Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Mental Health for Writers

As creatives, it's easy to remember that our ideas and writing ability all come from the wellspring of the mind. What's less easy to remember, is the importance of caring for our mental health so that we can continue to create to the best of our ability.

Mental Health Matters for Writers

Aristotle: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." We want to be excellent writers, and becoming a great writer doesn't happen overnight. We write in fits and spurts, and repeatedly try, day in and day out, to flesh out scenes, analyze character development, and form a meaningful story, one word at a time. We create stories with the help of a few tools—keyboards, paper, screens—and the most notable of the tools at our disposal, the mind itself. 

Quill and ink. Typewriter, ribbon and paper. Word processor. All of these tools are helpless to write anything of value without a proficient and creative mind at the helm.

But the mind is a unique structure, and mental health can be impacted by many habits that we think are common or acceptable for writers. Sitting for hours on end, typing away as we stare at a screen? Pulling all-nighters to marathon sprint to the end of NaNoWriMo? Caffeine to fuel our creativity? Criticizing our work and our ability? All of these can easily lead to stress and both physical and mental health decline, which in turn affect our ability to write.

I see it in my own life in various ways. Stress impacts my mental health, and I've found that if there's a situation at the office, I'm too distracted and anxious to be creative. Life situations, like a move or the death of a loved one, can weigh me down and I find myself writing more lyrical purple prose, if I find time to write at all! Even chemistry can play a role in my mental health. Too much caffeine can make me fidgety and I can't concentrate.

It is important to care for our minds and bodies so that we can be our best writing selves. Some of the areas to focus on include:

  • Healthy diet 
  • Exercise
  • Proper sleep
  • Social support
  • Routines and schedules
  • Fresh air
  • Emotional support and mental perspective
Perhaps you have all of these aspects in balance in your own life. Only you know what you need to focus on, but an awareness of unhealthy habits, and areas of focus to improve those habits, is the first step. 

Writing About Mental Health

Writing about mental health can be a tricky thing. Those with mental illness don't enjoy the stigma of being characterized as "crazy" or "irresponsible" in media misrepresentation. But that doesn't mean that we should avoid the topic. If it is something we'd like to write about, we can take some steps to ensure that we create healthy media representation can bring positive awareness and greater inclusion for those with mental illness. 

As writers, we can set the stage:

  • Awareness: Be aware of the potential for creating or reinforcing a negative stigma in your writing. Also, consider why you are writing mental illness in your story. Are you forcing it into your story merely for the sake of inclusion? Do you have a sincere desire to write about a real or fictional character with mental illness or just the topic of mental illness in general? 
  • Sensitivity: Consider how you'd want to be represented if you had the mental health condition you are writing about. Mental illness affects as many as 1 in 5 teens and adults in the United States, so it's important to write as accurately sensitively as possible. 
  • Research: If you don't suffer from the mental illness you are writing about, study the most up-to-date research on the subject. This ensures you're using the best vocabulary, definitions, and treatments in your writing. Whether you're writing historical fiction or non-fiction, still do your best to be accurate. Then interview people with the condition you're writing about. They can help you paint a more accurate picture of what it is like to live with the condition and the challenges that are the most prevalent in their lives. *During this month's meeting, we were fortunate to have a member of our chapter share their experience with Dissociative Identity Disorder, or DID. We learned a lot about proper terminology, instances where DID is addressed in the media in positive and negative ways, and more.
  • Sensitivity Readers: It is vitally important that you seek sensitivity readers who can provide you with accurate feedback. Seek critiques from a few people that have the condition you are writing about and ask them for an honest opinion to enlighten you. This will help you to correct any misinformation or anything else that might come across as offensive.

These are just a few of the important topics regarding mental health for writers. Take an introspective moment and think about what mental health means to you as a writer. 

Happy writing!

-Val

Friday, January 29, 2021

Have a Heart: Writing with Sensitivity & Inclusion

 

Our next chapter meeting will be on Monday, February 1st @ 6:30 p.m. 

The topic is Have a Heart - Writing Mental Illness with Sensitivity & Inclusion

One of our chapter members, Asper Reynolds, will be sharing her insights on this topic. We'll also discuss the importance of mental and physical health for writers.


We are still using the Facebook Room tool, and the link is found on our Facebook Group page. Feel free to hop on a few minutes early if you want to catch up with the other members of our chapter.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

January 2021

2021 And The Power Of Writing

If there is anything that we have learned in the past little while, it's that unexpected things can create a lot of change in our world. And for the first time since the pandemic began, we have a glimmer of hope in the form of a new calendar year. A fresh start.

