Thursday, February 26, 2009
Creating convincing characters is obviously one of the most important skills a writer can work on. Even plot-driven stories need characters who are realistic and engaging. Details are important; you don't want to simply tell the reader what your characters are like, you want to show them as well. One way to do this is to closely consider their occupation. And by this, I don't mean to just write what they for a living, but also show the readers how the characters' jobs affect them when they are 'off the clock'.
One thing that I've noticed in real life is how much people are defined by the jobs that they do. Even when they are not on the job, they still act in ways that are related to their professions. Consider the follow examples:
I was helping a friend of mine, who is a nurse, supervise a group of small children on a field trip. Before we left, my friend advised the children to, "empty their bladders." I laughed and told her that it was such a 'nurse' thing to say! But it was true. Someone like myself, who does not work in the medical field, would have told the kids to 'go potty' or 'take a bathroom break'. But my friend, being a nurse, unconsciously reverted to her nurse parlance.
I have another friend who is a waitress. One night, we were working a charity event held at a local restaurant. I, who have never worked in a restaurant, wasn't sure what to do, but she stepped right in, seating customers, making sure everyone had a menu, and directing the rest of us to fill water glasses. This same friend will always clear the table and fetch refills when a group of us go out for coffee (though we never ask her to do this!)
My friend is married to a journalist. The funny part is that he speaks in headlines. One day he came into the house and said to me, "Well, I opened the church doors for a murderer this morning!" Then he elaborated on the story, giving me a classic example of a 'inverted pyramid' style of a news story. Because this man has written leads for news stories all his working life, this habit has infiltrated his speech
Finally, I have a neighbor who is a police officer. Not only is he far more observant than I am, he also acts as a crossing guard whenever we take the kids down to the corner bus stop. Again, he doesn't realize that he is doing this; it is simply such a part of him to be protective. It is an automatic response brought about by his police training. I am sure that if I brought it to his attention, he would be surprised.
So you see, knowing what your character does is important because it will give clues as to what kind of person he is. Even if your character isn't employed, he or she will be interested in something! Just like gardeners pay attention to other people's lawns and car lovers seem to notice the make and model of every vehicle on the roads, your characters will pay attention to those things that are important to them.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Sometimes when I’m writing, my thoughts flow onto the page as smoothly as honey on toast. I don’t have to pause to think of the right words; they simply appear. I don’t stress over the details of description (something I always struggle with). My characters make me laugh out loud or get teary-eyed. The plot enchants me. When my writing is like this, I feel like I have wings, and that I’m gliding above what I have created, enjoying the view.
But, unfortunately, most of the time, I am not soaring but slogging through the desert. I struggle for words. The plot becomes an impossible snarl. My characters are stilted or, worse, caricatures spouting wooden dialogue. The descriptions are boring. At these times, I want to delete my entire hard drive.
The funny thing is that whether I struggle or not, the end result is usually about the same. When, weeks later, I go back to review what I’ve written, I can’t tell which pages came from the sweat of my brow and which ones I wrote with ease.
If you are feeling frustrated with your writing, you are not alone! Hang tough; eventually, you will reap the benefit of your diligence.
Monday, February 23, 2009
The Official Jane Yolen website - Jane Yolen, one of the most prolific writers of children's picture books, gives helpful advice to would-be writers along with links to helpful websites.
Harold Underdown - His website is chocked full of information for all kinds of writers, though he specializes in children's fiction. The article, "Getting Out of the Slushpile" should be read by everyone!
What, exactly, qualifies a book to be YA? Or J? The Write4Kids website can tell you! In addition to many great articles on writing children's fiction, this site offers tools for writers, links, and other helpful information.