Archive for October, 2015

As writers seeking the one magical piece of advice making our names synonymous with Stephen King, John Grisham, Sue Grafton and a host of other best-selling authors, we’ve read it a hundred times –

If you don’t have interesting characters, you have no story. Forget interesting! The reader absolutely must love (or hate) your character and feel what they feel, as if they themselves were in the middle of that character’s world.

No argument there. But the biggest problem with advice is it doesn’t often include examples of how to bring those characters to life.

The “experts” advise spending time developing their character; come to know them as if you were playing the part.

This is called character profiling.

I’ve been at the writing game for longer than I care to admit. Through articles, blogs, how-to books, my own research, and a love affair with Google, I’ve produced an extensive character profile in Excel, my writing companion I would be absolutely lost without. As it is with most writing templates, it is an ever-changing and ever-growing work-in-progress.

My character profile is broken down into 36 categories, among them Name, Physical Description, Background, Education, Psychological, Sociological, Relationships . . . you get the idea.

The categories themselves are subdivided into 475 rows of detail. For instance, a character’s physical description includes height, weight, hair color, eye color, physique.

How much or how little of a character profile is recommended is directly related to the role the character plays in the story. A typical story will usually contain three main characters. Protagonist, Antagonist, and Love Interest, perhaps one or two more, and are the only characters requiring a “complete” character profile. Indeed, no more than a physical description is needed for the majority of the characters in the story.

It’s the “complete” in the above paragraph that bogged me down in my early days of writing, when I was naïve and took every piece of advice to heart. I wanted to be “complete” in developing my main characters, making sure I knew how they ate, talked, walked, spoke, and slept, all of which required extensive thought and decision. After all, we can’t have every character born in California and eating pasta every night for dinner.

The more I read and the more I practiced my craft, the less naïve I became. I started to take each piece of advice with a grain of salt, particularly when the advice, some from best-selling authors, often contradicted each other. You know what I’m talking about . . . you’ve been there, haven’t you?

I was spending so much time on the character profile; all it did was keep me from writing the story.

Yes, interesting characters are an absolute must for a good story, but if nothing happens to the most interesting character in the world, guess what? You have no story.

Now when I sit down to develop a story, I work my character profile and story structure in concert. By story structure I mean plots, obstacles, and conflict . . . in short . . . events, all of which need to be worked around the goals and motivations of the main characters.

I create the bare minimum of my extensive character profile, followed by at least an idea of what events will drive the actions of the characters. If I’m lucky, I’ll have a skeleton of scenes and chapters outlined, even if a particular scene/chapter description is simply ‘Detective Finds Body.’

Once I create a basic idea of the structure, I can return to my character profile and fill in only the appropriate details. For example, the fact my main character might have attended elementary school in Kansas is only relevant if something significant happened during that time and contributed to the makeup of the character. Unless I decide to write a scene in a restaurant, it’s probably not important to spend much (if any) time determining what foods the character prefers or how he or she eats.

Take it from me; filling out a comprehensive character profile should be done with extreme prejudice because it can chew up a lot of time otherwise spent writing the story.

More importantly, since the writer’s goal is to maximize show, and minimize tell, there might be a tendency to provide nothing more than a “laundry list” of a character’s traits without considering its importance. I fell into this trap early on and many times “threw” something together just to fill in the blanks.

There is an obvious benefit to using this approach. Rather than get bogged down with what might be called the administrative details, it will encourage you to start writing the story, the goal of every writer.

The biggest reason not to spend too much time on profiling is you might end up “pigeonholing” your character. If you’ve been at this game for any amount of time, I expect you’ll agree that while you draft your story, your character will be shaped and reshaped through the events, conflict, dialogue and interaction between other characters, often rendering your original character profile you spent so much time on, null and void.

Give it a try.

My Author website:

https://www.wordpress.com/jstrandburg

Order Hustle Henry and the Cue-Ball Kid here:

http://www.amazon.com/Hustle-Henry-Cue-Ball-Jack-Strandburg-ebook/dp/B00BJ83O5K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385144732&sr=8-1&keywords=hustle+henry+and+the+cue-ball+kid

Order An Appointment With God: One Ordinary Man’s Journey to Faith Through Prayer here:

http://www.amazon.com/Appointment-Ordinary-Journey-Through-Prayer-ebook/dp/B00CWRZ5GI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385144792&sr=8-1&keywords=an+appointment+with+god%3A+one+man%27s

 

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One of the more popular blog topics targeting writer discusses why writers procrastinate.

One recent blog asked whether perfectionism caused writers to procrastinate. At last count there were 171 comments on the blog. Many agreed perfectionism to be an issue and offered advice, the most popular to write the draft and let the revision stage improve the manuscript. Easy to say, hard to apply, isn’t it?

For me and I expect a lot of writers, perfectionism never factors into the equation because some of us can’t even get started. Now that is true procrastination.

The reason (to me) is simple. Sitting down to work on a writing project, whether it is an outline, a first draft, or revising an existing project, means you have decided to commit a block of time to essentially create something from nothing. Many writers fail because they realize that block of time can be used to accomplish other tasks. Housework, yard work, running errands, exercising, watching TV, playing video games, playing golf, or, too often, grabbing a nap, all of which I’ve used extensively in place of writing.

