Making Characters Real

Everyone is always talking about making your characters feel real. One way to accomplish this is to make each character different. And although this is obvious to most of us writers, it’s always good to brush up on those skills.

Making the character different doesn’t mean physically; you don’t want all of your characters blonde with blue eyes. And you don’t even have to have them different races. What I mean by different is different individual characteristics. This is obviously done with physical traits, but even better is to individualize them via dialog. Harder to do, but worth all of the effort.

For instance, you could have a character, say a teenager, always use the word ‘like’. A common tract among teens. Now think of an adult who you want to seem immature. Have them use that word. This singles them out and gives the reader a way to distinguish them from the other characters.

Using the same phrase is fairly easy to do, however you can also show your characters individualism by using more subtle means. For instance, if you want your character to be intelligent, have them use bigger words; i.e. college words. Or if you have a character that is uppity or a snob or just wants to be perceived as smart but really isn’t, have them use bigger words. What if you have a highly intelligent character and he/she wants to fit in with ‘normal people’. Have them purposely use smaller/less precise words in normal conversation then revert back to their ‘higher’ speaking when in thought.

Colloquialisms are also good for distinguishing characters. However, in this instance there needs to be a balancing act. Don’t use slang too often. A better and more effective way is to use terms more appropriate to the area from which the character hails. For example, a southern person telling people to hurry. One could write: “Ya’ll hurry. We need to be getting’ movin’.” But using something that might be familiar to that area accomplishing the same thing but with more pizazz. “Ya better be like starving pigs to a slop bucket.” The imagery enhances the writing.

Trying to make characters real is a challenge that all writers face. Doing it successfully requires skill, practice and hard work. But when it happens, the reader knows it.

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Close to November

November is three days away. And you know what November is, right? National Novel Writing Month or nanowrimo for short. I have participated in nano for almost six years now. And each year I love it more and more. It is a crazy time that I get to let my hair down and write crazy.

Oh what is nanowrimo? For those of you who don’t know, nanowrimo is a world wide challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days (the month of November). It is an awesome time of craziness and zaniness and everything wild. Check out the official website for even more information. Join. Home to a region. And get writing.

I have found the nano usually rejuvenates my writing. I’m not sure why but probably because by this time of the year I’m getting burnt out and my commitment to sitting in my chair each day and writing is starting to wane. But nano puts me back in the chair and since I’m not writing my best work (going for the work count here), I get to experiment and play around and just be crazy. By the end of the month and my 50,000 words, I’m ready for more serious writing endeavors.

Is this for everyone? Absolutely not. I have a lot of published author friends that will not and have not ever participated. It’s just not for them. And that’s okay. I find that I need this month of zaniness to get back on track and in the groove.

So maybe it might be for you. If you’ve never tried it, give it a go. The worst that could happen is that by the end of the month you have the start of a good novel. Lots of people have even published their nano novels (of course after some work on it). Later in December, one of my nano manuscripts will come out as an e-book. Yep, part of Desperation Situations was written during nano. So it does happen.

During the month of November I will keep a running count of my words for you. Cheer me on or kick me in the tookess, but check back to see how I’m doing. Wow, the pressure is on this year.

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Writing Help

The Beginning

For most beginning writers the biggest mistake they make is starting their story in the wrong place. This is after the manuscript is completely written. Finish it first than analyze the beginning. Write it, finish it, put is aside. Now and only now are you ready to start editing.
With fresh eyes take a critical look at your first scene. Does it really start off right? Does it express the theme or at least hint at the idea of the main plot? Is it the inciting incident? Is it back story? Is it slow?
The first scene has a lot to do. It must first and foremost hook the agent/editor, which in turn will hook the reader once it makes it to print. As a writer you only get one shot at this. Everyone (agent, editor, and reader) has busy lives. They will read only the first little bit before making a decision. Will I buy/represent this book? Will I keep reading? If you are lucky, you get a couple of paragraphs, if you are lucky.
This is not the place for back story. This is not the place for a slow scene. This is not the place to give lots of exposition. This is the place to hit them and hit them hard.
The inciting incident needs to be important, exciting and extremely well written. In other words- Action!
Writers no longer have the option of a slow beginning. Our society is very fast paced. A book has to compete with TV, the internet, video games, texting, etc., for those precious moments of free time. These other medium are instant, motion in motion, in other words- action. Research has shown that less people are reading.
So in order to capture the attention of the audience (agent/ editor or reader) the beginning must move.
And on top of all of this, the beginning has to set the tone of the story. It has to establish the theme of the manuscript. It has to introduce the ordinary world to the reader so that when the main character starts on their adventure, the reader is along for the ride.
It is too much to ask for such a small part of the story? No. It just means that it will take lots of hard work. Never think that your first opening scene, in your first draft, will remain the opening scene. Most are cut because they aren’t the right place to start and they don’t do everything that the opening requires.
So write, write, write. Then cut, cut, cut. Then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
Nobody said this was going to be easy.

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Book Review: The Worst Hard Time

Every week I’ll review a different book or write an article on writing. Some of the books will be new books just released others will be classics and some will be those that are recommended by friends or those precious ‘finds’ that I find in the local library.

This week I’m going to review The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan (Mariner Books 2006). This is a book that all Americans should read. Although it’s a depressing subject about a very depressing time, it is still worth the time spent. It chronicles the lives of several families and people during their horrendous experience during America’s worst man-made disasters. It is dark and depressing; know that going into it. Death does occur. It also jumps around a bit, time wise, and at first it was hard to get used to it. But it does come together in the end.

I read this because it tells about the beginning of the Soil Conservation Service (now the National Resource Conservation Service) and Hugh Bennett. This book is a good representation of how our ignorance and greed caused this terrible tragedy. And how, finally, people took responsibility for their mistakes (well, sort of, as much as the government ever admits its mistakes) and turned it into the beginning of better farming practices.

I truly enjoyed reading this book, except on gloomy fall days when it seemed to make the gloom even worse. I think this is an important book to read, since that whole generation is slipping away from us and first hand accounts will no longer be available. Read it and just thank the heavens that we finally got our heads on straight.

This is a definite must read book.

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This is my new blog, Papercuts ‘n’ Cracked Spines. I will be discussing books that I’ve read, both new releases and older published books that I run across or find in the library. I will also be doing some posts about writing and editing. During my blogging I will review several self- published authors, since there are many, many talented people out there that are not traditionally published. Oh and the books will be eclectic, so no specific genre. I hope you enjoy my blog. Thanks. Angie

Angela Abderhalden is a published author. Her mystery series, The Mel Addison Mystery series, has one book out. The second is due out in e-book form this fall, print version in  the spring 2011. The first book, Questionable Ethics, is available via any book store or  The second book, Unintentional Victim will be out in November. She will also be publishing two other books in e-book form this winter. Desperate Situations is a romance set in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not Another Gold Star is a coming of age story set during WW II. See her website for more information.

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