Character Trait Entry: Shy

Definition: disposed to avoid a person or thing; hesitant in committing oneself

Causes: natural predisposition, fear (of meeting new people, not knowing what to say, feeling awkward, rejection), a feeling of unworthiness, shame, a sheltered childhood where new people were seldom encountered, a history of isolation

Characters in Literature/Popular Culture: Lena (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants), Edward Scissorhands, Celie (The Color Purple)

Positives: Because shy people spend more time alone than most, they are often introspective and have a knack for thinking things through. Their passion and focus turns from people to ideas, projects, or other hobbies, increasing the likelihood of them becoming expert in a certain area or field. There are varying degrees of shyness; many shy people are only awkward around new people. This makes them highly loyal to their comfortable inner circle. Easily misunderstood, the shy character is more likely to surprise others with their intelligence, wit, wisdom, and other positive characteristics.

Negatives: Shyness is often seen as a weakness because people associate it with insecurity and lack of confidence. Shy people tend to keep to themselves and the people/situations they know, which limits their experiences. They are more often followers than leaders. Because they're quiet and keep to the background, they are often overlooked, ignored, and underestimated.

Common Portrayals: the new kid at school, the shy little brother or sister

Cliches to Avoid: the wallflower at the school dance; the shy girl/boy living in the shadow of a popular and successful sibling; the socially-awkward genius

Twists on the traditional shy character: 
  • Shy characters are so often quiet and retiring. For a twist, give your shy character a booming voice or a terrible temper
  • Villains are hardly ever shy. One who has to overcome his fears to achieve his dream of world-domination would be interesting
  • Instead of your character having to overcome his shyness, let it benefit him in achieving his goals
  • Make your shy character glamorous or drop-dead gorgeous instead of drab, bland, and fashionably clueless
Conflicting characteristics to make your shy character unique or more interesting: angry, wicked, glamorous, spoiled, noisy, obnoxious

Weather Thesaurus Entry: Dew

WEATHER and PHENOMENA are important elements in any setting, providing sensory texture and contributing to the mood the writer wishes to create in a scene. With a deft touch, weather can enhance the character's emotional response to a specific location, it can add conflict, and it can also (lightly) foreshadow coming events.

However, caution must accompany this entry: the weather should not be used as a window into a character's soul. The weather can add invisible pressure for the character, it can layer the SCENE with symbolism, it can carefully hint at the internal landscape, but it must never OVERTLY TELL emotion. Such a heavy-handed approach results in weather cliches and melodrama (a storm raging above a bloody battle, a broken-hearted girl crying in the rain).

SENSORY DESCRIPTORS:

Sight: Dew adds a crystalline shimmer to greenery and trees, collecting on the upper surface of leaves and in the low point of stems. When morning sunlight hits beads of dew, it creates a light reflection that adds a healthy gleam to natural foliage. Depending on how much moisture is in the air, dew on metal or glass surfaces (cars, patio tables, etc) can be mistaken for rain as the water pearls run together, causing water streaking or areas of pooling.

Smell: Dew adds moisture to natural growth, enhancing the greenery smell and creating a sense of 'freshness' in the air.

Taste: Water (pungent greenery may also flavor dew collected at the site)

Touch: Wet and slick to the touch, dew in the grass will quickly soak through shoes and pant legs, and bring about a chill. Brushing against branches or moveable objects that have collected dew will shake loose water droplets.

Sound: No sound

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS:

Mood: Dew adds the feel of silence, stillness and freshness that is associated with early morning hours. Adding dew to a scene will add texture to a morning setting that readers will recognize and connect to, and create a reminder of nature and the natural world no matter what conflict is going on inside the character.

Symbolism: Purity, Nature, Cleansing, Life, Health

Possible Clichés: Comparing dew to youth or tears

OTHER: Dew builds in the late evening hours when temperatures are at their coolest, to the early morning hours before the sun rises and water begins to evaporate.

Don't be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the Character's emotions, is a powerful trigger for conflict. Consider how the bleak mood of a character is even more noticeable as morning sunlight dances across the crystals of fresh snow on the walk to work. Or how the feeling of betrayal is so much more poignant on a hot summer day. Likewise, success or joy can be hampered by a cutting wind or drizzling sleet, foreshadowing conflict to come.

