Archive for the ‘Writing Tips’ Category

Are you interviewing your characters?

If you are having a problem with filling out your characters or weeding them out, here is something that might help you. Interviewing hopefuls to play these rolls in your novel or story is a great way to smooth out your wrinkles and get to know them.

So you have a fabulous idea for a story or novel, but you don’t quite have a full grown cast of characters. Or maybe you have one that is not working out right. Fire him/her and put an ad in the help wanted section of your local news paper. List all the qualities you want your character to have, sit back and wait for a line to form at your front door or you back door if your character is a little on the shady side, or ruthless and you don’t want to frighten your neighbors. In other words make this as real as you can.

Greet each applicant with a big smile and invite them in. Lead them to your torture chamber or where ever it is you will conduct your interview. Do this in a serious and realistic way, just don’t send your add to the news paper. Even though this is just a pretend thing, daydream this out. Close your eyes and picture yourself walking to the door, opening it and inviting the applicant in.

I’ve done this in the past and became caught up to such an extent that I had to shake myself out of my daydream. I even felt excitement when the character exceeded my expectations.

I did my interviews on the computer, but to make it more realistic sit at your desk with an empty chair in front of you or put your dog or cat in the chair. Have a list of questions ready to fill in the answers your prospective character gives you, or you can do it free style, whatever makes you comfortable. The answers may surprise you and suggest more questions. I had a lot of fun with this. If you are someone, like me, who has little company, I’m sure you will enjoy this exercise.

Take it as far as you like. This is an exercise in getting to know your characters, so go all out. There’s no need to put all of this in your story or novel, and if your prospect gets a little rambunctious, ask him/her to tone it down a little.

If you know your character, as well as you know your best friend, if you have a best friend, when the time comes to write your story or scene, you will know and be able to describe how your character handles any situation or problem he/she encounters.

Do this interview as though you were talking to someone you just met, someone intriguing or interesting whether or not you like them. This is true, because if you are going to write a story about them, you are interested, or you should be. You may not like them or love them but they are important to your story, right? If not, you have no need to interview them. Kick their butts out the door and get to the next one. This is serious business here and unimportant characters should be rubbed out.

The trick is to put yourself in the character’s shoes, or more exactly, in their head. And if you know your subject, you will have no problem getting into their head and knowing how they will react and what they will say. Maybe you have heard about characters taking over the story. That’s right, they do, if you know them well enough.

If you have a problem with acting the rolls of both interviewer and interviewee, write the questions on paper or on the screen until you become accustom to it. You need to feel comfortable doing this. It’s part of being a writer. You need to be in each character’s head no matter what point of view you’re using.

Knowing your characters fully, even the minor ones, makes you a better writer, or at least it should. After doing a few or many interviews like this, you should be comfortable with working with characters and you can do away with interviews.

Let me know if you have any questions.


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Must one live the life of a character to properly portray them?

In a way, yes; I recently read an article hinting at the idea that some readers associate the writer as being like the characters he/she portrays in their stories or the writer yearns to be like the characters they write about.

For me, I am a part of every character I put in or conger up in my fiction. This doesn’t mean I have lived my life as this character or want to be as this character no more than an actor is a part of the characters he/she portrays.

One must get into the head of a character whether they are protagonist, antagonist or other major or minor character. Granted, some actors portray certain types better than others as do writers. This doesn’t mean the actor/writer has or does live his/her life in this manner. Maybe they were exposed to this life style at some point in their life i.e., they know someone who has these characteristics. Maybe they understand or have studied this type more fully. One cannot assume this actor or writer is a model of a certain character. So what if they are? It only means, who else could better tell this story? If I believed readers thought I lived the life of my characters, I’d be hesitant to write about it. However, I have written about myself and my disabilities.

I never thought about this before, but, a writer must be better at portraying characters because, he/she has to give the actor/actress enough material to better understand and portray a character. Being one or the other does not make one proficient as both. However, some are.

Surely, I could never be an actor nor do I have a desire. I’m not even sure I am a half decent writer. I do know is I’m getting better at it. I hope I never reach the stage of thinking I am infallible

Get into your character’s head until you know and feel their feelings. Know what they would say and would never say even under torture. Concentrate more on how they would react than how they look. Don’t make them perfect; give them a flaw or two, a quirk. Interview them. Know them as you know yourself. This doesn’t mean you have to put it all in the story. Leave something for the reader to fill in or guess about. Personally, I don’t feel you have to know all this before you began writing as some writers do. I would keep a log though, especially if you are as decrepit and forgetful as I am.

Portraying fiction characters is only as difficult as you make it. Loosen up, have fun, don’t be so serious. If writing wasn’t fun, I would have given up on it long ago.

A couple books I have in my library and recommend are Creating Character Emotions by Ann Hood, and Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

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Proper word usage is sometime critical. Write it rite right off. Is that right?

