Friday, November 18, 2011

Whip Those Wimps Into Shape

I’m about to wrap up my latest novel. I was feeling quite pleased about it until I read a chapter about creating potent and memorable characters in the book Thanks, But This Isn’t for Us by Jessica Page Morrell . I had to step back for a moment and analyze what I had already written (yeah, I know, I should finish the book first) to see if I committed some of the deal breakers she mentions in the chapter. What I discovered is I’m a wimp at heart, and I allowed the cowardice in me seep into some of my scenes.

I realized my main character battled in the war of nerves and emoted like those annoying people who can’t hold their emotions in at the office (hmm…sounds familiar). Ugh! My heroine was anything but courageous, and I had to do something about it before I allowed a discerning editor toss my manuscript into the slush.

Here are some of the comparisons Morrell makes between figurehead characters and wimps: 

  • Wimps worry, fret, and are indecisive/ heroes tuck a decision under an arm and charge the line
  • Wimps moan and tuck tail while blaming their trials on others/heroes swallow mistakes and challenges; they face the consequences, embracing whatever perils life throws at them
  • Wimps run from relationships, principals and beliefs/heroes leap into love, cling to conviction, and know who they are and where they want to end up 
  • Wimps can’t handle the heat and give up/heroes walk into the inferno, despite the odds of survival

Are you getting the point? By the end of the story, we forget wimps; they fade from our pages like disappearing ink. But heroes levitate like embossed lettering; they make us salivate for more, make us race to the end of the book to discover their fate. Scarlett O’hara, Indiana Jones, and Jack Ryan trigger our emotions. We hate them, flee from danger with them, cry for them because they refuse to swagger to vulnerability. Their reactions are the stuff that makes us sigh relief when they triumph at the end.

Of course, they can show faults or momentary weakness, but by the end of the story your characters better learn how to stand up to mayhem or they’ll lose their lives in the pages of forgettable literature that gathers dust on the discount tables at bookstores.

Whip those wimps into shape, I tell you. That’s what I did with mine.         

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Tortoise Race to the Finish

Over the Labor Day weekend, I got a lot of writing done. It was a bit of heaven, dusting off the corners of my brain, throwing out the cares of my make-a-living job, and putting fingers to the keyboard eight hours a day. I often yearn for large chunks of time to write daily, but, ah, wishing never made it so. My goal is to complete my WIP by next March, yet the fruition of that objective remains a distant flag on the horizon.

What’s a writer to do?

We keep writing, whenever and wherever we can. We prepare our thoughts for the next scene while we’re driving to and from work. We edit while we’re waiting for our son to come out of the doctor’s office. I keep thinking about the story of the tortoise and the hare. All my friends are the rabbits, speeding past me, progressing toward the finish line, though unlike the hare, without criticism and with great success of their own. I, however, take one methodical step after another toward the goal, and the finish line is nowhere in sight. I have to remind myself the tortoise eventually crosses the finish line, even before the hare, though in my case, after my speedy friends publish several of their books. That’s okay. I can look at my progress and say I plodded away at the course every day. I feel confident in the effort I have put forth.

My slow thrust forward frustrates me at times, and I have to imagine myself at the other end of the track, leaning into the ribbon, letting it flow behind me as I finish the race. Frustration never did a writer any good. It places obstacles in the path and blocks focus. Still those feelings are real, and if I can invent ways to stay positive and productive, I increase my ability to succeed. I have to revel in my victories, celebrate the forty pages I wrote over the weekend to lessen the sting of placing dead

Maybe some of you are struggling to win the same kind of writing races. I’d like to hear how you put your negative energy to a more constructive use. We know the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong…but time and chance happen to them all. (Ecclesiates 9:11) And whether time and chance indulge us with favor or not, it’s how and that we finish the race that really matters in the end.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Ebb and Flow of Sentence Structure

Recently I listened to an excerpt from someone’s novel, and after mulling the piece over in my mind, I finally figured out what disturbed me about it. Her sentences all sounded the same.

The ebb and flow of sentence structure is key to good writing. Like the waves of the sea, using varied sentence lengths provides the current that undulates within a paragraph, moving the reader upward with the flow then ebbing to emphasize and to clarify.