Blogging Tip: Know Your Audience

A lot of people wonder how they can create a Breakout Blog that will help build platform and connect them to their audience. This series on Blogging Tips looks at ways to maximize blog performance to reach these goals. 

WHAT TO BLOG ABOUT?

A hollow, soul-sucking question for bloggers, isn't it? Creativity is in the crapper and yet a post is due. Or it feels like the well of ideas is dry and all possible topics have been blogged to death. At this point, many of us regret starting a blog in the first place.

But here's the deal: this isn't the question that needs to be asked.


During a point like this, our focus should be simple: WHO is my audience? Who am I targeting when I post and why? Knowing the answer to this (especially when you start a blog) will save a lot of headaches later, I promise.

Most writer-bloggers have an audience that fits into one or more of 3 categories:

  • People who share the same interests and hobbies
  • Other writers passionate about writing, books & the writing path
  • The audience they hope will buy their book one day. 

So why is knowing who our audience is SO IMPORTANT?

Because the sturdiest path to a successful blog is content that MEETS YOUR AUDIENCE'S NEEDS. If you don't know who your audience really is, then you can't have a full grasp on what they want and how you the blogger can give it to them.

Blogging is all about adding value. People come to your blog for something--it's your job to know what and provide it. Put yourself in your audience's shoes and ask what you would like to see. What type of content gives the most value & insight? What will keep you coming back for more?

Once you start thinking about what your audience needs most, ideas will begin to form, filling that well we talked about earlier. Think creatively--what serves their need that is not being done by other blogs? How can you offer insightful content to them in a fresh way?

Some people think there is nothing new to write about. That there's no way to bring about engaging content that someone else hasn't already done or who can do better. This is simply not true! Your viewpoint is unique, and therefore valuable. Don't be afraid to try something new, or approach topics from a different angle. Bloggers are only limited by their imagination, and as writers, that means you have no limits at all. :)

Like this tip? Click on the 'Blogging Tip' label below for more thoughts on blogging!

Character Traits Entry: Dishonest

Definition: Untrustworthy; Lacking honesty, untruthful

Causes: Being embedded in an environment where distrust, crime, violence or abuse is common; parental role modeling where trickery/lying is the norm; being in a position of power where looking the other way results in reward; feeling mistrust of others and reacting in kind; a lack of empathy; fear of what truth will bring

Characters in Literature: The Great Gatsby; Rita Skeeter (Harry Potter) Pinocchio, Pirate Characters (ie Jack Sparrow; Captain Hook)

Positives: There is a certain reliability with someone who is dishonest in the sense that you can count on them to always act untrustworthy unless truth directly benefits them. Dishonest people can often 'be bought' and will remain loyal as long as there is a mutual benefit. The dishonest can often be swayed to do things that honest people would not, so if the price is right, a person who embraces dishonesty might do the dirty work for you.You know where you stand with someone who is dishonest and can keep secrets close to the vest without temptation.

Negatives: The dishonest tend to not have close friends or meaningful relationships--their inability to trust others will always create a closeness barrier. People with this trait are afraid of being hurt and often have a negative look on life and those they share it with. Dishonest people find it difficult, if not impossible, to put trust in others. The Dishonest also may become scapegoats just because of the mistrust people feel and if they are directly involved in a situation with conflicting viewpoints, the person known for dishonesty will always be devalued against anyone else.

Common Portrayals: Pirates, Gamblers, Swindlers, Politicians, 'the bad kid', the co-worker who lies and uses ill-gotten information on others to climb the corporate ladder, Bank Robbers, Pedophiles, Drug addicts, cheating spouses

Cliches to Avoid: con-artist twenty-somethings running a scam on elderly/grandparents for money; the cop on the take; 'the sullen bad boy' teen; dishonest big corporations; the rich cheating husband; a falling for a rogue and then being shocked at eventual dishonesty/betrayal, used car salesman

Twists on the Traditional Dishonest:

  • Why do dishonest sorts always need to be rich jerks, seedy street folk or people who are bad to the bone? Try a dishonest nun! Let's see a funeral director lie to a grieving family. Better yet, how about a doll-haired, cookie-baking granny who can lie through her teeth!

  • I would love to see a genuine dishonest-to-honest transformation that came about because of an internal epiphany, not through the love/guidance of someone else. Show us people can change, but they don't need other people to 'show them how'.

  • Create a scenario where dishonesty is the best course and will cause the least amount of hurt to others, and the stubborn, dishonest character chooses to be honest in order to go against 'what other people deem as right'.

