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Posts Tagged ‘Character development’

Nov. 9, 2015

Fiction That Wows Your Reader (Part 5)

Writing Outside the Box

stock-photo-happy-child-playing-in-cardboard-box-kid-having-fun-at-home-303306602

First, let’s define the term “outside the box.” What in heaven’s name does that mean? “Write outside the box.”

Well, in plain language, it means to write a plot and develop characters that don’t have a normal humdrum boring story line or everyday blah life.

As a short exercise in my presentation, I always cite some average boring story lines and ask my class to change the plot so that it’s outside the box. One example I cite is the following:

“A little girl finds a nest of baby bunnies in her back yard.”

Now, of course, everyone is immediately drawn to the “outside the box” famous children’s story, Alice in Wonderland, where Alice finds a whole new world, not a nest of baby bunnies.

Several years ago, I presented this workshop to a group of writers and asked how to change the story line. One fellow in the back of the room raised his hand and said, “How about if a big rabbit finds a nest of little girls in his back yard?”

I said to him, “Sir, you are DEFINITELY thinking outside the box. Go for it.”

Just for the fun of it, I’m going to list about 10 different story lines. Analyze each one. If you can change the plot to move it outside the box, do so. But some of the story lines are already outside the box and are, in fact, famous stories or books written by best-selling published authors. See if you can identify those that are already great plots.

So, which of these would you like to continue to read?

  1. A little girl saves enough money to buy a horse at auction.
  2. A bitter sea captain of a sailing ship hunts for a white sperm whale to kill him.
  3. A newly married couple tours Paris, France, and enjoys all the sites.
  4. A boy is shipwrecked on an island with only a wild stallion that won’t let him get near him.
  5. A middle-aged woman works at Wal-Mart, saving enough money to take a trip to Hawaii.
  6. A young pioneer woman is left alone on the prairie in her covered wagon when her husband falls from his horse and is killed.
  7. The neighbor’s cat has a litter of six kittens underneath a little boy’s porch.
  8. A collie dog, sold and taken away from the boy he loves, travels a long distance through life-threatening dangers to return to his boy.
  9. A young unmarried girl decides to marry her childhood sweetheart.
  10. An unmarried woman on a plantation in a southern state faces the harsh reality of post Civil War life and the loss of all she held dear.

Well, how did you do? Did you analyze the boring plots and the character development and decide what you could do to make them better? (Numbers 1, 3, 5, 7, 9)

And did you identify the best-selling books/movies in numbers 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10?

MOBY DICK

THE BLACK STALLION

LOVE COMES SOFTLY

LASSIE, COME HOME

GONE WITH THE WIND

When you analyze what makes these million-dollar story lines what they are, you’ll be on your way to writing, possibly, the next great American novel. And all the while you’re writing, keep on reading. Read tons of books, especially in the subgenre in which you are writing, and learn how the masters did it. Maybe someday, your name will be on a best-seller list with the rest of them!

Marsha (Web) www.marshahubler.com

(Writers Tips) www.marshahubler.wordpress.com

Montrose Christian Writers Conference http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

(Horse Facts Blog) www.horsefactsbymarshahubler.wordpress.com

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(More Shameless Promotion)

Book2.On.Victory.Trail.Cover

ON THE VICYTORY TRAIL

 (Book 2 in the Keystone Stables Series)

Skye faces the challenge of her life when her best friend, Sooze, develops a brain tumor.

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June 1, 2015

Five Elements of a Strong YA Book

 

You’re ready to start pounding the keyboard with a great idea for a novel to catch the attention of tweens or young adult readers. But where do you begin? What makes that story irresistible to the reader? What makes your manuscript a page turner?

Let’s review five elements, each which could take an hour’s seminar to explain in detail, that will help you write a winner. If you incorporate these five elements into your writing, you’ll have a finished product that will catch the eye of an editor and hook your reader until the last page:

  1. Develop memorable characters – Joe Schmo should not be a brown-haired, brown-eyed stereotype with no quirks or anything different about him; rather, he should have strong personality traits, perhaps be very courageous or very cowardice to gain your sympathy; he should, nonetheless, conquer his fears and frustrations and go after what he wants.
  2. Pace your action and intersperse it with periods of quiet. Kids love action, but if every page has Joe Schmo jumping out of a hot air balloon, swimming the English channel, or saving Mary Schmarey from a bomb that’s going off in three seconds, your reader will just get bored or he might need some nerve pills! Conflicting emotions and inward struggles are just as exciting to the reader as a jet plane flying under the San Francisco Bay Bridge!
  3. Develop witty, clever dialogue, but make sure it doesn’t all sound like kids’ talk. Brand your characters with certain styles of dialogue for variety’s sake, and for tween novels especially, “have dialogue on every page,” one of my wise editors once told me.
  4. Have your main character face challenges and problems that are very difficult to overcome. You need antagonistic characters to make life difficult for Joe Schmo, or you need to develop a plot that has Joe running in circles or, sometimes, running away before he gets the wisdom or courage to defeat his foe.
  5. Develop an “instant-recall factor” in your story line. Winning stories always have a plot or parts of a plot that stay with the reader long after he’s put the book down. What favorite books do you remember? What is it about their storyline that is so memorable? Write incidents that excite the reader’s mind or play on his emotions.                                               When I have book signings and my tween fans come to the table, I like to ask them, “Do you like to laugh or cry when you read? I have books in my Keystone Stables Series that will satisfy any emotion, and, hopefully, the characters and storyline will stay with my readers long after they’ve read the last page. To this end, we all should write!

