Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Thoughts on Characterization Lecture for CCSA

Elements of Fiction:

Setting
Point of View
Characterization
Plot
Theme







Writing Prompt:  Two characters want the same physical thing. Write a scene between these two characters. The conflict cannot be resolved. One person cannot surrender the object to the other. They must both continue to want the object. Write this story with a beginning a middle and an end. Don’t bog yourself down with setting up the story with backstory. Simply begin. Begin with the conflict. They can be strangers. They can be friends. Lovers. Friends. Cousins. You decide.  I’ll give you 20 minutes.  Remember the object needs to be physical. Revenge, love, acceptance, forgiveness (and such) are too abstract. 



*Don't Look Ahead*


*I mean it*


*Stop reading*


*It's for your own good*





Fiction Response Sheet

1. What’s something that you liked a lot about the piece, something that you found really successful?

2. When did the conflict between the two characters become clear?

3. Did one character have a stronger motivation for getting the object or did you feel they were equal?

4. Did the scene start at a strong moment? In the middle of action?

5. Was the setting used effectively for this scene?

6. Did the dialogue help develop the characters? Point to one successful moment. 

7. Was the scene satisfyingly resolved?

8. Was there any place in the story where you think an anecdote or small amount of backstory would have helped strengthen one or both of the characters?


9. What’s the most helpful and specific piece of advice you could give the writer of this piece geared toward its revision?




Character Sheet

Making a character tree:

Feet: What are the basic and obvious facts about your character?

What do they look like?
What’s their occupation?
Surface level personal history.
--something embarrassing that has happened to him/her
--an accomplishment
--a failure they’ve suffered
--what is something they’re good at
--what is something


Groin: What your character wants.
Do they want to be liked?
Do they want to be left alone?
Do they want to boyfriend/girlfriend?
Do they want to buy something they perceive as life-changing?

Heart: All they things they need in their life to function. Based on the idea that everybody has a hole in their heart. Where is your character’s hole? What fills it?

These illuminate their flaws.

Throat: External personal. How you project yourself to the world.

Green snakeskin belt.
Mom drinks chai wears green ankle boot.
Hamberg Hoodie.

Left cheek:
How smart is your character?
How do they solve problems?

Right cheek:
What are your character’s ethics?


Crown
What is the full picture of this person?
What archetype do they fun under?







Practical questions I ask myself and expect my reader’s to see in the first three chapters.

1. How do they get to school?
Socioeconomic status.
Mobility in their own life.
Level on independence and supervision.

2. What’s her schedule?
3. Can I chart her day on a calendar?
4. What does her week look like?
5. What big assignments does she have coming up?

6. Who are her three best friends?
7. How long of they been friends?
8. How do they hang out?
9. What are their friendship rules?
10. Is there something they collective want?

11. What is the exact age of your character?
12. Where was she born?
13. How many times has she moved?

14. Does your character feel popular or unpopular?
15. Is she happy?

16. Who does she have a problem with?
17. Why?

18. What do her parents do?
19. How does she feel about their jobs?
20. What bothers her about her parents?
21. What are her household responsibilities?
22. What family rituals do they have?
23. If I looked at their photo album, what would I see?
24.Do they have any art in the house?
25. Who was in charge of decorating it?

26. Does your character have a phone? 27. What rules exist for this?
28. What’s most important in my character’s room?
29. Does she want to change anything?
30. How important is her closet?
31. Can I describe what I see in there?
32. Where does she shop? 33. Eat?
34. Does she keep a journal? 35. What does she say in it?


36. Does she have a pet?
37. What are her responsibilities?
38. What would happen if her pet got sick?

39. What are three things your character would never do?
40. Can you make her do one?

41. If she went on a trip where would she want to go?
42. How connected is she to her extended family?
43. Has anything she loved ever died?
44. What’s her level of interest in sports?
45. Does she have any hang ups about her physical appearance?
46. What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to her?
47. What’s her greatest accomplishment and thing she’s most proud of.
48. What one word would she use to describe herself.
49. What would she buy in the vending machine?
50. When that doesn’t drop, what’s her second choice?


Who are you quick list?

Favorite food.
Favorite way to waste time.
Favorite daydream.
Favorite person in the story who isn’t her friend.  (Aspirational friendship)
Favorite memory.
Favorite dream.
Favorite article of clothing.
Favorite teacher.
Favorite subject.
Favorite assignment she’s working on.

Reverse it:
Least favorite food.
Activity she hates.
Worst memory.
Least favorite person in the story. Can be a terrible enemy or lightweight pest.
Worst experience so far in her life.
Worst nightmare.
Thing she hates to wear.
Teacher or other authority figure she doesn’t like.
Subject she struggles with.
Assignment she loathes.

These aren’t blanket dislikes. I’m trying to get at her reasoning and personal history. Why does she not like going to Idaho History?


