I’m Not Scared of My Novel


Thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for organizing and hosting the Insecure Writers Support Group every month. Go to his blog to see the other participants, and understand what the group is all about (well, we writers basically get together and support each other through our posts and comments).

Here’s my post for the support group:

For the last week, I’ve written zero words on my #WIP. Zip.Nada. Zilch.

Yesterday, I wrote about a 100 words.  After a whole day of showing up at the page, mind you.

I know what happens next, so that’s not the issue. I know the characters, so that’s not the issue either.

Or maybe that’s where the problem lies—I know what my characters are about to do next.

A to Z Stories of Life and Death

A to Z Stories of Life and Death

I know I now have to write about the sort of thing that would make me extremely squeamish and horrified in real life– and my way of writing is to be it, be the character and write what comes—and at this point in the novel, I’m terrified to be the character. I can be that character for the span of a flash fiction (those who have read A to Z Stories of Life and Death would know what I’m talking about), not a novel– but the problem is I’ve now signed up for it– and I’ll have to go through it.

And I’ve got confirmation from very good quarters (Anton Chekov, no less) that it is the right thing to do:

the writer is not a pastry chef, he is not a cosmetician and not an entertainer. He is a man bound by contract to his sense of duty and to his conscience. Once he undertakes this task, it is too late for excuses, and no matter how horrified, he must do battle with his squeamishness and sully his imagination with the grime of life. He is just like any ordinary reporter. What would you say if a newspaper reporter as a result of squeamishness or a desire to please his readers were to limit his descriptions to honest city fathers, high-minded ladies, and virtuous railroadmen? To a chemist there is nothing impure on earth. The writer should be just as objective as the chemist; he should liberate himself from everyday subjectivity and acknowledge that manure piles play a highly respectable role in the landscape and that evil passions are every bit as much a part of life as good ones.

Wish me luck, people.

Who was that woman in the subway?


Singapore Subway

Singapore Subway

Last week, I saw a woman in the subway. Not a particularly beautiful woman, mousy, really, with no real personality, nothing on her face that attracted the eye at first glance and kept it there.

Tiny eyes, pudgy cheek, no chin, short straggly black hair. Clothes that had seen better days– a worn pink t-shirt, a sweat jacket on top, several sizes too big.

I kept my eyes traveling downwards, and saw the hands on her lap– strange little limbs, childlike, with four fingers each, the middle finger a stump. I then realized why I could see her across the crowd and not her neighbors sitting to one side. She sat  on a wheelchair, which gave her extra height.

And then I figured out why she had caught my eye. She hadn’t fallen asleep like I’d imagined, hadn’t nodded off—she was listening to music on her phone, and the slow, focused rhythm of  her head had drawn me to her.

As the train sped from one station to another emptying as it went, the head picked up pace and her face broke into smiles. By the time she pressed a button and wheeled herself out of the train at the station just before mine, I was fascinated.

I wanted to walk out and follow her, find out her story—who she lived with and where, what was her voice like, what she did for a living.

A week after, I still want those answers…and being a writer, I would do what I imagine most writers do—supply the answers myself, flesh out this woman in a story.

Have you passed by a stranger you could not forget, for whatever reason? What did you do to satisfy your curiosity?

Does Your Story Choose You?


Vrishchik Chaturvedi: Character Storyboard

Vrishchik Chaturvedi: Character Storyboard

The last few days, I’ve been researching my latest project, (I dare not call it a novel yet) and some of it has been nauseating.

I had to figure out everything possible about flaying  (don’t ask me why) and I was a little apprehensive–material like this would be hard to find, I thought. Apparently not. When I fed various sadistic keywords related to skinning a human body into Google, I was shocked to see the graphic details available on certain websites.

I have now borrowed books from the library which have diagrams and descriptions, and am making notes in between drinking camomile tea to keep myself calm. It is kind of hard to comprehend what humans are capable of doing to other humans.

All this begs the question (which someone asked me yesterday) : why do I have to write on a subject I can’t study with a straight face?

Because, like I told my questioner, I can’t help it.

The story has been haunting me for a while, three years, to be exact. It started with a voice that wouldn’t be denied, a character who spoke first in my notebook at a group writing session, then at a blogfest, and several times afterwards, including this week at another blogfest. His name is Vrishchik Chaturvedi. He is real now and has known it for a while– has said so, too. And his story is now taking shape, and tormenting me while at it.

