Tag Archives: inspiration

Child Care-acters (It’s a Pun!)

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Kids are funnier, more creative, and more astute than they are sometimes given credit for. As an adult it can be hard to remember how to think like a kid, making it harder to get inside the mind of a child character. So how do we improve the way we represent children in fiction?

Spend Time with Them

The best way to get to know someone is to spend time with them, right? Even if you’re not “a kid person”, spending some time with them can do wonders for getting those writer wheels turning. Take notes on the conversations you have. Who are more creative and honest than people too young for a verbal filter? I’ve heard some of the funniest, saddest, and purest one-liners while babysitting, and have been able to spin them into great dialogue, in some cases dialogue that isn’t even between children. Those little buggers can be wise.

Know the Vernacular 

With child characters, this means being able to distinguish the dialogue of a five year old from a ten year old, etc. I have read stories that underestimate the difference in children’s vernacular as they develop, and the result is unrealistic dialogue or inconsistent/flat characters. Again, exposure can be a huge help. And while we often want to believe in the innocence of children’s language, the truth is that by upper elementary a kid probably has a more colorful vocabulary than some parents might want or expect. In writing this is often used for humor, but if it fits someone’s environment or personality it can also be reflective of realistic characterization (think Stranger Things or the “Bleep” episode of the TV show Arthur).

Recognize Their Impact

Child characters are often used to empathetic ends. We see this when they are used as foils for jaded or angry adults. Their innocence and black-and-white view can diffuse tense situations, likes Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, or increase tension by obliviously wandering in on an already taut scene. However, child characters can also reveal the darker parts of human nature, like in Lord of the Flies. Either way, they can provide a lot of insight into what it means to be human. But they should also be understood as more than just a literary symbol. They need to be well-rounded characters and relevant to the story. I think Laura from the movie Logan is a great (if slightly intense) example. If kids shouldn’t be talked down to then as characters they shouldn’t be “written” down to either. Let’s give credit where credit it due.

Happy Writing!

Question of the week: What was your favorite children’s book/series growing up?

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A Little Encouragement

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Happy Friday, friends! The weekend is here and with it, here’s a little extra encouragement as you work on that best-seller. Nothing is quite as demotivating as pitching an idea to someone who replies, “Hey that’s cool! Your story sounds kind of like…reminds me of….etc.” Sometimes it can feel like everything’s already been said, that your story isn’t worth putting out there, but fight that little brain demon and keep at it!

Want to know a secret? Some of the most mind-blowing characters we see and think, “Wow, I could never create someone as devastatingly amazing at that,” aren’t quite as stand-alone as we think. For example, Batman was not the world’s first mysterious and shadowy crime detective to make a hobby of stalking police commissioners. Much of his character draws from the 1930’s radio drama, The Shadow. (Which is actually super fun to listen to if you like podcast-type stories. You can find episodes free online.) So yes, sometimes we do need to stand on the shoulders of the storyteller who have come before us. But by incorporating our own voices we are owning our traditions and remaking the myths that have been the foundation of narrative for centuries. You’ve got this!

Happy Writing!

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A Guide to Preserving Literary Parents

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(Photo taken from Flickr)

When it comes to protagonists, we all know the drill–child loses parents at a tender age, discovers the world is not as friendly as it seems, and eventually becomes her own hero, cobbling together a family-of-circumstance along the way. Don’t get me wrong, I love these types of stories. They’re often my favorite. But, my fellow writers, where does it end? Will no one save the parents?

Parents as Motivators 

The most basic role of parent figures in fiction is probably that of the motivator. Often in YA it’s their death that leads to the main character’s emotional struggle. (For example, in classic Disney films parents have what I  would guess to be a 3% chance of surviving past the first twenty minutes.) But it doesn’t have to be this way! Living parents can be just as effective at motivating protagonists. Reuniting with estranged family can serve as a strong motivation or end goal. In my novel, Marley is offered the chance to find her parents as extra incentive to comply with the antagonist’s scheme. On the other hand, parents can also serve the “prove you wrong” purpose, leading the underestimated heroes to take up a cause to prove their worth.

