Done with NaNoWriMo – Now What?

While I wait for the arrival of my printed proof, I’m spending some time in reflection of this past year, determining what I did well and what needs improvement. I stumbled on a writing challenge and felt it was a perfect follow-up to NaNoWriMo. It’s called the Renew and Review Writing Challenge.

Once a day, for all of December, an exercise appears in my inbox and I do it. The exercises are pretty intensive, but they’ve been immensely helpful so far. What the challenge does for the participant is help them take stock of all of 2013 in terms of writing in order to formulate a game-plan for the upcoming year. I highly recommend getting in on the action.

Children’s Book Writing Exercise

Okay, who wants to watch me step waaay outside my comfort zone? … Well don’t everybody jump up and down at once.

The fact is, I’m not that great at writing child characters. In Blood of Midnight, the male protagonists’ younger sister, Rebecca is as low as I’ll go with confidence. She’s 14. Naturally, I was petrified when my buddy Lofn’s Bard brought some children’s story writing exercises to Writers’ Circle. Nevertheless, I soldiered on and managed to make some improvements in the way I write kids and, perhaps, write for kids. I’ve still got a long way to go, but this has been a good start and I’d like to share one of those exercises with you.

The chief reason I find it so hard to write in a child’s voice is that I really can’t remember my childhood except for a few incidents here and there. I don’t know why. That’s just how it is. So, naturally, an exercise that helps squeeze more details out of a given memory is really helpful!

Filling in the Blanks

Take this sample phrase and fill in the blanks:

When I was __ years old, my favourite _____________ was ___________________.

I remember the time when ____________________________________.

For example: When I was 10 years old, my favourite toy was a Power Rangers action figure.

I remember the time when one of mum’s babysitting kids broke his head off and I was so angry that I didn’t talk to him for a week.

But don’t stop there. Keep writing everything you can remember on the subject. Write for about ten minutes even if you have to drift into other topics. Anything you can dredge forth from the fog of memory is good material.

Now, have a look at your finished product. Look at the age you described and at the scribbles under it. Does it sound like it is being spoken by a person of that age? Why or why not? If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably written it mostly, or entirely in your adult voice. Don’t despair. The discrepancies are telling and you can learn from them.

Rewrite the piece now, paying close attention to things like word choice (children have small vocabularies), abstract ideas (children are very literal), and sentence length and structure (keep it simple). For a really good workout, try a year or two younger and a year or two older and explore what the maturation process does to the writing.

Hope this helps you and, as always, thanks for stopping by. Make good art!

Character Cue Card

Character Cue Card

Larger image HERE.

Discovered today on my friend herbaldream ‘s tumblr. I keep big long character sheets on all my major characters but sometimes this is cumbersome! Here is a much quicker reference sheet. For a guide on how to fill it out, please visit rpg.ashami.com. Enjoy!

Sculpting a Soul: Emotions That Define a Character

Here is a writing exercise to help you get to know your characters better and give them more depth:

Perhaps you know your character well. Perhaps you don’t. Either way, our emotions and our reactions to them say a lot about who we are especially when those feelings are particularly potent. Take this list of strong emotions and consider what could possibly trigger each of them in your character:

  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Sorrow
  • Pain (Physical or emotional)
  • Desire (Sexual or otherwise. It could be greed or a strong craving.)
  • Love
  • Elation

Write a short scene for each of these emotions. What makes your character feel this way? How do they react? What happens to their body? To their thoughts? Remember that emotions tend to be complex things and are often linked together. Does a particular feeling lead to another? (Example: Does the character get angry when they feel frightened?) What do they decide to do? If it’s a negative emotion, how do they cope?

Can you think of any other emotions that might be provocative? Feel free to leave comments and, as always, make good art!

Novel Character Template

I find that organizing all the data I have on my characters, locations, etc really help me when working on a book. It can be hard sometimes to keep everything straight. “What was so-and-so’s uncle’s name?” and “Errr what colour were his eyes again?” can be easily answered with a character sheet much like you might have for a roleplaying character.

Unlike a roleplaying character, though novel characters tend to need some different categories for info. For example: They don’t need hit points and they probably don’t need a list of what’s in their inventory, but they do need a good list of hobbies and a description of what their home looks like.

I browsed online to see what templates were out there for novel characters and simply couldn’t find anything that suited me. So, I made my own. I will share it here, filled out with the stats for an as-yet unused character concept I had just so you can see how I make use of the fields. Feel free to download it and use it, add to it. Whatever you like. I hope it serves you well.

Make good art!

Edit: Since Google Docs seems to like to muck with my picture-placement for no discernable reason, here is the same document in .odt for those of you who use Open Office.

Enjoy!

Stepping Into the Scene: A Writing Exercise

So my writers’ circle had a meeting this evening and we did a really interesting exercise I’d like to share with you because it was extremely effective for me as well as the other members who participated. If you’re good at visualizing things during meditation, you’re already way ahead of the game here. If not, it might be something you’d like to try.

What we did was this: each of us picked a scene from a project we were working on. Didn’t matter if it was a main project or something pulled from the back-burner … or dusty broom-closet. Then, we designated a mat on the floor to be our working space. One at a time, we would sit while another member read out the scene we had selected while we sat, eyes-closed and listened, visualizing the scene taking place as clearly as possible as though we were watching it take place in the space of the mat in front of us.

Then, the author of the scene would step onto the mat, assume the position that the character was currently in and proceed with the scene from its beginning to its conclusion.

If it were just that, it would be an interesting roleplay/guided meditation session. But that was not, in fact, all there was to it. The other members of the group asked questions of the character to which the author (in the character’s shoes) responded based on what they could see, hear, smell, etc. They asked questions about what emotions the character was feeling, what they had done previous to that scene, what they planned to do afterwards and what was currently weighing on their mind, what they were wearing, what everything around them looked and sounded like, all while one member of the group took notes on everything the character said. (It’s a good thing we can all type really fast!) Together we wrung all the details out of that scene that there was to be had and saved the information to be used by the author later.

The beauty of this exercise is that one can squeeze precious details out of a scene that seems dry and uninteresting. One can connect with a character or a situation that feels distant or a bit fuzzy/unreal and bring the scene to life.

The end result? I stepped onto the mat with a vague character concept and a few bits of plot strung together and exited the mat with a fully developed novel plot and fleshed out character with believable emotions and motivations in 45 minutes. This was the equivalent of months worth of work for me. And it was FUN.

So, if you can find some friends to help you out with this endeavour, I heartily recommend it. Good luck!