Hi everyone!! *waves frantically*
It has been 2 months since I last posted–can you believe it? It doesn’t actually feel that long, and I won’t lie: it has been great for my creative self to not have to worry about blogging.
Because, here’s the thing, guys: I’ve run out of things to say when it comes to writing.
I’ve written 560 posts, 38 newsletters, and who knows how much additional content on Pub(lishing) Crawl, Let the Words Flow, and other blogs across the interwebosphere.
That’s pretty insane when you think about it, and to be honest: I’m really proud of what I’ve built. I won three different awards for “Best Writing Blogs” in 2014, and I launched the Misfits & Daydreams (and got to watch that really take off).
I love my newsletter–like love it. It feels wildly intimate, and I find people are more likely to email me directly than they used to be (which is wonderful!). So I will 100% continue to wax poetic about writing, publishing, etc. on there. I’ll also continue to answer all questions put to me in the forum.
But I’d love to take this blog in a new direction.
You see, I’m not just a writer. Like, I actually have a number of hobbies (gasp!) and passions (double gasp!) that have nothing to do with books.
I make bath and body products–makeup too. I tap dance. I go to the dojo three times a week. I have an unhealthy obsession with good, good coffee. I LOVE fashion (even if I don’t always have the guts to follow it), and I love makeup application/techniques even more.
I love dogs (I’m sure you all knew that), and have a weakness for any and all unlikely animal pairings as well as cute baby animals doing cute baby animal things.
I like food (especially gluten-free cookies), and I really care about what sorts of ingredients and chemicals go into my body. So no surprise: I spend a lot of time cooking and finding new recipes to try (especially new gluten-free cookie recipes).
I enjoy DIY house projects. My husband and I bought a wreck of a house two years ago, and since then, we’ve been fixing it up all by ourselves–and on a very tight budget. No surprise: but I’m a huge fan of Ikea hacks and yard sales. 😉
Maybe a lot of you already know this stuff about me, but I’d love to dig more deeply into all these things and to connect with other people who are interested in them as well. Plus, I think it would give YOU ALL, my incredible readers, a deeper understanding of who I am.
I mean, if you enjoy my books or my writing advice, then you might also enjoy understanding where it all comes from. I’m one of those ANNOYING people who sees a life lesson in everything–so be prepared for blog posts in that vein.
Now, I’m not saying I won’t still write about writing or publishing–I absolutely will. And again: I’ll still discuss those things and answer questions in the Misfits & Daydreamers.
But for 2015, I’m going to give this new, fresh direction of content a try.
You tell me: What kind of non-writing stuff would you like to hear about? You can ask me anything–honestly, you can! Or, if you’re not comfortable leaving a comment, don’t ever hesitate to email me directly: susan @ susandennard.com
Also: If you all have ANY QUESTIONS about writing or publishing, I’d still love to get those! Hearing what you guys want to know helps me create content for the newsletter. 🙂
Speak up:52 comments
| TAGS:blogs, fun, Misfits & Daydreamers, Writers
I think of 2013 as “The Year I Learned To Accept Publishing For What It Is (and to stop whining about it)”, and that year held a lot of rough, pretty low patches for me. I wasn’t the only one. In fact, if you do a quick scan of blogs from other authors in my debut year (2012), you’ll see almost every one went through the same emotional highs, lows, and fist-clenching frustrations.
It’s just part of the author’s journey.
But I weathered 2013…only to face a new year with a whole new set of challenges. Forever after, 2014 will be “The Year That I Thought I Was Creatively Broken (and then realized I wasn’t).”
It was a hard year, but I’ve stepped into 2015 with a whole new outlook–and a fresh awareness of WHO I really am, WHAT I really want, and WHY I love telling stories.
Here’s what I learned in 2014, and what I want to focus on as I move through 2015.
1. Saying “no” is okay.
You see, there is such a thing as too much on a to-do list, and I reached that point halfway into 2014. What with the blogging, the newslettering, the giving back, the workshop-teaching, the traveling, the drafting, the deadlines, and–of course–the general day-to-day surviving, I BURNED MYSELF OUT. Like, I scorched myself into a husk of my former self (read #2 below).
It got so bad that in October I had to take an impromptu getaway for a 1.5 weeks with no internet in order to find my zen and learn to simply function again. I wrote about that whole-assing experience here, and that immersion session was a REAL eye-opener for how I operate on a creative level.
Actually, you should just read this brilliant blog post because author Tricia Sullivan states it all better than I ever could. 😉
Resolution: I will practice saying “no” to external obligations that I don’t need to do. In fact, stay tuned for some announcements on this coming soon. 🙂
2. Health and life should come first.
I think it’s easy to lose sight of what matters when your job is your passion. Not only do I define myself by my writing, but I love, love, LOVE what I do. Even when I made no money off of this, I still wrote. And even if, one day, I make no money off of this, I would still write. Forever.
