Wednesday, August 27, 2014

On Characters: How to flesh them out and keep them organized

When I wrote my first novel, I still had quite a bit of learning to do. I consider the entire process one big educational experience. When I wrote my first draft, I didn't feel like I knew my characters very well. As a result, some scenes were difficult to get right. Reactions and dialogue didn't seem genuine.

For the second draft, I decided to go through the process of fleshing out the characters and as one would imagine, had a much easier time writing after that. The experience taught me that writing without fleshing out one's characters is like marrying a stranger. You just don't know what you're getting yourself into.

For my current writing project, I decided to start on the right foot. Not only did I want to get to know my characters, but I knew that I needed to keep this information organized.

Main Characters: I did some research online and found several character worksheets. They usually vary a little bit, but I took from them what I needed. Most character worksheets include things like first childhood memory, character's biggest secret, pet peeves, etc. A lot of this won't go into the book, but it helps you to get to know the characters and create better dialogue, reactions, etc. To stay organized, I keep a worksheet for each separate character saved on my computer in a file folder.

I consider my "main" characters any individual who experiences growth throughout the story. Obviously there will be certain characters that pop in and out and don't necessarily need the same treatment. That brings me to...

Secondary Characters: For these smaller roles, I personally don't feel that a worksheet is really necessary, though you do need to make some decisions. At the very least, you need to know last names, ethnicity, hair and eye color, and a basic cultural/education/financial background.

Once I've figured out all the details for each character, I write the most important ones on flashcards. Sometimes when I'm writing I can easily forget certain details. The flash cards are a quick, easy reminder when I need them.

Now that I've got the characters under my belt, I'm well on my way to my first draft. I'll keep you all updated with my progress. So far so good!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

On Musical Inspiration: Great Writing Songs

A lot of writers talk about their favorite writing soundtracks and for good reason. Music stirs up so many emotions that help when you are brainstorming different plot points or character reactions.

Personally, I use a project-by-project method when building a playlist. When I start something new, I'm automatically on the lookout for great songs to spark different emotions that I'll need when writing. I love YouTube because I can make myself an inspiration playlist and just sit back and let the creativity flow.

I thought it might be fun to share some of my all-time favorite writing soundtracks and some that are inspiring my current work.

  • Finding Neverland - Tempo varies, but a lot of great piano work that always tends to sweep me away.
  • Edward Scissorhands - I love the entire soundtrack, but there is one score in particular that pulls at my creative heart strings every time. 
  • One Tree Hill - Whether or not you are a fan of the show, if you are looking for great songs then definitely keep their soundtracks in mind. What I love about tv show soundtracks are the diversity they bring, often showcasing talent you wouldn't have heard otherwise.
  • Vampire Diaries - The song selections on the show are superb and very fitting to the mood they portray on each episode. Right now I find mysel listening to a lot of their songs to get into certain moods for my current project.

That's all I have right now. Does anyone have any recommendations for soundtracks or songs?

Saturday, August 16, 2014


There was a tree that stood alone
It had been split in two
With fortitude it lingered
Past the bolt that shot it through

In winter, rain, storm or shine
Both halves stood fixed by roots
The left side weak and broken
The right tall and absolute

The seasons passed
The summer went
And soon snow piled high
On top the left side hanging low
Beneath the harsh cold sky

Its branches snapped
Its bark howled too
The right side lost control
The left side landed, roots exposed
It died a half made whole

- C.R. Shuler

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Don't Judge a Book By It's Word Count

There's a topic that's been on my chest for awhile now that I felt like I should finally talk about. That is the subject of word count.

In school I had a class where we were required to write a complete novel at 50,000 words. The idea was that if we had a completed novel under our belts we could either revise and add more to it later or learn from the process for future work.

As it turned out, I really enjoyed writing mine and decided I wasn't finished with it. Based on what everyone was saying, I knew that I had a lot of work to do to get it "ready." I still remember a talk I had with a colleague awhile back who shall also remain nameless. I told him I had written a book and he asked how many pages it was.

