Tuesday, 29 July 2014

CREATING CHARACTERS




Becky Sharp or James Bond? Adrian Mole or Scarlett O’Hara? Whoever you prefer, the main character is the one person readers must be able to engage with, because he/she is who we follow throughout the book, and in whose success we are invested.

Protagonists come in every shape and size. From anthropomorphized creatures as in Wind in the Willows, and cute furry imaginary ones such as The Hobbit, to the brooding Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights and the feisty Jo March in Little Women.

What is it we look for in a character? Do we want our protagonist to be strong and punch through every obstacle despite their internal angst like Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Or do we prefer them to start in a vulnerable position and discover their inner strength as the story progresses, as with Hester Prynne in The Scarlett Letter

The truth is - it doesn’t matter. What is important is for readers to be able to identify with the struggle they see the hero/heroine undergoing, irrespective of whether they’re combating many limbed aliens in another galaxy, or dealing with heatstroke while holidaying on a Greek island. 

So what are the ingredients for creating a great character? To make an impression, characters have to be believable and complicated. In real life we often present different facets of our personalities to people depending on our greater or lesser status in relation to them. Similarly creating characters with layers of complexity makes them more credible. 

If you give your characters what Aristotle called ‘consistent inconsistencies', you add depth: an ambitious politician who can't say no to anything his wife and children demand; a gregarious extrovert who hides an intense fear of new situations; a ruthless spy with a soft spot for budgerigars. When these inner conflicts are hidden from other characters, but unveiled to readers it produces more drama as we see the extent the politician will go to in order to protect his family from threats; the extrovert's fears as, wanting to impress his girlfriend, he takes her to a new holiday destination; how distraught the spy becomes when his birds catch a virus and die.

When we make new friends we learn about their characteristics, history and behaviour in various circumstances over time. In much the same way, writers should introduce these foibles, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies to readers gradually. 

The importance of a protagonist should never be underestimated. Great fictional personalities enter the cultural and individual imaginations. Due the pictorial nature of stories and the emotional attachment we develop as we follow the main character's struggles, their examples enter our subconscious, and have the ability to inspire us. This is no small achievement.

Writing Update:

I admit I feel more nervous than a virgin on her wedding night, but signing a contract strikes me as a bit like an arranged marriage. The bride/writer comes with her dowry/novel and the groom/publishing firm offers established circumstances of support. For the relationship to work, trust has to be established, and compromises reached.  
 
We know life is full of compromises (watch any house buying program) and being flexible offers more chance of success than adopting a rigid stance. I know I need to make a head, not heart, decision, but at the moment I’m engaged in endless debate with myself, asking questions and pondering answers.

After the third edit of my paranormal adventure, I’m resting the story, though like a mother with a baby, it’s never far from my mind. Another title, however, continues to elude me, so I’m giving it time to simmer, mulling it over and circling back now and then. I'm not in anxiety, though. I have faith it will appear at the right moment.

On the other hand, I do have a new title for ‘An Unstill Life’ but letting it sit for a while. Also if I sign the contract, it may not be ‘the title’ but feedback had been very positive about the change.

I’ve learned the lesson of being inactive between edits and I’m keeping busy working on a different project.  Karen Wyld noticed my profile said I write magic realism, and pointed me in the direction of Zoe Brook's Magic Realism Blog Hop! I have a story which has had an outing in another incarnation, but that was before I discovered online editing tools. Currently I’m putting it through the Pro Writing Aid editing mill, and will feature it on the blog hop! 

                                                     

This Week’s Haiku
you are my lover,
but are you my friend? When you
decide let me know

Useful links:
If you’re interested in magic realism, Zoe Brooks has a great site:
If you’re looking for a list of character traits (& much more) this site is worth exploring:
I’d love it if you popped over to Wattpad and read any of my posted stories...just click on the links to the right. 

