A Writer’s Soul

Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.
~Virginia Woolf

Whilst looking for inspiration from those who have gone before us, I came across the above quote by Virginia Woolf. It reminded me of a discussion on my message board about using yourself as a character and I thought I’d write about that and some other stuff I’ve been thinking about lately.

It’s true that every manuscript we write has a part of us in it. How could it not? As the author, we are using our own knowledge and thought patterns, and often our values, to get a point across. But have you ever used yourself in one of your stories?

I have.

However, the story was written by me, for me. It was not meant to be read by another set of eyes. It took me a long time to realise that, and I can tell you now that trying to take a person out of a story and replace them with a completely different person is hard to do. I tried it but the story lacked something essential…my soul was missing.

That story has been shelved and I’ve moved on, but I learned a lot during the rewrite of that manuscript. It’s only now that I realise that.

This brings me to the next part of this post. It’s a topic Deborah Woehr brought up a few days ago, and it made me think about writers, blogging and how we want people to perceive us.

This is my online diary. What is a diary? It’s a place to put your thoughts. A diary is never meant to be read by other people, so what does that mean? We censor our words. In writing a manuscript we hide behind words, but in writing a blog entry we censor them instead. Why can’t a writer just write what they feel? Be honest and open, and to hell with what the reader thinks? Some writers do, but no one can tell me that they never censore what they write. If I was told that, I wouldn’t believe it for a second because most of us care what people think. We don’t want the reader to think badly of us, and in the event that we might be published one day, we don’t want our words as an unpublished author to haunt us.

Yesterday, I wrote a post about the loneliness of writing. What I was truly thinking and feeling never made it to the screen. I read those words now and cringe – they mean nothing, they sound vague. However, if I had allowed myself to write the post I really wanted to write I would have hurt people. I don’t even know if those people read this blog – maybe they don’t, but I couldn’t take the chance and I’m left with a post that means nothing. Yet, the people I didn’t want to hurt have hurt me, so why do I care what they think?

Part of our soul is in every word we write, so make sure the words are worthy of reading.

Character Sub Plots

An easy way to discover sub-plots for your characters is to tell the story, in one or two paragraphs, from each of the main character’s point of view (don’t forget your antagonist). You’ll be amazed how bland their personalities were before you started this exercise.

Today, I did this for book 2 of my trilogy. Writing one paragraph from the four main characters point of views was easy but it showed that the two supporting characters didn’t have much of a part. Actually, it proved that they were quite boring. So I rewrote their paragraphs and looked at what was happening from deep within them and discovered some conflict. I saw sides of them that I didn’t know existed and now their parts in the overall story will have more meaning and the story will have more depth.

I’m yet to do this with two new characters. My hero’s brother will join us in book 2, and there is a new antagonist. I will learn a lot about them during this exercise.

Give it a try. I guarantee you’ll learn something new about your characters too.

Book 2: Characters

Being book 2 I already have a cast of characters. Yet the antagonists in book 1 were dealt with so a new antagonist has stepped up to the mark. He’s coming through as a powerful man. I think he’s going to be quite challenging to the main characters.

A person who was only talked about in book 1 will also make an appearance. This will cause some tension and although I already know a lot about him, I don’t know his personality yet. It should be fun finding out.

Now that I know who will be taking the roles, I intend to write a few paragraphs telling the story from each of these people’s point of view. It’s amazing what you learn about the characters and the plot by doing this.

By the way, this is step 3 of the Snowflake Process.

Most Common Names

I’ve decided to change the name of my fantasy world.

Firstly, because there is an online fantasy game using the current name and even though I can prove I’ve been using the name for at least 8 years, I don’t want to bother with any legal hassles later on should this story find a publisher.

