at the animal hospital.)

As I typed out the new version of the story, I fought back tears. Although I still wrote the story from my human point of view, I now felt the heartache of Sheba. I was her, as her owner turned and walked away, leaving her with this horrid stranger who had stuck needles into her and made her violently sick. What had she done to upset her owner so much that she'd give her away? Would she ever see her owner again?

As I typed, the emotions came from within and influenced my writing. The difference was exciting. A few days later, I submitted it to Chicken Soup for the Soul:  My Dog's Life, and it was accepted. All because I slipped into Sheba's skin for a few hours.

How about you? What suggestions do you have for making your characters come alive?

SHIRLEY CORDER lives in South Africa with her husband Rob, a hyperactive budgie called Sparky, and an ever expanding family of tropical fish. Hundreds of her inspirational and life-enrichment articles have been published internationally. She is contributing author to nine books to date and her book, Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer is due to be released in America by Revell Publishers in October.  You can contact Shirley through her writing website, her Rise and Soar site for encouraging those on the cancer journey, or follow her on Twitter

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