Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Writer’s Block: Fight the Beast!

Yup, that's my kitty playing his cat app on the iPad.




Writer’s block. Like me, I'm sure these two words make you cringe. And when it hits, it’s downright depressing. But that’s okay, because here is a list of ammo to fight the beast when it strikes. 

1.       Reward yourself. See your writing time as a reward. After a long day of work (or a long week of work) you need some you time. Writing is the escape you need from the craziness in your life. Personally, writing makes me feel fulfilled, and I love the thrill—the intense high—I get after an amazing writing session.

2.       No pressure. Start on something fun. Wake up the creative noodles. Before I pull up my latest work, I open a blank document and just start writing something—anything. It could be: last night’s dream, my rant on the day’s insanity, my latest craving, and on and on. No commitment. Nothing but a long stream of practicing writing my thoughts in an endless manner. See where it takes me until I get my buzz, the buzz that tells me I’m ready. Then I close the document, open up my work and get to it! I use this exercise for my morning writing sessions because it quickly snaps me out of my morning mental fog.

3.       Get some sun. Sit outside and soak some rays. The sun has some amazing effects, both mentally and physically. Just a few minutes outside, letting your skin warm beneath the rays, and listening to the world beyond your door can boost your energy. No sun where you live? Invest in a sun-lamp. I get the winter blues and a lot of it has to do with the shorter days and the lack of sun. Having a sun-lamp (also known as a happy-lamp—no really!) has significantly changed my mood during the cold, rainy season and thus my motivation to write.

4.       Let your mind wander. With your fingers hovering over the keys, or while you’re getting up to make coffee, or pacing around the room because you can’t stand the blank pages staring back at you, let you mind go on auto-pilot. Think of your story and just “see where it goes” (can also be used with the no pressure tip). You’ll be surprised with what you come up with. 


             I was driving to work one day, after hitting a major slump in my writing when I had a sudden idea pop into my head: what would it be like to live in a world of dolls? I got to thinking about this, and wondering how it would work, why, where, when, and who? Next thing you know, I’ve got my next big novel, WHITE AS SNOW. Spending every free second I had, I jotted notes on Evernote and by the time I got home, I was dying to get to my desk and start chapter one.

5.       Commit to blocks of time. Whether you actually make any progress or not using this tip, be proud you committed to the time you allocated. Whether it’s forty-five minutes every weeknight or four hours on Saturday and only two on Sunday, keep your butt in your seat and your face in front of your work until the time is up. Don’t let the page/word count take away what you accomplish. Be proud regardless if you finish one page in four hours, or seven pages in two—you committed and therefore you succeeded.

6.       Read out loud. Feeling sluggish or foggy headed? Grab a book and start reading out loud. Try and read as fast as you can until your tongue begins to twist and trip. Count how many words you can read out loud in one minute, or just race yourself to the next chapter. This challenging brain game is a great way to wake up and get those creative juices firing. The action of your eyes and your brain reading, plus the action of your mouth speaking the words are a great way to improve your memory and attention. It’s a fun activity that will get you in a good, fun mood, and ready to rock and roll!

A big thanks to fellow writer, Anthony Farina, who inspired this blog.
And I hope these tips help you all fight against the beast that is Writer's Block!

What are your best tips & tricks to fend off WB? Please share!

Happy writing. 

Yours,
Anna


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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Writing Dialogue that Sings





I spend a lot of extra time when working on dialogue. Dialogue can reveal a lot about your characters, provide key information about the world/plot, and break up the monotony.

Here are some key tips I have picked up along the way:


  1. Not like real life: conversation in novels should not be written like it is real-life. Think of it as "conversation's greatest hits". Character dialogue needs to get right to the point. No round-about way of getting there with polite, long-winded speech. Think if you could orchestrate in real life the perfect sentence in any given situation; the perfect come-back, the perfect retort, in the shortest most intelligent way possible. That's how you should think when writing dialogue. 
  2. Action between breaths: just because your characters are talking doesn't mean the world stands still. Think of the action between the characters, think of their location and what the world is doing around them. If your characters are in a restaurant, have the waiter interrupt them, if they are in the train station, have the whistle blowing in the background. Add depth using body language. Communication is not limited to speech, their bodies are saying something too! (Read my blog on building memorable characters using this tool.) Keep the action moving to break up long dialogue and give readers a chance to pause and absorb the information. Just don't let the action overshadow the dialogue. 
  3. Show versus tell: use dialogue to pull your readers directly into the scene. Dialogue written well can allow readers to "hear" emotions, subtle flirting, longing, joy, pain, anger, grief, sorrow, and madness. It creates a sense of immediacy, picks up the pace, and can add conflict and tension to a scene. 
  4. Beware of modifiers: my editor once told me that ninety-five percent of the time, I should use says and asks as tags, and use them alone. The point is to justify the speaker, and to do it as quickly as possible. When you have to write 'she says anxiously,' then the dialogue or action of the character itself is lacking anxiety. 
  5. All the little things: here are some  additional things you can avoid to give your dialogue more punch:
    1. "As you know..." Don't impart in dialogue something the other character already knows. 
    2. Avoid chit-chat. Remember, get right to the point. 
    3. If a character is going to hiss, you better be sure the sentence is filled with enough "ss" to hiss. 
    4. Name dropping. Don't have your characters repeatedly refer to one another by name. "Melissa, you are awesome." "Thanks, Jane. You too!" "Listen, Melissa. Do you have time to chat later?" "Sure, Jane." 
    5. Avoid exclamation marks. 