Secondly, the existing name doesn’t fit with the history. So I have decided to change that. In truth, one man would name the world and I believe he would connect the fantasy world with his past. The logical answer would be that he’ll name the world after his deceased mother and his beloved wife. He will use their christen names to come up with an unusual name for the world. Or, perhaps he’d use the name of his former property which would be a combination of his parents names. Lastly, he might bring his political outlook into play.

Hence, I need to know what the Most Common Names of the early 1600’s were. I will then have to play around with the names until I find two names that (in part) will join together to become the new name of my fantasy world.

Then…

I have to find a strange, awkward name that will be the “real” name of the world, but it won’t play a big part of the story and even when the truth is discovered, the characters will continue to use the name they know.

Writer’s Guide to Character Traits

I’m giving my main character a change of personality and was thinking of making her a loner. This would be ideal for the situation she’s going to find herself in and would be the cause of some major conflict. I’ve been doing some research on “loners” and this is what I discovered (most websites agree with this too):

    WriteCraft Writers- Writer’s Guide to Character Traits

      A Loner usually:
      * Is unemotional or unexcitable
      * Finds comfort in being alone
      * Avoids social relationships and emotional entanglements
      * Is not interested in sex
      * Has few close friends, but may be close to a sister or brother
      * Lacks social skills
      * Appears to be self-absorbed or detached
      * Chooses hobbies, interests, or careers that allow him/her to be alone
      * Is harsh with him-/herself

        A Loner may be:
        * A product of an alcoholic home
        * Predisposed to alcoholism
        * Considered eccentric
        * Could retreat from emotional displays
        * Gravitate to harsh environments
        * Psychopathic

        This could be interesting. It would mean I’d have to revise her history too but that’s fine because, at the moment, this character is dead boring.

        Punctuation in Dialogue

        This is an area I know a lot of people have difficulties with. I’ve seen a lot of mistakes made where writers are not sure where to put a comma or full stop. Here is an example of the correct way to use them:

        “I meet a wizard today,” Sam announced.

        “Sam, you’re nuts!” Peter replied. “Wizards don’t exist.”

        “They do,” Sam insisted, “because I meet one today.”

        With the first piece of dialogue, some people make the mistake of placing a full stop after the word “today” (ie “I meet a wizard today.” Sam announced.), which is wrong. The dialogue tag is part of the overall sentence.

        In the second set there are two complete sentences so a full stop is placed at the end of the dialogue tag. Also, when using a name or another word like – hey, oh, well, boy – you should always place a comma after that word. A good way to test this out is to read the sentence without the word, if it makes sense without it use a comma – if it doesn’t make sense then a comma is not required.

        With the last line, the dialogue tag is placed in the middle of a complete sentence so you should place a comma after the first part – the word “do” in this case – and at the end of the dialogue tag as shown.

        Oh, one more thing, ALWAYS start a new line for each person who speaks. ALWAYS!

        Charaters: Without them, there is no story!

        Remember that your reader invests time and money into your story and it is important that your characters capture your reader’s attention, so that they will want to spend more time getting to know them. If the reader does not develop an interest or connection with the main characters from the beginning, chances are they will not feel compelled to finish reading your characters’ story. One of the best ways to make sure this does not happen is to make sure you develop plausible, complex characters. This is crucial to successful storytelling.

        Your Main Characters

        These characters are normally the people you introduce in the opening chapters of your story. Remember that your main characters must appear throughout the entire story. It is a good idea to do a “Character Profile” for each of your main characters which will cut out a lot of confusion when you are working on your story itself.

        It is hard to remember everything that you have said about a character so building a character profile will eliminate any embarrassing errors (ie Mary had blond hair at the beginning of the a chapter but somehow ended up with auburn hair near the end).

        Some people just work out the very basics such as how old they are and what colour hair they have. Are they tall, short? Can they be based on someone you know? And, naturally, what are their names? That sort of thing.

        Others prefer to go to a lot of trouble and prepare cards with the necessary information written on them, or start data bases on their computers and some go as far as filling out large questionnaires.