*****

TIME TO REGISTER FOR THE

MONTROSE CHRISTIAN WRITERS CONFERENCE!

July 19th-24th

IMG_2716

http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

Four Major Morning Continuing Classes

40 Afternoon Workshops

Fellowship with Other Authors, Agents, and Editors

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Sept. 29, 2014

Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts

Mistake Number Four: Infallible or Underdeveloped Characters

This is the fourth blog discussing some common mistakes found in fiction manuscripts from early readers and chapter books to adult novels of all kinds of subgenres. Several weeks ago, we started this list and will continue until we’ve done all of what I believe are the most important “common” mistakes. Today we’ll look at “Infallible or Underdeveloped Characters.”

Too much description and narration

Switching viewpoints in the same scene

A negative tone throughout the story

Infallible or underdeveloped characters

Stilted or unnatural dialogue

No significant conflict

Weak transitions between paragraphs

Impossible resolutions

Redundancy

Passive verbs instead of active verbs

Lack of sensory detail

Lack of emotion or action

We’ll define infallible characters this time then move on to a more in-depth study of underdeveloped characters in the next blog. So let’s look at our first character type.

It’s quite the temptation to create a character who is infallible, reasoning that every reader will love your hero and, thus, love the book. However, it’s also quite impossible to write an exciting story arc with a breath-taking climax and resolution if you don’t build in any tension or conflict that your main character sees through his/her eyes and even might have been caused by one of your hero’s flaws or his/her flawed reaction to the crisis. We’re all aware that the definition of “infallible” is incapable of making a mistake. So, if we create infallible characters, we are creating impossible characters…unless we’re writing about God.

A clever author will work hard to plug in something irritating, a little quirk or a bad reputation from his past or whatever, just to make the person human. Your readers will enjoy your story much more. Why? Because they’ll identify with that character’s weakness in some way, possibly even feel sorry for him, and root for him to get the upper hand at the end of the book.

Let’s look at a few super heroes (in books or movies) and see if we can identify at least one weakness in their characters. Remember the weaknesses are evident; yet, the authors cleverly imbed them into the characters’ personalities so the readers still have a sense of pity or good will for the heroes, hoping that “all will be well” at the end of the book or movie.

What most evident weakness or flaw do you recognize in these characters? Or can you name more than one flaw but you still liked them or rooted for them all the way through the book or movie?

Captain Ahab in MOBY DICK

King Arthur in CAMELOT

Judah Ben-Hur in BEN-HUR

Scarlett O’Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND

George Bailey in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE

Indiana Jones in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK

Kevin in HOME ALONE

Professor Higgins in MY FAIR LADY

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Okay, let’s see if any of your flaws match my choices:

Captain Ahab – has a big-time bitterness problem (against an animal, no less!) that turns into a hatred onto death (unfortunately, his own death)

King Arthur – violates his own code of righteousness with indecision and concealing his wife and his best friend’s infidelity

Ben-Hur – another man with a root of bitterness that drives him to kill…that is, until God impacts his life

Scarlett O’Hara – yes, dear Scarlett, the conniver who schemes her way through every facet of her life

George Bailey – has a stroke of cowardice that almost costs him his life and almost destroys his family and business

Indiana Jones – an impatient thrill seeker who endangers the lives of friends around him

Kevin – disobedient and impertinent that causes unparalleled angst for his family and does untold damage to his home (Yes, I agree; it is a funny movie. We’re just “analyzing” here.)

Professor Higgins – arrogant as all get out and is blind to the emotional needs of others

So, how’d we do on our flaw matches? Remember, I only named one or two flaws for these characters. Some of them, like Captain Ahab and Scarlett O’Hara, probably have a list of flaws longer than their redeeming qualities; yet, we have read or watched on the edge of our seats, hoping the heroes or heroines would win in the end.

It would be worth our while to study the authors’ techniques that created these fascinating characters and take special note of how they so cleverly incorporated flaws and shortcomings as well as the characters’ “good side” that made all of them unforgettable. Of such, best-selling classics are made.

Next time, we’ll take a look at stilted or unnatural dialogue. Happy writing!

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He’s a Nice Man? She’s a Nice Lady?

Character Development

 

Anyone who has tried to write fiction for any length of time realizes that character development is quite important to help your story move along and not be “flat.”

A writer who works diligently at his craft will spend much time developing his primary and secondary characters so that they jump out on the page and practically hug the reader, inviting him to join the party!

