Showing posts with label novel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label novel. Show all posts

Monday, October 7, 2013

The dossier - who is this character?

Guest post by Dr. Bob Rich

The dossier is a useful tool for a novelist. It can be entirely in your head, but if there are lots of characters, you may find it essential to write down the relevant details for each. That helps prevent glitches like Susie's son changing from Jim to John, or Mr Cartwright's occupation being posthole digger in chapter 5, and postman in chapter 25.

How you organise this material is up to you. I often have a set of notes at the start of the novel, to be deleted upon completion (or when the character is no longer relevant).

What goes into the dossier? Everything you as author know about the person. As more details emerge, you can add them.

You can see many examples of dossiers in published novels. A new character enters, and the author gives an instant summary of the details that will be relevant to the story. Here is an example:

Harold Smith walked into the room. He was a man in his 50s with a potbelly and salt-and-pepper hair, an overworked accountant with immense experience but questionable morals. Jill introduced me to him, saying, "Martin, meet Harold, just the man you need for your project."

This scene is clearly from Martin's point of view (POV). That is, in order to BE in the story, I as reader need to create the temporary illusion that I am Martin. The author has created a shady accountant for me to employ for some nefarious purpose, and I (Martin) am just meeting him for the first time.

So, how do I know that he is "an overworked accountant with immense experience but questionable morals?"

My point is: the AUTHOR needs Harold's dossier in order to write about him. The character Martin has no access to this dossier. Therefore, to stay within Martin's POV, the author must avoid this statement. Giving Harold's physical appearance is fine, because Martin can see that.

Here is a second example:

Genevieve Rocker felt like wetting her pants from terror, as she looked into the black hole of the gunbarrel. As a lady of 75, with a lifetime of helping people in all walks of life, she was used to all sorts of hardships. Despite the many pains of her body, she wanted to live. Her thin body shook, her blue eyes glazed over in the expectation of instant death.

If you were terrified, expecting to be shot this instant, would you be thinking about your age, your past history of helpfulness and hardships, even the many pains of your body? Of course not. You would be in that present moment, entirely focussed on the current emergency. Genevieve will feel the same way. She is completely unlikely to be concerned with her body build or eye colour, or what her eyes might look like to someone else.

So, reporting a new character's dossier is a bad thing. It is an info dump, an author intrusion, and should be treated by amputation.

When a new person comes into your life, you immediately find out a few things: gender, approximate age, physical appearance, perhaps name, tone of voice, your automatic emotional reaction to this new acquaintance. Say Harry goes on a blind date, and meets Salicia. She is not going to hand him her CV, or biography, or her scores on various psychological tests. He will find out about her in dribs and drabs, as the occasion arises.

This is how it should happen with people in a book too.

About the author: Dr Bob Rich is an Australian storyteller, with 15 published books, 4 of them award winners. His latest novel, "Ascending Spiral: Humanity's last chance," is garnering a growing list of 5 star reviews, and a few 4 star. Check out his writing showcase http://bobswriting.com

~~~~~
MORE ON WRITING

To Increase Your Chances for Publication, Submit Your Manuscript
Freelancers – Finding Real Writing Jobs
Dialog That Delivers

~~~~~
P.S. Want more tips and help with your writing and marketing? Then subscribe to The Writing World (top right sidebar). You'll get weekly information plus updates on our free instructional webinars.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Telling Your Story

Finding Expression in Pain

We all have a story to tell. And writing our story can be therapeutic for us and our readers.

You may have faced some real difficulties or a tragedy in your life. That doesn't mean you have to write a tell all or self-help book. You may not want to openly discuss a specific situation. The pain from sorrow or loss can be told in many ways. It may be through the intricate details of a novel filled with suspense, the main character is like you, and your emotions find direction through the character's emotions. Or maybe poetry is the farthest thing from your mind, and yet out of nowhere, the flowing, soothing words are written with the ease of a conductor leading an orchestra. 

Let your writing naturally flow from your soul and see where it takes you. You will discover comfort as your emotions are finding expression, and readers will benefit, too.



I have personally faced a tragedy in my life that helped me find a writing style that I didn't know was in me: allegory. I didn't have the desire to get down to the business of writing a book on the topic at hand. Instead, I found myself describing what I was feeling indirectly with shadows - not light. It helped me to write in an abstract way about the pain.

Of course, this is nothing new. Yet, the encouragement I hope to give you is not to confine yourself with always being predictable in your writing. The abrupt circumstances in our lives can abruptly change us and that's not always a bad thing.

