The Character Sketch

 

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Sticks of Personality

I am doing the 2017 Book Reading Challenge hosted by GoodReads.  Feel free to go over to the site and hop in on the fun.  I was going to try for 100 books, but then I realized I have things to do like work and sleep and eat and maybe pet my cat once in a while, and oh yeah, write my own book, so I went with fifty books.

So far, I have read thirteen and am really proud that I picked an underachievers number to keep my self-esteem higher than that of an eel in a snakepit.

I digress.

So far, some of the titles I have read include ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and ‘The Girl on the Train’ and ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ along with some other swell reads.  I usually only read true crime.  However, as a writer trying to get her first book published this year, I have to read other genres.

I was reading Me and the Devil by Nick Tosches… but the main character yammered on too much and I got bored. I just put that one down and am now reading The Girl in the Ice which is listed as a gripping thriller. The writing is decent, and it is just now getting into some back story, but the POV is a flawed (it jumps back and forth in the same chapter at times). As far as the MC, she is screwed up which is good, because we’re all screwed up in some way. No one wants to read about a perfect person.

So my question is: Do you do a basic character sketch or a full detailed chart and backstory for them before you start bleeding at your desk writing? Or maybe you wing it and just feel them out as you go? I have always done a basic character sketch, but this time… this time I did sketches in more detail and it helps.

You can find blank sheets at Writer’s Digest.

Sketches help because as I write, I know which character would stop to let a squirrel cross the road and which character would run it over. I have tons of character sketch worksheets at home, but mostly use Scrivener, and I use real people.

Not like that! I use real people I see every day.  I ate lunch at a grocery store today (they have a lunch area, which is nice) and there were two employees sitting and talking at another table as I ate my salad, and skimmed my WIP for the second time this week. I listened to their conversation and peeked over at the woman real quick to see how she set her table for her lunch, her mannerisms, etc. You can read all the books you want about character traits, but the best way to get the real dirt is to go be among the people.

How do you give your characters character? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outlines – Do You or Don’t You

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Bacon Saves Everything

I finished my second National Novel Writing Month project last November.  My first one was in 2011 and no, I have no idea why I waited five years to write another 50,000 words in thirty measly days. I did, however, write a lot of other stuff in those five years.

That first NaNoWriMo novel is still sitting on my laptop, slightly edited but otherwise untouched as a stark reminder of everything to NOT DO when writing a novel.  And some reminders of what TO DO.

One thing you really want to do is work with an outline.

Outlines are good because they keep you on track. You might be writing a gun fight scene and suddenly you are going off on the layout of a cemetery for four pages and then ten pages after that a horse is duking it out with the town mayor (who is also a cat) and your plot line is buried right along with the bodies in the cemetery.

Oh, snap.

So, to keep yourself on the path of ‘write-eousness’ outlines help.

My outline for “Pendulum Rose” (my working title for my current WIP) started out simple and as I went I added more detail. Starting simple just so you have a gist of where you are headed is a huge time saver.

Example:

Chapter One

  • Jane wakes up in a field of marshmallow bunnies
  • She meets a strange man
    • he lives on a stick in a cookie field
    • he is directionally challenged
  • They walk down a crunchy road
  • They meet a large frog who wants to eat them
    • the frog is deeply insecure
    • strange man pocketed some cookies while taking to the frog

This is just an idea of how I outline (subject material is only an example).  Jotting down ideas works because, if you are anything like me, your memory isn’t what it used to be (we don’t need to go into the why of it) and you’re lying to yourself if you think you are going to remember what you wanted to remember.

Outlines are different than character sketches because outlines are a briefly listed detail where character sketches are detailed write-ups of the beings in your story. And yes, writing up a character sketch in an outline format is perfectly acceptable.

The only thing I write without an outline is flash fiction.  Flash fiction is such a short, compact story that writing an outline for it would take more time than the actual writing of the story.

There are a few ways you can outline.  One way is hardcore pencil and paper because hey, that’s just how you roll.  Two is Microsoft Word or another word processing program.  Three is Scrivener. I bought Scrivener last year because I got a discount through the NaNoWriMo website and while I am still getting a handle on it, the handles I am grasping firmly, are amazing.