Three basic kinds of sentences exist: simple, compound, and complex. Sentences consist of independent and dependent clauses—sentence fragments that contain subjects and those that do not. It is the creative usage and variety of these clauses that either cause our words to succeed or fail.

Simple sentence structure uses independent clauses that can stand alone as a sentence, such as: The dog chased the cat. Sometimes a short sentence is sufficient. Compound sentences use two or more independent clauses. The dog chased the cat, and the cat ran up a tree. This format extends the flow of our words and provides more interest. Complex sentence structure consists of one or more dependent clauses and at least one independent clause. The dog chased the cat, and though the dog’s snapping jowls ripped one of the feline’s nine lives to shreds, the cat ran up the tree to perch safely on the highest branch. Be careful to punctuate correctly within this format. Break the sentence into smaller segments if you aren’t sure where to place the commas.

English teachers have lectured and pointed their knotty fingers at us when we’ve used dependent clauses by themselves, threatening to mark “sentence fragment” on our papers with their accursed red pens. For the most part I agree with them. Yet isn’t it fun to break the rules? We would do well to understand the difference between dependent clauses and independent clauses. Knowing the rules helps us to produce a product worth reading. But sometimes we can use a wayward sentence or two with purpose. For emphasis. Or special effect. Or in dialogue. It’s the flotsam that puts punch into our writing. Just use them sparingly. And leave them out of formal writing.

I can’t tell you how to write. However, I guarantee if you use a variety of well-crafted sentence lengths, your work will sweep your reader into the stream of your words and surge them forward to a satisfactory ending.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Going for Blood

When I entered college, several of my Sophomore friends counseled me to avoid the English teacher Mrs. Krafchick. Their warnings were often accompanied with the words, “She’s a tough grader.” I took care to request specific classes during registration, especially in English, because I wanted to sidestep an instructor that would make my life miserable.

You guessed it.

When I attended orientation, there on my class schedule, in all capital letters, the name KRAFCHICK jeered up at me. My spirit sagged. I hoped I could switch out of her class before the start of school, though fate would have her own way. I sat low man on the totem pole, one of many in a banner year of incoming freshman, and the school made rearranging classes near impossible. I gulped at the cruel joke destiny had played on me, and prepared to face my fears.

I entered Mrs. Krafchick’s classroom that first time with palms sweating and heart racing. She appeared younger than I had imagined, though her face drew to a pinch and her attitude boomed with authority. And because she had written the classroom textbook, I feared she would hold the book over our heads as a standard—the last word in the realm of the all-knowing lady at the front.

I landed a “D” on my first writing assignment, a hard dose to take, since I was an “A” and “B” student. My second attempt earned little better—a “C-”. Each paper foretold the dismal report card that was sure to arrive in my mailbox by the end of the quarter. On the day I dropped out, half-way through the term, I had worked myself all the way up to a “B+”. I stood outside her classroom, withdrawal notice in hand, waiting to get her signature as soon as the class dismissed. Imagine my astonishment when I heard through the door Mrs. Krafchick say my name and talk about the wonderful paper I had written. I hadn’t expected that. I wanted to get in and get out with my completed signature sheet and retreat to my home to plan my next life adventure.

I remember the disappointment that flicked in Mrs. Krafchick’s eyes when I presented the withdrawal slip and my feeble explanation of why I wanted to give up. She said nothing but handed me my paper with “B+” marked in bold letters at the top of the page. I left with the stigma of that humiliation. It was almost as if she had said, “I don’t understand why you’re leaving. You had such promise.” Her words, though imagined, have stuck with me some thirty plus years later.

I learned more than just how to write from Mrs. Krafchick. She taught me that to write clean copy, free of frilly, garbage can words (her words, not mine) required struggle—editing, shaping, word-upon-line-upon-paragraph warfare. If I wanted to write with clarity, I had to put in the effort, even if the process drew blood.

