Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Description Challenge

By Jean Kavich Bloom

As an editor, I often encourage authors to describe their characters as creatively as possible. When a book I'm reading for pleasure interrupts the action to tell me Jane is five foot two with eyes of blue and hair so blond, while the poor heroine is tumbling into quicksand with assassins closing in…well, I’m thinking there has to be a better way. 

And when Jane’s description is factually reported in the very first paragraph as though immediate description is a rule (it’s not), we get something like this: Jane strolled along the beach, shielding her light-blue eyes against the sun with one hand, her slim five-foot-five frame bending every few feet to lift another seashell for her collection. She paused and tucked a strand of long, ash-blonde hair behind one ear.  The task of describing Jane is now checked off the author’s list, but I'd rather see a little more creativity.

Here are a few possibilities for a more creative approach, using only height and coloring. 

·         Show relative height when specific height isn’t important. The couple of inches she had on the shorter man in front of her didn’t matter. What mattered was how she felt when his gray eyes suddenly tilted up to look into hers, making her want to kick off her heels and dive in.

·         Make one character note another character’s description in his or her thoughts or in dialogue. “Date her? Her profile says she’s six feet tall and I’m barely five ten. Those green eyes would always be looking down on me. No way!”  

·         Compare one character’s description to another character's in a way that’s relevant to the set up or scene.  Meredith turned her full attention to the man beside her. When Jason was alone, women seemed attracted to his enviable blond hair, blue eyes, and six-foot-one height. But when Paul was there, despite his more common dark coloring and slightly shorter stature, Jason lost them. Paul was the brother who intrigued women apart from his good looks—and they both knew it.

These are just three ideas for more creatively conveying a character’s description. Share some more methods that work for you!

Jean Kavich Bloom is a freelance editor and writer (Bloom in Words Editorial Services). Her personal blog is Bloom in Words too, where she sometimes posts articles about the writing life. She is also a contributor to The Glorious Table, a blog for women of all ages. Her published books are Bible Promises for God's Precious Princess and Bible Promises for God's Treasured Boy. She and her husband, Cal, have three children and five grandchildren.

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Monday, January 9, 2017

5 Ways to Write More than 1 Book at a Time

I have often written multiple books at the same time. It's a part of life when one of your hats is professional writer. But it can also be a real part of the writing journey when you're getting started writing. The challenge is learning how to juggle the multiple characters, plots, and timelines.  Here are a few tips I've developed over the years to let me do exactly that:
[Tweet "Need to write more than 1 book at a time? Overwhelmed? @cara_putman offers 5 #strategies. #amwriting"]
  • Use different music to signal to my brain that I’ve switched times/genres/etc.

Right now I’m writing suspense to an Avengers/movie soundtrack channel I’ve built on Pandora. As soon as it comes on my brain settles down. I use different music for cozy mysteries or WWII historicals. This has worked really well for me over time which is why I listed it first. There's something about the music that lets my mind know immediately which book to focus on in that moment. 
  • Always stop mid scene so I can easily get back into what I was thinking when I stopped writing.

One way to smooth out this process of transitioning from book to book is to make a few bullet point notes of where I saw the scene heading before I end for the day. That alone saves a lot of time and helps me get started quickly when I start the next day or week or whenever I can come back to the story. It also allows me to end knowing that I know where to begin, alleviating the blank page syndrome.
  • Edit what I wrote the day before to get back into the story flow.

This is a great way to get right back into the story. It also helps me to let go of the editing details while I'm writing. If I know I'm going to come back the next day and clean up the spelling and grammar issues, it lets me focus on words on the page. It also helps me get immediately back into the story.  
  • Occasionally I will alternate days, but I don’t always have the luxury.

My friend Lenora Worth does something like this consistently. I loved how she put it:
When I'm working on more than one project, I compartmentalize them. I might work on a suspense in the morning and a romance in the afternoon. Or I pick days and stick to that--suspense on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, other things on Tuesday and Thursday. For a while, I wrote novel length books on weekdays and turned to Indie novellas on the weekend.  Or I'd work on longer books all day and save one precious hour for other projects at the end of the day.
  • Research one while writing the other. 

This last one works well. I like to let my brain think about one book by writing another. It may be researching an idea, reading background books, locating sources, but it's a different kind of creative work that writing. It also allows me the break from an intense focus on one book and allows my subconscious to work on the second book. This process works really well for me. 
If you're feeling the pull to work on two books or have multiple deadlines, I hope these tips help you make that process work. Do you have a different way for writing multiple books? I'd love to read about your tips and strategies. Be sure to leave them in the comments below! Thanks for joining the conversation.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

When Characters Come to Life

While spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at the Abe Martin Lodge in Brown County, I was surprised to learn that the renowned tourist attraction is named for a character of fiction—a cartoon character to be precise. Hoosier artist Kin Hubbard conceived Abe Martin as a backwoods philosopher who commented on the political scene, family life, and a wide range of other topics with more candor than a proper editorial writer could have. You’ll find sketches of Abe and his cohorts all over the inn, as well as the nearby tourist haven of Nashville.
I wonder how many other states have named public works after characters of fiction. Indiana may be unique in that respect. Hubbard drew the character so clearly and expressed his opinions so winsomely that Hoosiers now give old “Abe” as much deference as a real person.
While there, I read the autobiography of Anthony Trollope, a 19th century British satirist who is best known for the Barsetshire Chronicles, a series about the foibles of clergy in an imaginary Anglican parish. Trollope says that the series “failed altogether in the purport for which it was intended” (i.e., to end a system that allowed clerics to use endowments for the poor to feather their own nests). “But it has a merit of its own… The characters of the bishop, of the archdeacon, of the archdeacon’s wife, and especially of the warden, are all well and clearly drawn. I had realized to myself a series of portraits, and had been able so to put them on canvas that my readers should see that which I meant them to see. There is no gift which an author can have more useful to him than this.”
Most of Trollope’s work is now forgotten, but the Barsetshire Chronicles remain in print and became the basis of a “Masterpiece Theater” series by PBS some years ago. These characters still live in the imagination of millions of readers and TV viewers.
How do such characters “come alive”? In these blog posts, we talk a good deal about the techniques for evoking them, but notice Trollope’s comment about how his characters began to take shape: “I had realized to myself a series of portraits,” he says. He visualized each of them as vividly as if he were standing before their portraits, studying every eyelash and wrinkle with appreciation. Only when he saw them in his imagination did he “put them on canvas” so that readers could see them as well.
Do you see your characters that clearly? In Trollope’s opinion, it's the most useful gift an author can have.

Joe Allison has been a member of the Indiana Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. He lives in Anderson, IN. His non-fiction books include Setting Goals That Count and Swords and Whetstones.