MAKE YOUR CHARACTERS MOVE – TUESDAY WRITING TIP

I started my scribing life as a playwright creating murder comedies like The Body in the Buggy Room and Up The Creek. It was something I did for fun. I joined an amateur theatre group and I learned all about stage direction, what the audience could see and how much the actors really  needed to know.

But thanks to two writerly friends I recently realised that you need to toss the stage direction out the window when you’re writing a novel – you need to immerse yourself in the scene.

Alison Reynolds, author of the very popular Ranger In Danger series and many other great reads and Bren MacDibble author of numerous compelling books and short stories for children and young adults both had some invaluable advice for me.

Alison said:

I wanted the scene with black roots to be more menacing and I’ve marked other scenes where I’ve wanted more drama.

When I looked back at the scenes Alison was talking about, I could see what she meant. I had put people in places instead of allowing them to go there of their own free will – to find their own way to react to what was happening around them. These scenes were static – they lacked emotion, they lacked realism, they lacked drama and they lacked spark.

Bren said,

Descriptions on the move as the characters interact with the landscapes, rooms, building may need to be focussed on as well as watching that the stage direction doesn’t overwhelm the narrative or become robotic.

They were both right. You need to let your characters make their own moves and inhabit the world you have created for them.

WHAT NOT TO DO – FROM AN EARLIER DRAFT

To show you what I mean, here’s an example of  a static scene – even though the characters are moving, it’s forced and not dynamic enough – not enough emotion and tension for the scene.

Dad looks at me miserably “That’s just what I’m afraid of. You don’t see what he’s doing to you – to all of us. It has to stop somewhere. He has to start taking responsibility for his actions.”

Mum tries to side step past him. “We are responsible for his actions. It’s what we let happen that caused this.”

Dad moves to the side. “Go then. Just go. But if you leave now, don’t bother coming back.”

HOW I REWROTE IT

Dad has just about stirred the bottom out of his coffee cup. He lifts it to his mouth and peers at me through the steam. “That’s what I’m afraid of. You don’t see what he’s doing to you – to all of us.”

The oven timer rings. Mum slams or hand on it and the ringing stops, but the vibrations still echo through the room. Dad stands next to me while I take my pizza out of the oven. It looks cooked but I don’t feel like eating it now.

“Shit!’ I burn my finger on the tray and just about drop the pizza on Dad’s foot.

“Sarah!” Mum jangles the car keys in her hand.

Dad takes the pizza from me and puts it on the sink. I run my finger under the cold tape and Dad turns to Mum. “See what Ed does to this family.”

“This wasn’t Ed’s fault, Dad. I burnt myself.”

Dad takes the pizza cutter from the drawer and starts slicing,  just about cuts a hole in the tray. “This business with Ed has to stop somewhere. He has to take responsibility for his actions.”

Mum slams a plate on the bench next to Dad. “But we’re responsible for this! We’re the ones who let it happen.”

Let what happen? I keep running my finger under the cold tap, try to stop the pain.

Dad slides the sawed pizza onto the plate and slams it down hard on the kitchen table. He points to the door. “Go then, just go,” he yells at Mum. “But if you leave now, don’t bother coming back.”

In this new scene I tried to incorporate more of what you would expect to be going on during the conversation – the background stuff – the sort of detail that helps put the reader into the scene and make it more real.

Thanks Alison and Bren for your help.

I hope that sharing this with my blog readers might have helped you too.

Happy writing:)

Dee

TUESDAY WRITING TIP – WRITING ABOUT THE PAST

Today Suzanne Lieurance is visiting from the United States. Suzanne is a freelance writer, children’s author, writing coach and speaker.

Today, Suzanne is going to talk to us about how she writes historical fiction for young readers.

1. Can you tell us about how you became a children’s writer?

Many years ago, I was a classroom teacher during the day, and in my spare time I started submitting short stories and nonfiction articles to a variety of children’s magazines. I also joined SCBWI – the Society of Children’s Books Authors and Illustrators – and became very active in my region. In fact, it wasn’t long before I became the SCBWI advisor for my region. Not long after that, I was offered a contract for my first children’s book, a travel guide for kids called Kidding Around Kansas City. A year or so after that book was released I quit my teaching job so I could become a full time children’s author, freelance writer, and eventually a writing coach.

2. The Lucky Baseball is set in 1941 – how did you go about doing your research for this book?

Well, the first thing I always do when I get a contract for a new book is to go to the library and find every book I CAN about the subject or time period that I’ll be writing about. In this case, I found every book I could about the Japanese-Amercian internment camps of WWII. Once I did some preliminary research, I searched more extensively for all sorts of primary source documents and other materials including photos, books, journals or diaries, videos, etc.

3. Why do you think this book resonates with readers?

I hope young readers identify with Harry, the main character, who faces discrimination and racial prejudice, yet doesn’t let it stop him from working toward his dream of becoming a professional baseball player. I think Harry’s deep connection to his family and his relationships with his friends also resonate with young readers.

4. The Locket is about a young girl fighting for the rights of factory workers. Why do you think her story is so important for today’s readers?

Well, for one thing, sweatshops are still around today. And people are still often treated unfairly because of their race, religion, income level, and background. Plus, I think it’s always important to show young readers they are never too young to stick up for themselves to do whatever it takes to stay safe at home and at work or school.

5. With the World Wide Web, we have access to all sorts of information with a touch of a button. Your writing seems to take you to various parts of the world. Do you visit these places or do you base your writing on research?

Sometimes I visit the places I write about. For example, I wrote a book about Mexico and another book about the ancient Maya. I did travel to Mexico a couple of times–specifically to the Yucatan Peninsula–and I was able to use information from my travels for these books. I also wrote a book about the Philippines, and although I have never been there, at one time I lived on Guam, which has a large filipino population. I used some of what I learned about filipino culture on Guam in my book about the Philippines.

Many times, though, I base my books solely on research done via the Internet, at local libraries, museums, and through primary sources whenever possible.

6. If your research is web based, how do you verify your sources?

I try to use as many government sources as possible since those are usually reliable. I also look for the sites of legitimate organizations–like the Anti-Saloon League, for example. I used that as a source for my book about Prohibition.  I don’t rely on the sites of private individuals no matter how interesting they might be.

7. How do you make events that happened so long ago interesting to today’s readers?

Well, the best way to do that is to create characters readers today will care about. I try to give my characters qualities that today’s readers can identify with. For example, most young boys today can identify with Harry’s love of sports and his desire to become a professional athlete. They might also be able to identify with his family who wanted something different for Harry than what he wanted for himself. I think readers can also identify with Galena and the love she had for her older sister, Anna. I try to give my characters a combination of traits that make them admirable yet vulnerable and prone to making mistakes just like most people are today.

8. As well as your personal website, you have two other websites. Can you tell us why you set up the Working Writer’s Coach http://workingwriterscoach.com/ ?

As much as I love to write, I also still love to teach, and coaching is a lot like teaching. The Working Writer’s Coach gives me a chance to help other writers learn to write and reach their dreams of becoming published.

9. What advice can you give to writers interested in writing historical fiction?

Be sure you do enough research so you can bring the story to life in ways that are true to your characters and also true to the times in which these characters lived. But, above all else, make sure you have a compelling story.

More about Suzanne and her work is available at her website http://www.suzannelieurance.com/