We look to the new year as a well-earned reboot. We are older and wiser after the challenges we faced in 2020. We have been ships adrift. Because we desperately want the new year to go more smoothly than the last, we are scrutinizing the patterns and ideas that we will manifest in 2021. Many of us are going back to the drawing board to re-examine our habits, our hopes, and our daily lives.

We ask ourselves questions, like:

  • Are there habits or patterns that need to be changed? 
    • Yes. Unless we are living our best life, a life where we are achieving our goals and "succeeding" (however that looks to us) there is ALWAYS a habit or a pattern that needs to change.
  • Are there situations that frustrate us? 
    •  As long as face masks are here to stay and social distancing is required, we are going to feel frustrated. But beyond the pandemic, it's important to look into the future and consider the best life we want to be living, and the frustrating minutiae in our daily lives that keeps us from attaining that life sooner. Perhaps there is an obstacle preventing you from publishing and getting on the NYT Bestseller list, or formatting the artwork for your children's book, or committing to a daily writing habit.
  • Is there room for improvement? 
    • Yes. Maybe we need to find the "spark" of inspiration to start writing again. Move on from a story that has stymied us. Find a way to come up with fresh ideas for our stories. Develop a method to store our ideas. Believe in our ability to write the story.

Welcome to 2021. This is the year to answer these questions, conquer the frustrations, and improve.


Perhaps we can declutter a space in our home, build a new exercise habit, or read more of the books on our bookshelf instead of just dusting them. can finally start that inspiration notebook or file folder of ideas for when we can write someday.

Brigham City Writers is a talented group. Our writing has brought a variety of positive feedback. And we continue to feel the call to write. Perhaps the urge is stronger than ever before. We want to bring joy and positivity to an audience that is burdened by the challenges of this new decade, an audience that is starving for connection and distraction.

We feel the burdens, too. Many of us sit down to write only to be haunted by the ten other things we think we should be doing instead of writing. We are busy sanitizing, mask-wearing, waiting for curbside delivery, keeping up on the news...blah, blah, blah! 

Be the Creative you were born to be.

But, when we push those stressors aside and reacquaint ourselves with our inner-writer, we find the same magic that soothes our souls, the same magic that will brighten the world with our articles, poetry, nursery rhymes, short stories, novels, and children's books.

We find inspiration in a blank page. In songs and pictures and stories and nature and architecture. We find inspiration in the questions that life creates. The whys. The shoulds. The unexplainables. Things that might seem boring, strange, obvious, or dumb. If it elicits emotion, it's a worthy inspiration. 

"The dumber it is, the more we should write it down!" - McKel Jensen

So take a notebook, and create a Commonplace Notebook. Carry it with you, so you can catch those snippets of inspiration that find you. Keep an idea file to turn to in times when you're feeling uninspired. 

So do something brave, or perform a mundane task. Listen to music, or go someplace quiet. Take a walk. Carry a Commonplace Notebook. Quilt or crochet or paint or dance. Work through the Mental Blocks. The Emotional Barriers. The Shoulds. The work habits that don't work. The Personal Problems. The Overwhelm. And get back to writing. The world needs you.


Best and warmest wishes,

Val Steadman
Brigham City Writers Chapter President

This post was inspired by our January 2021 digital meeting. Reach out to BCWriters2@gmail.com if you would like a link to attend February's meeting. 

Sunday, December 6, 2020

2021 Planning meeting

 


"Before I agree to 2021, 

I gotta see the terms & conditions..."


We're so excited to be focused on the holidays and the new year. Come join us for an adventure--the "new normal" way.


Our agenda for the December 7th meeting is:


1. How everyone's doing - favorite Christmas tradition and movie
2. This is YOUR chapter. Membership matters.
3. 2nd Anthology reboot: "Something Light & Something Dark." 
4. Motivation to write: how to get that spark back. First and foremost-writing should bring you joy.

See our chapter's Facebook page for the room link.



Minutes of December 2020 virtual meeting:


In attendance: Rachael, Becki, McKel, Keri, Kathleen, Asper, Mike, Christina, Val.


Updated Anthology theme: “Something Light & Something Dark” 

  • We have writers in our chapter that write very happy and light material, and some writers write scary or dark material. All are welcome at this time. We’re thinking of dividing the anthology into light and dark sections, so our readers can choose which side they’re in the mood to read. Not only are our writing styles varied, but our lives have had light and dark moments this year, too! To reflect the times, and our writer’s varied voices, the theme is a little broader to encourage our chapter members to write freely!