Parents as Protagonists

Sometimes young writers such as myself forget that a parent can function as a stand alone character, or even the hero. In this capacity, they are the ultimate protectors. Case in point, the movie Taken. At the same time, parental characters don’t have to be confined by their guardian role. They can go on their own adventures, fight their own personal battles, and be their own comic relief. Two words. Dad jokes.

Parents as Antagonists

Ah, villains. How we love thee. Although a bit cliché, parental antagonists are fantastic, creating joyous inner conflicts that have given us gems like:

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Sorry, Darth. Not today. Of course, there are times when children fall in line with the evil whims of their parents as well, such as the case of Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series. The turmoil between the will of a parent and a desperate to please hero is absolute gold. Not only does it increase tension, but it ups the stakes of the protagonist’s success. Basically, fictional parents rock, so let’s think twice before casting them out to sea.

Happy Writing!

Question of the week: Who are you favorite fictional parents?

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Part of That World

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Every book lover has had that “Little Mermaid” moment. That moment where we fall so deeply in love with a fictional world that we’d die happy if we could spend just ten minutes there. But what happens when we’re not just experiencing fictional worlds? What happens when we’re creating them? Creating a fictional world can be challenging, but not to fear fellow mermaids! Here are a few starting tips to leave readers wishing they were part of that world.

Defining Borders 

As discussed in an earlier post, setting is a powerful tool, so it’s important to use it to its full potential. When designing a fictional world, making borders is a great place to start.Building land-based borders can help define the edges of a character’s world. These edges can be limited to something as small as a single street, or as vast as a universe. There may be entire continents that make up your world, but the ones that really matter are the ones that effect characters.

There are other ways to define borders as well. Unless it’s a Doctor Who-ish world where anything can happen at any time, there are usually basic laws to how things work. Consider: What are the physical limitations of the story and characters? For example, in my novel some people like Rumpelstiltskin use magic, but they can’t go around doing whatever they want. There are lines that cannot be crossed, which adds drama by creating consequences for people who try to overstretch their limits.

Creating Cultures

Who lives in your world is a large part of its construction. What do these people value and how does it shape their world? Do they blow apart mountains to get to the other side because they value efficiency, or do they avoid the mountains because of folklore? Culture will determine how characters interact with their environment and each other. When considering creating fictional cultures, it can be difficult to find a place to start. Research can help. I often borrow aspects from already existing cultures and integrate pieces into my work to form something new.

Often culture sculpts character. Much of a character’s personality depends on the values she’s gained from her culture. In many cases, it is then her backstory, the specific events throughout her life, that decides whether a she accepts or rejects those cultural values as her own. Culture can then be used as a form of support or conflict for a character.

Happy Writing!

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Namely, This

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Congratulations! You have created a masterful, swoon-worthy, fully embodied character who is ready to take on whatever fresh hell you can throw at them (because let’s be honest, driving a character up a tree and seeing how they’ll get themselves down is more fun than it probably should be). But wait! This magnificent hero is, alas, nameless, and it’s hard to sing heroic ballads when you don’t have something to call them.

Sweetest Name I Ever Heard

When considering names, the two most important characters are, naturally, the protagonist and antagonist. If working with a large cast though, it’s also worth thinking big picture. How does a collection of names sound and interact together on the page?

As a reader, I can get confused when too many characters have names that sound similar. This happens when the majority of names start with the same letter, have the same vowel pattern, or are too lengthy. If too many names are too long, it tires out my brain and I start filling in the names with white-noise. Not good, right?

I’m not saying we as writers should use every letter of the alphabet, or that we can’t use long names. But I find it helpful to think about the overall feel of the story when choosing names. It helps me to keep readers in mind as I sculpt the characters I want them to love.

Authenticity 

A characters name should reflect the culture of the world they live in. Lately, I’ve done quite a bit of research in the name of, well, names. This is so my characters more accurately reflect the time periods they live in. In terms of fantasy and sci-fi genres, this part can be a little trickier, but it comes down to a matter of authenticity.

