Tag Archives: Characters

Autonomy

“Writing is like being in love. You never get better at it or learn more about it. The day you think you do is the day you lose it. Robert Frost called his work a lover’s quarrel with the world. It’s ongoing. It has neither a beginning nor an end. You don’t have to worry about learning things. The fire of one’s art burns all the impurities from the vessel that contains it.”
—James Lee Burke

This is essentially true. But as both intrinsic writers and student writers we do learn rules. Lots and lots of rules. Endless rules about characterization, plot, structure, dialogue, thematic undercurrents, and on and on. And yes, there is a basic format to a piece of writing. It has to be organized–this organization takes on many, many, forms, but it still must have a form.

So maybe we can ‘learn’ things about writing, but it seems like everywhere I look the rules are being broken. Maybe that’s why Burke is saying the ‘learning process,’ in a sense doesn’t really exist in writing.

I’ve heard countless critiques about my characters and their lack of dimensions, yet then I read a published piece in a literary magazine where the characters don’t have names, backgrounds, anything. They’re shadows who live in a timeless space. Do we learn the rules to ignore them? Or is there a certain recipe to follow regardless?

I think every piece of writing must work in spite of itself. It has to operate in its best capacity as it stands. Any reader can tell when a story, poem, essay has value. It’s isolated from every other story, poem, or essay. Maybe once an intrinsic learns all the learns he or she can pick and choose the ones he or she wants to incorporate into the piece.

As a child I learned how to print my letters. Then I learned cursive. Now my handwriting is a unique hybrid of the two. Maybe writing is like that. But then again, I don’t really know.

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Filed under Breaking the Rules, Breaking Through, Characters, Description, Inspiration, Plot & Structure, Revision, The Writing Life, Writing Process

Oh there you are…

Writers shouldn’t fall in love with characters so much that they lose sight of what they’re trying to accomplish. The idea is to write a whole story, a whole book. A writer has to be able to look at that story and see whether or not a character works, whether or not a character needs further definition.”
—Stephen Coonts

Last week I received some feedback on one of my major female characters. Apparently, compared to another female character, she didn’t ‘jump off the page,’ as they say. This surprised me greatly. I’ve spent much more time thinking about Character A than Character B. Character A arrived in my thoughts with any beckoning. Character B was not forged, but certainly planned. Yet somehow, according to my small group of readers, Character B–in the draft they were shown– leaped, tumbled, and sprang, forward while Character A mostly stayed put.

I’m aware that some characters arrive more organically. As I’ve said before, these are the guys that show up uninvited bearing no food, drink, or gift. But what about those characters who I swear I know, see clearly, hear impeccably, feel intimately…but yet, don’t get expressed properly in the prose?

So I rewrote her. I opened up a new document, titled it after her name, and wrote her whole story. Then I took the various bits and pieces of text and placed them (I hope) strategically in the all right places. When I read over the revisions, I was astonished by how weakly I’d characterized her in former drafts. She is perhaps the most important female character in the story! I’d cheated her, in a sense. But what’s strange, the way in which I finally brought her to light, is exactly the way I’d always envisioned her. Now, thank goodness, so can everyone else.

I guess sometimes we intrinsic writers can lose perspective. We are so enmeshed in our creations that we develop a sort of ‘blind spot’ towards them. I see what I see, even no one else does. Even if it’s absurdly obvious. I learned something important from this critique though. Don’t shortchange your people. They don’t deserve it.

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Filed under Characters, Revision, The Writing Life, Writing Details, Writing Process

Love Thy Writing

The most important thing is you can’t write what you wouldn’t read for pleasure. It’s a mistake to analyze the market thinking you can write whatever is hot. You can’t say you’re going to write romance when you don’t even like it. You need to write what you would read if you expect anybody else to read it.

And you have to be driven. You have to have the three D’s: drive, discipline and desire. If you’re missing any one of those three, you can have all the talent in the world, but it’s going to be really hard to get anything done.”
—Nora Roberts

This is legitimate advice: Love Thy Writing. Whenever I read a book that I love, it lingers…days after I’ve finished, weeks after I’ve finished, months after I’ve finished, and yes, years, sometimes. I’ll catch glimpses of it in my mind at various, unexpected moments. It’ll shoot waves of comfort through me, no matter if what kind of situation–pleasant or unpleasant–I am in.

I know I love my own novel, because it too, catches me in the midst of my day. I see the images, I feel the characters, and I sink into the setting. Sometimes it’s as if it were another person’s work, not my own. I imagine that this is a good sign; after all, I’ve written a novel that I adore, that I cherish. I’ve formulated such a story that if I were to ever come across it in a bookstore, I’d pick it up, take it home, and devour it. I’d long to spend Saturday night at home with it. I’d read it in days, or maybe even hours. Upon completion, I’d press it against my heart and wrap my arms tightly around it. OK, maybe not so dramatic-like, but something to that effect. Either way, I’d feel the ripples of the tale undulating throughout my being. And in a small, but significant way, I’d be forever changed.

Is this to say that my book has this kind of mega power? It can magnetically grip all who treads upon it? No, sadly, I don’t believe that’s the case. My wish, my life goal though, is that someone will…love my book that is. Of course by someone, I mean other than me. I know it’s not perfect, and frankly, in writing, nothing ever is. I’m aware of the work it needs, and I plan on seeing that through. But it’s comforting to know that I do, in fact, love my book. I love it. So much. That fact alone makes all the painstaking revision, all the doubt, all the self-torture one-hundred and fifty percent worth the while.

Any intrinsic writer must enjoy his or her story. It comes with the territory. I used to wonder if musicians or singers loved their own songs. I imagine they must, they have to. At least the ones who write the songs themselves, anyway. I just can’t imagine the process being any other way.

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Filed under Breaking Through, Characters, Inspiration, The Writing Life, Why We Write, Writing Details, Writing Fears, Writing Process

Familiar Faces

Here’s an ‘intrinsic trait’ to consider: I search for my characters. Everywhere.
I heard about this notion in books, movies, television series, etc.–a character has never met his/her mother, father, sister, brother, and so forth, maybe he or she was adopted, or maybe the parent (relative, whatever the case may be) left when the character was a mere child. But at some point he or she will say something along the lines of I search for [them] everywhere. Every street, every crowd. I scan the faces, hoping I’ll recognize [him, her, them].

Albeit, the language is usually more romantic-sounding than what I just provided, but I imagine all you reading this will get the idea. I don’t have any mystery relatives out there; fortunately, I know where I came from. I do, however, have mystery characters. And I look for them. I’ll stare down strangers and wonder are they my people? Are they who I am creating? Sometimes a new person will enter my life, and I’ll think Oh wow! That’s Character A or character G (I’m saving the identity of my characters until I feel ready; in many respects I owe that to them). Then I’ll look closer though, and I’ll think, No, actually. Not exactly. Nope, not character D. But close!

Last weekend in Cape May, I saw a couple leave the hotel we stayed in. Just a couple enjoying New Year’s, but at the sight of them my body physically reacted. Two of my characters. Together. The guy looked like my guy. The girl looked like my girl. It was very bizarre, and I course took it as a sign–I always do. Yet again, on closer inspection I saw that it was just the external framework that triggered my response. And I felt…let down. Deflated. I still haven’t found them. They truly are that unique. I’ll keep looking though. I’m dying to meet them.

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