Catching up and Checking in on how we’re doing: 

  • One of our chapter members is sending a missionary to Mexico.

  • Another is battling COVID-19 and hasn’t been feeling well. 

  • Someone is working part-time at the local post office and has been overwhelmed with the amount of holiday letters and packages to deal with. 

  • A member recently recovered from major surgery and returned to work full time.

  • A member and their spouse are lonely without their kids and grandkids around them this holiday season. 

  • And another member ordered a shirt that says, “I’m fine. I’m fine. Everything’s fine.” (fitting for 2020, isn’t it?)


Discussion: Many of us are struggling with writing during this challenging time. One member got up the inspiration and energy to write a non-fiction story, which we all applauded. We’ve received poetry and short story entries for the anthology, which is wonderful, too. A few of us have been editing previous works...and even publishing! Applause!!!! 

  • McKel mentioned how she has been coping with this season: harvesting creativity by watching movies, reading, and participating in activities. This way, when she feels ready to write, she has a lot of inspiration to go on. 

  • Mike mentioned the importance of adjusting his attitude and making writing a priority in life and said exercise has been a big help. 

  • Kathy mentioned setting a 30-minute timer to give yourself the patience to allow the inspiration to flow. 


Members shared favorite Christmas movies and stories: the claymation Rudolph and Santa Clause is Coming to Town, The Grinch, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Hallmark Movies, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Elf, The Christmas Dress, and The Red Gloves Collection https://www.amazon.com/Red-Gloves-Collection-Karen-Kingsbury/dp/0446579629 .


We shared our favorite Christmas memory or tradition: The answers varied and were all touching. A soldier barely slid into home on time for a cross-country Christmas surprise. A family intentionally creates an imperfect Christmas photo to send out each year. A Secret Santa car chase was shared, as was an annual tradition to take pictures of the kids on the stairs every Christmas--now including spouses and grandkids!


The meeting lasted for about 2 hours. We’ll try to keep it down to an hour and a half next time. It was wonderful to see so many familiar faces on the screen. Writing can be a lonely and solitary endeavor… and I have so much gratitude in my heart for these associations I get to have with you fellow creatives, in this safe space where we are all allowed to be unique and accepted as we are. We may not be writing stories on our laptops, but we are definitely leaving our mark on 2020 regardless of our challenges. For those of you who were unable to attend, please feel free to reach out on our chapter Facebook page and share:

  1. How you’re doing.

  2. Favorite Christmas Tradition or Memory

  3. Favorite Christmas Movie or Story

We have a lot of exciting plans for next year, and look forward to meeting up with you again on January 4th @ 6:30 p.m. Until then, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas,

and happy writing!



Monday, November 2, 2020

November 2020 News

Hello, Brigham City Writers, and Happy Fall!

By now, the Halloween decorations are coming down, and thoughts of wordcounts and Thanksgiving abound in the same month, known as NaNoWriMo. Are you setting goals to write 50k this month? It's no small feat, but there are authors out there that swear by NaNoWriMo to give them the kick in the pants they need to get writing DONE!

We are also having a virtual meeting on Facebook. Go to our webpage and click on the link to join.

Hope to see many of you there. If not, keep writing, and we'll try to catch you next time!

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Ink in the Wild Prep Course #2

 

Genres, Plot Types, and Character Development with a Challenge!

First, a disclaimer: Every writer is as different as a snowflake, or a fingerprint, or something else equally unique. Because Brigham City Writers is such a wonderful and eclectic group, this advice might not apply to you. If that is the case, please scroll down to "A Challenge" and we'll see you next week.


Genres



Book genres come in all shapes and sizes--to match the variety of readers out there. First, the two main categories are Fiction and Nonfiction. 

Fiction books are written through the use of imagination and contain stories that are made up. Some of the elements of a fiction story may be based on truth, but the facts have been embellished to create a more exciting story. 

Let's take a deeper look at Fiction Genres. These are a few of the Fiction genres: Romance, Classic, Chick lit, Comic Book, Coming-of-age, Crime, Drama, Fairytale, Fantasy, Graphic novel, Historical fiction, Horror, Mystery, Paranormal Romance, Picture Book, Poetry, Political Thriller, Satire, Science Fiction, Suspense, Thriller, Western, and Young Adult.

The internet is full of examples of books that fit certain genres. John Grisham writes a lot of Political Thrillers, and H.G. Wells wrote The Time Machine--a classic example of Science Fiction. Young Adult books, or YA for short, are written for 12-18 year olds. The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins is a good example of YA fiction, but it also fits another category--Dystopian. And, upon second glance, many stories encompass more than one genre, like some Sci-fi Thriller Romances have done.