In response to the group critique of my story (To Trim a Bush A Writer’s Way) at our last meeting. A question was raised about my use of the word SORDID. The sentence read, “My wife gave me a sordid look”. The word sordid popped into my head as I wrote the sentence. I usually trust my intuition, but always double check. I felt certain I used it properly because I had seen it written in this fashion many times, so I didn’t check it out. It means dirty, filthy and many other synonyms. I listed some below. After being called on it, I had some doubt, so I decided to check it out. Two days of collecting and studying definitions, I finally pounded it into my thick scull just what it means. I think.

Because I have seen the word used this way, I felt sure it was correct. Well, this is a good example of how one should not blindly follow others and always check it out. My first round of study only confused me more. Synonyms of dirty and filthy kept popping up. Then I began thinking maybe it was too strong a word to use in my situation. I continued my search.

With all the problems I have with word usage and spelling, you’d think I’d be more careful. Not me, I guess I’m a glutton for punishment. My cocksure attitude began to falter. According to some, I had used sordid properly in this sentence meaning that my wife gave me a dirty or mean look. But others think not. So, here are my findings.

Some definitions and synonyms


1. dirty, foul, filthy, rundown or squalid

2. degraded; vile; base – a sordid affair

3. selfish and grasping – sordid avarice, greedy

4. morally depraved, impure, “a seedy district”; “the seamy side of life

5. unethical or dishonest; immoral, corrupt, foul and repulsive.

6. meanly avaricious and mercenary; morally ignoble or base; vile bad

1. expressing or revealing hostility or dislike “dirty looks”
2. unethical or dishonest, dirty, sordid “dirty police officers, sordid political campaign.

3. dirty look, a disapproving or unkind look. There are many more for the word dirty, but I won’t bore you with them.

The fog began to clear. While dirty and sordid are synonyms for each other, sordid fits in better as reflecting something morally or physically; it means physically dirty or morally dirty. Therefore, unless she had mud on her face or she was someone of low morals, dirty fit better than sordid. But now I don’t like that word either. I can’t see my wife giving me or anyone else a dirty look. That’s why I used sorted, thinking it a more dignified synonym for dirty. Now it seems more indignant.

Usage Examples:

Her friends pressed her to tell all the sordid details from her date (seedy, dirty, impure).

The philanthropic group worked to improve the sordid conditions of the city’s homeless shelter (dirty, filthy, rundown).

The story was a sordid tale about betrayal, misfortune, and greed (seedy, impure and immoral).

I didn’t want to hear about all the sordid details of my friend’s divorce; it was just too depressing (bad, base, dirty)

“He may be old, And yet sordid, who refuses gold.–Sir J. Denham (meanly, avaricious; covetous, niggardly).

“The sordid details of his orgies stank under his very nostrils.” James Joyce (morally degraded).

So, my friends, after three days of digging for information and writing this article, I am as confused as ever. I’m going to replace Sordid with disapproving which more exactly describes her look, because she disapproves of a lot of what I do and doesn’t say much about it. Her looks say much more.

Here’s a book on synonyms I highly recommend, Choose the Right Word by S. I. Hayakawa. I’ve been using it since I started writing, which sometimes seems like only last week. It gives you the precise word to use in a particular situation. Unfortunately, sordid is not one of the synonyms in its large list. Here’s the Amazon site for this book. It has served me well over the years. Now if I could only find a book that would help me retain proper spellings of words. I forgot to mention when I first wrote down sordid in this article, I spelled it, sorted.

Last words, isn’t our English language wonderful?

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Writing a story, book or novel?

How does one do this? You may ask. There are many different ways to go about it. Good bad or indifferent, some are even successful while others, like me, are not. What’s the old saying? Those who can, do. Those who can’t, instruct. Well I’m not much at giving instructions either, but I can write about how writing works for me. Should I even be saying this? I’m supposed to exude confidence. I have written three novels and hundreds of short stories and articles and even published some. My problem is when I’m done, I’m done. I write about what I want to write about and move on. I have this misconception that writers should be writing not selling. I hate sales, even though I have been successful in several businesses and was even a salesman a couple times; that’s where I learned I wasn’t adapt at selling, i.e., I tend to tell the truth.

Sorry I got off the subject. Let me go back and see what I was writing about.  Oh yeah, writing about writing. Well it’s easy and yet it is complicated. Basically, you pretty much write as you would speak. I think that might not be true either. If I wrote how I speak, this would be listed as porn. But, take away the cussing and sexual inferences this is pretty much how I speak, I think. It’s called voice, and everyone has a unique voice, so I’m told.

Okay, let’s get serious. This too is is hard for me. I’m a clown and poke fun at everything. So, if you haven’t stopped reading yet and you are looking for a serious article you might want to move on to your next selection.

Where do you start?

Well, the obvious place is at the beginning, silly. The way I do it is, I start writing what’s in my head. Whether it’s the beginning, middle or the end, you can rearrange everything later, nothing is final until you’re finished. Get down what you want to say first. A few hundred stories or books later you’ll have a method down pat and will know where to start and end, the middle goes between them. I have one suggestion for stories and books. Identify the moment of change, whether it’s a character or a happening, and you will know where or when your story must open. I have this on a note taped to the edge of a shelf above my computer. It’s kind of irritating sometimes and I want to rip it off and throw it in the trash. Sometimes you just don’t know right off where your story is to start. And too, I’m getting a little forgetful in my old age.