Let the gift you have flow out of your soul and make new paths for you and your readers! Because even in life's storms, there is beauty.


 ~~~




Kathleen Moulton has a passion to bring hope to hurting people of all ages who are facing disappointment, discouragement, and loss. You are invited to read When It Hurts - http://kathleenmoulton.com








Article photo courtesy: PictureWendy / Foter / CC BY-NC

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Character Relationships

Although my publications are all non-fiction, I have written six novels, five of them for NaNoWriMo. I've never got around to publishing them, and with the exception of the first one, I haven't even edited them.

Although I do a lot of background preparation, and have a plan where the story is going, once I write, I let my characters take the story and run with it. I love the way they become real and often change my ideas of what was to happen next.

However, before starting to write, I work through a series of character exercises so that I know them pretty well. I adapted these from one I learned years ago from a writer called Phil. I think his surname was Rockwell but I can't find him on Google.
  1. Draw up a graph (I use Excel) with all your character names down the side, one per row.
  2. Repeat all the characters in the same order, across the top, as column headings. 
  3. Fill in every space with just a very few words, summing up the person on the left's attitude towards the one in the column.
Here is an example using four of my characters from my first novel.
  • Marcia Douglas, the protagonist, is a minister's wife.   
  • Owen is her husband.
  • Mrs C (Cartwright) is the old lady who lives across the road.
  • Holly is the Douglas's teenage daughter.
You can learn more about them by reading the chart.


Notice that you also fill in the characters' feelings about themselves. I initially battled with this, but then realised how important it was. It helps you figure out how the person actually sees themselves in light of the story.

So you see that Marcia is unsure of herself, fears her husband's rejection, resents Mrs C across the road for her interfering, and is exasperated and worried by her out-of-control teenage daughter.

After doing this, I draw up a Word page for each character, with three main columns. I put the name of the character all the way down the left side of the page, and the names of all the other characters down the right. I then repeat the list but with the characters on opposite sides of the page. The centre column is an expansion of what I had in the first exercise.

So here is what it looks like, using four of my characters from the same novel. (I've added a new character to the mix and dropped Holly.)


Got the idea?

Once I have done all this, I write a short history for each character, so that I have a better idea of why they are like they are. As I write, I often find they reveal bits of their lives that I didn't know about. (After all, I'm only the author.)

Give it a try - and have fun!

OVER TO YOU: Having read about some of the characters of this novel, working title, Hidden Agenda, do you think this would be a story worth reading? Which character introduced so far most grabs your attention?

SHIRLEY CORDER lives a short walk from the seaside in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, with her husband Rob. She is author of Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer. Shirley is also contributing author to ten other books and has published hundreds of devotions and articles internationally. 

Visit Shirley on her website to inspire and encourage writers, or on Rise and Soar, her website for encouraging those on the cancer journey. Follow her on Twitter or "like" her Author's page on Facebook. 



Sunday, July 10, 2011

How to become a novelist in 30 minutes

There are plenty of books on the market to teach you how to write a book in 30 days, or 3 weeks, or 12 months. That's not really what this article is about. This is an article for those of you who don't have 30 days to write a novel in. This is an article for those of you, like me, in the midst of life. Demanding wonderful families probably won't tell you to go off and do a couple of days of pure writing. Demanding wonderful bosses of well paid jobs won't tell you to take a sabbatical and go off to get your novel done in 30 days. In fact, no one will tell you to write this novel, except your own nagging conscience. And that voice will be increasingly dim in the face of all the other voices harassing you. Of course the title of this piece is facetious. You aren't going to actually write a novel in 30 minutes, just to commit, seriously, to doing it and layout out a roadmap.
What we won't be doing is writing the novel. That's the hard work that's left for you when we finish, and don't let anyone suggest it's anything other the most outrageously difficult thing to do. But it is do-able, no matter what your circumstances, and no matter how busy you are. You can still do it even if you only manage ten words a day (and believe me, you can manage that). And you can do it without quitting your day job, or setting your children up for years of therapy. You can do it secretly, hedging your bets, and still producing a wonderful, professional, exceptional book. I promise! So let's get started.

1. Why do you want to write the novel?

It's important to have a good understanding of where you're going if you're to get there, and understanding the reasons why - the reward you'll get - is an important motivating factor. If it's for financial reasons, you'd be better off stocking shelves at your local supermarket. I'm not trying to talk you out of it! There's almost nothing to compare with holding your beautiful finished book in your hands. But it's something wholly different from holding a pile of notes (or bills), and one doesn't necessarily lead to the other. For me, my key motivation was to be able to create something concrete, beautiful, and solid which would move other people; to share a fictive dream. I still get all shivery imagining someone in the solitude of their own room, being moved by my book. That visualisation is something which kept me going even when I flagged. You may have other reasons for wanting to write a novel - an image that will sustain you. But you need to be clear about it. So stop a moment and answer the question.

