Thursday, April 5, 2018

Character History

*This originally appeared in my March 2018 newsletter. If you're not a subscriber yet, the link is in the sidebar. --> 

A well-developed character does not exist in the vacuum of a single story.

Not even close.

They arrive at the inciting incident as fully formed beings. They step into chapter one with the proverbial suitcase in hand—all of the baggage they carry with them that they have amassed over the years. This includes thousands of thoughts, feelings, and memories of events that have come together to shape who they are.

They come to your story with hopes and dreams and ideas, something they are striving for, something they are working toward, and these things have grown out of who they have become (and are still becoming, since one of the main functions of the plot is to change the character in some way). A character’s past, including the choices they have made, holds everything that brought them to the moment your story opens.

A past informs your character’s motives (why they do what they do).

A past informs your character’s attitudes (how they respond to the events and people around them).

We (the reader) don’t need to know everything about your character’s past, but you (the writer) should have a solid idea of the kind of person you’re dealing with before you sit down to tell their story.

It’s likely you will need to share some of those key past events as the plot unfolds, but keep in mind that “info dumps” should be avoided, and the memories the character is reflecting on can’t be “convenient” to the story. Attitudes and actions must ring authentic.

The memories shared throughout your narrative will be most effective if, while the character is considering them, the meaning changes based on new information or a new attitude. It may be that the character didn’t fully understand something at first, but now they do.

But most importantly: a character should act out of their true emotions, hide from their true emotions, or feel paralyzed because of their true emotions, and this all stems from their past. Who they were, who they are now, and who they are in the process of becoming is because of their past.

The key takeaway? Know your character’s history.

Knowing why they do what they do will help them act naturally (both in character and out of character, when the time comes) as the plot unfolds. And the more believable your character (and their choices), the more memorable they will be.

Be Brilliant!


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Let It Go

After you hit the "publish" button, effectively sending your story out into the world, let it go. Don't stress about reviews. Don't worry about how it will be received. . . . 

The reviews will only drive you crazy, and rankings and sales data--the daily ups and downs and highs and lows--will quickly become a distraction from what matters most (e.g. writing your next book).

The truth is once you release a project it's not yours anymore, and how the world responds to it is beyond the scope of your control. There is no universally loved (or loathed) author.

So . . . write your story, make it the best it can possibly be, publish it, then leave it alone.

Let go and look forward.

Be Brilliant!


Monday, March 19, 2018

Highs and Lows

Saw this floating around Facebook last week and . . . yeah, pretty much.

Be Brilliant!


Friday, March 9, 2018

Let's Talk About Love

I'd like to say that I was totally cutting edge as a high school student, especially when it came to music--that I knew all about these obscure, up-and-coming bands before they were even up or coming. . . .

Or maybe just the obscure--the singer/songwriters and bands with good music who were also completely underrated or still in their "dive bar" phase.

But that would be a lie.

A BIG one.

The truth is I cut my teeth on whatever was playing on the local bubblegum pop station (it was the late '90s, after all). The radio waves into my room and car were filled with Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync, and Britney Spears. Occasionally we'd hear something from Alanis Morissette and I would think: God, I am so freaking cool, listening to this. So cutting edge.

But stranger still, I could find a song in just about every genre that I liked. The hymns and Southern gospel from church. The classical music I was learning on piano or would listen to while studying. The country songs my mom would play in her car. The classic rock my dad sometimes listened to in his. Oldies. Forties. Baroque. Broadway. Rap. Psuedo-rap (Weird Al's "Amish Paradise," anyone)?

But if there is one singer who carried me through the brunt of my late teen emo/angst phase--where I loved a million boys who refused to love me in return--it was . . . 

(wait for it)

Celine Dion.


That Celine Dion.

Especially this album, released in 1997:

You have No. Idea. how many times I played through these songs on any given week as I lamented all of the crushes and loves who were not meant to be (already had a girlfriend, had already placed me solidly in the "friend zone," too old, etc.). A circle of "he loves me's" and "he loves me not's" as I misinterpreted every signal given by every boy I came in contact with. 

But what if he loved me? 

But what if he loved me? 

But what if he loved me? 

So I would imagine our love while Celine belted out those high notes in the background, even as the guys' faces changed out from week to week--one "love" after another, after another.

So, yes. Celine Dion accompanied me through my late teen emo years, singing me safely to the end of that disaster.  

I am somewhat ashamed. 

But somewhat not ashamed at all. :D

Be Brilliant! 

(And Happy Friday!)


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

On Beginnings (Of Stories)

*This originally appeared in my February 2018 newsletter. If you're not a subscriber yet, the link is in the sidebar. --> 

Do you remember Mary Katherine Gallagher (Molly Shannon/Saturday Night Live)? Her theory was that there were two ways to get into a pool.

The first?

Enter slowly, taking it step-by-step, adjusting to the water’s temperature. (I’ll be honest: this is me. Otherwise, I’m more of a lie by the pool with a good book kind of gal.)

The second?

Dive right into the deep end.

When it comes to writing and storytelling, it can be tempting to want to ease the reader in—start with the character waking up and getting ready for school or work or introducing the setting so we get a “feel” for the place—but jumping right into the action is the best way to make a splash (pun intended). 

According to Nancy Kress (Beginnings, Middles & Ends), we have about three pages to get an editor’s (or reader’s) attention.

Every word, every sentence, every paragraph matters, and each one should advance the plot and develop the characters in a surprising way. The truth is, many stories would be stronger if they started later in the chapter or if the first chapter were deleted entirely.

So grab that WIP (work in progress). Open that file. Print the first few pages. Do a bit of honest soul-searching.

Does the first page:
            Grab the reader’s attention through an interesting and relevant action?
            Introduce the character in a real and unique way?
            Pose some kind of question that the reader will want answered?

If the excitement on that first page is lacking, there are a few options:
            Delete it and open later in the story
            Relocate the information to a different page (open later in the story)
            Revise the current content to make it more exciting
            Write an entirely new beginning

This isn’t to say we have to start with explosions or bomb threats or car accidents (unless that’s the kind of story you want to write), but it does mean we have limited space to make the reader care, and this isn’t something to squander.

So . . . there are two ways to start a story: ease the reader into the narrative with a gradual build-up and hope they stick around, or dive right into the excitement, grabbing their attention from the very first page.

Be Brilliant!


Thursday, March 1, 2018

Reason Enough

"Your own reasons to create are reason enough."

The always fabulous Elizabeth Gilbert (Big Magic) said this.

It doesn't matter what he says or she says or what they think about you and/or your Art. 

It doesn't matter that you've picked plot-driven crime novels over character-driven literary novels, or if you're even attempting to combine the two. It doesn't matter if you draw caricatures over portraits or are more inspired by Botticelli than Kandinsky or Bocelli than Ballerini.   

It doesn't even have to be about the money. 

Or maybe it's all about the money. 

Who cares?

You are not required to justify your motives to anyone about anything--especially re: your Art. 

Just . . .

. . . and do it well.

Our reasons for creating (whatever they might be) are enough. 


Be Brilliant!