Thursday, January 23, 2014

Say This, Do That: Making Characters Deceptively Genuine

     Last fall, we visited a college so my son could interview with an admissions counselor. Our visit coincided with many freshmen moving into the dorms. Their families carried boxes, rolled carts, and heaved clothes out of cars and into their son or daughter's new home away from home. Underneath the physical labor, the emotional load taking its toll on these families was tangible.
     Body language spoke volumes. There was the dad standing aside with his arms folded over his chest, watching a son embrace his mother. Or the 18-year-old walking arm in arm with a younger sibling after yet another trip to the car. I remember my own mother mumbling a terse 'bye' and quickly sequestering herself in the car, barely able to look at me as I began Day One of college life. Her trembling chin betrayed the brusque manner of her farewell.
     What characters do with their bodies is equally as important as what they say. Think about a time when a loved one answered with an 'I love you, too' after an argument with his or her arms crossed. What does body language reveal about that person's feelings?  Were they really ready to forgive and forget?
     Or how about the boys in the front pew at church, staring ahead with their backs straight and hands in their laps, while their shoulders shake with the giggles. Isn't their body language contradicting their behavior? Yes, in a very BIG way!
     In Nancy Kress's, Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint (Writer's Digest Books 2005), she states the body doesn't lie, that 'bodily reactions and inner thoughts trump action and dialogue.' We say and do things all the time that contradict what our gestures and inner thoughts reveal.
     When getting to know your characters, try making an emotional map for your main character and important secondary characters. How does each one react physically when happy, sad, angry, worried, etc.? What unique phrases might they use while experiencing these emotions? Also, make note of a contradictory inner thought or gesture to support these emotions. Each set of actions, gestures, and phrases should be unique to that character. After all, on a planet of 7 billion people, no two of us are the same. 

     On a side note, I read one of my favorite quotes of the week on Brain Pickings. Thirteen of the best children's picture books were featured and Maurice Sendak's My Brother's Book,  called his posthumous 'farewell to the world', was one of them.  Discussing Sendak's influences and the themes prevalent in his work, playwright Tony Kushner, a longtime close friend of Sendak’s told NPR:
    'There's a lot of consuming and devouring and eating in Maurice's books. And I think that when people play with kids, there's a lot of fake ferocity and threats of, you know, devouring — because love is so enormous, the only thing you can think of doing is swallowing the person that you love entirely.'

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Friday Five: Favorite Writing Links from the Week Jan. 5-11

     I can tell it's January by the look of my home office floor. What is it about the new year that makes me want to sort, dump and organize? On my radar at the moment are my writing files which haven't had a good cleaning since, oh, 2002-ish maybe?
     So it's 1:30 a.m. and I'm still punched up from an overly strong cup of coffee that the hubby made me at 8 o'clock with my new coffee press, bless his heart.  I'm taking a short break from my caffeine-powered purging to leave you with some of my favorite links from the week. Enjoy!

Because I'm a big fan of the Positive Trait Thesaurus, Negative Trait Thesaurus, and Emotion Trait Thesaurus series by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, I loved the article found on their site, Writers Helping Writers about how to cure a cardboard villian;

At Between Fact and Fiction, Natalie Whipple sent a heartfelt apology to those writers she's previously judged;

At Writer Unboxed, Heather Webb explored the four types of character arcs;

At The Creative Penn, Joanna Penn talked dialogue tags with Alythia Brown;

And lastly, for some visual inspiration and a poem, visit Sharon Creech's Words We Say. Her photos are as mesmerizing as her writing.

                            Happy Writing!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Snow Day: Reading, Writing, and Making Ice Cream

     It's no easy task tuning out the howling wind as I write this. The temperature outside right now is at -10 degrees, or -25 counting the wind chill. And the worst is still on its way!
     I'm reading two books on craft right now: Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole and The Indie Author's Survival Guide by Susan Kaye Quinn, both fantastic reads. Kole's book is particularly helpful for middle grade or YA writers, and I'm regrettably nearing the end. I am loving her excerpt choices in the From The Shelves sections when she illustrates everything from POV and imagery to backstory and climaxes with a paragraph or two from notable books for each topic.
     Last night I started the chapter on word choice and voice, and was happy to read she used an excerpt from The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, the book chosen by my book group to read this month. Kole offers an exercise called a Voice Mad Lib by taking a sentence from Diaz's book and challenging the reader to rewrite it three different ways. You'll have to read the book to get the details of her approach to working on voice and you won't be sorry! Her fresh takes on how to improve writing skills make this a must-have reference.
   And speaking of fresh (but completely unrelated to writing), we took advantage of being snowed in tonight and made snow ice cream! Not exactly Ben & Jerry's, but scooping snow in blizzard conditions gave us a little respite from the all-day television marathon of  Glee episodes mixed with football playoffs.
                                   Happy Writing!
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