I’m in control in the outside world, but he’s the lord of the world of my writing, and that is why I find myself, a girl who is afraid of the dark, who cannot sit through gory movies (not even relatively non-heavy-duty, harmless ones like I Know What You Did Last Summer), now writing about this guy who scares the living daylights out of her.

My story has chosen me, and I’ve decided I might as well get it out of my system.

So my question to the writers amongst you: Do you choose the story you’re going to write, or does the story choose you?

What D’n D Taught me About Characterization


As part of the continued guest post series, today we have writer Melody Kaufmann, a lovely blog-friend and twitter buddy!

I love the characterizations in her work, and invited her to talk about it in this post. Take it away Melody!

——

D&D is a group of friends essentially “acting out” a story, not unlike a movie.  In any story, good characterization is essential. Good characterization, in a novel, avoids author intrusion, and provides the reader with what my oldest child calls “movies for the brain”. For this to occur the author needs to “build the characters” which is what each player does at the start of a D&D game. In both there is a challenge and reward to “artistically representing human character and motive” in a believable and engaging manner.  The purpose in both cases is to create a story that others will enjoy.

Everything I know about characterization I learned by playing D&D. Ok not everything… but many things I learned while role-playing influence the method I use to create my characters. Webster defines characterization as “the artistic representation (as in fiction or drama) of human character or motives”. Characteristics and motives are what the reader uses to identify each character as an individual. Any writer can become published but real success for a writer comes from being read. Characterization is a part of what determines whether or not a work will be read. Here are a few tips for making your characterization work:

1>    Don’t kill everyone – parents, siblings, extended family give a character, particularly a main character, depth. If they have nothing to lose & no one that matters to them then why do we care about them? Relationships forge a character’s personality. Would Dr. Yueh betray Duke Leto if he had no one he loved? The Pet Sematary is only a local legend if Dr. Creed is a single man with no family.  The ties that bind sway character actions, change the entire plot, provide a WHY, and make us laugh. Don’t cut them.

2>    All good / all evil = boring – Even Voldemort’s back-story is one that evokes a certain amount of pity.  Batman is more popular than Superman because he is a less-than-perfect Dark Knight unlike the Man of Steel. Humans are rarely flawlessly good or entirely evil. This is why there are so many different alignments in D&D. A character’s identity is built from education, race, religious beliefs, and cultural background. Who he/she is and how he/she thinks should flow from the logical impact of each of these elements.

3>    Individuality is important but so is commonality – Characters with commonalities in same education, race, religious beliefs, and cultural background will share similarities. This doesn’t mean that all characters of a certain race or religion will be identical. It doesn’t happen in life so it doesn’t make sense in writing (unless you are writing about clones).  The point is that you must balance logical commonality with character individuality.

4>    Give your character a voice – Writers must think carefully about how each character sounds and behaves.  Different speech patterns and personalities add flavor to a story but not if it flies in the face of logic.  Favored sayings, personality quirks, and speech patterns should make sense as the by-product of the character’s background.  A lot of what connects readers to one character over another exists in the form of facial expressions, movement, and personality traits. This is the meat of characterization– getting the reader intimately acquainted with the characters. Here is where the reader decides who they like and who they hope doesn’t make it.  Characterization is the writer’s tool for sculpting the reader’s opinion.

5>    Make a Question list – I have a list of 20 questions that is indispensable. The idea came from my amazing husband who did much DM’ing (Dungeon Mastering) over the years. Moving from basic things (place of birth, appearance) through personality details (their goal in life, would they sell out) brings each character alive. I have multiple versions for short stories, novels, and series. An abbreviated version is usually enough for supporting characters. The list reminds me what the reader wants to know. It gets me fully acquainted with my characters. Not every bit of it appears in my story but as a writer, intimate knowledge of a character is an utter necessity to maintain consistency.

Sample Characterization List

There are many other things I’ve learned and not all of them from role-playing. Characters can save or ruin a story.  Invest in them and your reader will become invested as well.

