Sunday, 22 May 2011

A New Editing Process (Part 2: Characters)

Sometimes I think writing a story would be so much easier if you didn't have to have characters.

Other than my main characters, a non-stereotyped but still 3D (AND INTERESTING) cast of characters is something that I seem to struggle with. And I also have problems writing characters that are not me. (I never write Mary Sues, but I still use myself as an easy template, I think. I don't bother going the hard yards to really get inside another character's perspective.) Or at least, this is how I USED to approach characters.

Here are some fun characterisation techniques that I have adopted to help me improve this part of my writing.

* What kind of coffee does your character drink? What kind of tea? DRINK IT YOURSELF. I've switched from Earl Grey to Black tea and I've stopped drinking sugar in my coffee. Who knows what I'll swap to when I next write.

* Play the Sims. Not the lame building the house bit but the building the Characters bit. What size are their noses? What do they wear to bed? To swim? Do they wear jewellery? What are their defining attributes. The Sims 3 Amibitions is a must have tool for consolidating the parts of your characters that are BASIC and CRUCIAL. Also, you get to play Sims.

* Start a file of your characters. Use a rolodex, or use a computer. Have one character per page. Write down all your thoughts about them, or scenes from their p.o.v., or 'diary entries' by them.

*MOST IMPORTANTLY, don't be lazy. Do your research. This one I've learnt the hard way. And I'm still learning. It can be boring sometimes but then again, if researching it is boring, then writing it might be and then reading it definately will be. So if it's so boring you can't make yourself do it, you're writing about the wrong topic.

If you characterise just right, you should be able to imagine your characters having a life off the page. You should be able to answer questions about them the way you can about your best friend.

How do you get to know your characters?

Happy Scribbling!

Em

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Moved to Tears

What was the last piece of literature that made you cry?

I've just read some excerpts from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathon Safran Foer, and that did it for me. There is a tear mark in my book to prove it and everything.

I remember when I was younger, I had this best friend- you know the type- who seemed like the epitome of cool to me, and when she said that Checkers by John Marsden had made her cry, I thought that this would be some way of measuring how intelligent I was. Of course, I must have meant emotionally intelligent, but I was to young to have known I meant it. I went out and borrowed the book from the library and I read it. I focussed really hard, sucking the marrow out of each word, and (I kid you not) even pretended to cry in sad bits, hoping that real tears would follow. I knew where I was supposed to be moved/shocked/whatever. But I was not.

That's not to say that Checkers wasn't a brilliant book. But I wasn't my best friend; it was her personal context that had made her react to it that way. This girl lived in a menagerie of sorts- at that point she had a dog and a cat, and heaps of goldfish and rabbits and maybe even a bird or two, although they might have come later. And in the book, animal cruelty is quite a major theme. Me, I'd never had a pet. In fact, animals kind of worried me. I was terrified of being bitten and I couldn't hold an animal calmly to save my life.

I think what makes a book most moving is that vicarious experience. Never having had a pet at that point, I couldn't imagine what it would be like to lose them, or even to love them. Now I do have a dog, and I love him in that embarrassing, obnoxious treat-your-animal-like-a-human-infant way. (I'm actually not ashamed of it either, come to think...) I wonder, if I read Checkers again, would I be more moved?

If you've read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close you'll probably be able to guess why I was disturbed by it. It was clever, poignant and heartbreaking, to use an overworked set of compliments in this industry. I recommend it to you, and I'm sure that Kleenex will too once they realise how high their sales will go because of it. (Oh gee, that was a really terrible joke...)

But make sure you have someone you love on call to give you a hug after. I know I needed it.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

The Truth, In Poetry

341 by Emily Dickinson
After great pain, a formal feeling comes-
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs-
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?

The Feet, mechanical, go round-
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought-
A Wooden way
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone-

The is the Hour of Lead-
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the snow-
First- Chill- the Stupor- then the letting go-


From the Norton Anthology of Poetry, New York: Norton, 1975 (Written in 1862 (?))

Do you find a truth in this poem, like I have?