Tag Archives: character development

Reblog: The Summer Season of Writing

10 May
Arizona

Arizona (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

by Telena Tanara Contreras

The Arizona summer is an early arriver. In late March a dry breeze descends on the valley to give spring its notice; and a mere month later Queen Summer herself follows behind a procession of scorching rays, ridiculous temperatures, and dramatic dust storms to begin her ruthless reign.
Come May, the people are done.

Snow birds lock up their homes, cover their pools, and head back north or east or wherever it is sane people run to when the weather is more foe than friend. The frugal adopt a beans-and-rice budget in order to crank up the air in homes where they will become hermits for the next five months. All projects that were started with fervor melt into burdens the initiator wishes would simply go away.

My first novel has hit that summer season.

It’s done, and has been for quite some time now. When I first finished it-before I knew anything about the publishing world-I took it to a conference sans edits and put out feelers. My feedback was favorable (the feedback I did get) but I was made aware of the need to do some editing.

After reading a few books on writing, like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King (and feeling appropriately horrified that my first draft was ever let out of its cage), I decided to put the novel through a rigorous edit-walkaway-read program …

You can find the rest of the article here: The Summer Season of Writing.

Nature and Writing

12 Apr

Writers! Are you looking for a unique opportunity to further your skills and meet some new writing friends?D.R. Leo

Check out this new endeavor by my friend, Darren Rome Leo:  Nature and Writing. From the website, “Whether you’re a serious writer, a dabbler, just curious, or devoted to another medium, our workshops offer inspiration, motivation, and real tools to pursue your goals.  Expand your creativity, see the world with a new lens, and apply it to your craft.”

Also, please feel free to share any writing workshops, groups, or programs that you have found helpful.

Happy writing! – JLB

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How To Ensure Half Your Readers Isolate Themselves From Your Books

1 Mar

Tom Robbins has a strong voice. He also uses very colorful language throughout the book, Jitterbug Perfume. Unfortunately, not all of it was impressive to me. Just when I was starting to enjoy his original use of language, (the only redeeming quality, in my opinion) he would throw in a completely juvenile and offensive turn of phrase. I couldn’t get into the story. I felt like I was reading the diary of a thirteen year old boy, or a really perverted old man. I did not care for about half of the descriptions, which made me put the book down. Actually, I may have thrown it out of frustration.

I’ve only had a handful of books that I haven’t finished, and it’s a shame that I had to add this one to the pile. I’m sure that there is a plot, although by the reviews I read on Amazon prior to purchasing it, even that is debatable. The author has been described by some as sounding arrogant and pretentious (I know they are similar terms, but I feel that this accentuates the truth) and I found this to be the case in the 100+ pages that I did read. Oftentimes, I would be trying to follow the story, and then — BAM! — here comes the author, inserting himself throughout the narration in a way that was annoying and forced.

Out of four sets of oddball characters, the ancient king was the only one I found entertaining. I wish he wasn’t so obsessed with his anatomy and the functions of it, but Alobar was the most relatable of all, in my opinion. I found myself skimming ahead just to follow his adventures.

Robbins should not try to write women. They are pitiful, undeveloped characters, and seem to exist in this story for the sole purpose of sexual references. Being a woman, I can tell that Robbins doesn’t care in the least what goes on in a woman’s head. I felt alienated from the story right away.

I would quote the book for examples, but instead of passing along the absurdity and crudeness of Robbins’ writing, here is a “How-To” list, which has only a pinch of sarcasm.

How To Ensure Half Your Readers Isolate Themselves From Your Books

Jitterbug Perfume
Image via Wikipedia

1. Include an obscure reference to a vegetable, preferably even before the story actually begins.

2. Introduce several sets of characters, and move so quickly between them that your reader immediately feels disorientated and therefore does not notice that they are all unbelievable and flat.

3. Complete # 2 within the first 20 pages.

4. Use crude sexual references whenever you feel your reader’s shock value might have worn off.

5. Use twice as many sexual references as that.

6. Don’t make any of your women characters of above average intelligence, since your goal is to offend half of your readers, and women are, like, half the population.

7. Do make your women characters only good for one thing: serving up sex like afternoon tea. Oh, and make them unbelievably eager to perform oral sex. Often.

8. Do force your opinions in throughout the story, but make sure all of the characters think the same way. There can be no arguing back from your creations! Also make sure that readers know there is only one “logical” answer and anyone who disagrees is a complete moron. Or, even worse, a person of faith. The horror!

9. Do imply that your book is the best thing that could ever happen to your reader.

10. And finally, MAKE SURE IT’S OBVIOUS YOU’VE BEEN UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF SOME ILLEGAL SUBSTANCE THE WHOLE CREATIVE PROCESS!

So I have to admit, this book is adored by many people. I don’t understand why, but this book has sold, and has even earned the title of “National Bestseller.” My belief is that it could have been so much better. Who knows? Maybe it wouldn’t have sold as many copies and I’m in the minority.

