Sunday, November 4, 2012

Are your Characters Flat or Dynamic

            How do some characters come to life on the page while others fall flat? Well-written protagonists and antagonists have layers of traits that give depth to their personalities. Qualities that the reader can relate to and either empathize with or despise.

            The traits are individual and/or inherited characteristics, which combined, makes them unique from all others in the novel. Individual characteristics are qualities that distinguish somebody. These facets appear in their actions, dialogue, and thoughts. Inherited characteristics are traits genetically determined.

Everyone has an inherent quality that he or she hides from the public. The reader learns the protagonist’s inner thoughts and fears as the story unfolds. By adding an internal personality flaw, it creates a more believable character to produce empathy.

For example, Prince Charming’s individual characteristics are that he is a good man, strong and loyal. His inherited traits are that he has thick hair, blue eyes, and a cleft chin, carried from his regal family. Charming's character flaw is his blind-faith in good over evil, and love conquering all. Emphatic facets romance readers look for in their heroes.

Just as every protagonist has a flaw, the antagonist needs a redeemable quality. It allows misdirected empathy and creates another character facet, lending compassion, understanding, and commiseration to some of the vilest of villains. Hannibal Lecter is cruel and manipulative, but he has a brilliant mind. Clarice Starling inevitably succumbs to his intelligence. In “Snow White,” the Evil Queen is conniving and vain, but she is unloved. An empathic trait few men could resist in the original fairytale.

            By revealing a character’s strengths and weaknesses in layers throughout the story arc, the reader’s emotions fuel them to finish the novel. Great characters compel them to read the series.

I hope this craft tidbit helps you reach that “Ah ha” moment on creating dynamic characters. Happy Writing~Diane

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Call for Anthology Submissions

Call for Anthology Submissions

The Fine Line is compiling an anthology on the theme of words that inspire.
If you’d like to be considered for inclusion, they’re looking for short pieces, no longer than 100 words, in any genre or style about words that have inspired you.
Whether it’s something everyday like the line on a shampoo bottle that reminds you to rinse your hair after you lather or a novel that changed your life, write about your experience of being inspired by words and send it to
Deadline: 3rd of December 2012

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I Hear You ~ A Writer's Voice [Craft Workshop]

     What draws a reader to an author is not just his storytelling skill, but also how the writer uses words. The phrasing, sentence structure and word choices define the writer's “Voice.” This is what makes each wordsmith unique in all forms of prose.

      New writers hear, "Your voice isn't very strong," or "Your voice doesn't fit the character." How do you find “your” voice? Unfortunately, a Voice is not a learned part of language, but there are techniques to make it more recognizable.

     First, let’s tackle how to develop a stronger voice. After hearing this topic referred to at multiple workshops, the answer consistently returns to this recommendation---Read books by authors you enjoy, but from now on notice the use of phasing. Phrasing is the rhythm of sentence structure. The ebb and flow is what makes the prose enjoyable, i.e. the writer’s voice.

     Practice by writing in a similar style to find an unforced pattern. Read it aloud, the words should flow naturally. After gaining confidence in your own style, “your” voice will emerge. It is not easy, if so everyone would have best sellers, but without a defined voice projected throughout the story, the prose will fall flat.

     A Character’s Voice, or tone, must fit the age, status, culture and sex of each character. Listen to conversations to find simple examples. There is a confidence and language factor to consider in dialogue. Each character should have a tone individual to them.

     Teenage girls do not speak or think the same as high society thirty-something women. Women do not speak like men. Even accomplished writers can forget to change character’s heads occasionally, but maintaining the character’s voice is vital to keeping your reader turning the pages.

     Unique dialogue helps a reader to follow who is speaking without referring back or relying on sentence tags. It may help to write the scene in one character’s head, and then add more dialogue for other characters afterwards. Personally, my characters are vying for my attention and they leave little choice, but to write them in full banter.