Join me on Twitter at: teagankearney@modhaiku  


Thank you for visiting my blog, and please do leave a comment. 
To all story lovers out there, good reading, and to those of you who write, good writing.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

THE BLURB MENU


Yes, I am mentioning food in this post, but I’m afraid none of it is edible. In considering the visual appeal of books, I’ve talked about titles, considered covers, and today, I’m blogging about blurbs. My Oxford Dictionary defines blurb as ‘a description of something praising it, e.g. in advertising matter’. However, I’m sure my efforts at research will soon have me barred me from entering my local bookshops if I don’t stop mauling the goods, and scribbling in my notebook.

Here's what I discovered: 

For the most part, blurbs appear to follow the template set down in ‘Once upon a time, in a land far away lived a prince whose realm was invaded by a dragon.’ In other words blurbs start with setting ( historical fiction will include the period) before introducing the protagonist, and an outline of the circumstances in which he/she finds him/herself.

However the blurb format varies, and a number of clearly definable templates are on the menu.

BREAD
This selection has only the setting, followed by the main character and an outline of the plot. The village of Palermo is buzzing with the arrival of an exotic stranger, Lars Santini. No one recognizes him except Claudia.
Sci-fi and fantasy books have more information on the setting than romance, crime or literary fiction. ‘The space ship ‘Discovery’ is exploring the outer reaches of the galaxy when the ship’s warp drive fails. Major Spencer is forced to land on the nearest habitable planet, and finds himself faced with a deadly threat to humanity.'

OPEN SANDWICH
This option starts with praise for the book, ‘A dazzlingly brilliant read’  before moving on to the descriptive section. 'Another suspenseful thriller with  Detective  Inspector Birthold brought in to solve a series of art thefts baffling Scotland Yard.’

FULL SANDWICH
Here the blurb opens with praise from established novelists, moves on to the summary, and closes with more acclaim from critics, literary journals, newspapers, etc. 'Engrossing storytelling: George B. Morwell. Songbird is a coming of age story with deftly drawn characters that explores how an orphaned girl survives a succession of foster care homes.  Highly recommended: New Shipville Times.'

CAKE
Reserved for the most established authors, this template has nothing but positive comments from other famous authors and/or prestigious publications. ‘Outstanding. If you only read one book this year, read this tragic, yet humorously written, tale of betrayal. M. B. Endersly (Pulitzer Prize Winner).' The blurb is on the flyleaf of the front cover.

Amazon uses the words ‘Book Description’ for hard copy books, but refers to the ‘Product Description’ for ebooks. Nook has Overview, and Smashwords provides a text box under the title for the blurb. Of course, with ebooks, the public writes the reviews. As the definition states, advertising is the blurb’s main function, so as an author, you want to write an enticing and succinct presentation, without revealing any solutions to the dilemmas outlined.

Title, cover art and blurb are three opportunities to tempt readers. Each has a role in offering a glimpse of the world within the covers of your book. Nevertheless, no glorious artwork, title that trips off the tongue, or tantalizingly intriguing blurb will keep a reader’s attention if the story doesn’t live up to its promise.  

Writing Update

I’ve had more title trouble. Why I hadn’t checked if anyone had used An Unstill Life I don’t know. To my dismay, I found several books on Amazon with that title. So now I’ve three new titles to find – the above mentioned one, plus new titles for both the paranormal romance/adventure, and the series, as it appears Blood Tears is also not original. In fact there’s almost every variation on Blood Something or Other that you can imagine. However, early morning free association exercises are giving me ideas to follow, so I’m hoping this situation will change in the near future.

A second disaster occurred when somehow I messed up, and after an initial panic thinking all my third edit changes had been undone, I realized it was just chapters 1-3. Fortunately the paper recycling bin isn’t due for emptying this week, so I found the missing chapters – torn in half. I'll redo them after the edit is finished as I can’t face doing them straightaway.

On the other hand, I did receive some better news last week. A digital imprint I’d submitted An Unstill Life to have offered me a contract for two novels on the strength of the introductory chapters! I think my brain shut down during the conversation, and I was certainly in freefall for a few days before reality kicked in again. Since then there’s been a bit of back and forth, and I’ve been pondering the pros and cons involved. They are reputable, but I’m waiting for answers to a few questions before I make a decision. But no matter what happens, I'm viewing this as a positive validation of my desire to keep writing. 

