Monday, 27 August 2012

Fleshing out characters

I remember reading an author's comment that in their stories, they always have to check that children age. I suppose we all have our own weaknesses or tendencies.

I am creating characters at the moment, and having lots of fun doing so. I have to check that I don't create families that are too similar - two parents, two point four children -  but on the whole it's going well. I know I tend towards stereotyping, and I have to consciously stop and check for that, and sometimes insert interesting quirks, such as a phobia, to make a character more memorable.

During a rare time alone today (in the car, trying to source cereal and milk at 9pm on a bank holiday Monday, while S was at home with the littlies) I thought about two things I often forget: facial hair and pets. None of my characters  seem to have either. Beards are funny old beasties, though, aren't they? The consensus is that they're not really sexy, though you might see a photo of a bearded man and think otherwise; but the word 'beard' is more likely to conjure a picture of Santa or  Great-Uncle Victor than the gorgeous mystery man you saw squeezing tomatoes at Sainsburys. Of course, I could just give Great-Uncle Maurice a beard in my novel, but then I'd be falling into a stereotype again.

 As for pets, I suppose the lack of them in my writing reflects the lack of them in our home (we have children instead of pets at the moment. In a few years, when the children require less hands-on input, we may have time to remember to feed, walk and toilet a four-legged creature, but for now I can't even keep a cactus alive as well as the children).

Anyway, I shall be going through my characters at some point and seeing if there is anyone deserving of a beard or a three-legged hamster. Perhaps the one might even be mistaken for the other...but no, it's not that sort of story.

What do you forget to include in your character's backgrounds/appearance when you are inventing?

Friday, 24 August 2012

What's in a name?

I'm naming characters at the moment. Some spring, already named, into being, while, for others, I've dug out the baby name book. There was a bit of an awkward moment earlier when my husband came home and found it slung on the sofa; but he seems to be breathing normally again now, and the funny maroon shade has faded from his face.

With my first book I don't remember it taking much effort at all to think of names, but this time I have extra criteria. Because some of the characters aren't very pleasant in this story, I want to be as careful as possible to avoid 'real' names, while making them sound realistic. I've scoured the phone book for unusual surnames, and asked my husband to report back on any striking names he comes across through work.

Obviously, I'm aiming for names that suit the age and social standing of characters, too - it goes without saying that I'm not just plucking out the weirdest names possible from the book. Although, wouldn't it be fun to write a story where every character had some outlandish name?

A quick google on each name I settle on gives me an idea of whether it is already in use, although a tweak to the spelling can keep a name in the running even if the first version is no good.

What methods do you use to find great names for your characters?

Sunday, 19 August 2012

More Bedtime Stories

After I'd finished reading Lassie Come-Home to the older two children (and we'd watched the recent film version too, with me coughing over a couple of rude words!) I launched with excitement into Anne of Green Gables. It may be a bit premature; some of the language in it, especially because it's dated, is difficult for a seven year old to grasp.

The five year old gave up after one chapter, and has been having earlier nights, while I get to snuggle with my girl. I love this book, heartily. It's another that has handled several re-readings, and not just in childhood. So, how am I finding it this time? Well, I'm paraphrasing certain things, because my audience is so young, although that then trips me up if I'm not careful. And the descriptive passages are very dull to read aloud, and also add very little. I missed out half a page last night, and it made no difference to the plot, and improved my daughter's enjoyment. I know this floweriness is just what was in vogue 'back then', but there's nothing quite like learning by seeing things that work, or don't.

And speaking of that, my cynical, non-reading husband has been listening, too. He accidentally sat in on Chapter One, and I expected him to mock, but instead he laughed aloud a couple of times. LM Montgomery's sly style won him over; the sarcasm suited him down to the ground. He happened to eat dinner as we read Chapter Two and then Chapter Three; Chapter Four and Five, he hurried upstairs on an excuse, and sat and listened. I daren't mention to him that I've noticed he's enjoying it. He'd deny it to his last breath, despite the times he laughs; but I'm so gratified that he is. It's always lovely when someone hurdles a prejudice and finds that they've been missing out on things because of it.