The remainder of this blog is not about why, or what you can do other than follow Nike’s advice, ‘Just Do It!’ You have probably read that ad nauseam.

It’s a confession of sorts and a success story of my own battle with the procrastination demon.

I use Excel extensively to maintain a daily to-do list of tasks ranging from taking medication to preparing for the following day, with a lot of the tasks listed above in between.

When it comes to writing, I track the time spent on each writing project and writing-related tasks. This serves not only as an incentive and a boost to my psyche when I accomplish what I planned, it also gives me an idea of how long it takes to write a short story, a blog, or a novel, which helps me plan my time for future projects.

Weird? Okay, I’ve been called worse, but it takes just a few seconds to record start and end times and nobody needs to see the log but me.

This is relevant because I have documented proof I should wear the crown (probably should be a dunce cap) as King of the Procrastinators.

Every day I review my task list. Writing is and I suspect will always be the hardest, not only because it’s creative, but regardless of how much time I allocate, I won’t know until I finish whether I’ve been productive or have created another deposit for the virtual trash can.

So, what do I do? The tasks that are the easiest and the ones which I can accurately predict the time required always take priority.

Writing always falls to the end.

What happens throughout my day is the “same old story.”

And so starts my “confession.”

Once I finish non-writing-related tasks, I write journals, filter through Emails and put in appropriate folders for later handling. Emails dating back several months are still sitting in the “Writing” folder.

Now it’s time to see how many friends I can request on Facebook and how many connections I can make on LinkedIn. By the time I “retweet” selected posts, I can breathe a sigh of relief and it’s time for lunch and a much needed (but not deserved) break.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I go to the gym. Yes, staying healthy is important, but given my age, I need time to stretch so I don’t pull every muscle in my body. Following the stretching and the workout at the gym, it’s usually late afternoon and I’m tired from the workout. Unfortunately (or conveniently) my mind is in no condition to write, so I will work on anything I can find other than writing projects, even if that means taking a nap or lolling on the porch.

The dinner hour has suddenly arrived and so there I am, the table is cleared and and I’ve now been up for twelve hours or more.

I could go to my office or take my laptop to another room and dedicate an hour to a writing project, but wait! Those emails are screaming for my attention. I should handle them, because once I get those out of the way, I’ll be free of all those distractions and I can spend the day doing nothing but writing!

Sadly, it rarely happens. Old habits die hard and yes, I ask myself almost every day what am I waiting for? What event will allow me to rearrange my priorities and do what I should and want to do, leaving everything else for later? Let’s face it, if you’re like me, most of what we do can wait until the end of the day, some can be delayed for several days or more.

I knew I needed to be the catalyst for such an event, because I felt my best when I wrote, even if the result was incoherent first draft material. I was making progress and I felt good about it. So why do I avoid doing the one thing that gives me so much satisfaction?

I committed to and finally made the change on October 1st, 2015. Why not? A new month – why not a new approach?

At the time I was working on a short story and a novel, which I was revising for the (I lost count) time. I needed to make those the top priorities on my to-do list.

I did, and at the time of this blog, more than two weeks later, not only has it become more of a habit, each day it gets easier, and even though other tasks now get pushed to the bottom of my to do list, to my surprise and delight, the sky has not fallen.

Making this change wasn’t easy. I wasn’t yet fully awake and not in an optimal mental state to write. Even once I rearranged my priorities, I still wrestled with the perfectionist demon, and needed to constantly remind myself that the revision stage would make the writing better.

In the first few days, although I didn’t spend a lot of hours, I accomplished more than I ever imagined, and as time passed, I allocated more hours of the day to working my projects.

To put these accomplishments in perspective, I referred to my writing log.

From October 1st to October 18, 2015, I logged a total of 38 hours toward my two projects. In the process, I completed the first draft of my short story/novella (almost 21,000 words), and revised 17 chapters of my mystery novel (total word count of almost 54,000).

Over the previous 4 months, I logged a total of 85 hours on both of these projects.

If I continue at this pace from the last 18 days, over the next 4 months I will log a total of 272 hours, more than 3 times my previous four months.

The moral?

If the self-proclaimed King of the Procrastinators can win a battle with the procrastination demon, so can you!

Give it a shot. Trust me, you’ll feel better.

I welcome all comments.

My Author website:

https://www.wordpress.com/jstrandburg

Order Hustle Henry and the Cue-Ball Kid here:

http://www.amazon.com/Hustle-Henry-Cue-Ball-Jack-Strandburg-ebook/dp/B00BJ83O5K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385144732&sr=8-1&keywords=hustle+henry+and+the+cue-ball+kid

Order An Appointment With God: One Ordinary Man’s Journey to Faith Through Prayer here:

http://www.amazon.com/Appointment-Ordinary-Journey-Through-Prayer-ebook/dp/B00CWRZ5GI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385144792&sr=8-1&keywords=an+appointment+with+god%3A+one+man%27s