But, as mentioned in #1, there is such a thing as too much, and when your health starts to deteriorate because you’re determined to write “just one more blog post” or revise “just two more pages,” then you’ve got a problem.
I had a problem–some pretty serious health problems, actually, that were brought on by some dietary issues that were wildly, WILDLY exacerbated by my stress levels.
And of course, when your health is bad, then your creative life suffers…which just increases the stress even more…which just makes the writing even harder.
But in the fall of 2014, I really worked to get my health and life back on track. I started karate again (after a 5 year hiatus! Shame on me!), focused on keeping my diet 100% clean of the foods I know make me sick (bye-bye dairy and gluten and sugar 🙁 ), and spending quality time with friends and family. I can already see a HUGE shift in not only my physical happiness, but my creative well-being.
Resolution: I will practice saying “yes” to personal, non-writing endeavors.
3. There is no Right Way to write a book.
Despite knowing this on the surface–that there is no right way to write a book–I didn’t really learn this deep in my bones until late in 2014. I struggled to write a novella (like REALLY struggled) and was convinced I’d lost my mojo…Then I stepped into drafting a new full-length novel, and after a few months of seemingly fruitless brainstorming and false starts, I was seriously starting to despair…
I mean, I had SUCH an easy time with Strange & Ever After and Truthwitch. Why was I struggling so much with a prequel and a sequel?
To make matters worse, I kept seeing (read: actively searching for) all these authors online who outlined so easily, then stuck to said outline, and then churned out 6+ books a year… I convinced myself that if they could do it, so could I.
Just like it was wrong to try to emulate authors who wrote everyday or into the wee hours of the night or by the light of a full moon. Just because they seemed to write more/better/faster than I didn’t mean their methods would work within my own weird framework.
What is WRONG with me?! ⇒ That thought must’ve entered my head 10000000 times a day this 2014.
Until, literally in the space of a heartbeat (while driving to karate, I might add), I realized 2 things:
First: Not a single one of my novels has ever come out the same way. Some have required many, MANY rewrites and exploratory drafts…while some have come out almost “perfect.” But just because one book poured forth in a frenzy of inspiration does not mean they all will. And when a book is hard to grind out, IT DOESN’T MEAN I AM BROKEN.
It just means that this book is going to require a different approach from the last. And that’s all good.
Second: I cannot and absolutely MUST NOT compare my method to other writers. I think it’s great–vital even–to explore other approaches to writing a novel, and I truly, truly love attending writing workshops or reading about other authors’ methods. But just because something works for that guy over there doesn’t mean it will work for me…and yet again, if it doesn’t work for me, then IT DOESN’T MEAN I AM BROKEN.
Resolution: Remember to trust the process and allow each book to grow in its own unique way.
4. Simplify and prioritize all the stuff.
This might sound similar to #1, but I’m not talking about emotional stuff so much as physical STUFF. The clutter, the knickknacks, the jeans you swear you’ll fit into next month, or the present given by a well-meaning friend that you’ll NEVER use…
I have so much junk–as does my husband–and late in 2014, I realized it was starting to weigh on me. My office had so many piles of un-filed paper, that I was afraid to walk in lest I be reminded of it all…and feel crippling guilt. My closet was a disorganized mess of so many things I never wore anymore. And the basement was literally filled with boxes that were unpacked despite having lived in this house for almost 2 years (I am deeply ashamed of this–not gonna lie).
So hubby and I both decided it was time for a trip (or four) to Goodwill. In a single day, we got rid of two thirds of our clothing. Believe it or not, I felt instantly lighter and my clothing-decision-time in the morning has been drastically shortened.
We also went through our endless supply of toiletries (do I really need that body spray from 2007 still? Yuck!), old reading material (my husband is SUCH a magazine/newspaper hoarder), unused electronics (bye-bye iPod from college!), and we even donated our old car.
In a single day, everything just got simpler. Best of all, organizing my office finally seemed manageable. Gone is the miserable reminder of backed-up filing, and now I have clean place I can step into for writing. 😉
Resolution: Stop accumulating stuff. If I don’t need it, I won’t buy it and I definitely won’t keep it.
5. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
This is something my agent, Joanna Volpe, has been telling me since I signed with her 4 years ago: “Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint.”
It’s such a great quote, and it’s true not only in the writing world, but for life in general. Rush-rush-rushing to have All The Things NOW doesn’t get you where you want to go. Slowing down, focusing on the long-term, and really pushing quality over quantity–that is how you sustain a healthy career and a healthy life.