Had I stayed in that English class, I know I would have won a few more battles with my native language. I’ve had to learn to write by trial and error and rejection over the years, a skirmish I could have cut short with a bit more courage in the war of words. But I am grateful for the tidbits of wisdom I gleaned from her. I’ve filed them away somewhere inside my aging brain. They stand at the ready, popping up from time to time in hand-to-hand combat when I’m tempted to pad my sentences or use words like “utilize”. At times I lose the conflict, but because of my brief training with Mrs. Kraftchick, the fight has made all the difference.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Staying Inspired Is an Art

When it comes to writing, staying inspired is an art. Waiting for an editor to say you are talented enough—that they will publish your words—well, you could end up wrinkled and gray before that happens. This is a tough business. We all know how difficult it is to believe in yourself when you have nothing to show for years of effort. Your family and friends, even a beta reader or two, have all told you your writing is the freshest thing since this morning’s doughnuts, but without the validation of someone in the publishing world, it’s difficult to believe your cronies are a good judge of talent. Rejection after rejection letter can deflate even the most confident writer, and the sad thing about the situation is such dismissal may have little to do with one's abilities. So you keep searching for homes for your pet projects, all the while sagging under the weight of little substantiation.

How do you keep typing when yet another year passes without a sale? As I said staying inspired is an art. You have to play mind games with yourself to ease the pain, rev up the energy, and obey the muse encouraging your creativity. Here are a few ideas I like to use to help remove the negative voices in my head. Discouragement begins with a thought, and these diversions help to keep me in a positive mode.

Access inspirational stories—I love reading stories about writers who have struggled to climb the publishing ladder, who have had to overcome great obstacles before they finally made it into the publishing world. Their plights give me hope, and I can almost envision myself standing in their shoes.

Read other successful writers’ work—Nothing gets me more excited about writing than reading exceptional phrasing. I keep my favorite author’s books nearby, and when I feel a slump coming on, I read what I love about a particular author’s work and it starts the words flowing within me again.

Remember past rewards—If you have written for awhile, you most likely have a few successes under your belt. Look through your scrapbook. Read the inspiring comments a writer’s contest judge said about your work, or bring out the check stub from the article you sold years ago. That is validation, no matter how small, and it suggests you have some of what it takes for success in this business. Remember if you were successful once, you can be successful again.

Keep writing—You need to practice your craft. That’s the only way to grow and get better at what you do. Odds are if you keep writing, you’ll eventually get published.

Believe rejection puts you one step closer to your goal—Sylvester Stallone said, “I take rejection as someone blowing a bugle in my ear to wake me up and get going, rather than retreat.” Rejection should make you resolute and activate you to prove an editor wrong. Not in an obnoxious way; I’m not suggesting you should harass an editor, but use that rejection to inspire you to continue writing, to make your work better or to find another editor who sees your words from an entirely different perspective. As I said, odds are if you keep writing, you’ll eventually get published.

So...fill your lungs with air, blow out the discouragement, and sit down in the chair and type till you drop. But don’t forget—send out your manuscript as soon as you can. Your time to shine is just over the horizon.

Friday, June 3, 2011


When it comes to the business of writing, I live in a cave. Maybe some of you should too. Not a literal black-whole-in-the-rock kind of cave, but a technological one, part self-inflicted and part circumstance-imposed. Let me explain. 

Honing my craft takes a considerable chunk of time, and I make some serious choices in this fast-paced world I live in. The smorgasbord of online forums, technological devices, and the life condition throw an inordinate amount of stimuli my way, burying me under the barrage of distraction. My head hurts just thinking about keeping up with the all of it. If I allowed myself to sample the variety of these time bandits at my disposal, I’d never get any writing done. Prioritizing has become my byword.

Circumstance-imposed time stealers include earning a living, driving to and from work, serving at church, exercising, taking care of family and pets, researching, and reading for inspiration. That takes up about sixteen hours a day, without exaggeration. Then there’s the self-inflicted retreat into my cave, protecting, at all costs, the two hours I have left a day to put a few words down on paper, which includes writing my blog and continuing my novel. I have to sleep at least six hours so I can handle the load.

I witness many of my writer friends participating on Facebook and Twitter, posting every day and several times a day, and they still manage to crack out a book here and there. I want to know where they find the time to write. Would they show more productivity without these modern-day diversions? They participate in critiques groups, family functions, and some even go to school. All I can surmise is that some don’t hold jobs or they have spouses who can help with chores, but I find it annoying when I’m unable to find the same time they finagle out of a day. Maybe their houses are in a shambles, or their children fix dinner, or they ignore the dog; I don’t understand how they manage their time, and I continue to analyze how I spend every minute of my day.