Conflicting Characteristics to make the Dishonest unique or more interesting: Moralistic, Compulsive, Perfectionism, Friendly, Affectionate, Courageous, Nervous, Optimistic

Weather Thesaurus Entry: Wind

WEATHER is an important element in any setting, providing sensory texture and contributing to the mood the writer wishes to create in a scene. With a deft touch, weather can enhance the character's emotional response to a specific location, it can add conflict, and it can also (lightly) foreshadow coming events.

However, caution must accompany this entry: the weather should not be used as a window into a character's soul. The weather can add invisible pressure for the character, it can layer the SCENE with symbolism, it can carefully hint at the internal landscape, but it must never OVERTLY TELL emotion. Such a heavy-handed approach results in weather cliches and melodrama (a storm raging above a bloody battle, a broken-hearted girl crying in the rain).

SENSORY DESCRIPTORS:

Sight: leaves lightly fluttering, branches blowing, treetops bent sideways, brasses blowing, clouds drifting or racing across the sky, leaves and flowers tearing loose, debris rolling along the ground, hair and clothing whipping around, people being pushed off balance, waves being churned up, sand/dirt/snow blowing

Smell: rain, smoke

Taste: dirt, rain, sand

Touch: whipping hair stinging your face, clothes flapping around your legs and arms, chapped lips and dry skin, quick-blinking eyes to keep out debris, a loss of equilibrium as the wind buffets you off-balance, increased heat or cold depending on the temperature of the wind, the comfort of a cool breeze on a hot day, wind-blown sand stinging your skin, humidity

Sound: howling/moaning/sighing, branches tapping against walls and windows, leaves rubbing together, twigs and leaves skittering along the ground

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS:

Mood: Light breezes are often soothing, particularly on a hot day when they offer a break from the heat. The danger of high winds can trigger anxiety as we wonder how bad the weather's going to get and if it will affect our homes or loved ones. Even a lack of wind can produce a feeling of stillness and either a positive or negative anticipation--waiting, as if for something to happen.

Symbolism: Rising winds can symbolize a coming change in the form of something good (rain after a drought) or something bad (a hailstorm in farm country). High winds can represent destruction or approaching danger. Certain breezes can also provide a temporal clue and put the reader in a seasonal frame of mind: light and airy breezes remind us of the rebirth of spring; rising winds accompanied by rain, thunder and lightning, and storms bring the extremes of summer and its changeability to mind; gusty, leaf-twirling winds make us think of crisp fall and the promise of cooler weather and happy times ahead.

Possible Cliches: characters who argue in high winds despite the danger, yelling to be heard; branches tearing off and crashing to the ground right where the character is standing (how often does this really happen??), something tearing loose (a leaf, a piece of paper) and blowing away to represent loss, the windmill as a symbol for adversaries

Don't be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the character's emotions, is a powerful trigger for tension. Consider how the bleak mood of a character is even more noticeable as morning sunlight dances across the crystals of fresh snow on the walk to work. Or how the feeling of betrayal is so much more poignant on a hot summer day. Likewise, success or joy can be hampered by a cutting wind or drizzling sleet, foreshadowing conflict to come.

Blogging Tip: Be Yourself

A lot of people wonder how they can create a Breakout Blog that will help build platform and connect them to their audience. This series on Blogging Tips looks at ways to maximize blog performance to reach these goals. 

At my last SCBWI meet up, I led a discussion on Social Media, and inevitably the conversation turned to how some people struggled with creating and maintaining a blogging voice. The argument was that to stand out, they needed an edge--to be super witty or comical or fill-in-the-blank in order to be memorable and attract readers.

Be Yourself!
The truth is, the only thing a blogger needs to be is GENUINE. That means being yourself! Stina Lindenblatt and Jan Markley were quick to point out that if you try and be something you aren't, it will show in the posts. Why? Because eventually keeping up the facade will take a toll. Crafting posts will feel like work...and it will leak into your blogging style. If your heart isn't in it, readers will know.

Trust in yourself that the only voice components you need to bring to your blog are passion and honesty. Offer these two things & your blog will be a natural extension of who you are...and draw readers who identify with you.

