Monday, October 29, 2012

Your Character's Voice

Well, let’s get back to character development. What’s most fun for me is playing with voices. Each character should have a unique way of expressing himself. Train yourself to listen to people as they speak. Drawls and dialects tell you where they are from. Things like slanginess, crudeness, or formal English hint at social or educational level. Pet words, habitual expressions, and occupational jargon tell about background. Coldness, flippancy, cynicism are a few tones that betray thought patterns, attitudes, and personality. Your character will also use different voices with different people. He may be authoritative with employees or students, while at home he may speak lovingly to his wife and use baby talk with their toddler.

The following are excerpts from Black Sunday. You can access the whole story by clicking the Black Sunday tab up top. From Mrs. Pettigrew’s voice I don’t have to tell the reader she is elderly, from the Midwest, and not well-educated.—Quinn

. . . Town of Guthrie growed-up over night right near us. Got my schooling there. Learned to read and cipher. Ma looked so proud rocking by the fire, mending in her lap, while I read the Good Book to her. Learned all about how folks come to this land for freedom, too. Learned how all folks are important. So, even common folks like us, providing they work hard, can get to be president. Imagine that!
Life was good there in the old days, but Pa said he was feeling cramped. He sold out to Uncle Jed and bought two sections near Boise City. Put in wheat, sorghum, maize, and broom corn. Run a few head of cattle too. . . .
. . . Guess I was too big for my britches. I looked over the boys real good. Thought they was all pretty poor quality. But, all that changed one night.
First I seed of Franklin Pierce Pettigrew was at a box social at Preacher Pettigrew’s. He’d breezed in from Texas on horseback. And my! From his Stetson to his boots, he looked mighty fine. Had a sassy smile that shivered my heart. But, oh was he a wild one. Next day he come a calling without asking! Pa like to run him off the place. Didn’t see him again ‘til three months later at the church ice cream social. . . .

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Great Conference!

Last weekend I had a great time at a Christian writers conference. Several hundred authors from novice to the multi-published attended. Among them were home educators. It seems to me homeschoolers and home school graduates are disproportionally represented at the Christian conferences. Perhaps for them (me), after teaching their students literature and writing skills, becoming a writer is a natural progression.

The first evening opened with an awards ceremony for the best published books of the year in various categories. A keynote speaker followed. Afterward, an authors panel and an editor/agent panel discussed the industry and fielded questions from the audience. The next day was filled with speakers, workshops, and opportunities to pitch a manuscript or an idea.

This year I elected to explore the various methods of publication. Traditionally, an author submitted a manuscript to an agent who took it around to publishers. If a publisher could use it, he’d offer a contract. His job was to take care of editing, printing, and distribution. A newer way to publish is with e-books through Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Apple, or Google. The author is responsible for formatting and graphic design. He must do all the marketing, which seems daunting. However, the traditional publishers are now requiring the authors to market as well. Why would some be interested in e-books? The royalty on a printed book is typically $1.12 and 15% of that goes to the agent. E-books yield about $2.50, and there is no agent involved.

While at the conference, I had the opportunity to pitch both ECHOES and KOKOWEEF to an agent, an acquisitions editor, and a publisher. How that works is the author makes a fifteen minute appointment. During that time, he briefly tells what the book is about, leaving time for discussion and marketing strategies. If the person the author pitches to is interested, a full manuscript is requested.

You might consider attending a conference for enrichment or just to see if writing is something you’d like to do. If there aren’t any conveniently located, you might try MuseOnLine Writers Conference. It’s too late to enroll this year, but there is another chance next October. As with regular conferences, there are general sessions, workshops, and pitch sessions. And the price is right—free.—Quinn

Monday, October 8, 2012

Now's as Good a Time as Any

I have completed my third novel, Kokoweef, and continue to polish it. In a couple weeks, it will be ready for pitching to an editor. I haven’t decided what my next project will be. So, to get some ideas, I shall play the ‘what if’ game.

