character development

A Justification for Writers

The following is by Writers in the Grove member Gretchen Keefer, and is based upon the prompt, “Writing in another’s skin.”

Recently a writer colleague commented on her experience describing her novel to an agent. As she listed the difficulties her black heroine faced, the agent stopped her and asked, “Have you had a black person read this?” (For “read” see “approve”.) Apparently this agent felt a white woman could not write about a black woman. Can she?

Whatever my characters may look like physically, one or another of them is expressing my point of view, my opinions, and my philosophy. That is what I know and that is why I am writing. There is something that needs to be said and I feel prompted to say it, however I can.

Most of my characters are women, of course. I haven’t assigned them a color or ethnicity (except maybe in fantasy stories). It helps that my stories are short and often the events depicted are more important that any physical description of the characters. I think actors of any ethnicity could portray my characters.

I admit I do not know about prejudice or abuse first hand. I have never personally lived through a fire, earthquake or other natural disaster that destroys all my worldly possessions. I haven’t had an amputation or been raped. Does that mean I cannot write about these types of experiences? There is a wealth of information available to provide background color while focusing on resilience, forgiveness, redemption, family unity, courage and love.

In my collage literature classes we were taught that “great” or “good” literature that stood the test of time was written around universal themes – themes that appealed to a majority of people across cultures. That is why these pieces are still read and studied long after the authors are dead. Shakespeare borrowed many stories from the Italian Renaissance, yet his plays are translated and performed around the world. So what if Olivier played Othello in black makeup? Were there any classical black actors in Britain in the 1950’s? Denzel Washington, a black actor, played the (Italian) duke in a recent film version of As You Like It, with no comments about looking different from the other actors.

The play (or other story) is the thing to capture the mind (paraphrasing Hamlet). The story is what counts, not what color the characters may be.

So I say to my colleague, and to all writers, “You go girl!”

Write what you need to write, however it works out.

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Prompt-a-Month: The Body

Writers in the Grove Prompt-a-Month badge.The November prompt-a-month for our Writers in the Grove members is:

The Body

The deadline for submissions is 12/1/2017. Submissions will be published during the next 30 days.

Writers in the Grove members may hand in their submissions during the workshops or use our members only submission form. Check out the guidelines and instructions for submissions in the announcement.

Prompt-a-Month: Anticipation

Writers in the Grove Prompt-a-Month badge.The September prompt-a-month for our Writers in the Grove members is:

Anticipation

The deadline for submissions is 10/1/2017. Submissions will be published during the next 30 days.

Writers in the Grove members may hand in their submissions during the workshops or use our members only submission form. Check out the guidelines and instructions for submissions in the announcement.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Reverse Things

Your character is afraid of their own shadow. They creep through life trying to never disturb the dust of living, yet life still happens to them.

Write a scene like that with your character.

Then, throw the whole scene into reverse.

Write the same scene with your a brave, fearless personality at play, loving life, embracing anything thrown their way.

Which is the true definition of the character you want in your story? Is it one of these extremes or a compromise between the two.

Use this technique to not only learn more about your character, especially to identify strengths and weakness, but also to mix things up. Sometimes a brave and tough character has moments of fear, when they feel helpless and out of control. What would it take to make them feel that way? Might be an interesting part of your story.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

November 28 Prompt – The Betrayal

The following prompt is from one of our Writers in the Grove members for our NaNoWriMo prompt-a-day project for November 2016.

Your main character loves someone, but find themselves in a situation where they must betray them.

Check out our list of prompts for even more inspiration.

November 25 Prompt – A Little Chill

The following prompt is from one of our Writers in the Grove members for our NaNoWriMo prompt-a-day project for November 2016.

Time for a weather prompt.

The chill outside crept through her skin like it came from her bones.

Check out our list of prompts for even more inspiration.

NaNoWriMo Tips: How Many Ways to Write a Scene

A novel is a collection of scenes, held together by chapters. During NaNoWriMo, you will write dozens of scenes, each one adding to the plot, taking the reader, and your characters, on a journey.

Think about a single scene. How many ways can you write it?

Let’s set the stage. A woman is sitting in her car in rush hour traffic, going nowhere. The man in the car next to her turns his head and looks at her.

How many ways can we tell this story?

