Where young people (and others) come for on-going discussions on creative writing.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Three more C's in Characterization

Okay, let’s keep talking about characters. While it is important to know the physical and emotional qualities or attributes of your characters, it also vital to understand your character—particularly your main character’s psychology as well. So, to help you get a better grasp on this sometimes wishy-washy aspect of character development I have three more C’s to help you along.

Mango has lots of issues
Every protagonist must have a CORE WOUND. In other words something must have happened to your main character to hurt him or her. Perhaps your character’s mother died when she was young, or there was a messy divorce, or illness, or crime. Something happened to this character long before your story starts that will need to be handled as the story progresses. This is what we call the beginning of your character arc.

What is your character’s CORE WOUND? Let’s say for example that your character, who we’ll call Melvin lost his father. He was killed in a helicopter crash while fighting in Afghanistan. Pretty big wound. The past trauma that Melvin must come to terms with by the end of the story.

Now the next thing to add to this equation is the CORE COPING MECHANISM. In other words, what does Melvin do to deal with his pain? Maybe he makes jokes a lot or lies about his father and tells all his friends that his Dad is a big war hero. This is how Melvin pushes the pain away. It’s easier to lie about Dad then face his death.

Next comes the CORE DEFENSE. What is it Melvin needs to do before he can grow or move on with his life. What is he defending by lying and making jokes? That’s right, his father’s death. BY the end of the story Melvin must admit and embrace his father’s death in order to grow.

Now, here’s the thing, this is not necessarily the story you are telling. It is just what your character is dealing with inside. On the surface it could be a story about baseball, but even so, Melvin’s inner journey will be about his father’s death. 

Having these three C's etched in place will help you write a better story with a stronger protagonist. 

Make sense?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Three C's of Story

Here’s the thing, Somerset Maugham (if you haven’t heard of him yet, you will. He was a great writer) said: “There are three rules to writing. The trouble is, no one knows what they are.” True words? Yep. Everyone writes differently. There is no one correct way to write a story. But, here’s the thing, all stories have three things in common, three essential C’s.
Character, Conflict (or Crisis) and Change.
Mango. He's quite a character
This week we will take a look at these three important C’s individually to see how they mesh collectively into a cohesive story. How many C’s will you count in this post?
Character is of course the person or people who populate your story. One of the things you will hear as you continue on your writing journey is that there are two kinds of stories—Character Driven and Plot driven. Well now, I’m not sure. I think it works like this: Character IS story, and story IS character. In other words you really can’t have one without the other. Now it is true that some stories focus on the inner journey of character development, on both a conscious and subconscious level while other stories focus on the plot, usually a slam-bang, thriller spy type story with car chases and crashes. But the thing is, characters can’t and won’t grow their individual selves without a story in which to mix it up and a story cannot be told without a character to act it out. So there’s your first thing. Find a character. The Who of your story. And then develop this character on several layers.
Okay, got your character? Who is she? Or he? Or it? Take some time to get to know your central character. Ask questions, journal, take an inventory of his or her physical qualities, emotional qualities, psychic baggage, hobbies, all that good stuff that goes into making a compelling character that your readers will relate to. Readers love to and need to identify with a story’s central character.
Later on this week (I hope) we will take an in-depth look at the inner character which is so very important in the third C—Change.
Who are some of your favorite characters? And why? What do you remember?
And hey, contest alert. I will award one free critique of a short story or the first ten pages of a novel to a random person who has correctly counted all the c’s in this post.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Idea versus Premise, Cloudy versus Rock

Writers Need to Take Breaks
Here's the thing, ideas are everywhere. I mean everywhere. All you have to do is open a newspaper or turn on the news or chat with a friend and BAM! You have an idea for a story. But that's the trouble. Ideas practically jump off the walls at you, they lurk around corners and under rocks, behind your kid sister's weird smile or your brother's sarcasm or your mother's look--you know the one. The trick is learning how to lasso one idea and make it work in a story--more specifically a plot for a novel, a story, flash fiction. Ideas are slippery and can be unruly. So, I don't tend to speak about ideas when it comes to story writing.
I prefer to think about PREMISE.
What's the difference? An idea is not concrete. It's cloudy and chock full of variables. A premise is rock. A premise is a promise. It is the controlling construct the writer is going to prove (or disprove) through the mechanics of telling her or his story.
For example, let's look at The Wizard of Oz. Okay, the IDEA is to tell the story about a girl who is unhappy and wants to run away but is stopped by a tornado. Cool idea but so what. What is at the heart of the story. Where's the value in telling this story. Frank L. Baum set out to prove that  "There is no place like home" by telling a story about an unhappy child who gets swept up in a tornado and taken far away. Now the idea has a goal. Dorothy has a goal. Do you see the difference. It wouldn't have worked to simply allow Dorothy to go to Oz without making a point and having a moral premise on which to build the plot. An idea is a good jumping off  place, but until you attach a premise to it, you only have an idea. Oh, I'm not saying to disregard your ideas. Nope. Write them down in your handy, dandy notebook, tap them into your phone because you will never know when the premise that goes with that idea will show up.
So the next time a good idea pops into your head, take it a step further and ask yourself what am I trying to prove with this. And then write the story. BTW, your premise doesn't have to be correct, or popular, you simply have to prove it.
Make sense?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Here We Go!

This is Mango. He likes to sit on my work.
Here’s the thing, I was a teenage writer. It’s all I wanted to do. Creative Writing class was without a doubt my favorite class. I even remember my teacher, Nancy Allen. She was tops. She inspired me to stretch and write what was in my heart. She laughed at the correct places in my stories and sighed when I wrote something particularly wonderful—at least to her. Because, I never thought I was good enough. I only knew that I didn’t want to do anything else. Hence, the lousy grades in math. I continued to read about writing. I read books—lots of them across every genre. I scaled the library stacks in search of new writers and new books on writing. Words were my life. And as it turns out, they still are.
This is a new blog and a new venture for me. I love to work with young writers and pay it forward as they say. I had a lot of help along the way and I think I might have learned a thing or two. I welcome your suggestions and ideas. If there is something you want to discuss please let me know.
I also hope to have guest authors stop by to answer questions or write articles and I am also planning to publish your work. That’s correct. In a little while I am going to begin accepting short, very short, flash fiction entries. There is no pay but you will get seen by lots of folks.  
And keep watching the sidebars because I will be adding places where teens can get published.
So, let’s get started—tomorrow! Ha! I am going to be writing about where stories come from, ideas, premise. So come on back and leave a comment or two, ask a question or six. I want this to be a dialog between me (and my friends) and you students. So go ahead, ask the author.