Finding Inspiration: Part Three- Characters Close to Home

Building Real Characters: How to Bring Them From the Page and Into Your HeartWriters find inspiration anywhere; at the grocery store, the bank, even the activities of driver sitting next to you at the red light, can get the muse flowing. Then of course there are my favorites: family and friends.

If you have a Facebook account, I’m sure you have seen the pictures posted by someone at least once a month that says: (in a nutshell): BEWARE, I’M A WRITER, ANYTHING YOU SAY CAN AND WILL BE USED IN MY NEXT BOOK.  I was at the bank the other day and had a lively conversation with my banker. Upon completion of my transaction, she asked me, ‘is this going to be in one of your stories?’ I laughed and said quite possibly.

It seems no matter how hard I try; my Muse is always working, always observing and cataloging the statements and actions of others, especially when it comes to my kids.

In the last few weeks, my children have shocked me with their ‘Remember when…’ tales. Being an only child, it never ceases to amaze me what  my four kids get into when they are unsupervised in their bedrooms. First, there was the ‘broken-glow-in-the-dark-stick incident’ that led to fluorescent yellow liquid being splashed over bedroom walls. (According to them, it wore off withing minutes, thus leading to doing it again in order to illuminate the room.  No evidence was left behind. Imagine my horror!!!) Of course a lot of sibling smacks upside the head, and then the sneaking to cut hair or trim their eyebrows disasters that ended with bad results. (Those I knew about, but it still makes me laugh to remember the results.) Funny stories that made my eyebrows shoot into the hemisphere and start to give the ‘you know better’ speech. But then I realized the issues happened months, even years ago. What’s the point?  All that’s left is ‘don’t do it again.’

Once the kids go about their evening activities, my Muse sorts through the information, while not inspiration for my adult characters’ lives, they make great character back story.

***Back Story: Insight into the protagonist nature or history through reflective flashbacks, scenes, or dialogue. This information is used to show how a character will react to certain situations.***

There are various ways to use back story.  Some authors like to use flashback during a scene or as a scene to show an incident that explains the reason for their character’s actions during the course of a story. (Think about the show LOST, whose episodes focused on the back story of a character’s life, decisions, made, and how they related to the present situation). In novels, the most common use is having a character allude to their past through dialogue, thought, or peppered in by the omnipotent voice. (Dialogue is the best way to share this information without slowing down your prose and boring a reader.)

How do you know what your characters back story will be?

By writing character outlines.

If you have  followed my blog, you know a large portion of my writing begins with focusing on deep character development. I love writing characters my readers can relate to either through their own personal experiences or someone they know. Creating well-developed back story can do that. Knowing where your characters have been, what experiences have affected them – good and bad – will give your characters a strong voice that makes them stand out.

Even if it starts from when they were kids.

In a nutshell, a well-developed back story lets you know your characters. Knowing and understanding your characters will explain their motivations. Motivations are what set up a plot. Reactions to plot twists/turns are what provide scenes. Scenes mixed with reactions are what create drama.

Whew!  Sounds like a lot of work, right? It is, but as with all things in life, you get what you put in. Taking the time to sit down and understand your characters will show in your writing. It will help you understand why they interrupt your writing, and no matter how much you want the story to go one way, they hijack your manuscript.

For more on writing character outlines and finding writing inspiration, visit my previous posts:

M.J.’s on Writing- Helpful Advice for Aspiring Authors

MJ

1st Person, 3rd Person, Omnipotent…Which One Are You?- Part 2

A few weeks ago, I shared information and examples of the three popular forms of point of view writing. If you missed it, follow this link.  
How do you know which one is best for you?
Over a year ago, when my writing journey began, my writing was all over the place as I tried to decide what POV to use. Nearly every author I read wrote in 3rd person. Some broke down each characters actions and thoughts by separating their voices with the use of chapter breaks. Others used scene breaks. Some did neither and head hopped.
 As a reader, none of the differences in their writing styles bothered me. As long as the story was good, and I was able to decipher the differences in character, I was pleased.
As a writer, I see things differently. 
Most writers, when starting out, strive to emulate the writing style of our favorite authors. Nora Roberts was my first introduction into reading romance, so I wrote the way she wrote.  What came out was what I thought of as a seamless flow of character(s), all thoughts and emotion in a scene. In other words, telling the story from the POV of all characters involved in the scene. There were no chapter breaks. There was no defining moment of a character POV changed. The scene progressed with the POV of all major characters involved.
The first book I read that used the 1st person POV was, don’t laugh, Twilight. I enjoyed getting deeper into the characters mind and seeing the story told from the way Bella saw it. Yes, it was biased and no one else’s personal opinions were understood beyond what she felt or imagined them to be, but after years of head hopping, it was refreshing. My favorite book in the series is Breaking Dawn where we were introduced to Jacob’s POV when Bella was unable to speak. Talk about exciting! ‘Hearing’ his crazy thoughts and not just being told by Bella what his actions were, we got to got to know his goals, motivations, and inner conflicts. Too bad we never got to see the same happen with Edward!
(I have no examples to offer when it comes to Omnipotent works because I can’t think of one, though I am sure over the years I have read a few. If I’m not mistaken, this form of writing is typically found in English literature. My understanding is that it is not a popular style chosen by authors today. I could be wrong, so forgive me if I am. )
It wasn’t until I attended a writer’s workshop that I truly learned how do decide what POV works for me. The instructor said this: take a scene, write it in 3rd person, then write it in 1st person. Read it aloud. How does it sound? Does if flow smoothly, does it sound rushed? Can you, the writer, identify with the character, does the voice sound natural?Which one do you feel the most comfortable writing? 
For me, it was 1st person.
Writing in 1st person allows me to experience my characters emotions and thoughts as if they were my own. With 3rd person, I feel as if I’m on the outside looking in, as if there’s a glass door allowing me to peer into my characters without knowing how they truly feel. My writing style allows me to step into the character’s skin, their clothes, and their lives. I feel their emotions as if they were my own. I taste, hear, see, smell what they experience. I become them to the point that when the scene I’m writing is a happy one, I am happy. If they are in pain or sad, I cry, literally, right along with them. At times I am so wrapped up in my writing voice that my family will walk by and as if everything is okay. It is then that I know I’ve truly channeled my characters voice. I never connected with my characters that way when using 3rd person. (can anyone say straight jacket? lol) 
I have heard many say 1st person writing should be for YA novels, not adult fiction, and definitely not romance. Why? Because 1st person stories are told from just one characters POV. If the plot is not entertaining and the supporting characters strong enough to interact with the leading character, readers can get bored, quick. My hat goes off to Janet Evanovich who seems to have mastered the single 1stperson narrative. Her Stephanie Plumb novels are highly entertaining, and her characters easy to fall in love with. The entire series is told by Stephanie Plumb alone. Her witty remarks, quick wit, mixed with the colorful cast make reading her latest exploits something to look forward too.
I found my writing style by taking the best of all my favorite authors and developing my own style of writing 1st person.
The goal of my stories is to show the depth of the heroine and the hero’s evolution as they progress through the novel. There’s no head hopping. There’s no confusion as to who’s speaking, or what they really feel. I use chapter breaks, not scene breaks to separate the two. And occasionally, when story calls for it, I introduce a third person’s viewpoint to break it up a little, but not just for the fun of it. Each character is planned and serves a purpose. My goal is that the reader is well aware of everything each of the characters have experienced throughout, good, bad, and the oh so fun in-between.
How does the publishing industry feel about the use of the various POV’s? Each genre is different, but since I write romance, I can tell you this: it’s frowned upon. During my querying process, I had an agent, who loved the story, tell me there were a few things she wanted me to change, but the biggest was switching from 1st person, to 3rdperson. Her reason, the Big Six wouldn’t take an IR/Contemporary Romance/Women’s Fiction story unless it was written in 3rd Person.
Wasn’t. About. To. Happen. 
The Butterfly Memoirs are about the character’s personal experiences as told by them, like a memoir. The definition of a memoir is: an account of one’s personal life and experiences; autobiography. It would not be the same written as 3rdPerson.
 Thin about it, do you write your diary in 3rd person?
I didn’t let that stop me. (By the way, a year later, as I prepared to query my manuscript, I sent it to the instructor whose writing class I took. She’s an author as well as an agent. After reviewing it, her comments were about technical issues. Never once did she say it should be changed to 3rd person).
The best advice I can give when deciding which POV to use when telling tell your story is this: learn the rules and use them. Discover which ones you can bend and bend them. Experience writing the scene from each point of view and decide which one sounds the best. Which one allowed you to channel your character the most? Then, tell the story the way you want it to be told. If it’s a little outside the box because you don’t want it to be the norm, go for it. Believe me, there are readers out there who feel the same way and will be happy to see support you.
My novel, A Heart Not Easily Broken, will be available September 20th. If you haven’t yet, read the first chapter. After that, grab a copy and see how the use of 1st person has worked for me!
Until the next time, Happy Writing!
MJ

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1st Person, 3rd Person, Omnipotent…Which One Are You?- Part 1

Deciding on the correct Point of View (POV) for your manuscript can be tricky.
One of the best analogies I’ve heard refereed to POV as the ‘camera’ in motion that shows the reader what is going on.

