Category Archives: Character development

The Way A Character Speaks {Editing Tips}

 

how-to-write-a-believable-character-now-novel

It’s interesting how we write our stories and often in workshops I ask people to write me a scene, hook me in and let them think it’s because I want to see how they use devices. But what I am really doing is looking at what comes naturally. If I asked you to pick up a pen and write me an opening scene now, about a missing dog, how does it start? What is your natural storytelling voice? Who does the reader hear, you or the character?

While the omniscient narrator is still alive, these days most novels use character voice and that means first or third person… because, as I have said here before, even in third- person you can still create a limited or subjective viewpoint. So imagine not an external narrator sat in the corner of the screen saying he did, he thought, he said but as if you are that character, You have to imagine you are sat right inside their head. So the narration is as close as a first-person, right? He couldn’t believe it, hell where did she get the damn gun? Jesus, how would explain this? He had to get out. Jesus, right now he had to get the hell away from here… 

It’s in third-person… off the cuff writing so don’t judge it but can you see that this is anything but generic. Even in third-person, it’s the character’s voice you should hear and not me as the author.  Look at how other writers create these voices. In this voice we see, think, hear, make assumptions, act as if we are him and so no external view of his face as he doesn’t see it, does he? So no his eyes sparkled at that moment… how does he know?

Voice is the point in the writing that connects YOU to your READER. The reader wants to be this character and so that’s why, for me, voice is everything. I make the distinction again that I mean character voice and not ‘your voice’ as the author. That’s more about style, how you write, how you construct your sentences, the signature bits that make this story your unique way of doing it, right? That’s what you develop the more you write. No, here I mean character voice and it’s what stops the writing being generic and makes it feel real. Honestly, I learned that from reading Stephen King, the master of characterisation. Look at his work if you haven’t.

When you start a novel the voice you ‘start to’ create for a character changes as you progress through the novel. What you have to do when you edit, is look at how much of that is character development that you need for story, and how much is you developing the character the more you get to know them. The latter is the thing you need to address in the big edit. Ensure a consistent voice. As you get to know characters they start to exhibit behaviour patterns so the reader sees these as cues, he coughs when he can’t think what to say, he picks at an old pockmark when he’s anxious… and he will use memes, expressions, unique to him, as we as people do, right? This is when the character begins to truly live on the page. He attains his own identity. The way he speaks, thinks, acts in given situations, even what kind of person he is: messy, neat, a touch of OCD, outspoken etc. all start to form. Now you will feel as if his voice is natural to you. You have breathed life into a character.

Voice is all part of that characterisation and since it’s the character we hear in any given scene, chapter or the whole thing, then it needs to be right. I actually think it’s the difference between something that’s okay and something that’s great. 

When I wrote While No One Was Watching voice was so important to me and Lydia just became real. Her voice was tricky and, while most people loved her, there was the odd review that said they did not get her voice. Trust me I had a softer voice, worried I was overdoing the African-American vernacular but an editor told me to commit, do it or don’t do it at all and I did have to study to get it right, or as right as this British white girl was able! I hope I succeeded! What can I tell you, as soon as I breathed life into her, she took over and showed me this is me, this is how I walk, talk, think and you better do me justice, girl. Yes, Sir!

The aim for me is that you can pick up the book, let it fall open and know from a couple of lines whose voice this is. That for me makes it sing!

So deleting stuff… I talked earlier this week about the need to edit out those phrases, expressions that repeat, are not functional etc. That is so true. However, you also want to think about the voice. There are times when there might be a sense of repetition, a sense of recap because that is one of the aspects of the character’s personality. Look at Lydia as an example, she does tend to repeat for emphasis. The trick is to get the balance right between the wittering repetitive non-functional diatribe that reflects the way people really speak and creating a believable character with a believable voice, and one that does not bog the reader down with unnecessary repetition. It still has to function to move the plot.

Your editor should be able to make this distinction so you keep the voice but lose the filler.