All I know is I use breaks at work and downtime to cram the writing I do accomplish into a limited block of time. I avoid Facebook, texting, and the online social groups my writer’s group hosts. Bottom line: I sacrifice networking time just to write a few measly pages a week.

My cave dwelling will probably hurt me in the long run. My writer friends will prove more technologically savvy when an editor asks about theirs and my marketing skills. But something has to give, and I refuse to let my writing suffer to fit in the social aspect of the business.

My advise is to do the best you can do with what time you have at your disposal. And never…ever…allow networking and playing with the fancy technical devices to rob you of accomplishing your writing projects. While in your own cave, try these tricks to help squeeze out a few more minutes to practice your craft:

  • Identify the best time to write
  • Focus on writing—that means turn off your phones, email, Internet, and refuse visitors.
  • Write without editing, erasing, or stopping.
  • Set easy writing goals.
  • Hold yourself accountable.
  • When you meet your goals, reward yourself.

If you follow the above suggestions, your cave may seem a bit lonely, but hey…at least you’ll have something to show for it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Enticing Readership with Skill

I just finished an exceptional book. You know…the kind that grabs you by the socks and lifts you until you’re floating above the ground… the kind that conjures up rich plot and natural dialogue, and charms you into the book’s pages only to mesmerize you with its come-to-life phrasing. Reading one chapter of this type of story proves my undoing. I can’t put the book down until I reach the end, panting for more.

What makes one book more compelling than another? I’m sure a variety of answers come to mind, though individual tastes might have something to do with what you deem as top-rate. Admit it. Some writers are much better at writing than others. Publishing trends lead us by the neck and tell us which authors to read—which writers are better than others—and they may know from experience some of what they are talking about. But just because they lead you to the trough, doesn’t mean you have to drink. How many books an author sells isn’t always an indication of his writing skill. That’s why I shout praises when I get hold of a book that zaps me with its magic. I want to analyze every part, discover every component that makes the world pop out at me like the action in a 3-D movie.

Take The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton—this exceptional book I was telling you about. Over and over again, the author surprised me with how she transformed an ordinary sentence into fresh, living imagery. Her words sucked me into each scene, had me living the characters lives vicariously as they searched for understanding. And she didn’t have to use the lurid tactics of the majority of those who call themselves writers today, either. I’m tired of searching for an author who can tell a story, one who makes us better after reading their work. Such talent is lacking in today’s entertainment.

So what’s my point? I think I’m ruined for life. I won’t find satisfaction until I can find another skilled writer like Kate Morton who can enthrall me with their clean, precise, and magical words. A reader shouldn’t have to strain to envision what they’re reading or wade through a clutter of nonsense, and a writer should use their skill, not sensationalism and smut, to entice readership.

Bravo, Kate Morton. You have me hooked. I hope my followers will feel the same.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bogging in the Comparison Mire

I have a useless habit of comparing my least to someone else’s best, especially when writing. I judge my blog posts with narrow eyes and a sneer on my face when my words fail to inspire or snag comments like the witty quips that successful bloggers post. I often throw out acceptable sections of my manuscripts or lash at my words until they beg for mercy all because I want to become like some other author. Comparing our work to others’ for the sake of learning a better way to write can be useful, but if we weep on our keyboards or berate ourselves for not measuring up to someone else’s style, we’re bogging in the comparison mire.

I say go ahead and admire another writer’s work, but remember you as a writer need to develop your own style. Recognize the myriad ways to make words come alive on the page…that maybe your way is more concise or less trite or builds on a style you have used throughout your manuscript. Chances are when you give your words a rest and come back and read them later, the passages will jump out at you as clever phrasing, just like you imagined when you first saved them to file. And if not, then put your fingers to the keys and come up with something else. It’s that simple.

