Red Hair? Blue Eyes?

Ever since I was little I have been fascinated with the process of creating characters – or characterization. Much like editing, creating characters is one of those necessary processes that every writer must do. However, unlike editing, characterization is a fluid process, one without many rules or restrictions to speak of. Your character can be a 10-inch tall donkey with pink wings who captains a ship shaped like a whale but as long as it’s relatable to the readers in some way, you’re golden. Plus, there’s no condensing of ideas when it comes to building a character, like many other aspects of writing, it’s actually better to know more about your character than any reader would. (Of course with a winged 10-inch donkey it might be best to have some back-story within the narration as well.)

As some of you know I’m currently working on two projects: 1) a novel, 2) a novella. The novel idea is completely fresh but, with the novella, I’m taking a character I loved from my first attempt at a “novel” – a 100 page piece that deals with green lava and too much bosom I wrote when I was 13 – and plopping her down in a newer world. Because of this I’m going through my older work to find traits I can use. As I’m sifting through, I find that the character I built within the piece when I was younger is quite similar to the character in my novel I’m writing about now, 10 years later. They have red hair, blue eyes, confident demeanors, a fiery/fighter attitude and are kind and complicated. So much for being a ‘completely fresh’ idea, right?

But why is that? How can both characters – one from my youth and one from my adulthood – be so similar?

Then it struck me. I have a one sibling – an older sister who has naturally strawberry red hair and ice blue eyes. We used to fight a ton when we were little – as siblings tend to do – and she confused the heck out of me. Yet she was always confident (a trait I admired) and kind to others. That’s where the inspiration came from! As writers we naturally draw inspiration from the world around us. I pulled elements and aspects that were interesting to me and incorporated them into my work.

I like creating characters because I can do just that, pull elements from the “real world” and then fiddle with them, change an attitude there, alter an eye color here (though, looking back, it’s interesting that I didn’t originally when writing my novel). It’s fun for me and quite easy too.

If you have trouble creating characters though, and some of the best writers tend to get stuck every now and then, here’s some things to think about when building a character (you can use one of those “personality charts” but I like my way better, ha!):

1) Name – First impressions are everything, if you don’t have a good name, or at least a lovable nickname, then readers will put the book down. (Sounds snobbish, but I know I have.) Chose something easy to pronounce or have a nickname, both first and last at least. If you’re stuck, go on various ‘What to Name my Baby’ websites, they have plenty of choices. I usually fall back on Irish names since they’re pretty and I’m half the green stuff.

2) Appearance – These are the everyday aspects of your character, the simple outward appearance that allows your readers to “see” the characters. Male/female, eye color, hair color and length, tall/short, body type (aka: ‘fit’, ‘overweight’, or somewhere in the middle), clothing usually worn.  Be sure you have this one down, as a freelance editor I’m always shocked when the author mixes up blue and brown eyes on their main (or secondary) characters.

3) Personality –This where your character should start taking form. What does the character like/not like, is your character kind, caustic, depressed, overly sexual, does your character wave at people or stalk on by? does she like ice cream (the end all question, of course)? does he always roll his eyes? Does she twirl a ring? Play with her hair? Does his hand shake when he’s nervous? Personality traits unique to each character make the characters more believable.

4) Back-story/history – Essentially this solidifies the character, this is why your girl or guy (or animal, or spirit, or pinked-winged donkey) does the things he or she does. What does his home look like? Where did he grow up? What’s her family like? Did she have a pet? Where did he go to school? Why did she decide to go to that school, or take that job, or go off-planet? Think about yourself, what makes you… you? Your past, your choices, your life up until this moment and this exact moment defines who you are. So figure it out for your character too!

5) Items – This one is my personal favorite. If your character had one thing always in her/his pocket, what would it be and why would he/she carry it? These two questions come last, always, and they help me learn about my character. Not memories, not attitude, a solid item. It can be a slip of paper, a picture, a pin, anything! It sounds simple, but trust me, this will allow you to figure out who your character is, who your character was, and who they will become later on too.

Building characters can be fun, entertaining, exciting even. If you get stuck, look around you, there’s plenty of elements if your world waiting to be used. Remember to have your character relate to the readers and then, well, have at it! Make a 10-inch pink-winged donkey! It’s your character, create anyone you’d like.

Warm regards,
Kellie

On Revising

Revising is so vastly important in the writing world. Unless you’re one of those (1-in-a-billion) wordsmiths where everything you pen is pure gold the first time round (of which I hate and am amazed by), you simply have to revise. There’s no going around it. As writers it’s part of our DNA to think ‘this isn’t as good as it can be’ and type it over and over again until the work quite simply… is.

With that said, though, one of the most challenging aspects of writing for me is the revision process. When I’ve invested a good amount of time in creating a chapter it’s hard for me to go back into it, even when I know it’s simply not my best.

In general, my re-writing process commences as follows:

I sit and gaze blankly at the chapter under scrutiny and stubbornly think, ‘well it’s written all ready, isn’t it?’ then go play a video game or drag a string in front of my cat for a while. After an hour or so of procrastination I yank myself back to the computer (which I’ve nicknamed the Computer of Doom for the time-being while the revision process is taking place), plop down on the chair (hard as a rock even with pillows) and mentally tie myself down with a think cord of rope that will not be untied until the dang chapter is the best if can be. I open a new word document, glance at the old one, and sluggishly begin writing as if my very soul was being sucked out with each push of the key. Usually I just write the same exact chapter, with a few words changed, and then call it a day.

Not a very effective (or pleasant) experience.

