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Archive for March, 2012

Most stories are either plot driven or character driven. In my opinion, the success of Mad Men is because viewers love the characters. The writers have done a brilliant job of creating many interesting, complex, and deep characterizations. The casting is also well done. People tune in not just to see what happens next, but to find out what happens to the characters we identify with and care about.

The base is a piece of black opaque glass. Und...

Over water coolers and in restaurants people talk about what these characters wear, what they say, and how they act. We speculate on what they may do next. We feel we know them that well. The reason is amazing writing.

Writers know that making a character come alive for readers is an important skill. If the characters are dull and boring, who wants to read the book even if there is a plot. If you give your character interesting quirks we are drawn to them and remember them. If we know enough about them to understand why they do certain things, it makes us closer to that character.

How can we not love Joanie? She is so sexy and adventurous, but she is also so sweet and nurturing. Or, how about that charming silver fox Roger, who we like, despite the fact he drinks, smokes, and gets around too much. Then there is Pete Campbell who is whiny and never thinks he gets enough attention, but he is a hard worker and a good man at heart. Even when he cheated on his wife, he couldn’t help but tell her.And let’s not forget Megan who just enriched her character with “Zou Bisou Bisou.”

These are complex characters who seem real because we all have a better and worse side. Even a bad guy probably has something decent he’s done at some point. To make a character more interesting and easier to relate to they need to be rounded.

If you write, take some time and look at your characters carefully. See how you can deepen their personality, make them more interesting and memorable. It will make for a much better story.

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Monet’s Garden is one of the most famous places in the world. I visited his home and gardens in Giverny, France in early October. Not the optimum time to see this garden, but better than never. I spent several hours walking the paths and looking inside his home and work space.

The home and gardens were in terrible shape after WWII. No one had kept them up and time had taken its toll. They have since been restored to their former beauty.

His home was intriguing to me because of the use of color. All the shades were selected by Monet himself. From the beautiful blue kitchen to the yellow dining room, where so many people came to eat and drink with him, it was stunning.

The gardens were wonderful even in fall. It was so much fun to walk through the spaces I’d seen paintings, or pictures of. It’s a magical place.

Monet's "Water Lily Pond" in his gar...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monet, his garden, and home have influenced not only gardeners and artists, but also writers. Many books have been inspired by this enchanting place. So think of places that have caught your interest, or captivated you. Try setting a story there, or including it as part of your story. It might just be your inspiration.

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What If

Upside down house

Upside down house (Photo credit: Newtown grafitti)

One of the things you learn about writing is that stories begin with a premise. One way to figure out your premise is to start with the phrase, “what if.”

For example:

  • What if an alien and a human fell in love?
  • What if humans mutated back to apes?
  • What if houses were built with the roof on the ground?

If you want to learn more about how “what if” works when figuring out a story, check out this article.

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Most everything we write is composed of sentences. A sentence can be short or complex, but every sentence matters. This article in the New York Times talks about sentences and how important they are.

Image representing New York Times as depicted ...

Image via CrunchBase

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Another blog on WordPress has some beautiful pictures of flowers. They were taken in Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. They made me smile. I can’t wait to see flowers where I live, just a few more months.

Cornus Kousa flowers. Photo taken by me, May 2...

Cornus Kousa flowers. Longwood Gardens. (Photo Wikipedia)

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Brain 1

Brain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here is a fascinating article about how your brain reacts when reading, especially fiction. Apparently, words trigger a response from areas of our brain that deal with smell, textures, and motion. All those wonderful metaphors writers put in their writing really work.

The article also states research shows people who read a lot of fiction are more empathetic and see the world in a different way. Stories help us understand the complexities of life and become better in dealing with social situations.

So, if you’re a reader, you have some advantages in this world.

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The First Sentence

Mrs. Rachel Lynde (on Crane 220 lb.)

Mrs. Rachel Lynde (Photo credit: reinvented)

The first sentence in a novel should be a knock-out. It ought to grab you and make you want to keep reading straight through to the end. That sentence should cause the reader to wonder what comes next and have questions they want answered. Many first sentences are short, but hold the essence of the story.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern begins with the sentence, “The circus arrives without warning.” What a wonderfully evocative beginning. Between the title and the first line we know this is not going to be your usual circus. We want to read on to find out how it is unique and what that might mean for those involved.

“Where’s Pa going with that axe?” is the classic first sentence from Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. This line really sums up what the story is all about, saving Wilber from the axe. Readers want to know where Pa is going, why he has an axe, and there’s a sense of worry about what is going to happen next.

The first line of the picture book Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes echoes the title. It leaves small children with no doubt about the central story idea, “Wemberly worried about everything.” Children can immediately relate to someone who worries and they realize worrying about everything would not be good. They’ll want to know what Wemberly worries about and how he might learn to deal with that worry.

Authors often don’t know what their first sentence, or perhaps first chapter, will really be until they’ve finished, or even revised the story. As more of the story is written, the clearer the story becomes, which sometimes changes the beginning. So don’t fret about that first sentence yet. Just realize you’ll need to go back and make it a humdinger.

 

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How long does it take to become an expert at something? The rule of thumb is 10,000 hours. That sounds fairly intimidating, but like anything you just have to keep at it and eventually you’ll get there. Apparently the old saying “practice makes perfect” is true.

Alternative version of image:Wooden hourglass ...

Wooden hourglass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For beginning writers, who compare their writing to that of a prize winning author, it feels a bit hopeless. We think they write beautifully because they are gifted and we are not. It’s rather like the sudden stardom of an actor who everyone thinks is an overnight hit. But the truth is they have been practicing since high school, or before.

Many book jackets say this is the author’s first book and we notice it’s on the New York Times Bestseller list. We assume they must be brilliant, born with a pen in their hand. It’s more likely they have been writing for years. They’ve undoubtedly produced many drafts of their story, been critiqued, then revised more. No one sits down and dashes off a perfect story, sends it off, is published, and wins a prize.

So figure out how much time you can allot to whatever it is you want to become an expert at, then get going. Being consistent and sticking with it is what will make you better. Keep track of your hours, you’ll be surprised how quickly they add up. And don’t forget that as you move forward you’ll be constantly improving.

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