Monthly Archives: July 2012

Getting to know your cast

One thing I struggle with in my first drafts is getting to know my cast. Really knowing my characters, so I’ve captured their voice and know them like a friend. I’ve found with past projects, sometimes I don’t ‘get’ my characters until the second draft. With one story recently, I got to a scene where I was being very nasty to a character I quite liked and found myself very upset. How could I do that to him? What would become of him now? I felt his loss and was surprised at how sad that scene was for me to write (I admit it! I had a little cry!). Considering my plans for his story arc in the following stories, I think I shall have to steel myself somewhat. I love him to bits and I’m going to be very, very, very bad to him.

I’m a sad wittle puppy

Now, I’m still getting to know my cast for the Bikie Werewolf story. I’m nearly at the end and I haven’t got a feel for the main female protagonist, which is terribly annoying and I suspect means she has dragged into life with a cookie cutter. An easy fix will be to FINISH the story first, then go back and flesh her out some more, so she lives and breathes like the rest of us. Fortunately I have a scene coming up where she rescues herself from the bad guy and I think that will help. You can tell a lot about a woman after she kicks her attacker in the balls.

Of this, I am sure.

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The writer’s persona – does it matter?

Often when you pick up a new author (or, more preferably, their book ;)) you don’t know anything about them beyond the carefully-agonised-over bio (which might make them sound fabulously witty, fabulously whacky, or fabulously normal) and perhaps a mug-shot. And so you come to the text without any author persona pre-colouring the page. This is how I’ve done most of my reading; I was never particularly interested in the person behind the text. I always read for the story.

But I’ve had a couple of experiences that make me wonder about how much that author persona can affect the reader’s experience of the text.***

The first was at the Brisbane Writers Festival a few years ago when I saw John Ajvide Lindqvist on a panel. I’d never heard of him before, but he was funny and engaging and I liked him as a person. I immediately bought his book (Let the Right One In), and long before it was made into a movie or I knew anything about it otherwise, it was one of my favourite books. It remains there today. Another author whose launch I went to a few years ago was lovely, and I still have a positive vibe about their book, even though I didn’t actually like it. Which is a bit odd.

Flash-forward a couple of years and I was at AussieCon and eagerly went to a panel with fantasy/urban fantasy authors. I had my finger on that purchase trigger again. And I was actually taken aback at how poorly presented two of the newish authors on the panel were, both in actual dress/grooming and in speaking. I know people roll out of bed and straggle into cons in trackies and T-shirts, but they’re usually in the audience. Alright, I don’t remember actual tracksuits, but I do remember ungroomed, untidily dressed and timid. I can certainly understand finding that kind of situation daunting; but for me, it didn’t matter how much those authors flashed the covers of their books – I just wasn’t interested. Persona said boring … so the product was boring. And this was despite them already having impressive sales. I can’t even remember their names now.

Now, I might be being unfair – after all JAL was a stand-up comedian for a number of years. He was used to being in front of a crowd and making them love him. But that’s not really the point. I think that the author persona can be so powerful an influence (at least on me) that maybe it’s best left a secret if there’s a chance you’re going to make a bad impression on the audience. Tricky though … if you don’t turn up at all, the audience doesn’t even see you. Maybe the best thing is just to make sure you’ve bothered to dress properly – including brushed hair – and fake enthusiasm if you need too. That might have been enough for me.

***Here I’m not including cases where you already know about the book from the rumour mill; that seems to quash the persona influence for me.

More Writing Exercises for When the Well Runneth Dry

I did a writing workshop with the fabulous Kelly Link early this year. If you haven’t read any of her short stories you really should. They are soooooooo yum. I love the one about the Library/’reality’ TV show. Man it made me wish that show was real. It was even better (and weirder) than Buffy.

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(Image by Shaun Tan – illustration from Kelly’s book ‘Pretty Monsters’)

One of the exercises she gave us was to write 50 first lines as quick as we could. Just like free-writing (which Kelly called ‘the equivalent of doodling’), with no pausing and thinking, but with a separate, numbered line for each. You can try out using different point-of-views (first, second, third, and everything in-between), tenses and genres.

Then, when you’ve got your 50 first lines/sentences, pick out your ten favourite and go on (in the same doodlin’ frame of mind) to write a paragraph following on from each. So then you’ve got 10 first paragraphs. Now pick out your favourite of these and go on and write a page that flows on from it.

You’ve now got yourself a good start on a new story, and a whole bunch of material to draw upon next time you’re feeling stuck and just need to start somewhere.

Here are some examples of first lines that came out of that workshop for me:

In the waiting-room, there was magpie in a cage.

Beeswax, leather and woodsmoke.

That time I walked on water.

Monks and mermaids have one thing in common.

She smoked cigars and ate blue-vein cheese.

Some other things Kelly suggested:

Write a list of the things you reliably LOVE having in stories. Many people can’t resist a story with a haunted house in it.

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For me, a wild, witchy, weird wilderness is always a pleasure. I also love dirt and grit, bitter medicines and difficult healings, straight-talkin’ voices and double-decker buses.  What about you? Get particular about it.

When you are totally sick of yourself, try typing out a few paragraphs or pages of the work of someone you deeply admire. It usually won’t take long for your desire to create your own work to come shoving through nice and strong again.

Feel free to leave your favourite first line, or list of favourite story items, or most inspiring, envy-making writer in the comments section.