Creative Series III: Dialogue, Breathing Life Into Our Characters and Stories

group-1825509_1920Dialogue is how we can allow our characters to breathe life into our story.

It is important to allow our characters to “own” their part of the printed page. What do I mean by making this statement? What happens when we do not allow the voices and images that we have in our minds and creative memory to “own the page”?

Let’s take a look at a sample story, by studying some old work I have not touched for a very long time. I have copied and pasted an excerpt from a chapter I worked on almost 25 years ago.

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     The town was quiet as Talia and Anise walked to the inn.  Nate greeted them as a father would have welcomed part of his brood.  “Talia!”  A deep bass voice boomed out across the room. A tall, large hulk of a man with thick eyebrows, thick moustache and even thicker mop of hair laid a towel down on the bar he’d been cleaning and approached the women in two steps. The tall man gave her companion a warm hug. He turned to the princess. Despite her elaborate disguise, he deduced what she was in less than a minute.  “And who is this?  She looks of royalty, but I’m wondering where her escort is.  Are you both in trouble, lass?”  Talia smiled and nodded.  “Nate, this be the princess, Anise.”  He grasped her hand and shook it violently, then pulled her close to him, a hug strong enough that Anise felt as though she’d been waylaid by a bear.  “Welcome to Forth, princess.  My name is Nate, I am the town’s innkeeper and leader.  May your stay be a pleasant one.”   Talia smiled, saying “We need to find Kalen, Nate.”

     Nate’s eyebrows raised.  “What happened? Why are you looking for Kalen?  Is there something we need to know about Laifetre’?”  Talia nodded.  “Yes,” she replied quickly.  “It’s finally happened, Nate.  Matrime has declared war on Laifetre’ and will attack us soon.  The problem we got is that much of the army is gone.  We’ve only a handful of the royal guard to protect the king.  They demanded the princess be wedded to that dog of a prince, Gerenoux in exchange for peace.”  Nate’s eyebrows seemed to furrow into a single line as he pondered the implications of a war with Matrime.  “I thought that Matrime had no army,” he said slowly.  Talia nodded again.  “You’re right, they didn’t until a year or so ago,” she said, choosing her words carefully.  “It’s said that King Hautered closed a deal with the King of the Trolls, and that he’s got a huge troll army behind him and his men.”  Nate’s face suddenly turned red with rage at the thought of trolls overrunning the countryside.  “Then we’ve all got to fight for King Rosenet!” he roared, slamming his fist down violently on a nearby table.  The entire inn seemed to shake with his wrath as he disappeared into a small back room behind his bar.  “Where’s my wife?  Antimony?  Antimony, where’s my armor?”  They could hear sounds of things being tossed about, bumping into walls.  “Antimony?” he roared again.

     “All right!  All right!” returned a woman’s yell.  “What’s this all about?  ‘Ere you!  What’re you up to?”  Nate’s voice could be heard above the bumping sounds in the next room.  “Where are my armor, and my sword?  We must call the people to arms!”  The woman’s voice was clearly aggravated as they heard scuffling sounds in the back room.  “What?  You going off to war?  And leaving me to care for the inn while you’re gone gallavantin’ all over the countryside?  No!  No!  No!  As the mayor, your place is ‘ere with the town!”  More scuffling sounds ensued until they heard a plaintive “‘Ow!”.  The curtains parted to reveal a small, frail-looking woman leading her large husband by the ear.  “You’re not mucking about in your armor again, to get stuck in that old thing again.  And as for your sword, you sold it to Magle for a good rake, remember?  Now you get back to work cleaning the inn, and let me know when you’re finished so’s I can start with the linens.”  Nate’s face was now red with embarassment, his ear red from the pulling it had received.  “Well,” he said sheepishly.  “Perhaps I can tell you how to find old Kelan…”  Talia smiled in return.

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It contains a lot of dialogue that can help move my story along. I however, see 3 paragraphs containing condensed material that seems to blend into each other. The plot seems pretty good, but I can’t tell, because the story is so condensed. What can I do to improve what I wrote? Well, let’s start by untangling the narration from the dialogue. (By the way, I handed this to my mentor, a former editor of a large newspaper. I had not seen so much “blue pencil”, in a very long while.)

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The town was quiet as Talia and Anise walked to the inn.

Nate greeted them as a father would have welcomed part of his brood.  “Talia!”  His deep bass voice boomed out across the room. A tall, large hulk of a man with thick eyebrows, thick moustache and even thicker mop of hair laid a towel down on the bar he’d been cleaning and approached the women in two steps. The tall man gave her companion a warm hug. He turned to the princess. Despite her elaborate disguise, he deduced what she was in less than a minute.  “And who is this?  She looks of royalty, but I’m wondering where her escort is.  Are you both in trouble, lass?” 

Talia smiled and nodded.  “Nate, this be the princess, Anise.” 

He grasped her hand and shook it violently, then pulled her close to him, a hug strong enough that Anise felt as though she’d been waylaid by a bear.  “Welcome to Forth, princess.  My name is Nate, I am the town’s innkeeper and leader.  May your stay be a pleasant one.”  

Talia smiled, saying “We need to find Kalen, Nate.”

Nate’s eyebrows raised.  “What happened? Why are you looking for Kalen?  Is there something we need to know about Laifetre’?” 

 Talia nodded.  “Yes,” she replied quickly.  “It’s finally happened, Nate.  Matrime has declared war on Laifetre’ and will attack us soon.  The problem we got is that much of the army is gone.  We’ve only a handful of the royal guard to protect the king.  They demanded the princess be wedded to that dog of a prince, Gerenoux in exchange for peace.”  