I have a published trilogy and novella under my belt. That’s pretty freaking cool. Even cooler is the fact that it’s only the beginning. Few authors have crazy success right out of the debut-gates, and most never have New York Times Bestseller success. But does that make them unsuccessful? Goodness no! So does my own mid-list status mean I’m a failure.
Longevity is what matters here. Staying relevant, writing what I love, and keeping my own personal reader base happy–that’s what really matters in the publishing biz.
The same could be said for life in general, no? Longevity, doing what I love, and keeping I friends and family (and myself) happy is what really matters in the end.
Resolution: Don’t put pressure on the next book to be The Big One since there are many next books still to come. This is only the beginning. 🙂
So there you have it, dear readers. Those were the biggest, most life-changing realizations I had in 2014–and these are the resolutions I’m holding closest for 2015.
You tell me: What did you learn last year? What are you hoping to do differently (or the same) in 2015?
| TAGS:Inspiration, New Years, resolutions, Writers, writing resources
As I recently discussed in a Misfits & Daydreamers issue, whole-assing (a.k.a. full immersion) is the only way I can get a book written. I need to fall so deeply into the story that no outside distractions can…well, distract.
I’m not the only author who feels this way. In fact, I’d say that the #1 complaint I hear from my fellow writers is that email, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr…basically, The Internet, is a black hole that both sucks away attention and also sucks away motivation.
Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE me some social media–and nothing gets me more excited than Twitter conversations about Vampire Diaries. But, whether we realize it or not, all those interactions stress us out.
It’s all part of what’s called the Zeigarnik Effect, which basically says that unfinished tasks cause stress and intrude into our thoughts. So for every unanswered email, tweet, text, etc. that you’ve ever read, your brain is carrying around STRESS. And until the messages are answered, that stress will build up and take away precious attention for creativity.
The brain likes finished tasks–it can’t let them go otherwise. So until you ANSWER or DEAL WITH all those social media messages, your brain can’t relax. It can’t unplug.
But hey, if you don’t even know the new email is there, then whoa! Suddenly your brain has some freed-up space.
But it’s not just messages that cause stress–it’s ANY to-do item that’s unfinished. Those packages that still need dropping at the post office. Those blog interviews you never got around to finishing or ARCs that you totally meant to read/review…
So how do we fix all this stress? We finish, we eliminate, and we stop taking on more.
As Jeff Vandermeer says in his awesome Booklife:
…I am not the kind of person whose book promotion/Internet brain is interwoven with my creative brain. The two are separate. To summon one I must banish the other. To go from being in the moment while writing in the morning to this other thing in the mid-afternoons–this person who fields requests for interviews, fan mail, production questions on forthcoming books, and all the other things a writer or other creative person deals with outside writing–to do this, I must make a transition. I cross the border into another land, assume another identity. Because, for me at least, I am becoming someone else entirely.
This is true guys. So true.
I am both Writer Sooz who never bathes and wears the same disgusting sweatshirt day-in and day-out…And I’m also Social Sooz who loves to talk to other writers and readers, who gets all glammed up for an event, and who could spend HOURS on Twitter discussing Henry Cavill’s perfect jawline. But the two sides of me don’t mix too well, and when Social Sooz takes on new tasks, then those unfinished jobs (or unanswered messages) prey on Writer Sooz’s creativity.
Hence me making Fridays my “administrative day.” This has been working quite well for me thus far. BUT, when it comes to drafting an entire book from scratch and also on deadline, I have to allocate my time in an even stricter way. I can’t just make Friday’s my day for Social Sooz. I can’t just try to avoid Twitter and Pinterest for as long as my self-control lasts (ungh, I love them both so much….). And I can’t just put everything on hold to travel for an event.
Somehow, I need to give Writer Sooz all the time and distraction-free space that she (er…I?) needs to write a book.
So, after chatting with Sarah about this, we decided to take December and January “off.” We’re both on deadline and we’re both pretty empty on the event front–which means, this is the PERFECT time for us both to try to whole-ass our way through some first drafts.
What we’ve decided to do–at least for now–is to assign strict “No Internet” hours for each weekday. We’ve settled on 12PM – 4PM. During those four hours, we’ve agreed we WILL NOT:
- Answer emails.
- Go on Twitter.
- Check Tumblr.
- Pin something.
- Use any other form of social media.
In fact, unless there’s some pressing research need, we won’t get on the internet AT ALL from 12 to 4 every weekday. Personally, I’m hoping the less I’m on, then the less I’ll even want to be on… (Bye-bye Stefan vs. Damon discussions…at least for now.)