Scrivener makes things easy because you can have multiple projects and inside each project you can have tabs, post-it notes and chapters.  To make sure you aren’t committing to something you might not like or need, you can download and try it free for thirty days. Check it out here.

However you outline, I am interested.  Do you use details?  Bare Bones?

Don’t forget to sign up for updates and if you need inspiration, check out my free writing prompts download here.

Copy That

Alright… While I work on my novel, I made an executive decision to continue pursuing a writing career in other ways and help out other writers.

This brings me to BAD WRITING.

 

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Really, Snoopy?

Bad writing is all around us, my friends. Click on any content mill website and immerse yourself in the whimsical ways of writers who know not what they do (or maybe they know and don’t care) and get paid very little – if anything – to do it.

I am not good at selling or pimping myself (I am a writer after all) so my hopes of this self-petting not being painful are pretty vain.

I am already feeling uncomfortable and icky inside while I sit here trying to tell you why you need me in your life. *Excuse me while I bathe in bathroom wipes*

You need me because I am honest; I am reasonable; I won’t string you along. I won’t tell you it took two hours to do a job when it only took one.

Enjoy the rest of your week.

 

 

 

 

Realistic Goals for 2017 – Can You Dig It?

 

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You accomplish nothing when you aim at nothing.

 

Okay… we used to call them resolutions and that got us no freaking where.  Around 2012, I called them goals and I don’t know if I was the brainiac who thought it up or what, but it caught on and now people call them New Year Goals and hey… it works for me no matter who thought it up first.

Well, it works when I put in the effort.  Same goes for you.  I mean, I don’t know you, but if you are a writer, chances are you like the idea of things going as well as they went in Week One of Two of your project.  But then all hell breaks loose, the cat knocks your coffee over, the laundry is piled up and you aren’t sure if those are your kids or booger encrusted demons. You’ve got nothing accomplished save a pile of tissues inundated with your own tears instead of the tears of your enemies.

Usually, my goals are: save money, lose ten pounds, build a race car, travel to another dimension, communicate telepathically with my cat…blah blah blah… you know, realistic goals.  But one thing always gets in the way: ME.

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How I do things:

  1. make outrageous, unattainable goal.
  2. fail to reach said goal.
  3. hate myself and commence drowning in a pool of chocolate, self-loathing and my own damn tears.

This year I do have some goals… mostly REALISTIC ONES but a few ridiculous ones at the end… you know, just in case.

One of my goals is to get published.  Yes!  Published as in an actual book with actual pages with actual words on them.

So this is how I set my goals THIS YEAR (and the last few years):

  • GET PUBLISHED
    • write a book
    • edit book
    • rewrite until a finished, polished work is complete.
    • research agents and publishers
    • submit queries
  • GET IN SHAPE
    • Commit to gym 5 days a week
    • 30 minutes minimum cardio 7 days a week
    • strength training 5 days a week
    • eat good foods/drink a lot of water (100 oz daily)
  • STAY ORGANIZED
    • if it doesn’t have a place it is dead to me.
    • throw out all junk mail/mail/inserts/coupons 
    • magazines: throw out all old issues (or donate somewhere)
    • clothes: throw out anything I haven’t worn in a year.
  • GET FINANCES STRAIGHT
    • Pay down all debt by paying $20 extra a month on payments
    • DO NOT use credit cards
    • Set up automatic payments on all bills (I am almost at 100% with this)
    • Keep separate checking accounts and STOP transferring money!
  • READ 100 BOOKS in 2017
    • No need for bullet points on this one, really.  My goal is to read 100 books this year no matter what.  All kinds of books: thriller/suspense (my fave!); memoirs (my other fave!); self-help; horror; romances (not really my thing, but I’ll give it a shot).
  • Also, win the lottery, buy a nice cabin in the woods and never have to work a regular job again.

I have faith in myself that I can do all this. The ones in boldface are the ones I really need to stay diligent with.  The one in blood red, bold, italic, underline is my MAIN NUMBER ONE GOAL FOR THE F**KING YEAR.  If I am not stressed about money and bills, I can focus on other important things.