YOU:

What are the twenty things YOU want most in this world?

What are ten things that your character wants?


Where is there overlap? Do these lines cross?

I always like to have a picture in my posts. Here is something my husband found last week. Wild sprinkler honey. 

And here is a baby praying mantis living on my son's sunflower. It turns its head and looks at me every time I water the plant. 




Monday, December 4, 2017

Things Are Happening.

Last we left it, I was all about blazing through my summer of projects. To be honest, I'm not even sure which of those I finished. I know I've sold two things (more on that later).  Another thing is out on submission. Another thing is getting ready to go out on submission. And none of them are related in any way to my summer of projects. Also, I just received my cover art for my forthcoming poetry manuscript, Half-Hazard, with Graywolf Press. And my mail carrier delivered copies of my poems appearing in Southern Review and Poetry Magazine. (Also I'm about to do something super secret that I can't talk about yet.) So even though I didn't finish my summer of projects, I still feel productive. AND, I've got a decorated Christmas tree up in my living room right now and I also assisted my son in frosting four ugly sweater cookies, so I feel pretty real-life-calendar-current competent too.


Okay. Here's the other big news. I'm getting ready to film a web series that I co-wrote with my friend and actress/director/writer/restaurant-owner-awesome-person Adria Tennor. *warning* It's not for kids. It's also something I never thought I'd do. But it's nice to surprise myself. I'm scouting locations with Adria and the cinematographer and the rest of the crew. Am I outside my comfort zone? Big time. But I'm adapting. I'm figuring out the landscape and it's enriching me creatively.  And that's important. I'll post more progress as it comes. And I'll share my secrets once I'm able. I've absolutely loved 2017. And I still have one month left! I'll try to do a better job with updates. And I'll definitely post more Christmas cookies. Last year my son and I made Christmas trees and crocodiles. This year we're taking suggestions. . .

*photographic proof of last year's cookies*




Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Going Through the Doors That Open

It's August and I want to tell you where things stand with my Summer of Projects. I completed my villanelle. And I felt good enough about it that I submitted it to both my publisher and a literary journal where I hope it will find a home. So out of my four projects one is done. I'm working madly on the middle-grade novel. And I've made a serious breakthrough about the mystery project where I need to change the point of view. As for the YA novel, I've jotted down notes, but haven't worked on it in a meaningful way this summer. Things aren't happening as fast as I'd like. I need to carve out more time. I hope to make a real push and finish the middle-grade novel this month. Summer doesn't officially end until Friday September 22nd, so I've still got some time. 

One thing I need to confess is that I worked on another undisclosed project and submitted it to my agent and she loved it. I'll talk more about that in another post. The reason I mention it is because it made zero sense for me to write this project when I did. But I have a motto: Go through the doors that open. I mean this literally. For instance, my favorite Mexican restaurant has two doors. One has a very shiny handle and one handle looks untouched. The first time I went there I opened the shiny handle and didn't think twice about it. But the next time my friend led the way, and she tried to open the untouched handle, which is permanently locked. Here's the thing, my impulse is to seek out doors that will open. So if my imagination brings me a fully formed idea, I consider that a door asking to be opened. I worked on this project feverishly. I told my agent it was formed out of obsessive polished pressure. I have a child. Responsibilities. Of course I had to strike a life balance. But I stayed up late and got up early. And literally used every spare second to write this project. Five years ago I would have spent some time doubting whether or not this was a smart use of my time. I had other projects in the queue. But I've learned to trust my creative urges. So I did the fifth project. And it was the right thing to do. 

Okay. I've got to go so I'll leave you with a photo. This summer my husband and son and I traveled to Boston and my friend let us stay at her house (she was away with her girls). 

She texted me: You'll need to move a few dolls off the bed. 

And I arrived at two AM to find this:

 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Winning & Backsliding (at the same time)

So I have great news. The Poetry Foundation selected my manuscript Half-Hazard for the Emily Dickinson First Book Award and Graywolf Press will publish it in October 2018. I've been working on my first poetry manuscript for twenty years so this is a thrilling development. But it also means that I haven't made much progress on my Summer of Projects. Technically it's not summer yet. Technically summer begins on June 20th. So here's the deal. On June 20th I will commit to working on my Summer of Projects three hours a day. Six days a week. No matter what. (I like to think I'll have one day off each week. It is summer.)

I'm going to post my progress here. Wish me luck. By the end of summer I should have:

1) A finished villanelle
2) A finished middle-grade Animal novel 
3) A completed YA Comedy/Romance/Adventure
4) A completed mystery project written in the correct point of view

I know it seems like a lot. But don't worry about me. I actually think I can do this. I'm a burst writer. And I wouldn't state my goals publicly if I didn't think it was possible for me to achieve them. Or at least I don't think I would. Below is a snapshot of the current state of my writing desk. I'll order the disorder tomorrow. Wish me luck.





