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Posts Tagged ‘characters’

Some of my writing friends listen to music for inspiration, mostly notably Lia Keyes who is working on her steampunk novel and listens to Phantom of the Opera. Seems like the perfect choice for what promises to be a deliciously, dark mystery.

Normally I don’t listen to music while I write, but I’m intrigued by the idea of using my auditory senses to help ‘set the mood’. 

Here’s my dilemma though. What in the world would make good background music for a book with cats as the main characters, an evil professor and his Whisperer, a magical book of power and a host of mythological characters ranging from the dark to the light side, and settings that range from the ancient Library of Iskandriyah to a small public library in the foothills of California.

See what I mean? Suggestions welcome.

In the meantime, I’m going to check out Five great ways to find music that suits your mood,  a Mashable article that reviews several websites that let you pick out music according to your moods and emotions, rather than artist, genre or title.

What do you listen to, if anything, while writing?

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Should I let Algernon die, or let him suffer at the whims of his evil brother?

Even cats have trouble with the blank page.

Here’s what I’ve learned about writing in the last three years. When everyone else is:

  1. watching TV, I am probably writing.
  2. sleeping, I am usually writing and editing.
  3. on FaceBook, I’m…ooops…gotta get back to writing.
  4. blogging, I am writing, wishing I had more time to blog.
  5. shopping, I am revising a chapter.
  6. texting and tweeting, I am talking to my MC.
  7. eating, I am eating but it’s at my computer so I can catch up on email, blogs and news.
  8. reading, well,  I might be reading.
  9. showering, I am showering, but usually in writing mode with no way to write down the brilliant idea that came to me.
  10. working out, I am exercising my brain wishing it would burn 300 calories an hour.
  11. cutting the grass, I am letting the grass grow to revise another chapter, or paragraph, or sentence.
  12. cooking, I am throwing something in the crockpot to go revise another chapter, or paragraph, or sentence.

You gotta love writing to be this crazy!

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I’ve been missing in action, but hardly inactive.

When I first started writing, my research lead me to use the model of archetypes to develop my characters. Any intrepid Googler can find enough online info to understand this mythic structure. My delicious bookmarks attest to that and considering I knew nothing when I started out, I think I’ve come a ‘fur piece’ as they say.

I love the archetype model and do not find it limiting in any way. It provides a solid foundation for characters with the freedom to let your imagination fly to create an infinite variety of characters. Like snowflakes, no two are alike. But like snowflakes and  real people, we all share basic elements. Understanding archetypes help me better understand human nature. That troublesome person in my life might just be a Threshold Guardian, testing me in ways that will make me smarter and stronger. This perspective allows for a ‘step back’ from the usual close-up camera lens in which we view events or people that tangle up our emotions.

Now that I’ve started on the second book , I decided it was time to grow up, so rather than clicking through my conglomeration of delicious bookmarks, I ordered The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structures for Storytellers and Screenwriters. Christopher Vogler has managed to translate Joseph Campbell, as one critic, said ‘for dummies’. This is no book for dummies, but reading it whetted my appetite for more and so I could hardly wait to get my hands on Campbell’s Hero. Campbell, however, is going to take some time to absorb. Excellent book, but slow reading, because it’s so packed. I have to be in the right mood for Campbell, and I appreciate Vogler’s  book all the more for his beautiful simplicity in gleaning the essence of Campbell, making it accessible and practical.

The book is laid out in two main sections. The first section presents the main archetypes (Hero, Mentor, Threshold Guardian, Herald, Shapeshifter, Shadow and Trickster) with examples from film. The second section holds the signposts of the journey (Ordinary World, Call to Adventure, etc.) It is very easy to read through as well as use it as a reference when editing.

So I woke the cats and we plowed through their story along with Mr. Vogler’s guidebook. I was able to identify all of the archetypes, although some of them held more than one position and two characters hold the post of Threshold Guardian for different reasons. Knowing exactly who they are and their relationship to the Hero makes it easier to strengthen their role.

I also found one major flaw in my Hero’s journey that will require a more serious revision but I’m holding a brainstorming session with my characters to get their take on how to proceed with the changes.

