Sunday, October 25, 2015

Character Traits – it’s all in the details

I was having a conversation with someone the other day who tried to butter me up with compliments before turning on me like a rabid dog.  It wasn’t pretty.  I still run the conversation over in my mind, wondering whether there was something I could have done to change the outcome but realistically, the only way the outcome could have changed is if the conversation had never happened at all.

People react differently to situations based on their emotions, experiences, current mood, background, education and training (or lack thereof), expectations, fears and desires.  We might think we know what to expect of ourselves, or from others, when a situation arises but how we react today to a situation could be completely different than how we might react to the same situation tomorrow. 

We react differently to situations based on the above reasons, but another reason is due to our character traits.  Whether a person is confident, determined, conservative, good-natured, sensitive, unforgiving or diplomatic, our character traits say a lot about how we’ll respond to any number of situations.  It’s what makes each of us so different from the next because our past experiences and the baggage we carry from those experiences, while possibly similar to others, are uniquely our own.

As we deal with individuals in our personal or professional lives, we might have certain expectations with regard to how we believe someone should react or behave, but unless it’s someone very, very close to us, we really can’t know what they’ve experienced and how or why they may react to a situation the way they do.  Due to that, we just can’t always know what might set someone off, make someone mad, or even cause them to be anxious or miserable.

What’s interesting about human nature makes for interesting fiction, if we can give our characters believable character traits and back stories.  The difference between true life and fiction is that, while I might not know what will set off the guy in the truck sitting next to an SUV at a stop light, if I were to be the author writing about the character in the truck, I would know his back story, birthday, sign, fears, desires and current mood so that I should know exactly how he might react to the loud music blaring from the SUV next to him.

Another difference between true life and fiction is that, if a situation doesn’t quite turn out as you’d like in real life, there’s no taking it back, but as an author, you can play around with characters and their situations until it feels genuine, plausible and gives the story movement.  There’s real freedom in that ability but it’s never a guarantee that it’ll make writing easier because as the characters are created, they also develop, they transform and they tend to make decisions dependent of what you’d expect of them.

I’m still learning about my characters and their character traits and I know the back stories of some, but not all of them.  Some of those back stories will be explained, some will not, even if I do discover them, but it is with that information that I try to get a sense of how the characters should respond to different situations.  Like real people, characters in books are individual personalities with their own backgrounds and experiences, who then create a constantly changing fictional world as they react to those causes and effects.

With that said, I will also say, it really is a truly beautiful thing to create literary babies who become complicated characters.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Is it possible for characters to become jealous of each other?

I’ve been busy working on final tasks involved with my short story so I can publish next month, but that doesn’t mean the characters from my other books are laying low. It’s almost as if they are jealous I’m spending so much time with another character from another book. It’s an odd notion, certainly, but lately I feel as if the characters are competing for my attention.

It’s not an issue working on more than one book at a time; there’s good and bad with that process, especially since I’ve gone from hardly writing to constantly thinking about writing. It can be a little overwhelming. But I love being back in the saddle because, while it’s hard to explain, it’s an incredible feeling being plagued with ideas, thoughts to add to story plots and even input from characters who want to have a say in their fictional lives.

There’s one particular character fighting for my attention the most lately, and I certainly can’t blame them because as the story stands, their demise is eminent in the next Jorja Matthews mystery. I guess if I knew my time was almost up, I would also do whatever it took to prolong the inevitable. I don’t know if they’re going to be able to talk me into changing the story line for their benefit; time will tell as I continue to write the story but I will never put it past the characters to change the story so that I’m surprised by the outcome. We’ll just see how things go.

It’s not like this hasn’t happened to me before…
  • In No Mother of Mine, my plan for the babies in the beginning was much different than what happened and added a character I hadn’t expected to become involved until the story was already in the works.
  • The identity of the killer in the first book also took a surprising turn for me half way through the book; honestly, I thought I knew who it was going to be but then as the story unfolded before me, the culprit was a surprise even to me. As it turned out, I liked the surprising identity of the killer much better because of the ties they had with the characters, as well as their back story, and I had a lot of fun with what it allowed me to add in the second and third books, and what I will be able to use in the prequel.
  • And then there was the question of Jorja’s parents…if you really knew who I thought they were, you’d be surprised and the series would have taken a much different route than where they’ve gone. But again, the story played out in a way even I didn’t expect and I believe the results are much better. I’ve really enjoyed the way the story line has moved on and based on feedback from readers, they feel the same as I do.
  • Even with the short story I will be publishing soon, the ending was a twist from what I had originally planned and believe it or not, I give the protagonist all the credit. This story is about a character and their emotional growth through trauma after a life-changing event, but for me it’s also a true testament to how much a fictional character can fight for what they want. I won’t offer any spoilers but I will say that this protagonist grew stronger than I anticipated and provided me with an ending I hadn’t even thought of until I was already deep into the story.     
Obviously, my story ideas are not set in stone and my characters oftentimes have a say in the way the plot moves along.  It’s just the way I create and I really can’t imagine creating any other way. I have continued to allow my characters to play a part in story development and so far, they really haven’t steered me wrong.

Now the trick is learning how to divide my attention between characters from different books when they are vying for my attention at the same time!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Help wanted – a magician to add more hours to the day

I used to want to be a personal assistant…and I always thought to myself, what fun it would be to become a personal assistant for some reclusive big-shot author (is Stephen King in the market?).  Even though that might still be an interesting gig, I think I’d like to hire my own personal assistant.  How else will I find the magic that would add hours to my day to allow me to do all it is I want to do?

Maybe I just want to do too much?