On top of the 12-4 ban, Sarah and I are going to:
- Eliminate blogging (unless there’s some important announcement to make).
- Cut back on newsletter-ing (well, Sarah doesn’t have one–so just me!).
- Take a 2 week holiday break on Starkillers updates.
Sarah and I hope that, at the end of our Detox December and Rejuvenation January, we’ll not only each have a first draft (or a large chunks of a first draft) completed but that we’ll feel more connected to our writing. We’ll love our stories and our characters, we’ll find creative flow is easier to achieve, and our Writer Selves will have had a much needed “vacation” from our Social Sides.
Now, since December tends to be a time of reflection, and since January is often a time for setting new goals, we thought we’d invite YOU ALL to join us in our creative immersion time! We’ve got a little image you can pin on your Twitter feed or add as your Facebook status…or put anywhere, really! It’ll let people know you’re taking a little break (but will return!), and it’ll let us all join in the #DetoxDecember and #RejuvJanuary together! 🙂
Alrighty, guys! I’ll see you on the 2015 flip-side! (There will be a newsletter on Friday, and a few more throughout this time. Plus, I’ll still be on my social media outlets…just not as much. PEACE!!)
Speak up:24 comments
| TAGS:#DetoxDecember, #RejuvJanuary, immersion, internet break, vacation, Writers, writing resources
As promised for NaNoWriMo, I’m organizing all my past content so that YOU can more easily find what you’re looking for.
During week 1, I covered A Writer’s Basic Toolbox, and in week 2, I dug deeper into the more advanced tools at a writer’s disposal. Week 3 was for The Productive Writer, and this week, we’re moving onto fear, writer’s block, and passion.
Fear & Self-Doubt
- From FRAB to Fab, Part 1: the oft-forgotten culprit behind writer’s block
- From FRAB to Fab, Part 2: finding the fears that hold you back
- From FRAB to Fab, Part 3: the science of fear and why fighting won’t help
- From FRAB to Fab, Part 4: the best laid plans of FRABs and men
- The Comparison Game
- When the Glass Isn’t Half-Full
- Gaining Some Perspective on Criticism
Writer’s Block & Motivation
- Writing Constipation
- Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard
- If it Doesn’t Fit, Don’t Force It
- Trusting Your Own Work
- Maintaining Passion for a Story
- Simple Tricks to Unstick Your Plot: the Domino Effect
- Simple Tricks to Unstick Your Plot: Where is Everyone?
- Reaching for the Stars
- The Writing is All that Really Matters
- True to Your Heart
- The Importance of Letting it Go
- Patience While Querying Agents
- The Power of the Pivot
- Recognizing When to Move On
Speak up:3 comments
| TAGS:criticism, fear, FRAB, happiness, Inspiration, motivation, writer's block, writer's constipation, Writers, writing resources
I got a bit behind during week 2 of NaNo. Some major changes happened in the trajectory of my projects (I’ll explain in Friday’s newsletter), so I’ve got some MAJOR catching up to do this week!
Anyway, as promised for NaNoWriMo, I’m sharing links each Monday to all my past content so that YOU can more easily find what you’re looking for.
In addition to the organized posts, I have a forum open where you can ask anything about today’s topic, and I’ll answer it as best I can.
During week 1, I covered A Writer’s Basic Toolbox (ask questions here!), and in week 2, I dug deeper into the more advanced tools at a writer’s disposal (ask questions here!).
This week, we’re moving onto maximizing our productivity and output.
- The Writing is All that Really Matters
- A Recipe for Success
- The Productivity Pyramid
- When Life Gets in the Way
Rituals & Routines
Rhythm & Immersion
- The Power of Rhythm
- Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard
- Do One Thing Well
- The Importance of Whole-A**ing One Thing
- Finding the Writing Groove
Goals, Breaks, & Progress
- The Power of Realism, Reset, and Record
- The Importance of Other Hobbies
- Keeping a Writing Journal
- Writing Journals (Part 2)
- Holding Yourself and Your Writing Accountable
Improving Your Skills
- Deliberate Practice Makes Perfect
- Pushing Your Writing to the Next Level, part 1
- Pushing Your Writing to the Next Level, part 2
Speak up:2 comments
| TAGS:flow, immersion, journal, NaNoWriMo, productivity, rhythm, rituals, routine, Writers, writing flow, writing resources
As promised for NaNoWriMo, I’ll share links to past posts each Monday organizing all my past content so that YOU can more easily find what you’re looking for.
In addition to the organized posts, I have a forum open where you can ask anything about said topic, and I’ll answer it as best I can.