Write in scenes

What’s a scene? It’s a mini story sort of. It too has a beginning, middle and end, or an introduction, a buildup and a conclusion. That’s the same thing using different words. You need to get inside your character’s head, see what he sees, feel what he feels and write it all down, spew it all out. Pretend you are watching a movie. The character is the camera, or if it is the narrator, he she or it is the camera. You do this the same way as you do a story or a novel. This is how I like to write. Write it straight through to the end. Later you can decide whether to stop the scene or chapter at a high point near the end and before it concludes. This is a cliff hanger, a technique to keep the reader interested and reading. Writing scenes of about a thousand or fifteen hundred is a comfortable writing period, for me anyway.  You may elect another shorter or longer. Make it pleasant for yourself. Short stories may have one scene or a few scenes while a book may have one scene to a chapter or a few scenes to a chapter. You’re the composer; write how you like to read. You can’t be the only weirdo out there.

Editing your work

Don’t start screaming you’re not an editor. Neither am I, and unless you have lots of money, in which case you wouldn’t be in writing for the money, so let go of some of that moldy stuff and hire an editor. Otherwise you will have to learn how to edit yourself. I tend to edit my work as I go, one sentence or phrase at a time. This is not recommended by most, not even by me. I got I a habit I can’t get out of. The idea is to write what’s in your head now. Get it out anyway you can. Editing, you do last when you have written you guts out and have no more to say. That’s not how I do it. Every time I reread what I’ve written, I find something new to add and I end up with a monster I have to cut down, but it works for me because I find many unnecessary words to cut out.

If I find a mistake I have to correct it right now or I might not catch it later. Sometimes I am punished for this. I forget something vital I had in my mind, and by the time I make the correction, it had gone out into la la land never more to be thought of again. It’s a miserable feeling, but I am a little hard headed and set in my ways. Besides, I must get some pleasure out of slapping myself around. Do as I say, not as I do, is an oft repeated phrase of mine. I just never follow my own advice. Do it however it makes you feel comfortable. Who knows, you may invent a novel and successful way of writing.

What’s next?

Well that’s about all for the writing part. The rest is all editing, you know the fun part. This is where you rip apart all your loving prose. It’s about writing, and rewriting, taking out and putting in, correcting and punctuating and all that good stuff, all the things I missed in school and didn’t learn until I was an old man too thick headed for it to be pounded in. What would I do without my spelling and grammar checker?

Always put you work aside for a few hours, days or weeks and make one more slow-read; for me, everything I read is a slow read. I set my text to speech reader to fast and listen intently. Let someone else read it, a trusted friend who is an established writer or someone off the street, never your mom or a family member. Read it aloud or do as I do, get a text to speech program and listen to what you wrote. You’ll be surprised how many mistakes it will bring to your attention. I tell you, this dyslexic writer makes lots of them. But, I still have fun and that’s what it’s all about. If you don’t enjoy writing stop and apply your energy to something you enjoy.

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That is, for example

I recently discovered these two abbreviations. Let me rephrase that. It’s not that they were new to me, because I’ve seen them around but never knew exactly what they meant. So I thought there may be others who are not sure of their meaning or how to use them. I won’t explain their Latin meaning because, that never interested me and only caused more confusion for me. Right now, I’m only interested in English. Later if I ever get English down pat, maybe I’ll take some interest in Latin. I doubt that will happen any time soon.

Let’s start with (i.e.) I think it’s used more often than the other one, at least I use it more, maybe too much, but then how much is too much? If you can remember the phrase “that is”, associating the (i) with is you’ve got it down, i.e., you know the letters i and e are short for, “that is”, or “in other words”. It shortens your sentences, i.e., it conserves words. Something to remember is, especially if you are a speaker; don’t use these abbreviations in your speech. Use the actual words “that is” and “for example.” The shortened forms are used only in writing.

In the second abbreviation, the e and g means “for example.” Here, associating the (e) with example is helpful. It is used in a sentence to illustrate an example of what you just said. Isn’t that simple? It must be, if I can get it down anyone can. When I started using these, I just put them in a sentence where it seemed logical. Sometime later, when I researched them further, I found that I wasn’t using them properly. That’s me, always jumping in without testing the water.

Here are a few things to remember when using these abbreviations. First, do not put them at the beginning of a sentence, and do not use both in the same sentence. Don’t ask me why, because I don’t know. I read it somewhere and that person didn’t say why either. Second, they must be punctuated properly, i.e., use a comma before and after them, for example, (, i.e.,) as though you were using the actual words in whatever part of a sentence they are. I ain’t lernt that yet.

That’s it. This revelation doesn’t make me an expert now. So don’t be beating down my door for other things. Well, you can tap on it if you like.

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