May sure was a busy month for me. Since my last Wordslinger submission, I have:
*Celebrated my 40th birthday.
*Purchased at least 30 records (as in vinyl) on ebay.
*Written, recorded, and shot a music video for a new song.
*Started reading The Discovery of Witches and The Wind Through the Keyhole.
(We’ll discuss Stephen King some other time, at length if you’d like).
*Discovered the album “Rambler 65” by Ben Vaughn. A brilliant piece of rock recorded entirely in, you guessed it, his 65 Rambler. I’m a sucker for gimmicks but I prefer ones that pay off and this one did, bravo Ben)!
*Gone to three little league soccer games.
*Written and posted two chapters of EXPOSURE with my wife.
*Served at least 2000 bowls of chowder.
and…what else…oh yeah!
*Published a nasty piece of smut on the internet. (That I didn’t even finish)!
Yeah, about that last one, you see, I’m co-writing a fun piece of Twilight fan fiction with my wife and we have a rigorous posting schedule. It’s a Hollywood romance/comedy with a little scandal thrown in for good measure.
It’s a pair of zombie novels that need my immediate attention and I blame that for Pirate Booty’s hold up. You’ll notice that I did not list “wrote more of my zombie book” in my list of May activities. I wrote Pirate’s Booty instead and it took on a life of its own. Actually, I would like to think that it could be a decent golden ticket for me if Fifty Shades of Gray usher’s in a new era of written erotica and would very much like to continue the story.
But enough about me, let’s talk about you, I have a very fun and useful Wordslinger for you.
TIPS YOU CAN START USING TODAY
First up, Character Building: Any good story should have well-defined characters. Unfortunately, these can be the hardest things to develop for some writers. How to describe them, how to give them voice, how to make them do what you want to do. (easier said then done).
Physical descriptions can either be necessary or totally distracting, it depends on your timing. It’s important to paint a picture in the reader’s mind but too much too soon, especially with main characters can be a turn off.
I suggest Introducing additional physical information as your story develops. It can be very satisfying for the reader. “Joy’s hair was caramel brown, like Mississippi mud and braided down her back where it waggled like a dog’s tail. Her lace sleeves did little to hide the tattoos of rune stones that ran up her left arm and her size seven boots were adorned with dancing skeletons that she had painted on with LiquidPaper.”
Okay, we got three good pieces of info about Joy, and that’s plenty for the whole rest of whatever chapter she might appear in. We still don’t know her eye color, her height and weight, or what her smile looks like when she’s playing the shy lover. We can assume that she is a bit of a bad-ass based on the boots and tattoos, but looks can be deceiving. Hell, we hardly know anything about Joy, including her age, but we have enough to get us by until some time later when you slip in, “Joy sipped her coffee and kept her limestone eyes fixed on the morning paper. The ritual she had picked up from her grandfather also included cinnamon toast but she had already eaten that.”
Beyond physical descriptions, and much harder to convey, is the internal structure of the character. Set a Mature Meeter for each character and monitor it with their words and actions. You should see it grow for some characters, that is natural, especially in storytelling. Sometimes it’s the most important part. But that’s only if you are very lucky.
The character of the character is the nuance that makes or breaks the potency of their inclusion in the story at all. A villain is a villain, and a Saint is a Saint, but most people fall into that big gray area in between. They’re human (Unless they’re zombies) and will do human things.
The best way to give your character life is to pretend that you ARE that character and not just writing it. In other words, you can’t write from the outside. Get in there and steer.
(It is at these times when I would like to acknowledge anyone who has already learned things like this through their own experiences and hope that I have validated your efforts. This is not common sense stuff but it can be gleaned and put into practice immediately).
When you are thinking like your character you can sometimes: have fun allowing them to do stupid things that sabotage careers and complicate relationships. It always makes sense to the person doing it and if you can put yourself there, your readers will go with you.
Okay, we have great characters but we are missing two things, setting and plot. Where some books are character driven, others are defined by their locations or their chain of events. Historical fiction is a great example of how a setting can sometimes be as well-defined as a character and how plot can even be known to an extent but only enhance the reading experience.
Some writers get stuck on descriptions. They don’t want to sound cliche, but they don’t want to make some overly reaching comparison to a dewy summer’s eve. To this I say, “If it was good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for me.”
The Immortal Bard is known for having coined many phrases, much easier in his day, but also for using time-honored comparison’s and even stereotypes.
Joy’s hair could have been the color of milk chocolate but I once shared billing with a Portland band called Mississippi Mud and I thought it would be an interesting and beautiful way of describing her braid’s color as long as I threw in the word caramel to strengthen the visual. The Mississippi has an almost golden brown look, like caramel or un-spun honey.
Describing physical locations is no different from describing characters. Give a little but hold back to give you more colors to paint with later on. Plus, the reader has a powerful and wonderful imagination and has supplied everything you have not until you offer more insight and perspective.
I suggest using your characters senses to help you describe the scenes. We all like to splash paint on the walls, but be sure to include sounds. Our ears are massive information gatherers in real life and any sound you describe in a story will be absolutely be incorporated in your readers interpretation. It is an overused tool in cinema and an underused tool in fiction.
Smell is another sense that the reader will be able to connect with. It is commonly known that smell is our strongest link to memory and that means that we remember smells extra well. Use that often and you will find that your pulp world deepened considerably.
Taste and touch are usually scene specific if you catch my drift but can also be used to describe a setting beyond its mirrors and sconces.
Yeah, this is the most abstract of the three main parts of a well-defined story to discuss.
Mostly because plot is like love, you just know it when it hits you.
Plot heavy stories like Harry Potter are filled with stunning descriptions and beloved characters and I will always envy an author’s ability to construct something so satisfying.
Most plot development comes from outlining and careful planning…oh I’m sorry, most GOOD plot development comes from outlining and careful planning, most plot comes from people just making it up as they go.
I highly recommend taking control of your story by outlining basic chapter goals and character arcs. Leave plenty of room for inspiration and crazy ass characters doing whatever they want but have a plan. You will enjoy yourself much more.
My first two stories were started without the foggiest clue as to where they would end up and the whole time I had to wonder if it was all just going to fizzle out.
I got lucky.
But now I outline, my wife and beta makes me and our shared story EXPOSURE examined and re-outlined every few chapters. It has resulted in our best work to date.
Try any of these tips in character, setting, and plot development and you’ll find a world rich with texture, ripe with emotion and ready for action.
I hope you all have a wonderful June, especially those of you in New York, (get it)?