I, for one, want my work to resonate from my own inner voice. I don’t want my readers to say, “Hey, she writes like Dan Brown or John Grisham. Not that I could, but why would I want to? I want my fans to recognize my work the moment they read one of my sentences. I want them to say, “Yep, that sounds like Peggy Shumway.” I read a blog the other day where the author suggests there is no such thing as style. She claims that style IS the writer. I guess that’s true. My inner voice is exactly that…who I am as a person.

However, we are influenced by other authors and our style will reflect what we like to read. The world is replete with different ways to write a novel or a magazine article, but the more unique you are in your design, the better chance you have to capture an editor’s eye. Learn the techniques that make you a better writer and then let your creativity take over until you create a story that reveals the facts in a fresh way. It may take a while to learn how. Let’s face it; some writers have success flowing through their veins, others, well…they have to try a little harder or find something else they like to do.

Just don’t flail in the comparison mire. If you want to write as much as you want to sleep or eat, you’ll do what is necessary to learn how to write and to find your voice. You must practice your craft, edit, and read your manuscript over and over until you get it right. And if you find the process takes too much work or, after years of trying, you can’t satisfy you own muse, find a new day job. You’ll be much happier.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Supporting Our Craft

Do you support the craft of writing? 

Recently I attended a writer’s conference where an agent suggested a writer should buy books. Buy books for birthdays and anniversaries, for special occasions and for pleasure or research. Buy books for the fun of it or to read to your children. She said we should walk into a bookstore and purchase the several-hundred-page vestiges…ones you can hold in your hand…that have pages you can actually turn. She and the other agents and authors on the panel hinted that we should avoid the new Kindles and ban the ease and cost-saving effectiveness of Amazon and other online bookstores. “Bookstores are closing all over the country and that should strike fear in all writers’ hearts,” they said. I left the conference concerned for the future of our industry and feeling a little guilty for patronizing such establishments. 

Should writers fret over the redirection of buying entertainment? Should we run out and purchase half the bookstore and frown at our children for investing in the newest technology? Could the wave of automated purchasing in our bathrobe and slippers be just as lucrative for a writer as buying books in a bookstore? People still have to buy the downloads they read on their Kindles, right? They still have to purchase the online copies they have sent to their homes. Unfortunately, there are more disadvantages to a writer in the impending wave of book buying than one would expect.

E-Book Publishing:
Sell self-published books. More and more authors these days are gravitating to the self publishing market. All a writer needs to do is create a website, format and pre-publish the book, and then put it up on his website, right? Well, that’s not all this form of publishing requires. If a writer desires to present a quality product, he’d have to hire an editor, a cover designer, and then spend a certain amount to market his book. Do you know how to format a website? If not, add the cost of a website designer and a person to maintain the site. Pay Pal also requires a fee to collect the money. 

Sell through one of the booksellers such as Amazon: In this method you would have to pay the costs of producing the digital book as well as pay the bookseller for storing and selling your book. The bookseller will then pay only once per month whatever is left over…that is, only if you've sold enough.

Sell through a traditional publisher: the third method of publishing a digital book is through a traditional publisher. A publisher assumes most of the risks and the costs of publication therefore rewards its efforts with a greater percentage of the proceeds. A writer would receive an advance on his royalties and then a small amount for each book the publisher sold. 

Online Dangers:
What about the Library e-book checkout programs? This is an online check-out program similar to purchasing a book from However, the reader can check out the book they want to read, minus the charge. What does the author get from that? Zilch, Zero. Nada.  The UK has it right. They passed the Public Lending Rights Act  mandating that authors receive a royalty every time someone checks their book out of a public library. 

Then there’s piracy and the numerous ways the public can read an author’s work online without paying for the privilege. Considering the hours and blood it takes to right a book, I have to ask, does this seem fair to you?  Maybe instead of fighting the inevitable, authors should spend their energy finding ways to make online purchasing more advantageous or invoke online protection and penalties for unlawful access. Weaknesses in any system can be turned around for the benefit of all. At least I like to think so. 

The payment process is far more complicated than I have explained here, but you get the gist of what I’m trying to say. Buying books at a bookstore far exceeds the benefits of buying them online. And either we accept the way the trend is headed or we can change that process and find a way to make it work for us.  