So now go and look at your favourite novels and firstly ask yourself if this is a character narrator… and now look at how the voice works, is it distinctive?

I will leave you with an extract from my novel…Lydia at her finest… I hope…

………………………………………………………………………………………………….

The storm is gone.

Mister Tommy is still curled up in the towel from last night when he came in lookin’ like he’d fallen in the river. Missy Cat is watchin’ me from Papa’s rocker. In the kitchen there’s half a bowl of beef stew on the floor – soul food Momma used to call it. Or maybe that was chicken stew. Either way she always said it was the way to a man’s heart, of course I wouldn’t know about that.

Don’t you leave one morsel, she would say, food is for the soul and if your soul is right everythin’ else gon’ be right. Then she would get that look as if she was seein’ into the distance. Momma always said she didn’t have the gift but when she looked at me like that with her eyes so wide they looked like poppy blooms with big black centres, I thought maybe she did.

Of course Papa, he never approved of nothin’ like that. He said it was against God. I can still hear him: There should not be found amongst you anyone who practises divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer. Now I never knew what one of them was – a necromancer, but he’d look at me real hard and no way was I gonna ask him and he’d carry on: or one who inquires of the dead. Anyone who does this – they an abomination of the Lord. And I would see the way Momma looked at me when he said that. Papa liked to quote the scriptures, yes he did. But me – little ol’ Lydia an abomination? Just as well I never knew what that meant neither.

Right now not even soul food’s gonna lift this feelin’. Like a cloud even though there’s no clouds in the sky this mornin’, just good ol’ Texan sunshine. But it’s there anyhow: a memory I put away a long time since. Matter of fact I didn’t just put it away – I closed the darn lid.

I walk to the kitchen and gaze into the fridge mumblin’ to myself: Eggs. Bread. Oatmeal. Bacon. Then I close the fridge door with a soft suckin’ sound and look at King Marms who watchin’ me like I’m some kind of crazy woman. Now I know somethin’s gonna happen. I know because I lost my appetite and that means there’s more than last night’s storm in the air.

I look at the pile of paper on the table, all kind of nonsense that comes through the door, offerin’ me all kind of things I don’t want. Except for the coupons. Papa would be so proud about that. He’d rock in that chair cuttin’ coupons like it was therapy. I used to wonder where in the scriptures it said somethin’ about cuttin’ coupons. I bet if I’d asked him he would’ve started quotin’ me the Old Testament: Thou shall cut the coupons …

And he would come home from the grocery store tellin’ me how much he saved, a whole five cents on beans he’d say like he just won the lottery. Papa was proud to own this house. He’d be tellin’ folks ’bout it like he weren’t like the other coloured folks back then. Sometimes I thought maybe he forgot his roots. But he weren’t too proud to cut coupons, no Sir.

© Debz Hobbs-Wyatt, Parthian Books, 2013

………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Tomorrow I can talk about anything you want editing wise… send me suggestions, questions etc!

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Self Editing: Eveything you need to know

I had planned a post at some point similar to this, but when I read the talented Sharon Zink’s page I decided to share it.

Sharon is an amazing writer and I have had her on my blog. She also does the same job as me in that she offers manuscript appraisals; the same level of detail.

So I decided to share this link because it really is a masterclass in writing and everything on here is exactly the kind of thing I say to clients all the time when I assess their manuscripts…

Take heed fellow scribes!

I am now about to write the homecoming chapter on Pelicans… this is exciting, it’s the final chapter when we reveal the last of the missing pieces… and it’s raining so I am loving the sounds of rain on the roof as I write! The morning goes pitter patter… ❤

Have a wonderful day everyone!

http://sharonzink.com/writing-tips/all-first-drafts-are-sht-so-heres-a-masterclass-on-self-editing/

 

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Further thoughts on back story

What is the function of back story?

Were you paying attention last time?

