Tag Archives: character development

Book Abandonment, and Why It’s Okay

Readers often feel a sense of guilt when abandoning a book. It could be simply that we’re not quitters, determined to finish a project or task no matter how unenjoyable. We’ve committed to this book, checked it out at the library or paid good money for it at the bookstore, and we are damn well going to finish it. Even if it’s the last thing we do.

Maybe we’re also competitive or, if you will, gluttonous. We want to read as many books as we can get our hands on. We’ve told ourselves we were going to read X amount of books this year (I’m currently behind on my personal 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge). If we can simply push through this book, it’s one more toward that goal, but in doing so, we end up slowing ourselves down.

The reasons we choose to give up on a book vary. It’s naive to assume that because you like a book everyone else you know will too. Reading is subjective. Sometimes your favorite blogger or Goodreads reviewer will fail you.

Here are a few reasons it might be time to let a book go.

AWP 2014: Writing Unsympathetic Characters

Last week, I attended AWP in Seattle with other students in my program and fellow contributor, Tiffany Shelton. For those of you who haven’t heard of AWP, it’s a conference and bookfair held in a different city each year and hosted by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. Both AWP and Write to Publish took place in February, and both conferences have set me on a roll. Recently, I’ve been writing anywhere from five hundred to a thousand words or more a night—and because I just told you, reader, I feel a certain obligation to keep up this stamina.

Because I’ve already written about how inspiring writing conferences can be, I won’t linger on the subject too long. Just go to one, if you can. They’re terrifying and uplifting; you leave feeling you have the permission to write, to struggle, and to succeed. And they make you realize that “success” doesn’t look the same for every writer—and that’s okay.

At AWP, I went to several panels, but this post will focus on a panel titled “I’m Just Not That Into You: Unsympathetic Characters in Fiction.” Author Irinia Reyn moderated the panel, which consisted of authors Hannah Tinti, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Maud Newton, and agent Ryan Harbage.

I attended this panel, because as both a reader and writer I have come to the realization that I am drawn to characters who others may deem unsympathetic. Irinia began by asking the panelists what they mean when they say a character is unsympathetic. Responses varied from “They appeal to our dark side” to “They are the characters I want to read about.” One panelist—and this stuck with me—said that sometimes unsympathetic characters are just people “put in a difficult situation who have to make a controversial choice.” Are unsympathetic characters the same as unlikeable characters? No. That was the response from the majority of the panelists. There’s no writer’s handbook that says your readers must like character a, b, and c. As one panelist said, “It’s good when someone has a reaction.”

The Tumblr Post that Started a Debate on Race and Writing

Normally, I’m not one to start an online debate with another blog, but while scrolling through Tumblr a few days ago, I came across this post.

(Credit: www.thewritershelpers.com)
(Credit: www.thewritershelpers.com)

I immediately shared the post with the other contributors here at the blog, and we, along with many other Tumblr users, had a wide range of thoughts regarding this piece of advice.

(Credit: www.thewritershelpers.com)
(Credit: www.thewritershelpers.com)

Before I begin, I think it’s only fair to say that there were also many Tumblr users who shared their support of The Writers Helpers, the Tumblr blog which handed out this advice. According to these users, the account admins were not being racist, but simply honest.

(Credit: www.thewritershelpers.com)
(Credit: www.thewritershelpers.com)

In case you were wondering, I fundamentally disagree with the original advice offered by The Writers Helpers. Do I think that the admins of this blog (or “S,” the specific admin who responded to the question) are racist? No. I do not. However, the statement—the advice itself—advises writers to treat their own characters’ races as unequal.

Should You Take Writing Breaks During NaNoWriMo?

No.

That’s the end of my post.

Oh, I have to write more? Alright. I guess I can expand upon this answer.

Yes and no.

It’s dangerous to take breaks once you’ve established a set, habitual writing time. But you don’t always have to write the main part of your novel during your set-aside NaNoWriMo writing time. If you feel stuck on your story, or just don’t feel like writing, or are suffering from that (fictional?) pest writer’s block, don’t give up the time you’d usually spend working on your project and play video games or go to the movies or something. Instead, do other writing-related projects with your novel when you get stuck.

1. Further develop your characters

There’s a lot of background and planning that can go into a novel that a reader never sees. Having an entire biography for a character, along with a personal profile, is one such aspect of a novel readers aren’t often privy to. If you haven’t already developed a ton of information on your characters, this can also help you get to know your characters better and understand their motivation more within the story. I’m talking minor characters or supporting characters as well. Even if the character is featured in one character of the book, having an entire life history worked up for him or her can make them one of the most compelling characters of your novel. So pretend like you’re character is making a profile on a dating cite like OkCupid and have at it!

