Letting Characters Write Their Own Endings

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You’re writing along. Things are going pretty well. And then the unthinkable happens.

Your character doesn’t want to cooperate. He doesn’t want to die or lose the battle or watch as someone else “gets the girl.”

And, you say to yourself, “Just who does he think he is? I created him. I gave him thoughts, ideas, friends, goals, depth. Who is he to tell me here, in Chapter Nineteen—at the climax of the story—that he doesn’t agree with the way I’ve written it?”

I feel your pain. No, really I DO because it just happened to me.

My main character and I are having a meeting of the minds…a war of the words. 

He’s going to win.

I know it. I just know it.

Because he’s REAL. 

He’s lived and breathed life into this story for nine months. 

Who better to tell me how things should end?

In order to change the outcome, it will be necessary for me to go back to Chapter Fifteen and start rewriting.

So, I yell out to him, “Why did you wait until now to tell me this? Couldn’t you have clued me in a little sooner?”

He just laughs and tells me to get back to work.

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As Promised

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Second half of critique group questions from last week’s post:

6)  CONFLICT:

* Are character motivations powerful enough to create sufficient conflict?

* Is a potential for conflict established that is strong enough to move the story forward?

* Are the motives understandable?

7)  DIALOGUE:

* Is the dialogue between characters natural, purposeful, interesting, engaging?

* Does the dialogue contain emotion in a way that narrative cannot?

* Are the character’s voices distinct? Does each one have a different way of expressing themselves? Are their voices appropriate for the setting, genre, and time period?

* Is the dialogue believable?

8)  NARRATIVE AND POINT OF VIEW:

* Is the narrative well-placed with the dialogue, not overwhelming the reader?

* Is background information presented at appropriate times and in the correct POV?

* Is POV clear and consistent?  Are changes smooth and logical?

*Should I use a different POV?

9)  PACING:

* Has the author dropped the reader into the action?

* Does the story flow smoothly, freely, and logically?

* Does every scene move the story forward?

10)  STORY:

* Are the story ad plot elements compatible with the genre?

* Can you picture each scene in your head?

* Is the purpose of each scene clear?

* Does each scene move the story forward?

* Does the story hold your interest?

* Does everything in the story build logically, plausibly, and believable toward the end/climax?

* Where do you feel the story is heading?

* Do inspirational elements grow organically out of character or plot?

Use a Checklist

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You may want to consider utilizing a checklist to guide your comments to others in your critique group. Below is one we developed. I am sharing the first five this time and will post the rest next week. 

 

 

1) HOOKS:  

* Does the opening line or paragraph immediately hook the reader?

* Did you want to keep reading?

2)  STYLE:

* Is the writer’s voice distinct and unique?

* Does the author utilize showing and telling skillfully?

* Indicate passages needing more “show”.

3)  PROFESSIONAL IMPACT:

* Does the author have a grasp of the elements of grammar, spelling, and punctuation?

* Is the writing fresh and original, avoiding cliches?

* Is the writer overusing/overdoing actions? Themes? Words? Character traits?

* Is the manuscript appropriate for the general market?

4)  SETTING:

* Was the place, time of day, season, time period set?

* Does the setting support the story?

* Do sensory details (sight, sound, touch, smell) enhance each scene?

5)  CHARACTERS:

* Is the main character identifiable? Unique?

* Do you get a sense of the character’s journey and what the story is about?

* Do secondary characters contribute to the story? Are they defined and likable?

* Do characters’ emotions seem believable and/or provide understandable motives?

Making Stories “Real”

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I’ve been asked if my characters are based on “real life” people that I know and if I use  events from my own life in my stories.

None of my characters remind me of anyone I know, although I often use friends’ names. As of yet, I haven’t used any of their mannerisms or physical traits—only their names as small tributes to their friendship.

As far as events are concerned, Runaways: The Long Journey Home was written in response to a recurring dream. I had dreamed the first few minutes of Jake’s escape so many times, that I simply had to see where the story took him. Where the dream ended, my imagination began. The book tells the story of abuse and forgiveness that has touched many lives.

My dog, Baxter, will appear in my next book, Simon Says. Although he doesn’t play a large part in the story, he will be portrayed accurately, including many of his quirky habits. So far, making him come alive through description has proven to be lots of fun.

If you are planning to use a real life event, or portray a friend of yours as one of your characters, be sure to get their permission. It might save you a lot of heartache should your friend not see past events in quite the same way as you have portrayed them. Don’t let that discourage you, however. Some of the best stories are those real life accounts that uplift and encourage the human spirit.

Finally, I do choose to honor people in my life who mean a lot to me or have influenced me in some way. I do this on the dedication page. For example, I have dedicated my first interactive picture book for Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers to my parents. (Mom has Alzheimer’s and Dad is her faithful companion and caregiver.) Although they are not portrayed in, I Remember the Seasons, my mother’s memories did influence my choice of what to include within its pages.