Nonfiction books, like biographies, history books, and the news, are filled with factual information. Journals, such as The Diary of Anne Frank, are considered nonfiction. Travel books and How-To books are also Nonfiction.

Plot Types

Much like genres, plot types are an important part of the writing universe. 

First off, there are Character-driven and Plot-driven stories, also known as Internal and External conflict. This is a great video explaining Character vs. Plot driven stories. 
        Examples of Character-driven stories: Anne of Green Gables, Everything, Everything, Pride and Prejudice, and 101 Dalmations. 
       Examples of Plot-driven stories: The DaVinci Code, Dante's Peak, the Mission Impossible series. The Hunger Games is Plot-driven, but it's also character-driven, so it's a hybrid. 



In addition to Character and Plot driven stories, there are a lot of potential plot types, but the 7 most common plot types are the following:

1. Overcoming the Moster: In this Plot Type, the protagonist needs to defeat an antagonist force (a creature or army) that threatens the protagonist and their homeland. 
    Examples: The War of the Worlds, Dracula, Star Wars.
2. Rags to Riches: A protagonist without wealth, power, fame, or love manages to win it all. They might lose it all and gain it back again, which helps them grow as a person. 
    Examples: Cinderella, Aladdin, Great Expectations.
3. The Quest: An important mission is taken on by the protagonist and their companions. They set out to reach a particular place or acquire an important object, and face obstacles and temptations along the way.
    Examples: The Lord of the Rings, Watership Down, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
4. Voyage and Return: A protagonist leaves their normal circumstances and enters a strange world, where they learn important lessons and overcome threats. They return to the ordinary world with experience. 
    Examples: Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit, Back to the Future, The Wizard of Oz, Chronicles of Narnia.
5. Comedy: Filled with humor and happy endings, the comedy has a character that triumphs over adverse circumstances using humor and wit, and gets to their cheerful conclusion.
    Examples: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Bridget Jones's Diary, Four Weddings and a Funeral.
6. Tragedy: The protagonist makes a big mistake that is ultimately their undoing. Usually, it's a character flaw that evokes pity from the reader as the fundamentally good character falls in the end. 
    Examples: Anna Karenina, Citizen Kane, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet.
7. Rebirth: The main character changes their ways through a major event in the story and becomes a better person. 
    Examples: Beauty and the Beast, Pride and Prejudice, A Christmas Carol.


Character Development

There is no way for me to so succinctly dive into the importance and methods of character development. So I'm sharing the best advice article I've read on the subject down below. 
______________________________________________________________________

How to Develop Delicious Characters for Your Novel

It’s time to put your reader’s heart on pause

By Felicia C. Sullivan


Characters are delicious. When I was small, I didn’t have many friends, so I surrounded myself with books and my imagination. It’s a strange, magical thing to live your life inside your head, but this is what I did. Long, sultry summers formed a backdrop for one of the many worlds I’d created, complete with a cast of characters who felt so real you could touch them.


This was more than inventing an imaginary friend or anthropomorphizing a stuffed bear; my characters were fully-formed people who had their own personalities, a particular way of talk, and facial features I’d cobbled together from television shows and magazines. They clasped pearls around their thin necks and wore sweaters and shoes made of silk and dyed blue. They were carriers of credit cards, plastic rectangular shapes I’d only seen on TV — a far cry from the crumpled bills and pennies we hoarded. My characters were breathing Frankensteins, only far less frightening.


What made them real was they refused to follow a script — they rarely behaved the way I wanted them to.


Since I was six, characters helmed my stories — they told me who they were and where they wanted to go. The writing was only as exciting as the extent to which I allowed them to run wild. Where was the fun in creating people you could manipulate and control? Who wants to open a book to read the last page? Whenever I write — and this is the case still after two books and hundreds of short stories and essays — I have a general sense of the story, but the characters, if designed well, serve as my aurora borealis, my own northern lights. If the characters are compelling enough, they’ll take the story where it needs to go.

If the characters are compelling enough, they'll take the story where it needs to go.

Characters Don’t Have to Play Nice to Be Complex


The most critical lesson I’ve learned about crafting characters is to create without judgment. My job isn’t to act as their moral compass; instead, my role is to present them as complex, multi-dimensional people and then let the reader be their judge, jury, and executioner. The moment my judgment inserts itself into the narrative is the moment that my characters fall flat because now they’re under a microscope, forced into examination and vivisection, and when someone shines a light in your face, you tend to be on your best behavior.


