Friday, November 9, 2012

BRINGING BACK THE SPARK—Writing Three-Dimensional

To me, the connotation of “spark” is putting life in your writing.  I think you can have a distinct voice and still not quite have the spark there. For me, it’s that moment when my characters become real, or come to life on the pages.  They act and react realistically, and not always as I may have originally envisioned the situation. It’s not so much you, the author, writing their lines…more like you as the author are channeling your character’s lives on to the pages of your story.

One of the ways I know I haven’t gotten the spark is when I've written something and there is that niggling feeling that tells me something isn't right or something is off in this scene.  It feels…flat.  Like I'm playing with paper dolls and moving them around the story. It might be that I’m trying to force my characters into a situation, or plot area, they wouldn't be in, or have them reacting in a way, given their backgrounds, they wouldn't  Or I’m trying to take the easy way out in solving their problems.

I think about how an actor approaches a role. As an actor, you have to step into your character, see who they are, how they react, understand what their goals are, what their motivations are, and what their conflicts are. Once you understand those things, then you know how these characters will act and react in pretty much any situation.  You have to be able to do that to portray them in a play or on the screen.  An actor can know the character they are depicting so well, that if a scene is rewritten they can and will argue it isn't right, the character wouldn't do this or that.

I think as a writer we need to do the same. We have to know our characters well to do justice to them. Some writers put together elaborate files on each character, likes, dislikes, favorite colors, etc.  My files aren't that elaborate. Many times I don’t have the character file when I start my story.  I do by the end of the story. I usually write the beginning of the story. My file grows as I write.  This is also where I dump exposition edits I've done that define my characters, things I need to know, but my reader doesn't.

There are times when something doesn't feel right but I can’t put a finger on it, other than my characters are feeling flat. It’s time for what I call Dr. Sia’s couch time. I put my characters on the psych couch and start analyzing them. I will sit down and write out each main character’s goals, motivations, external and internal conflict.  I do this with the villain too. By the time I’m finished, sometimes before I've finished, I usually have that ah-ha moment and I can see clearly where I went wrong. The black moment is in the wrong place, or I’m making it a soft gray moment rather than black, maybe my hooks to draw my reader forward are dull or indistinct—not good.  Seeing what’s wrong may also mean some rewrites but it puts me back on track and my characters and story again become three-dimensional. It makes their reaction to conflict sharper. Reaching their goals sweeter.  It makes a better story. 

Life is good again because my characters are back to being real people acting and reacting realistically.  They cease being paper dolls I dress and move around the story. The spark is back and the one-dimensional cardboard character is gone.


How do you know the spark is missing?

What do you do to get the spark back in the scene or story?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


CRITIQUING: There’s a big difference in being honest and being brutal—constructive and destructive

When I got serious about my writing, and wrote my first novel, I made a cazillion mistakes. I was such a newbie. 

List of Participants
What saved me was entering a contest and in the course of that contest, I came into contact with real creative writers. That was my real prize—feedback and serious critiques, that and learning terms. What the hell did they mean when writers and judges would say ‘good bones’ and  ‘need to work on POV’? Keep in mind, I hadn't taken any writing courses in at least ten years and fiction-writing styles had changed considerably in that time. I didn't win the contest (which was a romance writing contest where you also received critiques from other writers and contestants) although I finished in the top 20% out of about 1200 entries. Not bad, considering the mistakes I made.

I like to receive honest critiques.  If something isn't working, I’d like to know that. I take my work seriously. I don’t hand my work to just anyone.  I tend to pick those who know what they’re doing, whose opinion I value, and who write the same genre or similar genre.   I like suggestions, questions, and I also love it when someone reads something that they really like or makes them laugh and they mention it. 

The contest taught me the need for a tough skin, which was reinforced by the first serious critique of my manuscript.  The poor thing about bled to death with all the red lining. CPR was difficult but it survived and so did I.  

But you know what?

She was right. 

She wasn't harsh, but she was to the point and honest. She’s a published author and one for whom I have a great deal of respect.

I've always said if you want someone to tell you your writing is wonderful, hand it to your family or your mother. I call that blowing sunshine and butterflies. 

You want honesty then give it to a fellow writer you respect. And then listen to what they say. Give yourself think about it a bit—once you get over the shock. 

And the sting to your ego.

When I critique, I’m never brutal or critique to hurt. I don’t believe in destructive critiques at all. There’s no point to them.  There’s a big difference in being honest and being brutal. Constructive critiques improve your writing or style. That’s what we want, suggestions or pointers on how to make the story stronger, make the characters more realistic, or how to plug those holes in our manuscript big enough to drive a Mack truck through.

I may have been writing all my life and won contests but that doesn't make me a great writer. Critiques will do that and the willingness to listen and learn.  A readiness to sharpen your craft and be willing to put your manuscript on a strict diet to trim away the excess fat so you can see those great bones in your writing.

  • What has been your writing experience?
                                           How do you feel about critiques?

Monday, November 5, 2012

MONDAY MUSINGS: People Are Amazing

Most of this past week went by in a blur. I was glad I lived in the Midwest rather than on the east coast. The most exciting thing in our life was some of the neighbors cattle deciding to come stay in our pasture including one young bull who has made himself quite at home. My dogs are less than thrilled and bark long and loud at him. He just placidly munches grass and watches the show. The horses are cool with all four or five of the cattle. 

The bull is probably about 14 months old, I'd say, and pretty sweet tempered.  Thankfully. My fences aren't set up to hold nasty bulls. They tend to walk right through them. We're not sure which neighbor he belongs to. Best we can tell, he and a few others found our pasture from walking the creek and then climbing up the bank to our property. I reckon someone will come looking for him and the few other strays eventually. Meanwhile, hubs has walked them back down to the creek area, several times, to encourage them to find their way home—with little luck. Apparently, they like it here. 

On the work front, I work a call center in the appliance division. I enjoy the work and the people I work with. This past week was quite busy with Sandy slamming into the east coast. So many of our call center personnel were unable to work due to Sandy so the rest of us picked up the slack so it was understandably busy. Thousands of appointments had to be cancelled and rescheduled due to power outages. What made it harder was the techs are working overtime to get to everyone and so we’re booking two and three weeks out. Thursday and Friday were dealing with many who had electricity again but their appliances were even more wrecked than when they initially called. It tickled me to hear how some of these appliances had been standing in water and yet still worked. Pretty cool actually.

This week we will be even busier as more and more people get electricity and need their appliances checked after all the enormous electrical surges on the power grids. I’m glad I’m not in customer relations right now. Yikes, they’re incredibly busy and will continue to be so.

I heard so many stories, in the process of setting up or cancelling appointments, of living through such a huge storm. Neighbors pooling resources. The people with generators setting up kitchens and neighborhoods sharing food preparations for everyone—can you picture that? There were others providing shower facilities and setting one generator up just for electronic recharging. One woman I spoke with said her husband and some of the neighborhood men had set up outdoor showers in a garage. Who knew so many hoses could be used for that and shower heads out of cans and plastic coffee containers. They had also made bonfires and if I understood her correctly, they used the fire to heat barrels of water—I have no idea where they got the barrels. Isn't it amazing what people can come up with when they put their minds to solving problems. If you want to read some heartwarming stories, check out Hurricane Sandy Acts OfKindness page on Facebook.

So, how was life in your neighborhood this past week?

Any amazing stories you'd like to share from the storm area?