In Place of Your Character

I know everyone has their own methods of how they write their characters. I have written in previous posts of how to make your character’s more real by adding personalities, flaws, and importance to write of the characters age level in regards to the readability of your own writing.

I want to take it a bit further with a suggestion that actually has helped me in the past. Physically surround yourself with the character’s situation. I don’t mean the situation as in trying to mirror the drama in your own life or actually go sword fight on a ship somewhere. However, I do mean to physically get out of your writing area and to explore the world.

Examples:

  • If your novel is a period dated story, then some evening, turn off your lights and write by hand in candlelight. Describe what your thoughts and feelings are with what you are experiencing. Does it make the area seem more relaxed, does it enhance other senses, etc. Consider making a small list to try and focus on what you want your character to think or feel before you do the exercise.
  • Also, go explore antique shops and ask the owners if they have any pieces for the specific era your novel occurs. Go to a library and talk to the librarians or county records buildings with the genealogy. The majority of the time, those places will be able to give you contact information of local historians. Those historians not only know the local history, but since they love history so much, they are almost a walking encyclopedia who has studied other eras.
  • If your character is in school, again go to a library. Try to remember what it was like in your own school library while you’re there. You may even run into teachers or retire teachers. Go to a few of the local high school sports games and write what it feels like to be there.
  • If it is a murder mystery, serious contact your local police. See if you can do a tour or talk to a retired or active police officer. Depending on the community and restrictions, they even may let you do a ride along.
  • If your story is a western, go to the farmer’s market. There will be a farmer there who always knows someone they can direct you to that can answer your questions. Or the local feed mills are always the hot place to get information.

There was a story I wrote years ago that I wanted a more real life take from, so I took up archery. Trust me, I can tell you in detail how horrible a bruise someone will get if the string snaps back wrong. I can now proudly say that I have hit bull’s-eye several times.

Any of these examples and more should be considered. HOWEVER, you MUST take notes. You may remember the experience for several weeks down the road, but you will start forgetting the smaller things such as answers you may have received or even the meaning of certain lingo of the industry.

My motto: keep writing, keep learning.

L.R. Mauck

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The Colorful Story

This past season, many of us got to enjoy movies such as It’s A Wonderful Life and Miracle On 34th Street.  These movies are great. There’s no doubt in that fact. There is a charm to them that modern Hollywood can not replicate.

However, writing a story in black and white may sound appealing to a few authors and readers. It’s a challenge that a few writers wish to tackle to try setting their story apart from all the others trying to get published. From being too descriptive, this can be the exact opposite. The story comes off empty or lacking. Yes, we know that leaves in the summer are green and the sky is blue. I’m not saying that you have to detail every little detail. But throw in a few colors here and there for added appeal.

For example:

Amanda pulled out a clean sheet of paper. It had been a while since she wrote any of her stories. The blank page stared back at her, taunting her with every thought she was unable to put into words. Her hazel eyes centered on the wall, unseeing. Then slowly, the words flowed across the paper in small rivers of blue ink. Too soon was the paper full of her thoughts. Amanda sat back with a warm smile on her lips, proud of her accomplishment.

Yes, this could be classified as more of a tell rather than a show paragraph since I didn’t get into detail regarding what were her thoughts or the actual words she wrote, but I hope that you could clearly see the plain white paper in your mind with blue words filling it. I chose hazel eyes because I’m sure the majority of you pictured her with brown hair. There’s a subconscious connection that I’m not sure if most realize when they think of the relation between eye and hair color. Typically, I think of green eyes with someone with red hair. Blue eyes with blond hair. Hazel with brown hair. Dark brown or “chocolate” with black hair. I don’t know if there is a study for the relations between them, but they are the most common pairings.

I’m sure you noticed that I did not tell you the coloring of her clothes or the wall or even what room she was in. If there was more to the scene, then they would’ve been included. The main focus was for the character to start her writing. Nothing more was needed.

Be mindful of the balance between being too descriptive and being undisruptive. You can do the same with other areas such as setting up a scene, body language, dialogue, and the detail of the people.

I hope everyone had a good holiday and a happy New Year.

L. R. Mauck

Breaking Gender Norms in Writing

I have written previously for you as a writer to break outside your comfort zone to push your borders. Now, I want you to consider social norms for genders. Before any of you put up your red flags and think this is something political social issue – please continue reading.

Society is generally divided into male vs. female. There is the political movements of equal pay and gender equality, etc. But we still have gender reveal parties for expecting parents – blue for boys and pink for girls, etc. I want you as a writer to break one of the social norms within your book. It can be something major with a woman as a C.E.O. or something minor as in a husband who can’t open a jar, but his wife can.

I am a female, but I do not consider of myself as feminist. I am just me. I am single, living and paying for my own home by a full time job. I do have a college education by holding a bachelors and three associate degrees. This all looks great to an outsider as a successful young woman – but I still call my dad when something breaks. Just this week, my bathroom sink trap pipe rusted through and nasty water from a clog went everywhere. I cleaned it up, but my dad came to the rescue to changed out the pipe. However, their was still a clog. My dad is a farmer. He’s a hard worker but he never accepted the idea that woman can’t do maintenance. Yes, he fixed the pipe, but wanted me to take care of the clog. I did. I got it cleaned out and then felt empowered enough to tackled the slow draining valve in the toilet – I fixed it to!!

