Tag Archives: dimension

Developed

I have an infamously naive and youthful character, who I’ve been writing for years now, a little over five. In all of that time, she’s found out lies about her past, her family, what was expected of her and how she was conceived. She’s gotten closer to some family and further from others. The demise of the one who wrought ill on her may have only been suggested, but because we never got to finish that story.

I’ve put her through her paces in all of this time. I threw her in a huge storm in the middle of the ocean and watched her spiral into an unknown, uncharted island, to get herself back to the world she came from with the help of other stranded strangers.

She fell in and out of love. She was introduced to people/things that could help her in her journey, has unlocked a lot of power and potential, and has even surpassed the strength of her father. She isn’t a stranger to sex, or trauma, or extremes. Time and again, when she’s forced to stand up, she doesn’t hesitate.

What I expected in all of this time was for her youthfulness to transform. To watch her go from this giggling, excitable young girl to a seasoned woman who knew how to push through and show up for what was right. Instead, she’s persevered, and held on to that brightness, that light of hers that shines when she smiles and even when she doesn’t.

I never really considered that the change was a little deeper for her. On the outside, I still see her and write her and feel like she is the same excitable, impossibly optimistic young woman who strives for the best. On a deeper level, under the surface, I see that she knows what must be done in some situations, she knows right from wrong and has a strong sense of morality. What was shaped in the roughness she was thrown into was her ability to adapt to situations and protect those she cared for at any cost.

I’d had other characters get put through their paces and turn out jaded and cynical and unkind for it. What I expected was much of the same, but that’s just not who she is.

Development comes in all shapes and sizes, I realize, after some consideration on this particular character. It doesn’t all have to be extreme, some are more resilient than others. It can be light, it can be heavy, but in the end, whatever it is will be true to who that character really is.

In other words, the surface isn’t the only place to look for a change. Sometimes you have to dig into the cushions.

It adds a whole new dimension to things, to the story, and to the character herself. And I kinda like it that way.

The Novice Wordsmith

Advertisements

Guest Post: A House of Prose, and Don’t be The Lauren

Everyone’s a critic.

When you ask for an opinion from someone on something you’ve done, what you’re secretly asking is ‘do you like this?’ And you secretly want them to like what you’re showing them. It’s the author’s curse; we want to be published, but we need to write something that people can relate to enough to want to buy.

The underpinnings of our society dictate that we have to ‘get along’, ‘be liked’, and ‘hold approval.’ Popular people are who we hear about; unpopular people are spoken about derisively or with hatred sometimes.

Books and writing our expressions of our writer’s soul. It is the innermost child (..or occasional lurking adult) seeking the light of day and the likes of others.

We pick our genre, the one we feel the most at home with, and we decorate the house of our novel home with the things that belong there. A family of characters, or a single person looking out the windows. A bunch of good-natured or mean neighbors to challenge the family. And then there are the things that try and burn the house down or break in and steal their stuff.

I say it’s a house here because the analogy is apt to me; we ‘live’ in the space of our novel when it’s going good, and then when it’s done, we do our best to spruce it up and invite guests to come visit.

I’ve lived in a few places over the years; that first moment when someone new sees my new place they always look around. Form impressions. Some of them look at the things I have on the walls, some of them look at my knickknacks, some of them look at my furniture, and a few of them poke their head in the bedroom.

“Nice place.” they say. Whether they’re being polite or not, I don’t know. But then again, I live in a rental, so it’s not a house I can do a lot of decoration with. I’ve been in a few houses that I’ve said, ‘this is a gorgeous place.’ I have things that I want in my house, so when I see one of those things, I appreciate it.

Now apply that idea back to books again.

Some folks can write an amazing epic tale that grabs you from the get go; some folks write a ramshackle tale that barely holds itself together; you can see the holes in the plot like you notice crayon marks or holes in the walls.

It is not a reflection on the owner/author; it is all about the _everything_ in the house/novel, rather than the bits that you notice that stick out to you.

I’ve got a friend that I’ll call Lauren. She wanted to be a writer, because I was one. She participated in the NaNoWriMo, because I did, and people really liked my first novel.

When she read it, the first thing she asked was, “Is this about you? Is that character there me?”

(The answer was no and no. Because I am not a six foot tall efficiency expert who drives a convertible.)

Then she started poking holes in the novel. Pointing out typos, a half-finished sentence here and there, that sort of thing.

“I know.’ I said, defensively. “It’s a first draft. Thanks.”

When she won NaNo for the first time, she gave me her first effort at writing a full length novel. Asked me what I thought.

It was a pretty good tale, but she got lost in the weeds when she hit Week 3 and there were two very similar characters that I kept getting mixed up, and there was another point where she was missing parts of the description because she was in what I call ‘fugue state’ — you can see the action in your head, and it’s rushing fast, but she didn’t put it all down on the page.