Last week, I covered A Writer’s Basic Toolbox (ask questions here!), and this week, we’re digging into the more advanced tools at a writer’s disposal.
Digging Deeper into Character
- Writing 3D Characters
- Dragging Characters through the Wringer
- Emotional Dominoes
- Reconnecting with your Characters
Digging Deeper into Plot
- Story Threads and Resonance
- Adding New Ideas vs. Knowing When to Streamline
- Crafting an Ending that Sings
Infodump & Backstory
Show vs. Tell
- Do You Actually Need that Romance?
- How to Write Romance, Part 1: Do you actually need this?
- How to Write Romance, Part 2: From Character Springs Love
- How to Write Romance, Part 3: Scene Level Romantic Tension
- Hate-at-First-Sight Love Stories
- An Exercise in Romance
- Of Kissing and Romance
- Different Types of Romance, or My Love Can’t Be Labeled
- Finding Your Voice, Part 1: Voice and Promises
- Finding Your Voice, Part 2: Exercises
- From Opening Line Springs Voice
- Troubleshooting Deep Point of View and Voice
Speak up:2 comments
| TAGS:backstory, character, characterization, infodump, NaNoWriMo, plot, romance, show, voice, Writers, writing resources
Why no new content?
Well, I did a survey a few weeks ago, and of the 100 amazing people who responded, I’d say ~90% asked for content I’ve already delved into quite thoroughly. I realized that people don’t even know all the topics I’ve covered before, and so rather than reinvent the wheel, I’ll simply organize it all so you can find it more easily!
In addition to the organized posts, I have a forum open where you can ask ANYTHING about said topic, and I’ll answer it as best I can. 🙂
- Simple Tricks to Unstick Your Plot: the Domino Effect
- Simple Tricks to Unstick Your Plot: Where is Everyone?
- Building Plot from Character
- The Point When Everything Changes
- Understanding Reader Expectations
- Taking Tips from the Movies & TV
- Goal, Motivation, and Conflict
- Creating Memorable Characters: Protagonists
- Creating Memorable Characters: Antagonists
- How to Craft Characters: From Opening Lines Springs Voice
- How to Craft Characters: Desperate Needs
- How to Craft Characters: Deepening with Backstory
Point of View
- Which Point of View is Right for You?
- Filter Words and Distancing Point of View
- Troubleshooting Deep Point of View and Voice
- Changing POV from 3rd to 1st
- Dragging Characters through the Wringer
Setting & World-Building
Speak up:6 comments
| TAGS:character, characterization, NaNoWriMo, NaNoWriMo Bootcamp, plot, point of view, POV, scary scene, scenes, setting, world-building, Writers, writing resources
Today we’re discussing backstory and history.
Now, I’m sure many of you are wondering WHY history/backstory is #3 on my list. I mean, a person is the sum of their past, right? It should be the most important thing!
A Tale of Two Bros
Let’s say you’re on the bus, and a bro with a cap sits next to you. He talks like a bro (his “voice”), and when the bus gets stuck in traffic, he complains like a bro.
“Man, I’m gonna be late for class.” He tugs his Gators cap even lower. “This blows.”
Ah, well, now you know his external need (to get to class on time) in addition to his voice. And as you start chatting with him, you discover what’s at stake: he’s going to miss the final exam if this bus doesn’t hurry the hell up. Worse, he’ll fail the class if he misses the final exam, and in turn, he’ll lower his GPA and LOSE his scholarship! WHOA, the poor guy!
And, double whoa: you have a story. You don’t need to know ANYTHING about where this bro came from to understand what he wants and what’s at stake if he doesn’t get it.
Basically, you could write a complete story with a strong beginning/middle/end without any history ever coming into play. Bro needs to get to class on time–will he or won’t he?
Let’s say, though, that while you’re stuck in traffic, you notice the bro texting someone. This someone is a real jerk, and he’s saying stuff like, “Don’t fail that final, dickweed.”
The bro catches you staring at his screen and flushes. “That’s just my older brother. He’s a jerk.”
“Where is he?” you ask.
“New York. He graduated with honors two years, and one of his frat brothers got him a hot shot job in Manhattan. My dad’s from Manhattan, so he always wanted us to end up there.”
“Are you in a frat?” You think this is a polite question that might, perhaps, distract the poor bro from his current troubles.
But he only glowers and slouches lower in his seat. “Naw. I tried for the same fraternity as my brother, but there was some rumor going around that I…” He leans in and whispers something TRULY awful into your ear. “But I didn’t do that,” he hastens to add. “That’s just what someone said, and it ruined my chances of anyone letting me join.”