 Nate’s eyebrows seemed to furrow into a single line as he pondered the implications of a war with Matrime.  “I thought that Matrime had no army,” he said slowly. 

 Talia nodded again.  “You’re right, they didn’t until a year or so ago,” she said, choosing her words carefully.  “It’s said that King Hautered closed a deal with the King of the Trolls, and that he’s got a huge troll army behind him and his men.” 

 Nate’s face suddenly turned red with rage at the thought of trolls overrunning the countryside.  “Then we’ve all got to fight for King Rosenet!” he roared, slamming his fist down violently on a nearby table.  The entire inn seemed to shake with his wrath as he disappeared into a small back room behind his bar.  “Where’s my wife?  Antimony?  Antimony, where’s my armor?”  They could hear sounds of things being tossed about, bumping into walls.  “Antimony?” he roared again.

     “All right!  All right!” returned a woman’s yell.  “What’s this all about?  ‘Ere you!  What’re you up to?” 

 Nate’s voice could be heard above the bumping sounds in the next room.  “Where are my armor, and my sword?  We must call the people to arms!” 

 The woman’s voice was clearly aggravated as they heard scuffling sounds in the back room.  “What?  You going off to war?  And leaving me to care for the inn while you’re gone gallavantin’ all over the countryside?  No!  No!  No!  As the mayor, your place is ‘ere with the town!” 

 More scuffling sounds ensued until they heard a plaintive “‘Ow!” 

 The curtains parted to reveal a small, frail-looking woman leading her large husband by the ear.  “You’re not mucking about in your armor again, to get stuck in that old thing again.  And as for your sword, you sold it to Magle for a good rake, remember?  Now you get back to work cleaning the inn, and let me know when you’re finished so’s I can start with the linens.” 

 Nate’s face was now red with embarrassment, his ear red from the pulling it had received.  “Well,” he said sheepishly.  “Perhaps I can tell you how to find old Kelan…”  Talia smiled in return.

 

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Well, it looks a little better, but still seems to stumble all over itself. Looking at what I have separated, it feels flat, like it was run over by a truck.

One of the most effective techniques about working with dialogue is to separate it from our narrative. That means getting rid of “he said”, “she said”, “she cried”. What we can do instead, is to further allow our characters to breathe by giving them and their emotions total rein over our story, by separating the narrative and action from the dialogue.

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The town was quiet as Talia and Anise walked to the inn. 

Nate greeted both of them as a father would have welcomed back part of his brood. 

“Talia!” 

A deep bass voice boomed out across the room as he laid a towel down on the bar he’d been cleaning and approached her in two steps, covering a distance of what seemed like yards to Anise.  Giving her companion a warm hug, he turned to the princess, a tall, large hulk of a man with thick eyebrows, thick moustache and even thicker mop of hair. He sized her up in less than a minute. 

 “And who is this?  She looks of royalty, but I’m wondering where her escort is.  Are you both in trouble, lass?” 

 Talia smiled and nodded. 

 “Nate, this be the princess, Anise.” 

 He grasped her hand and shook it violently, then pulled her close to him, a hug strong enough that Anise felt as though she’d been waylaid by a bear. 

 “Welcome to Forth, princess.  My name is Nate, I am the town’s innkeeper and leader.  May your stay be a pleasant one.”  

 Talia smiled.

 “We need to find Kalen, Nate.”

  Nate’s eyebrows raised. 

 “What happened? Why are you looking for Kalen?  Is there something we need to know about Laifetre’?” 

 Talia nodded. 

 “Yes. It’s finally happened, Nate.  Matrime has declared war on Laifetre’ and will attack us soon.  The problem we got is that much of the army is gone.  We’ve only a handful of the royal guard to protect the king.  They demanded the princess be wedded to that dog of a prince, Gerenoux in exchange for peace.” 

 Nate’s eyebrows seemed to furrow into a single line as he pondered the implications of a war with Matrime. His voice became slow and deliberate.

 “I thought that Matrime had no army.”

 Talia nodded again, choosing her words carefully.

 “You’re right, they didn’t until a year or so ago. It’s said that King Hautered closed a deal with the King of the Trolls, and that he’s got a huge troll army behind him and his men.” 

 Nate’s face suddenly turned red with rage at the thought of trolls overrunning the countryside. 

 “Then we’ve all got to fight for King Rosenet!”

 He slammed his fist down violently on a nearby table, as his voice crescendoed into a roar.  The entire inn seemed to shake with his wrath as he disappeared into a small back room behind his bar. 

 “Where’s my wife?  Antimony?  Antimony, where’s my armor?” 

 They could hear sounds of things being tossed about, bumping into walls.

 “Antimony?”

 His voice could be heard very clearly through the wall.

 “All right!  All right!”

 A woman’s yell resounded from the upper floor of the tavern.

 “What’s this all about?  ‘Ere you!  What’re you up to?” 

 Nate’s voice could be heard above the bumping sounds in the next room. 

 “Where are my armor, and my sword?  We must call the people to arms!” 

 The woman’s voice was clearly aggravated as they heard scuffling sounds in the back room. 

 “What?  You going off to war?  And leaving me to care for the inn while you’re gone gallavantin’ all over the countryside?  No!  No!  No!  As the mayor, your place is ‘ere with the town!” 

 More scuffling sounds ensued until they heard a plaintive, “‘Ow!”

 The curtains parted to reveal a small, frail-looking woman leading her large husband by the ear. 

 “You’re not mucking about in your armor again, to get stuck in that old thing again.  And as for your sword, you sold it to Magle for a good rake, remember?  Now you get back to work cleaning the inn, and let me know when you’re finished so’s I can start with the linens.” 