     Here is an example of completely different character identities from my novel, “Full Count:”

     "Allentown Emergency. Is this an emergency?”
     I release my breath in a gush. “Yes. There’s a naked guy on the floor.” Nerves force me to pace around the body, leaving little stiletto marks of blood tracing my path.

     “And how is this situation an emergency, Ma’am?”

     “He’s dead!”

     “A suicide, Ma’am?”


     “Are you sure he’s dead, Ma’am?”

     “I think so. He’s shot in the head, but…”

     “But, What, Ma’am?”

     “His…Mr. Happy is standing tall. Can he be dead and have a boner?” I stare at his chest waiting for any movement. Nothing. “I’m pretty sure he’s dead. He‘s not breathing either.”

    “Just to clarify, Ma‘am, there is a naked man shot in the head, lying on the floor with an erection and he‘s not breathing.”

      In this scene, there is no need for sentence tags because each character is unique in thought, action and dialogue. Each one has an individual voice, and the prose flows with its own rhythm. Once you accomplish a single character’s voice, your voice isn’t far behind.

     Unfortunately, there is no easy way to acquire a writer’s voice other than working hard at your craft, but I hope this helps you to reach an “Ah Ha” moment to strengthening your own tone.

 Happy writing ~ Diane

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Words and Events: Writing Craft Workshop ~ The Magic in Words

Words and Events: Writing Craft Workshop ~ The Magic in Words:      Writers can work magic with words, and propel a reader into their story by capturing an ordinary moment and creating a realistic scene ...

Writing Craft Workshop ~ The Magic in Words

     Writers can work magic with words, and propel a reader into their story by capturing an ordinary moment and creating a realistic scene with scents and sounds. As writers, we rely on description to move the characters in settings with sight, but should also include sounds, smells and touch to enhance the picture. Taste is an immediate sense, normally used once a setting is already established. Here are a few tips to help transport your scenes in this example:

          The hotdogs sizzle on the grill. John inhales the tangy brown mustard as it oozes in a single line onto the roll. “There’s nothing better than baseball and hotdogs.” The baseball cracks off the bat and the crowd roars. The announcer screams, “Its going, going, the ball hit’s the foul pole and…!” John's elbow hits the antennae in the excitement, knocking the radio to the ground.

     We are with John at the ballpark, breathing in the scents, hearing the grill, feeling the crowd’s roar vibrate with excitement, and ready to taste that hotdog, but the scene is confusing.

     Do your descriptions place the reader in the story’s setting, or do your readers dangle on the edge, not engaged in the character’s activities. Transitional sentences ground the scene. Placing the setting after the action confuses the reader, robbing them of a connection with the character. If the descriptions follow in sequential order with a transitional sentence, the reader can experience the journey with the character.

           John adjusts the radio to the baseball announcer’s continual chatter and places the old transistor on the Adirondack chair’s armrest. The hotdogs sizzle on the grill. John inhales the tangy brown mustard as it oozes in a single line onto the roll. “There’s nothing better than baseball and hotdogs.” The baseball cracks off the bat and the crowd roars. The announcer screams, “Its going, going, the ball hit’s the foul pole and…!” John's elbow hits the antennae in the excitement, knocking the radio to the ground.

     The character’s activity, enhanced by sensory perception, engages the reader, there is an understandable sequence of events to support the scene, and the story can generate from this point.
Many of us learned these tidbits, but sometimes a reminder can regenerate a sentence. For those who are hearing about transitional phrases for the first time, I hope you reached that “ah ha” moment, and have more clarity on another writing rule.

Happy writing ~ Diane

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Conference Conundrums

     There are hundreds of writing conferences across the country every year, all vying for our attention. The promise of intriguing workshops and spellbinding keynote speakers up the ante, agents and editors add promise, and do not forget the networking opportunities. Although good writing is the objective, in an era when "who you know," is as important as "what you know," need I say more! So how do you choose which events are best for you?