Growing up, my parents normally had my brother out working the fields and helping fix the tractors. My sister and I helped around the house and worked in the garden. Yes, these are your typical gender norms. But, I know how to drive a tractor, cut lumber, hang drywall, install ceiling fans, has shot arrows bulls eye a few times, and stack hay bales. As a child, I had both Barbie dolls and toy tractors. My brother had a baby doll as a child, but hunts deer when he was a teen. Now he works on semi’s trucks and is a great father to two small boys. My biggest shock was I once had a flat tire and called dad. He arrived and looked me dead in the eye to say “Well, what are you waiting for – get out the jack”. He then proceeded to talk me through changing a tire. These small life lessons do not minimize the fact that I am a female, but that I can fend for myself.

So should your characters. Don’t limit their story by placing them in strict social norms. Give them their own accomplishments and let them grow as individuals. Yes, there are scientific proven facts that do define certain gender roles, but that does not mean everything.

Another Twilight reference – the main character, Bella Swan, was a truck driving, motorcycle riding, cliff diving, shop hating, lovesick teenage girl. Hunger Games had Katniss Everdeen who is a hunting, fighting, compassionate female who finds herself as the leading face of a war. Harry Potter defeated Voldemore because of love.

Go back even into the classic literature: Jane Austen broke multiple norms – Pride and Prejudice had Elizabeth Bennet who was out spoken and fierce in her beliefs and understandings. Emma Woodhouse in Emma proclaimed that she would never marry even though women were expected to marry. Sense and Sensibility had Eleanor and Marianne as polar opposites. Eleanor was quiet and refine, but loved just as deeply as Marianne believed she did, even though Marianne was outspoken and drama.

Read Romeo and Juliet. It is not just a tragic play, but had Romeo murdering Juliet’s extended family members, a marriage betrayal, suicide, and more. This was written back when it had to be extremely shocking for the audience to witness it.

Don’t limit your characters and more importantly, don’t limit yourself. Keep writing and keep learning.

L.R. Mauck

Story Locations

The story location is very important to your plot. It can deal with culture references or deal with a certain era in time’s development for the plot. But I would like to take this a step further. Please bear in mind of how many locations your story obtains.

What I mean is, if the characters are constantly moving from city to city or jumping back and forth between houses/jobs/etc the reader may become confused or even  you the writer may forget where the characters are supposed to be at certain times within the plot outline.

Keep it simple. Most stories center around one locations with a few other locations woven into the beginning or end of the story. For example: consider Twilight by Stephenie Myers. The story begins in Phoenix, Arizona but quickly moves to Forks, Washington. There is a few smaller places mentions, but the majority of the story takes place in Forks. Harry Potter stories mostly center around Hogwarts, but does include a few other locations such as London, Hogsmeade, Harry’s aunt and uncles house and the Weasley’s homes.

Other stories such as Of Men and Mice place the whole story within one location (the farm).

What about fantasy locations?

I know fantasy locations with made up worlds do involve more description. Books like Lord of the Rings or Eragon do deal with multiple locations within their series. The authors provided maps to coincide with the stories so the reader can see and follow the path the character’s take.

Fantasy locations do contain more descriptions of the scenes around the characters. A few ways to minimize the “tell” portion of the description is to slowly introduce the landscape or location around dialogue or action. I have read stories where the description becomes too much that it focuses on the pink veins within the red leaves and such that I completely forgot where the characters even were. Minimum is your friend with description because it allows your readers to use their own imagination. Also another way to minimize the telling is to only introduce a new location when introducing a new scene. Let the character along with the reader see each place as the story unfolds. If you try revealing the whole world in the first paragraphs of the first chapter, the reader will most likely be overwhelmed. I’m not saying successful books haven’t used this method, but it’s better to pace yourself as the writer and the story for the readers.

L. R. Mauck

Note: Sorry about the lack of updating this month. Sadly, my usb drive disappeared and now I feel lost with my blog outlines as well as my most currant wip’s.

 

Writing Sensory

When you are writing your story, there is an easy out of telling the reader what the character sees, hears, feels, etc. But telling is a big no. You, the writer, needs to bring the reader in so they can experience what the character is feeling. To do so, you need to write by appealing to those senses.

The senses are:

  • Taste
  • Touch
  • See
  • Hear
  • Smell

 

Seeing and hearing are some of the easiest writings. But how do you get across the other three without over doing it? Simple – space them out. Not every page or scene needs to have the character tasting food or smelling perfume. If there is a long span of dialogue and plot movement, slow a section down by adding in the character take a sip of water. Note how refreshing it is and how parched they were. Or have the character flipping through a book and suddenly they get a paper cut. Those are both small moments, but as humans, we all can relate to. We can mentally feel the stinging of the paper cut and see the bright red blood as it starts seeping from the wound. Or after a long bout of exercise, our lips are dry and capped. No amount of swallowing saliva will dull that sore ache in the back of the dry sore throat. The cool clean splash of water on the tongue is beyond refreshing.