Many might say that it explains the character, that it’s essential to enable the reader to understand why a character is behaving as he is (motivation). Yes absolutely true. But don’t forget, and this is the crucial bit, it  has to be woven seamlessly into the plot in a way that feels as if it’s almost invisible. The reader imbibes back story as they discover character, notice how they react, behave and through the carefully placed memories that motivate or foreshadow key moments.

And here’s my further thought — could it be said that back story isn’t to provide answers — but to provide questions?

There lies the essence of the good hook — right?

Have a great day.

 

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Getting into Character

I find myself this week back in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco and then climbing the dizzying heights of Pacific Heights and down to Pier 39. Contrasting neighbourhoods. No I have not jetted off to the states again (more’s the pity) but am back in the minds of Frank and Richard in the next novel. It’s already had a fair polish but needs some overhauling and the ending is in my head but not on a page. So here I am back there. What these characters are telling me is I know Frank’s voice really well (ex con, hard but soft) and Rich is more of a challenge as he is a bit of a bumbling prof recovering from a mental breakdown.

So for me to be suddenly back with these guys feels like a real treat. I have done a lot of work on this one but now I think it’s time to get to sorted. It’s pacey and psychological this one, darker too.

Because I’ve been to San Francisco a few times, one in particular on a fact-finding mission for this book, I feel more comfortable than perhaps I Am Wolf where I have never been to Alaska or Moscow. One of things we did in San Francisco five years ago (see I said I had been working on this for a while) was walk in Golden Gate Park, ride the amazing carousel that is in the novel and wonder where a body might be found near the carousel. Yep really. But what you can’t capture from Google earth are smells and the feel of the place. So I also had my notebook and asked what scents I could pick up on — get a feel for the place in the early morning. What I love about San Francisco is the fog, very atmospheric, right?

So I must leave you now to get back into character. While Frank has his issues — and so does Rich although I think your sympathies are with him from the get-go, Frank is the likeable rogue  and so I hope all of that comes across. Well — I will have to make sure it does. Being a writer is like being a character actor.

 

AlcatrazIsland

Have a great Wednesday, y’all!

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Getting to know your characters …

New cover WNOWW

 

Characterisation is a vital part to process, as you know as a writer, and one of the things that’s really important to make that VITAL connection to your reader. It all ties into voice, so we see, think, hear and root for the character.

Indeed,  I have talked about characterisation here many times in one guise or another.

I challenged myself writing an African-American with Lydia and have been overwhelmed with how much people have loved her. In fact they say they like all the characters in While No One Was Watching and yes they are all likeable because I tried to keep them real, while at the same time not stereotypes — which can be hard. Some might think they are stereotypical. The test is the number of people who want to know what happened to them once the book was over and so far that seems to be what people are saying. And I do hope to use Lydia again 🙂

It’s more of a struggle writing the more flawed character and I have always been aware that Amy in I Am Wolf is both complex and flawed and there are aspects of her the reader might not like. How she treats Mark for a start but I have worked to make the reader see why and warm to her, I hope — and that has been tricky. She has, as they say, a lot of baggage. But how much should the reader like the character? 

Well, it would not feel authentic if all characters were flawless, nor if all characters were evil. It’s about getting the right balance so even the hero has flaws and the evil character has redeeming features. Or at least that’s how I do it. My fiction deals with reality but with a touch of something unusual — or that’s how I describe it. It is grounded in reality, but I do like it if a character is ordinary but feels extraordinary. This was how someone described Lydia and I was chuffed with that.

There have been many challenges with the new novel and characterisation is most definitely one of them. I want Amy to be a victim who wears a mask, but I also want her to feel like a real person and I confess I still struggle with her.  She’s the kind of character who bosses me about and I have to keep her in check! But I think I’m almost there as I approach the end of another edit and hope it’s about ready.

Getting the characters right is so important for that connection I go on and on about (yeah I know!) But they are your vehicle for doing justice to the story. And as Stephen King put its, love before horror. Make the reader care about your character before you put them in peril — if you want the reader to stay for the journey.