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Melody-Ann Kaufmann

Melody-Ann Kaufmann

Melody-Ann Kaufmann is a Systems Developer for University of Florida, wife of a techno genius, a student completing her MS in Information Security, mother of two autistic children, writer, geek, gamer, anime & manga consumer, avid reader of eclectic works, web comic connoisseur, and the owner of a horse-sized dog. She can be found on Twitter @Safireblade & FaceBook here. Her fledgling website can be found at Safireblade.com.

U is for Under


Writing prompt: UNDER

Provided by: Claire Goverts via Twitter. Please visit her excellent blog, and drop me some prompts for V, W, X, Y,Z. I find I need them all.

Genre: Fiction

———————————

I don’t know about you, but when I look at me, I like what I see.

I like, for instance, the star that used to stop less than an inch above my cleavage. It stood out, blue and proud, the first tattoo I got me made, to remind me I could survive.

They marched me into and out of prison with a bunch of kids my age, which was twelve. Not the number of kids, my age. The star that time was at an innocent place, but it became a challenge to all that dared question my right to do with my life as I will.

That phoenix you see on my arm, I got it when first I fell in love. I had risen, I said, above all the hate given me and found it in me to love.

Each flower, each colored cloud, each letter, every sword, every petal, each verse, running into each other has meaning, some of which has escaped me.

I would not let the colors fade, I said, the primroses on my stomach would not wither and fall, the snake that crawls up my leg would not lose its way in a maze of wrinkles.

My skin is not a covering, it is what holds my body together, I said.

Now that my eighties are far behind and I no longer have a cleavage, when it is hard for me to swallow sometimes, when I remember each slow moment of what happened fifty years ago, but forget what I had for lunch, or if indeed I had one; I know not just my skin, but my body is a covering.

The colors of the tattoos have seeped into my soul, and even when the body is gone, the colors will remain.

——————-

I’m tweeting A to Z posts at #atozchallenge  There is also the A to Z Challenge Daily with links to Tweeted A-Z posts over the last 24 hours.
Thanks and shout-outs to organisers Arlee Bird (Tossing It Out) , Jeffrey Beesler’s (World of the Scribe),  Alex J. Cavanaugh (Alex J. Cavanaugh) , Jen Daiker ( Unedited), Candace Ganger (The Misadventures in Candyland) , Karen J Gowen  (Coming Down the Mountain) , Talli Roland ,  Stephen Tremp (Breakthrough Blogs )

Turning People into Story-fodder


Yesterday, at the check-out queue at my local grocery shop, I saw the basket sitting at the check-out counter in front of mine: microwavable pizza, microwavable sausage rolls, microwavable dinners piled one on top of the other, readymade sachets of coffee, with a measly packet of tomatoes peeking from the bottom. Lousy housewife, I said to myself.

I looked up to find a man whose shoulder-length blonde hair clung to his pate in desperation. He had a wilted beard, clothes that seemed to like the floor better than his body, downcast eyes.

I turned back at my basket piled with vegetables, wholemeal  pita bread, with ingredients for hummus and salad, and felt bad. I wanted to invite him home to dinner. That way, I told myself I could also find out who he was, his story, why he stood at a high-end grocery store in heartland Singapore, buying microwavable dinners. Did he have a family? What sort of job?

He paid his bill of 23.45 in one dollar coins and smaller change, from a zip-lock bag.

He moved on, and as the girl at the counter beeped each of my purchases and put them in packs for me to carry, I was filled with self-loathing. Instead of staying with my first impulse of sympathy, I had felt a writer’s curiosity. In my mind,  I had reduced the man to fodder for stories.

On my walk back home, I realised I did this all the time. I saw a man walk past, gangly, not young, nor yet old, with a face that would be the casting dream for a horror movie, deep-set reddish eyes, and a face that had been punched from his left jaw to right, and remained frozen that way. I chalked him up as someone I could write about, and turned back to observe his walk. A limp, not unlike that of aliens in movies like Men in Black.

I realised this is what I do, have always done, even before I was a writer: wonder about people, make up stories about them. Too late to change that now.

As I unlocked my door thumping down the grocery bags, I knew I was ok as long as I was not deliberately writing/publishing something as a personal vendetta against someone. Characters can only be borrowed from life and they’re true Frankensteins, with body parts and characteristics borrowed from various sources. As long as I had a worthwhile story, I had every right as a writer to be curious. And yes, the first impulse of empathy and compassion? As a writer I can’t afford to lose that either.