 Nate’s face was red with embarrassment, his ear as red as his cheeks from the pulling it had received.  His voice became more sheepish, less enthusiastic. 

 “Well…perhaps I can tell you how to find old Kelan…” 

 Talia smiled in return.

I can compare what we did to painting our ideas – in print.

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Our canvas was something like this – cluttered and almost one-dimensional.

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In our next step, we were able to separate colors, but it still seemed to lack any kind of substance or shape.

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By allowing our characters to “own the page”, we could display each character as distinctly as our painting above; each character mixed with their own dialogue, separated by either description or action, a culmination of separate colors, shapes, sizes and dimensions. We allowed our dialogue to create action within our story by separating the different voices on each page. I still see areas where the plot can be reworked or even restructured. One very good reason I am able to see changes that can be made to my story,  is because I separated the dialogue between my characters.

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Our result is a clear-cut story taking place in an inn. With a little more work, our characters can now come alive because we separated dialogue from description or action.

Note: This article was painstakingly edited and proofread by booksellers and a former journalist/editor.

Next in our Creative Series


Creative Series IV: Planning, Outlining and Editing…A Second Set of Eyes.

 

Creative Series III: Action in our stories. Too Much or Too Little?

Action is an important part of many stories.

Normally, this scene is what many people envision as action.

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A majority of readers and often new writers, envision action involving war, death or some kind of danger. The description of action does not need to employ such techniques.

Action is often used as a kind of fulcrum. Imagine a story like a rollercoaster. Writers can learn a lot from rollercoaster rides. If you have ever been on a rollercoaster, the feeling of going up, is a small comparison to the feeling of dropping down. As your rollercoaster car moves up, to the very apex of your climb, the movement is slow. As your rollercoaster car moves down, gravity takes over as your car picks up speed, faster and faster, until you reach the bottom of your ride, leading to another ascent (often a bit faster), back up on the steep hills of your ride. Perhaps in between your drop, you also experience twists and turns. The best stories are often compared to rollercoaster rides, due to literary twists and turns that the writer employed (or deployed) to make the story not only interesting, but compelling.

How do we visualize action in our story?

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How does a painter or photographer evoke action as an image? Action can take on many shapes, colors, dimensions or sizes. When I mention the word shapes, what are you thinking of in your mind? Are you thinking of a square, triangle, hexagon or some other shape? What about color? When you think of color, are you thinking of color you might see in a painting, photograph or as part of a more solid object? Speaking of objects, what about dimensions? When an object has 2 dimensions, what do you see opposed to an object with 3 dimensions? What would a 4-dimensional object look like to you? Can you picture 4 dimensions in your mind? Which brings size to mind? How large would your object be in your mind? Is your object small, medium or large? What is large to you? What is small to you? My point in this entire exercise, is to point out that what you see in your mind, needs to be transferred to what you are writing in a way that your reader is seeing something similar to what you are seeing.

As a writer, does your action have to follow a particular pattern?

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Looking at the image above, how would you describe this action, so that it moves up and down? Perhaps even adding twists and turns to it, to offer changes that can occur within an action? Many beginning writers tend to follow action almost mechanically, like steps leading up to or down from a stairway. What would you add to the action above, to make it more pliable, or less predictable? Unpredictability is something a writer can add to their story which makes it more appealing.

Action in free fall.

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Here is an action you can play with. As you are falling, what is happening? How can you describe this action, yet give it appeal? At this point in time, you are working in different dimensions, are you not? What kinds of shapes does free fall offer a writer? How many dimensions does free fall give to a writer? How predictable is this image that you are looking at now? What can this person do differently, while they are in free fall that could change their path of descent? Think about what people do in free fall. Do they become unconscious? Not likely. They might, due to atmosphere or lack of protective gear. But more often than not, they are perfectly conscious, all the way to the end of their free fall.

Watch this video about free fall.

Describe what you see. Paint a picture with this action. Work on showing the colors and feeling that you get, as you paint this picture with your words.

Here is another video, without a parachute.

And here is one more video of a person free falling with no parachute or protective gear.

And here is one more video of a person free falling with no parachute, into a net. This jump is now in the history books.

Now that you know what free fall is like, describe what you have seen as an action. Don’t forget to include the colors that you are seeing. There is shape to these videos, is there not? There is spatial dimension in these videos. How can you tell what is up and what is down? Describe what up looks like and what down looks like in your action. Don’t forget how important color is, as you describe what is happening. How is the person feeling? How are you feeling as you watch these videos? That feeling is an important dimension in describing your action. What about the twists and turns of what you are seeing? Could the possibility of failure enter in as a twist or turn? There is so much that you can do as a writer, just describing action in free fall.

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Listen to how these surfers describe their sport and how their interpretation of their sport is more of an art form, than an action. Describe the action of surfing, based on what you see in the video and how the surfers describe the difficulty of what they are doing. It is the level of difficulty of what they love to do, that affords this action a certain kind of appeal to many people.

Is surfing a sport that is only appealing to the young? How would you describe this?

Notice the difference in styles that surfers employ. Describe the differences that you can see, employing the use of shape, color, dimension and size.

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Different booksellers offer fiction in different categories: Fiction & Literature, Fiction, Graphic Novels & Comics, Literature, Manga, Mystery, & Crime, Poetry, Romance, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Thrillers, Westerns. Another bookseller separates their books into more general categories: Classics, Contemporary, Essays, Genre fiction, Historical fiction, Humor and satire. Stories laden with action are often referred to as action thrillers or thrillers. The author is normally the person who determines what category their book will be listed as, but distributors or publishers often have a hand in determining in what genre the book will be offered for sale.

There are some readers and authors who claim that too much action in a book can give it the feel of a B-rated movie.