2. Putting it all together - the outside

Buy a looseleaf binder. One of those types with clear plastic sleeves at the front and back, and I mocked up a cover image, with title, image, your name of course along the bottom. It should look just like a book cover. Then write the kind of brief overview that you find on the back of most novels.

This is really important, because it will become your guiding principle. You can go back to this kind of positioning statement - what could be called an "elevator pitch" --again and again - while writing the book, and later, while pitching the book.

Under that, and more for fun than anything else, put a few glowing statements - what those in the industry call "puffs". Since this is for your benefit only, have fun with it. Give yourself great reviews. Seeing it will make you hungry.

3. The Three Pillars of Fiction: Plot, Setting, Characters

Of course this is not going to be a lesson on how to create great plot (that's a book or two), produce a wonderful setting (another book), or create great characters (surely there are three books in that topic). What I will tell you is that you can't really progress in your novel writing until you've got a reasonably in-depth handle on that. So at this stage of the game, you should also add some additional dividers into your book and call them Plot, Setting, and Characters - one for each. Then spend some time filling in each one. The more time you spend on doing this at the front end, the less time you'll spend with your novel trying to make it work - so don't skimp!

Plot

Begin by nutting out your plot - just do a brief outline - first this happens, then this, then this until you've got a reasonably clear structure. If you tend to think in diagrams, a flowchart is a really useful way of doing this. Another useful way of doing it is to use mindmap. All of these are just tools, and it's easy to get caught up in evaluating different ones and never actually getting to the writing, so pick one and stick with it. Whatever you end up using to structure your plot, make sure you do it before writing. That way, with only a few minutes a day, you can get straight into the plot and not waste time wondering what to write. The structure will also help your creativity as your unconscious mind moves across it, pulling the story together for you.

Setting

So where is your novel set? You should be really clear about it. I'm not naturally good at this, so in the end I have to literally create my places by making my own little map. In the case of Sleep Before Evening, the settings were real ones. I had Long Beach, Long Island (which I fictionalised slightly and called Seahaven) , and New York City, so there were maps I could use, but I still had to customise them for my own specific places, and I had to take them back to 1982, which wasn't all that straightforward. If you aren't clear about setting your reader won't be, so you need to get each street right - to know exactly where your character is walking, visiting, and so on. Details are key to creating the fictive dream, and the more detailed and clear your maps are, the more powerful your writing will be, so this is a step to take some time over.

Characters

Ah, characters. I'm a little biased here, as I'm a character focused writer and reader, but I don't think that there is anything as important to fiction than character. If you don't know your characters as well as your real friends and family, they won't be real to your reader. You should create a list of key characters - protagonist, antagonist, important ancillary characters, and minor characters and flesh each of them out in as much detail as you can stand. You don't need to use it all, but it will make a huge difference in the ease of writing and the overall impact that your characters have on the reader.
Some of the many aspects of character you should cover include physical appearance, profession, backstory, emotional issues, strengths, weaknesses, what they crave, what they are grateful for, who they love, and maybe above all, what they are afraid of.  Try and get at least a couple of pages, but the more the better, for each character before you start writing the book.

Novel writing is a large commitment and it's easy to lose your way. If you spend a reasonable amount of time (it doesn't have to all happen at once either - See "Getting On" below) setting the work up, you can chip at it little by little later. But get the bones in place first - your work will be better for it, and the whole process will be significantly easier.

Getting On: How Do You Eat an Elephant

The plot is outlined, the characters are well detailed and your book is looking pretty nifty, even if it hasn't really been written yet. So what's next?

What's next is you put your bottom on the seat and get to work! It sounds so simple. You know where you're going and the only way to get there is to move forward. But life is so busy - the kids need you to take them to their activities, your partner wants your attention, your day job is howling for results and the house is a mess and...you can't let everyone down. I know, I know. I've been there. I'm there now. My daughter is pulling on my shirt even as I type this. But with your roadmap in place you just have to use standard time management techniques. Schedule in the writing - plan to do a certain amount each day. It doesn't have to be a lot. It can be as small as a few minutes and a single word a day. But when you're on a roll, you'll probably do a lot more. Don't let a day go by (or at least many days if things are bad - kids are sick - pressure is high), without opening your work and doing a little on it. Move your protagonist's hair out of her eyes, have her talk to the person sitting next to her. Write a scene. Just keep working on it.

