Writing Exercise: The Other

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The Other. Other what? Other person, writing someone other than you. The female, the male, the black, the white, the able-bodied, the physically disabled, the transgender, the heterosexual, the asexual, the old, the young. Crawling in their heads and bringing them to the page beyond stock tropes.

George Stroumboulopoulos once interviewed George R.R. Martin and asked him the following:

There’s one thing that’s interesting about your books. I noticed that you write women really well and really different. Where does that come from?

The fantasy master responded with:

You know I’ve always considered women to be people.

As a writer, solid worldbuilding means having characters in your world as diverse as the world you live in and making them real people.

A writer is told to read to outside the comfort zone become better. Reading outside your comfort zone does not mean just crossing genre lines. (See The Man who Doesn’t Read Women by Lorraine Berry, March 15, 2017.) To be well read requires exposure to thoughts and ideas different from your own.

WRITING EXERCISE: Write a flash with The Other as the Point-of-View (POV) character. 

READING EXERCISE: Read a book with the main POV character who is The Other.

Other Cool Blogs: Horror Writers Association January 30, 2017

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Bad Guys

Read outside your genre, they say.

But I don’t wanna. Horror scares me.

Isn’t that the point? Yeah, but recreational reading shouldn’t be uncomfortable. The challenge is finding the balance between having fun and branching into new territory to get more tools for the writing toolbox (which with a love of urban fantasy, military science fiction, superhero prose, and sweet romance with an occasional dip cozy mystery I am doing fairly well). One way to accomplish expansion of the horizons is looking at blogs in the genres you avoid for one reason or another.

I ran across this particular post by the Horror Writers Association through the recommendation of another friend, “Peekaboo with the Devil: Strategies for Hiding and Revealing Your Antagonist” written by Mac Childs. The focus is on horror antagonists, monsters and serial killers, instead of the bad guys found in romance and superhero prose, but that doesn’t mean the tools of hiding the Big Bad until the last fight shouldn’t be in the tool box.

What I want to remember from the blog:

  1. Big Bad backstory may be detailed in my head, but skimpy on the reveal to readers. The less they know, the more the readers fill in with their own personal monsters.
  2. A indirect reveal (through a keyhole) of the Big Bad causally dealing with a minion the main character (MC) just barely survived defines power stakes in a scary, but initially survival fashion.
  3. Small subtle evils can be scarier than big shows.
  4. I want to write a bait-and-switch baddie.

“the kind that tricks others into thinking they’re harmless (maybe even helpful), lulling the protagonist and readers into a false sense of security and then striking while everyone is watching the flashier villain.”

Other advice is provided in the post. Find the ones which speak to you here: https://horror.org/peekaboo-with-the-devil/

Other Cool Blogs: Writers Helping Writers November 18, 2015

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How Many Cameras Do You Need?

POV (Point-of-view) characters are the cameras recording the action in a book. Like television and movies, specialty cameras in writing may be close-up exclusive, close first person, or used in panning shots, omniscient third person. Different genres required different cameras. In movies, science fiction now demands the Steadicam while horror like a bouncing “you are there” feel of handheld video. In books, first person is popular for urban fantasy and superhero while epic fantasy likes third person with switching POVs between cast members.

When dealing with multiple cameras, POVs, how much is too much? Marcy Kennedy addresses the question during her guest appearance on Writers Helping Writers via a post entitled “How to Decide How Many POV Characters Our Book Needs“.

Central questions to figure out which POV are needed:

  1. Who is the protagonist?
  2. Would it improve the story to include scenes from the antagonist’s viewpoint?
  3. What’s the scope of our story?
  4. Which characters play a key role at the climax of the novel?

To see these questions (and more) expanded, visit the posting here: http://writershelpingwriters.net/2015/11/how-to-decide-how-many-pov-characters-our-book-needs/

Writing Exercise: Scenery and People

Photo by Erin Penn (2013)

Scenery, especially personal spaces, can give a great deal of insight to a character. While easiest to see in movies, like the mural in Uncle Ben’s house in Star Wars and Andy’s bedroom in Toy Story, what a person surrounds themselves with at home, in a garden, in a car, or on vacation can fill in the blanks on how a person may be feeling or her history, even when the person is not the focus of a first-person or close third-person narrative.

Many writers focus on physical and clothing descriptions, but stop describing a room beyond, say, the paint on the walls. These descriptions combine with dialogue, inner thoughts, and landscape description, sweeping the story through strong and hard without ever letting us know who the people other than the main character truly are.

In Home Cooking Part 1, Troy studies Mrs. Carter’s apartment to learn a bit about her. The spoken dialogue reveals only what she presents to the world and who she was before illness took her: a strong-willed woman, older, southern. The worn out apartment tells of a life without money, no husband as support even though she uses “Mrs.”, a throw hiding the worst of the damage to a sofa, and, most damning, the one button on her remote control completely worn out – not on/off, or a preprogrammed channel, but search. She is locked in, unhappy, and has no options. A far cry from being ONLY a kindly but firm grandmother offering something to eat to her daughter’s new boyfriend.

Further, we gain insight into Troy, because he notices these things. Not the focus character in Honestly, I revealed very little about Troy, taking a significant portion of the story before divulging his disability in all its details. We don’t know much about his military service other than he got shot once. The only real inner feelings disclosed, other than his infatuation of Kassandra, is his (mild) jealousy of Dewayne, which the Home Cooking flash indicates is alive and well.

What he noticed in the scene first, the ability to walk through it, exposes his ongoing life struggle with footing. The rest of it, well, his ability to pull apart a room for a personality profile indicates something other than standard grunt-level training.

READING EXERCISE: Choose one scene in your present book and figure out what information you learn about the characters from the scene and what from the dialogue. If only the dialogue was provided, how would what you know about the characters be different?

WRITING EXERCISE: For a character from your present work in-progress (WIP), write a scene description of their favorite living space where they had control of the decoration – bedroom, desk at work, work room in basement, etc. from the viewpoint of a person entering the space to learn more about them, a spy, a date, their mother. Do not directly describe history or feelings of the WIP character, only what the person entering the space can see and infer. For example, I never out-and-out go into why a remote control writing may have worn off, but a great deal of information can be inferred.