How would you improve this video?

Here is an example of action that you can’t buy.

Next in our series: How research can make a story.

 

Creative Series III: Perspective and Point of View. How Character Dialogue and Narrative Can Tell A Story

First Person Narrator: Definition & Example – Video & Lesson Transcript | Study.com

We generally say that First Person is a noun. I is a noun. We is also a noun. You is an example of a Second Person perspective or point of view.  He, she or it is an example of a Third Person perspective or point of view.

Point of View in Fiction: First Person, Third Person & More – Video & Lesson Transcript | Study.com

If you have ever watched a movie, you have been seeing dialogue tells a story.

You have a choice when you are writing a story. You can:

  1. Narrate the story
  2. Allow your characters to tell your story

Watch this clip from the original voiceover theatrical release of “Blade Runner”, narrated by Harrison Ford.

Here, the story is a voiceover by Harrison Ford (Rick Deckard) being told by the main character.

Here is the same footage, different clip, without a voiceover narration. Which one do you prefer?

Is any story is best told, when the author (or writer) is not telling YOU the story?

That choice is up to you, the writer. We are discussing are specific techniques: Third Person perspective, Second Person perspective and First-Person perspective.

Third Person perspective

Third person perspective is when I am telling you the story about someone.

Third-Person Point of View: Definition & Examples – Video & Lesson Transcript | Study.com

Derron discussed his feelings about what happened, the bullets whining past his ears and the screams of people dying, just outside of Qung Tri with Natalie. He went on to describe the orders given by his commanding officer. His hands trembling before the intensity of his emotions brought him to his knees…he described the orders that his Commander, Evans gave to kill anyone that stood in their path. Derron even related how because of those orders, he shot and killed a woman with a baby. Orders that resulted in the deaths of over two hundred people that night, their deaths and the guilt that he held in his heart.

If you are feeling somewhat detached about this person’s life, you are probably right. Third person perspectives normally do not allow you, the reader to discover this character, at least not fully. It is as if you are looking at the notes of a psychologist, describing the person’s feelings about something that happened.

Second Person perspective

Second Person Point of View: Definition & Examples – Video & Lesson Transcript | Study.com

Second Person perspective is normally not used in creative writing, but relegated to writing “How-To”, technical writing, advertising, songs, speeches or quotes. When writing in second person, you are using words (pronouns) such as:

  • You
  • Yours
  • It
  • Its

Probably the best example of using a Second Person perspective that brings to mind, this very unique technique, would be the Outer Limits introduction by Vic Perrin.

[One of the original scripts] “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to – The Outer Limits.”

First-Person perspective

First Person Narrator: Definition & Example – Video & Lesson Transcript | Study.com

First person perspective is a technique that is used to allow the character to tell the story, rather than a narrator telling a tale. It is a technique that can allow the reader to better understand the character, perhaps even look at them as a human being. Dialogue is how you, the writer, is telling the story. It is how you are allowing your reader to experience your character “three dimensionally”, rather than in “two dimensions”.

“We ran into position about four clicks from Qung Tri. I remember hearing the incessant whine of what sounded like insects droning past my ears. I never realized that those were bullets just missing my head.”

I pinch my fingers together next to my right ear.

“Commander Evans told us it was just a routine patrol. Wasn’t true.”

I shake my head as tears begin to well up in my eyes.

“God…damned enemy was in front of us, firing in all directions. They didn’ know where we was. We just keep walking forward. “Move forward men!” he says. “Move forward. Keep firing at anything you see!” So’s we’s movin’ forward, you know? Then all of a sudden…”

My hands begin to tremble.

“All of a sudden, them civilians come pouring out of the building. All the while, Evans is telling us, “Keep firing! Goddam it! Don’t you stop! Any of those civilians gets in your way, you shoot ’em in the head!” So’s we keep moving forward. People coming at me, pleading with me on their knees! Their knees! “No shoot! No shoot!” And I keep firing at ’em.”

My arms rise up to clutch a make-believe rifle.

“I shot a woman. With a baby! All the while, she’s beggin’ me. Holdin’ her baby up to show me that she’s a mom, you know? And I shoot her in the head and keep walkin’ forward, firing ahead, while Evans keeps yellin’ at us to keep firing.”

I sink to my knees.

“I hate what we did. I hate’s what we did that night. We killed over 200 hundred that night, to get to the enemy. over 200 people…”

Marrying dialogue with description.

Many stories today, are told using a combination of perspectives.

Third Person Limited Narrator: Definition & Examples – Video & Lesson Transcript | Study.com

You can combine dialogue with description. In other words, you can use words such as:

  • Said
  • Related
  • Talked
  • Spoke

These words can be used before the character speaks. There are many writers and authors, who employ this technique. (I personally, have “walked away” from doing so, electing instead to simply allow my character to speak within my narrative prose.) You however, may want to use some of these words. My suggestion is to stick with that whatever method you choose to tell your story. Don’t mix them up. Readers tend to get confused, if you suddenly deviate from your chosen method of perspective.

Here is the first-person perspective technique, combined with a more narrative style.

Derron sat back a moment, the glass of bourbon and soda dropping from his once-clenched fist to shatter on the concrete floor. His face metamorphosed into a mask of pain, eyes glassy, as he looked up to the ceiling.

“We ran into position about four clicks from Qung Tri. I remember hearing the incessant whine of what sounded like insects droning past my ears. I never realized that those were bullets just missing my head.”

Derron pinched his fingers together next to his right ear.

“Commander Evans told us it was just a routine patrol. Wasn’t true.”

Derron shook his head as tears began to well up in his eyes.