What you'll find is that, with every bit of work you do, your brain will keep working on it as you do other things, and the regular dipping in, however small, will keep your work current and your writing sessions effective. If you push the novel to the backburner, your brain will move away from it and it won't progress. You've got to keep the voices in the novel up front with all the rest of the voices in your life. That's the secret. Then just keep at it. Keep chunking. Keep writing. Give it as much or as little time as you can, but give every day. In the end, you'll finish it, and you'll find, as I found, that the closer you get, the faster the work will move.
No one will care if the work took you one year or ten. You'll still be an "overnight success" and it will still look quick and easy to those who haven't been there with you while you worked. So, go and do your daily bit now.

5. Revising and Rewriting

I can remember clearly the day that I finished my first draft. I was so excited. I stopped typing, went to get a much needed glass of water, and spent the rest of the day in a wonderful fug of delight. I told my son when I picked him up - "I finished the novel." I kept saying it to myself. "I've written a novel. I'm a novelist now, for real." But the sad truth was that the novel was years off being finished. I wasn't even close. The first draft is just the beginning. Don't let that put you off. You shouldn't even be reading this yet. Go back and write and forget you saw this!

The real work of novel writing is not in the first draft, muse whispering at your ear and the wind behind your hair (okay it's not really like that, but it sounds good). The real work is in the re-writing. So have a drink and celebrate. Then go back to work. It took me ten rewrites! That's full rewrites. Before I was really finished. I won a mentorship grant from my local writer's group and had 30 hours of one on one with an experienced editor, and that really opened my eyes. My mentor, Greg Bastian was superb, showing me all the holes in my manuscript that I was unable to see. After working with Greg, I also utilised the services of another excellent editor, paying for it myself this time. While Greg helped me pull apart and put my novel back together in a much better, more organised way, Logos Editing helped me polish the novel - fixing timing and space issues and dealing with things like dialogue and pace. A third editing called a line edit, was done by my publisher (I worked on that too). So three edits involving other people were necessary. In addition to that, I spent time listening to my novel and picking up on mistakes by using Acrobat's read aloud feature. It was easier to spot errors listening to someone else's voice than to my own. Then I went through the whole thing backwards. Then I enlisted 3 trusted proofreaders to work through it (each with his or her own strengths). And my publisher did the same. And still there were a few minor errors! Editing and proofreading are separate functions, and both critical. If you're lucky enough to be able to do this prior to submitting the novel to a publisher, you'll be way ahead of the game. Oh, and give yourself at least a month after completing the first draft (you deserve a good break!) before starting the revision process. You'll come to the work fresher and be able to accomplish a lot more.

In Closing

This article provides, of course, a brief, broad brush overview on a very big topic. I'm not suggesting that this is comprehensive, or that writing a novel is easy. In fact, I'm suggesting the opposite. It's hard. But what it comes down to isn't raw talent, inspiration, the muse, luck, or great potential. Those things don't mean anything against sheer tenacity. If you are committed to writing a novel, you can. And you will. Just keep at it, a little at a time.

Oh, and one more critical thing - the most critical of all. Start now. Don't wait until the children are grown, or until you finish that big project at work or until the kitchen shelves are organised. Just get on with it. I wish you great success, personal satisfaction, and deep joy.

Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, the novel Sleep Before Evening, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future.

MORE ON WRITING

What are Your Writing Strengths and Weaknesses?

Advice from Writers at the Glendale Chocolate Affair

Two Ways to Format Your Manuscript



Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Meet an interesting author and his novel, by Vivian Zabel



Kirk Bjornsgaard, an acquisitions editor for the University of Oklahoma Press, trusted his novel to 4RV Publishing. Before the revisions could be done, cancer returned causing Kirk not to be able to make them. However, we finished needed revisions with my doing the work and his approving or giving suggestions, and the novel, Confessions of a Former Rock Queen, was released this week.

The book, set mainly in Oklahoma and New York, grabs the interest of “Boomers,” “Sooners,” and music lovers, especially of old time rock ‘n roll.

Bjornsgaard weaves his knowledge of music and rock ‘n roll into the book, giving a realistic taste to the plot and characters. As John Wooley, author of Ghost Band and From the Blue Devils to Red Dirt: The Story of Oklahoma Music writes, a person can always tell when a novel about music is written by a musician. Such is the case with Confessions of a Former Rock Queen. Bjornsgaard, “a rock ‘n roller for almost four decades, expertly chronicles the life of an unsophisticated small-town Oklahoma girl tapped on the shoulder by fame in the swingin’ ‘60s.”

Copies of Confessions of a Former Rock Queen can be purchased through most bookstores or on line, including on the 4RV Book Store.

Vivian Zabel
Brain Cells & Bubble Wrap

How Authors Can Learn to Love Amazon

 I get ideas about stuff to talk about in unexpected places. I assume that is not unique to my writing experience, but today something poppe...