You believe the bro didn’t do what that rumor said–and you can’t help but suspect that perhaps his older brother is the one who started that terrible tail.
Backstory Adds Dimension
Now, how did learning about the bro’s family history change things?
It certainly deepened the story (and perhaps increased your emotional investment in it). It also humanized the character. He’s not “just a bro” anymore, right? He’s more 3D with this tangible backstory that we can all relate to in one way or another.
If you’re like me, though, you don’t necessarily know the backstory/history of your character until you start writing. That said, I don’t approach a book with a TOTALLY blank slate. I usually know the bare minimum about a character.
For example, when I started Truthwitch I knew these things about Safiya, one of my heroines:
- She grew up in a mountainous region that’s part of a big, Austro-Hungarian-like empire.
- She and her uncle don’t get along. He’s a drunk and pretty emotionally abusive.
- She’s been trained to fight by her childhood bodyguard and that bodyguard’s husband (both men, in case you’re wondering).
- She has been in school for a few years and away from her uncle.
That was what I knew. I had no specifics, and I didn’t need them.
You see, part of the joy of writing for me is having those in-scene SPARKS–those little snippets of a childhood or experience that you can suddenly insert and that you didn’t know had happened.
But remember: it’s those LITTLE details that matter most.
It’s All in the Specific Details
Show don’t tell, right? That’s what we’re taught, and it’s an invaluable lesson to have.
Small details and specific memories are HOW we show a character’s history.
So, here’s an example of a tiny detail that came to me as I drafted a scene between Safiya and her uncle (pardon the roughness of the writing):
“No,” he cut in. “This is not a drunken scheme.” Eron splayed his hands on the glass, and old burn scars on the backs of his fingers and knuckles stretched taut.
Safi hated those scars. She’d stared at the white pocks and holes a millions times growing up. In Praga. In Veñaza City. In any town large enough to boast a decent taro game, Safi had watched those hands fan out cards while Eron waited for her signal to fold or pursue.
“You have no idea what war is like,” Eron went on, tone hazy as if his mind drifted across the old scars like his eyes did.
I could have simply said,
Safi’s uncle was a drunk who always forced her to use her magic in his taro card games.
That took fewer words, but…Well, I hope you can gauge which example works better. Which feels more real.
Of course, you can’t ALWAYS show critical backstory or information. That can get unwieldy or slow pacing to much. I have a post here on how to weave in more the expository-type information.
Alright, I’ll leave you on once more example. In this snippet, I introduce a critical piece of my pirate prince’s character. I could’ve simply said,
Merik’s homeland was starving, and as such, he was a careful young man–never wasteful.
But instead, as I wrote the scene, I realized he had his backstory could actually give him a fun character quirk that I could use again and again throughout the series.
Merik’s furious gaze dropped back to his plate. It was scraped clean. Even the bones had been swept into his napkin. Several of the other guests had noticed—he hadn’t exactly hidden it when he used the beige silk to pluck the bones from his plate.
Merik was even tempted to ask his nearest neighbors if he could have their chicken bones, most of which were still untouched and sat surrounded by green beans. Sailors never wasted food—not when they never knew if they would catch another fish or see land again.
And especially not when their homeland was starving.
This was a different approach. In the first example, I used a physical feature to trigger emotions and specific memories of the past. In the second example, I used a specific action (a funny one) to hint at my character’s history. Either way works, and there are certainly OTHER options for weaving in these tiny, specific details.
You tell me: How do you discover backstory? How do you insert it into your story?
Speak up:8 comments
| TAGS:backstory, character, characterization, Truthwitch, Writers, writing resources
This is the second post in this series (find the first post on voice and opening lines here).
To recap, here are the components I consider most important when crafting my characters (note: this might be VERY different from what you do, and that’s 100% okay):
- Desperate need
- Behavioral/speaking quirks
- Looks/physical quirks
Today we’re talking about desperate needs–or what your character wants so desperately that he/she will do anything to get it. Some people think of this as the “goal.”
There are two kinds of desperate needs/goals: external need and internal need.
The external need is a thing that the character wants. That thing–be it saving someone, stopping someone, finding something, delivering something, etc.–drives your external plot. There are tangible stakes linked to the external need.
So for example, Eleanor (in Something Strange & Deadly) wants to find her brother and stop the evil necromancer. Those are her external needs, and if she fails, then lots of people will die (our stakes!).
The internal need is what the character wants on a personal, spiritual level. Oftentimes, he/she isn’t even aware that he/she wants this, and the stakes are much more emotional in nature.
Eleanor’s internal need is to learn how to think for herself. If she doesn’t solve this, she’ll be forever unhappy and bossed around by her family/society.