Let it come naturally. Trust that your characters will tell you what they want to say and how they are going to say it. Read it out loud and tweak it until it sounds just right. 

Happy writing!

Yours, 
Anna

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

White as Snow - Sneak Preview


I'm very excited about this latest work, White as Snow. The premise can be found here.
I hope you enjoy! It's been a fun piece to work on. I'll keep it up for the next week or so, but it will eventually be migrated to the White as Snow page. 


(I apologize in advance for the formatting--tough on Blogger).

The first chapter has moved! It will soon be posted on the White as Snow page (top header). Stay tuned.
Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Building a Memorable Character (Part 3 of 3)

In today's post, I wanted to give you more ammo to building memorable characters; focusing specifically on utilizing facial expressions and gestures. (Click here for Part 1 and Part 2)

I am a big fan of the TV series Lie to Me. In the show, Dr. Lightman is a professional "body language reader", running an honest business exploiting his gift/practice. He uses his talent for solving crimes, fishing out liars, cheats, and con-artists, all with the science of body language.

Check out the Lie to Me Intro:


Most emotions involve more than one facial reaction and body gesture. Use this to your advantage in painting the full "picture" for your readers (I usually scatter them throughout a scene so it's not a grocery list of descriptions). Often times however, readers aren't going to understand certain emotions your'e trying to convey simply by describing their body's reactions. For example: you're trying to show "contempt" by saying that a character's lips were twitching. You may want to add: annoyed glance, and/or nostrils flaring, and even admit the showing of contempt by spelling it out: "Contempt reeked from his face, in the way his nostrils flared, his eyes averted, and the slight twist of his lips." This might be a bit much, but practice, practice, practice! You can define and add depth to the mood of your scenes, using this trick!

Here's another video to help you visualize what basic expressions look like, and what parts of the face do what. 



Ready for more? 
Watch a soap opera. They are full of electrical moments, and long pauses while the cameras focus at length on the characters expressions. People watching is something I do often when I'm out and about. To help hone my skill, I've also begun to be more attentive to they way people behave/react (while trying to be discreet about it--nobody likes to be stared at...) and seeing if I can guess how they're really feeling by how their body is reacting to what we're talking about, or what others are saying. I've seen people say they agree to something someone says, but their heads are shaking...okay...clearly they don't "really" agree.

You want to get advanced? Use subtle cues such as: body facing away from the person they're speaking to, legs crossed and uncrossed (and what that means), arms crossed, and hands hidden beneath desks. Even the way a persons face is at rest, tells a lot about them. Their facial muscles (and wrinkles) are defined by the most common expressions they make. Notice how some people look like natural "scowlers" by the deep grooves in their laugh lines, accompanied by down-turned lips? Okay, I can go on forever, but have fun with these exercises!

Try it out and let me know how it goes!


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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Creating a Memorable Character (Part 2 of 3)




In Part 1 we started with a few of the basics in creating memorable characters. In today's post, I'd like to dig deeper.

Let’s focus in on two primary character types: heroes and villains. Here are some ideas to start with, and then from here, spin off and create your own unique character.

       1.       You want a hero:

a.       The bad-boy/dark hero: a character on the wrong side of the law but redeems himself in the eyes of the reader/audience by doing what’s right. The movie Drive stars a character like this, played by Ryan Gosling. Ryan starts to care deeply for his neighbor, a married mother, and when her ex-con husband returns from prison on a fast-track to get right back in the pen, Ryan is motivated to murder as many people as he needs to, to keep his neighbor safe from the crossfire. 
b.      Straight cut hero: a character who from the very beginning acts and stands for what he believes is right—every action no matter how painful, how brilliant or dumb, is because they believe it’s the RIGHT thing to do.
c.       The accidental hero: he’s the underdog, the funny guy, the last minute man—this is the guy that no-one expected to be the hero, fell into the hero role by accident, or without choice.

           2.       You want a villain:

a.       Silent/Ruthless villain: (the psychopath) want to make a really creepy, scary villain? Make him silent. You can’t read his face, you can’t anticipate what he will do.  He is without conscience and there is no understanding what motivates him, he was just born wrong.
b.      The relatable/sad and sorry villain: what motivates him to do what he does is a deep, dark secret so terrible you almost sympathize with them. Or maybe it’s not a secret, it’s just a terrible accident in their life that’s changed them and motivates them to do bad things or act cruelly. They are bullish, cunning, sly, conniving, shrewd, frustrated, irritable, and unmerciful. And because of their past/secret, you feel “sorry” for them.
c.       Unsuspecting villain: this is the everyday, harmless looking character in your story who turns out to be the villain. By all appearances they are absolutely harmless, they are conveniently in enough scenes to hint that they can be a suspect, but the reader can never be sure, or does not guess they are the suspect to begin with.