     To get the most for your money, there are small conferences providing an array of workshops on craft and the business of writing, without the expensive speakers, or sit down dinners. The incidentals of a nomad on the road are costly. Find a venue within driving distance to avoid hotel stays, and remember to pack plenty of snacks and beverages. Your local writing group or library can help guide you to the events in your area. The Shaw Guide to Writer's Conferences and Workshops has wonderful information on a huge variety of conferences, workshops, retreats and events all around the world.

     Workshops by outstanding speakers can make a difference in how the information translates to your writing needs. These sessions are usually not part of the general registration and are often times pre-conference workshops, requiring additional fees. However, some people are just better teachers and are worth the charge. They communicate concepts in interesting ways that translate to the "ah ha" moments we all love feeling when a connection is grasped.

     I do recommend saving for one big conference to enjoy all the pomp and glitter. Ogle at the incredible authors at the literary signings and go to every extra activity you can find. Not only is this an amazing way to make your muse sit up and take notice of what fun can be had, but after falling asleep from exhaustion every night, you're too tired for nerves to interfere at the agent/editor appointments. Okay, maybe a little anxious, but remember that they are the same people who passed you the sugar that morning, and you had no problem chatting to them about everyday life!

     A few important facts to remember: Figure out your objectives and stick to them; go to workshops targeted to move your writing forward, or inform on a subject you're curious about pursuing. Bring business cards; you'll make lots of contacts and a few new friends. Realize many of the people you meet may sit across from you at the pitch table; edit your verbal thoughts everywhere. Most of all have fun and relax; you are paying to attend.

     Read my archived blogs on the incredible experiences I encountered while attending the Romance Writers of America National Conference last year. Everything did happen just as written...honest!

Good luck and Happy Writing~Diane

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Kissing Index

All the mistletoe hanging in entryways has me thinking about kisses, those delicious tastes of nectar shared between two people. Do your kisses reveal the relationship between your characters to the reader? Whether you are writing an innocent first kiss in Young Adult or a smoking-hot Romance, compel the reader to finish with believable splashes of magic.

You can keep the PG-13 rating and still turn up the heat by using all five senses to capture a first kiss. If she licks her lips nervously and draws his gaze to her mouth, the anticipation mounts. Are his fingers smooth or rough against her cheek as he brushes her hair back? Body temperatures rise and the simple scent of a shampoo is intoxicating in close proximity, triggering more reactions than just his pants becoming too tight. A shortness of breath and racing hearts all lead to the moment their lips meet for the first time.

A couple with time to explore each other engages in the slow lingering dance of tongues. Heighten sexual intrigue by adding tactile sensations to capture a scene and raise the hot factor. His lips are soft, tasting musky and very male. She bites hard into his neck, eliciting a deep moan from her lover that vibrates through her. She unzips his worn jeans and her body slides slowly down his legs with the denim. How can the rough plaster against her back feel so cold, while his hands are searing her skin? The story pace builds and the intensity between your characters drives the reader to a cover-to-cover read.

Passionate kisses exchanged between lovers should leave the reader squirming in their seat hoping no one interrupts them while reading the scene. The slow exploration is over; this is full body contact and clothes are flying around the room like a clearance sale at Feline’s Basement. While lip-locked, hands arouse responses hastening along all their partner’s sexual triggers. The hard tweak of a nipple evokes gut wrenching desire, fingernails raking across his hip and lower to mark claim has him pulling her closer, and the heavy musk of sex adds vivid tension to the scenes. She kicks a drink off the side-table, the glass shatters and neither notice. They are beyond caring about anything, but what's happening between them, and your reader is too.

So how hot are your kisses? If they need work, remember to use your senses, take time to feel through the scene and it doesn’t hurt to practice. Whether the kisses are innocent nibbles or a toe-curling lip-lock there is always another level to compel the reader into your story.

I hope this holiday season has you in happy spirits, good health and lots of mistletoe!
~ Diane Sismour