I’m not entirely sure why this process is so hard for me to accomplish. I know it’s a huge part of writing effectively, and yet, every time I have to do it, my mind revolts and a stubborn streak I rarely show takes over.

However…

I’ve recently got a chapter reviewed and have a pretty rough revision ahead of me. Essentially I have to re-write the entire thing. But, in an attempt to stave off the soul-sucking, I’ve devised a new plan for tackling the process…

Step 1: review the comments made my fellow writers
Step 2: write down my new ideas next to the comments of my fellow writers
Step 3: grab a cup of herbal or black tea
Step 4: sit down (calmly) in front of my computer (no nicknames present)
Step 5: open up a new document
Step 6: look at my new ideas and figure out a way to include them into my chapter
Step 7: write the chapter, making sure I don’t just type the same chapter over again by 
            constantly glancing at the old one, and yet keeping the likable elements too
Step 8: send it out (again) and see what my fellow writers think (thereby forcing me to 
             actually re-write the thing and not merely change a few words)

I hope this process will work, but if it should fail, I’d like to have some back-up ideas so I don’t spiral into my soul-sucking again. Tell me, what does your revision process look like?

Warm regards,
Kellie

Finding Time to Write

Time, the all-encompassing, never-ceasing, till-death-do-us-part, master of us all, is a sly sly fellow. I picture him wearing a swirling white ensemble, cape included and trimmed in black, of course, and a pair of highly fashionable boots. He’d be holding a golden pocket-watch that ticked rather too loudly for its size in one hand and a sensible feather pen in the other (with which to ink “no going back” on the nearest passerby).

At first I thought I had plenty of it, seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, so much time I got bored of having so much. But then I got a job, an actual full-time job at a local engineering firm and all of a sudden, Time snatched the hours away like a kid in a candy shop.

Today is Friday and, with a quick look back at my week, I realized I haven’t written a thing. I’ve edited a chapter, yes, I’ve tried to brainstorm for my novella a bit but I actually writing? Not really. Look at this post, it’s only just getting out to the blogosphere and it’s already 10:30pm.

And why is that?

Because, with my new job taking over a large chunk of my day, I cannot manage my time properly yet. Work takes over, exercise gobbles up my time, and hours just slip away.

So what do we do when work takes over, when chores fill up your day, when life seems too busy and writing falls by the wayside?

I make lists. To Do lists, actually. Every evening before bed I write one up, usually it has a “Brush Raven” or a “Exercise” penned on it, other chores I have to get done throughout the day, but lately I’ve been putting “Write Chapter” or “Write RAW submission” directly on the top. It’s so I remember to block out time to get my writing done. It’s not a chore, but it is my responsibility to hone my writing skills.

I find that I have to make time to write or, sadly, I don’t write much. So I put it on top of my To Do list, I underline the words, I consciously block out some time sit down and write.

So what do you do? Comments, ideas, snide remarks? I look forward to them all.

Warm regards,
Kellie

Sinful Self-Publishing! Isn’t it?

Last Monday I attended a creative writing meeting and was just sitting down with my cup of blackberry chamomile tea when a conversation sparked up that piqued my interest. Big time publishing companies. The writers sitting around my table were ranting about big time publishing companies, and not even the polite ranting you hear around the office, this is the venomous bile you hurl at your worst enemy (and then some). Big companies want cookie-cutter material. They want certain specifics that only a few authors pen. They leave great authors high and dry in the slush pile or sitting on their desks for months, maybe years. The conversation was so heated you could warm your hands by it, yet when it all cooled down, the main issue was this – big publishing companies are hard to get into, we’ve all heard this before, it’s a tough nut to crack and few even make a sliver.

Because of this qualm, many of the members are resorting to self-publishing. As soon as those two words were uttered the crowd went silent… like my fellow writer said something taboo. Self-publishing? The conversation shifted. Altered. There was a wide range of reactions to those words, some merely shook their head, some said send it out to more agents, but most of them nodded, saying that’s what they’re doing as well. Publishing the book themselves. There was even one writer who is going straight for self-publishing, not even sending her novel out to any “big time” publishing companies or agents. Yet what struck me most is that, for this particular gaggle of writers, it was seen as a “last resort.”

But really should it be a last resort at all? Why can’t it be the first resort?

I’ve heard the qualms of self-publishing before in my college classes and beyond – how it’s not really that reputable, or how it’s not going to have the same feel that a ‘real’ publishing company can give you, or how it’s not really worthwhile if you want to make it big.

But, honestly, I don’t think those are very good reasons. For one, you can check if a site is reputable or not by researching – there are good sites out there (smashwords is the one that comes to my mind). For another, if you want the same feel as a ‘real’ publishing company, you can do that yourself! Get an editor to go over the work, become your own agent, market yourself, you can even get hard-copies of your work published and sell it at your local bookstore if you wanted. If you’re worried about “making it big” then, I’m sorry to say, you’re worried about the wrong thing. Writer’s shouldn’t write to make it big,  we should write because we have something to say, and if you do happen to make some money in the process then good for you! But don’t count on it. Write because you love writing. Plus, there’s always a chance that you will make it big anyway, I’ve heard of authors starting out online, self-publishing some things and getting a following, and then being picked up by a bigger publishing company.

Personally, I see nothing wrong with self-publishing, it’s a good way to get noticed and shouldn’t be seen as a “last resort.” I mean, come on, if you have a story to tell and feel like the world should read it then get it out there any way you possibly can. That’s not to say I’m against the usual way of publishing – agents, editors, publishing companies and the like – but I think it’s important to realize there are other ways of circulating your work.

Thoughts?

Warm regards,
Kellie