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X-FILES: IT’S NOT SCIENCE FICTION

August 10, 2011 by in category Archives tagged as ,

by Sharla Rae

An author on deadline will tell you that the old saying “Time is Money” is just as true with writing as it is with any other business.

Have you ever spent hours crafting a perfect description only to realize it breaks up the action? Did you delete it and then discover a chapter or two later that very description or part of it was needed?

Next time, DO NOT DELETE.

Instead, create a folder for your WIP called X-Files Title (of WIP). Example, X-Files Love and Fortune. Paste well written “cuts” to your X-Files. Make them easy to locate. Preface each pasting with its origin, that is, the chapter it was cut from along with a brief description.

Example: Chapter one – description-forest, Chapter two – dialogue – argument between Jane Dither and John the jerk.

Later, if you haven’t used an X-File entry from a particular WIP, paste it to a general Description or Dialogue X-File. Once it’s actually used, delete it from “all” X-Files so you don’t accidentally reuse it.

It’s simple and it works. And when you’re on a deadline, it’s money in the bank.

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Keep Your Characters True To Themselves

June 10, 2011 by in category Archives tagged as , ,

By Sharla Rae

Hey, who’s telling this story?

I can make my characters do or say anything I want them to.

Many beginning writers subscribe to this theory.

I hate to break anyone’s bubble but that’s hogwash.

When introducing characters, the author breathes life into them with a physical description, personality, goals and motivations. They look, act and think in a particular manner. Just like real people. If the character doesn’t stay true to themselves, their actions will make no sense and readers are pulled out of the story.

Imagine:

  •  The drunken, hardnosed character Rooster Cogburn, (John Wayne in True Grit) suddenly goes soft on Mattie Ross, Kim Darby’s character?
  • Mary Poppins takes a belt to her charges?
  • 007 gives up his cool and goes mushy over his many sexual encounters.

Would you believe it? No. Because in each case the writer showed the reader who these people are – on the surface and deep down.

Two of the most common out-of-character traps involve age appropriate problems and inconsistent behavior. Ask these questions:

  • Do my characters act their age? A mature woman or man of 30 to 35 years of age will not act, think or speak like a teen or young person fresh out of college. Recently I read a published book where a 32 year old female executive talked like a teeny-bopper when she got together with her thirty-something girlfriends of the same age. It totally threw me. Women of all ages talk a little trash with girlfriends but the nature of their conversations, even the language is different between age groups.
  • Do my characters act and react in a manner consistent with their personality?Someone afraid of heights doesn’t climb a ladder. A grouchy loner doesn’t suddenly play slap-stick jokes on people. A prissy little girl won’t want to play baseball with the neighbor boys.

If a character does something that would never come naturally to them, they must have a good reason/motivation for the change of behavior. Example: The character who is afraid of heights might climb a ladder if a rabid dog is on her heels. An honest cop might rob a bank if villains are holding his family hostage.

My favorite tools to keep my characters in line are Character profile sheets, Horoscope personality profiles and Research.

The number one rule in using these tools is: Always connect the dots between them. Character profile worksheets serve as fast and easy reminders to writers. They include a list of physical descriptions, best friends, dress, enemies, ambitions/goals, sense of humor, temper, basic nature, personal quirks, habits, talents, hobbies, family backgrounds, profession, educational background etc. .

A common weakness in these profile sheets is that they shed little light on personality. That’s why I dig deeper. I search horoscope signs for personalities that best match my characters. Whether you believe in horoscope readings or not, the personalities listed under sun signs provide a great basic outline of a particular personality.

Horoscope personalities are especially helpful in determining how a character will react to a particular situation. Example: How would a hero with a Cancer personality react if he lost all his money or fell into a fortune? Money is no joke to the taciturn crab.

There are many horoscope books but I love Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs. This treasure lists the general characteristics of each sign and more. For instance, Goodman describes the Taurus child, Taurus adult male and female, Taurus boss and employee — the total personality package. She also explains how these personalities interact with each other.

What about a character’s romantic relationships? Linda Goodman’s Love Signs  is amazing. Each sun sign is listed and then coupled with all the other signs to point out what the good and bad matches may look like, why they work or why they won’t. Example: Aries with an Aries, Aries with a Capricorn, Aries with a Taurus etc. Goodman further breaks it down into the female and male of each sign. Example: Aries female with Capricorn male or Capricorn female with an Aries male etc. .

Note: While Linda Goodman has passed, her books are still available. I recently looked at another Linda Goodman book on Amazon called Linda Goodman’s Relationship Signs. The contents suggest it contains a relationship chart worksheet. Sounds very interesting!

Do your research.

Horoscopes don’t cover nitty-gritty idiosyncrasies. What if you’re writing about a thief, a slave, an ad executive etc.? Research types of characters by reading autobiographies and biographies of real people who share a similar background with your character. Writing about a serial killer? Read serial killer profiles. Writing about a Hollywood star? Read up on their lives, their business and what it’s like to walk in their shoes. Then connect the dots. Determine for instance how your Aries female will handle her stardom.