Who’s camera will you use?    

Do you stick with the traditional one person  POV and use the hero or heroine’s eyes? Do you allow more than one character to tell the story and see it from multiple angles? Or do you take on the role of narrator and tell the story from a distance allowing the reader to be privy to events the characters are unaware off?

And when you decide which character(s) have the spotlight, is their voice in 1st person, 3rd person, or omnipotent?
What are the definitions of each POV?

To learn more about each POV, visit the links to read more on About.com, Fiction Writing.

This point of view is from one character which serves as the narrator. Use of the words “I” or “we” distinguish this voice. It allows the readers to “see” and “feel” what this character sees and feels because you’re in that character’s head. 
This point of view allows for more than one character to tell the story. This is the most common form used in writing. Use of the words “he” or “she” distinguish this voice.
This point of view has a god-like quality because the narrator has knowledge of the thoughts and feelings of all the characters in a story.  It can become confusing since at anytime the reader can find themselves in the  POV of any character in the scene. If used, each individual voice should have separate scenes to avoid confusion.  Use of the words “he” or “she” are still used. 
Choosing which POV you use will change the voice of your characters and determine your writing style. My personal preference is to write in 1st person. I chose that POV for the voice of my characters for two reasons. First, my series is titled, The Butterfly Memoirs, which symbolizes the evolution of the characters as the book progresses. Since it is their story, or memoir, I wanted their voice to be clearly heard during the course of the events. My original manuscript was written in 3rd, but I found it impossible to portray thoughts and emotions to the depth I wanted without using the words “I” and “me”.
As an example of the differences in the POV voices, I will demonstrate with the opening lines of A Heart Not Easily Broken:  

In 3rd person: 

“This is the last time I wear this dress.” Ebony Campbell stated, a hint of irritation in her voice.
“Oh, please,” Yasmine, her best friend and roommate, leaned over and yelled.
The music pounding out of the nightclub’s speakers made it nearly impossible to hear her.
“Stop fidgeting. You look uncomfortable,” Yasmine added, winking at the bartender who handed them their drinks.
No matter how many times Ebony adjusted the hem of her dress, it was impossible to ignore the warm air tickling the backs of her thighs as people pushed past her in the crowded bar. It would take more fabric to keep her shapely derriere from involuntary exposure.

That was a simple change of pronouns: “I” to “Ebony”, and “me” to “her”, with a few additional action tags. I am so used to writing from ‘inside’ of the characters head that I had to change my mindset to make it work!

Now, here’s the same scene in Omnipotent:

“This is the last time I wear this dress.” Ebony Campbell said. Her irritation was evident in her voice.
“Oh, please, Ebony,” Yasmine, who was her best friend and roommate, had to lean over and yell.
The music pounding out of the nightclub’s speakers made it nearly impossible for them to hear each another.
“Stop fidgeting. You look uncomfortable,” Yasmine winked at the bartender who handed them their drinks. She really wished her friend would shut up and get with the program. 
No matter how many times Ebony adjusted the hem of her dress, knowing she would never be able to ignore the warm air tickling the backs of her thighs as people pushed past her in the crowded bar. She knew it would take more fabric to keep her shapely derriere from involuntary exposure.
I’ll be the first to admit that this point of view can be confusing! What was the difference? The use of pronouns was the same, “she”, “they”, except now the ‘voice’ is not just from Ebony’s POV. Yasmine’s thoughts/action would only be mentioned as an observation by Ebony if it was written in 1st or 3rd person. The POV character of the scene (Ebony) would have no clue that Yasmine was irritated by her comments…unless this was paranormal then she could be psychic and read her mind…..see what I mean? Confusing! 

Now here is the exact same scene in 1st person:

“This is the last time I wear this dress.” (No action tag needed. Her voice automatically tells you her mood)
“Oh, please, Ebony,” Yasmine, my best friend and roommate, yelled in my ear.
The music pounding out of the nightclub’s speakers made it nearly impossible to hear her.
“Stop fidgeting. You look uncomfortable,” she added, winking at the bartender who handed us our drinks.
No matter how many times adjusted the hem of my dress, it was impossible to ignore the warm air tickling the backs of my thighs as people pushed past me in the crowded bar. It would take more fabric to keep my shapely derriere from involuntary exposure.



Can you see the difference? None of the POV’s were better than the other, it’s all in how you want to tell the story and what voice you give your characters. 

How do you know which one is best for you? How does the publishing industry view writing in those POV’s?

Be on the look out for part two of the series where I will share a few more facts about the difference in point of view!

MJ

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