I got a question about my writing the other day:
Do you picture your characters in your head, do you hear their voices? Do they flesh out the more you entertain them and actually write about them? … Do you even start out with distinct picture of a character/situation that grabs your attention?
Generally speaking, I do have voices for all my characters. They often don’t change, either. And, it helps for me to speak out a conversation when it’s still in the plotting stages as well as after it goes down on paper. If something doesn’t sound natural to me, I spend a lot of time reworking it. Unless it’s plot exposition, though I still prefer that to have a spontaneous rhythm to it. 🙂
My sister has an uncanny audio memory. She’ll hear something once and remember it for years. Even inflections! I’m not that good, but I do think that reworking fiction conversations in my head over and over until they become second nature has helped my character voices a lot. One thing a few recent readers have commented on is that my dialogue flows really well, so I’m proud of that.
Characters become more real for me the more I work with them. I think that probably happens with all writers, though. And, it makes sense. We spend so much time in the heads and hearts of these people, we come to know them better than we know the physical people around us. Likely because we are privy to all the inside thoughts and turmoils. Personally, I project a lot into my characters, though I try to keep some of them to specific boundaries, because they all have different conflicts. (It’s hard to articulate.)
My inspiration often can be traced back to a single face/moment/voice, and, as time goes on, characters develop into their own people. For instance, Daniel (“Finding Mister Wright”) evolved from Hal (“From Hell”) by way of Aral (“Anywhere but Here”), who was a different side of Ross (“Fearless”). But, they share similarities in look, manners, and voice, which unites them in my head, and allows me to jump into their shoes with much more ease than I might be able to do otherwise. Fresh characters, as it were, take much more time for me to grasp. One thing that my husband mentioned to me when he read “Finding Mister Wright” was that the first two acts work really well, but the third needed more time with one of the late-intro’d characters. As it stands, she feels like a plot device, not a person, as the other characters do. I see his point, and I think it’s because when she was originally written, she was still one of those “new” characters. Of course, since then, I’ve written more with her, so, now, it’s a matter of going back and growing her into a person as fully-fleshed as the others.
Do you hear your characters’ voices in your head?
I try to keep my eyes on various writing challenges around the Web. Some I’ve bitten, while others I decided to forego, for one reason or another. Here are three I’ve done in the last few weeks.
1. Scottish Book Trust runs a 50 Word Fiction contest. The prompt for this particular one was “takes place at a birthday party.” As with all prompts, I like to go with my first gut reaction, and I try to keep the effort to no more than an hour, since I’ve got other projects to work on. I did end up submitting this one.
As a side note, I got the heads-up for this particular contest from the Limebird Writers’ Writing Competitions and Opportunities Digest from January 13, 2014. These are updated weekly, so take a look if you’re interested in any kind of challenge, big or small.
Momma’s Come Home
He’d wept her first day, as her baby smell filled his nostrils. Six years later, when he’d cradled her broken body at the icy roadside. And today, her tenth birthday, when her mother returned, leaving him with only the haunting squeak of an empty swing, and his aching, lonely tears.
2. Neeks’s The Short and the Long of it blog has been running a 3-word prompt fiction challenge. For this one, the words were “beginning, ending, life.” I didn’t stick perfectly to this one, and I felt it ran a bit long and rambling for the challenge, so I decided not to submit. Still, it was fun to look at somewhat familiar characters through a different lens.
In the beginning, he’d had a dream. A perfect dream of perfect logic, where choices led to consequences, actions forged results, research brought conclusions.
She’d been a perfect mentor for him, teaching him well with her professional dedication and insistence on probing background checks, thoughtful interviews, and detailed evidence reports. Together, their clearance rates went unmatched in the department.
It was a good life, if solitary. Because no woman ever lasted. None could do, not against the tugging allure of the next murder to catch, the next criminal to convict, the next opportunity to show his pompous, prideful captain how very, very good he was at his job.
“Because of me,” Susan always reminded him with a smirk.
“Because of you,” Luke always admitted, equally smirking.
A good life, if solitary. Until that one stakeout, when a shaft of streetlamp light shining through the window struck her face in just the right way to make him realize his clearance rate, his success record, his whole life was nothing at all, without her.
She’d drawn back from his kiss…for a moment. Then, with a sigh, she’d put her arms around him and joined him in his clandestine desire.
She was more mentor to him in that cramped hotel bed than for any case they’d ever worked, though she’d always told him he was a fast learner, and he made sure to prove that to her. Again. And again.
He should have just stopped then, because endings weren’t something he’d ever done well. But he’d wanted her to know all the foolish, short-sighted mistakes of his youthful heart had been only that: missteps taken too quickly, too recklessly, for suppressed want of the only woman who’d ever taken the time to understand and know him as anything more than a fact-checking drone.
“Susan,” he whispered before a kiss, the rest of the words from his heart ready and willing at the tip of his tongue.
Except this time, the cringing drift of her lips was more than a moment.
“This can’t ever happen again,” she muttered, and shifted up from the bed to dress. Professional. Solitary.
He never kissed her again, or held her in his arms, or made love with the same tender, honest feeling as he’d done that night.
Except in his dreams.
3. Lillie McFerrin runs Five Sentence Fiction, where, each week, she gives readers a one word prompt for inspiration. The prompt for this next one was “Moonlight.” I…don’t know why I didn’t submit this one. I think it was too late (each challenge runs for one week). I had fun writing it, though, which is mostly why it appears here.
Nobody Does it Better
He watches in a stare as her blades slice, hissing and precise, scattering snow in their wake. She leaps and lands, one slender line carving its cutting edge deep. Turning, now, she races through a cloud of breath straight toward him, moonlight kissing her white-as-ice smile, and he thinks, even if he dies tonight, he’ll go happily, for this glimpse of her grace set free.
“I’m not going to just let you watch,” she says, as he’s blinded a moment by a fountain of flakes. “Come skate with me.”
Most writing challenges seem to be designed for people who want to write but don’t have a work in progress or current project on their plate. For someone who is working on a standing story, challenges and contests can offer a distraction from the heavy thinking of a draft or edit. Or, they can be an excuse to procrastinate. No matter how you choose to view them (both perceptions are valid), I can’t deny they often let my brain venture into new areas I might not consider while working on a larger project. And, sometimes, I just like to procrastinate a bit, too.
Everybody needs a break now and again. What’s your favorite way to take a break from your writing? Do you try a challenge? Free write? Take a walk? Have a dance party?
No preamble for this
bit slew of free writing I did over the course of Friday day/night…except a note to say thanks to Kourtney Heintz, for prompting me to actually write this piece, in her comment from last week’s 2013 WordPress blog report, made in reply to how I should maybe focus this blog on topics like “deep sea ice f***ing.” I’d meant that only as a joke, honestly. But, once a seed gets planted, it has to be quashed or nurtured.
The story below revisits Marshall Wright from another previous post, and takes his story a bit further than the short-ish story I wrote over winter break. There’s the suggestion of adult situations herein, but nothing graphic. I think, more than anything, the length of this one will probably lose me some reads/comments. But, I had such a good time writing this, all 3000+ words of it, I won’t fret about what should be done differently, here, or any of that. It felt great to write all of this in less than 24 hours, on a single prompting, I don’t regret it, any of it.
Take a look and read, if you’re so interested. Or, skip it, if you’re not. I’ll be back next time with something different (and shorter), I’m sure.
“It’s not really about the fishing” (more…)