This week’s haiku
eyes light with knowing
lean forward exchange secrets
friends gossip giggle

Useful Links:
An article which puts blurbs into perspective.
This is a great ‘how to’ post:
https://www.standoutbooks.com/five-elements-of-a-book-blurb/

I’d love it if you popped over to Wattpad and read any of my posted stories...just click on the links to the right.

Thanks for visiting my blog, and please do leave a comment. 
 
To all story lovers out there, good reading, and to those of you who write, good writing.











Tuesday, 15 July 2014

TITLES MATTER



The first thing you read when you pick up a book is the title; it’s the hook which intrigues and attracts, offering that anticipatory moment between title and first page.

The majority of titles fall into two types: descriptive and evocative.

Descriptive titles indicate something of significance: the main character, Anna Karenina, Oliver Twist, Dracula; a reference to the theme or plot, Crime and Punishment, Angels and Demons; genre: I, Robot is clearly science-fiction, The Vampire Diaries a paranormal fantasy, and Confessions of a Shopaholic chick lit. These titles build expectation as they have a direct connection with the book’s subject. 

Evocative titles work because they fascinate and tempt readers. The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a beguiling title and one of my favourites, because I love the poetic juxtaposition of the words, and there’s no clue as to where this story will take you. A Clockwork Orange and Lord of the Flies are two other titles which fall into the enticing category; it's almost as if not understanding what the title refers to invites you to find out what the book is about - and it may not be what you expect.

How do writers set about choosing titles? John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men is from a line in  Burn’s poem To a Mouse, and J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye combines a children’s song with Burn’s poem, Coming thro’ the Rye. So poetry can be a fertile field when looking for a title. However, using quotes from other writers can be a delicate issue, because if you don’t have permission you can be accused of plagiarism. Older works such as religious texts or Shakespeare’s plays etc. are generally safe but if you choose this route, check with a legal expert to be sure.

Titles are often short and pithy as they have to catch the passing eye, and stick in the mind. Interestingly there is no copyright on titles, but it’s a good idea to check on Amazon or just google it and see what comes up. An original title saves your book being confused with others of the same name.

The title, like the cover, can pull readers in because we’re all susceptible to appealingly packaged goods, yet the real strength of a title is not in its capacity to attract.  The real power of a title is in its ability to summon from memory those images that live most strongly in our imagination, along with the emotions experienced during the reading of the story; and that’s something worth spending time on trying to achieve.

Writing Update
I feel so much better now I’ve started my read aloud read though and 3rd edit. I needed a break, but I have to say I was miserable without my daily dose of writing. During my last editing break I worked on other pieces, but not this time – and the lesson is learned! On the plus side - the spare room is looking much better. 

Still no working title – but I’m nearer than I was to the general idea I want to encapsulate. The time line for publication is more likely to be the beginning of August, rather than July because I want to be sure I’ve done my best, and not rushed the details that will make a difference.  So I’m enthusiastically pushing forward... the thought of having a book ‘out there’ sometime in the near future is exhilarating. 

On a more minor note, Wattpad, the free reading platform, has promoted my sci-fi flash fiction, Space Glitch, (link on the right) to its quick read list - Quickies. Taking the wider world into consideration, I know this is a small step, but to me it's a validation that I'm on the right track - and it's brilliant to find out someone likes my writing!

Today’s Haiku
greening stalks of wheat
seed heads thicken ripen beige
gold - I love my toast

Useful Links
An entertaining post about naming characters:
http://www.niniehammon.com/dont-make-these-four-mistakes-when-you-name-your-characters-2/
Dr. Jeremy Dean’s popular psychology website isn’t writing related, but the jposts could be of use to writers looking to give background or depth to a character. The article in question is a good example of how to be informative and humorous.
http://www.spring.org.uk/2013/06/beard-psychology-4-signals-that-serious-facial-hair-sends.php

I’d love it if you popped over to Wattpad and read any of my posted stories...just click on the links to the right.

Thanks for visiting my blog, and please do leave a comment.
To all story lovers out there, good reading, and to those of you who write, good writing.



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Apart from writing, I'm compiling a bucket list of places I'd like to  visit...from Iceland to Hawaii and onwards....
         

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