Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, September 14-24, 2012

Just flew back from Washington, DC, and boy are my arms tired. Ba-dum-bum-ching. Thanks so much. I’ll be here all week.

But seriously, it IS good to be back in the Great Stuff saddle. And contrary to my “promise” before I left for DC, there are a bunch of posts from the last 10 days that deserve a place here, so many, in fact, that I’m going to break them up into two sets and put out an extra edition tomorrow. Today we’ll focus on

CRAFT

and specifically,

Characters

Before I start, though, I need to make a public apology. For as long as I’ve been reading and watching K.M. Weiland’s WORDplay blog, I’ve been referring to her here and in my Facebook and LinkedIn posts as “Kim.” Turns out that’s wrong. You see, when she says “I’m K. M. Weiland” at the beginning of her vlog posts, I hear “Kim,” or more accurately, “Kem,” which I interpret as “Kim.” That, unfortunately, is wrong, and that kind of mistake is something I’m sensitive to since my first name is often mispronounced or misspelled as “Russ.” So, Katie, my apologies, and from now on you’ll be KM, as you wish.

  • Speaking of KM (@KMWeiland), she writes about Creating Two-Word Characters, or more accurately, two-word character descriptions. Now, of course, that adjective-noun combination isn’t going to come anywhere close to being a complete description of each character, but the point of the exercise is to come as close as possible to the character’s core.
  • Speaking of descriptions, Angela Ackerman (@AngelaAckerman) and Becca Puglisi (@beccapuglisi) have announced a new addition to their set of thesauri on The Bookshelf Muse: the physical attribute thesaurus. If any of you have used any of these resources, you know how amazing they are. I expect this one will be a winner, too.
  • Sophie Masson introduces four character types for Heroes and Villains on Writer Unboxed: each “hot” or “cold.” As you might expect, the “hot” types are the more active and less subtle, the “cold” or “cool” type more subtle and active in less apparent ways. Note that these characteristics are not necessarily the same as introverted and extroverted, although they can be related.

Conflict

  • Heroes and villains and the conflict between them are at the heart of every story. No conflict, no story; it’s that simple. Here are some posts on those subjects.
    • Misunderstanding is a terrific source of conflict, and Becca Puglisi offers four kinds in A Beneficial Misunderstanding on Peggy Eddleman’s Will Write for Cookies blog. Whether the confusion comes from things not heard, things overheard, misinterpreted actions, or misperceptions, confusion leads to conflict and you’ve got the makings of a story, or a part of a story.
    • But what if you’ve got conflict but there’s something lacking, leaving you wondering Why Your Story’s Conflict Isn’t Working. KM Weiland suggests it may be because you have conflict just for the sake of having conflict. For conflict to work, it has to flow naturally from the story’s plot, and for it to do that, it has to flow from the characters and their motivations.

Reader Engagement

is the last topic for today.

  • Ray Rhamey recently judged a writing contest. In Here Comes the Judge on Writer Unboxed, he describes how a writer’s failure to engage him from the very start was the first criterion for deciding a story would not be a contest winner. Three factors were at play in whether he was engaged or not: the story, the immediate scene, and the writer’s voice. If these didn’t capture him, he was off to the next submission. This is what we hear from agents, too.
  • In a similar vein, James Scott Bell (@jamesscottbell) offers Three Rules for Writing a Novel, and the first one, as you might expect, is “Don’t Bore the Reader.” “Put Characters in Crisis” is #2 and “Write with Heart” is #3, which reminds me of a quote from Dostoyevski, I think: “if there is no emotion in the writer, there will be no emotion in the reader.”
  • On the topics of both characters and engagement, Angela Ackerman writes on Stina Lindenblatt’s blog about Writing Characters Readers Trust but Shouldn’t. This is a very tricky subject (pun intended) because it’s the writer’s intention to trick the reader, and that’s usually a bad thing. Ackerman offers three techniques for doing so in ways the reader will accept and closes with this reminder: when your goal is to trick the reader, set up is vital.
  • And finally, we’ll come back to KM Weiland for some thoughts on Why Story Beginnings and Endings Must Be Linked. At the beginning of your story, you should have established the “story question,” the thing that will drive the protagonist and the story all the way to the end. At the end, the reader expects the story question to be answered. Failing to do so will leave your reader dissatisfied. So will doing it badly. And that could mean a reader who won’t engage with your next story at all because they’ll feel you let them down.

Next time, in the bonus post, I’ll cover what Lisa Cron considers a writer’s biggest mistake, what to do after the first draft is done, a couple posts on adverbs, several posts on social media, and perhaps most important, how to keep from going to your next Scrabble contest naked. 😉

‘Til tomorrow, then.

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