“God…damned enemy was in front of us, firing in all directions. They didn’ know where we was. We just keep walking forward. “Move forward men!” he says. “Move forward. Keep firing at anything you see!” So’s we’s movin’ forward, you know? Then all of a sudden…”

Derron’s hand began to tremble.

“All of a sudden, them civilians come pouring out of the building. All the while, Evans is telling us, “Keep firing! Goddam it! Don’t you stop! Any of those civilians gets in your way, you shoot ’em in the head!” So’s we keep moving forward. People coming at me, pleading with me on their knees! Their knees! “No shoot! No shoot!” And I keep firing at ’em.”

His arms rose up, as he took aim at nothing, clutching a make-believe rifle, lost in his dream as he recounted his tale.

“I shot a woman. With a baby! All the while, she’s beggin’ me. Holdin’ her baby up to show me that she’s a mom, you know? And I shoot her in the head and keep walkin’ forward, firing ahead, while Evans keeps yellin’ at us to keep firing.”

Derron sank to his knees, his head buried in his hands, sobbing uncontrollably. He gave the appearance of a very old and frail man, as his body shook in between gasps of sadness and anger.

“I hate what we did. I hate’s what we did that night. We killed over 200 hundred that night, to get to the enemy. over 200 people…”

Sometimes, narrative can lessen the impact in the telling of a tale. Again, it is up to you, the writer to decide how you want to describe your character to your audience. What kind of impact do you want to leave them with? How do you want to tell your story?

Next in the series

Next in the series: Action in our stories. Too Much or Too Little?

Creative Series III: Breathing Life Into Your Characters and Your Story

How does a writer breathe life into their story?

People are the spice of life. Modern day storyteller/songwriters like Jim Croce and Harry Chapin were instrumental in exposing us for what we are – stories. They were part of a generation when many stories were told in song. It was a time that harkened back to ancient times, when travelling bards (“musical storytellers”) would travel from town to town, making their living by reciting or retelling stories handed down through the ages with one musical instrument and their voice.

It is the predictability and the unpredictability of the human spirit that can make or break a story.

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As human beings, we have the ability to not only think, but cause or react to changes within our environment. Our environment can be any part of us or the world around us. If you think about it, any story has to have its own world and within that world, an environment.

Philosophy is our bread and butter.

Many years ago, I was a college student sitting in a philosophy class. Everyone in the class was involved in a heated exchange, some to the point of screaming at others. Our professor was sitting back in his seat, calmly observing our hotly contested debate. The discussion?  It was over a single word: Determinism.

Determinism, if you did not follow the link argues whether we determine our fate.

If you have never taken a philosophy class, you have been missing a lot about what makes us tick as a species. Simply stated, determinism is cause and effect. Does nature, environment, politics, biology or genetics, behavior, culture, society, psychology, language, economic status or technology affect our fate? In simpler terms, are we the quintessential lemmings, destined to follow each other over the cliffs to our deaths? Our argument took place, after I gave a very short presentation on why God is Evil. My task was to take an argument that I did NOT agree with and convince my fellow classmates that I was right. My mentor for this exercise was philosopher and confirmed atheist Baron d’Holbach, a man that I did not agree with…yet had to support to get a passing grade. I’m not going into particulars, but I am going to argue that you, as a writer, have the choice of determining the fate of your characters.

What makes a character evil?

First, let’s look at what makes a character evil? Hitler for example, was considered evil by many standards. From a philosophical point of view, what “determined” Hitler’s fate? When you study him from a standpoint of leadership, he was a charismatic politician, who was able to bring a country that was destitute and poverty-stricken, “adept at using populist themes, including the use of scapegoats, who were blamed for his listeners’ economic hardships.” – Wikipedia

What makes a character good?

Our second look is a character who is often espoused, or portrayed as “good”, Abraham Lincoln. What factors contributed to your opinion or public opinion as his being a “good” character? Did determinism have a hand in his fate? If any factors had changed, regarding how Lincoln was raised, whether the Civil War had occurred or if he had not become a lawyer, would Lincoln be the “good” character many of us think of, today?

The best stories are an exercise in determinism.

How you determine your character acts and reacts to situations, can have an effect, not on the outcome of your story, but on the success of your story. Characters, like people, can change. Unless you decide that you do not want your character to change. Can a weak leader become a strong leader? How would you, the writer, demonstrate this? Can a character become amusing in a tense situation?

Understanding your story, why you are writing it, even empathizing with your character can help you breathe life into your story.

So, how can you create a character?

You can create a character from real life. People have all kinds of stories. It is those stories that guide your character’s actions, like a kind of roadmap.

Next in the Series: It’s all about the character AND the dialogue.

The Newest Peeve Post: “Peeved About Relatives”

Click here to head over to my newest post!

frogs-1413787_1920If you’re one of those people who has been feeling ransacked, waylaid and dismayed about your relatives, or their visits, this Peeve post is for you!

venice-2221095_1920In this post, I discuss many of the problems that happen, can happen or do happen to you when relatives decide to come and visit YOU.

Creative Series III: The Creative Writer

So, why develop a blog about how to write creatively?

puzzlementSome of us DO have problems writing creatively (or thinking of what or how we want to express ourselves) at times. How do I know? Probably because I have been a professional trainer for the better part of 40-odd years. (Yes, I started as a student, teaching other students how to write, when I was in high school. So yes, I know what I’m talking about.) For some of us the writing process, especially writing when you don’t “feel” like writing is really hard. Some of us feel that it is so difficult that we will downright procrastinate when we set ourselves down to write, or we may even “throw in the towel”, convinced that we can’t write creatively. We may even be feeling ill, perhaps we are feeling emotional about something happening in our lives or just feeling “plain, old, lazy”. So as a writer, what do you do?

