Category Archives: novels

Visualizing Characters

If you write fiction, where do your characters come from? Do you invent them to suit a plot? Do you dream them? Have they always been in the back of your mind waiting for you to tell their stories?

For my current project, my main character, Jenny, showed up in the pages of my notebook. From the first entry about her, I knew her childhood, her mother’s story, her fears and her needs. I could see her face clearly. She walked out of my pen a whole person.

The supporting characters in Jenny’s story came to my mind in a less dramatic fashion, but their personalities are no less vivid.

  • Roz was inspired by a friend who is just right to play the role of a teacher figure Jenny needed in her life. Of course, Roz has become quite different from my friend, but I can still feel the echo of that first idea.
  • Abby came to life more slowly in a more intellectual fashion. I wanted to explore a certain family dynamic and her character developed to play a role that is removed from my own experience.
  • Joy appeared when I needed a character to have a specific job. She became much like a childhood family friend who has the same career. When I write Joy’s scenes, now I hear that friend’s voice in my head.

For these supporting characters, I know a lot about their inner lives and their voices, but physically, they’re blurry. I ponder hair and eye color, height and weight, trying to decide what combination suits them best.

I’ve read that some authors assign actors to their characters to help them imagine how scenes will pan out. Evidently, this technique works better for novels than it does for screenplays, because novelists don’t have to worry about convincing that perfect actor to play the role. And they can imagine the actor at any age, not just the age she is now.

I tried this for a few characters and while it was fun holding auditions, I haven’t gotten far enough to know if it will help me in the long run.

If you write fiction, what techniques do you use to visualize your characters?

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Filed under characterization, characters, novels, Writing

Point of View

My “new” novel is one that I wrote during National Novel Writing Month a few years ago. (It was a great experience. If you’re considering trying NaNoWriMo this year, I highly recommend it.)

I wrote that story based on characters I first met in the pages of my notebook. I’ve been working with my 50,000 word NaNoWriMo draft and with notebook entries about these characters who have been running around in my head for a while. We’re old friends by now.

Before I start my next draft, I want to solidify the plot so I won’t wind up without one like I did with my last novel. I’ve been focusing on creating conflict and drama. So far, I have a villain, a mystery and I’m toying with a love interest for my main character, Jenny. I know how the story starts, how it ends and, although I’m still working on the middle, I’m making progress. I’m almost ready to dive into the next verson of the manuscript.

What I haven’t figured out yet is what point of view to use. A few of my freewriting exercises have been in first person, but it usually feels more natural to me to write in third. Until last week, I thought I’d be writing this draft entirely from Jenny’s point of view. Now, I’m not so sure.

The more I work on this novel, the more I feel like the secondary characters have interesting tales to tell. Jenny is still my heroine, but the story is beginning to feel like an ensemble piece.

I’ve been told that if a scene isn’t working, try writing it from another character’s point of view. I’ve also read that the best point of view character in each scene is the one with the most to lose. If I confine myself to Jenny’s point of view, I’ll lose that flexibility, but if I use multiple points of view, I run the risk of diluting Jenny’s story.

As a reader, I don’t have a preference for first or third person. I enjoy stories with one narrator as well as stories that shift point of view from character to character. What about you? When you read, do you have a preference? Any pet peeves? I’d love to hear your thoughts on point of view.

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Filed under free writing, Manuscript, novels, Plot, Writing

Books I Love

I’ve always loved to read.  Books can be instructive, inspiring, diverting, educational, or simply entertaining. I find new ideas no matter what I read. I’ll discover a word I’ve never heard, travel to a place I’ve never been, immerse myself in history, or explore topics from philosophy to genetics.

I’ll read anything from classics to mysteries, histories and memoirs, from popular fiction to short stories and poetry, but novels are my favorite form.  I get to know the characters. I immerse myself in their lives to try to figure out why they do the things they do. Whether a novel is popular fiction or literary, when I read, I step outside of my own life and focus on someone else. I practice seeing life from another’s point of view. Who wouldn’t benefit from doing that a little more often?

These are just a few of the many books I love.  What are your favorites?

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Filed under Books, novels, Reading

To plot? Or not?

I’ve run across an ongoing conversation in the blogosphere about the best way to write a novel.  There are those who outline and plan before beginning a draft.  They’re called “plotters” or sometimes “plodders.”  I’m sure that second term is meant with affection.

Others simply write, letting the story grow organically, discovering the plot and characters along the way.  I’ve seen those writers called “pantsers” for their tendency to fly by the seat of their pants.  E.L. Doctorow said that writing is “like driving a car at night.  You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” I’m guessing that he’s a “pantser.”

Although there are a few with extreme opinions (like certain authors of child-rearing and dog-training books who suggest that using any method other than the one they espouse will doom the reader to failure), most writers seem to believe that the best way to write is the one that works for the individual writer.

I’ve been writing for almost eighteen years but I’m still not sure exactly what works for me.  I’ve always done some plotting and some free-writing in the course of a project.  Considering the weakness of the plot of my previous novel, I’m going to try a more deliberate plotting approach this time.

Since I’m the type of person who likes to draw a map of a room before moving the furniture, I have a feeling that I might have better luck with my next novel if I plan first.  Perhaps I should have realized this sooner.

There are many books on plotting to use as a guide.  Two that I’ve often heard mentioned as good resources are:

Story by Robert McKee

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler

Both writers have backgrounds in film, which makes sense to me since the novel is a descendent of theater.  Where would we be without Shakespeare?

Lately, I’ve been following Alexandra Sokoloff’s Screenwriting Tricks for Authors blog.  She analyzes well-knows films to demonstrate how film plots work and offers suggestions and assignments to help writers plan a compelling storyline.  I was delighted to discover that she’s compiled many of her posts into an affordable e-book, also titled Screenwriting Tricks for Authors.

I’m off to work on my new novel, plotting and planning, but I also can’t forget another quotation from E.L. Doctorow.   “Planning to write is not writing.  Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing.  Writing is writing.”

So, while I plan my novel, I’ll continue to write.  Maybe I’ll free-write to discover backstory, to flesh out my characters or to explore possible scenes.  Or perhaps I’ll take a side trip into a short story or an essay.  I hope that this time it won’t take six years to write my novel.  And I hope that when I get to the end, I’ll have a well-plotted story.

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Filed under novels, Plot, Writing