The greatest gifts a writer can give their characters are agency and breathing room. If you’ve created a psychopathic character, don’t force them to feel empathetic about the people they’ve murdered with cold calculation and malice. You can give narrative context to their actions and insight to what’s beneath the surface or demonstrate that a psychopath’s greatest performance is feigning normalcy like it’s their day job, but you can’t force them to break character because they offend, hurt, and malign.


You don’t have to relate or love a psychopath to enjoy a story. Your characters don’t have to be likable to be successful on the page, but they do have to be fully-formed and well-drawn.


When people talk about the books they love, they think about characters who are likable or relatable — stories that comfort and feel like home. Great stories are a fakir: They’re charming and seek to draw you in, so much so that you feel like you’re a part of the world to which you’ve been given temporary trespass.


And much like traveling to a foreign country, you bring your passport and six-piece luggage set, the contents of which include your language, personal history, values, belief system, and your vision for how society should function. You navigate, with some difficulty, the new language, cars that drive on the other side of the road, and the exotic food, but there comes a moment when discomfort morphs into disbelief because you’ve seen or experienced something that wholly challenges what you believe at your core.


If you don’t want your world altered, you reject the story, set aside the book, and leave a one-star review with the comment: “Oh, please, so not relatable. Who does this?” Then the world presses on, ad infinitum, until you find a story that cuts closer to home — one where you’re temporarily challenged, but not altered.


In “The Scourge of Relatability,” Rebecca Mead writes about our desire to identify with a character and how that metaphorical mirror allows the reader to forge a deeper, more committed relationship with the work. However, Mead takes this desire to task when identification dovetails into an intense need to relate to a character or elements of their world:

But to demand that a work be “relatable” expresses a different expectation: that the work itself be somehow accommodating to, or reflective of, the experience of the reader or viewer. The reader or viewer remains passive in the face of the book or movie or play: she expects the work to be done for her. If the concept of identification suggested that an individual experiences a work as a mirror in which he might recognize himself, the notion of relatability implies that the work in question serves like a selfie: a flattering confirmation of an individual’s solipsism.


Do we need to see ourselves in a man like Patrick Bateman, a nihilistic psychopath, to find American Psycho a compelling satire of 1980s excess and privilege classism? Do we rid literature of the likes of Medea, Kitty Finch, Ingrid Magnussen, Iago, Lady Macbeth, Corrine Dollanganger, Svidrigailov, Cathy Ames, Norman Bates, Hannibal Lecter, Annie Wilkes, or Humbert Humbert because we can’t relate to the unspeakable, horrific acts they commit or the pain they inflict on others? Should we dismiss Lolita as a great work of fiction because Humbert is a pathetic pedophile? Would Medea have been more palatable, relatable, had she not exacted her revenge against Jason by going on a murderous rampage?


The most potent books examine all aspects of human nature, including the odious and profane, and because a character doesn’t behave in ways that reflect our firmly held beliefs doesn’t make the work any less profound or the character any less meaningful. A book isn’t bad simply because it’s not an account of how we would have lived our lives had we walked in the character’s proverbial shoes.


“There’s much to be learned from beasts,” says the villain in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.


We like to believe that we’re infallible, that we would always be our best selves and that our actions would be held to the highest moral standard. We would never cheat on our spouses. We would never resent our children. We would never scheme, connive, or manipulate to get the things we want. And we apply that moral code to the characters we encounter, and then reduce their importance or relevance if they don’t rise to that standard.


While the vast majority of us wouldn’t embark on a serial killing spree or feast on the remains of others à la the census taker’s liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti, we live in a world where people murder and maim, rob and rape. Great stories hold up a mirror to this world, and we’re often faced with things we don’t want to see. But they do exist.


Great characters don’t have to be your friend or share a beer with you — they’re great because they’re memorable. Like a car wreck you can’t look away from, well-drawn characters leave their mark. They challenge or change the way you think and see the world. They compel you. They make you ask more questions than form answers. They linger.

Do your characters challenge the way you see the world?


Let’s Get Physical


Before I start a story or a book, I create a basic sketch that allows me to visualize my character. I create mood boards that help me create the shape of their face and figure, where I can pencil in the details. Master the physical because it’s the simplest place to start. Are their eyes black or blue? Does their hair curl in a certain way? Do their toes turn outward or do they walk with a swagger or a limp?