The way to set your mind straight.

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If you are a person who has ever held a position in a company for a period of years, how were you so successful in doing so? How about if you are a mechanic, who gets up at 5 A.M. and doesn’t stop until 9 A.M.? Or if you work in an office? You arise at 5 or 6 A.M. to get ready to go to the office to start work at 8 A.M. or 9 A.M. and you stay at the office until 5 P.M., get in your car or wait for the bus to return home so that you can start the process all over again in just a few hours. If you think about writing as a business (YOUR business), you are setting your mind along a specific path to success as a creative writer. The difference is that you are self-employed, so as a result, you answer to…you. Write like you are going to the office:

alarm_clock

  1. Set your alarm
  2. Take a shower
  3. Fix yourself up, put on some clothes (no underwear or pajamas)
  4. Eat your breakfast
  5. Go into your office or travel to a location where you can write undisturbed
  6. Look around you for a moment and pick up where you left off

I don’t know where to start, or I don’t know what is next.

mind_map

As a writer, I always map out everything before I write. It’s known as an outline. Would you like an example? Okay. Here is an example of me in with “my writing pants on”.

Creative Writing Exercise

I am looking at a magazine on the rack in my local Barnes & Noble Booksellers (isn’t having a local bookstore to visit, rather than depend on a website, marvelous?) I happen to look at a sports magazine today, seeing a picture of an island getaway on the cover. Let’s take an island in the Caribbean that we have always wanted to go to for a visit. Let’s go to Turks & Caicos, located in the Atlantic Ocean. Do me a favor, go to the link that I gave you and look at the island.

TurksAndCaicos

Look at the history of Turks & Caicos islands.

Just where exactly is Turks & Caicos in the Atlantic Ocean? Is it next to some hot spot country with all kinds of problems that you read about in the news? Here is what I do, I grab the CIA Factbook online for answers. At the very bottom of the CIA Factbook, are any problems that might be occurring in that country or island. Is it a spot that is not written about, except in travel journals? I have a character who is visiting the islands for a vacation. Can you see what is going on in your mind? Picture the person getting off the plane, not in an airport, but stepping off of a runway ladder into a brilliant sunny day. Our character can see the ocean from the top of the runway ladder.

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What is our character going to do in Turks & Caicos?

As a creative writer, I was always taught to get my character in trouble, and to do it at a moment when I personally, least expect it. So, I put myself in my character’s shoes. What can happen to our character, as soon as our character gets off the plane? Are you seeing where I am going with this example? Click on the links that I gave you prior to this sentence, they are links to real life dramas that unfolded on vacation islands. I am giving you an example which required no thought, no real outline at first, but now that I am seeing a video in my head about my character, now I can start mapping out my story.

whereDoYouGo

So, now that I have you thinking about Turks & Caicos, what can happen?

Let’s start an outline…a very brief outline of our character and our story. I’ll make it easy for you. Follow the link that I gave you from Writer’s Digest, download and print out what they give you for your story and start getting an idea for this story. If our story going to be a drama, mystery or comedy? Is the island we are on filled with corruption?

knowledge-history

Take lessons from history.

There are all kinds of things that could happen to our character. Think of everything we could do with this character, not to mention the plot or story. We could start in our time, even go backward in time to…perhaps…the days of the pirates, when Turk and Caicos was beautiful and very, very dangerous. So, our story could shift from being a murder mystery to a fantasy time travel sort of story. What kind of fun could you have with that kind of story?

When I was in the service, my ship had docked at St. Thomas for about a week.

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I remember one of our guys was attacked, leaving a taxi. He was so drunk that his attackers had no problem surprising him, beating him down with baseball bats and taking his wallet. He had 17 stitches into his skull the next day. How do I know? Because I was the person assigned to escort him to a neighboring ship, so that the ship’s doctor could suture his injuries. Our next port was about 4 weeks later. The shipmate who was attacked had been received his new paycheck, with a new ID card, so that he could get off the ship. He went out much wiser that night, not drinking so much, but became involved in an incident, because he “wanted some payback”.

equality-gender

Is our character male or female?

In our day and age, is gender THAT important? Yes! Gender is still an important issue today. When it comes to sales, it can sometimes make a huge difference. We (the world) are still in the center of controversy, when it comes to the differences between men and women. Your story could reflect those differences. A strong female character could mean a crucial difference between selling 500 copies and 50,000 copies or more. If you are a male and writing about a female, you better do your homework. If you are a female and writing about a male, use a fantasy you have about how a male should be.

Why am I saying this?

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Even Randy Pausch had to tell his students, “No shooting violence and no pornography. Not that I’m opposed to those in particular…but that’s been done in VR. All right? (Laughter from the room.)” Randy then added, “And you would be amazed at how many 19 year-old boys are completely out of ideas, when you take those off the table.”  Men rarely grow up. So, if you are a male…and you ONLY want to write to a MALE audience…or if you want to stay in a particular type of genre, I suggest that you try something different.

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Is our character someone who will fight back if provoked?

We want to get our character in trouble and keep getting our character in trouble. Or as one might say, “Out of the frying pan and into the fire”. Many travelers can get caught up in trouble. Trouble may come in the form of animal attacks as well. What about diving off the coast of the island, maybe a tour…and our character is involved in a shark attack. We could have our character survive a natural calamity, based on a theory that methane bubbles could have been a cause of the Bermuda Triangle.

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All you need is a little research.

Now, let your imagination run wild!

quizzical

Next in our series: Breaking it down: How to Breathe Life Into Your Character.

The Monster Awakens…

3 - CopyOkay, I have started the engine for 5Artz.