“Did you want me to make edits or did you just want an opinion?”

“Just an opinion. I know my writing sucks.”

“I liked it. It had some good suspense elements, and your heroine is genuinely likable. Your supernatural elements are solid, too. And your writing does not suck.”

“Do you think I could get it published?”

“I think it needs some work before you can get there. There are some elements that need more details, and your ending is a bit rushed. I’d like to see more of the world, too.”

“You hate it.” she said.

“No, I don’t hate it. It’s good! It’s a first draft and I like what I see here. That’s the nature of the Nano — nobody ever produces a perfect first draft, but the Nano makes you actually finish that first draft. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have finished it.”

Later, I heard she’d shared it with some of her other friends, with the additional rider comment that she felt I didn’t like it, because I didn’t think it was good enough to get published. Of course, she was giving it to friends who liked her as a person, and since she had predetermined for them that she was looking for praise, not critique, by way of ‘Friend didn’t like it, I’m hoping you will’ — she was told what she wanted to hear, rather than the truth. And when one of her friends, who is usually bluntly honest, said that it was ‘scattered and disorganized’, Lauren was done showing people. The manuscript went somewhere dark and never saw the light of another person’s eyes again, for fear of disapproval.

She tried her hand at writing the sequel the next year, because like many first time successful novelists, they still have a story left to tell. And it’s easier to work within an existing world than it is to spin up a brand new one.

But she got sick the first week, and stopped writing, and because she was a week behind, she gave up. This was the same year I wrote 100K words in the month.

She hasn’t attempted the Nano since.

For me, the NaNoWriMo is one of my life’s passions. I’ve done it every year for the past twelve. I talk about it a lot. Whenever I’m with friends or family, and I bring up the idea of Nano and they like the idea and are impressed with someone who can write that much in that little time, none of them really ask, ‘Yes, but are they good novels?’ If they do, or they ask when I’m getting published, I just grin and say, “I’m still working on that part. It’s a first draft, and a story that needs to be told, and one of these years I’ll like something enough to edit it and try and get it published. But it’s great practice and a grand adventure that I willingly take every year.”

They are invariably encouraging.

Lauren, if she’s also present, frequently jumps into the conversation with the “Hey, I wrote for the Nano too…” (Subtext: I want some of the positive attention you’re getting.)

“Oh cool!” is the response. “What are you writing this year?”

“Oh, I’m not likely to. I did it once about six years ago.” she says. “I have a bunch of good ideas, but I don’t have the time.”

Predictably, that means the focus goes back to me shortly after, because I have Ideas and Advice and Encouragement That You Should Play This Year. Nano is my passion, and I believe everyone should play at least once — if not more than once — because everyone has that lurking story in the back of their heads, triumphs, troubles,tasks, thoughts, tribulations, trout that traversed the trawler’s tail temporarily, those things. Tall tales. Truth, too.

At the end of one of those days, Lauren asked, “How come they never acknowledge me as an author like they do you? Do I suck that badly?”

“You didn’t show them your work.” I said. “You can’t know that they won’t like it until you show them, and the people you showed all liked it.”

“You didn’t like it.” she said.

“I did. I’m sorry you don’t think I liked it because I offered constructive criticism.”

“Well, I’m not a writer anyway.” she said.

Don’t be the Lauren, ladies and gentlemen. Write because you want to. Write because you have an amazing idea that’s half-baked — and understand that it’s okay to write a story that goes awry in the first chapter, as long as you follow the prose wherever it goes.

Don’t write because you need to be loved vicariously through your writing. I’ve written some of my best work when I was miserable, because pain is a crazy good resource to write out of sometimes.

Do write because you have a world you want to share, no matter how big or how small the space is. Do write because you want to finish the story, or at least take it for a spin around the block. Or the galaxy.

You never publish what you never write.

Nobody will ever see the house that you’re afraid to invite them over to visit. And when you decorate the walls with your art, be it imitations of the Masters or kid macaroni art, when you get your furniture of gleaming chrome and exquisite silks, stuff you, personally, might never be able to afford, but your characters can?

Don’t expect everyone who visits to want to move in. It’s your house of prose. You wrote it. You made the installment payments of 50,000 words or more (or occasionally less). Maybe the back rooms aren’t done. Maybe the roof has leaks that you didn’t see. Maybe the patio door is hung upside down. But it’s your home, the home of the tale you had to build from the ground up, and you ought to be proud of it.

You can always redecorate later, but you’ve got to turn the key in the lock and drag the readers in, first.

Build your first story, and you have the beginnings of a homeworld that is uniquely yours.