So, how is a character developed cleverly so that his description, life’s ambitions, demeanor, habits, quirks, and personal appearance are shown not told?

I guess the best way to demonstrate the proper technique is to “show” and not “tell,” so what we’ll do is look at some bad examples and then turn them into good examples.

Before studying the examples, please remember one important rule when working on character development. Listing all of the character’s traits in one paragraph is about the most boring technique a writer could ever use. A writer who develops his characters properly will embed all of the traits into the narration and/or dialogue so that the reader hardly notices what’s been done, yet will enjoy getting to know the characters on a personal level.

Now, let’s look at some bad examples and then compare them with some good examples:

Bad Example Number One: (Description)

            “It’s me, Tanya!” She was so nervous, her voice quivered. Tanya was a tall African American teenager who had a nice shape. She wore a ponytail with long ringlets hanging down in front of her ears. Even though it was cold, all she had on were a thin jacket and jeans. She was really cold.

Good Example Number One:

            “It’s me, Tanya!” a quivering voice answered. A tall African-American teenager stepped into the doorway, now in full view of the overhead lights. The girl folded her arms in a futile attempt to keep warm, her shapely frame covered with just a thin denim jacket and jeans. Her short ponytail and long strands of ringlets in front of her ears quivered as she tried to keep warm. (From Keystone Stables Book 3: Southern Belle’s Special Gift, p. 11, by Marsha Hubler)

Bad Example Number Two: (Demeanor or Personality)

            Skye Nicholson was a thirteen-year-old brat who had been in trouble with the law for years. Now she found herself sitting in a courtroom, which didn’t seem to bother her one bit. She had a terrible temper, which her lawyer tried to control while they sat before the judge for Skye’s hearing. Skye slumped in her seat and yawned. She was really ignorant.

Good Example Number Two:

            Skye Nicholson looked cold as an ice cube as she slumped in the wooden chair and stared back at Judge Mitchell. Most ordinary thirteen-year-olds would have been scared to death as a hearing with an angry judge yelling at the top of his lungs. But Skye was no ordinary thirteen-year-old. Her anger matched the judge’s. Only Wilma Jones, her court-appointed lawyer, prevented Skye from exploding. (From Keystone Stables Book 1: A Horse to Love, p.9, by Marsha Hubler)

Bad Example Number Three – (Description of a horse):

            The horse was a beauty. He was a reddish-brown color, and he had a stripe down the middle of his face. His ears were real pointy. His mane and tail were silky and his coat was real smooth. He didn’t smell horsey at all. He smelled kind of like fresh-cut hay.

Good Example Number Three – (Description of the same horse):

            The horse’s sharp ears pricked forward as if it could read her mind. A white stripe ran down the middle of its face, and its soft mane and tail blew in the breeze like corn silk. Its reddish-brown coat, sleek and smooth, sparkled in the sun. And the smell? Like sweet, fresh-mown hay. (From Keystone Stables Book 1: A Horse to Love, p.26, by Marsha Hubler)

Are you getting the idea? Embed all that information about the character right into the story. Let’s do one more, just for fun:

Bad Example Number Four: (Description and Feelings)

            Louellen was totally embarrassed when she fell into her employer’s arms. It wasn’t only because she thought herself clumsy, but she loved this man because he was so handsome with wavy blonde hair and nice brown eyes. He always had wonderful-smelling cologne on too. Louellen was an Amish woman and dressed in Nineteenth Century clothes. She had green eyes and auburn hair with a white kapp on and a navy cape choring dress, which she always wore when she cleaned. When she tripped and fell into the man’s arms, she scared the family dog out of his wits too.

Good Example Number Four:

Louellen gasped for breath as she regained her balance and pulled away from her employer’s arms. His touch, first ever and accompanied by the sweet smell of his expensive Canoe after shave, stirred something deep inside Louellen’s heart that she didn’t expect. For a moment, she focused on his gorgeous wavy, blonde hair and handsome face and then quickly lowered her gaze. Never before had she allowed herself to look into this man’s gentle brown eyes, although she had studied him from a distance. Hands shaking, she adjusted the white mesh kapp covering her auburn hair and ran her hands down the sides of her navy cape choring dress. She shifted her green eyes to the dog sitting nearby with a puzzled look on his face as if to say, “What happened?” (From Love Song for Louellen book manuscript, p.1, by Marsha Hubler)

Well, there you have some character development examples for you to analyze.

What doesn’t work in the bad examples? What does work in the good examples? You decide; then look at some of your own character descriptions and see what you can do to improve them. Get those characters out of that boring descriptive box and turn them loose with their surroundings, some action, and some backdrop. Your editor and your reader will enjoy your writings much more!

Next time, we’ll discuss verbs that can kill your manuscript.

 

Happy writing!

Marsha

 

P.S. Our brochures are ready for our October writers’ conference. You can receive one via email or snailmail. Check out our faculty at www.susquehannavalleywritersworkshop.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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