For more BLOGGING TIPS, just click on the LABEL below. :)
Happy Blogging! :)

Character Traits Thesaurus Entry: Ambitious

Definition: having a desire to achieve a particular goal

Causes: confidence, passion, pride, a desire to achieve something one didn't have as a child, fear of failure, a need to prove one's self to others, ambitious parents, competition with a peer or sibling

Characters in Literature: Dr. Frankenstein, Edmond Dantes (The Count of Monte Cristo), Laura Ingalls  **note: Does anyone else find the kidlit world short on ambitious characters? Why is it so hard to find ambitious teens and children in our books? 

Positives: Ambitious people are hard-working and determined. They don't give up easily. They often are visionaries who can see amazing futures while others only see roadblocks. Ambition requires great focus and single-mindedness that enables most people with this trait to succeed at their goals.

Negatives: Those with ambition run the risk of putting their goals above everything else, including the people or priorities in life that should come first. They are so focused on their goals that they see anything short of success as failure. Many are perfectionists with unrealistic expectations for themselves or others. When ethics and 'success' clash, achieving the goal often wins out.

Common Portrayals: CEOs, activists working toward a goal that will improve some aspect of society, musicians/actors/artists, teens striving for popularity, students, stage moms, athletic coaches

Cliches to Avoid: the slave-driving boss with unrealistic demands and no concern for those in his employ, teen girls clawing their way up the popularity ladder, the high-strung student going to extreme measures to get into a certain college, the ambitious character who flings ethics aside to achieve his goal only to turn his back on success when he realizes what's really important in life

Twists on the traditional ambitious character: 
  • Many main characters are ambitious, and their stories focus on the pressure they exert on themselves and others. But what about a 'normal' main character with an ambitious sister or teacher or grandmother? External pressure makes for a very different story.
  • Instead of using the usual roles (CEO, rock star), put your ambitious character in a position that makes it harder to achieve success (blue-collar worker, homeless teen, mental patient).
  • Think outside the stereotypical boxes. Female CEOs, male fashion designers, children and teens who change the world
Conflicting characteristics to make your ambitious character unique or more interesting
sensitive, shy, apologetic, fearful, insecure, lazy, impulsive

Weather Thesaurus Entry: Dust or Sandstorm

This Weather Entry has been generously written by Paranormal Author Jami Gold, who recently experienced Phoenix's Haboob storm. Huge thanks to Jami for offering her first-hand encounter with this incredible phenomenon! Make sure to swing by Jami's blog, which is an incredible resource for all writers looking to improve their mad skillz. Also, Jami has some spectacular footage of the actual storm, so if you are writing about this type of weather or want to see what she experienced, check out her link here. It's amazing to watch this storm in action.

WEATHER is an important element in any setting, providing sensory texture and contributing to the mood the writer wishes to create in a scene. With a deft touch, weather can enhance the character's emotional response to a specific location, it can add conflict, and it can also (lightly) foreshadow coming events.

However, caution must accompany this entry: the weather should not be used as a window into a character's soul. The weather can add invisible pressure for the character, it can layer the SCENE with symbolism, it can carefully hint at the internal landscape, but it must never OVERTLY TELL emotion. Such a heavy-handed approach results in weather cliches and melodrama (a storm raging above a bloody battle, a broken-hearted girl crying in the rain).

SENSORY DESCRIPTORS:

Sight:  Before a dust storm hits, the sky is blue and the winds are calm.  A random glance to the horizon reveals a wall of brown air stretching high.  The size (up to 60 mi/100 km wide and several km high) makes it clear that the cloud is not smoke.  A dust storm, also known by the Arabic word “haboob,” is on the way.  They usually approach with very little warning.  The flat wall of brown makes it difficult to judge how far away it is unless the observer is elevated above the landscape.  By the time the cloud’s proximity is apparent, it’s within a half-mile and observers might have less than a minute to seek shelter.  A few seconds before the wall of dust hits, the winds strengthen, tossing tree branches from side-to-side.  Day turns to an orange-ish dusk or night and landmarks just a couple hundred feet away disappear behind the dirty air.  The winds keep dirt suspended in the air, coating everything with a fine layer of dust.  Driving and being outside is dangerous.  The strongest storms have winds near 70 miles per hour (110+kph).  The movement of so many particles in the air renders radar installations (airports, military, etc.) blind while engulfed in the dust cloud.  The worst of the dust will usually pass within 30 minutes, but if not followed by a rainstorm, the air can remain choked with dust for hours and stay hazy for days.  Branches and whole trees can be knocked down by the winds.