Static versus Round

Every storytelling aspect can be applied to real life, in different ways. Tropes, climax, conflict, heroes and anti-heroes, and, most of all, round (or dynamic) and static characters.

I found this particularly true for the round and static character explanation over the past several months, but it got more into the dynamics and elements of storytelling itself with some fundamental things changing or being different than normal.

Static characters are not typically in the forefront of the story, for example. Every main character I’ve read has had a change of heart or a change of life and has handled it differently in the end than they would have in the beginning. They are round, and called such for the change, the fact that they are always curving and turning when you zoom in on the lines.

I digress, the fact is that there is a shift in view or perspective for those dynamic characters, they learn and in turn their actions change.

Recently, though, I realized that a friend of mine hadn’t changed much or at all, and her perspective, her reactions, her general disposition had all remained the same. When asked a question lately that she’d been asked years ago, her answer was the same.

People who are immovable in many ways are usually the secondary or tertiary characters, or in the background somewhere. They matter less because the main storyline relies on a lot of change, it relies on conflict creating a different view, it’s why you read the story in the first place, to see how something progresses. The definition of progress is ‘movement to a goal or further to a higher stage.’ How do you get there if your sights are in the same place?

Could a story technically still survive with a static character in the front? It becomes more about their struggles and their daily life and how they handle it. Sure, because you’re highlighting the way of life, there’s a message in there somewhere.

Then again, if that’s all you wrote, wouldn’t your writing become very limited?

Someone who is not open to learning or change is stifling the ability to become a better version of themselves. I mean those who outright refuse.

There is a story to be told there, but, as the name suggests, dynamic characters have a lot more possibilities.

I have to admit that I’ve never met someone so stubborn and unwilling to change, someone so against the idea. In 25 years, I’ve met one or two who don’t fully grasp the concept of learning and being shaped by ideas and the world around them. They understand it plenty, but they refuse to let it take hold.

The thought had me wondering about main characters, about stories and novels, and how many of the main characters don’t budge, don’t change or get shaped by the way their world moves. What kind of story does a character like that make for?

In contrast, a lot of my characters tend to be like me in that they thirst for knowledge. Some, like secondary or tertiary characters, aren’t given that much dimension, so they remain static. So there’s a difference there between refusal and not being given the chance.

Usually, how you hear about static characters is by the fact that they aren’t the ones the story’s changing is directed at. They aren’t going through conflict. They simply look on from the sidelines. They are a stationary piece of the puzzle themselves.

Which reminds me of Welcome to Nightvale’s deep quote from the other day: “Death is only the end if you assume the story is about you.

Whether it’s a story you’re writing or your own story, static and dynamic characters are everywhere, and each have a place. Just as it is in what we write, our life has lessons for us, if we choose to see it that way. We are what the story makes us, if we’re willing to accept that.

What kind of character will you be?

-The Novice Wordsmith

Prompt: What’cha Got There?

Sometimes, we write ourselves into stale parts of the story, but we need to add length or depth to it still. Among many other things, if you have two characters together, you can indulge in a 20-questions conversation, or have someone get especially inquisitive about what they do on their off time.

While it adds to wordcount, it can also help you flesh out parts of the characters and their personalities, even if it strays somewhat off topic.

Find something related, or not, and jump on it. Are they in the middle of an action scene and can somehow wiggle in a pause? Or are they on a break from work or their typical antics and trying to relax? Maybe they’re reading a book in the middle of a coffee house and are being decidedly reflective about something– interrupt it. Have someone sit down beside them and ask them what they’re reading.

This also works for conversations that need to last but you’re running out of steam with. Find a different direction and run it as long as you can, until you find a way to hook in.

For a more specific prompt , you can start with, “So about that _____.”

– The Novice Wordsmith

NaNoWriMo 2014: Week 1 Update

Holy crap, this year is so much different than last and it’s only been four days.

As soon as midnight hit, I expected to feel the same exuberance, wanting to get out every possible word I could before I had to get to sleep early for work in the morning, and just outright indulge in it. Instead, I found myself nervous, stalling, and uncertain.

My wordcount at least is keeping up with where I was last time, somewhat, but I’m going fully chronological this time and not straying from the time line. This feels more like the first year I did this event because there was a lot of uncertainty, but that year I waited until midday to start my novel, and I didn’t have a 90k win under my belt giving me a standard to work toward.

The way I’m going now at least, I may have 50k by the middle of the month. It’s not so unheard of to have people winning in the first week, but that just boggles me like crazy.

I’ve had a slew of problems, including wanting to switch novels and work on something else, not feeling confident in what I’m currently working on,  and feeling like I haven’t put any kind of thought or accuracy into language, barriers for it, and most of all, the personalities of each character.