In the ‘what if’ game, writers make lists of possible characters for a story. They decide on one. Then they write down a list of conflicts the character might face. They select one. Then they ask what if he encounters this particular problem? They write down the probable consequence. Then they ask what happens if there is a second complication? Then a third. A fourth. In a while, they have a pretty good feel for what their novels will be about.

In my posting on September 9, Do You Have an Article in Mind, I gave a brief description of story structure. A lot of writers prefer to start with the skeleton of a story then flesh it out. Others, called seat of the pantsers, find this method too restrictive. They just start writing and keep going until they are done. They arrive at the same structure as the planners, but it may take a lot of false starts and wrong turns to get there.

For a concise lesson on design, I recommend Randy Ingermanson’s article How to Write a Novel: The Snowflake Method. In it, he likens the process of story writing to the building of a snowflake. One begins with a sentence, builds a paragraph, and expands to a page then to a scene. When there are enough scenes, the writer has a story.

I have never attempted to “NaNo”, but I thought I’d try it this year. NaNo, or NaMoWriMo, stands for National Novel Writing Month. In this world wide program, writers of all levels are challenged to write 50,000 words in one month. There is help to plan and execute your project, and you can receive encouragement from staff, published authors, and writers from your area of the United States or of the world.

So fellow empty-nesters, if you are interested in finally writing that story that’s been buzzing around in your head for several years, now’s as good a time as any. Join me on my journey.—Quinn

Monday, October 1, 2012

Building Your Fascinating Characters

 Last time we looked at plot. This time we’ll begin the process of character building.

First, start with a fragment of personality. Add to it until you can visualize a person. Give him a background. Add his attitude. Then pretend you are that character. Imagine how you would react emotionally under various conditions. Draw from your background, from impressions of other people, and from observations of people in similar circumstances.

After you know a bit about the character, give him a name that is unique to him in the story. It can indicate ethnicity as with O’Malley; or age as with Ida, Linda, or Sierra; class as with Reginald Smith vs. Smitty Smith; or maybe an occupation as with Slugger Jones or the Weasel.

To deepen character, write out a bio sheet for him. This may contain brief descriptions of family background, age, appearance, mannerisms, religious persuasion, relationships, education, career, hobbies, and his goals. After that, interview him. Let him have his head and say whatever he wants. You’ll be surprised how he takes over the conversation and reveals things about himself you didn’t know existed.

The following is a character interview for my book Echoes. The subject is a minor character, the popular, handsome, charismatic, 36-year old politician Emilio Cardenas. His grandfather emigrated from a fictional South American country that exports arms and revolution throughout the Americas. And, my goodness. What I learned about him.

Who are you Emilio?
A champion for justice. I work for the little man. The oppressed worker. The so-called immigrant.

How did you get involved in politics?
I was bred to it. My grandfather witnessed the exploitation of the masses in his country, Tierra Dulce. He fought with the communist revolutionaries until the movement was crushed by the regime, and he fled to the United States. Here he worked the fields and witnessed the same oppression as in his homeland. So he demonstrated, boycotted, and marched for justice. He married my grandmother, a descendent of the original land grant holders. This land was ours until the Europeans stole it from us. We will right this wrong. My extended family has mayors, assemblymen, union officials. We are in the media, academia, and Hollywood. I was an assemblyman then state controller. Now I am running for governor.

 Some allege you have some shady characters funding you.
Shady? I assure you, everything I do is perfectly legal. And, I would not accept funding from any illegal source.

Investigative reporter Troy Wasserman alleges you are accepting foreign funding, which is filtered through several organizations, from the president of Tierra Dulce. 
Troy. Well, I can expect that. I have to confess an indiscretion with his wife. I’m not proud of it. I’ve apologized profusely. But I’m afraid Troy is out for revenge. He’ll do anything, say anything to destroy me.

Troy says you are acquainted with the president of Tierra Dulce.  
Yes. While in the Assembly, I engaged in a cultural exchange between our countries. Troy accompanied me on one of my missions.

Are you El Presidente’s agent to promote revolution in the United States?  
This interview is over.

For me, creating believable story characters is the most entertaining part of fiction writing. We’ll continue next time.—Quinn