Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Characters - Those Squirrely Varmits

Again, I'm continuing with the advice gleaned from the CCWC16 (Central Coast Writer’s Conference in California) and the authors, agents, film writers, et.al. that spoke.

Anne Perry’s main advice on plotting is, know your characters. Start by writing their biographies; their back
story, and those of all your main characters (including the antagonist) so you’ll hear their voices in your head when writing their scenes.

Back story is everything that happened to your character before your story begins. It’s important for you to know and allow it to come out where necessary during the plot. As you write you’ll find, I know this person. I know what really matters to them. I know why they do this. They can almost write themselves when you know their back story. 

“If you can surprise your reader it’s wonderful, but the greatest thing is for the reader to think, yes, I understand, I feel with this person. They are real. I will close the book but I will not forget the people.” Anne.

Also with Anne were presenters: Author Lida Sideris and literary agent for film, television and book writers, Ken Sherman.

(Disclaimer: I give attributes where noted—but sometimes the info was fast and furious and I didn’t always get who said what.)

Ideas that yield plot:

  • Have your character get his hands dirty while trying to accomplish something important.

  • Have her/him get in trouble for something they didn’t do.

  • Delve deeply into the strange reasons people do things. (I got this one down in my first book with very strange reasons)

"If you don’t see it and hear it – it ain’t happening in a film." Ken Sherman said. (That applies to a novel as well; the reader wants to experience it, not read about what the experience was—that showing versus telling mantra.).

He suggested writing with, “The crazy quotient – write about the things that frighten you (I think Stephen King nailed that one.) . . . the different, the original, the raw.” When seeking to acquire work, if Ken is not moved by it in some way, he passes. One of his suggestions to consider when writing—Use Irony. 
Definitions from Google:

  • a literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character's words or actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character.

  •  a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.

  • the expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect. (I tend to use irony in conversation and find that many people don’t get it—and then I’m in the dog house.*)

I think they all agree with Anne, “The most import thing in stories is the relationship between characters.” Get it right and your plot will flow easily. 

Right? Well, sorta. My Jack is so squirrely and doesn't want to be nailed down. I think I need to write more biography.

*Interesting examples of irony from our daily life: 

  • "I posted a video on YouTube about how boring and useless YouTube is."
  • "The name of Britain’s biggest dog was “Tiny”".
  • "You laugh at a person who slipped stepping on a banana peel and the next thing you   know, you slipped too."
  • "The butter is as soft as a marble piece."
  • “Oh great! Now you've broken my new camera.”

How do you handle your characters? Plot first or characters first? Share so we can all learn a little more.


Amy M. Reade said...

Great post! I love that you're sharing your experiences with your followers. It sounds like the conference was fantastic. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Cora. We can never get enough good writing advice. You have some great conferences out there. I wasn't yet a writer when I lived in CA so missed out even when I was there.

Cora said...

Thanks, Amy. It's true, the conference WAS fantastic. (I may have one more post to share on one of the agents who spoke and had great advice.)

Maggie, we do get some great conferences out here. But so does the East Coast. And I believe the BIG one, Bouchercon will be in Toronto in Oct. 2017.

Linda Maye Adams said...

I know zip about my characters until they make first contact with the story--no prewritten backstory, no character bios, no character questionnaires. Never saw the point. To me, the characterization happens because of the story. Backstory comes in because of what the story needs. Can't do that without actually writing the story.