Saturday, April 16, 2016

Learning to Lie by Roseanne Dowell

From a previous blog a while back, we learned ideas are all around us - From our workplace to our neighbors. From getting stuck in traffic to grocery shopping and thumbing through magazines to reading the classified, so let’s put it all together.
 You overhear a conversation in a restaurant. The woman is crying. You can’t hear the whole conversation. But, your writer mind begins
to ask questions - Is she breaking up
with her date? Is he breaking up with her?
Or maybe those are happy tears?  It’s not necessary to know the truth. Your writer’s mind starts working and you imagination takes over. You begin to formulate a story.  You begin to build a character in your mind. You can see her clearly. Can even hear his/her voice.
You don’t even need to describe the characters in your story as the same description of the people you see. In fact, if it’s someone you know, its better not to.  We don’t want to write about our cranky aunt and have her recognize herself through description.  Change her into the complete opposite of what she looks like. Age her, make her younger, but what ever you do don’t use her description. You should create your own characters. Certainly, I use people I know.  In fact, I have a list of friends and relatives with character traits - make a list of your own.  I add special character traits, like my husband and son have a habit of touching everything on the table and moving it from place to place while you’re having a conversation. (Truthfully, it drives me up a wall and I often grab their hands to stop them – they don’t even realize they're doing it)  But that’s a trait to add, it makes your characters believable. We all have habits. Some people twirl their hair, some chew on nails. Write them down; use them in your stories.
So, back to our original character, maybe this lady has jet black hair.  Your character may have gray hair or blonde. Short, long, straight, curly it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you create her. Maybe she’s young, old, middle-aged. Again, it doesn’t matter. What matters is to visualize your character in your mind. And make notes!!!  As I said previously I use index cards.  I list the name of my character, age, color of their hair, height, character traits, who in their family they look like (especially if it’s important).
List everything possible to know your character better, even if you aren’t going to use it in the story.  The more you know  the better and more believable they will be. Nothing is worse than reading about a blonde who suddenly has dark hair half way through the story.   And be careful with names too.  I wrote a story using the character’s name, Daniel Stephens.  Half way through I unknowingly changed it to Stephen Daniels.  Fortunately, I always ask people to read my stories before I submit them and someone caught it.   I also use character work sheets; they include everything from my character’s descriptions to their favorite foods and colors. A lot of the information I never use, but it helps me know my character better. By time I’m done, I feel like she/he’s my best friend (or enemy).
And, of course, the senses, not just what we see, but what we taste, smell, touch, and hear.  These senses help your story come alive.  Take notes on them too. Become observant.  Touch that wood, feel the smooth finish, or the rough texture of a statue.  Listen to the sounds around you. Not the everyday sounds of traffic, although those are important too and sometimes we become so used to them that we don’t notice them.  But out of the ordinary sounds.  Listen to the birds early in the morning or the children playing in a park.
 These sounds and senses help make your story come alive. Use them.
All of these things combined contribute to good story ideas.  Sometimes we come up with an idea from something we touch or smell.  Something soft and smooth or maybe a bakery provokes a memory from the past. Use it.
Maybe it’s a restaurant,  a deli, or even a car dealership.  Take notes on all the places you visit.  Settings are often as important as our characters. Write down these settings, keep a notebook.  If a particular restaurant strikes your fancy, take notes. Who knows you may use it someday.  I wrote a scene in a restaurant we visited on vacation.  It was a quaint little place and I really liked
it, so I jotted down some notes and it didn’t take long for me to use it.  I visited another restaurant with friends and loved the place. It was a typical tearoom type restaurant, definitely for women.  It was also an antique store and quilt shop.  I just used it in a novel.   Even hospitals or doctor’s office, you never know when you’ll have call to use such a setting. Beauty shops and health spas, too.  Take notes every place you visit.
Which brings me to the last point, find a writing buddy!  Someone you can exchange stories with or someone whose judgment you know and trust. Someone you can brainstorm with and toss ideas around. Sometimes we get stuck and just
need to discuss the story. They may give us ideas but just talking about it with someone, sometimes gives you the idea on your own.
I strongly suggest finding someone who writes.  Only a writer can understand your frustration of a blocked mind or enjoy the feeling of an acceptance. And only another writer is honest enough to tell you what's wrong and right with your story. Often times, family and friends are afraid to criticize your work, afraid they’ll hurt your feelings. You want someone honest enough to tell you the strong points in the story as well as the weak points. Trust me, sometimes these critiques  hurt, after all you worked for hours to put these words to paper and you love this story, it’s a part of you.
 I often ask three people to read my stories.  If two of the three comment on the same thing, I know it needs to be changed. If only one comments on it and the others think its fine, then I leave it.  But the end decision is mine to make.  It is my story, after all.
But you want it to be the best you can do.  So DO keep an open mind. If you ask for someone’s opinion, respect it.  You don’t have to take all of their advice.  I once had an editor tell me to cut a whole scene. A scene I felt was critical to the story.  I had several writer friends read the story. After they were done, I asked if they thought I should cut the scene. They all said no, it was too important to the story.  Alas, I didn’t get the story published at that time, but it remained intact, and I’ve submitted it elsewhere and it was accepted.
You can find all my work at: Books We Love or Amazon


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