If I could only keep one writing reference book on my desk, it would be The Writer’s Journey. What writer’s reference books speak to you?

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I wanted another interview with my main character, Daniel. (After five tries, he’s seems o.k. with this name.)

So how do I get in contact with him again? The first time I interviewed him, I was chopping onions and I thought about him just being there in my kitchen, like a real person. This time I’m sitting at the computer. Not always the best place for inspiration. So I got up to clear my head.

How can I call him up?

It felt a little eerie, like I was summoning supernatural forces.  I knew I was not trying to contact the dead or the unseen spirit world, but writing has gotten me into the business of creating people from bits and pieces of other people. What have I become? A literary Frankenstein? A character conjurer?

I don’t want to get creepy about this business of character building, but it’s an interesting ‘walk’ that I didn’t expect would be so challenging. I’m pretty grounded in reality, but I know there’s a fine line where we, as humans, can lose ourselves in the imaginary world.

But ‘call’ was the trigger word for me. How do I call him? On the phone, of course. No séance or candles needed.

It worked perfectly. I called Daniel and asked if he would take me on a tour of his mother’s house. This was the house she abandoned…the same way she had abandoned Daniel. It was an unloved, unkept house and I saw for myself what kind of life he’d had with her.

What I learned about my main character by this bit of role playing was very interesting. In spite of his neglect…having too little upbringing and too much exposure,  Daniel surprised me with a small, significant thing. After he struggled to get the door unlocked, he backed up and held it open to let me in first.

Daniel was a natural born gentleman.

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This post is for everyone over 50 who thinks it’s too late to take up writing. I didn’t take it seriously until I saw my 60th  looming on the horizon and I knew if I was going to do anything interesting with this part of my life, I’d better get busy. Fast.

I jumped in with both feet and never looked back. After I got a few chapters into a children’s story I realized I had no idea where I was going and how to get there. So I spent the next year researching, trying to understand the structure of a plot and how to create characters. I studied archetypes and astrological signs; what makes a good protagonist and worthy antagonist.

Since my book, Guardian Cats, is seen through the eyes of cats, I did extensive research into cat behavior, including cat body language, cat whisperers and a whole host of YouTube cat videos. My collage of delicious bookmarks ranges from such diverse studies as The World Egg Throwing Federation, pirates and bullies, raccoons, talking parrots and pet psychics.

My computer, driven to its limits, crashed and burned. I lost all my research, photos and and half my files. I slogged on, determined that I wouldn’t drop the ball. There was no turning back, especially after a year of sleep deprivation that it took to study this fascinating craft.

The more I studied, the more I was hooked. Whenever thoughts crept into my mind like– ‘You’re too late! Too old. You should have kept up your writing when you started years ago. Then you’d be somewhere now…’–I slammed the door in their faces. Threw rotten tomatoes, eggs, anything handy, at those whiny, demonic little beings.

The thing is, my previous attempts at writing were childish and immature…when I was a mere 20, 30, 40 years old.  I like to think that all my living counts for something and that being over the hill a late bloomer might actually help.

Here are a few tips for other late blooming writers.

  • Read like crazy. Haunt libraries, bookstores, Amazon and GoodReads.
  • Study the craft of writing like you are attending a university.  Take it seriously, but keep it fun, if that makes any sense.
  • Throw rotten eggs at your demons.
  • Patience and determination will be your best companions.
  • Write without expectations. Write because you love it.  Like my mentor, Ray Bradbury, says:
“Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.”

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I’m taking Holly Lisle’s ‘Create a Character Clinic”. One technique she uses in getting to know your character is a personal interview. My main character is a 13 year old boy and I wondered if he might prove too difficult for me to get inside his head. However, my first book is written from the perspective of cats, so I must like the challenge. This kid was proving too elusive though, so I tried the interview technique. Here’s how our talk went:

“You’ll have to let me get to know you if I’m going to write a story about you.”

”I know.”

He stands quietly in front of me about 10’ away. I can’t tell what he looks like yet. He appears smudged, like people on  TV when they don’t want them to be identified. I am peeling garlic for tonight’s soup. Multi-tasking.

Now what? It’s so awkward when you get two shy people together.