Now, oftentimes, the external need cannot be achieved until the internal need is. In other words, our hero can’t save the day without first becoming a better person–Eleanor isn’t equipped to face the necromancer until she has learned to think for herself.
But the tricky thing about internal needs is that they’re directly related to a character’s deepest fear. In other words: the internal need comes from the character’s deepest internal fear.
Now, I’m not talking Indiana Jones’s fear of snakes here. I mean something emotional. Something the character probably doesn’t even know he/she is afraid of.
Take Eleanor again: she’s afraid that the people she loves will leave her (or stop loving her) if she doesn’t do what they ask. This fear leads her to a sort of chain:
Deepest Fears → Internal Need → External Need
Eleanor’s fear of being alone and unloved leads to her always doing what her mother and other people want. This in turn makes her internally need to learn be happy with autonomy and make her own choices. Until she learns how to decide for herself and give up “people pleasing,” she can’t meet her external need of stopping the evil necromancer that’s threatening Philadelphia.
It’s because these needs and fears are so deeply entwined in the story’s outcome and in the progression of story events that I consider them to be the second most important component of character development.
So…how do I figure out what the needs and fears are?
Finding the Needs & the Fears
To start, I write the book.
Why? Because knowing the general plot gives me my character’s external need. When I started writing Something Strange & Deadly, I knew Eleanor was searching for her missing brother. Which means she NEEDS to find her brother! External need, check!
As I wrote on and sank more deeply into Eleanor’s voice and emotions, I realized she was bossed around by her mother and society. She wasn’t very happy about it, either. Seeing these scenes unfold and feeling Eleanor’s emotions in them gave me her internal need.
And of course, as I wrote on, I uncovered snippets of her backstory. Her father had died when she was young, her brother had run off to tour the world (and left his family penniless), and her mother had gone off the deep end from grief. To add to it all, Eleanor’s friends and the high society she’d grown up with had abandoned her. What few people she still had left in her life, she clung to out of fear that they’d leave her too.
So from that backstory, I now knew Eleanor’s deepest fear.
Basically I discover my character in the reverse of the cause/effect list above:
External Need → Internal Need → Deepest Fears
How This Can Work for You
I realize that not all of you are plantsers (a.k.a. headlights outliners), and I also realize not all of you are starting a new project. You might be halfway through or revising even. You might be sticking like glue to an outline or you might be totally winging it.
Either way, you can apply needs and fears to your writing.
If you’re an outliner and just starting a first draft: Sort out your character’s desperate needs (internal and external) as well as your character’s deepest fears while you’re outlining (or before, even). Then make sure that your character’s needs and fears jive with the events you’ve planned. Remember that characters take action based on who they are, and who they are is a combination of needs and fears.
If you’re a pantser or already finished with a draft: Discover the needs/fears as you write, or–if that’s too “structured for you”–figure it out after you’re finished. You can always revise the story to fit the needs and fears you’ve uncovered during the course of writing (I almost always have to do this), and you can make sure the emotional dominoes all line up.
And that concludes part 2 in this How to Craft Characters series.
You tell me: Do you work with desperate needs/goals or deep fears when creating characters? And if you’re in the midst of drafting a story now, can you pinpoint the needs/fears?
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| TAGS:Ask Sooz a Question, characterization, Miss Eleanor Fitt, Something Strange & Deadly, Writers, writing resources
Recently, I received this question in my inbox:
How do you get to know your characters? Do you work on getting to know them well before drafting, or do you get to know them as you work?
Honestly, at first I was like, “I HAVE NO IDEA HOW I DO THIS.” I’m such a free-writer and character is one of those things I really, really don’t plan well (I scribble things in my notebook, but it always changes as I draft).
So clearly I can answer part 2 of the question with great confidence: No, I don’t work on getting to know my characters before I draft. I get to know them AS I draft, and then I make sure voice/backstory/etc. all line up in revisions.
But, seriously, how DO I get to know my characters while I’m drafting? This isn’t something I’ve never thought too hard about. The voice is just there…or it isn’t. So as I always so when I get a tough question, I grabbed a piece of scratch paper and tried to break down what I do. What I ended up writing down are what I consider the components of character (and these are in order of importance):
- Desperate need
- Behavioral/speaking quirks
- Looks/physical quirks
I thought I’d spend the next few posts breaking each of those character components down a bit more. This week, we’ll address voice.
From Opening Lines Spring Voice
Now I just did two posts in the Misfits & Daydreamers on voice–here’s one on what voice is and here’s one with tips to find your voice. I also have this post on troubleshooting POV and voice (the key is in the filtering!).