Maybe – but after a pretty stagnant year with regard to my writing, I feel a huge urge to get caught up, in addition to the multitude of non-writing tasks I still need to take care of (just having a senior in high school doubles my to-do list!). 

I saw a post today, reminding me that we all have 24 hours in a day…it’s just in how we use those hours that counts towards what we may, or may not, get done. And that’s very true. I was also watching a show the other day and the person being interviewed was asked whether they were afraid of dying. Know what they said? They said it wasn’t that they were afraid of dying…but of dying an unfulfilled life. Very well said, in my opinion. None of us know when we’ll take our last breath and if we wait to do what we dream about, or what would fulfill us, we may very well regret it.

But sometimes our “wish list” gets a little large or, as in my case, we get behind due to other circumstances, and we have to take a step back to cultivate a doable timeline so that our expectations remain a bit more realistic.

Here’s just a sample of what I expect from my writing self over the next year or so:
  • Complete final edits on latest short story
  • Come up with cover ideas for latest short story
  • Publish latest short story by November 2015
  • Continue with the WIP on the 4th novel in the mystery series
  • Come up with a realistic timeline of the completion of the 4th mystery novel in order to get on my editor’s calendar
  • Continue with the WIP on the YA novel first drafted in April
  •  Begin the prequel for the mystery series (I’m really looking forward to this!)
  •  Follow up with a second book in the ghost story (it’s an idea, anyway)
  •  I’d also like to complete an author media kit, set up Pinterest pages for my books and characters, and possibly write and sell some non-fiction eBooks

Of course, these are all tasks that will take some time and effort, and some will require assistance from other people. This is my wish list of tasks that I want to follow through with and it’s only the beginning, as I continue to add to my WIP when new ideas arise, but this list is my main focus for the time being. Sometimes it feels like a whopper of a list – but then again, it’s what I will be working on for the next year or so. There are no firm deadlines, only those I impose on myself. The tasks on this list aren’t like the laundry that must be done today so we all have clean clothes for the week, but tasks I can work on every day until they are finally completed.

Even though this past year has put me behind what I would have expected from myself by now, I am happy with what I’ve accomplished so far because what I’ve completed continues to remind me what I’m capable of doing. What I have to remember is that any progress is good progress and that impatience is my enemy. And while I would love to have more hours in each day, I will continue to find plenty of time if I stick with daily writing tasks and remain steadfast with realistic expectations. That schedule and attitude is what I believe will unearth the magic I may be looking for. After all…

“Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”  
~Roald Dahl~

I hope you find your own magic in every day - have a great week!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

When we stand in the way of our dreams

I finally realized something the other day…sometimes, when things just aren’t going the way we expect, there’s one person we often overlook when passing out the blame:


I’ve been getting this message in various forms for some time now but just hadn’t let it sink in until I finally fought against my own struggles with getting back to what it is I need to do – the need to write.

Even with the personal struggles I’ve been dealing with this year, was the lack of mental energy in response to those struggles the only reason I wasn’t able to get back to writing? I had hit a huge roadblock when it came to writer’s block, but until recently, I hadn’t realized what may have been the true reason behind my inability to get back to writing.

That reason?  It was very likely fear.

Why would anyone be afraid to write? It wasn’t that I was afraid of writing; I believe now that for me, it was the fear of what I would write, or how my story would cross across, considering the frame of mind I was in after all that had happened. 

That fear pretty much got in my way so that each time I sat down to write, I had a difficult time without realizing why. However, it may also be the reason why I was able to write a novel in a completely different genre during Camp NaNo in April; who knows, but time will tell when that novel finally surfaces for the masses to critic.

So what enlightened me with regard to the fear that may have limited my creativity? 

Like I said, I’d been getting this message in various forms, whether through blog posts, magazine articles, Facebook quotes and even television shows (catching up on Once Upon a Time I remember hearing Regina, the evil queen, say that we stand in the way of our own happiness). 

And through these various forms of enlightenment, this is what I’ve learned:
  • When we stop doing what we enjoy, when procrastinating becomes our new normal, oftentimes the reason behind the new normal is due to fear.
  • A way to know when fear is motivating, or limiting us, is when we avoid what we enjoy, have excuses as to why we aren’t doing it, find any number of ways to procrastinate and become overly anxious when we make any attempt to get back to our normal routine.
  • When it comes to creative individuals and writers like myself (or maybe it’s just us Type-A personalities), we are usually intense and react strongly to the highs and lows of life and when a road forks so that it alters  what we expected, the reaction to that change will likely throw us off balance. We just have to be prepared for this possibility so that we don’t stay off balance for too long.
  • For creative individuals, writers and even Type-A personalities, if we are avoiding what we love to do and resist what would usually challenge us, then it is definitely time to perform a reality check.
  • We must try to avoid:  losing sight of what actually makes us happy, giving power to fear, staying stagnant, or resisting what is needed to face the realities behind the fear.
  • To change our reaction to the fear we need to:  recognize what triggers our fears, let go of expectations, set reasonable expectations and goals, let go of the past if it denies us moving forward in a positive way, get back into what feeds our passion or creativity and when we feel the urge to resist, do it anyway.
  • Once the fear is gone, keep it at bay with positive habits:  appreciate who we are, practice daily with writing or whatever feeds our creativity, develop a habit of mindfulness, add meaning to our day, know our strengths and use them to the best of our ability, give back to others and never forget to be grateful.
I am grateful for the ability to write stories that others enjoy – writing them nourishes my creative side and hearing from others who enjoy my stories adds meaning to what I do. There is no reason to let fear take that away from me. And my reason for sharing my thoughts with you is this: if fear has controlled you and caused you to back away from what you really want to do, I hope you remember these words and when you feel the urge to resist, do it anyway.

Keep calm, stay strong and create!