How to Write About a Place You’ve Never Been

Setting is something that I’ve always struggled with. With fiction, the world in which you are writing about doesn’t have to exist in real life. You can make up anything you want. The hard part is simply remembering to draw a map. When the characters in your story live in the real world, however, like San Francisco, for instance, it’s important to get the setting down right. People travel there from around the world. The Golden Gate Bridge and trolley cars have become iconic. But if you yourself have never been, how do you write about a place effectively?

For one, you could book a flight to San Francisco, take lots of pictures while you’re there, and plenty of notes too, but not all writers are in a position to do so. What really helps a writer develop a realistic, detailed setting is research. There are plenty of websites and tools out there to help with your research:

#1 Google Earth

Google Earth is available to download for free. You can search almost anywhere in the world, and view detailed satellite images to get an idea of the landscape of the setting you are writing about. You can change the angle as well. Maybe your character is on an airplane, descending into an airport, and you want to see what an aerial view looks like. Or maybe your character is standing on a street, walking into a bookstore, and you want to see what the outside of the building looks like. Google Earth can help with that (and so can Google Maps).

#2 Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet is an online travel guide. About five seconds before typing this, I went to their website and typed in “Thailand,” because, for the purposes of this post, that is where my fictional character in my fictional novel goes for two weeks in summer. From there, I found things for my fictional character to do while in Thailand, like visit the Elephant Nature Park, where my character meets this Elephant named Lucky (pictured below). Lucky is blind in both eyes (which symbolizes something–I haven’t quite gotten that far in the fictional development of my fictional novel). I have never been to Thailand, but by using Lonely Planet, I can search and be directed to websites and photos that give me enough details to describe, in this case, the elephants and the sanctuary that they live in accurately. Travel blogs are also good sources for this kind of information.

Isn't she just the cutest?
Isn’t she just the cutest?

Character Lottery

Little Saigon: Poultry worker
Who is this man? What’s with the chickens?

Another exercise, my friends!

1) Grab as many outdated magazines and newspapers within your reach. I would suggest hitting up your local thrift shop for an inexpensive variety, searching around the house, or check out a newspaper online for images (Note: Before opting for online images please consider number 3).

2) Snip images of as many people and creatures and remove all textual content that may be attached.

3) Avoid reading the article content that is attached to photos (Note: This is important! Reading text attached to the image may corrupt your fictional interpretation of the person in the image. Try refraining from using article content so that you can generate your own authentic material).

4) Fold pictures in half (If you’re using online images this is unnecessary. Simply create a folder with images that you selected and select an image at random.)

5) Find a large bucket or container that you can place pictures in and shuffle the images around.

6) Select a picture.

7) Now, open the picture and observe the image. While observing the selected image, note facial characteristics and body type. Write down as many physical characteristics of the person or creature that you chose and get as creative and detailed as you possibly can. Pay close attention to the face of the individual and what these facial characteristics portray. Keep in mind posture and the action that the individual is displaying. What is she or he doing? What is the manner of their action or inaction?

Next, consider the background of the individual and absorb the setting that the image was taken.  Create the character in medias res. Why is this person doing whatever he or she is doing in the photo? Or you can create the beginning as to how he or she reached the very moment that the image was taken.

Make sure you cover all of your bases. It’s always best to use the 5 W’s: What, Where, When, Why, and lastly Who.

By the end of your writing exercise you should be able to identify “Who” your character is by addressing all of the previously mentioned questions. Also, remember to have fun with this exercise! Character Lottery is, yet again, another way to consistently perpetuate creative writing skills. Keep your buckets or folders next to your place of writing and keep writing until you have completely emptied your character receptacles. And just when you feel like you’ve done it all, pick up your scissors and snip away at some more images for ongoing practice.

– Lauren Sumabat

I Can’t Write a Short Story without Structure

I find that for different types of writing I have different writing styles. My process for writing a poem varies vastly from my methods for writing a short story, even though they are both creative writing in nature. For me, a poem is something that can flow naturally or almost be stream of thought – I just think of what I want to say and how to say it, and it happens. A short story is much more complicated than that for me.

When I write a short story, I need to create a whole mythos around the project and flesh out each of the characters before I can even start outlining what will become the plot of the story. When I say short story, I mean something 10 pages plus – if I write anything less than that, I usually think of it as flash fiction, or a very short piece that doesn’t need much development. I’m not the kind of writer that can sit down and write 20 pages without detailed planning.

This is what I look like when I type. Pink dress and all.

This wasn’t always my method for writing, but rather a style I have developed over time. When I first started writing short stories creatively, I approached as I did poetry. I sat down with an idea and just wrote and wrote and wrote to see what came out. Often, what came out was okay, but had a lot of plot holes and developed in weird ways that weren’t exactly engaging to read. I found that while I had good ideas starting out writing a story and the first few days of writing went pretty well and had decent (and believable) plot and character development, as time passed, I lost ideas and plans that I had mentally put together for the piece and what I ended up with was nothing like what I initially intended to put out.