Block Writers Block #1

Writer’s Block. When you can’t quite think of… um… huh?

In my opinion, writers block is not seeing the forest for the trees – or not seeing the manuscript for the words. It is a giant, metaphorical, hardback book plopped down right in our path. We can’t climb over it. We can’t go through it. All we need to do is take a step back, and find a different path around.

writers block1

Block Writers Block, Tip #1: BE EXCITED!

  • Always be excited about the scene you are working on: if you’re not excited to write it, you’ll find yourself forcing the words and the plot. That feeling of ‘Ugh!’ will come through, and the reader won’t be excited to read it. If you’re not in the zone, and feel like you are forcing the writing process, STOP! Instead, spend some time researching for the scene, the characters, or the plot, and add in something new that will reawaken your excitement.
  • It may be that you are so NOT EXCITED that no words come out at all. Here is where you need to sit down and look at the stalled scene. Ask yourself what is happening, what is the point, and what your character wants to get from this scene. THEN REVERSE ALL THOSE ANSWERS! Whatever it is the character wants, have him/her also want the exact opposite at the same time. Turn the plot upside-down and create internal conflict in the character. This will add a new vigour to your plot. It will make you think outside the square, and it will get you onto that different path around the great, big, blocking book.
  • Remember, EVERY PAGE needs to be exciting enough to take the reader through a few hundred pages! And in my opinion, CONFLICT = EXCITEMENT. Write that down. Chant it to yourself. Get it tattooed on the back of your hand. But most importantly, FOLLOW IT. Insert some level of conflict into each page of your novel – whether it’s internal, external, sexual, psychological, physical or mental; whether it’s understated or exaggerated, it doesn’t matter. If there is conflict, there will be tension and fast-paced reading.

In this scene from my novel, Dove, Japhy is fleeing to Canada to escape being drafted into the army. It is obvious that all he wants to do is get across the border to safety, but what if he also wants to fight in the very war he is trying escape from?

I watched Ahn as she wove her way through the tables, smiling at every single customer. And then I turned back to see Japhy sitting forward with his face in his hands, hair curtaining his eyes.

‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.

‘I’m scared.’ His words were barely a whisper, but they boomed loudly in my ears. Even over the scraping cutlery I could hear his fear. ‘I’m so scared, Fiona.’

Fiona? He hasn’t used my real name since the night we left our innocence and our old selves on my bedroom floor.

I sighed and leaned back against the booth, which was suddenly as hard as truth beneath me, and I squirmed uncomfortably upon it. ‘I know,’ I said, and took his hand in mine. ‘I’m scared, too.’

‘What do you have to worry about?’ He peeked up at me. ‘It isn’t your neck they’re after; it’s mine. I’m the one that’s been drafted!’

‘Because, you idiot, if I lost you, I’d lose myself. You are my life!’

‘I don’t want to go to Vietnam,’ he hissed. ‘More than anything else in the world, I don’t want that. I don’t want to die.’ He turned to face me directly then, and I saw his eyes glisten. ‘But I feel so guilty. These people are suffering. I should be doing something to help them. Instead, I’m just running away and protecting myself. I’m a coward.’

‘No!’ I squeezed his hand. ‘It’s not as if you are taking the easy way out! You are giving up your entire world. We both are. We are leaving our home, our friends, our family, and we can never come home. Those boys who go Over There, it may be hell for them, but at least, once it’s over, they can come back. They can see their families again. We can’t. We are sacrificing our whole lives in order to save them. Don’t you think, for one second, that you are coward, Andrew. As far as I’m concerned, you’re the bravest person I know.’

Please comment below or give examples of conflict in your own work…

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How To Create Memorable Characters: Depth

In order to give your character depth, to take them from a two-dimensional paper cut-out to a three-dimensional literary being is conflict… No, it’s not… Yes, it is! Conflict is that pulling and tugging, that to-ing and fro-ing, that back and forward motion that gives the story tension, makes the reader unable to stop turning pages, and makes your characters come right off the page.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/daedalust/7241028302/in/photolist-c2Sary-bMWzJZ

Photo by DaedaLusT

Conflict exists in two ways. Internally – within the character’s mind. And externally – in your big, bad fictional world. You need to incorporate both these forces in order to have as many facets as possible.

So, how to incorporate these conflicts? Easy.

1. Conflicting goals.

So your character has a dream he is striving toward? Or a need he has to fulfil? Or a desire he longs to achieve? Great. Awesome. Super. But if you leave it at this… why will the reader care if he gets there or not? Simple: take this dream or need or desire, and make your character secretly also want the exact opposite! This will pull him in two fascinating directions.

For example, in my novel, Dove, set in 1970 USA, my protagonist, Japhy has just been drafted for the war in Vietnam. Obviously, he does not want to join the army, or kill, or be killed. So, along with his girlfriend, Ray (who has been forced to give up her dreams of college), Japhy heads to Canada. This is his goal: to avoid the draft. By itself, this may be enough to get reader’s interest, but probably not enough to sustain that interest for hundreds of pages. Which is why Japhy also secretly hopes that his journey will fail, and the reasons for this twisted hope are revealed slowly throughout the story. Now, we have an internal battle being waged, and the reader will keep those pages flapping in order to find out what will happen.

2. Conflicting plot.

The second way to create tension in your story, is the plot. Your character has a goal and the world he or she is living in seems intent on making sure that goal does not come to fruition. There is a secondary character who disagrees with your protagonist, verbally or perhaps physically.

At the beginning of Dove, Japhy and Ray encounter a car full of frat boys who are enjoying their last days of freedom before enlisting in the army. Ray gets into a heated argument about her anti-war beliefs, and the frat boys become violent toward her, while Japhy tries, but fails, to protect her.