 
  

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

4 Projects

It's going to happen. This summer I'm going to complete four projects. A week ago, I was aiming for three. But as I pulled everything together for this post I couldn't decide between projects 3 and 4, so I added them both. All the projects are listed below, and I'll track my progress throughout the summer. I'll also try to provide useful insight into my process. I like teaching writing craft classes, so I'll probably indulge in that a little bit here. Summer is officially June 20 to September 22. So by September 23 I'm hoping to feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I really hope this motivates you to pull out your own unfinished projects and wrestle them into the world. (That last sentence might be projection.)

1. 3rd Grade Animal Book (60 pages complete)
2. YA Comedy/Romance/Adventure (120 pages complete)
3. Mystery Project written in wrong point of view (complete, 
    except it's written in the wrong point of view)
4. Complete a Villanelle (over 100 not-quite-working lines)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Character Sheet

The following is a list that supplements my craft talk at Storymakers Conference 2017. If you find any of it helpful that’s great, but it’s really meant to serve as an outline for my lecture, so the meat of most of it might not be readily apparent. Enjoy!

Character Sheet

Making a character tree:

Feet: What are the basic and obvious facts about your character?
(Example follows for type of follow-up questions I’ll ask in the lecture. I only list this information on the Blog for the first topic.)

What do they look like?
What’s their occupation?
Surface level personal history.
--something embarrassing that has happened to him/her
--an accomplishment
--a failure they’ve suffered
--what is something they’re good at


Groin: What your character wants.

Heart: All they things they need in their life to function.

Throat: External personal.

Left cheek:

Right cheek:

Crown


50 practical questions I ask myself and expect my reader’s to see in the first three chapters. (On the Blog I provide the type of questions I ask to develop these questions in the lecture for the first question listed only.)

1. How do they get to school?
What I'm really asking myself:
What’s her socioeconomic status?
How much mobility is in her life?
What’s her level of independence and supervision?

2. What’s her schedule?
3. Can I chart her day on a calendar?
4. What does her week look like?
5. What big assignments does she have coming up?

6. Who are her three best friends?
7. How long of they been friends?
8. How do they hang out?
9. What are their friendship rules?
10. Is there something they collective want?

11. What is the exact age of your character?
12. Where was she born?
13. How many times has she moved?

14. Does your character feel popular or unpopular?
15. Is she happy?

16. Who does she have a problem with?
17. Why?

18. What do her parents do?
19. How does she feel about their jobs?
20. What bothers her about her parents?
21. What are her household responsibilities?
22. What family rituals do they have?
23. If I looked at their photo album, what would I see?
24.Do they have any art in the house?
25. Who was in charge of decorating it?

26. Does your character have a phone? 27. What rules exist for this?
28. What’s most important in my character’s room?
29. Does she want to change anything?
30. How important is her closet?
31. Can I describe what I see in there?
32. Where does she shop? 33. Eat?
34. Does she keep a journal? 35. What does she say in it?


36. Does she have a pet?
37. What are her responsibilities?
38. What would happen if her pet got sick?

39. What are three things your character would never do?
40. Can you make her do one?

41. If she went on a trip where would she want to go?
42. How connected is she to her extended family?
43. Has anything she loved ever died?
44. What’s her level of interest in sports?
45. Does she have any hang ups about her physical appearance?
46. What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to her?
47. What’s her greatest accomplishment and thing she’s most proud of.
48. What one word would she use to describe herself.
49. What would she buy in the vending machine?
50. Why?


Who are you quick list?

Favorite food.
Favorite way to waste time.
Favorite daydream.
Favorite person in the story who isn’t her friend.  (Aspirational friendship)
Favorite memory.
Favorite dream.
Favorite article of clothing.
Favorite teacher.
Favorite subject.
Favorite assignment she’s working on.
What gets her out of bed in the morning?

Reverse it:
Least favorite food.
Activity she hates.
Worst memory.
Least favorite person in the story. Can be a terrible enemy or lightweight pest.
Worst experience so far in her life.
Worst nightmare.
Thing she hates to wear.
Teacher or other authority figure she doesn’t like.
Subject she struggles with.
Assignment she loathes.
What keeps her up at night?

These aren’t blanket dislikes. I’m trying to get at her reasoning and personal history. Why does she not like going to Idaho History?

YOU:
What are the twenty things YOU want most in this world?

What are ten things that your character wants?


Where is there overlap? Do these lines cross?

Messy Desk Update

Here we go. I'm not gonna lie. This was a rush job. I've still got some Post-it note organization to pull off before this is actually a done deal. But before I can tackle my Summer of Projects, I had to have a clean writing space.
In a few days I'll post my projects that I'm going to finish this summer. I'm still waffling on the third one. I can't decide. On Monday I'm commit. Happy writing!