        It really depends on how complex your characters are but here’s a list of some of the questions you could be asking yourself:

        • Character’s Name
        • Age
        • Birthdate
        • Weight
        • Height and Build (example, 5″2′, petite slender build)
        • Gender
        • Religion or other beliefs
        • Hair Colour
        • Eye Colour
        • Does the character wear glasses or contacts?
        • Does the character have any health problems? (If so, explain)
        • Shape of face
        • Any distinguishing marks or scars?
        • Type of personality
        • Marital status
        • Does character have a current love interest?
        • If so, what is that person’s name & how long have they been together?
        • How did they meet?
        • Any children (If they do have children, list their names & ages)
          Education
        • Occupation
        • Mother’s Name
        • Father’s Name
        • Who raised the character as a child?
        • What was their childhood like? (Happy, tragic, lonely, etc)
        • Does the character have any brothers and sisters? (If yes, list their names and ages)
        • Where were they born?
        • Where are they living now?
        • Weaknesses
        • Strengths
        • Any bad habits? If so, what?
        • Character’s Best Friend(s)
        • Any enemies. Why?

        I’m sure you could think of several others too.

        When developing your characters, keep the following in mind:

        • Solid Background. Give the character a history. Describe their home, possessions, medical histories, tastes in furniture, political opinions.
        • Speech. The way your character speaks (both content and manner) also portrays their personality: are they shy and reticent, aggressive and frank, coy or humorous.
        • Behaviour. Always be consistent with the way your character acts. It’s all right for the character to grow throughout the story but you should never swap between two sets of behaviour as this confuses the reader and your character becomes less real.
        • Motivation. The characters should have good and sufficient reasons for their actions, and should carry those actions out with plausible skills. If we don’t believe characters would do what the author tells us they do, the story fails.
        • Change. As the story progresses your characters should respond to their experiences they are having by changing–or by working hard to avoid changing. It is only natural that the more we experience the more we grow and your characters are no different. If a character seems the same at the end of a story as at the beginning, the reader should know why the character didn’t change.

        Your Other Characters

        Think of the “Other Characters” like you would “extras” used in a movie. “Other Characters” should be used to advance your story, to teach your main character an important lesson, and/or give them information needed in order to advance your plot line. Although it is generally good to know a few facts about these characters, as it makes the storyline more realistic, normally a full character profile is not necessary. Often, these characters will not even have a name.

        Choosing the Right Name

        When selecting a name for your character, there are a couple of things that you should consider:

        • Personality – Consider the personality of your character’s parents; and the personality of the character you are trying to portray.
        • First Impression – Often your character’s name will portray an image to your reader. For example, if you are creating a story about a twenty-year-old heroine you may want to consider a name that was fashionable twenty-years-ago, not a more old-fashioned name such as Ethel, Bertha, Mabel, etc. Remember that there are exceptions to the rule as your character may have been named after a great grandparent, an aunt or uncle.
        • Era – Different names range in popularity in different time periods. For example, if your story was set in a fictional western frontier in the 1800’s you may not want to name your herione Skye or Summer. Although these are lovely names; and popular today, the names were not at the height of their popularity during the 1800’s. Names such as Mary, Elizabeth, Eleanor, etc would be more appropriate. A great way to find out what was popular during a specific time period is to consult old census reports, history books, or even to read novels written or set up in that particular time period.

        Here are some places you can look to find names:

        • Baby Name Books
        • Census Reports
        • History Books
        • Telephone Books
        • Character Naming Sourcebooks (can be ordered from book clubs or found at local bookstores)
        • The Bible
        • Old Family Records
        • Newspapers
        • Magazines
        • Soap Operas/Movies/TV
        • Library Books

        However you decide to name your character and whatever you decide to name them, be sure to remember that the name you choose will convey an image of your character’s appearance to the reader.

        Finally, enjoy creating your characters. You’ll be surprised how quickly they become part of you.