I am ensconced in my room at the ACFW conference now. Had a great evening chatting with a couple of friends about marketing. The conference doesn’t actually start until Thursday. Those of us who are early are here because we have duties. I sit on the Advisory Board and we’re having the annual board meeting on Wednesday.
I read a really excellent book on the plane: HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD MYSTERY, by James N. Frey. This is by the writing teacher James N. Frey, not the James Frey who wrote A MILLION LITTLE PIECES.
It was an excellent read. Frey has written several books with similar titles, beginning with HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL. I’ve never read any of them until now, but I loved what I read today on characters. I highly recommend his book. So I think our next topic will be developing characters. It’s about time we talked about craft again.
I want to wrap up a few odds and ends from today’s comments that you all posted.
Christophe’s comment about when humor is and is not appropriate in a bio was right on the money. Your bio should be sync with what you write.
I liked Camille’s new revisions on her bio. That is a reason that is believable and interesting. Some editor somewhere is going to like that, I think.
Lara asked me to blog next on characters. You win the prize for clairvoyance, Lara! That’s just what I want to talk about next.
Pam asked what to do if two agents want you.
Randy sez: That’s easy: Hire one and marry the other.
OK, that might not be practical or legal. I would ask myself which agent I like working with better. My agent used to be Chip MacGregor, before he left agenting to be a publisher. Chip always said that you should work with people you LIKE, because you’re going to be working together a lot for a long time. That always made sense. I’ve always liked Chip and enjoyed working with him.
Tami asked if it’s possible to buy the CDs of the conference. Yes, I think so. I’ll get more info on that in the next few days. I’m teaching on a topic that I’ve never taught a full-length course at a conference before–internet marketing for novelists. I expect it’ll be a fun course, and I certainly found it helpful to write up my notes (120 pages of them!)
Andra asked a question about proposals: If you’re writing comparisons of your book with others, is it OK to talk about books written in a similar style, even if it’s not the same genre?
Randy sez: Yes it is.
Several of you made suggestions for other topics to discuss. Hold those thoughts, folks! We’ll come back to them shortly. Tomorrow, I’ll try to start talking about how to create characters. Feel free to leave a comment telling me what sort of problems you face in creating your own characters.
Of course, my bio and I won’t be going to the prom anytime soon—freshman here, with a LONG way to go.
Daan Van der Merwe says
I never had any doubt that you will enjoy the conference. I have completed Step 2 of the snowflake method last night so I am eagerly looking forward to the discussions on developing characters.
Funny. We’re both reading about how to write mysteries. 🙂 I’m currently reading YOU CAN WRITE A MYSTERY, which I won from Camy Tang’s blog.
I’ve read HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL, so I guess I will keep an eye out for the mystery one.
Enjoy the conference, Randy.
Enjoy the conference, Randy.
My main problem with portraying/creating a character is going deep and showing his/her emotional depth.
PS I have finally written the one page synopsis for my 60,000 word YA novel. Boy that was hard.
For discussion some time later: Of all the Christian conferences in the States, Randy, if I could one which would you recommend?
Carrie Neuman says
I always have trouble with dialog. I know if you know your character their voice is just supposed to flow, but I don’t have a good ear for that sort of thing. I apparently string sentences together quite differntly from others, but I never heard myself sounding different. I think I sound like I’m just talking, same as everybody else.
I want to write Joss Whedon snappy dialog, and I have no idea how to get there.
Umm, is it neccessary to have a clear villain for the story, or is it ok to make it a mysterious, unknown shadow chasing the characters?
Martha Rogers says
Looking forward to seeing you on Thursday. Sat in on your classes last year and enjoyed them and learned so much. I’ve been so busy getting ready for the conference that I haven’t had time to respond to other articles. I’m having a problem creating conflict with my main character, a 65 year old widow who believes God’s Word and gives all her problems to Him and doesn’t worry about what is going on in her daily life. Looking forward to the lesson.
Lisa Jordan says
120 pages of notes?? Sounds like a great start to a writing manual. 🙂 Have a great conference! I have to sit it out this year. 🙁
Karla Akins says
Enjoy the conference! I’m looking forward to the character-creating blog as that’s my favorite part of writing. I feel so blessed to be learning from such an esteemed teacher! 😉 (How’s that for kissing up?) But sincerely, I wish I could remember how I found you because I’m amazed every day that I get to learn here.
Andra M. says
Thanks again, Randy! Knowing I can add books of similar writing style helps a lot.
I’m also looking forward to learning more about creating characters.
Don’t learn so much at the conference your head explodes!
Mary Hake says
I want to learn more about how to weave in their backstory seamlessly. Sometimes I include things in dialog that sound natural to me, but others may see it as info dump. I hate to do that.
Another great book on writing fiction is by Elizabeth George, On Writing (2004). Something to think about adding to your reading list for your fiction courses. She uses a method similar to Snowflake, and sort of supplemented by Frey’s use of stepsheet and approach to character analysis: begin with an idea; ask key questions to enlarge the idea into a workable story; then do character analyses (from which, she finds, more insight into the plot will emerge); sketch out key scenes on a page or two; enlarge each of those scenes by doing a running plot outline; then do the first draft; she’ll do a second draft; and then ask her readers for comments.
I’ve only recently discovered her mysteries. Well worth reading them; particularly, the recent “Before he shot her”.
I am so unmethodical with my writing it drives me nuts. So, I’m in search of practical application for what I can do character-wise on the fly, or after I have at least one draft down.
No matter how I try, I can’t seem to analyze my characters beforehand. The only thing that’s worked is for them to tell me who they are, otherwise it just seems to fall flat. I do character brainstorming and visualizing before a draft, write down everything I can see, think, and feel about them, and from there I build the plot to the point where I can at least start writing. But everything I try and give them analytically falls flat.
So how do I take that and create in-depth 3-dimensional characters each a gem of their own? Or am I already doing that by feel in the writing itself?
Rachael M says
Im so glad you liked James Frey’s book. ‘How to Write a Damn Good Novel’ is my favourite book on writing and was the first I ever read. Many of his comments resonate with me to this day. My favourite is to ‘always have your characters acting at the maximum capacity or your readers won’t truly respect them’. his stuff on characters is amazing.
Andra M. says
I, too, explore my characters as I write. I have a bare-bones idea of who they are at the outset – what they look like, and one or two personality traits.
If I try to 3D-ify them before I start writing, I find they end up either doing something completely unexpected, or I try to steer them in a direction they’re not supposed to go. When that happens, like you, my story – and even the characters – fall flat.
Plus, part of what thrills me about writing is the process of discovery. I love when my characters surprise me, even if they do frustrate me at times!
Glad to read your mind (now if I could only hear what you’re thinking to blog tomorrow)!
Like Holly & Andra my characters have often felt flat and forced. But I’ve noticed already that my characters are better defined just by following the first few steps of the Snowflake method.
Lois Hudson says
Many of my stories develop from “what if” premises.
Characters emerge from the need to people the story.
Sometimes I assume I’ll need more than I really do.
One WIP started with five siblings (because I had four), then I realized I didn’t have story for them all. I was killing them off in the story. Then I decided to do the humane thing and bury some before even starting the story. Grim, but now it works.
As I develop the necessary characters, I often have faces in mind that I’ve known or seen, or conglomerate characteristics from people I’ve interacted with.
Then I try to find photos that represent each character. They live on my bulletin board and if for some reason they don’t get real enough to me, I know
I need to get to know them better, or replace them.
For one character in a WIP I have her childhood snapshot as well as an adult image found on a greeting card water color. She’s real, and sassy, and has taken over the story she was to be a minor character in.