Call me a dinosaur; I’ll still buy books from the bookstore. A Kindle isn’t research-friendly, and I like the feel of turning pages, the smoothness of a paperback, not hard plastic, nudging the side of my nose when I wake up in the morning and discover I lost consciousness sometime during the night. And I don’t like the inconvenience of having to recharge devices. A book is self-contained, easy to store. Besides, purchasing books supports my craft and that has to be a good thing.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

What a Character Looks Like

Writers not only have to think of ways to make their characters’ personalities come alive on the page, but they also have to devise a look that will help the reader envision them. In my last post I described the four basic personality types I learned in a company that trained me as a color analyst. As promised, I will now describe what these four personalities tend to look like. Hair color is less an exact science than eye color and skin tone due to a variety of hair dyes on the market, but unadulterated, hair color will tend to have specific characteristics among the four personality groups.

People who express themselves have a light tawny complexion or a suntanned look with yellow undertones. Their cheeks turn rosy following exertion or embarrassment. Some in this category have pale skin, but they often have a yellowish cast to their complexion. Eye color is clear and usually blue, blue-green, grey or grey-green. If you look closely, these may even have mustard color surrounding the iris. Brown eyes are rare in this group. People who express themselves can have any hair color, but red heads may possess a bit of sandiness and blondes may have a taffy-colored appearance.

Overall look: These people look radiant and alive.

People who analyze possess a skin tone that is cool with rose undertones. Some may possess an opaque whiteness or an olive complexion with a blue cast under the skin. Eye color can be any color, but usually not green. Often those with brown eyes have eye color almost black brown in appearance. Blonde or brownette hair is possible among these people, but most in this category have brown, dark-brown to black-brown hair.

Overlook look: Icy, elegant, regal

People who are driven possess yellow undertones to their skin, however they have more gold or orange tones in their cheeks and more bronze in their overall appearance than do those in the first group above. Their eyes can be any color, however those with brown or green eyes might have gold and brown flecks. Most in this group will have gold or brown coloring around the iris. Their hair will tend to have bronze or metallic characteristics, although the hair can be any color.

Overlook look: Tawny, coppery, metallic, and dramatic

People who are amiable are often quite pale and their skin is transparent in appearance. They don’t hold a tan well. Usually their eye color is light blue, grey, grey-green or hazel. Rarely will they have brown eyes. These people tend to have light brown or blonde hair.

Overlook look: Colorless, soft and delicate, comforting

The look and character of the four personality groups, although as variable as the leaves on a tree, are more accurate than not. A study of the topic may surprise you. A person who falls under one of the four groups will possess at least 50% of the characteristics I have described above. Maybe you aren’t as detailed in character descriptions as this, but the information might provide you with some guidelines as you create believable heroes and heroines.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Giving Personality to Your Characters

Many years ago I learned color analysis and how to determine what colors looked best against a person’s skin. The company that trained me used four separate tests in their analysis: make-up, eye pattern, color draping, and personality. The company’s personality test fascinated me, for although the test possessed flaws, it revealed how people fall into four basic personality categories. I later discovered the Greeks, specifically Socrates, expounded on these four personality types thousands of years ago.

Imagine my surprise when a college English professor asked me to answer a questionnaire to determine my learning style, and I discovered the survey centered on the four personality groups. I have since used the information to better understand my children, the people I work with, and especially the characters I use in my fiction.

This scientific approach to find an individual's learning style is quite a complicated process. The several published theories on the topic are difficult to understand and would take too much space to explain here. To keep this article simple, I’ll only share what I learned about the four personality groups. They are made up of people who are driven, people who analyze, people who express themselves, and people who are amiable. Let me clarify:

People who express themselves love everybody. They enjoy using their imaginations and tend to be emotional creatures with extreme mood swings. They are either happy, energetic individuals or in the depths of despair. They blush at the smallest embarrassment and have difficulty making choices. Don’t ask them to choose an ice cream flavor; they love them all. Many who fall into this category are natural sales people or storytellers. They like to gather information, analyze it, and talk about it from several different perspectives, though they might not want to do the work of solving problems after they gather the facts. They are good at brainstorming and appreciate feedback.