Have you given any thought to goals for 2017?  How do you list your goals? 

Is Space Important?

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To space or not to space? That is the question.

And no, I don’t mean one or two spaces between sentences in your manuscript (this is a real dilemma, honestly). I am talking about your space.  Your spot away from the hustle and bustle of families, pets, coworkers, and idiots with whom we share the road (nice turn signal, jerk!).  Yes, sometimes we want to crawl under our desk, or maybe into the linen closet (maybe with some NyQuil – it’s not really booze, right?) and just die forever and ever sleep until we wake up and all the stress is gone and we feel refreshed and fuzzy and… wait.

Everything is exactly as it was before I went into my NyQuil induced coma.  Only now the kids and cat are covered in flour and feces.

Mother*&*$*^!

Ok.  Since NyQuil induced comas (and binge drinking our problems away) are frowned upon (and make things sh*tty – sometimes literally), the next best thing is to find a place to escape.  However, if you can’t hop on a plane or a cruise ship to a desert island or a mountain retreat after giving your co-workers and family the one finger salute, the next best thing is to create your own personal resort at home.

How?

Well, after you duct tape and/or hogtie everyone, throw them in the basement for at least ten minutes of silence (until they start screaming from below – clearly unaware of the rules of detention!) and emerge from your NyQuil fog, here are some tips:

  1. Find a spot, preferably with a door that closes… if not, just make sure you let the demon spawn and others in the domicile know that closed door means no engagement (unless the house is on fire – then, maybe).
  2. If you have hobbies or are working on a project (book, art, music, human dissection) this is the place to set up.  A nice desk, table or slab is perfect for the elements of your future braingasms to spill out into creation.
  3. Make it your own!  Do you like flowers?  How about music? Retro band posters (I have a giant Slayer poster on my wall) are awesome.  Or maybe posters of roadkill… it really is all up to personal preference.

Once you figure out what your needs are, how to get a spot (even if it is a corner in the kitchen or basement) and make your personal boundaries clear to others, your creative muse will thank you. I believe space is important to most.  It is important to me and if you grew up having to share a room with a sibling (or a future serial killer) it is probably important to you! 🙂

As an introvert and borderline recluse, I enjoy having my own space to retire and unwind from the hustle, bustle and breathing of others. There are only so many grocery lines, coffee shops and parking lots I can handle on a given day.

Below are some pictures of my creaticave.

Good luck to you! And for Pete’s sake, remember to untie your family (duct tape removal optional) so they can eat (through a straw) or use the bathroom.

Blessed Be.

Bad (Flash Fiction) Writing

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I’m not sure how many people really know when they are reading bad writing… I’m not even sure how may people really give a crap.  There are so many websites, news sites, content mills, blogs, social media platforms, etc., that contain – ok, I’ll say it – sh***y freaking writing; writing that, while readable, isn’t worthy of being read and still it is read.

And in this day of self-publishing… oh boy.

If you aren’t a good writer (or a clone of Ernest Hemingway) then you most likely wouldn’t understand that you are reading bad writing.  You either like the book or you don’t.  You don’t give it much thought.

Sally: ‘Hey, did you check out that book I told you about?’

Jane: ‘ Yeah, I tried, but it just didn’t hold me.’

Sally: ‘OMG!  What do you mean?  It was so riveting.’

Jane: ‘…’

Bad writing hurts good writers.

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It hurts good writers because good writers aren’t born, they are created.  An excellent book about writing is Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ as well as this article of rules.  It won’t kill you to check out Strunk and White, either.

There are dozens of books on writing.  I own many of them and if you want to be a writer, you should own some, too.  But don’t go out and just buy any book.  Find out what books are truly useful (and those that aren’t).  Use Amazon to read some excerpts and find out if it has a friendly format.  Use Amazon to find out if you like the way it is written.

In order to break the rules, you first have to know them.  

You can’t break the rules unless you know the rules. 

Know the rules so you can break the rules.*

You also have to read… yes, read.  Read anything and everything.  Read books in the genre you wish to write, read magazines, online blogs; read all of it and then read other genres.  When I was a kid I used to read the entire cereal box – even the ingredients.  True story.