Leave Them Wanting More

 

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People often find it hard to pick a book to read. If they have already read and enjoyed one book in a series, they are often likely to purchase the second. This is especially true if they like the characters and enjoy the writing style of the author.

Authors who write a successful first novel with promises to continue their characters, already have a readership that will come back for more. In fact, if they keep their writing fresh, they are likely to come back again and again.

Publishers love books that promise a sequel. If a book sells well, then it follows to reason that the sequel is going to sell just as well.

So what makes a successful series? 

Characters. One—preferably more—that the reader can root for.

Study the successful ones, such as Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Long of the Rings, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and see how they do it.

I have enjoyed  A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket—smart and humorous—as well as a number of Amish books in series by Beverly Lewis.

Go to the bookstore and find the section where you want your book to be some day. Research a popular series and ask yourself what makes them good. Then develop your own character you know readers will want to follow.

While you’re writing the first book for your series, keep in mind things you want to save for your second book, and so on.

So, what are the key elements in writing a series that will keep readers interested in reading book after book?

 *Believable, engaging characters.

*A fascinating world or universe. 

*Great writing!

*A plot that has definite direction…not just stretching the story out so you can get another book published.

Reward your audience for sticking with you by giving them new and fresh content—not just more of the same.

And, at the end of the book, or movie, the consumer should feel satisfied and, as my grandfather used to say,

left wanting even more.

What A Character!

The following is a reprint of a post I made today on the website I share with four members of my critique group http://www.5scribesandtheirstories.com:

I like my characters for different reasons. In Runaways, I like Charlie because of his quirky grammar and mannerisms; I like the way Claire, Charlie’s wife, reacts like a mother hen to those around her; I love Jake for his bravery and the fact that he is an overcomer; I appreciate Hound because he is always loyal and protective of Jake.

So, that leaves the villain of the story, Ethan. For two-thirds of the way through the book, I didn’t like him. After all, he is a liar, a murderer, and abusive to his son. But, then something happened. Ethan started to come alive. He forced me to take a look, not at his outward actions, but at his very soul. He forced me to dig deep.

Ethan challenged me to tell the story of his own past in such a way that it could be woven together with the present, making him a character deserving of the reader’s empathy. He showed me that he was redeemable—that he was, in fact, someone my reading audience would end up cheering on in his struggle.

Yes, I like Ethan because he forced me to take a look at all of his ugliness and, yet, find within myself the desire and power to forgive him. If, as a writer, I could offer him unconditional love, then I could write his storyline in such a way that readers could, too.

Through the power of story, characters evolve and the life lessons they learn are sometimes ones we find that we need to learn, too. Jake, Ethan, and Charlie take us on a journey through their struggles and bring us all to a place of hope for the future.

Author’s Note: God willing, Runaways, will reach publication sometime in 2015!

Brenda

Doing What I Love Best

“Write, write, write. It seems like that’s all you do, anymore. You should let yourself have a little fun, now and then!”  I’ve heard these words many times over the past few years. If you’re a committed writer, I’m sure you have, too.

Yes, it IS hard work—and yes, it CAN feel like solitary confinement, at times, but it really IS what I want to be doing. It IS fun!

I think of things I could be doing, instead of writing: cleaning house, exercising, paying bills, doing laundry, grocery shopping, pulling weeds… Okay, okay, so I have deliberately tried to create a pretty non-appealing list.

To be fair, I’ll list only things I enjoy. Here goes: reading, window shopping, people watching, decorating, singing (don’t worry, I won’t inflict my voice upon any of you), eating out, and writing. Oops, how did writing get on this list?

Well, I told you I like writing! Really, I do! It’s the act of digging deeper into myself, asking more and more of myself, learning more about myself while creating characters that are exciting, whimsical, hilarious, endearing, and even scary at times. It is the telling of their stories—their hopes, disappointments, dreams, accomplishments— that is so compelling.

As I ready myself for writing each day (cup of coffee, comfy slippers, overhead fan on “low”, snack waiting in the fridge) I hear the voices of my characters call to me. I see their faces and feel their impatience. They are anxious for their stories to be told.

So, I set aside my laundry until later, allow the weeds to grow just a little taller, put something on the counter to defrost for dinner, and hope there is time at the end of the day for a quick walk around the block. I warm my cup of coffee in the microwave and head for my office.

I click on the overhead fan, rest my fingers on the keyboard, and close my eyes. A few minutes later, I pause, satisfied that I’ve made the right choice for my day.

Then, I start in again, doing what I love best.

Brenda

Please visit my other blogs at spiritualsnippets.com and 5scribesandtheirstories.com