Have you ever wondered about how authors come up with characters? I’m sure every author has their own process, but I can guarantee you, it is similar to making new friends. In the beginning, you don’t really know much about them. Sometimes you’ll have a name, sometimes not. The same goes for descriptions, personalities, jobs, etc. They are just this person that is sort of an enigma, and it takes work to get to know them.
While I struggle to make friends with people existing outside of fiction–I can’t say real people because my fiction characters DO become real to me–I always get very excited when it comes time to meet my newest characters. I thought it might be fun to take you through a little bit of my process as I get to know a character I’m developing for a short story. At this point, I know VERY little about my character. I’ve already brainstormed a few ideas with my critique partner, but Harriet is still very flat on the paper.
What I do know:
Harriet Carmichael is a bit of an outsider to the upper-class society in which her family partakes. She goes beyond avid gardener to more of the botanist level, and she relates better to the plants than people. In fact, most people find her odd even though gardening was a perfectly acceptable hobby for upper-class women of the time.
She is forced to attend the Christmas party of a woman who is skilled at double-edged compliments and making Harriet feel even more insignificant than before. However, while at this party, she receives a note or a gift (not sure which yet) from a secret admirer. No matter how much she wishes it were true, she can’t believe its authenticity. However, something happens (again, don’t know what yet) will send her on a hunt to discover the true identity of the letter writer. Was it another cruel joke of the woman, or had someone really seen her and wanted to get to know her better?
That’s it, that’s all I really know right now, but I’m really excited about writing this brief story. Depending on how it turns out, it may be my Christmas gift to my newsletter subscribers. But I digress…
After attending the Online Character Summit this weekend, I am determined to take some of what I have learned and carve Harriet into a deeper more human character that we can all relate to on some level. So here we go:
Getting to Know Harriet
This portrait by George Clausen is how I physically envision Harriet at the moment. She’s nothing extraordinary, and her clothes are rather dull. She tends to wear browns in order to disguise her constant work in the soil. From here, it becomes sort of an interview process.
Me: So Harriet, who are you? Why do you feel you that you don’t fit in? It can’t just be your love of plants.
Harriet (rubbing hands together and then tucking them behind her when she finds dirt under her nails): I don’t really know much about people, and honestly, I don’t understand them. People are unpredictable. Plants follow certain rules, I know what they need to coax them into vibrancy, which ones to pair together, and which ones to plant in order to entice or repel certain insects or animals. I love being able to create and work within God’s creation. Plants are exactly what they are supposed to be. People? Not so much.
It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s that I don’t know what to make of them. Some are genuinely who they appear to be, others opposite from what they present to the world. I have a few friends, but mostly, I am uncomfortable around people. I don’t know what to say. I don’t enjoy the same things as my peers.
I like books about gardening, plant life, and even scientific articles about altering plants to be more sturdy against the elements. Miss Austen, Mr. Dickens, and the such leave me baffled. I can play cards, play piano, and embroider as required, but why would anyone want to do those when you can be outside? In fact, I hate winter. I spend most of it planning my next garden or tinkering in the greenhouse/conservatory. The best days are the days I can go to the university and work in the botany department (need to check that was a thing then).
Oh, thought! Have her compare different people/personalities to different types of plants!
And so it will go for a few days. Harriet and I will be having some deep conversations and some lighter-hearted ones. What are the things she likes? The things she fears? What does she want more than anything? What does she believe about herself? What does she need to learn? etc. These are hard questions to draw out, but I love the excitement of it.
Just so you don’t think Harriet is fully developed before I put words on paper, this initial examination is rarely what she ends up looking like as I actually write. Harriet will grow and define herself, shedding some of the things I thought we decided in the beginning. She will develop her own voice and become a real person. Even scarier, she will start making her own decisions and direct my story in ways I never envisioned.