Consider how we encounter people in our waking life. We scan them, categorize, take inventory and make judgments. We remember how fast they spoke or didn’t. We recall how they moved vowels over their tongue — how do they pronounce words? Do they have an accent? Is it regional? Do they have a dialect, a local vernacular that places them in their geography or point of origin? Do they have a way of speaking, but disguise it?


When I create a physical character sketch, I print out the human anatomy and make annotations on every body part. Then, I design their relationship to senses. How do they smell, taste, touch, hear, and see? Are their senses sharpened or impaired? Are they sensitive to touch or sunlight? Do they have allergies? How do they handle their body? How do they use it or abuse it? Do they have any irregularities, deformities, or physical characteristics that make them unique or different? Bullet the reasons, but you don’t have to go into detail just yet.


Before you stress out and create a 45-page sketch, stop. Create enough physical details that bring someone to life, specifically their experiences in this story. You can’t create all the physical details you want to help you conceive of a real person on the page, but what you put on the page has to connect to their interior and serve a purpose in the story. Physical attributes and tics can be a compelling narrative tell, lending psychological and emotional layers (complexity or dichotomy) to a story.


Imagine fashioning a small-boned, diminutive character who’s a violent serial killer. That gives the reader pause and interest, and it allows you as the writer to get creative. How can a freckled-face girl of five feet attack, maim, and murder adult men? Picture a confident, swaggering man who falls into a stutter when he’s confined in small spaces.


Define the physical make of your character and the reasons for the choices you’ve made.

What lies beneath the mask?



Map Out Their Demographics


You’ve molded different attributes and characteristics to form a living, breathing person on the page, but they don’t move in a vacuum. 


You have to establish the external circumstances or demographics (look at my marketing experience playing house with the creative side of my brain) of the world (s) they inhabit within the confines of your book. Consider how you answer these questions for the creation of a specific character in this specific story:


  • Age: How old are they? Do they embody the characteristics of their generation? Is that important or irrelevant to the story? Do they look, feel, and think their age? Is their age an issue or non-issue for them and the story?

  • Gender: Are they male, female, or consider their gender identity fluid? Are they a “they,” “he,” or “she”? What role does their gender play into their identity? Or does it?

  • Race/Ethnicity: What are their race, religion, and ethnicity? Does that factor into their character and in the story? If so, are there particular cultural or social norms, rituals, or routines that are critical to creating a believable character? What is their relationship to their racial, ethnic, or religious identity? Are there any tensions that exist because of it? What are they, and are they relevant to this particular character in this particular story?

  • Geography: Where do they live? What kind of home do they own? What do they consider home? Do they define home as a place or group of people or point of origin? Does geography play a role in their life or does it merely serve as a backdrop for the story, a place in which to orient and root the reader? I say this because geography can often be a character in its own right.

  • Income: What’s their social and economic background, status, and lifestyle? Are they defined by money or social status? If so, how? If not, how?

  • Profession: Do they work, not work? If so, what do they do? If not, what do they do?

  • Marital Status: What’s their marital or parenting status? Consider your choices here. Is their being single or married or a parent important to them or the story? Are these roles core elements of their character? If so, how and why? Is family important to the character and the story? If so, how and why/why not?

  • Education: What’s their level of education, and how does that play into the story and shape of the character?


Be surgical in your answers. Define and reveal that which is elemental to the character and movement of the story. Remember, you can create a single page, 45-page, or 1,221-page character sketch and study for context and reference, but you only need to include the elements that construct, define, differentiate, and move your character through the narrative world you’ve designed. So, if they’re a Mormon mom, that has to mean something to the character and story.


Don’t bloat your character for the sake of adding fat. It’s harder to write lean than it is to incur page bloat.

Define your character and move them through the narrative world you've designed.

Get in Their Head and Burrow Deep


You’ve navigated all facets of their exterior, so let’s climb under the hood and beneath the surface of the character’s skin. First, you want to create connections (if any) between the physical and circumstantial with their emotional and psychological state. Then, you want to create the unique characteristics that make them real. For example:


How do they navigate and manage the range of emotions they’ll experience in the story? If they love, how do they love? How they express it or not? Is their expression physical or emotional?


Do they touch or recede from touch?


Do they wear masks? Do they have one face they display in a group of people or circumstance that changes when the variables shift?


What are their habits? Do they have notable patterns or routines? Are they a smoker? Are they prone to always being late? Are they methodical about cleanliness? Do they fish or hunt or tinker with their cars? Define their habits and the emotional state or resolution the habits five them.


What is their psychological state and does it shift, amplify, or change throughout the story? Do they have addictions or illnesses (physical and mental) and how do they manifest in this particular character?