One last thought: I used to like beets.

What books have you abandoned or struggled to get through?

Season of Details

28 Jan

My sore spot is details. It’s not that I don’t notice little things in my life; it’s that I immediately move on the bare bones of what I need to know to get through the day. Rarely do I stop long enough to absorb the environment around me. As far as sharing the details in my writing, I tend to forget that I am the tour guide into another world, my world of fiction.

Reading Season of Ice has inspired me. (It also scared me. It brought out this fear that I won’t do as well. Or that I will never make it as a writer.) The difference between this story and many others is the author’s attention to details. Donald Maass tells us, “Details are an automatic voice all by themselves. They might seem to limit a novel’s appeal, but in fact they bring it to life.” (Maass, 122) Genesis Sommer, the narrator in Season of Ice, is a real person. What I mean is, while I was reading, I forgot it was fiction. Even though I have very little in common with her as far as life experiences, I was able to identify with the character. It did not limit the novel’s appeal, but rather enhanced it. I read the following passage recently, and I swore Maass was talking straight to me.

“Some novelists imagine it best to have a narrator as…a universal American into whom all readers can project themselves…. Even the most ordinary people have a life that’s unique. The details that make it so are a secret source of what critics glibly refer to as voice.” (122)

The key is to choose wisely which details to include. Too many, and you’ll bog down the story. Not enough and you risk alienating your readers. Season of Ice has the perfect blend.

I think my favorite scene was when Mike Sommer’s mother was praying for her lost son at the lake’s edge. It is a powerful and beautiful scene, completed by relevant details. Do we care what people are wearing in this scene? No. We care more about the raw emotion, and the way this distraught mother interacts with the environment that has taken her son.

Mémère was breaking through the groups of people, moving in swift steps toward the shore, looking at nothing but the water in front of her. “Please my Lord!” she continued to plead.
 By the time she reached the water’s edge, she stood no more than twenty feet from us. Prayerfully, she knelt, cupped her hands together, and dipped them into the icy froth. “S’il vous plait, mon Dieu, aidez-moi a trouver mon fils. Aidez-moi a trouver mon fils. Mon fils,” she cried.
She lifted her hands out of the water. Droplets ran down her arms.
(p 67)

In this passage, we learn the setting details without detracting from the emotion. We learn the distance of which the girls are from Genesis’s grandmother, and also where Mémère is standing. We learn that Mémère is French, since it is natural for people who are upset to return to their primary language. She is praying to God, both in her words and in her actions.

Another of my favorite passages is the very first paragraph of the book. It tells us where the story takes place and when it begins. It is winter in northern Maine.

In the beginning there was snow. Torrents of tiny flakes blew in off the lake, pricked my skin before they melted on my hands and face and tongue. I live in Sebaticuk, a small town in northern Maine on the shores of Moosehead Lake. I no longer think of that massive body as just water but rather a whale of sorts, a creature that I cannot tame and whose belly I cannot see. (p 1)

In addition to the seamless integration of necessary details, there is an element of foreshadowing. From the beginning I had a feeling that Genesis’s father was gone for good. He is in the belly of the whale, and unlike Jonah in the Bible, he doesn’t resurface alive.
Genesis’s reactions to her father’s disappearance throughout the book are more great details that get the readers to identify with her. Her thoughts and actions are relatable to anyone who has dealt with grief. For example:

At that moment, I had the strangest feeling, as if it wasn’t my father out there, but someone else we were looking for – a cousin, or Perry, or one of my father’s friends, and that when I got home, Dad would be there, sitting at the kitchen table with Linda, rubbing her back like he would do and drinking a beer or coffee while we all waited for daybreak and for the snow to clear.
“Gen?” Officer Whalen asked tentatively, “You okay?”
 I didn’t answer him right away. I was standing there perplexed because I couldn’t decide whether my dad would be drinking beer or coffee on a night when someone was missing and the whole family was worried, and I wanted to know, didn’t want to move until I’d figured it out. (p 27)

An overloaded mind tends to hyper-focus on one thing in order to cope with the stress. Most people have experienced it at one time or another, I believe. This scene evokes empathy from those who have been through a traumatic event.

There are many more examples – I have sticky notes on so many pages – but these are the most memorable and favorite examples to me. These are some of the details that make this story come alive, both visually and emotionally.

Works Cited

Maass, Donald. The Fire in Fiction. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2009.

Les Becquets, Diane. Season of Ice. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2008.

Backstory

25 Jan

Today, I did something I thought I’d never need to do: I created a timeline of my protagonist‘s life. Well, not completely, but it was a start. Why did I do it? To understand her better. I only had half a picture of my girl’s current situation. She was angry, confused, lonely, and upset — and I didn’t know entirely why. I needed to know the story before The Story. Not to inundate readers with it, but for my benefit.

Sometimes the writer needs to get the whole story down in order to give the reader the best part.

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