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Posts Tagged ‘critique groups’

When I write magazine articles, one of the first things I do is jot down a list of key topic points I want to include. So, when I decided to write my first novel, it seemed obvious to use the same formula throughout the initial plotting stages. I already had an idea for the story, knew which characters I needed and had a rough plan how I wanted it to end. From there I bullet pointed each scene and then each action within that scene. Voila! Easy peasey. I now had a template to use when writing my story.

So why didn’t it occur to me to do the same thing with my characters? Characters are the core of any story. It doesn’t matter how good your novel idea may be, if your characters are weak, boring and unrealistic then you are not going to hold your readers interest. Characters need to be exciting and giving your protagonist flaws and making them argumentative or even a little nasty doesn’t mean they will be unlikable. Look at Bella from the Twilight series. Stephanie Meyer has her vampire loving butt flitting back and forth between Jacob and Edward, almost playing them off one and other. She pouts, she moans and she never listens to anyone and yet the fans love her. Why is that? Is it because she is strong willed and willing to fight for those around her? It’s certainly not because we are told to like her. Readers are clever and will make up their own minds about what they like, even if they are swept up in the sea of phenomenon that is Robert Pattison.

One of the most resourceful things I’ve learnt, and therefore apply before plotting any story, is to thoroughly create my characters. They are, after all, what we are going to be writing about for the next 6 – 12 months so it makes sense that we should know them better than the back of our hand, right? Of course it does.

Now, let me ask you a question. If you were to write your own autobiography, where would you start? At age ten when you took your first piano lesson? Think again. You would start from the moment you were born. Second question: Would you write only about yourself? *Shakes head*. You would include your parents, siblings and relevant friends, wouldn’t you? Say ‘yes Donna’. It probably seems obvious when you are thinking about yourself, but maybe not so obvious when you are thinking about your characters. Be nice, give them a past and bring them to life. You’ll soon see they are no longer untouchable but have in fact become a real life living person.

Now thrashing out your characters is no quick process, although you will get quicker as time passes, and it is vital that you keep them consistent. If you are inventing a villain with a lisp, keep him as villain with a lisp. If you are writing about a sociopath with absolutely no conscious, don’t suddenly make him feel sorry for the neighbour’s dog when the owner beats it for barking all the time. Think about all the characters you’ve either read about or watched on the television. In the good movies they’re all consistent. How many times have you seen Michael Myers about to kill someone only to have second thoughts at the last minute and guiltily break down? Never (well apart from one of the sequels where he hesitates in killing his niece, but that was rubbish so it doesn’t count). He is a killer and his back story supports that. He killed animals as a kid and famously killed his sister. He is a psychopath and has absolutely no conscience. On the other side we have our heroes. Let’s look at the well loved Dean Winchester from TV’s Supernatural. He is strong and tough and scared of nothing. He fights and kills demons, vampires and witches without any hesitation, but does all this killing make him a psychopath too? Hell no! Dean has a conscious for a start plus he loves Sam (his brother) and even sacrifices his own life to bring Sam back from the dead. He is conflicted. He wants to experience what a normal, loving family could be like and yet knows he has to continue being a demon hunter to protect mankind. He can be arrogant, flippant and a womaniser. He drinks and won’t let anybody touch his car. But do we hate him? Do we heck. No, we love him even more because every flaw is counteracted with an emotion. We’ve seen him cry and struggle with death and loss. He is that real person we either all want to be or all want to know. And why is this? Because right at beginning, before the pilot was even written, the writer sat down and worked out who Dean was going to be. Plus he is easy on the eye, which always helps. It worked for Daniel Craig’s portrayal of James Bond as we finally saw the hard nosed spy with a heart and that is how we like our heros to be.

Having said all that, tell me who your favourite character is and why?

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I am nosey and curious. I don’t mean to be but just cannot help myself. Maybe it was because I was born a Collins and is implanted in my genes or maybe it’s just because I am female. Whatever it is, this curse leads me to check out things…..like twitter.

It was about a year ago now and just after I had decided to write my first novel. I had heard people talking about this new social networking site and thought I would take a look. And a look is all I could do. I understood nothing; follow buttons, @ tags, tweet options – my mind boggled. Two days later, and on the verge of losing the will to live, I tired of trying to figure out how it worked and walked away.

Twittermania was exploding around me so a few weeks later I tackled it again, still totally clueless as to what it was all about. However this time, and I’m still unsure how, but people began to follow me. Now I am not a huge tweeter by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t class myself as extremely humorous, I don’t follow people just because, and I certainly did not think twitter would benefit my writing in any way, shape or form. I just liked the idea, as with Facebook, that it allowed me to see what was going on in the world outside my own little bubble. I was totally unprepared for what was coming.

The last time I attempted to write a novel I was ten years old. I was the proud owner of a beige electronic typewriter and my trusty pink laptop was an item that even NASA could not comprehend. There was no internet, no mobile phones and certainly no ‘wheelies’. If you wanted to read a book, you actually walked (yes, remember those days), to a book store and purchased a £1.99 paperback. And if you wanted to talk to someone it was either in person or via the telephone, which was usually a hideously coloured and oversized monstrosity taking up the majority of a kitchen work surface. If you happened to be ringing a number containing numerous zero’s, then you also had to contend with the possibility of watching an episode of Starsky and Hutch while waiting for the dial to rotate.

Nowadays, though, it’s so different. The internet allows us to talk to our friends via Skype, keep in touch via numerous social sites, and the research benefits are extraordinary. Taking for granted these amazing, if not now under appreciated, opportunities, I tweeted a link to a friend. It was a draft first chapter for a book I was writing and they wanted to read it. It wasn’t meant for anyone else and I was certainly not expecting anyone else to even click the link, let alone read the chapter. But a young lady named Kristen Lamb did click the link, then read the chapter and finished with a comment. I was overjoyed. We got emailing and I found I really liked her. She shared my passion for writing and had the most brilliant, wicked sense of humor. She began to tell me where I was going wrong with my writing. Up until then I had only written articles, something so different to novels. I listened to her intently, she was amazing and I could not believe my luck at having found this kind of help, and even a friendship that I will always be grateful for.

Over the past year I have become a much better writer, am a proud member of WWBC and have met some of the most amazing writers (you know who you are Karla).

I used to plot and write……now I plan, plan, plan, plot and write. I don’t know about you, but twitter has been an amazing experience for me.

Kristen Lamb is the author of ‘We Are Not Alone’. Check out her blog or twitter

Author Piper Bayard’s blog

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