Raven's Pen

Writing, Reading, and Ruminating

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5 Tricks for Getting to Know Your Characters

Characters can be elusive little goblins. One of our endeavors as writing people is to track them down and figure out who they are by the tiny clues that they give us.

Sometimes those clues do not consist of much at all. I, like so many others, has repeatedly fallen into the trap of not knowing exactly who my characters are. Now, how much you know your characters is often dependent on how much you plan a story before you begin writing. I, as I believe I have mentioned, am a terrible plotter.

I come up with names, a few plot points, maybe a little bit of a personality for a few characters and ta-da, I call it ‘good enough.’ Obviously, this is not exactly conducive to knowing my characters. Usually, I learn who they are by writing. The first draft is a place to try things, it is where you figure out who you are writing about and how they feel about their world.

But, that does not mean that I am not collecting tips and short-cuts to shove up my sleeve and pull out when necessary. Today, I want to share the tricks that I have; obviously, this is an ongoing list, but why wait?

Here we go:

1#

We describe people everyday: the guy we saw at the coffee shop with a moody look on his face; the girl who sat next to us on the bus. It’s pretty common knowledge that the best characters are usually the ones with a bit of depth; a backstory that gives them something to strive for or a few fears that they avoid facing. They are the ones that seem to most human, and the most relatable.

So, I find it helpful to start with hopes and fears. Fear is often an easier thing to begin with because it is so poignant, but that might not be the case for everyone. Maybe your MC is afraid of clowns, what would they do if they see one? Or maybe their fear is much larger and more complex, maybe they hide it behind other fears and try to convince themselves that it does not exist. One of my current MCs if afraid of someone showing her exactly who she is and believing that person; it leads to a whole host of problems in her life.

Once you know something about your characters’ fears: spend some time looking at how you can use them.

While fear often pushes characters away from one thing or another, hope pulls them toward new possibilities. I think it is important to look at both and see if they balance each other and where they do not. Remember: don’t be afraid of giving your characters flaws, it only makes them stronger.

2#

This is related to the first: emotions are a gigantic part of our lives (yes, even if you try to turn them off), why shouldn’t they be for our characters as well? What are the emotions that drive your character? Love, hate, despair, kindness, revenge, loneliness?

Consider where they help and hinder your characters, and how you can use them to your benefit.

Is it time for an evil cackle yet?

3#

This is one that I may have talked about before, but I think it is worth mentioning again: if you character is stuck in a waiting room before a doctor– or dentist– appointment, what do they do? Do they pick up a magazine? If so, what kind? If not, how do they distract themselves? What are they feeling?

The questions are close to endless. While this may not help in the context of your plot, it can help you understand more about what your characters do in situations that you can relate to your own life. If a waiting room doesn’t work, you can always send them to a coffee shop or other public place… What do they order? What do they think about the people they see?

Make them see a bit of the world before you drag them through you plot. It’s only fair… and they never need to know that you call it ‘research.’

4#

Random generators can be a very good thing. While I often do not pick anything from them, they often spur me toward a few ideas worth considering.  If you are not interested in random generators, try searching for images of something that is prevalent in your character’s life– even if it is just a hunch. Photos often help to visualize a character’s appearance; a person’s clothing choices and general surroundings often reflect at least a bit of their personality– even if they purposely chose to act exactly the opposite as the way they feel.

Do not be afraid to spend time trying details on and casting them aside.

5#

Pulling off of #3, this is something that many people seem to find extremely helpful: act out conversations with your character. What are there face expressions? How do you think they use their body language when they speak? I often find myself making funny faces while writing dialogue, strangely enough, it helps me to understand what my characters are thinking and feeling.

The conversations that you have do not have to be related to your story. Explore and see what you find. Walk around your bedroom and mutter to yourself for heaven’s sakes. Recite a mundane conversation with your character and see where it takes you. I’m pretty sure the neighbors won’t call the police…

All right, that is it for now…

I hope that everyone is having a great week!