Take the show Stranger Things. It takes place in a small town in the 1980s, and follows four middle school boys named Will, Mike, Dustin, & Luke. Fitting, right? It creates expectations for the boundaries of their world, the type of story being told. But then there’s Eleven. She completely shifts the tone of the story. Her name solidifies her as something “strange”, something out of place, and the audience holds onto that sense of uncertainty for the remainder of the story.

Essentially, character names can add to the tone of the work. They can also reinforce the culture and setting. It may seem a subtle detail, but it really can work wonders in terms of creating a more believable world in the context of fiction.

Does the Name Make the Character?

A character’s name rarely makes or breaks a story, unless it’s a piece that relies heavily on symbolism. (You want to talk symbolic names, read Catch-22. Also, it’s a fantastic book, so you should really just read it anyway.) Recently, I’ve been more mindful about what exactly I’m looking for when researching names. So far, it’s helped me get a much better grasp on not only the fictional culture I created, but on the nature of my characters themselves. The truth is, trying to name a character based on a cool, underlying meaning isn’t always necessary. Sometimes, Doug is just Doug.

As much as it broke my heart, I recently forced myself to change the names of some of my main characters. It’s not that I didn’t like the names. I wanted a cohesive world for my characters to live in, and one way to do that is through names. While I’m not rolling out Marley and Holden‘s new digs just yet, I will say that changing their names has added an additional layer of believability to the world I built for them.

Happy Writing!

Question of the week: What are some of your favorite characters’ names?

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The Beauty of Backstory

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If you’ve read my earlier post, Backstory Basics, then you know I’m a sucker for a good backstory. Welcome to part two. Backstory is a perfect way to reveal character, create suspense, and tie together events. But that begs the question, how much is too much backstory? How do you decide what’s important enough to put in the final product? Let’s discuss.

Strategize

When backstory is used is just as important as what information is revealed, so info-drop wisely. Too soon and it might lower emotional impact or kill the element of surprise. Too late in the game and it may feel irrelevant or confusing. A character’s past is what made them who the reader loves (or loves to hate), and that makes their history beautiful. Let readers settle into a character and get to know them as they are before taking time out for a flashback.

Also consider how to go about info-dropping. The use of dialogue is an easy and subtle way to hint at backstory, but if you plan on showing rather than telling, it’s important to look at the how. Will you seamlessly weave childhood memories into narration, or cut away from the action the second after the gun fires? (Two books I love that do an outstanding job of building momentum through backstory are Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora and Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows.)

Over the last few months I have gotten back to writing my novel in-progress. I thought it was done and ready for the editing stages, but after two rounds of editing I realized it didn’t have quite the right emotional punch. My problem? Too little backstory, too late.

Don’t Be a Drama Queen

Be a queen bee. Be a dancing queen. DON’T be a drama queen (guilty as charged). Unfortunately, I have a bad habit of this when it comes to wrangling up a powerful backstory. Let me explain. When I say I love backstory, I usually mean the dark, heart-wrenching,  So That’s Why You’re a Douche Canoe  kind. Basically, I focus on villains, like my novel’s main man, Rumpelstiltskin. But not every piece of character history needs to be gritty and life-altering, and actually, it shouldn’t be.

To create a realistic character we as writers must look at them from every angle. So by all means, reveal the tragic past, but don’t forget to make them human. Unless your character is a straight up psychopath, there’s going to be something that makes them smile besides dastardly deeds. Even an antagonist has a fondest memory, a favorite joke, a personal quirk. Maybe the guy likes puns. Whatever it is, remember not all backstory has to be drama-filled. Small moments matter too.

Love it or Leave it

It’s the moment of truth. You have created THE ultimate character history, from his first steps to this exact moment. So, how much do you keep? What’s most important? I’m of the writerly persuasion who sometimes ends up with enough backstory to warrant a whole freaking prequel, but I don’t want to write a prequel, so instead I have to go panning for gold.

First look for the pieces you love most. If you’re not ecstatic about your work, then readers won’t be either. If the parts you love most are irrelevant, try to revise it in a way that includes the information your readers need. If all else fails, keep what you created and recycle it for another character, another story. We’re writers, after all. Artists and wordsmiths! There are always more stories to tell.

