Changing Mediums

I’ve written on similar topics in the past, about how learning to write for the stage and the screen can sharpen your novel writing skills (and vice versa). I really can’t stress enough how well-rounded it can make you, forcing you to acknowledge setting and action in a new way.

I know as a primarily novel writer, I tend to become complacent with my fictional elements. I think I know all there is to know to establish a scene, enhance the tension, insert more writer-y lingo here. But whenever I feel like my head is getting too big for my story (or if I get incredibly stuck on a particular scene and can’t figure out the best way to play it out), I realize it’s time for a medium change.

pexels-photo-27008And that change in medium is to write it like a movie.

There are some great sites out there that can teach you how to write a screenplay (Adobe Story is one of them). That’s not what this blog is for. This is really to explain the process your mind goes through as you transfer your readers from their imagination to yours.

When you write a screenplay, your action is direct. The actor needs to know exactly how you see them in this scene – crossing to the door, dropping a plate, laughing uncontrollably.

Sometimes as writers we can get lost in the literary clutter. We try too hard sometimes to make things sound fancy when they really just need to be clear. Stripping down your work to the bare bones gives you that chance to find the skeleton of your story. Once you’re there and you know what you want your audience to see then you can spice it up.

Now the dialogue. That’s the hard part in writing a script for me. There’s not really direction tagged with the dialogue in a script, so your writing needs to make it clear to your actor how the character is feeling. They should be able to pick up on the cues of how to act through what you’re having them do.

The same should be true when you write a novel.

Gasping, crying, laughing, shrieking, murmuring – they’re all wonderful words to describe your characters voices. But are you overusing them in place of expressing those same words through other actions? What if instead of crying out, your character clenched her fists in fear? What if instead of smiling, your character felt the warm bubble in his gut that made his words drip like honey?

This is a lesson I’m learning heavily now as I edit Part 1 of my MG novel and begin writing Part 2. My writing had become stale in the last few chapters. Rather than create a detailed work of art, I had created a sketch, a rendering, of what I wanted my audience to see.

That’s not good enough for me.

Practically, I’ve just transferred my work from a Word Doc into Scrivener by scene. As much as it pains me to do, I’m going to go back, scene by scene, and mentally write my story into a script. Break it down to build it back up.

It’s going to be a painful process, and honestly, I’m going to hate most of it – does anyone really love editing? – but if it produces a better story in the end, I believe it will be worth it.

~Taylor

Writing Characters: Give Them Dimension

I wrote last week about giving your characters purpose. Today it’s all about dimension, of the third kind.

Okay, bad joke. But the whole point today is to discuss how to make your characters seem more life-like, even the B-story ones.

The best thing you can do as the author is to know your character inside and out. That means more than just the physical characteristics. You need to understand what makes them tick. What do they love/hate more than anything? What happened in their life to make them love/hate that thing or person or action? How do they feel about their parents? Are they frivolous with their money or stingy?

There are so many questions you could ask yourself when it comes to your characters. Google “character questionnaire” and you’re bound to find hundreds of hits. I personally enjoy the Proust questionnaire, but honestly, just pick one and answer the questions. They’ll get your brain juices flowing.

But of all the things I’ve learned about characterization in grad school and just from my own good ol’ fashioned research, here’s what I found to be the most important tips when creating a multi-dimensional character:

  • Give them flaws. No person is without them, so that should include your characters. Their flaws can be external, internal, or both, but it can’t be neither. These flaws can contradict: maybe your character is wealthy but they still stress about money, or maybe they act sarcastic to others but can’t take it from others. Whatever the flaw, make sure it’s evident to your readers.
  • Give them motivation. This goes back to my give them purpose blog last week. A character needs motivation for their actions. There should always be a reason for everything your character does, even if it’s something subconscious that your reader doesn’t know yet.
  • Give them a past. You don’t necessarily tell your reader every character’s backstory, but you should be well-acquainted with it. What happened to them in 8th grade that made them forever distrustful of “squads?” Who is their best friend and why? Do they get along with their family? Do they have an addiction?
  • Give them distinct features. Maybe your character is average looking, but that’s not how you should describe them to your reader. Who even decides what is average, anyway? Decide their eye color, hair color, nose size, mouth curvature, height, body type, etc. Knowing this will help you decide their body language. Are they confident or self-conscious? Do they blush a lot or is their forehead constantly wrinkled in annoyance?

Think about these tips while you write your character’s backstory. I suggest maybe a page per main character and a few paragraphs for the minor ones. I tend to find that as I write the backstory I uncover things about the character that I never planned, but it fits their personality and enhances why they are the way they are.

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Sometimes all this work never sees a published page, but it does not go to waste. Every word helps to create a character that will bring your story to life.

~Liz

Follow me @liz_tampa on Twitter and @wethewriters on Instagram.