These are only simple ideas but they add to the character and story by making them relatable and shows the story rather than telling.

For an exercise: Take your favorite book or the book you are currently reading and have a notebook at your side. Each time the author notes one of these senses, jot it down. You can see clearly just how important it is to apply to each of the senses.

L. R. Mauck

Stay Focus in Your Writing

Many writers will find themselves staring at their work, knowing they need to write, but suddenly, getting the house clean or fixing supper becomes more important. Their writing suffers in the mean time. I see this constantly on Twitter as many will even joke that they are turning off their phones and internet so they can focus on their writing, but instead post later that their dishes are clean and the house carpets were shampooed.

Yes, I believe there are times that we find ourselves falling into the trap of being intimidated by our own work or even lacking the inspiration needed to keep going. Then the lovely writer blocks appear and they are some of the worst things to happen to a story.

But you are a writer. If you are anything like me or several other writers, we can’t turn our brain’s off. Even in the writer’s block stage, our brain’s are thinking of other stories or key plot’s for the current story that is not ready to be written yet.

Here are a few ways I have worked through the distractions:

  1. Keep a timer next to your computer. I will set my timer to an hour or two hours at a time with a word count goal in mind. I must complete the word count in that time frame. If I accomplish it, then I get a reward of a coffee or dessert. If I don’t, then I reset the timer for another half hour and focus on reaching the goal word count. This method has yet to fail me on reaching the goal.
  2. If you are experiencing a writer’s block – there is only a couple of reasons why I believe you are dealing with this:
    1. Your story has become boring to you and that shows in your writing. It may be a slow point in the plot and you are lacking creativity or it may be that you are thinking of other points of the story. My only recommendation is to push through it. You may have to grit your teeth or change your outline, but it will pay off in the end. Anything that does not seem to sit with you in this period, ignore it and fix it later in the revision. All you need to do is focus on getting your story down.
    2. Another plot has come to the forefront and you can not focus on your current story because you want to pursue the new idea. My suggestion is to write down everything of the new story. You don’t necessary have to start writing it, but write down the plot. Maybe even start an outline. Some of my better plot’s come to me months later after I first thought of the idea. But focus on your current story while you are thinking of your other one. You’ve already done the hard work on your current story, keep at it.
  3. Join clubs to help your focus. The NaNoWriMo is starting in November. This is an online writer’s community that sets a goal for the writer’s to achieve. For the month of November, the goal is 50,000 words. You can track your progress online and interact with the supper groups on the website. Much of the twitter writer community is also involved in NaNoWriMo. I’m looking forward to working alongside many other’s next month.

For my Weekend Challenge – sign up for the NaNoWriMo and participate next month.

I wish you all luck in your writing progress. Keep writing, keep learning.

L.R. Mauck

Beginning the Rough Draft

I mentally picture Chevy Chase character in the 1988 movie Funny Farm where he’s sitting at his type writer. Chase types up a title page, then a chapter cover sheet, but he can’t write the first sentence. I’ve previously discussed outlines, character personalities, plots, dialogs, the climax, and etc. But the hardest part is actually starting your rough draft.

In the opening chapter, you need to lay the ground work of your plot, the point of view, and the introduction to your main character(s). Some books will start with memorable quotes or themes (the epigraph) prior to the start of the actual chapter (or before the prologue) – example Twilight with the Genesis quote – to lay the ground work for the story beginning. Other books start with a memorable opening of their own – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Charles Dickson in A Tale of Two Cities.

Do not be discouraged with trying to come up with something profound as an opening sentence, but focus first on just getting the story written. The rough draft is exactly that: rough. You do not need to focus on correct sentence, spelling, or if it even makes sense yet (though, it will help in your revisions if you do). It is your job to write and let your imagination flow. The worst thing for a writer is to have an amazing story, but unable to share it because they are stuck with the intro. Do NOT let it intimidate you.

Look at your outline closely, and if you are struggling, break down the outline with what you want to happen in your opening chapter. Then type along with the outline.

If you seriously can’t think of a way to open your story – paint your character doing something completely normal. Outline their average day then drop the bomb on them with the start of your story.

* Think of Harry Potter, the first book – the opening chapter only mention Harry as a relation, and that was trying to remember his name. It did outline a sub-character, the uncle, day at work, then slowly added the oddity that he missed at first, then started seeing as the day progressed.

Do not begin with “It was a warm summer day” or “The alarm rang, waking up” the character – those are cliche type openings. Stay away from cliche’s.

If your story calls for it, open with action. It will draw the reader in and they’ll want to keep reading to see what happens.

If none of these options work and you can’t think of an opening chapter then skip it and work on what you do have planned. You can always write in another chapter later, or through your revisions, you can edit what you do have written to make it your story start.

The goal with the rough draft is to get your story down. Fixing loop holes, and spelling can come later through the revisions.

Keep writing, keep learning.

L. R. Mauck