Sunday, April 25, 2010

Where Has Your Character Been?

Some writers seem to think that a character is whatever group of traits they feel like throwing together at a whim’s notice. Or they don’t bother to think beyond what they want that character to do in the course of the story.

Have you ever heard a writer say that a character ‘refused’ to do what they wanted him or her to do, or that their characters took over the story? I’m always eager to read that author after I’ve heard that. They have thought out a history and personality for their characters, so their characters are not simply puppets. That always makes the stories more interesting.

One of my characters is an only daughter, born after her parents had eight sons. You might think she would be a tomboy, and indeed, she started out that way. But once she approached her teens, her father – who had never given up his womanizing ways – realized that other men would see HIS daughter the same way he saw women, the same way all his sons saw women. And that was not what he wanted for HIS daughter, so she was chaperoned every place she went. What does this tell me about this girl?

1. With eight older brothers, she had to learn how to hold her own, so she was quite adept at rough and tumbling, when the need arose.
2. After so much freedom as a child, never being left alone as a teen had her chaffing something fierce. She was desperate to get out from under her father’s thumb.
3. Since she wasn’t stupid, she knew why she was chaperoned everywhere, and also didn’t trust any man she met.

So, with one quirk in a character’s father, I’ve produced three traits of my character. There were other people, other events in her history that also influenced her as she was taking shape. She is a complicated person, just as real people are. That’s the kind of care you should be taking in creating your characters. Make them ‘real’. And then they will tend to tell you how the story goes.

See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Where to Submit Your Efforts

I just got back from Constellation, an sf convention in Lincoln NE. This was its first year, and it was a small and intimate convention. There was one editor there, Tyree Campbell of Sam’s Dot Publishing. I’ve talked to Tyree many times, at many conventions over the years. This time, he turned to me and asked, “How come you’ve never submitted anything to me?”

Caught off guard, I decided truth was the best policy, so I smiled and said, “I haven’t worked my way down to you.” Then I explained that I start by sending my stories to ‘the Big Boys’, and work my way down to the smaller markets. He agreed that in general, that was a good idea.

As we continued our conversation, I lamented that I had written a novella two years ago and submitted it to an anthology. I had come ‘that close’ to being accepted, but in the end, they had declined my piece. In two years, I had not found another market where I could submit that novella. “Send it to me!” Tyree declared.

Yes, he was full of surprises this weekend. I wasn’t surprised by the idea that Sam’s Dot might use a novella. But it’s a rather unusual genre, one I didn’t think much of anybody published.

Anyway, I’m excited. And hopeful. And a little stunned. I certainly had never thought I’d find an opportunity like that at a small local convention. But I’m not going to ignore it. And if you find yourself face-to-face with a similar opportunity, I hope you won’t ignore it.

See ya next week. Trudy

Monday, April 12, 2010

What Would You Give Up?

Time got away from me this past weekend. We went to Willycon, a very small SF convention held on campus at Wayne, Nebraska. We always enjoy Willycon because – being such a small convention – the opportunity to get some serious face-to-face time with the guests of honor is very much there.

This year’s Author Guest of Honor was David J Williams. He was a wonderful man, full of common sense and encouragement, like so many authors. One of the things he said in his first panel on ‘the life of a genre writer’ was, you have to decide what you are willing to give up in order to write. I wanted to say, “I would willingly give up housework.” Of course, that’s not acceptable – nobody wants to live in the midst of filth and chaos, and I and my family are no different.

I commented later in the weekend that writing – for me – had become something of an obsession. So … what have I given up? I’ve thought about that in the past 24 hours, and I’ve found a few things. I’ve given up all my other ‘hobbies’ – painting, knitting, embroidery, to name a few. I seldom cook a meal anymore that can’t be shoved in the oven and forgotten for a couple hours, or slapped together in half an hour or less. Bless my family’s patience for putting up with that. And, I reached a point where I could give up my full-time day job. (I retired and only need a part-time job to make up the difference.)

Mr Williams explained that when he started writing, he had a very demanding job that sometimes stretched late into the weekday evenings, but his weekends were devoted to writing. No going out, no social life, just work during the week, and writing on the weekends. It worked for him.

So, if you really want to write, what have you given up to do it? If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing with that time? See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Every Tom, Dick and Harry

Let's talk about characters. Most stories have some, so they must be important.

Don't get confused; a spear-chukker is not a real character. A spear-chukker is someone who comes into the picture long enough to do one thing, and is probably never seen again; the native who throws a spear at a hovering helicopter, the neighbor who complains about the barking dog. Spear-chukkers may or may not be given a name, and are given the skimpiest of descriptions.

A real character is more than a name and some physical attributes. They have personalities that are theirs because of their history, their hopes and dreams. Let's suppose Tom, Dick and Harry are all told, one day, that their girl friend is pregnant. The first reaction of Tom, age 17, might be a slight smile, for this proves that 'he is a man'. Dick, age 36, might panic, because how is he going to tell his wife? And Harry, age 71, might wonder who the father is, because he hasn't actually touched her in six months.

On the other hand, Tom, having watched his elder sister pop out a baby with every new boy friend, might encourage his girl friend to get an abortion and plan better. Dick might immediately file for divorce from his barren shrew of a wife, and Harry might have been waiting for years for an 'heir', knowing himself incapable of reproducing.

Every decision you make about your characters' past will influence their reaction to what happens in your story, so pause to think about those past experiences, and pick them carefully.

See ya next week. Trudy