I hope you enjoyed a little sneak peek of my process in developing characters, now I really am going to get off here and dive into uninterrupted conversation with Harriet. I’m starting to get caught up on reading, so look for more steady book reviews in the coming months. 🙂
Do you like gardening? What things do you think Harriet will need in order to rightly portray someone who loves plants, maybe even more than people?
Okay, so I’m really breaking away from my normal routine of posting about historical fiction. I still haven’t gotten back into reading anything new (and I’m really really really tempted to revisit some old favorites), but I DID read an awesome writing craft book which was written like a fiction story.
How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method, is an entertaining read whether you are an author or not. Using characters from Goldilocks and the Three Bears, as well as other fairy tale stories, Randy Ingermanson explains his method of preparing for a story in an incredibly entertaining way.
How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson
Plot: Goldilocks has always wanted to write a novel, but everyone told her it was an impractical dream. So she followed the practical route of life only to pursue writing once her kids began school. To learn what it takes, she attends a writing conference where Baby Bear introduces her to the Snowflake method. On her journey through plotting her story, she makes friends with a wolf with a bad reputation, investigates a murder, and is placed in mortal danger when the answer is revealed.
Honestly, it is the FIRST non-fiction book EVER for me to read in two days. I probably would have read it in one, had I the time. So whether you are a reader or a writer, I actually recommend reading it.
It’s not my typical blog post, but hey! It’s Thanksgiving craziness and I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction in preparation for another story. Next week I am going to post the top ten books I am thankful for, so be thinking about your top ten. I may or may not have a giveaway in mind. 😉
I am so incredibly blessed to have Erica Vetsch as a guest today to whet your appetite for a wonderful writing resource written by her and nine other award-winning authors. You won’t want to miss Writing from the Trenches or Erica’s answer to the question, Am I done yet?
And since I haven’t done a giveaway in a couple months (sorry, moving has interrupted life), check out the Rafflecopter Giveaway at the end.
Am I Done Yet?
Guest post by Erica Vetsch
In a recent edition of Writer’s Digest, I read an article about Writer’s Block, and what causes it. The author posed the theory that there are three basic causes of Writer’s Block, and they are all related to fear.
Fear of Failure.
Fear of Success.
Perfectionism. (Fear of not getting it perfect.)
Most writer’s have faced these fears on more than one occasion, but today, I’d like to address the third fear, perfectionism.
When I’m painting a room, I know when I start and when I’m done. When I’m mopping the floor, I know when I’ve reached the end of the chore. When I run a marathon (Okay, who am I kidding, I don’t run.) but if I did, you can be certain I would know where that finish line was so I could stop.
We can sit, staring at the blinking cursor on the blank page, too afraid to put down a word because we know in our hearts it won’t be the PERFECT word. But here’s the thing.
You can’t edit a blank page.
Give yourself permission to write a bad first line, bad first page, bad first chapter, bad first draft. Anything can be improved upon by editing, and if you’re aiming to be a professional writer, editing is a MUST. Nothing is best-written the first time around. So just write. I’ve been known to type in “WRITE THE BEST FIRST LINE EVER IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND” at the top of the first chapter, just so I can get over that hurdle and get into the story without worrying about crafting the perfect opening line before I even know my characters and story that well. Just write, not searching for perfection, but searching for your story.
Eventually, you will type the words “The End.” That’s when a different type of work begins. The editing. The polishing. The tweaking.
And because writing is a unique art form where the possibilities are endless, you can tweak and polish and edit forever in the search for perfection.
So, how can you know when enough is enough, how can you know when you’re done? Here are a few guidelines:
- When your deadline arrives. There’s nothing like a ticking clock to let you know when it’s time to hit send on that manuscript.
- When you find yourself changing the manuscript but not improving it. When you change the heroine’s off-white shoes to ecru, beige, sandstone, ivory, winter white, taupe, etc. You’re not improving the manuscript, you’re just changing words here and there, a process that you can go through forever.
- When you’ve read and reread it so many times, it all sounds like dreck and you’re sure it’s awful.