‘Till next time (it will be very, very soon)!

NaNoWriMo: Holy Cow, It’s Over?

Hello everyone!

You’re awesome! You know that? I’ll say it again: You’re awesome!

For all of the people who participated in NaNo or similar endeavors: No matter how many words you wrote, you are a winner! As long as you picked yourself up and accomplish something to bring you closer to your goal, you are a winner! If you had to quit in the middle but swore to try again, you are a winner! If you simply tried it out and found it wasn’t for you, don’t worry because you’re still a winner!

All right? I will stop trying to convince you now, but I mean it.

I apologize for the lack of posts in November… and the last week! I had a list of drafts that I meant to finish but– well… it was a crazy month in more ways than one. Thankfully, almost all of the craziness of over for the month. My time is mine again.*evil cackling*

Let’s talk about NaNo, shall we? I’m pleased to say that I finished with double what I expected to: 100,834 out of 50k. And… the story is only slightly more than halfway over. And this is book one of a duo (or trilogy).

Elizabelle and Avery like to talk. A lot.

Did I tell you anything about this story? No? Shame on me, my friends.

I never actually wrote a synopsis so I’m going to throw a few paragraphs out and see where it goes..

The story begins a few months after the conclusion of  String and Bone; a book that I hope to publish next year (I am currently in the last third of a rewrite). *crosses fingers*

Elizabelle, Rosaline’s sister, has become Queen Regent, Protector and Guide of Pyrensia. The Bone Collectors’ created a council to run the kingdom, and they are using Elizabelle as a public face to conserve some sort of public trust. She allows them to simply because she has her own plans.

She dreams of twisting people around her fingers like twine (and attempts to do so in almost every scene), and her worst fear is betrayal. Her compatriot, and girlfriend, is a former thief from Angra. While Elizabelle prefers to fight with words, Avery’s passion lies in blackmail interspersed with occasional fist-fights.

Avery has plans of her own, but they connect to Elizabelle’s for the most part. Both of them intend to use the Council– and everyone else they can– for their own ends. They love to give speeches, and nothing is a more joyful gist than threats.

The whole story has been prodigiously influenced by the election; which means there is a fair amount of social “stuff” mixed in. Finishing it will certainly be a challenge– hopefully of the delightful sort.

My, this moth is moving quickly! Now that life is settling again, I am sure that I will be able to post more often. And my next post will definitively have more substance than this little update. I have a few drafts waiting to be finished that I’m pretty excited about, and some additions to this blog that I am planning for the beginning of the year!

Until next time!

A Quote for December

Whoa, how did the months change so quickly? I swear, last time I looked up, it was the middle of November.

Ah well, a new month means that it is time for a new quote…

This is one that I have thought of a lot lately, perhaps because of its shortness– it it about the length of a motto:

“Fiction is the truth inside the lie.” ~ Stephen King

Let’s tell the truth, but hide it inside phantasms that make it greater than it is.

A Reminder for the Future

Hello friends,

In light of the recent US election, I hope that everyone is surviving and handling everything as best as you can. No one is alone.

As the future changes, there is one thing that all of us need to remember: stand together. It is time to help others out, it is time to walk with those who are being pushed to the sides, it is time to make sure that the laws built over the last eight years reaching closer to equality are not torn to pieces.

For those in the US: we cannot let this country slip backward; it is our duty as citizens to ensure that our rights are kept. This is a time of bigotry, racism, sexism, shaming, and shouted opinions, but the world is not ending.

We have power in this country, and the most basic of laws are not easy to change; our founding fathers made sure of that fact, and now it is time for us to stand. Not with violence or hate, but with a surety of our own equality.

For those of color, for Muslims and Jews, for immigrants, for LGBT+ people, for women, for the disabled, for the mentally ill: I am so sorry for what you are seeing, and hearing, and for the added troubles that this future may bring.