            3.       Use vivid and unique descriptions to give your hero and villain depth.
a.       I decide to create an unsuspecting villain. He’s clean cut, has great hair, reacts “normal” under tough situations. One thing I want my readers to note about him (to create a hint of suspicion) is his teeth. To the main character, his teeth are a distraction, they look big,  horse-like, and fake. Later I get into the villain’s head and describe how he removes his false teeth, revealing jagged, yellow choppers, that are serrated—meant for tearing apart flesh.
b.      Make your heroes memorable by giving them a flaw—maybe even a major one—they drink heavily, they’re afraid of ___ (fill in the blank), they’re disfigured, they’re brash, they’re awkward in social situations, maybe they’re invisible. Give your hero an Achilles Heel and readers will remember them.

             4.      Be consistent! The one thing you want to ensure is that your characters remain true to themselves. If you’re trying to show “growth” by pushing them to act/react differently in a situation, you need to do so progressively and with convincing reason. 
      
                     a. For example: my hero is a detective, and a drunk. He has the same ritual every night: goes to a bar, and then goes home and falls asleep with an empty bottle in his hand. He's on a tough case, maybe his last. He drinks to not only forget the accident that killed his family--to forget he even had a happy family--but to forget the faces of all the dead people it was his job to avenge but didn't succeed. This case is different though. There's a chance the victim is still alive--a six year old girl. The little girl's mother pleads for him to do everything he can to find her. I give him a night or two to keep up with his ritual. Until one night, when he hits a dead end in the case. He spends a hellish night fighting with himself; recalling all too painfully how similar the victim and the mother are to his dead wife and daughter. Instead of drinking the night away, he literally battles with himself and the liquor--throws bottles, glasses, anything in a fit of rage and torment. He needs another lead--and time is running out. He grabs his gun and his coat, and storms out of his apartment, and heads back to the office/scene of the crime. As sick as he feels, he forgoes a night bingeing on alcohol (maybe he'll still have a few nips but not over-the-top blackout drunk), and instead refocuses on the case with a renewed vengeance. 
   
      Stay tuned for Part III where I talk about using body and facial expressions to show your readers mood, character traits, and emotions. This is a great tool, and one I use frequently to add depth to my characters.

      Do you have any tips you can share?  


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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Creating a Memorable Character (Part 1 of 3)



Want to know how to create real, living, breathing, and believable characters? Here are some tips and tricks to give your characters life:

       1. First step is a must--and one I'm sure you're familiar with--is to create a character profile on each of your main characters (J.K. Rowling wrote intricate and detailed backstory on each of her characters, both main and guest characters). Go beyond giving them basic descriptions: hair color, eye color, height, build. Make them real. Here’s how:

a.       Think about what makes them unique: attitude, morality, belief system, religion, unique gestures (ie talks with their hands, rubs their nose when they lie, always has their hands in their pockets—and what does that mean?), family history (or lack thereof)

      2. Use all five senses (there are many below that may overlap--click link to read how I use this!):

a.       Smell: Do they have a unique scent? Do they sweat a lot? Where are they located that might contribute to their scent?
b.      Sight/presentation: Do they stand straight, slightly stooped, submissive vs dominant?
c.       Taste: To incorporate this sense, I think of the things they do with their mouth: purse lips, dry/chapped lips, rolling of their tongue, smoke, chew tobacco, constant licking of lips, constant swallowing.
d.      Hear/sound: Do they have a rasp in their voice, speak with an accent, slur, have a speech impediment, drag their feet when they walk, cluck their tongue often, snap their fingers?
e.      Touch: Do they have soft/rough hands, are they touchy/feely—like to touch the person they’re talking to, hugger/non-hugger?

       3. Are they reactive or proactive?

a.       How do they react in different situations and how do they feel in the heat of the moment? I was in the car with my boyfriend the other night, when another car began to tailgate him, instead of backing off, my boyfriend decided to “teach the guy a lesson” (as he always likes to do—this is his character trait). He starts to drive slower, slams the breaks, flicks them off…which I feel does nothing but escalate the situation. What does this say of him and his character? He is an inciter. Whereas I am a diffuser—I say anything to make him back-off. I asked my boyfriend what he feels during these moments and he says, he feels thrilled—like he can fly, like he can do anything, whereas I feel real, very palpable fear for our safety and want nothing more than to escape the situation. This is an example of two very different ways your characters can react to the same situation. 

     4. You can’t over-use facial expressions and body language!

a.       Talk about showing versus telling! You can use this trick to define the mood of the scene by describing how your character is reacting in between the lines. Don’t tell us how they feel, show us! Describe their body language, their facial expressions and reactions. This trick immediately pulls (and keeps) readers into the situation. [Stay tuned for my next VIDEO blog where I talk about the different ways to use this valuable tool!]

In Part 2 I will give you even more tips and tricks for creating memorable characters—starting with highlighting different types of heroes and villains! 


Do you have a tip you'd like to share?

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