Smell:  Dust.  Some semi-arid locations have creosote bushes as vegetation, which give off a distinctive smell if rain is following in the wake of the dust.  Breathing will be laboured with the dirty air.

Taste:  Dust.

Touch:  Eyelids want to close to keep out the dust.  Eyes sting and water, and moisture from tears mixes with dirt to leave grimy streaks on the face.  The wind-driven dust sandblasts bare skin.  Hands are raised to protect the face.  Fingers lift the neck of a shirt to cover the mouth and nose.  Fabric is pressed against the face to ease breathing.  The mouth gets dry and feels like sandpaper.  Every touch, especially skin against skin, concentrates the dirt in an area with sweat and skin oils to produce small grit particles that roll between the surfaces and scour the skin.  A coating of dry grit covers hair, clothes, and skin, and fills the nose and ears.  A person will feel so dirty that they think they’ll never get clean again.

Sound:  The sound of a dust storm depends on the location.  Outside or in a secure building, the noise is similar to a strong wind.  However, if there are windows around or the structure is unstable, like a tent, the dirt pelts the surface with a rushing, tapping sound like rain.  Leaves rustle in the wind, tree branches creak and might break.  Thunder might sound from the storm following behind the dust cloud.

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS:

Mood:  A small dust storm can reinforce a drought or warn of over-farming.  A large dust storm creates a sense of dread.  Large storms are rare, so we cannot help watching as it approaches.  We stand awestruck by the size and know it’s inescapable.  As it closes in, we realize our perspective is all wrong and that the cloud is much nearer than we thought.  Panic takes hold as we scramble to find shelter.  The storm traps people in their location until it passes.  The strength of a large storm is a reminder of human fragility.

Symbolism:  Power of nature, inevitability or unavoidable, apocalypse, Godly disfavour, evil swallowing the land

Possible Clichés:  Nothing that stands out.

OTHER:  When large thunderclouds collapse, a downdraft of wind hits the ground and can blow dust or sand into the air, creating a wall of sediment that precedes the rest of the storm.  Dust storms occur in desert-like or over-farmed conditions, where loose soil is easy for winds to pick up.  The type of deserts that produce dust storms might have vegetation, like cactus, Palo Verde trees, Joshua trees, creosote bushes, and scrub brush.  Deserts of sand dunes, like the Sahara, produce sand storms instead of dust storms and the weather conditions surrounding these storms can be different because of the heavier sand particles.  In the southwestern part of the United States, the seasonal monsoon storms during the summer months create large thunderhead clouds during the heat of the day, releasing that energy in the late afternoon and evening.  When using this type of storm, do your research to make sure the weather, climate, seasonal, and time-of-day facts fit your fictional setting.

Don't be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the Character's emotions, is a powerful trigger for tension. Consider how the bleak mood of a character is even more noticeable as morning sunlight dances across the crystals of fresh snow on the walk to work. Or how the feeling of betrayal is so much more poignant on a hot summer day. Likewise, success or joy can be hampered by a cutting wind or drizzling sleet, foreshadowing conflict to come.

First Page Tips from the Pros

Last week, I outlined the notes on VOICE from the speakers at the SCBWI Florida summer conference. The other thing they spoke a lot about was...

FIRST PAGES

They spent a lot of time on first page critiques, reading each page aloud and commenting on what intrigued them, what needed work, which areas were confusing, and lines or phrases that appealed to them. Because the dreaded first page deprives all of us of sleep from time to time, here, in no particular order, are the tidbits I gleaned:

  • Nothing should be explained. Think of your characters as puppets whose strings you're pulling. Erase the strings so the reader can't see them.
  • Make sure that your characters are reacting to the scene/events, as opposed to the events being reported by you, the author
  • As interesting as settings are, people aren't drawn to them. They're drawn to characters. So don't let the setting overpower them or the overall story
  • If you've got a great line or phrase somewhere on the first page, juggle the content so that line comes last on the page.
  • Description: if the reader will assume it, don't describe it. This typically applies to hair color, furniture arrangement, etc. If you have to describe physical appearances, make them short and sweet--5 or six words, half a sentence.
  • In historical fiction/dystopian/fantasy: authors feel the need to anchor the reader in the unfamiliar world, but remember that descriptions on the first page have to be prioritized. Every detail on the first page should also tell about the character. Quality of writing is important, but so is quality of information.
  • Any physical activity that your character does, go and do yourself. Ride a helicopter, shoot a slingshot, walk in stilettos. Make sure your writing is authentic.
  • Physically walk through your scene. If it comes off clumsy in your living room, it will be even clumsier on the page.
  • Keep in mind the page visual. White space is inviting, long narrative blocks are daunting. Vary your sentence structure with this in mind.
I'm always fascinated to hear knowledgeable people read and discuss first pages because they're able to pick out what's wrong right off. Most of us still on the journey to publication (and a lot who've already reached that goal) still have the blinders on and can't always see what's wrong, so I find this information helpful. Maybe with these tips, we'll all be one or two steps closer to getting that all-important first page right!