Okay, say you’ve chosen your sun sign and done your research, but the personality thing still doesn’t quite jive with what you had in mind. We all know people who don’t fit the mold and characters are no different. So, can we color outside the lines or are these personalities set in stone?

Color outside the lines but don’t let the crayon slide off the tablet.


Here’s a real-life example: My friend is a Gemini but she was born on May 24th making her very close to Taurus. Most of the time she is more Taurus than Gemini, but she does share traits of each. It’s okay to combine personalities if it suits your purpose. It actually makes for a more interesting character, perhaps one with more layers. Just make sure to outline the personality carefully and keep the character true to him or herself.

What about character arc/growth? While characters learn from experience and goals may change as the plot evolves, their basic personality won’t change. The manner in which they handle situations or problems should always reflect who they are – even when they’re pressured into something that isn’t natural to them. Connect the dots.  Like all tools, profile worksheets, horoscope personalities and research aren’t failsafe, but they are great guides for new writers and even for the seasoned writer who is writing a complicated character.

Helpful Links:

So, how do you keep your characters true to themselves?

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Dialogue Tags: How To Kill Off Some Of The Little Buggers

April 10, 2011 by in category Archives tagged as , ,
By Sharla Rae

In Laura Drake’s recent blog My Editing Peeves, at www.writersinthestorm.wordpress.com/ she points out dialogue tags. I have to agree that too many “saids” on a page or even in a chapter are annoying. Sure, there are other tags like snarled, whispered, interjected, cried etc. But again, they stand out if overused. Included in this illustrious list are all the he and she thoughts.

After taking a hard look at tags, I realized something. Tags are tattletales! He said, he yelled, he whispered. It’s “telling.” And one of the first lessons in writing is to “show” not “tell.” Don’t you love how writing is like knitting? One set of rules always weaves into another set. Okay, back to the subject of tags.

We can’t do without tags completely, but we can kill off some of the little buggers.

With only two characters on stage, tag extermination is easier. Using new paragraphs each time one of the two speaks, eliminates the need for tags. Also, a character’s dialect, acccent or speech pattern may set them apart from other characters. Still, even with just two characters there are times it’s absolutely necessary to indicate who’s speaking to prevent confusion.

Now, place three or more characters on stage, and things get really complicated. Complicated but not impossible.

One of my favorite ways to kill of a dialogue tags is through the use of body movement and/or body language. If a character is moving or has a certain facial expression, we don’t need the tag. Body language has the added benefit of expressing emotion. In other words, using this method “shows” a character is angry, happy, or depressed.

Examples:

Instead of: “Stop it!” James said. [He could be angry but then again he could be laughing hard and telling someone to stop it. But if we say: James said, angrily, we’re telling.]

  • Try: James sliced the air with his hand. “Stop it!”
  • Try: “Stop it!” James held his sides, laughing.

Instead of: “Is she serious?” Amber asked, rolling her eyes.

  • Try: “Is she serious?” Amber rolled her eyes and laughed.

Instead of: “Gosh, I love this song,” Jill said, dreamily. [Yikes an ly word]

  • Try: “Gosh, I love this song.” Jill closed her eyes and swayed to the music.

Instead of: “Try it, you little weasel,” Jake bellowed. “Just try it.”

  • Try: “Jake’s palms slapped the tabletop. “Try it, you little weasel. Just try it.”

Instead of: “You jerk!” Pam screamed, swinging her handbag at him.

  • Try: “You jerk!” Pam lashed out at him with her handbag.

The same idea applies to the he or she thought tags.

Example:

Instead of: Can this day get any worse? Jane wondered.

  • Try: Jane slumped into the nearest easy chair and kicked off her shoes. Could this day get any worse?

Instead of: If he comes through that door, I’ll brain him, Jill silently vowed.

  • Try: If he comes through that door, I’ll brain him. Jill’s fingernails bit into her palms. [Shows determination]

Punctuation can be used to negate tags that indicate strong feelings. To demonstrate what I mean, I’ll use one of my above examples.

“You jerk!” Pam screamed, swinging her handbag at him.

Given there is an exclamation mark after jerk, we know Pam said this with strong feelings. Unless we want her screaming to draw the attention of characters around her, we don’t need to “tell” the reader she screamed. Also, her actions indicate anger and that makes the tag an even bigger overkill. But what if Pam said it under her breath so as not to draw attention? Do we need to say, she whispered? It works. But we could also say: Pam sneered and leaned close, her lips a mere inch from his ear. “Jerk.”

Note: Don’t over use exclamation marks. Again, body language will work just as well.

It must be said, though, that having all the characters on stage constantly nodding, scratching, dancing and throwing things would be just as annoying — not to mention ridiculous — as too many tags. So a few tags are allowed and in some instances they work better for a tight, straight to the point sentence.

I know of no set rules on how many dialogue tags are allowed on a page. The best rule of thumb is to vary your dialogue and cut them when possible. And if you’re still unsure, read the page out loud. Too many tags make the writing sound choppy. They also distract.

The right balance will result in tighter writing that “shows more and “tells” less.

Interesting related websites:

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