People who analyze use logic to solve problems and require explanation rather than practical application. They take time to think through their ideas, and they are great organizers and lovers of lists. In fact, ideas and concepts are easier for them to understand than dealing with people. They lean toward the dramatic and can appear aloof or cool at times. They can be highly critical people and pessimistic. They make great scientists, engineers, or doctors.

People who are driven are get-it-done, people movers. They know what they want and how to get it. They are good at leading a crowd, although they can be rather severe when dealing with others; they are sometimes tactless and curt. They prefer technical tasks and can solve problems and make decisions without difficulty. They like to experiment with new ideas and can’t understand when other people are closed minded or unwilling to try something new.

People who are amiable are sensitive, kind-hearted individuals who avoid conflict. They are often quiet and soft-spoken, the shyest of any of the groups discussed here, though they can possess a stubborn streak. They blend in well since they avoid making spectacles of themselves, and they love to use their hands. Their common sense approach and drive to complete any task before them often lands them positions as teachers, secretaries, or executive assistants.

Thus are the basics of personality analysis.

While I worked in the color industry, I witnessed the veracity of these four personality types, and they resurfaced continually among my clients. I also found I could determine the specific skin undertone, eye pattern and eye color, and sometimes even the hair shade of each personality type (I’ll explain these concepts in part two, coming up in the next post).

The knowledge I have gleaned from participating in this color analysis company has helped me more than I can say over the years. Although some of you may be skeptical about pegging people into specific categories, I find whether you believe it or not depends on your personality type. Don’t pooh-pooh the idea until you know more about it. An in-depth study of personality analysis just might help you create the most realistic fictional characters you have dreamed up so far.

Friday, February 18, 2011

In the Still of the Night or Sing Me a Tune?

I’m baffled at how some writers need distraction to write. They prefer listening to music or eating snacks during the creative process. Really? How does anyone create something coherent when their iPods are blasting in their ears or when they have to wipe salty crumbs off their fingers?

I’m just the opposite. I’d rather write in quiet so I can hear words forming in my head, so I can read aloud and hear the flow of the day’s musings. And eating takes too much time when I’m working; the task occupies my hands when I could be typing a few more lines. That’s not to say I haven’t written through many a distraction: kids temper tantrums, an ornery husband’s grumbling, and the dog’s incessant scratching at the door. But the stillness allows me to be alone with words and to concentrate on what I’m trying to say. It removes clutter from my mind.

What are your preferences? Inquiring writers want to know!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

That Which We Call a Rose of Sharon

Many years ago, my high school teacher assigned my class to read Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. I filled that assignment and it was a great read, though I remember only a few things about the experience. I remember how the struggles that family faced pulled on my emotions. The characters came to life for me, even though today I don’t recall everything they did or even their names—that is, all except for one. Rose of Sharon stuck in my mind because I thought it an odd name, especially when the characters’ accents slurred the name into Rosasharn. The name bothered me through the entire novel. Why would Steinbeck choose such an unusual name? I imagine if I did a little research, I’d find that Rose of Sharon was a familiar name to that era and locale. Funny—how Rosasharn is the only name I remember forty years later.

Naming our characters in a way that will cling to our readers’ minds is a vital aspect of characterization. Of course, nothing is as important as creating word images that make your characters walk off the page, but the process falls short if we dub our heroes or heroines mundane or overused names that will fade with time. Nor do we want to use names that go to the extreme, unless our novel is extreme and that kind of name fits. Here are a few things to think about while you hunt for the perfect name for your characters.

Avoid Common-Place Names or Overused Names – Whether a name is common place or not depends on the trend. Names that were frequently used fifty years ago may be fresh for the taking in the current market. Knowing your character will make your choice easier. Is your character powerful or wealthy? Would a name like Melvin Bunny portray those characteristics? Or would Trask Hamilton provide a better picture? You might even use genealogy sources to look up possible surnames. Scour what names are used in current books or on the back of novel covers to make sure you're using unique names and not someone else’s. Especially avoid names that belong to someone famous.

Stay Clear of Names That Sound the Same – Characters with names that sound alike are a distraction. Names don’t even need to start with the same letter to sound similar. If you use names like Jerry and Larry your readers may confuse them throughout the novel. Don't end the first name with the same sound as the last name either. A character whose name is Damon Namouth will keep your reader’s tongues twisting for days.