What are their personality traits? Are they nervous, or a bold and confident problem solver? How do their qualities help them (or don’t) navigate the world you’ve created for them?


Think about the people in your life. If someone were to ask you to talk about your best friend, lover, boss, or relative — how would you describe them? What words would you use? Would there be a reason to linger on a set of traits or physical attributes?


Then, you want to architect their value and belief system. What is their code of conduct, their construct of order, right, and wrong? What are the ideologies or beliefs they cleave to that make them a whole person? For example, the way a serial killer would view right and wrong would be markedly different than a pastor or preacher. (Or, depending on your story, maybe not.) Values and belief systems are core to a person and rarely change. Ask yourself: who is my character? What kind of person are they?


Make the Connections


The beauty in crafting a character is that they momentarily exist in a vacuum before you’ve released them on the page. In my opinion, the release is thrilling because you get to see how they embody your human design in the world. How they apply it in their relationships and interactions with people, places, and things. Because you can render the most detailed of character sketches and still see your character fall flat on the page.


Why? Because the magic is in how they put their character to work. How they express themselves makes them unique. Think about handing two different people the same recipe and ingredients. The result will always come out a little different. The dishes won’t taste the same. Maybe one of the cooks let the food cook a second longer. Maybe another added a large instead of small pinch of salt. How they interpret and perform their task makes for two distinct end results.


You can make the argument that every story has been told and every character drawn, but humans are endlessly fascinating in how they exhibit and express their humanity. It’s the difference between Hannibal Lecter, Patrick Bateman or Lizzy Borden. The characters share certain elements and characteristics (they’re all constrained by social order, they come from wealth and means and are well-educated and reared), yet how they act on them (their modus operandi, if you will) is wholly unique and individual. No two mothers are alike.


No two accident victims are alike. No two kings or kingdoms are alike. Your characters should be as unique as the people one encounters in life — it may not be your life (that’s what research is for), but it’s someone’s life.


Who they are scratches the surface, but how and why they act slips beneath it.


WRITTEN BY

Felicia C. Sullivan

Marketing Exec/Author.

__________________________________________________________________

Challenge:

Think about the characters you want/need in your short story, especially given your genre and plot, and create a cast of characters to work with. Do your best to build your characters so they spring into life through your readers' imagination! Happy writing!

Any comments or questions should be handled through Facebook or email bcwriters2@gmail.com

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Ink In The Wild Prep Course #1

Inspiration, Categories, and a Challenge!

First, a disclaimer: Every writer is as different as a snowflake, or a fingerprint, or something else equally unique. Because Brigham City Writers is such a wonderful and eclectic group, this advice might not apply to you. If that is the case, please scroll down to "A Challenge" and we'll see you next week.

Inspiration

Whether you're struggling with a college essay, a flash fiction writing prompt, or an anthology theme, when it comes to writing about an assigned topic, it may help to know that we all freeze from time to time. 

Recently, I struggled to write a piece for submission when the subject was about rescue animals. The chosen pieces would be compiled to help fundraise for a local animal shelter, and the animals couldn't die in the story. I found myself asking, "Where are the stakes in that?" and "Would it be appropriate to write a horror piece for this submission?" 😂 Needless to say, I was relieved when the anthology was put on an indefinite hold, because I came up blank and never finished writing anything worth submitting. I share this to let you know that I've been there. Whether or not you have struggled or come up blank, I have. And, maybe, just maybe, the advice I've gleaned from various sources since that snag can help you overcome the hurdle of a lack of inspiration.

1. Brainstorm. Think about the theme or assigned topic from various angles. In my example, because the pets had to live, I only thought of plots involving getting a pet from the shelter and living happily ever after. But I never thought to tell the story from the pet's point of view. I never considered the role that fantasy could play in discovering a pet is immortal. I never thought to consider changing the setting to another time, country, or galaxy. So, think about some of the basics for your story: setting, character, season, genre, tense, and point of view. A web diagram is a great way to brainstorm different angles for a theme. Suggested video: Abbie Emmons Brainstorming.
2. Research. (Disclaimer: Set a 15-minute timer, and be firm! Don't get lost down the rabbit hole of the internet!) Browse magazines, books, and the internet for pictures of the theme. Make a mood board on an app like Pinterest with pictures that get your imagination flowing. Browse recent news stories involving a topic related to the theme: for my example above, I could have focused on an article about companion animals combatting loneliness around the holidays while the main character studied how to bring more hygge into her life. So, get inspiration from life and the internet - because life inspires art!
3. Try a few of your best brainstorming ideas: When all else fails, do as author Dan Brown suggested in a MasterClass I recently listened to. "When you're thinking of sitting down to write a novel, you might have a number of different ideas...Write the prologue to each one of them, and see which one you're dying to finish. Another thing to do is you can write the flap copy. What would this book sound like on the flap copy?" Resource: https://mascotbooks.com/not-by-the-book-blog/how-to-write-successful-back-cover-copy/

Example: 
 

Categories

Our anthology this year has condensed the submission categories down to four:

Fiction: 4,000-word limit: This category is known as the traditional short story. As author Jerry Jenkins says in this article, "Don’t make the mistake of referring to short nonfiction articles as short stories. In the publishing world, short story always refers to fiction."