Character Trait Entry: Honesty

Definition:
To be forthright, truthful, candid

Causes:
Growing up with a strong moral center or in an environment where truthfulness is placed in high regard; a desire to help; having strong ethics; a religious background/upbringing where lies are viewed as sin

Characters in Literature: 
 Harriet in Harriet the Spy; Joachim Ziemssen in The Magic Mountain

Positives:
Honest people are seen as trustworthy and without dark ulterior motives--if they did they would be viewed as manipulative, not honest. If you need a candid evaluation or someone to bounce an idea off of, an honest person is gold beyond measure. Honesty is one of the most valued traits, heavily relied on during tight situations and stressful times. Many people who are honest are also highly objective, and can weight pros and cons effectively.

Negatives:
Honest people can lack the social skills to judge when complete honesty is not wanted or needed. People with this trait often also give advice unsolicited, which is not always appreciated, or they see things in such black and white lines that their honesty can come across as brutal. Honest people sometimes have a hard time maintaining friendships because they do not understand that often a listening ear is what is wanted, not an open assessment of the situation or truthful opinion.

Common Portrayals:
A by-the-rules kid in the classroom; the co-worker who is always reporting going-ons to the boss out of a sense of duty; the brutally truthful wife who offers her honest opinion unsolicited to advise her husband and family friends; the sheltered teen who believes everything she's told because of her own honest disposition.

Cliches to Avoid: 
 Tattle-tail little brother or sisters as a plot device; the honest, trusting nature of a focal character softening the antagonist's heart, the honest girl corrupted by a 'bad boy'

Twists on the Traditional Honest: 
  • Put a character who embraces honesty into a situation where she freely chooses dishonesty for the greater good
  • Have a character feel the effects of brutal honesty so it leads to enlightenment and self growth
  • Give your honest character a compulsion to flout authority or break the law
Conflicting Characteristics to make your Honest unique or more interesting:

Sensitive, selfish, violent, motivated, jealous, risk-taker, promiscuous


Weather Thesaurus Entry: Sunrise


WEATHER & EARTHLY PHENOMENA are important elements in any setting, providing sensory texture and contributing to the mood the writer wishes to create in a scene. With a deft touch, weather can enhance the character's emotional response to a specific location, it can add conflict, and it can also (lightly) foreshadow coming events.

However, caution must accompany this entry: the weather should not be used as a window into a character's soul. The weather can add invisible pressure for the character, it can layer the SCENE with symbolism, it can carefully hint at the internal landscape, but it must never OVERTLY TELL emotion. Such a heavy-handed approach results in weather cliches and melodrama (a storm raging above a bloody battle, a broken-hearted girl crying in the rain).

SENSORY DESCRIPTORS:

Sight: The sky lightens in streaks of pink and orange and  clouds are lit from the bottom in an fiery glow. Sunrise intensifies with each minutes, growing brighter and sharper, and visibility improves as night is cast off. Reflective surfaces (lakes, pools, ponds, puddles) take on the color of the sky, becoming a mirror of light, and shadows dissolve. Objects in the landscape between an observer and the sunrise location (tree outlines, hills/mountains) can appear momentarily stark black in comparison as the sun first rises. Dew, shiny leaves, polished metal, windows--anything moistened by humidity or reflective will collect the brightness and color of sunrise. Pinks and purples give way to orange which in turn lightens into gold. Skin tones brighten and the different hues in hair are highlighted when someone faces the sun.

Smell: As the sun warms the morning, earthy odors will emerge--soil, grass, greenery. Flower petals open, releasing their scent.

Taste: No specific tastes are associated with sunrise, unless one is enjoying a coffee or breakfast in accompaniment.