The search for perfection is an illusion when it comes to fiction. Because fiction is art, because it is a creative thing, and because perfection is in the eye of the beholder. We can obsess and fixate and drive ourselves crazy searching for an impossible measure of perfection, dampening our enthusiasm for the project and sucking the joy out of being a writer.
When your deadline arrives. Hit Send! When you’re merely swapping words around and making changes that don’t improve the manuscript, call it done! When you have read and reread to the point of numbing your mind, stop!
Perfection is impossible, but excellence is not. Write your story, edit it to the best of your ability, send it out into the world…and then get to work on the next story in your heart.
And to help you on your way with that next great American novel, I’ve teamed up with some other writers to share our years of experience. Pick up your copy of Writing From The Trenches: Tips & Techniques From Ten Award-Winning Authors. Here’s a blurb:
TEN-HUT! Gear up for your writing with tried-and-true tips from the trenches. Ten award-winning authors share invaluable tips and secrets they’ve gleaned the hard way, offering a broad range of insights and opinions on the best way to tackle subjects such as the following:
Villains We Love to Hate
The Right Heroine for the Job
Hooking Your Reader in the First Chapter
Scene Endings to Lead Your Readers On
Creating a Movie Set
Making your Readers Cry
Copyediting your Manuscript
Indie Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing
Marketing for Those Who Hate Marketing
At last … a writer’s tool that provides the experience and expertise of ten authors who’ve been on the front lines of publishing and lived to teach about it: Connie Almony, Lynnette Bonner, Hallee Bridgeman, Louise Gouge, Michelle Griep, Julie Lessman, Elizabeth Ludwig, Ane Mulligan, MaryLu Tyndall, and Erica Vetsch.
Writing from the Trenches is available for e-book purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Best-selling, award-winning author Erica Vetsch loves Jesus, history, romance, and sports. She’s a transplanted Kansan now living in Minnesota, and she married her total opposite and soul mate! When she’s not writing fiction, she’s planning her next trip to a history museum and cheering on her Kansas Jayhawks and New Zealand All Blacks. You can connect with her at her website, www.ericavetsch.com where you can read about her books and sign up for her newsletter, and you can find her online at https://www.facebook.com/EricaVetschAuthor/ where she spends way too much time!
Writing from the Trenches Giveaway
Now here is your chance to win an e-copy of Writing in the Trenches. For your chance to win, you must do both of the following:
1. Leave a comment with a writing craft questions or a question about the writing process. (In 2019, I am hoping to have a monthly post that will help writer’s on their journey and readers to have a glimpse into the writing world.)
2. Enter using the Rafflecopter link below.
ENTER THE GIVEAWAY HERE
Giveaway opens 9/18/2018 at 12:01AM (EST) and ends 9/24/2018 11:59PM (EST). Winner will be notified by email and on the next blog post.
*Legal Jargon: No Purchase is necessary. This contest is open to all readers in the world, 18 years and older who are legally allowed to participate in such a giveaway as allowed by their local laws. The Write Call does not exchange prizes for reviews. Reviews are appreciated, but not required.*
As I approach the end of editing my first book (EEK!!) I am looking to the next book. What will I write? Will I continue with the next book in the series? Or will I write a different series I already have in mind? Or should I begin something new and completely stand-alone?
I will be honest, my mind creates books in series of three. Each is a stand-alone novel in its own rights, so not a trilogy, but the characters are all connected and revisit one another. Those are the types of books I read and that seems to be how my mind writes as well.
In fact, I have the next two books in the series already outlined and playing in my mind. However, some wise sage of the publishing world recommended that unpublished authors not write the next book in a series until they have a contract to do so. Otherwise, you will have wasted your time.