“Can I call you Maxx? That’s the most recent name I picked out.”

“But it’s not my name.”

“O.K.” I was a tad bit disappointed. I liked that name. “You want to tell me your name?”

He bit his lower lip. He hasn’t look at me yet. We’ve moved into the living room where we can sit. I’m waiting, pen poised in my hand. I’m going to have to be patient. Why did I pick such an unassuming character? Is he going to cooperate? I know more than he does about his future, and he has an interesting story, but he’s not making it easy.

“O.K. You can tell me later,” I suggest. I’ll try another route. Something simple. “How old are you?”

“Thirteen. And a half.”

I remember when those half-years carried such weight. That age when one is still charging full speed ahead towards adulthood.

“Have you thought about what you want to be when you grow up?” I could kick myself for asking such an ‘adult-type’ question.

“Be? I just want to be me. Only bigger. And smarter.”

It was a better answer than the question deserved and I was intrigued.

“Do you think you are smart now?”

“No. Yes. I don’t know, maybe.”

“Why wouldn’t you think you are smart?”

“I don’t feel smart.”

“When?”

“What do you mean?”

“When don’t you feel smart? Or where?” I take a wild guess. “At school?”

“Yeah, mostly.”

“What are your grades like?”

“B’s. Some A’s.”

“Really? That seems pretty smart.”

“He gives me a look like ‘the grades don’t really mean much if you still feel dumb look’.

“What about at home? Do you feel smart there?”

“No.”

Unequivocally ‘no’. I was clearly treading on sensitive ground. I took a step forward to see how far I could go. “Can you tell me a little about your family?”

“What do you want to know?” He seemed like he was squirming inside his skin and I could see him chewing on his lip. Oh God, help me understand this kid without scaring him half to death.

He shot me a look I couldn’t interpret and he is saved by the ringing of my phone. When I return he is fiddling with his cell phone.

“Sorry about that. Where were we?” I see his hands manipulating the buttons on his phone. They struck me as being extremely clean and I found myself oddly wondering if other 13 year old boys had such clean hands. His fingers were long and thin, but not delicate.

“Oh yes.” I was answering my own question, wondering if I’d lost him. “I was asking you about your family.

He closed his phone and slipped it in his pocket. He seemed to be thinking about how to answer this, even more than the other questions. “I have a mother,” he said with a slight edge of defensiveness. His answer was filled with worlds of unspoken heartbreak.

I took a deep breath. “You live with her?”

“Of course.”

“Can I ask where your father is?” I don’t make any assumptions in our ‘broken-family’ society.

“Don’t know. He died. I mean, he left when I was little. I don’t remember him much.”

I don’t know if his slip and instant correction showed a slight edge towards wanting to tell the truth, or just opening up.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. I really meant it, but it sounded like such a canned, insincere response.

The kid looked hard at me, evaluating whether I was sincere or not. Now who was interviewing who, I wondered.

“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“No.”

“How does that feel? I mean, do you think you’d like to have a brother or sister?”

“Sure.” There was the slightest hint of a spark in him.

I decided it was time to open myself up now, rather than just prying into his life like a school counselor or CPS worker. “I always wanted a big family,” I told him. “I have a sister and that’s pretty cool, but I think big families look like a lot of fun. Messy, but fun.”

His face is coming into a little more into focus. He’s wearing glasses and his eyes popped open in a funny way that changed the configuration of his whole face. He pushed his glasses, too big, back up on his nose. There was something charmingly innocent about this boy. Refreshing.

“Let’s play a game,” I said impulsively. I already knew that this kid’s reality was troublesome to say the least. After all, I made him up. Maybe I could get to know him by entering his fantasy world. His face transformed into a big funny question mark.

I said, “Let’s pretend we could pick our ideal family.”

“Yeah?” It was like I had opened a door that he’d been standing outside of and I just gave him permission to go through.

“Sure. You want to go first?”

“Hmm. No, you go.” Hesitant, but clearly looking forward the game.

“O.K. Let’s see. I’d definitely have a brother. An older brother who would tease me terribly, but who would defend me from anyone who might want to hurt me.”

The kid’s face relaxed and changed again.