But I'm not going to mention that, or he'll expect me to hurdle one of my prejudices, such as the one I have against flying - which, let's face it, should be firmly restricted to birds and bats and other winged things.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Ready to write

My fingers are itchy again today. Such a lovely feeling...My focus is divided however. My 'almost-completed' novel - the one which is on Draft Forty-Nine (I exaggerate) - is still nagging at the corners of my mind. I haven't yet ironed out all the police procedure issues in it, and now I'm thinking of parts that need rewriting to increase the pace.

(I am reading a book at the moment which is self-published, and so nearly good...noticing how close it is is a bit of a wake-up call for me. It's reminded me that nearly good isn't enough. The smallest blips are noticeable.)

So, here I am, scribbling notes and suggestions to myself and posting them into the box that contains my beloved manuscript, and wondering whether to return to it...What I'm meant to be doing is the early plotting for my next novel. (How pretentious that sounds! I wonder at what point in a writing career you can begin to get away with saying it without squirming?) As this is a fairly effortless and exciting part of writing - the possibilities are endless! And the plot is, of course, perfect, because it's not been diluted yet by contact with me and my writing - I was looking forward to it.

Time to decide which piece of work to point those itchy fingers at...

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Delicious Reading

I've come to it late, I suppose, as an obsessive reader, but a friend on Facebook sent me the link to Goodreads. What fun....I've only dipped my toe in, but had a particular thrill or two to see some really old fashioned covers of books I adored as a child, such as The Black Stallion (oh, yes, I was a horse-mad girl).

I will have a longer session rating books soon, but can imagine it being lots of fun. I have fairly eclectic taste, so I was interested to see what suggestions the site would make for me, based on the books I'd rated...but they were way off. I tried reading the blurbs, thinking perhaps their titles and covers were misleading, but how it thought I might like science fiction, I don't know...perhaps because I like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - but doesn't everyone?

Now my latest deadline has been hit, I'm in the plotting phase of my next book, which I can pick up and put down easily, and I'm going to saturate myself in some delicious reading, I think.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


I have finished a short story for a competition, deadline: tomorrow. It was hard, hard work. It never flowed, and at the last moment I did a final read-through, and was deeply disappointed by the chasm between what I aimed for and what I achieved. But....

I set myself this task, and achieved it. I felt like giving up several times, and thought it was hopeless (which it probably was)...but I persevered. And that gives me a perverse little sense of delight. I certainly put a lot of myself into it; I did my best.

I think writing has felt hard lately because I know I'm doing my best, and am aware that's not enough. I have to learn to be even better.

And, while I am convinced I don't stand a chance in this competition, which will, I'm sure, attract high standard entries....there's always that little fizz of hope, inextinguishable.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Slack sails

Last week I ran the gamut of emotions (well, nearly) when a fat envelope plopped through the door. First thought was that it was another rejection, then I realised it was a story I'd sent to a comp, and it had feedback! (I paid for the feedback). I read it avidly, glad of the encouragement and many positives, and then disheartened by the negatives.

All day, I was discombobulated. I couldn't lift myself, and I don't know why. There was more than enough encouragement to live on, and I agree wholeheartedly with the constructive criticism.

If I had to hazard a guess, I suppose it's difficult to accept you can't see your own flaws. Even if your head accepts you need to improve, and appreciates support to do that, your heart aches that you can't read your own work and see what's wrong and fix it.  I suppose that's what left me so flat.

For a week now, the wind has been gone from my sails, though. I've been unable to get going again. I'm certainly not ready to work on the story that had the feedback, and another story I need to get edited for a comp is lying neglected on dropbox. At some point, I'm going to have to motivate myself to work even though I don't feel like it.

In desperation today I opened a notebook of the beginnings of my next novel - plot lines, characters and so on - and was heartened and excited by what I read, and even added a few jottings. And here's my advice to myself; if it is proving too difficult to address a piece of work, or even a genre, such as short stories, that you've lost heart over, try something completely different, and then come back with a refreshed attitude and a clear mind to the first project. Eventually the wind will fill my sails again...