Touch: When the sun first touches skin, warmth seeps into pores causing hair follicles to respond and lift. The feel of sun on skin is pleasing and the brightness as it rises will force one's eyes into a squint or to close, allowing other senses (warmth, sounds) to relay the experience instead.

Sound: As the sun rises, birds grow active and bird calls begin to filter into the experience. In an urban area, there would be an increase in traffic sounds (squeaky car breaks, revving motors, horns) as early rises head to work.

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS:

Mood: Sunrise is often used as a transition in books, allowing the story to be anchored in the beginning of a fresh day or signify a new stage about to unfold. There is beauty in a sunrise which allows for reflection and thought on the big picture and also the internal landscape. Dawn is a wash of light across the setting, causing darkness to recede, and in characters, can be a moment where their choices and mistakes can be forgotten and forgiven and they are able to forge ahead, renewed. Sunrise is a powerful feature in setting, so always use it with intent, and never overuse it. Sometimes the meaning of dawn is inverted, and is the transition point marking something terrible to come.

Symbolism: New Beginnings; entering a new stage or point in one's journey; beauty; God; Life; Renewal; Hope; Spirit; Peace

Possible Cliches: Comparing the sunrise to one's love for another; comparing one's beauty to the sunrise; dawn signalling/or being the backdrop for the start of an epic battle

OTHER: This one's pretty simple--rises in the east. Time that this event occurs is dependent on the location and date/season.

Don't be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the Character's emotions, is a powerful trigger for tension. Consider how the bleak mood of a character is even more noticeable as morning sunlight dances across the crystals of fresh snow on the walk to work. Or how the feeling of betrayal is so much more poignant on a hot summer day. Likewise, success or joy can be hampered by a cutting wind or drizzling sleet, foreshadowing conflict to come.

Voice Tips from the Pros

I haven't been to a conference in years. Finances and babies conspired to keep me from attending. But this spring, I figured that enough was enough, and last weekend I went to the SCBWI Florida conference in Orlando. There, I was reminded that 1) conferences are awesome and 2) I am a doofus for not going in so long.  

I was in the YA track with about 50 other YA writers ranging from beginners to published veterans. Our speakers were Michele Burke, editor at Knopf Books for Young Readers, and Kathleen Duey, an author who has published over 70 books throughout her career. They talked about a lot of things, but two topics were really helpful to me, so I'd like to share the love and pass along their insights. Today...

VOICE

GROAN, I know. But as you've probably read here there and everywhere, editors and agents are constantly going on about how important voice is in a query or opening chapter, that it's one of the things that draws them in and garners a request for more. Both of our panel speakers agreed, putting it like this: voice is the lynchpin of YA. And I'm guessing that for you excellent followers who write something other than YA, it's probably the lynchpin for that, too. The speakers also said this:

  • Voice is what's wrong with most first pages.
  • The voice of the story should sound like someone the reader knows. IE, it should be relatable, realistic. Believable.
  • If you start with voice, everything that follows will usually be stronger.
So how do you succeed at the ethereal, elusive, nearly-impossible-to-define element that is voice? The pros said:
  1. Start each book with a character interview. Start each interview as you would start a conversation with a kid sitting next to you on the bus--a kid who looks troubled. "Are you okay?" "What are you going to do?"
  2. Make a fb page for the duration of the project. Enter posts that your character would enter, the way they would enter them. Reply to the posts to elicit further responses.
  3. Go to a teen hangout (mall, food court, restaurant, etc) and just listen.
  4. Listen to everyone--teens, people close in age to teens, and everyone else. Talk to them. 
  5. Do not tell the reader what the character is feeling. A character's emotion should be evident through their actions. (Hello, Emotion Thesaurus--see sidebar). 
  6. Write your characters into different vignettes so you can see how they'll react. 
  7. If a scene is lacking in voice, is overly wordy or clinical or descriptive, write it as the character would explain it to someone else. Then rewrite it as narrative.
  8. Write the scene from a logistical/practical standpoint, like storyboarding a play or script. Then go back and write it in the character's voice.
Great advice, all, but I'd like to comment on two points. First, the interview. Writers have been talking about character interviews for years, and I've tried them a number of times, but they haven't worked for me. Well, after hearing this, the idea still rang true, so I decided to give it another shot. I set aside 15 minutes each morning to interview the character of my WIP, who has mommy issues that I haven't been able to figure out. I talked to her on Sunday. No dice. We spoke again on Monday. On Tuesday, the hallowed interview technique still wasn't working. I snapped at my husband and didn't answer the phone. Then, on Wednesday, like a special delivery straight from Dr. Phil, I figured out the crux of Nina's problem with her mother (which is crucial to who Nina is). And once I started talking to her about it, her voice clicked in. It was the craziest thing. All of a sudden, I know how she sounds. Learning about her helped me hear what she would sound like, and hearing her voice reveals new things to me about her. 