And we all love it when we get to know characters and especially, as a writer, it’s great when people say they want to meet the characters again. Of course there are many trilogies and crime series where we do just that. And taking that a step further look at how close we come to feel to, let’s say, soap characters.

I was watching Daybreak this morning when Lorraine made a suggestion that I have been saying for years! I want to see a character in let’s sat Corrie, who pops down to London for a bit or forever, or a character in EastEnders who moves to Manchester (lots have!) make an appearance as the same character in the other soap! Hell — how many EastEnders characters end up in Spain? Maybe one  could pop over to Benidorm for a while! I think the public would love this and I think we should get more liaison between TV production companies to do this to characters?

Writers of the novel do it all the time, in a way when characters have walk on parts in other novels, so why not take that further?

One of the questions Parthian asked me and one I now ask other writers is — and I would love people here to comment — if you could be friends with any FICTIONAL character, you have created or read or watched on TV, movie etc. who would it be and why?

Mine — well here I am talking characters I have created — would be Lydia Collins.

Have a great day everyone!

Indeed!

Indeed!

 

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‘Trying to write a story without structure is like trying to invent an airplane without wings’

Yeah it’s a long title and one I plucked out of a book on writing, to be precise Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing by Larry Brookes. *recommended*

He says that no matter how you get there — be it with lot of plotting or through what arises organically through drafting, and whether you know it and think about it as you write or have  natural instinct for what works, structure is essential. Without it the house falls down or the plane doesn’t fly. And even if the architecture is lavish, akin to great writing, beautiful narrative, without structure you have no story. Right? I’ve said that before.

Like a natural law of the universe.

So let’s see writers if he has something new to say …

If the structure isn’t right, he claims, then you fill find it impossible to sell your work — yeah that’s what he says. He says that while experimental structures are interesting, keep the for the lit class not the novel or screenplay you’re trying to sell!

What he talks about is the adaptation of the three-act structure we see in plays — but it’s what we call the 4-part model, and for those who have worked with me professionally you’re recognise this more like the story arc I provide for those struggling with the plot.

Brookes talks about how every story in the world needs to adhere to this structure or it is doomed to fail and this is what I say about the story arc. It’s the same thing essentially but he visualises it as four boxes — these contain the scenes and what happens  to the hero in each box is the result of evolution in a sense, growing — anticipation — foreplay — sex — climax :to use his more crude analogy.

But what he says that I think is important is that what happens in box 1 in the set-up when we meet the character is developed in box 2 and box 2 needs box 1 and box 3 needs box 2 etc. So it is like a child growing. But what does this mean in real terms?

Box 1: Set-up — establishes everything that will follow. It introduces the protagonist and its single mission is to lay the premise, to foreground the key conflict of the story. And only hint at the antagonism in the plot (what do I keep saying? Don’t burden the set-up with too much back story! Lay the foundations!)

The function of Box 1 is: to set-up the plot by creating stakes, back-story and character empathy, while foreshadowing the oncoming conflict.

While you will most likely have the first inciting incident, this is what will foreground the big major plot point. Brookes warns that establishing the conflict too early does not allow time to establish the back-story. I see this when I critique and while I love it when we start right in the action and this is a device that’s fine, you still need to back-track in places as you will see to explain it and sometimes this device, unless handled with skill does not work as well as it should.

The more we understand and empathise with the hero the more we root and invest our time wanting to go with them on the journey, so you need to set-up, but you also don’t need to overdo the back-story so it’s a balance.

Box 1 ends with the reader now engaged and understanding the hero and takes us to the edge of the threshold, the stakes are now raised to the point of no return. So now we have the first major plot point (not to be confused with the first inciting incident which may coincide or may be part of the set-up) — now the story truly begins.

Got all this?

Have I hooked you? This is what Box 1 does (akin to the first 25% of the story) — have a look at how this can be applied to your own writing or the books you’re reading.

And I will resume with the next part tomorrow!