255, I replied. 55,000 words.

He shrugged, unimpressed. "Oh, so a short story."

Mind you, he was not a writer. In that moment, I felt a strong urge to question him on his literary merits. But I remained calm. I simply assumed that I had to double the length of my novel for anyone to take it seriously.

What is crazy to me is that in all that time, I didn't stop to question this advice or do serious research on the matter. I also didn't stop to question whether appropriate word count was different by genre or target audience.

So I rewrote. I wrote until I could write no more. I wrote until I had a novel of over 100,000 words. At the time, I thought, "Well that ought to impress ol' Judgy Pants!"

But then I started doing the research...and it was a bit disconcerting. As it turned out, and is probably no surprise to my fellow writers, that the new adult genre lingers at around 75K or under.

It's also probably not a surprise to anyone that this was my reaction:

Did I learn a lesson? Of course I did! Always do your research and do what feels right for your story. That being said, I am in a bit of a sticky situation. 

As it turned out, the rewrite was completely necessary and actually greatly enhanced the quality of the story. As I attempted to add "volume" to my novel, I found that the second plot did, in fact, add an extra layer of depth to the story. Without it, I don't think my novel would feel complete. At the same time, will agents automatically dismiss it because of its length?

It's possible I'm on a uphill journey here, but I have faith in readers. I believe readers read for the story, and not the page count. After all, we didn't sit through all of the Harry Potter books 'cause they were novellas did we? 

Has anyone else had a similar experience? Are you having trouble selling your novel because of its word count?

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Ruthless Writer

"Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have "essential" and "long overdue" meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance. I must therefore guard the time allotted to writing as a Hungarian Horntail guards its firstborn egg."

J.K. Rowling

Amazing quote by J.K. Rowling which hits the nail right on the head. It seems whether you write full time or not, one can never seem to get enough hours to actually sit down and put fingers to keyboard.

As for myself, I work a full time job and write on certain nights and weekends. I am always saying to myself where does the time go?

I've recently started using a pretty strict schedule, mapping out windows of time for certain tasks. As we all know, writing isn't just writing, it's a ton of other things as well like networking with peers, doing your research and staying current on social media. 

The problem with my schedule is that it seems someone (family member, friend or colleague) always seems to request the block of my time that just so happens to be designated to the actual writing. 

So what do you do?

You can either be "ruthless" as Ms. Rowling puts it or you can be flexible. I've tried the ruthless technique, which to be honest is hit or miss. I feel as though I always end up damaging a relationship of some kind. However if I am too flexible, I end up losing that writing time altogether since I can't slack off on other tasks to catch up.

I am reminded of a quote by Steven King in which he says that a writers desk should always be placed in the corner of the room, letting his life take center stage. I'm paraphrasing, but I believe his point was that as writers we have to make time for life.

So I'll be honest and say that I'm not really clear where the line is: when to be ruthless versus when to take a chill pill and let a little "life" in.

Does anyone have an answer to this? Are you ruthless with your writing time or do you take the more flexible approach? Does it depend on who is asking?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Ever feel like you're stuck in the 90s?

Anyone remember this one?

Now that I have Netflix, I find myself often watching old shows and movies from my childhood. Sometimes I thank the heavens no one can see my watch list (they can't, right??) for fear of embarrassment.

I'm not exactly sure what my frequent perusing of the Children & Family Movies section says about me. Perhaps it's a yearning for simpler times, when the most difficult, complex question was whether or not to be nice to your sister. Funny, that same dilemma still creeps its way into my adult life.

Or maybe the shows and movies of my childhood were just plain better than those of today. If I were to sit down right now and watch something on Nickelodeon, I would be bored to tears and turn the channel in 2 minutes. Yet I can watch Harriet the Spy (and even, gulp, Power Rangers: The Movie) quite happily. Were the movies of my day more universal or do I enjoy them because I associate movies of my era with fond feelings of innocence?

Why can't I quit you?

Does anyone thinks it's weird to watch the movies and television shows of your elementary years or is it just a fun trip down memory lane?