I am still praying that one through, because ultimately, God lets me know what is a waste of my time, but I am playing around with other new ideas. My current inspiration comes from some fun pictures my family took over Christmas break in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
So here is a peek at the ones that inspire a story in my mind:
Don’t you dare cheat with crack-shot Donovan Marshal at the table. The hardened, undercover Pinkerton agent isn’t fooled by tricks, but when Cassie Granger plays the trick of her life, will they both be fooled by what really is at stake?
Former Confederate soldier, Elias Blake, just wants to put the war behind him and rebuild his farm. Upon returning his ramshackle home, he finds the enemy has moved in and taken claim on his land and possibly his heart.
Escaping the law has always been a challenge she enjoyed… until she accidentally married the law.
After a robbery gone wrong, Emily Hoppe is injured and mistaken for a mail-order bride. Not one to turn away a built-in cover, she intends to go along with the ruse until she is well enough to hightail it out of town.
U.S. Marshal Dirk Burn knows something isn’t quite right about his bride, and his instincts never fail him. Determined to sniff out the truth, he gets more than he bargained for when her outlaw family comes to her rescue.
Okay, so some really high-level ideas, but just maybe one of them will be my next story.
What about you? If you are a writer? How do you choose what to write next? If you are a reader, what makes you decide what to read next? Did any of our goofy pictures inspire you with story ideas? I’d love to hear them!
By the way, the winner of Cynthia Roemer’s signed copy of Under this same sky is:
While we did purchase the rights to these pictures, I want to give credit where credit is due. Out of the 22 Old Time Photo places in that tourist-heavy area, we used Old Time Photo #5. Yes, the number is part of their name. You can visit them here if you are interested in checking them out. Our photographer was great.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a person in possession of voices in their head, must be an author.”
Okay, so not the most eloquent remastering of the Pride and Prejudice quote, but a truth all the same. Only for authors is it socially acceptable to be insane. If anyone else talked about hearing voices in their head it would be a one-way ticket to the asylum. But voices we hear – the voices of our characters.
A couple months ago, I talked about developing our “Author Voice”, but sometimes what I find even more challenging is developing unique character voice. Someone once told me that each character must have a voice so unique you can read a line or two without an identifier and still be able to determine whose POV it is or who is talking.
Am I the only one that cringed and wanted to hide their manuscript?
Over the last few months, I have developed a few tricks to help me create these unique voices, especially in my character POVs.
Character Voice Hints
1. When writing in a certain POV, I try to sink into what is called Deep Point of View. Essentially it is writing like the entire scene is happening through the thoughts of the character without actually being thought dialogue.
Instead of: She touched his forehead to check for fever.
Try: Burning heat suffused the air between her palm and his forehead. Oh no. The fever had returned.
2. Give certain frames of references to each character.
My heroine grew up under the guidance of her military grandfather, who treated her just like a soldier. When writing in her POV, I use military terms, descriptions that line up with military thinking, and actions that reveal her military upbringing.
“His words cannonballed into the soft soil of her soul, crushing it beneath their weight and force.”
My hero, however, does not have this upbringing, but he is a Secret Service operative. So I have him behave, think, and speak like one.
“Edward beat him to the corner seat that gave a clear view of the room. Only criminals and lawmen worried about protecting their backs while observing others.”
Please note, these are unpolished sentences, but they are just to give you an idea of how to work that in.
3. Give them unique phrases and quirks.
The heroine may say “Oh skunk!” when she is upset, while the hero may rub at a hidden rock in his pocket.
4. Take into account their education level.
If the heroine has had a lot of education, then her word choices should reflect it, but if she is a self-taught woman her choices may be different.
“The sunset is absolutely exquisite tonight.” vs “It sure is a pretty sunset tonight.”
5. Consider Dialect
Each region has its own turn of phrase and accents. In July, my family and I went on a mission trip and one of the leaders was from Minnesota. Her “o” sounds were unique as well as her use of “You betcha” and “Oofta sakes.” If your characters are from different regions or ethnic backgrounds, take that into consideration.
