“People Watching”

Writers are never bored when they are left sitting in the car or in a room, waiting for a friend or an appointment. As long as we have a pen and paper we will be fine.

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Sometimes I play a “people watching” game using my notebook and this will help shape some of my characters when I have more time to write.

Whether you use a genuine “Moleskine” or an inexpensive scratch pad style notebook, this game is both fun and useful for adding colourful characters to a novel. You can play the game alone or take turns with another person. (For more about Moleskines, click here: https://annelisplace.wordpress.com/2018/02/11/moleskine-or-moleskin/)

When someone enters my line of vision, I think, “What is the thing I notice most about this person?” It might be some facial feature or other physical attribute, or it may be a piece of clothing or accessory, or the way the person moves. Whatever it is, the challenge is to jot down one or two keywords that stand out about this person, and to do it quickly, say within two or three seconds. If I take longer than that, I lose the spontaneity and it is no longer a valid first impression.

Examples of keywords for people who have passed by:

  1. huge leather purse
  2. crooked nose, missing teeth
  3. greasy hair
  4. tall, stooping
  5. wild hair, lots of jewelry
  6. looking over the shoulder, hunted look
  7. wiping nose with back of hand
  8. high heels clacking on cement
  9. business suit, pantlegs too short
  10. sloppy look, sweats

Later, when I look at my keywords, more of that person’s description will probably come back to me.

Sometimes I have agonized over  descriptions of  character in my novel, as I try hard not to have them all come out the same. It’s not enough to add details arbitrarily to a person’s outward appearance. These details have to suit the personality to make that person believable to the reader.

For example: I shouldn’t simply decide that Joan could wear a new red hat or should have red striped socks. Perhaps Joan is shy and  lacks self-confidence. In that case, she is unlikely to wear clothes or accessories that draw attention to herself. I might choose one of the examples in my notebook as a starting point and use the keywords to build a character in my mind. It may even be a combination of several examples. The more samples I have to choose from, the more interesting and accurately depicted my character will be. I can mix and match them if they suit the kind of person I need for my novel.

Once I have a collection of keywords for my people, I can juggle them around to build unique characters. For me, it is works best to put the new character’s attributes all on one page when I’m ready to create him or her. There are character profile sheets available on the Internet. I can easily fill in the keywords once my imaginary person is created. That way I can refer to the details later on and not give Joan blue eyes in Chapter 21 when she had brown eyes in Chapter 2. Believe me, I’ve done that.

Now, see how easy and fun building character can be?

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Ever Been at your Wit’s End?

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Lori Virelli says she’s just an ordinary woman, but don’t you believe it. In her writing she makes everyday life extraordinary, filled with dramas of people’s lives in fiction and nonfiction. You will relate to her characters and find inspiration in the outcomes of the stories.

Lori has been blogging for five years and we have “followed” each other for four and a half of those five years. Bloggers come and go, dropping in and out, but Lori and I continue to be buddies.

I’m honoured to host Lori Virelli here today. I’m grateful that fate brought us to each other’s blogs.

Now that she has published her first novel, I feel that I have something to crow about: Lori’s novel Whit’s End.

Lori says she has enjoyed my blog posts and my novels, but today I hope you will click on her amazon links and enjoy her novels. I did that some time ago and have not regretted it. When you read Whit’s End, you’ll find yourself thinking, “Oh, that character sounds just like ‘so-and-so,’” someone you may know in your own life.

Lori finds human behavior fascinating. She says:

“Two people can react differently to the same experience. Two people who grow up in the same household may come away with quite different perceptions of what they have experienced. Perhaps our genes are programmed to respond in our own unique ways, and that’s part of what makes us individuals. This is why I like writing from two perspectives, to show how each person responds to, and handles similar situations in different ways.”

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In Whit’s End, Meg and Ava Whitaker are married to the dysfunctional Whitaker brothers and each handles their marital problems in a different way. Their efforts to cope in their marriages only seem to make matters worse, until, just when the women are at their “Whit’s End,” other men come into the picture. How will each of the women react to the temptation of another man? Where will their actions lead them? Will they “jump ship”? Will that solve their problems? Read Whit’s End to find out.

Lori is the author of short stories published in the magazine Angels on Earth – Dogs and the Women Who Love Them, and in her anthology, Home Avenue, about growing up in 70s in the suburbs of Chicago.

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And psst! If you want a treat, click the link to her book, Whit’s End.

For a peek into Lori’s view of life in Chicago in the 70s, click on her link to Home Avenue.

Home Avenue – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01LPJ9YDI

Whit’s End – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N77QY32

Lori’s Lane – http://loreezlane.wordpress.com

Lori is currently working on her second novel. Please leave a comment and say hi.

Knowing Your Characters

How well do you know the characters you build your novel around? Do you know them well enough that you find yourself thinking about them when you’re not writing? Without realizing that you’ve slipped into their character, do you ever find yourself talking the way they talk? Do you find yourself using their pet expressions? If you do, then chances are that your readers will also be thinking about these characters when they read your book. But how do we achieve this level of intimacy with our fictional characters?

When I first started writing, I sometimes caught myself assigning the wrong physical traits on my characters. Maybe the man had blue eyes at the beginning of the story and brown eyes later in the book. Or maybe he was 5′ 11″ at first and a week later grew to be 6′ 2″. This kind of mistake can be  a serious  threat to your reputation as an author, especially if you have a wide, soon to be dwindling, readership. Luckily, I caught these mistakes in time and I was determined to avoid them in the future.

The discrepancy in physical appearance is not the only problem we need to be aware of. We also need to take care with the actions we have our characters performing. We need to know our character’s personality well enough to determine if they would do the thing we have them doing, or speak the way we have them speaking.

Before you write, it’s a good idea to do a character analysis for your main actors. It need not be fancy or indepth. A few notes will do, but if you have them written down you can refer to them any time you are unsure of what attributes you gave your hero back in chapter two.

Charts and lists are available from a variety of sources. Simply google character analysis  or character profiles for writers and you’ll find them.

I’d like to list some of the basic points of information you should have written down somewhere (be it on post-it notes or on a computer file or on paper) before you begin your novel.

  • Name, gender, age and physical appearance are the first, most obvious, ones.
  • How the character feels about his/her appearance. (This can have a profound effect on his/her behaviour in the book.)
  • Family, friends, education, and domiciles
  • Marital status, job experience, relationships within the family and with co-workers.
  • Sex, religion, political and moral beliefs
  • General health, intelligence
  • Manner of speaking, voice, dialect, slang, accent
  • What is he/she proud/ashamed of?
  • The character’s goals in the story, and what stands in his/her way

Once you have made notes on this character, you will feel as if you know them in real life and this will most likely transfer to your readers’ perception of that character too.

My French-Canadian character, Monique, in The Wind Weeps, had a habit of conflating two English expressions when she was trying to learn that language. She had heard, “Sure thing,” and “For sure,” but in her case it came out “For sure t’ing.” While I was writing this novel, Monique was in my head a lot. I felt as if I really knew her.

Was I glad I had done a character analysis of her before writing?

For sure t’ing!

Did I get to like her a lot as I wrote this book?

For sure t’ing!

Will it help you to write your novel if you do a character analysis first?

For sure t’ing!

Will readers internalize these characters more readily and love to read about them?

For sure t’ing!