Question of the Week: What’s you’re favorite kind of backstory?

Happy Writing!

For more on backstory, check out this article by Writer’s Digest

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What to Read: Enrique’s Journey

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Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario


Summary

At the tender age of five, Enrique and his sister are left behind when their mother travels from Honduras to the United States to seek better opportunities for her impoverished family. Enrique grows up aching to be reunited with his mother and to have an answer to the burning question: If she left, does she really love him?  Sonia Nazario details the brutal, dangerous journey of immigrant children desperately trying to reach their families in United States.

Overall Impressions

All stories challenge us, but nothing challenges a perspective like the stories of real people. Nazario puts faces to the controversial topic of immigration. She depicts the horrors some immigrants face as they struggle to break the cycle of poverty many are trying to escape. Others are children, too young to understand, looking to reunite their families. I found the book to be incredibly educational, inspirational, and relevant to today’s societal issues. I would recommend it to nonfiction readers and anyone eager to expand their understanding of immigration.

Happy Reading!

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What to Read: Yes Please

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Yes Please by Amy Poehler


Summary

Amy Poehler recounts her journey to fame, motherhood, and self-discovery in her usual heartfelt, bright-eyed manner. She discusses her time spent with the Upright Citizens Brigade and the cast of SNL. She tells life like it is. Full of insight into the world of writing, directing, and straight up people-ing, Poehler’s book is a glimpse into the life of an ordinary woman accomplishing extraordinary things.

Overall Impressions

First off, I LOVE AMY. (Can I call you Amy? I’m going to call you Amy. Maybe wishing to be friends will someday make it so.) She’s a force to be reckoned with across the board- writing, acting, comedy. As for Yes Please, I enjoyed getting to look into the life of someone I admire. Well I couldn’t always connect personally with her stories, I walked away feeling entertained and enlightened on a world I didn’t know. I imagine as I get older I will go back to this book and find myself nodding along to much of Amy’s advice. For now, I can only say this: Yes please, and thank you.

Happy Reading!

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Writing Prompt

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February 5, 2016 · 10:35 pm

Why Write?

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As time has gone by, I’ve found that writing can feel exclusive to some people. I’ve heard it from people ages ten to forty to six-five: “English class is/was the worst. I hate writing.” But it’s a closely held belief of mine that writing is for everyone. The question is not can you write, but how do you write? Storytelling is important. It gives us a way to express ourselves creatively, to voice our opinions, and learn about ourselves. Below are just a few writing mediums that can offer exactly that.

Poetry & Lyrics

When people think of writing and self-expression of feelings, many minds instantly jump to poetry. I’ve coupled song lyrics within this category because often they can be a form of poetry in themselves. We can be deeply moved by the beautiful sounds of the music and vocals, but my favorite songs usually speak to me through the story their lyrics tell. Both poetry and lyrics are excellent forms of writing because they can be as short or as lengthy as desired and leave room for freeform writing. (Spoken word poetry is phenomenal. If you need an example, look up Sarah Kaye or Ruddy Fransisco IMMEDIATELY!)

Novels & Short Stories

Longer pieces are more my style (see Meet Marley Emmons). They allow the writer to dive into multiple subjects at length and express opinions or pose questions without directly confronting the audience. Sometimes it’s a method of working through our thoughts in a tangible way. At the same time they can be fun and imaginative, pushing the bounds of reality.

Essays & Journals

For those who are less inclined to works of fiction, essays and journals are another way to process and create physical representations of feelings, arguments, and opinions. They can be about research, everyday life and struggles, and so much more. I’m a big believer in journaling. It doesn’t have to be daily or even weekly. But, as someone with a family history of Alzheimer’s, I keep a journal for practicality, because there may come a day when I won’t remember my own story.

The possibilities of writing are endless. The trick is finding what medium suits a particular person. It’s also important to keep in mind that not that all writing requires an audience. Writing is for the individual as much as it is for the reader.

Happy Writing!

 

 

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