I will get it next week! Second edition!

I will get it next week! Second edition!

 

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The Glorious City of Bath

Winning the Bath Short Story Award (BSSA) this year has to be one of the big highlights. It knocked my socks off to actually win something and with a story  that had some very personal meaning. It seemed other people got it, it resonated on some level and isn’t that what being a writer is all about? So this is a great feeling when you make that connection. Thanks BSSA for choosing Learning to Fly –– read it here! LINK

Jude, one of the BSSA ladies, also wears another hat, that for Writing Events Bath, so when she knew I work with developing writers and my novel was out this month, she invited me to run a workshop on writing a psychological thriller at the wonderful Mr B’s Bookshop. And I love psychological thrillers, and while While No One Was Watching isn’t exactly that, it is kind of and I call it that if I have to pigeon-hole it and of course it uses many of those devices that tap into the psyche. I  grew up reading and being influenced by such books! So I loved putting this workshop together — a pig in literary mud!

And so last week Mum and I did something we never do, we left Dad in charge of the pooch and took a little trip to Bath, and the Hilton Hotel. And what a treat we had!

This time last week in fact we were  getting ready to set off to the station, although sadly it seems like ages ago now! Want to do it again! Want to do it at lots of hotels and places! Anyone else want to hire me? He he …

The hotel, although not quite as aesthetic to look at as the other Bath buildings, is lovely and central and a very short walk to Mr B’s although we did take a rather convoluted route because the girl at the hotel wasn’t sure! But we found it and around the corner at 3,30 we also found Halls and Woodhouse, the cafe where we were kindly treated to afternoon tea by the lovely ladies from BSSA. So nice to finally put faces to names, I met Jude, Anna and Jane and from Writing Events Bath also Alex.

We had a lovely chat about all things writing and enjoyed the delights of an afternoon tea. Then we relaxed on the sofas before it was time to go to Mr B’s ready for the workshop.

 

Writing Events Bath

Jane (BSSA), Debz (some writer apparently) and Jude (BSSA and Writing Events, Bath)

I had not run this particular workshop before, with a specific genre, but as I pointed out good writing is good writing and many of the things we talked about relate to any genre — good characterisation, motivation for action, sharp narrative etc. However I did focus it on what a psychological thriller is, where it fits in the context of other thrillers and the premise of many of these novels. I will do a blog post about this as I think many would find this interesting.

We had a couple of writing exercises, one writing an opening scene or blurb to see if we could capture the essence of a good psychological thriller. And after the break we wrote a scene with tension, after a discussion of narrative devices.

We finished with a Q&A and I even signed copies of my novel, in fact we ran out of books.

People were lovely and many said it had been very helpful 🙂 I hope that what I showed was that it can be done, we can get published if we work at the craft.

I have sat through many workshops and so I did what I thought I would want from a good workshop, it needs to be two-way, interactive and they needed to know I do know what I’m talking about (most of the time!).  So it helps that I work with lots of writers and I know the common errors! And that my novel was published of course!

I had a lovely time! And am so pleased some of the writers that took part have have found me on Twitter and said they’re enjoying the novel and loved the workshop! Phew!

The following day we did a spot of sightseeing in Bath, the tour bus, the Jane Austen Centre and of course some shopping! Although I bought very little.

A nice meal in the hotel that evening, and  then we relaxed in the room.

The following morning at breakfast, who should walk in but Ade Edmondson, who had been performing with his band in Bath that night. I didn’t disturb his breakfast but I was tempted to ask him if he wanted a copy of my book! I didn’t of course!

So here are some pics guys! I wish I was still there now!

 

Bath Abbey (1)

 

 

Bath Abbey (2)

 

That writer person again, who does she think she is?

That writer person again, who does she think she is?

 

Off to talk to the lovely writing group at Canvey Library this afternoon and you can hear me on Sarah Banham’s show on local radio Saint FM from 7pm, here’s the link: SAINT FM

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