  • From the perspective of the woman?
  • From the perspective of the man?
  • From onlookers watching the two from their cars?
  • What if it is hot out and their windows are open?
  • What if it is cold and they have to wipe the condensation from the window to even see each other?
  • What if one of their cars has smoke or steam coming out from under the hood?
  • What if one has a coffee cup or a lunch bag on the roof of their vehicle?
  • What if one vehicle has a low tire?
  • What if one of the car is an expensive luxury car and the other isn’t?
  • What if one of them is poor and just evicted from their home and their car is their only safe place?
  • What if they know each other?
  • What if they knew each other as teenagers?
  • What if they are married?
  • What if they were married and just drove away from the lawyers office after signing the divorce papers, and each are the last person they want to see?
  • What if there is a dog in one car?
  • What if one of them is depressed?
  • What if one of them just got a raise and is overexcited?
  • What if one really likes the look of the other?

We could go on and on with all of the perspectives, points of view, and what ifs.

What if the scene is critical to the story, and you don’t want to go off on a bunch of wild “what if” theories. How could you tell the story differently and keep the story line the same?

  • What is the emotional state of the characters? Can you change one or both of them?
  • What is around them that they have to or might interact with? A gear shift? Squeaking brakes? The steering wheel? How would they handle it?
  • Use your senses. What do they smell, feel, temperature, body pains, body positions, hear, see? Which details add or subtract from the scene?
  • What if you threw another character into the mix? A person pops up in the backseat or someone honks behind them? How will each character respond?
  • Can you show the scene from the perspective of a memory?
  • What if they are anticipating seeing each other in traffic and it hasn’t happened?

Other than changing the location, time, and weather, brainstorm all the different ways you could write the scene and then pick from these when it is time to edit – in December.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

November 23 Prompt – The Business Card

The following prompt is from one of our Writers in the Grove members for our NaNoWriMo prompt-a-day project for November 2016.

Your prompt today is a good challenge for you or your character.

He handed over his business card.

Check out our list of prompts for even more inspiration.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Generalizations and Stereotypes

It is easy when writing in a hurry with something like NaNoWriMo to write sweeping generalizations and use stereotypes to describe characters and scenes. If it works and the character or scene is small, then use it, but NaNoWriMo is a word-count driven competition with yourself. Go beyond generalizations and stereotypes to flesh out your scenes and characters.

All villains aren’t evil. Some function within society with few noticing until something triggers their evil ways. Help us see past the stereotypes of an evil villain to see what they are really made of.

Not all heroes are here to save the day. Some go reluctantly such as antiheroes, the reluctant heroes that ambivalently thrust into conflict and onto the hero’s journey not of their own free will.

Not all butlers, maids, or shoe polishers are black. Not every car mechanic is Latino. Not every person shot by police is black. Not all rich people are white. Break with stereotypes and add life, texture, and passion to your characters by breaking the mold.

When you write with generalizations and stereotypes, you are often selling your characters short. Let them breathe into being with full hearts, souls, attitudes, and presence in your story. Peel away the layers to find what makes them unique and introduce that uniqueness to your readers so they can break through their own stereotypes and judgement calls.

Human beings are complex creatures. Sure, there are some characteristics and traits that most of us share across cultural and historical divides, but go deeper. Paint colorful pictures for your readers.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: What Ifs

If you get stuck in NaNoWriMo, bring out your what ifs.

What if questions can be fun. They can break the writing rut and break open your imagination.

Begin by looking for opposites. Identify your characters strengths and weaknesses and consider how they would behave if they were switched, their strengths suddenly became weaknesses. If it is raining in the scene, make it sunny and dry, just to see how the characters would behave if the weather was different.

Change locations. What if this scene happened in the middle of the night on top of a skyscraper? Or early morning in a car park? Or instead of the desert, deep in a forest? What would change? Would the characters behave different? Would the story change? Sure, it would, but how?

What if your character was different? Instead of skinny, was obese? Instead of Latino, was Russian?

Then ask yourself other what ifs like:

  • What if the characters knew each other in grade school?
  • What if they were meeting for the first time and had no history?
  • What if their parents were in the room?
  • What if they never completed high school?
  • What if their life was really a lie?
  • What if their next actions would get them put into the witness protection program?
  • What if their parents died when they were young?
  • What if their parents died in a crash two weeks ago?
  • What if one parent was a philanderer?
  • What if one or more of the characters escaped from a cult in their past?
  • What if the character decided to give up everything they had, their life, work, everything, to join a cult?
  • What if the character lost everything and became homeless?

The what ifs can go on forever. Some lead from one thought to other, so keep writing out your what ifs before you start answering them. Pick one or two when you are ready and write them up. It could get your writing juices flowing again, and possibly help you understand your characters and the story better.

It could also lead to a sequel. Never know.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.