One of my villain’s henchmen is Irish. I did a little research and made sure I wrote the dialect correctly and even worked in some sayings into the conversation.
“May the cat eat ye, and the devil eat the cat!” (My personal favorite.)
How do you help the voices of your characters to stand out as unique? Are there certain resources you use to help? If you are comfortable, share a couple examples of your character voices.
Voice seems to be one of those elusive things I have encountered as an aspiring author. What is it? How do you know what your voice is? How do you know if it is unique? Until recently, I just avoided the whole issue because it seemed so convoluted.
But the day must come when we chase down that elusive concept in order to fully develop into who we are. So here it is, wrong or right, my own view and explanation of voice.
An author’s voice is not one tangible element in a novel, it is the culmination of all the flavors an author brings to their writing. From genre choice, to settings, typical characters, humor, to even word choice – it all goes to develop a unique voice.
Take a look at this picture:
What story comes to your mind?
My first thought was a woman lying in bed, fumbling for a shoe to throw at the cat that never stops meowing out her window. Typical image? Yes, but give me time and I will develop it into a storyline that is unique. What if she killed the cat by accident? And what if it was her neighbor’s prize winner? Or even better, there was a note attached to it revealing a danger no one could have foreseen. Oh, so many ideas are skittering through my mind…
Maybe your first thought was a mystery, a ghost story, or something altogether different. Your author voice can change depending on your genre choice, and most of us tend to pick a particular genre and stick to it.
Mary Connealy has a voice I love. She has humor focused on the cowboy days of the west. Her females are almost always strong, independent women with quirky ways. Her characters are always unique and at odds with each other. Whenever I pick up one of her books I know there will be an element of danger, sweet romance, a splash of humor, a cowboy setting, and characters that make me smile.
Jen Turano is another author with a unique voice. Whenever I pick up one of her books, I know they are going to take place in a city setting, with characters who are oddball in some way, danger will ensue, and hilarity prevails. When I need a good laugh, I turn to her or Karen Witemeyer.
My friend and critique partner, Joanna Davidson Politano, will be releasing her debut novel in October. While I won’t share details of her story now (you will have to wait until next month) Joanna has a voice that makes me swoon. Whenever I read her submissions, I know I will step into a Regency world clouded with mystery. Her books read like a mix of Bronte, Daphne Du Maurier, and Dickens. To read her work is to float through a world that entrances and intrigues, and I absolutely cannot wait for you to read her books!(Okay, swooning over.)
Bottom line, your voice is what a reader can expect to find when they pick up your book.
Finding Your Voice
Evaluate your writing. Do you notice certain trends? Are your stories dialogue heavy? Witty? Detail oriented? Do you add humor to your work? A little? A lot? Do you have odd ball characters? Do you choose a particular type of hero?
What settings do you tend to choose? Cities, the country, a particular region? Are they darker, brighter? Winter, Summer, Autumn, Spring? That can change with each book, but if you notice a particular trend, that just may be part of your voice.
Is your writing very formulaic or is it organic? Susie May Warren is very formulaic in her writing. She works in twenty chapter patterns and has a plan of what has to happen in each segment of her story. For others, there is no discernable pattern beyond the standard three-act plot.
By evaluating your writing, you can determine your strengths and weaknesses, elements that you want to refine and improve upon, maybe even elements you want to weed out of your writing altogether.
My voice is still developing, but I have decided that my voice includes a few elements: Danger and murder plots, women who are independent but get into lots of trouble, heroes who generally fall into the law enforcement category, clear villains, a splash of humor (although nowhere near the amount I thought I would have), and broken families. Forgiveness, redemption, and family are strong threads in what my stories encompass. Do I have a lot of work left? You betcha! Is my voice completely clear and finished? Nope, but I am working on it.
Now it is your turn to share. Comment below.
What do you want a reader to expect when they pick up your books? Have you discovered your own voice? Do you agree or disagree with my view of author voice? What would you add to this?