My partner feels that we are ready to start and that I am being too obsessive about wanting to ensure we have a perfect or near perfect website before we get started.

I will confer with Bill Guthrie, but I am sure he will agree.

Bill_Guthrie

I have been sitting on this too long.

So here is the plan.

I am starting with a fundraiser campaign and free membership, so that you can keep your eye on me. I will begin advertising on Facebook, this Saturday, the 29th of April to begin data collection.

If I am successful in raising funds to make 5Artz legitimate, I will switch this from a partnership to a corporation. Once the legal stuff is in place, I will begin refining work on two 5Artz stores:

  1. The mobile app store will only be available for paying members to sell short work.
  2. The 5Artz website will feature its own store for members to sell their completed work: Books, CD’s, DVD’s, etc. We’re not an Etsy clone, we are all about the five creative disciplines: Art, Writing (creative, how to’s, etc.), Music, Photography and Performing Arts (Podcast CD’s, etc.)

file000370626123My reasoning for the above is this: We are going to have a mixed bag of members. We will probably have novices through experts.

The site is geared for novices.

I want people who consider themselves “C-listers”, “D-listers” and “F-listers”, whether they are or not.

I want our members to have the opportunity to grow.

blue big lightbulb shining surrounded by group of people
concept for teamwork, imagination, creativity and idea generation as a group or team

I am not overlooking members who are semi-pros and pros. I’d like to get member pros into another area of the 5Artz world – sharing what they know for a price that members can afford. I see pros offering classes for $800.00, $1,500.00…I want my members to be able to afford the lessons. I don’t know right now…maybe create six month’s content.

That means learning how to develop curriculum (if you don’t know how) at $7.99 or $10.99 a month.

file0001326995371By creating dripped content memberships from experts, members will have access to material that will help them in their endeavors. Heck, we could even create “finishing schools” by our expert members for members who can afford it. (You can’t gouge someone who doesn’t have the cash to spend.) Besides, if we get to the point where we have tens of thousands of members, that could mean a lot of money in the long run for our experts. We’ll need money to pay the coders to revamp the website, so that credit for courses is immediately converted to cold, hard cash for the teacher or we devise some system that is specific to its course developer.

I’ve got all kinds of plans for 5Artz, but I can’t do it without community support.

noisy+neighbor

That means eventually paying customer service people to respond to complaints, suggestions, personality issues, you name it. I can probably outsource it for a while, but that will become a financial nightmare very quickly, as well as an inability to control our service in-house.

I’d like to add a voice chat server to 5Artz as well.

21.once-you-replace-negative-thoughts-with-positive-o

Voice chat could be an effective way of dealing with issues, as well as a really cool community component…for the community. If anyone wants to be a pain, one can always mute them. If the member is really bad, we can always issue a time out for a while. We can reinstate the member to try them out again.

There are all kinds of things we can do with this monster.

InnovateImageWeb.jpg

I DO call it a monster, because it will become a monster. I’m willing to get this started, though. My dream is to create a community that could eventually become self-sustaining, with its own governing body. Something that could outlast myself, my family, your family, your family’s family…a community that might one day encompass the entire world, always developing or enhancing the culture that already exists, while its members are able to sustain themselves as creative individuals.

Peeved At Neighbors On Peeve

We love our neighbors, right?

What about the times that we don’t? What is it that really ticks us off about our neighbors sometimes? What is there that pushes us over the edge to wish we had a bazooka, point it at their house and pull the trigger? Well, that is what we are going to discuss.

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Just click on the linkto see the latest Peeve!

Creative Series II: The Pitfalls and Perils of Punctuation

If you’re like me, you might sometimes have problems with punctuation.

Let’s talk about punctuation first, and what it is for. Punctuation has a historical reason for being a part of our written language. The history of punctuation is actually quite fascinating, as presented by the BBC in an online article. A Wikipedia search shows us a number of reasons why punctuation has become such an important part of many written languages in our world today. “In written English, punctuation is vital to disambiguate the meaning of sentences. For example: “woman, without her man, is nothing” (emphasizing the importance of men), and “woman: without her, man is nothing” (emphasizing the importance of women) have very different meanings; as do “eats shoots and leaves” (which means the subject consumes plant growths) and “eats, shoots, and leaves” (which means the subject eats first, then fires a weapon, and then leaves the scene).[3] The sharp differences in meaning are produced by the simple variations in punctuation within the example pairs, especially the latter.”

Reading a bit further in the Wikipedia example shows us: “The oldest known document using punctuation is the Mesha Stele (9th century BC). This employs points between the words and horizontal strokes between the sense section as punctuation.[6]” There is a lot of really cool content on the web today about the history of punctuation. I hope that you find a few moments to do some research about just why we use punctuation.

oldhands

So, what if we don’t use punctuation?

Did you know that the old Greeks recorded dialogues on parchment? There was a problem however, EVERYTHINGTHEYWROTEHADNOSPACINGANDWASWRITTENINUPPERCASELETTERS. Imagine even attempting to “decode” something that a scribe had written down for posterity. What a chore that would be! As a result, rules were created by Aristophanes of Bysantium to handle this increasing problem in Greek literature by adding spaces and accents to help people understand what they were reading.

Did you have ever read Chaucer or Shakespeare in high school?

If you are now, or remember how confusing or frustrating it could be to read and understand what many of us call archaic script, you would agree with me in saying that reading very old texts can be quite frustrating.

How about an example? I am going to use some material from Harvard’s The Geoffrey Chaucer Page, that was erected for just this purpose. Here is a direct copy from that site:

The opening lines of the Canterbury Tales constitute a learned version of the “reverdi,” a simple lyric celebrating the return of Spring after the harshness of winter, a common form of medieval French lyric. It became widespread in English as well. widespread in English as well. The most famous example in is the “Cuckoo song,” which dates from the twelfth century:

Sumer is i-comen in.
Groweth seed and bloweth meed
And springth the wude nu.
Sing cuccu!