This year is a hell of a lot tougher than last, which, honestly, makes me think of the comparison of NaNoWriMo versus marathons. The New York City Marathon in fact, was on November 2, if you didn’t hear, and I had a thought about it after hearing that some people didn’t finish it.

“Why wouldn’t you finish a marathon?” Same reason you couldn’t finish 50k words. It’s hard. There was no way of getting to it, but the thing is that you did it,  you put in a hell of a lot of effort, but in the end, you saw that you just couldn’t finish.

It is not unlike feeling like you stretched yourself too thin or that you didn’t pace yourself well enough, but it can be done. It will be, if you will it. If you find yourself needing to duck out to the side lines, don’t beat yourself up. It happens. You are not any less of a writer for it. Sometimes, we don’t have the time to commit, or the ability.

I intend to win this, though, and I know I can. Even if the wordcount updater refuses to work for me. Which, to my knowledge, they are still working on, I think, for anyone who’s curious.

Ugh. Okay. Back to writing. Happy wordcount to all who are doing this! And good luck!

– The Novice Wordsmith

Guest Post: Pain and Penning it Out

Some of the best writing of my life came from when I was in a lot of pain, and I didn’t want to write.   But I had a journal then, and sometimes from great pain came great inspiration.  It’s a lot easier to describe pain when you’re in it — it’s kinda like method acting in that you understand how it feels because you’re feeling it.

Now, I’m not condoning getting smashed out drunk, or taking drugs, or causing bodily harm to yourself or someone else to experience it first hand just so you can write about it, but rather, to take advantage of any pain you’re currently in to sort it out in words.
There’s a stress reduction method called ‘journaling the problem’ — it’s effectively writing out what’s bothering you so that way you quit internalizing it.

Write with the freedom of knowledge that you can delete anything you write at the end, though to be effective, you’ll want to keep it instead, so you can see where you’ve been and how you’ve fared since then.
Art sometimes imitates life.  In that sense, you can characterize a situation in a story by giving your characters the ability to handle a similar situation — do they do better or worse?   Do they take a different path with different choices?
Then there is the aspect of physical and emotional pain, and what it does to your ability to cope.    Heroes should not be able to hop out of bed hours after being shot, and a sprained ankle doesn’t just impair running away from zombie hordes, but often prevents you from even standing on it.   It can last for days, too.
Then there are moods; high and low, angry and sad, happy and excited, confused and contrite.   Using the idea of ‘show don’t tell’ in another form, how do you describe feeling blue?
“Inherently, I didn’t give a damn what happened to her.   She was having one of her patented meltdowns, the kind that made her unpleasant to be around, because she would make these unreasonable demands on you, your time, and your efforts, and then treat you like you were the crappiest friend a girl could have.
Today wasn’t a day I could deal with that sort of crisis.   I was having one of those days where I just wanted to go back to bed, even though I wasn’t tired, and the idea of pulling the pillows up on top of me and blocking out anything but their comforting weight and semi-concealment sounded really appealing.
But that would require energy and effort, and braving the wrath of my boss, who frowned on ‘taking mental health days’ because Sally, down the hall, used that as an excuse to take a trip to Cancun.”
Realize that your mind and mood are like a place in a way; and so is your physical “state”, to turn a phrase.    The next time you get down, or really high up, don’t just visit.  Write a journal entry about the experience,  take mental pictures, that sort of thing — and start your library of experiential learning ideas that can form a ready-made reference for the next time you put your characters through a similar situation.  Treat anything you can experience outside of your  normal baseline as a possibility, even something as ordinary as working up a sweat:
Ira shambled back to his chair, letting gravity drag him back into it as he felt the blood still pounding in his ears.   He grabbed clumsily at the sports bottle full of tepid water from the water cooler and chugged it;  his face felt hot and his shirt was soaked in several places.   He peeled it away from his chest and swiped underneath with the gym towel in an attempt to get dry; it didn’t work very well, since his body just produced sweat faster than he could blot it up.
“Next time… walk.”  he told himself as sweat dripped down his nose.   “Running in this weather is a good way to get yourself in the ER.”
Good notes form the beginnings of an outline checklist item.    The written word has more power when it comes to telling a story if you do the homework to relate what it felt like to you when it happened to you, instead of just expressing a condition in a few words.   It also makes you think of alternatives to reusing tropes and trope expressions:
Before: “He labored at the giant novel through blood, sweat, and tears.”    (Me: “I’ve worked on novels.   It’s not like that at all!”)
After:  He labored at the giant novel late into the night, until his fingers were aching from all the typing, and he was having trouble focusing on the screen.   His mind kept wandering off, as if to tell him he ought to have been in bed hours ago, and he’d retyped the same typo four times in a row.
Bottom line:  Make the pain fit the deed.   Take notes on anything that you might find interesting to write about later.   You never know when you’ll be able to use it.