The thing about voice is that it reflects who your character is. We can understand EVERYTHING we need to about a character (without backstory) so long as the voice is strong. We can even be entertained and put up with slow pacing (or a lack of a desperate need) for a while so long as the voice is killer.
As I was trying to break apart how I find character, I realized that there was ONE MORE STEP in my voice-finding toolbox that I forgot to mention in the newsletter: opening lines.
But let’s back this up just a bit.
I’ve mentioned before that I write stories based on character. My heroes, heroines, villains, and love interests–they dictate the plot and I just hang on for the ride. IF I don’t have a character, then I don’t have a story. Period.
In fact, the two times I tried to write novellas based on characters I didn’t know (and therefore didn’t have any connection to or inspiration for), I struggled months and months and MONTHS to find character–ALL because I didn’t know have some inner connection or inner need to write this character.
Yet in both of those head-desk-just-kill-me-now instances, when I finally stumbled upon the Right Story, I found it because I discovered the Right Voice.
And I found the Right Voice because I found the Right Opening Line.
So actually, the title of this post would more accurately be:
From Opening Lines Springs Voice (From Which Springs Character)
But that’s a mouthful. 😉
Basically, something magical happens when I’m ready to write the Right Story. An opening line will just appear in my mind. Poof!
I wish I could tell you HOW these opening lines (and subsequent voice) appear…But I honestly don’t know. All I can say is that it’s a culmination of all those scribblings in the notebook and my character playlists and the feel/promises I’m trying to create within the story. They knock around in the back of my skull for so long that eventually they swirl into something cohesive.
Now, since I can’t really explain/teach the pre-opening line magic, I want to at least show you how this process works for me AFTER I have an opening line. Below, I’ve got a smörgåsbord of opening lines to expound upon (some published, some shelved, some forever works in progress).
Something Strange & Deadly
“I scowled at the incoming train from New York–the one my brother was supposed to be on.”
This was originally what I wrote as the opening line to SS&D. It came to me after a month of researching and outlining (back when I still tried to force myself to be an outliner). Poof! Here was this line, and it immediately set the stage for Eleanor’s feisty attitude and her complete lack of patience. Like, I could just imagine her face, her bubbling frustration, and her need to do something already!
If you’ve read the book, though, then you know this is NOT the opening line in its published form. I took some external feedback that suggested cutting my first 2 pages and starting in media res. Yet, to this day I wish I had kept that opening line. But ah, c’est la vie.
A Dawn Most Wicked
“This was not how best friends hugged.”
I was having a LOT of trouble finding Daniel’s voice in ADMW. Essentially, I had agreed to write this novella thinking it would be easy to connect with Daniel…and the opposite turned out to be true. I only ever knew him through Eleanor’s eyes. I had NO IDEA what was going on in his head, and everything I tried felt forced. Wrong.
So I skimmed back through some of my shelved projects (one of my tips for finding voice!) and I came across one of my most favorite romances I’d ever written–a romance between best friends. The tension was so great, and suddenly I realized this was where I’d gone wrong with Daniel! He hadn’t been jilted by Cassidy (as I was originally imagining), but rather he was her BFF and madly (silently) in love with her. Once I knew that, his character literally just poured out of me.
Note: I went back and added a prologue (so the line above is now the opener to Chpt. 1), but it was the line that set off the rest of the story/character.
When I originally sat down to start drafting this idea swimming in my head, I’d planned to write my from my Threadwitch character’s POV. But after a few false starts with her, I realized I wasn’t connecting. Then, after several days away (one of my tips for finding voice!), this line just HIT me. And I knew–deeeeep in my gut knew–that I needed to open the book from the Truthwitch’s POV instead.
Once I had Safi’s voice on the page, the story just exploded out of me.
Note: I ended up going back and adding a prologue…which then ultimately got cut again. But you can read that prologue here, if you’re curious. 🙂
The Mouse Queen
“If you were to ask Clara when it all began, she would say, without hesitation, on May fourteenth of her fourteenth year. It was in the afternoon.”
This work-in-progress came to me in one of those I-wasn’t-planning-on-this-but-I-have-an-idea-and-must-write-it-now moments. Like magic. So I shot to my keyboard and just started typing.
Of course, I realized pretty quickly that it was different from anything else I’d written. I had an almost omniscient, almost tongue-in-cheek sort of narrator, and soon enough, I realized this meant the project was middle grade. (And, if you’re curious, because I knew it had a great MG vibe, I changed the age to be 12 instead of 14.)
So that concludes Part 1 in this How to Craft Characters series. I’ll be back next week to talk about desperate needs (i.e. goals and motivation!). You tell me: do you find voice or character spring from some magical place? How do YOU get to know your characters?