Whether you have been pushed to the side, marginalized, hated, considered inferior simply because of who you are– or you are simply struggling to manage the grief that so many people are feeling: this is not the end of your freedom; this road may be rough, but it will not destroy you. There is hope.

Hope that you must create, hope that you must cling to, hope that you must believe in, hope that you must be willing to work for. Hope that will stand silently at your breast to raise its voice when it is needed.

For those who are considered ‘normal’: please, stand with friends, family, and strangers in tough situations. Stand with those who need help and those who are afraid. Stand because you can. Stand because, despite the difficulty and time that it takes to change laws, this future could be incredibly dangerous for so many. Stand because we are all equal, all human, all of beating hearts.

The disdain that now is shouting and riling must be met calmly. Despite how totally encompassing it may seem, what you see does not define who you are– what you believe does.

This is not a time to hide underneath bedclothes and hope that the shadows underneath the mattress will disappear. It is time to pay attention, to prepare, to consider, and to help others. This is a time to dig back to Martin Luther King Jr.’s wisdom and remember that we must never give up.

Stay safe.

November is Here!

Good day! Welcome to November!

Have you stockpiled all of the leftover candy? Fuzzy clothing and mystical hats? Is the pumpkin and squash domineering your refrigerator?

Whew, this year is moving unreliability quickly; it seems like another month has passed each time that I pause and look around. We just have the make the most of it, yes?

Speaking of which, it is time for another quote:

“Know your literary tradition, savor it, steal from it, but when you sit down to write, forget about worshiping greatness and fetishizing masterpieces.”
~ Allegra Goodmanq

‘Till later…

Pre-NaNo Panic

Whoa, whoa, whoa. What do you mean? There is still a little bit of time… well, there was, that time is going to be gone awfully fast.

The blink of an eye; a swish of a wand; the amount of time it takes to learn to make a good bread.

All right, maybe not that last one.

It’s time to panic my friends. At least, in my tiny sliver of the world.

Luckily, panic is something that we have in abundance. But let’s not get over excited. Unprepared is still slightly prepared in some ways. Right? I sure hope so.

To actually be prepared, I am going to follow the tried and true method of slowly drawing my attention closer and closer to NaNo… Actually, that sounds kind of creepy.

Let’s start with a NaNoWriMo survival kit:

  • My computer, Yuily
  • A notebook
  • Flashdrives/backup
  • Microsoft Word
  • Earbuds
  • Empty flashcards– for notes and character information.
  • Pens and at least one pencil
  • Music (Pandora and 8tracks)
  • Writing rock
  • Lots and lots of determination
  • The ability to chase after motivation
  • Magic

Non-essential, but definitively helpful:

  • Random prompt box
  • Fuzzy socks and generally comfortable clothing
  • CHOCOLATE
  • Tea, hot chocolate, and, occasionally, coffee
  • Internet (for research and– you know what– procrastination)
  • Furry friends of four legs
  • Other humans in the family to commiserate with

Things that would be beneficial, but probably won’t exist before NaNo:

  • A temporary book cover
  • A plot

I think my list gets bigger every year. (An illusion, my friends. An illusion.) Truly, only a few things are key.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? If so, what is in your survival kit?

Passion is What Holds Us Up

Gentlepoeples, a good morning and welcome to the show. I may have spent *some* time procrastinating by looking up forms of address. It could technically be research. Kinda. Every character needs a good greeting.

Ahem.

Time to get to a topic, eh folks?

We live our lives, however they may be, by each day– it is easy to wonder where our our sides of the world are turning. There is a great philosophy joke in Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein’s Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar:

“A seeker has heard that the wisest guru in all of India lives atop India’s highest mountain. So the seeker treks over hill and Delhi until he reaches the fabled mountain. It’s incredibly steep, and more than once he slips and falls. By the time he reaches the top, he is full of cuts and bruises, but there is the guru, sitting cross-legged in front of his cave.

“”O, wise guru,” the seeker says, “I have come to you to ask what the secret of life is.”

“”Ah, yes, the secret of life,” the guru says, “The secret of life is a teacup.”

