Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Some Thanks, Some Giving

As another year rushes to its inevitable climax (where did the months go?) I invite you to reflect on your personal epiphanies from this year. Epiphanies of the writing kind. I thank you, fellow Southern Magicians, for your role—and give you my top three. It's only a partial list of Epiphanies from 2013—in order to leave room for you to add your faves. 
From a Southern Magic meeting
Remember the Southern Magic program led by Birmingham's improv theater experts, when we introverts dared to take center stage, improvising story and dialogue on the spot? I’d repeat that experience any day. Especially a slow writing day. It was a full-body reminder that every character perceives the same situation in a different way. That every character brings different baggage into an event. That every character has her own agenda. Lesson learned? If you’re stuck on a scene, stand up and improvise. And if you need another character, call me! 
From a writing conference
A real live New York publishing house editor, in a presentation about character development, cautioned that she sees too many stories that fail to show the deep motivation behind a character's desires. In her view, three-dimensional story characters act according to their given personality traits--but they react according to deeply embedded character traits. Thus, your characters' motivations should show in their reactions to key events. 
She shared her funny hat exercise to make her point. Each person in the room was presented with a figurative funny hat. Poof! Here's your funny hat! The challenge was to put the hat on a character and write about his reactions. 
Typical paragraph: When Mary put the jester's hat on John, he began to dance, waving his hands and tossing his head to make the bells jingle. He wanted everyone to see that he was a good sport.
Typical editor response: Why? Why did he want everyone to see him as a good sport? 
After hearing the editor ask why half a dozen times, I wisely did not read my same-old paragraph out loud. 

Lesson learned? I vow to drill through the initial reaction, down into the backstory and baggage, to find out exactly why my characters behave the way they do. 
From a blog subscription
On Brenda Drake's blog, NA author Jenny Kaczorowski mentioned the three Cs of querying. Character, Conflict and Crisis aren't new concepts to me, but using these as the framework for a query is another epiphany.  

In Jenny's words: 
Character: Tell me who she is and why she’s important. Name, age, what is she like?
Conflict: What does she want but can’t have? What prevents her from getting what she wants?

Crisis: What will happen if she doesn’t get what she wants? What happens if she does?
Put each of those into a paragraph and you should have a much clearer picture of this fascinating story and world you’ve created. 

Your turn

One of the greatest benefits of membership is the way we help each other hone our craft. Please share the writing tip you're most thankful for this year! 


4 comments:

Carla Swafford said...

Great advice and post, Chris. Like the three Cs, I was taught by the great Renee Andrews, to write a great blurb or pitch use "Want - Because - But" in a paragraph. That should provide the Goal, Motiviation and Conflict of the story.

Meda White said...

I've read a ton on dialogue and tags, but one gem I took away was from Lynnette Labelle's Editor's First Aid class through Contemporary Romance Writers. She taught if you have an action tag, you don't need a "said" tag too. This was something I was doing occasionally, but I think it really cleaned up and tightened some things when I found and fixed them.
Example:
"Great," she said scratching her head.
"Great." She scratched her head.

Thanks for sharing your epiphanies, Chris. Those are some goods ones. Happy Thanksgiving!

Chris Bailey said...

Carla, I'm working on my newest query this week. I'm putting this tip into the mix! Thank you, and happy turkey day!

Chris Bailey said...

Meda,
Yes. I am going to comb through and tighten those spots. Thank you! Hope you have a lovely Thanksgiving!