I suppose that little songs like this go back to earliest antiquity — the reassuring return of vegetation and fertility, and of the sun — especially in Northern Europe – – after the cold and dark winter.

The standard love lyric builds upon this return of spring song by adding human love. Spring brings a great outburst of energy in nature, the birds begin to sing again, and nature stirs its creatures to love:

Western wind, when wilt thou blow,
The small rain down can rain?
Christ, if my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again!

When Spring arrives, love comes with it. Here is a typical opening of a lover’s complaint:

When the nightingale singes
The wodes waxen grene,
Leaf and gras and blossom springes
In Averil, I wene,
And love is to min herte gon
With a spere so keen.

And on then into the story of his love.

How did you feel when you were reading the passages? Were you able to understand what Chaucer was saying?

If you have ever read any passages from Ovid, a roman poet who lived from 43 BC to 17 AD, you will find text that is very graphic in nature. More like reading something that might have been written by Stephen King:

P. Ovidius Naso, Metamorphoses
Brookes More, Ed.

And Phorbas the descendant of Methion.
Who hailed from far Syene, with his friend
Amphimedon of Libya, in their haste
to join the battle, slipped up in the blood
and fell together: just as they arose
that glittering sword was driven through the throat
of Phorbas into the ribs of his companion.

What I am pasting is very tame, in comparison to the rest of Ovid’s story.

What I would like to point out however, is the punctuation that is being used. Would Ovid’s punctuation be corrected by an editor? Would you have been the editor?

Did you know, there are many sources available for guidance in using punctuation?

My favorite is right next to me. I always keep it next to my keyboard.

There are many scholars who claim that our modern punctuation started in the 16th century. Other scholars claim that the punctuation we use today began much earlier. Whomever is correct, the fact that modern punctuation has become so critical to our daily writing lives means that facing the challenge of punctuation’s sometimes massive role in our writing, is privy to how our readers judge us and our ability to write.

Punctuation

I recommend using Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.

I keep Elements of Style next to my keyboard. If it is not, I have my source online where I can reach it at any time. If you take a look at the link I provided, you’ll find that you too, can have it at your fingertips. There are countless other sources that you can use to ensure that your punctuation is correct. Here are just a few that you can use:

Are just a few of the invaluable books, available as sources that you can add to your collection of tips and tricks to being a better writer.

Writing is fun for me. It has been a constant source of learning the art and craft of writing. I hope that you have as much enjoyment and reward from writing as I have through the years.

Next in my Creative Series III: How to Start Writing

Newest Posting on Peeve

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If you didn’t catch it, I posted my newest Peeve: Peeved about going to work.

Different from my prior Peeve posts, it’s more upbeat. I personally don’t have a lot of Peeves about work, simply because I love what I do as a part time job and enjoy the people I come into contact with.

I also love what I am doing as a new full time job: Writing.

As I explain in the post, there was a point in time when I was very unhappy with what I was doing. I tend to be very positive about work. I am one of those people who works hard at not looking back on the negative and focusing on the positive aspects of what I have learned. Over the past few decades, I have had the opportunity to reap all kinds of personal rewards from the work that I have done. If you’ve never had the opportunity to do so, helping people is work that fills your heart. I have no complaints. I always recommend volunteering time to help others. There is no currency to match the feeling you get, when you are able to solve a problem for someone or fix something that they can’t fix.

I apologize for that.

This was a difficult post for me to write about. If you have your own Peeve about work, I would love to see your Peeve. You can always add to any Peeve by posting your comments here, on the site or wherever you are seeing this message.

The best medicine for negative thought is change.

If you are one of those people who is not satisfied with what you do, I recommend looking into either changing yourself, changing your personal life (which could be affecting the way you work) or better yet, changing what you do for a living. Going back to school and learning is always preferable to attempts at escaping by playing a game, drowning your sorrows or looking back at what you never did. If you can’t afford school, finding a mentor is another avenue you can take.

Jobs are always a part of our lives that we can change.

If you feel trapped in your present job, I recommend that you look and see if there are any positive options you can take to make your working life better. Professionally, I was in a job that did not suit me, and I did it for 20 years. I don’t recommend taking that path. There are things that can be learned from wiser people than ourselves. I look to mentors who may be gone from this earth, but have left us with all kinds of options to mull over. Take someone like Siddhārtha Gautama, otherwise known as Buddha for example. He was a real person who lived a very interesting life, who set out on a course of study that not a lot of us would take. He was an observer, who saw a lot of suffering. He came up with the Four Noble Truths (suffering, its origin, how to end it, and the eightfold path or the path leading to the extinction of suffering – Ancient History Encyclopedia).

I’m not suggesting that we all convert to Buddhism, mind you.

What I am suggesting is to look at what others who came before us had to offer. Heck, you have other really wise people like: Plato, Socrates, St. Thomas Aquinas, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Son Tzu, Abraham Lincoln, etc. Take your pick. I’m just rattling off names that are plopping into my brain. There are tens of thousands that you can pick from, based upon your own personal ethos. My whole point here, is that if you are in a personal place, where you are not finding satisfaction with what you are doing, I highly recommend that you make plans to find something that you love doing.

Keep yourself happy by doing what you love to do.

If money is your concern, my personal opinion is that you find work that aligns itself with the direction you want to move. Don’t take out your frustrations on the people that you work with. Stay positive. Life will take care of itself.

Next Peeve that I don’t have a problem writing about: Neighbors.