If turning people into story-fodder is sin, I’m willing to live with that.

Characters Do Their Own Writing


My character is hounding me to write about her!

Stalked by My 'Character'

It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.
~William Faulkner

I’m with Faulkner on this, only my situation is the other way around.

No matter what I do, one of my characters has gotten ahold of me since last week and won’t let go. She haunts my dreams, and sneaks into any writing I do, generally follows me around and strings along a whole gaggle of ideas behind her.

I guess I must buckle down and write.

Writing a Letter to the Creator


Dear Creator,

It is hard living in someone else’s head, spattered all over.

But what would you know about that? I live inside your head, not the other way around.

You dress me up, change my gender at will, you parade me in different countries, and sometimes, I’m not alone, you put me in there with other bits of me, dressed as other people, and have fun watching how I talk to another of my avatars.

For that is what they are, Avatars. The protagonist, the antagonist, the supporting cast, the bit roles. It’s me, all of them, depending on the time of the day, what you think up, how morbid you’re feeling or how happy.

“Be cruel to your main character,” you’ve stuck in bold letters on your table, and you sure take your advice seriously. You bash me up, kill me, make me wait to die, jump over hoops, lose the woman I love, make me dress up as a woman, a child, a dog, make me crash a car, lose a fortune. You know the drift.

But that’s not all. You chase me with a questionnaire, and I have to answer in character. You dress me up in skirts, ask me to pretend I’m a woman, and then ask me what I want. When I tell you, you make me wait for my own execution instead and then rescue me only if the reader would enjoy my rescue more than my death.

Bottomline: as long as you’re having fun, or getting something written, or published, all is right with the world. Who gives a rat’s ass what happens to me?

I wouldn’t say I don’t have fun. Even though it is me wooing an avataar, I love the romantic bits you let me play, though I hate it when you leave a sex-scene half-written and walk off to do your laundry, and then forget about the whole thing entirely when your friend calls. Have you any idea what it does to a man, being frozen in that position?

And then there’s the editor to think about. Just when I’m convinced I’m so- -and-so to whom such-and-such happened, the editor comes and makes you chop entire bits of my life, dream up others, mostly more unpleasant than the ones before.

Editors can’t stand me having cups of tea. I like my cups of tea dammit. They won’t let you let me rest either: Make a scene, they tell you, Show us through his actions what he is thinking, don’t bloody Tell us! There Must be some Disaster, he Must Fail, what do you think you’re doing, giving him such a cosy life, whoever would want to read that??!!

Now, I can stand you doing things to me, because I owe you my life after all, such as it is (or they are…thanks to you I have multiple lives, and things never get boring), but I owe nothing to that editor!! Why does he have to come and poke his nose in my business I don’t know.

So, I’m calling it quits. Going away. Holiday. Vacation. Ciao ciao. Heading for the exit.

Won’t be around to wake you up in the middle of the night because I’m having a nervous breakdown. Won’t follow you around as you water the plants or go out with friends. Won’t tug at your skirts and remind you to finish a scene so I can get on with things.

You don’t like it? Bah…fat good that will do you, Almighty Creator! The most you can do is kill me, so have at it. Sick of life as it is.

You’ll have to beg me on bended knees to come back. I’ll watch you grovel alright, and If I come back, it would be on my Own terms. I know better than anyone else you need your fix. I Am that fix.

So long then, and happy pushing around the Writer”s Block!!

Yours truly,

C

Character Interview


I stalked around my apartment today, asking my character what he wants. he won’t talk. Sulking. Wonder why.

Mostly my character interviews just flow, they tell me their most intimate secrets, rage, cry, buzz around my head.But today, there is this oppressive silence, filtering out of my head, passing through each strand of my hair, charging the air around. I keep feeling if I untie my hair it would stand on end, like a halo, a filmy hedgehog.

What a character.

Writing about creating good company


This is a passage I read today:

Most people read fiction not so much for plot as for company. In a good piece of fiction, you can meet someone and get to know her in-depth, or you can meet yourself, in disguise, and imaginatively live out and understand your passions. –Josip Novakovich

So, for a reader, characters are important. What about their importance for writers?

I’m struggling with a character in one of my stories. The plot needs to go one way, and he is going the other. How far would you let your character dictate your plot, and when would you rein him/her in?