“”A teacup? I came all the way up here to find the meaning of life, and you tell me that it’s a teacup!”

“”The guru shrugs, “So maybe it isn’t a teacup.””

The meaning of such a joke could be construed in a thousand ways, of course, but I think one is this: no one knows the meaning of life; and, therefore, a meaning must be created.

If the meaning of life must be created: it seems that passion should be a part of it-  as a source of pleasure as well as usefulness. In a previous post, I mentioned passion in conjunction with living the way that you want to live, and I would like to keep that as an underlying theme.

There seems to be a secret sort of pressure in the world– at least, in certain places among certain people– that says that everyone should be the same. The truth is the no one is the same, we are all individual people with our own beliefs and life experiences. Someone who is good at math is not necessarily a good painter, and a painter is not necessarily a good mathematician. We each have our strengths and our weaknesses; and, I think, we need to acknowledge them.

This is where passion comes in: while what someone is passionate about is not necessarily something that they are good at, it is usually something that they are willing to work for. As my dad says, ‘talent can only take you so far.’ You have to work for what you want, and you have to work passionately.

Passion can foster so much; it is, to look at things is a slightly narrow prospective, a immense driving force in the world. Just think about the invention of cars or electricity. Sure, someone might have said ‘we really need some sort of illuminating system that doesn’t rely on candles,’ but I think that it is more realistic to wonder if electricity was created because someone was passionate. They probably didn’t even know that they were creating something that would spread across the world and usher in a modernity that could not exist without it; at least, not until they took a step back and wondered what the newfangled thing that they had created could be used for.

We would not have the works of Picasso, Stephan King, Galileo, Plato, Pina Bausch, Tamara Pierce– well… you get the point.

Sure, we can work without passion; we can create things without passion, but determination is needed and what is a better conveyor of determination than passion? As well, things that are created with passion are often so much more beautiful than something created out of rote determination. Both are good of course, but… surely, passion is something that we look for.

Without passion, life would be dry.

So… how do we find passion? In my still-not-20-years-old opinion, I think finding passion is a matter of trial and error. Look around yourself and try a few things out.

Let me tell a bit of a story: I have always wanted to write stories, but the idea of writing anything longer than a page seemed crazy for many, many years; it was an ‘eventually.’ You know, the eventually where you’re not entirely serious but want to think you are. I had no idea that I would be completely swallowed by writing, I had no idea that I would have a passion for it– no matter how terrible my first drafts are. Now, I don’t just want to write, I need to write.

Enough about me though; I think the gist of this post is this: everyone has a passion for something, you just have to find it. So go out and do just that, try something for awhile (long enough to truly know if you like it or hate it– jump into the pool, don’t just stick one toe in and say ‘oh, it’s too deep.’).

And once you have found it: work. Follow your passion to the ends of the earth with fanatic determination. It might not be easy, but you just have to go for it.

Don’t give up, and, most importantly, do not let fear lock you into place.

So, my friends, a question offered to you: what do you think is the most important part of passion?

I will gladly read your responses if you wish to share!

Until next time…

Welcome to October!

Happy Autumn everyone!

Are you pulling out the sweaters (or light jackets if you live in the desert? Has the hot chocolate, cappuccino, and soup bug bitten you yet? A sudden wish to make chocolate-chip cookies? How about one-month-away-from-NaNoWriMo-panic? All of them jumped onto my desk a few days ago, and they are still refusing to move.

All right, in traditional beginning of the month fashion, a quote has been released from the closet:

“Let the world burn through you. Throw the prism light, white hot, on paper.” ~ Ray Bradbury

I hope to see all of you around!

‘Till next time!

A Quote for September!

The next month is upon us yet again! Is everyone having a good year? Yes? No? Plenty of dragons and magic fairy dust?

If anyone finds dragons, let me know, I would love to see what they look like.

