Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Create Useful Secondary Characters.

Secondary characters need an agenda too.


 —we all have them—those things that we want to achieve. Could be anything from getting the house ready for company to writing a novel. Whatever they are, they are important to us and they influence how we react to others around us. Motive plus goal gives us our agendas.

Writers all know that characters in novels need agendas. There are multitudinous articles on how to give your protagonists and antagonists motives plus goals. Attempts to fulfill the agendas and the resulting failures drive plots forward, shape characters and add tension.

But what about the walk-ons, those secondary characters needed to flesh out the world of the main characters? Don’t overlook the opportunities of giving these people their own agendas. That will not only allow your characters to play out their story against a complex background, but also will make your secondary characters memorable.

Elizabeth George brought this concept to a panel at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference about twelve years ago. In one of her Inspector Linley books, Barbara Havers has been punched in the face and has black eyes and bandaged nose. Barbara needed to mull over what has happened for the readers to know more. She’s sitting in a coffee shop thinking.

In order to prevent a boring thought session, Ms. George gave the waitress a supporting agenda. The waitress is considering getting a ‘nose-job’ and assumes that Barbara’s injuries are the result of a surgery. The resulting conversation and Barbara’s internal thoughts revealed information in a lively and colorful way thanks to the waitress’s agenda.

Everyone has something they want. Be aware of those obvious or hidden agendas and look for opportunities to make even your secondary characters contribute to the character’s journey and development. Doing so is one way to make your additional characters memorable.

What agendas do your secondary characters bring to your story?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A key ingredient to writing success

A major ingredient to writing success is perseverance.

Perception was last week’s word. This week it is perseverance. I know when I started to write, I thought I’d just write a book, fix it up and I’d sell it. Well, we all know that doesn’t happen very often and it certainly didn’t happen for me. I made the finals in the Malice Domestic contest with it, but that’s as far as it went. Looking at it ten years later, I can see why. I had a lot to learn about the craft. I had to pay my dues and do my TI – time in.

Last night I went to a screening of the second episode of Season 6 for the Republic of Doyle. AllanHawco, Newfoundland born creator and lead character of the series was there to meet and greet us and to answer questions. He is as personable in real life as he is on the screen. Krystin Pellerin, as beautiful as she is on TV, joined him and the banter between them as they answered questions reflected the give and take they have on screen. It was a touch surreal, as if I’d walked into the world of the Republic.

Republic of Doyle burst onto the TV scene six years ago and quickly won the hearts of Canadians and the world. They had us with the Newfie audacity of Jake Doyle and the cocky humor of the whole cast. Before that, I had never heard of Allan Hawco. However, the man has paid his dues in stage, film and TV on both sides of the camera. His credentials and awards are impressive. He has TI. And now he has fame.

Many writers who seem to appear on the scene as full blown successes, like Allan Hawco, have paid their dues quietly and steadily. Their overnight success took years, maybe decades. They persevered.

My point here is if you want to be a writer, keep writing. Write journals. Write poems. Write short stories, novellas, novels or scripts. Learn your craft, perfect your story skills, and above all, persevere. Persistence is often the final ingredient that makes the difference between not succeeding and succeeding not only as a writer, but in any endeavor.

Can you persevere? Go the distance? Put in the time?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Point of View - one key element

It is Point of View including Perception

Point of View

Most fiction writers learn early-on that they have to understand P.O.V. Grasping it fully can take time. Using it appropriately is yet another step.

I heard about P.O.V., I attended workshops on P.O.V. and I read about P.O.V. for years and I still did not "get" P.O.V. Then, one August night, reading by flashlight in my sleeping bag in an Anchorage campground, I got it!

The book was One More Valentine by Anne Staurt. The trigger? One paragraph at the end of Scene One. (Page8)

Damn, he was cold. His feet were freezing, the wind was whipping through his old overcoat and he had no gloves. He shoved his hands into his pockets, shivering, reveling in the physical sensations. He was hungry. He was cold. He was horny.

On its own that paragraph might not work for everyone. But for some reason it unlocked P.O.V. for me, and everything I'd read and heard fell into place.

 Point of View is seeing the story through the character's eyes, hearing it through their ears, feeling it through their touch and coloring it with their perceptions.

1) Author perception gives us great details, but risks missing character perception thus keeping the reader at a "listening" distance.
The day it happened, she came home from band practice early and found her father counting money. A lot of money. Stacks of money. Bundles of money. Stacks covered the coffee table and end tables. Piles stretched away into the shadows like some weird domino set up. The lamps cast insufficient light to see how far the money went.

 2) Strict character perception occurs when writing in the first person, dedicated third person, or when having a character relate events through dialogue. Character voice overrides author voice. Perceptions are revealed through vocabulary and sentence structure and the reader is drawn in, becoming one with the character.

 "Band practice was cancelled and I came home early. Dad was in the living room counting money. I mean, not just, like, the grocery money but stacks of cash. Bundles of it all over the place. On the table, on the floor. Man, I had a weird flash of a domino set up ready to do that fall and tip thing."

 3) Other characters have their own perceptions. Even if you are not writing in their P.O.V. you can show their reactions based on their perceptions.
Jeff raised his eyebrows and blew a raspberry. Didn't he believe her? OR
Jeff leaned in, nodding and gesturing for her to continue.

When in P.O.V. you can show reactions, internal thoughts revealing opinions and subsequent actions. All of which arise from their perceptions.

Jeff raised his eyebrows. Stacks of money? Was she making this up? He stood, ready to walk out.

As the author, those are the perceptions you know, the ones you can control, the ones based on your character sketches. Knowing what perceptions your characters bring to their P.O.V. you can use those perceptions to ground the reader in your character's story. There is no room for author intrusion or for manipulating the details to fit the author's idea of plot. The story is not yours, it is your character's.

4) Your readers will also have perceptions based on their personal histories. Those perceptions you don't know. But by being aware of, and using, character perception and solid P.O.V you can draw the reader into the story and help them 'live' the story with your characters.

Do you know your character's perceptions? Do you know what has colored their choices, their beliefs? Once you do, you have a rich pool of material to enhance your writing.