The slime ball beside us slides his hand along Ray’s thigh again.

I stare at his hand. At his fingers on Ray’s leg. And I can’t move. I can’t speak. I can’t breathe.

Do something! I scream at myself. But I just continue to stare and blink and stare.

‘Is it true you hippie chicks don’t wear bras?’ And then those dirty fingers are blurring up and under Ray’s shirt. Touching her smooth, soft skin in a place where nobody else but I have touched.

She slaps him in the face and he grabs her wrist.

The crisp clap of skin on skin snaps me into action. ‘Take your hands off her!’ I push against his brick-wall chest as hard as I can.

Nothing happens. I can’t budge him. He just smiles at me.

And then I fall backwards. Thick forearms rope around my middle and pull me out into the bright sunshine. My sneakers leave twin grooves in the dirt as I kick and twist. The last I see of Ray is a green flash of her eyes – their whites bright in the darkness – as that disgusting imbecile shadows over her to pull the door closed, and she is trapped in there with his hungry smile, and filthy hands.

‘Ray!’ I cry out her name to let the Gods, or the universe, or karma know that she needs help.

Help that I cannot provide.

Although Japhy just wants to protect his girlfriend the way a boyfriend should, he is physically incapable of standing up to these three bullies. In the wake of this attack, Japhy is left feeling useless, and weak, and unworthy. And it also gives him a reason to want to change, which in turn gives a whole new depth to his character. Because if a character does not evolve throughout his or journey, then what was the point in taking it in the first place?

Please feel free to comment on my tips, or to post examples of your own descriptions – I would love to meet your three-dimensional, leaping-off-the-page, characters!

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Welcome

Hello, and welcome to my blog!

I have recently had the frustrating experience of receiving a letter from a literary agent to the tune of:

Your manuscript is one of the best queries I have received to date. The characters are well defined and I immediately related to them and became lost in the tale. Brilliant work. I believe you have a very good chance of obtaining a publisher for this. Having said that, I feel that our agency would be unable to assist you at this time – in large part because I believe you are already doing a fantastic job of forwarding and promoting the manuscript yourself.

WTF, right? I mean, okay, yeah it is better to receive that response, than the usual “thanks but no thanks” rejection letter. But seriously… to get so close but still be so far away is FRUSTRATING!

My aim with this blog is to post helpful and easy tips to take your writing from good, to great! To boost your confidence as a writer. To make agents and publishers grip your manuscript with white-knuckles rather than dropping it onto the dreaded slush pile. And to allow you to experience the frustration of being told: “You are brilliant, but…”

So, thanks for stopping by, and let’s get to work on improving your writing…

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How To Create Memorable Characters: Description

Nobody wants to read about flat, two-dimensional characters. Over this blog, I will discuss the main aspects of great characterisation, and using an example from my novel, Dove, I will give quick, easy steps to ensure your characters will sit up, stretch their arms high, and walk right off the pages of your book.

Let’s begin with description. The description of your character is the first impression a reader will get. Remember, you must make this a good one; you never get a second chance at a first impression.

shark

1. Keep it simple. Don’t overdo it. Allow the reader to contribute to the character. Don’t go into detail about every single aspect of the character’s features, clothes, body shape, hairstyle, etc. The reader will feel cheated they can’t help bring this character to life.

2. Sprinkle it like sugar. Don’t info-dump on the reader. Don’t bombard them with a heavy, long-winded description of the character all in one piled lump of steaming text. Space the necessary details out over a page or two after the character’s first introduction.

3. Be unique and creative. Don’t be boring. Bland description fades into the background of the reader’s mind. You are better off saying nothing than giving the same descriptive details that everyone else gives. ‘He was tall, with brown hair, and brown eyes.’ Yawn. Create descriptions that will remain burned into the reader’s mental retinas.

4. Use other perspectives. The way another character views your protagonist/antagonist will say more about that person than simple narrator description. In the same way, the way your character feels about others will show the reader a snippet of their personality. Read this character description from my novel, Dove, in which a draft-dodger and his girlfriend, Ray, are forced to give up their world, and dreams for the future, and flee to Canada to escape fighting in Vietnam. At the start of this journey they are picked up by a car of three boys, which leads to a conflict of opinion and then a violent attack.

…we peered inside at three frat boys. They all looked alike: sky blue eyes complete with black clouds, shark-white teeth in healthy gums, and chips on their shoulders bigger than their feet. Biceps bulged the sleeves of their blue and yellow letter jackets, similar to those worn at Berkeley. I took a breath against images of green lawns, and student-filled commons, and sorority houses. Images I would never see for myself. Not now. My acceptance letter for California University – which I’d kept beneath my pillow to enhance my dreams – was in a crumpled up ball in my waste paper basket. Right beside Japhy’s crumpled draft notice and my crumpled hopes. It wasn’t fair.

Notice that in this example, I have used a quick, simple description of the frat boys. While this abstract description paints a detailed picture of the three boys, I have left plenty of room for the reader to fill in the gaps. In this section I say only what is the same about these boys, because when you first meet people who look similar, you don’t notice the ways they are different until you are familiar with how they are alike. Once my character has noted their similarities, she will then go into a secondary description of their differences as she gets to know them individually during the next few pages. I have used the comparison to storm clouds and hungry sharks as a hint, giving the reader the feeling that something not-so-nice may be about to befall our protagonist, therefore heightening the tension. And by using the description of the frat boys’ letter jackets, and what this means to my character, the reader gets further insight into my protagonist, and how she feels about everything she has to sacrifice in order to save her boyfriend from the draft.

Please feel free to comment on my tips, or to post examples of your own character descriptions – I would love to meet your three-dimensional, leaping-off-the-page, characters! And please stay tuned for my next blog, How To Create Memorable Characters: Depth.

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