So for me, and maybe for some of you, interviewing was ineffective because I always gave up too early. It takes time to get comfy with real life friends, and I guess the same is true for our characters. Give it time.

Secondly, point #4. I may be the most unobservant person on the planet. And, like the interview piece, I've heard numerous times about the importance of observation for writers and still hadn't given it much thought. But for some reason, the way Kathleen Duey explained it, I could see the value in observing others. So I started listening. To the girls eating lunch at Chick-fil-A. The couple sitting in front of me at church. I struck up a conversation with the cashier at Publix. And it was really fascinating, not only what people were saying and how they said it, but the things they did with their faces and hands while they were talking. There are a million different quirks, voice inflections, phrasings, gestures--tendencies that people have that you may be able to apply to your characters to make them more unique and realistic to the reader. What's more, I realized that I have grossly underestimated the value of observing others, not just from a writing standpoint, but as a human being. How can I encourage someone if I can't see that they're struggling? How can I help if I don't know what they're going through? Oh my gosh. So basic, but I am just now getting it. #Embarrassed

So... I hope some of you will find these tips as helpful as I have. I'm so grateful to Kathleen and Michele for taking the time to share their knowledge, and I'm glad to pay it forward in the hopes that their information might help some of you.

Next week...FIRST PAGES!

Pssst...don't tell Becca but I am totally jacking her post to announce the WINNERS for P.J.Hoover's book, Solstice...congrats go to  tarunima and  Traci Kenworth! Woot! Keep an eye on your inbox for more info!

Happy Fourth!


Happy Fourth of July to our American musers! May your burgers be plenty and your singed extremities be few!

Character Trait Entry: Friendly

Definition:
Agreeable; open and approachable; a pleasant disposition

Causes:
Being in a loving and supportive environment; a strong ability to socialize; high confidence level; comfortable around others; deriving pleasure from interaction and relationships

Characters in Literature:
Glinda the Good (The Wizard of Oz); Arthur Weasley (Harry Potter)

Positives:
Friendlies are approachable and open, and can be trusted to not make rash judgements or react unkindly in most situations. They work well in groups, have a strong sense of humor and are often the glue that keep radically different personalities together and on task. Friendly people can often transcend the social ladder as they seem to get along with and be admired by a variety of people. Friendly people have an aura of self confidence and positivity that other people are attracted to and naturally want to be around.

Negatives:
Friendlies can sometimes annoy others with their often-positive view and attitude, and steal attention in a group setting. Other people might feel bad about themselves because they are not as admired or attract the attention that a friendly person will. Friendlies can inspire jealousy from those who have few or little friends or who are awkward in social situations. People who are over-friendly can also make others uncomfortable, especially those who are slower to warm up to new people or dislike the attentiveness.

Common Portrayals:
The always-smiling waitress, the well-regarded neighbors who organize events and socials in the community, the bubbly girl who is friends with everyone, the 'nice' guy at work who never complains or has anything bad to say about anyone

Cliches to Avoid:
Gushy friendliness or friendliness that is too perfect to be believed, the creepy villain who uses attentive friendliness is a ruse, pairing friendliness with perfection (beauty, incredibly talented, etc), a friendly person who is also handicapped

Twists on the Traditional Friendly: 

  • Friendly people are often viewed as having the 'perfect' or stress-free life. Why not show someone who is friendly despite great conflict in his or her personal world?
  • This trait is almost always seen as an asset. Dump your character in a situation where a friendly disposition will put them at a great disadvantage. 
  • Show a character's low moments with this personality trait, and how being friendly can also be burdensome. Let the process of wrestling with their feelings about themselves lead to personal growth.

Conflicting Characteristics to make your Friendly unique or more interesting:
Judgmental; driven; nervous; morose; untrustworthy; frugal; dependent; indecisive


LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...