“I like that. I think I’d have a brother too, but he’d be a twin. I would always have someone to hang out with.” There was a definite twinkle in his eye.

“You’d always have someone to blame for the broken window too,” I teased. He got my joke right away.

“Course it works both ways, but twins do seem to have a lot of fun. Playing pranks and stuff,” I said.

“What about sisters?” He’s asking me questions now. This is turning out better than I anticipated. “Do you want more sisters?”

“Well, I have an older sister, but I think I’d like two younger ones. And a baby brother. A chubby little boy who everyone would spoil, but he’d still be loveable.”

We’re interrupted by the phone again and I have to finish making the soup. When I return to the living room, he’s gone. I think I’ll be able to coax him back again pretty easily though and I’m encouraged, but I’ll have to keep our sessions short.

Passing the table where I keep my hodgepodge collection of rocks, I notice they have been neatly arranged and grouped by their basic compositions. I was fascinated with his subtle way of communicating.

Maybe next time I’ll learn his name.

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Marco

Marco

 

 

Marco is the protagonist in my (yet to be published) children’s book, The Dead Cats’ Society.  He’s also a real cat. See photo at left. 

Marco has another role in my life, being that of my muse. It’s a complex relationship, but it works. He’s the one I talk to when I need a sounding board for something I’m writing. See A Conversation with my Muse. and “How to explain cyberspace to your cat.”

So, knowing he’s the hero of my story,  my hidden partner has suddenly decided he wants some of the limelight. Being a subtle cat, he didn’t make a lot of noise about this desire of his. Instead, he left me the following note in my ‘Suggestion Box’.

“I’d like people to know I’m more than just a furry paperweight. Have you told them I am a Reader cat? You could share something about my favorite books with your readers? They might find this interesting.   Marco”

Furry paperweight

Furry paperweight

I didn’t have the heart to tell him I hadn’t got around to writing a post specifically about him. Up ’til now he’s only appeared in the form of my muse. But Marco definitely deserves a blog post of his own. Not only does he fulfill that warm, fuzzy pet need and the higher calling of a muse, but Marco is also one of the endangered species of cats who can read.

You read that right and there’s others out there. Your cat might be a reader too, but you might not be aware of it. Cats will wait until everyone is asleep before cracking a book, since they hate it when everyone makes a big deal out of it. They embarrass easily, so if you do catch them, just pretend like you don’t notice or that it is normal. If you’ve encountered books scattered out on the floor when you get up in the morning, now you know how it happened. Whatever you do, don’t try to make your cat put the books back on the shelves. They will absolutely balk at this and probably never pick up a book again.

I like to keep my cat happy, so I will post things that he leaves in the Suggestion Box from time to time.  A recent read on Marco’s bookshelf is  The Palace of Laughter, by John Berkeley. I picked this one out myself, but he finished it before me. (He has loads more reading time.) Marco liked this book, but not quite as well as I did. I found Palace of Laughter well written with a great cast of characters and just the right touch of the wicked evil. 

The story begins when the Circus Oscuro comes to town in the dead of night. Miles, an orphan boy who lives in a barrel, is the only one who sees their mysterious arrival. When Little, a tiny circus performer who is actually a 400 year old winged girl, escapes from the sinister circus, the duo sets off to rescue two friends from an even more sinister sideshow called ‘The Palace of Laughter’.

With characters named Lady Partridge, the Great Cortado, The Null and Baltinglass of Araby what’s not to love? Marcos’ favorite characters were Lady Partridge and Miles. We agreed on that much. We tried to work out a compatible book rating system, but they don’t quite mesh. (Marco’s ratings are from one to four paws. Mine is on a scale of 1-5 stars.)

Marco rated The Palace of Laughter is:  three paws.  He would have given it four, except he said there were no cats in the story. I mentioned the tiger, but he said it wasn’t the same. I didn’t argue with him, but I gave the book a big 5 star rating. I would highly recommend for any younger reader.

Thankfully, Mr. Berkeley kept on writing. Palace of Laughter is part of the “Wednesday triology”. The next one is titled The Tiger’s Egg which we will review soon.

Do you suspect your cat reads? Please share your story.

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