Examples of Children's short stories include Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Robert Southey; The Little Mermaid and The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen; Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss; The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore; and The Tortoise and the Hare by Aesop. Adult short story examples: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens; and To Build a Fire by Jack London.

Nonfiction: 4,000-word limit: Nonfiction is writing about your life and experiences, or the lives and experiences of others. If you want to look at some nonfiction writing prompts, check out this link. And this one. “Writing is an act of great courage, and writing creative non-fiction raises up the stakes even higher. It is not a genre for the fainthearted.” –Ayelet Tsabari, Judge’s Essay, EVENT 45/3.

Flash Fiction: 1,000-word limit: Flash fiction is a microstory, sometimes told in as little as five to ten words. I searched for articles to help with flash fiction, and this one seemed to fit what I was trying to say in the following how-to steps:

  1. Start in the middle. You don't have time in this very short form to set scenes and build character.
  2. Don't use too many characters. You won't have time to describe your characters when you're writing ultra-short. Even a name may not be useful in a micro-story unless it conveys a lot of additional story information or saves you words elsewhere.
  3. Make sure the ending isn't at the end. In micro-fiction there's a danger that much of the engagement with the story takes place when the reader has stopped reading. To avoid this, place the denouement in the middle of the story, allowing us time, as the rest of the text spins out, to consider the situation along with the narrator, and ruminate on the decisions his characters have taken. If you're not careful, micro-stories can lean towards punchline-based or "pull back to reveal" endings which have a one-note, gag-a-minute feel – the drum roll and cymbal crash. Avoid this by giving us almost all the information we need in the first few lines, using the next few paragraphs to take us on a journey below the surface.
  4. Sweat your title. Make it work for a living.
  5. Make your last line ring like a bell. The last line is not the ending – we had that in the middle, remember – but it should leave the reader with something which will continue to sound after the story has finished. It should not complete the story but rather take us into a new place; a place where we can continue to think about the ideas in the story and wonder what it all meant. A story that gives itself up in the last line is no story at all, and after reading a piece of good micro-fiction we should be struggling to understand it, and, in this way, will grow to love it as a beautiful enigma. And this is also another of the dangers of micro-fiction; micro-stories can be too rich and offer too much emotion in a powerful one-off injection, overwhelming the reader, flooding the mind. A few micro-shorts now and again will amaze and delight – one after another and you feel like you've been run over by a lorry full of fridges.
  6. Write long, then go short. Create a lump of stone from which you chip out your story sculpture. Stories can live much more cheaply than you realise, with little deterioration in lifestyle. But do beware: writing micro-fiction is for some like holidaying in a caravan – the grill may well fold out to become an extra bed, but you wouldn't sleep in a fold-out grill for the rest of your life.

Poetry: 2-page limit (using standard poetry formatting) I know a little about iambic pentameter and haiku, but not enough to consider myself an expert. Research different types of poetry and see if any of them interest you. This poem from a COVID-19 haiku google search caught my eye:

Creativity flow is just as challenging for poets as it is for writers. This article has some good ideas to help your inner poet. So does this one, about exercises for poetry writing. If you're looking for some good seasonal prompts, check this link. And, lastly, this article for 2020 quarantine poetry therapy really helped me this weekend. 


A Challenge

For our next meeting on September 14th, 2020, I encourage everyone to bring a one-page sample of your work in progress to share. Participation isn't mandatory. If you're more comfortable being a spectator until you feel safe in sharing, that is just fine. 

  • Whether it's a poem you're trying out, your first nonfiction story, or a flash or short story, please feel free to bring one page to share. Print it without your name.
  • Length limit: 1 page double spaced 12 pt. Times New Roman.
  • We will shuffle them, hand them out to the other participants in the group and take turns guessing who wrote which piece.



That's it for now. Happy writing!

Any comments or questions should be handled through Facebook or email bcwriters2@gmail.com