Without any further ado, here is a quote for September:

“The story that I am writing exists, written in absolutely perfect fashion, some place, in the air. All I must do is find it, and copy it.” ~ Jules Renard

As a side note: I would love to hear your suggestions for posts if you have any! Let me know if you want to see a certain something or other sneaking onto your dash.

Until next time!

 

The Little and the Big

This post is going to be a bit different than usual…

Today, my family and I drove to a different part of the state to pick up a load of hay. The road we took is the type where passing ten or twelve cars can be counted as traffic. Hedged by farmhouses and ranch land dotted by the blobs of cows and fences, the small town that we passed through along the way used to contain a post office along with the rest of its buildings, but I believe that it closed down about a year ago. Our destination was a second town along the same road- amid the stretching and mountain engirdled, horizon landscape – with fresher fields and far more green– horses are the occupants of almost every third or forth field– but the majority of space is used for agriculture.

It might sound slightly dismal, but people actually seem to be doing very well.

We have been buying hay from the same people for the last few years, and they are relatively transparent about the state of their crops (a fact that I had not truly noticed until my mom pointed it out on the way home). Like so many people in the melting-pot that our state is, they cobble together their lives as they see fit- agriculture, horse breeding, working a more traditional job ect. Some things are done for necessity, but many are done for pleasure as well as making a living.

The people that we buy hay from chose to own agricultural land, and it is a conscious choice that they have kept. I think that is important to this post because of one main thing: I think it is easy to forget that what is often considered ‘normal’ is just one (typically) socially acceptable version of living life.

So many people in this world live in cities where the everyone seems to be trying to race time. There is the always the larger objective, the giant new challenge that must be accomplished by a set date, or the action that has been done a thousand times and now must be repeated. An exhilarating rush for the people who love it; a dull roboticism (that isn’t a dictionary approved word, but maybe it should be) for the people who despise it. So is the life of the corporate.

Alright, let’s get back to the point, shall we?

I love hearing stories of people who are slightly quirky; artists chasing their dreams as though they cannot live without it, and perhaps, they cannot. There is something beautiful in a slower world. Or perhaps, it is simply a more connected world.

More connected to the expanse of whatever is around you; instead of the next deadline that someone else has set.

Of course, all of this ties into a different discussion about passion that I hope to post soon. But, I digress.

Corporate situations fit many people, and so they should. But there must also be a place for someone who is not interested in being the next big CEO of a brilliant company; someone like a distant neighbor of ours who works out of their home and keeps goats for fun- and as a second source of income, or the family that I began this post with.

I am not saying that aiming for something large is bad, or that deadlines are unimportant: quite the opposite. Deadlines are usually necessary to accomplish goals on your own, and reaching as far as possible for you dreams is something that should always be done.

Seriously, go for your passions.

Not everything needs to be large and fancy. If the goal of a life is ‘living well’ and happily/with passion, than why should we try to shove anyone into tiny boxes? There should be room for simplicity. And simplicity in contentment. Or visa versa. Whatever you find yourself floating on.

Isn’t happiness part of what we all want? Of course, stability is often on many people’s minds as well, but surely the two can work together.

Perhaps I am biased, this post is certainly colored by my own opinions, but I think it is important to remind yourself every once and a while that a life is what you create. It should not be ‘lesser’ to be pleased by little pieces of a larger accomplishment; or to aim for something that could be considered an ‘old-fashioned’ way of living. Not everyone’s grand wish is to be a great doctor or a brilliant scientist; although, surely there are many people in the world who aim for just that. No one is lesser than anyone else simply because of what they want to accomplish in the world.

This post is heading in circles- or maybe it is just my thoughts. Seriously though, there is freedom in this world as long as you are willing to look for it.

So… to condense this post into one sentence: There is no shame in being different.

Also, there is no shame in wanting something different.

As long as you don’t harm anybody.

Yeah. Let’s make peace trendy again.

I’d love to hear your thoughts if you have the temptation to comment…

Until next time! (You can bet that a similar discussion will be continued- with more writing stuff added along. It all arcs around.)

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