Polysorbate 80, baby! Woo!

I write a lot of flash fiction, which a lot of people mistakenly think is easy.

Flash fiction is not easy to write.  People think they have written flash fiction by plucking an excerpt from a longer work or writing 2,000 words and calling it flash fiction because it is not the length of a novel.

No.  That is not flash fiction.

Flash fiction is a compact story with a lot of information in 750 words or less.  I’ve written flash fiction pieces in 300 words or less.

Here are some examples:

The Broken Road

Between

The new flash fiction is 1,000 words or less… but when I started writing flash fiction (and taking college writing courses) in 2001, flash fiction was called a ‘short short story’ and it was 750 words or less.

That is flash fiction.  A short, compact story with powerful words written in 750 words or less.  If you’ve written a piece containing 1,000 or 2,000 words, you have written a short story.

Flash fiction: less is more.

What are your thoughts on flash fiction writing?  Are you a fan of flash fiction?

*Only applies to writing.

 

 

 

A Love and Enamorment of Bugs

I’m not sure what percentage I make up of the global population, or the national population, hell, the population of my city of people who ‘love bugs.’  I know that it is a small population (except for maybe entomologists) of strange and odd folks and I am one of them.

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When I was little, like most children, I was terrified of bugs.  More so, I was terrified of worms.  My mother would take my sister and me fishing and I refused to bait the hook.  Worms were slimy, shiny appendage-less aliens who wanted to suck my blood.

That was my theory.

I would scream if I saw a shad roach (water bug) in our kitchen (we lived close to the corner and sewer so we got a lot of them).  My mother nick named them ‘six dirty feet’ to make it a little more amusing.  Still, I hated those little shiny, black bastards and their damned feet.

Now, I can’t say I would welcome ‘six dirty feet’ of any kind into my home (shad roaches, cockroaches) because to me, those bugs represent dirt and dampness and my childhood and early years of my first marriage (things I would like to forget, thank you very much).

Spiders, stinkbugs, odd-looking bugs, caterpillars, moths, beetles, leaf bugs, cicadas… all those dudes. I love them.  I pick them up and inspect them.  I love Praying Manti as well, but I am also a stickler for superstition and will not disturb one unless it is unavoidable.  Still, my nerves get the best of me.

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Stag Beetle

Should I save a praying mantis or be doomed for all eternity? 

These are the types of questions that permeate my mind on a grand level.

But I digress.

We need bugs. The earth and all its occupants need six footed, eight footed, even thousand legged Hemiptera of all sorts because they help us more than we know.  They sustain life for other critters.  Honestly, everything on this planet helps everything else.

It’s funny… everything on this planet could live without humans, but humans could not live without everything on this planet.

Bees.

It kind of saddens me that so many people fear bugs and I think so many people fear bugs because they were taught to fear bugs.

Why are you afraid of bugs?

a) because they creep me out, man.

b) because they are ugly and gross.

c) I don’t know, I just am.  Isn’t everyone?

d) because my dad screams bloody hell and jumps around like a disco mouse when he sees one… and… isn’t that normal?

These are some common answers when asked.  I get it, I really do.  Bugs are creepy little critters that can show up in the darndest places and leave a person thinking, ‘how did you get here little guy?’ or grabbing matches and a can of hairspray and torching the whole place to the ground.

Is there an in between?  Yes, there is.   Freaking out over bugs is what a lot of people do… but before you go burning your house down or driving your car off a cliff, know that most bugs aren’t interested in you.  Some are, but the ones that scare the hell out of you most likely are not.

The only bugs that are interested in you are:

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Ticks, Fleas, Mosquitoes, Flies, Bed Bugs and Lice.  Four of these five live exclusively by drinking blood (flies eat other stuff).  These are bugs that I don’t like… these bugs are parasites that need a host to live but there are ways to keep them away from your person and your belongings.

So, good luck out there!  It is summertime which means lots and lots of buggies!  Keep yourself prepared for the pesky ones (in the picture above) and remember all the other ones aren’t interested in anything you have to do or say.