Use Names That Fit the Period or Genre – Entering your name choices into a web search engine will help you research names common to an era. Make sure these names were used exclusively for males or for females during that time period or used for a specific ethnic background. You can also browse the Social Security Names List for a specific year if your character was born in the U.S. But whatever name captures your attention, keep the names something modern day readers can relate to and something they can pronounce.

Other Things to Consider –When writing your story, note how people who are close rarely use each other's full names. They use nicknames more often than not. Sometimes a specific reason lies behind the naming of a character. Your character's parents loved the movie Star Wars so they named their son Han. If you use that kind of motivation, find out how the name has affected that character throughout his life? Is the name an embarrassment when his parents address him in front of his fiancĂ©? Does your hero go by a different name throughout his life to avoid strange reactions? Let these odd circumstances become a part of your story.

Choosing captivating names for your characters is an art. We’re going for memorable here. The more memorable, the more likely your readers will remember the characters in your novel forty years down the road.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Room with a View

I moved to a new home recently, and now I have a room with a view. Yes, that’s right—a second story room looking out over the world around me. This room came with a price; I took care of my dad for a month last summer while he rehabilitated from a stroke and am continuing that care for as long as he is with us; I moved him to a new state, sold his house, and finally helped him purchase and move into a new home a week before Christmas. It was a grueling six months, but we have survived. Not only is the New Year facing me with a smile, but I have a whole new perspective on which to view my life and writing possibilities.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who struggled through 2010. I heard the abundance of horror stories in the nightly news casts and cried over the hard luck of some of my friends. And like them, I allowed the difficulties to stifle clarity of thought, not to mention all my energy, though there was really little time to think about anything but family and only enough energy to do the most pressing tasks before me. After meeting with realtors, title companies, and changing addresses twice over, I can actually see my world settling down a bit.

As I look back at all I’ve accomplished, I do not feel guilty for the time away from writing. Writing can never be more important to me than watching over my dad and helping him adjust to a new life. Yet everything has a season, and there is a time to get back to our talents, dreams, and aspirations. There is a time to take a fresh look outside our rooms with views and approach our writing with new fervor.

What’s that? You say you live on a single level and the only view you see is the fence around your backyard. Ah, contraire. We all have a place from which to see with newborn eyes, we just have to know where to locate that vantage point. Finding your own room with a view can be as simple as finding a different place to write in your home, but wherever you discover your own special nook, you are bound to glean new perspective as you continue writing in 2011. If nothing here works for you, come up with your own special out-look and, by all means, share the ideas that have helped you the most. Here is my list:

Take a trip – If you can’t move to a new location, take a day, a week, or a month to venture away from home. Take your computer with you and write from a bench in the mall, from a blanket on the beach, or from your grandmother’s cottage in the woods. Listen to the conversation and sights around you or soak up nature and let the setting transform into words. Change is often the catalyst that sets our minds afire.

Move your writing hovel – Writing in the same place every day might be hindering your thought processes. If you have formed bad habits sitting in a mundane locale, change it up a bit. Find a new corner in your home or at least remove the clutter. Turn your desk to face in a different direction. Writing from a different angle may be all you need to get the juices flowing again.

Read a different genre or style – If you tend to read the same kinds of books all the time, surprise yourself with a different read. An innovative approach to fiction, poetry, or non-fiction might stir a novel idea or at least provide a new window to look over what you’ve already created.

Join a writers group – Authors come in all shapes and opinions. They enjoy sharing their points of view. Attending a writers group might start you thinking in a new direction.

Interview an author – Ask an author how they approach their work, and you are bound to discover an original way of approaching your own. If you lack the time to interview someone yourself, read the zillions of blogs that do nothing but consult authors.

Research – If your mind bogs too often, try searching the Internet or scouring through a resource that will help you fill up the blank spots in your manuscript. You never known, you might pick up a fact or two that sends you into a frenzy of writing.

Whatever your approach to finding your own window of inspiration, let your new eyes do the work. Your examination just might help you unveil the words waiting to come to light.